Japan Shotokan Karate Association
Nagaki Mitsuru sensei is the Japan Shotokan Karate Association's Assistant Chief Instructor and was born in 1950 in Matsuyama in Shikoku Island, Japan. He started training in Shotokan Karate upon entering university and is known in the Japanese karate world as an all round competitor, both in kumite and kata. To name a few honours, he was consecutively 9 times Kata champion in the senior category for the JKA All Japan Championship from 1991 to 1999, and 3 times kumite and kata champion in the senior category for the JKA World Championships, in 1994 (South Africa), 1998 (Switzerland), and 1999 (Gifu, Japan). In 2003, he also took first place in kata during the JKF Masters Tournament in Wakayama, Japan. Nagaki sensei has also held the position as coach for the Japanese national karate team, a position he held for some years.
However, his main approach to karate is not simply concerned with participating in competition but also in his abilities to function in a ‘real fight’ situation, the latter of which has not diminished but rather improved with age. Accepting these skills, he is just as well known for the calmness and steadiness of his character, and can be justly considered as a true role-model for karateka of all ages.
He manages four dojo, teaching around 500 students in Shikoku Island where he resides. Both his children are involved in karate while his eldest son is a full time instructor and over the last few years, seems well on the way to making a name for himself in the world of karate.
A laid-back individual, Nagaki Sensei has been a lifetime friend and collaborator of Abe Sensei and while it has been his personal choice to not enter the international karate limelight, he is still well known for both his abilities in Kata and Kumite – George Carruthers 09
Questions and interview conducted by George Carruthers
(George Carruthers) How long have you known Abe sensei and in what capacity?
(Mitsuru Nagaki) I entered Nihon Daigaku in 1979, and enrolled in the karate section, whose instructor was Abe Sensei. Abe Sensei is my Sensei.
(GC) As Assistant Chief Instructor to the JSKA, how do you see your role?
(MN) Abe Sensei is not only a true Budoka, but also a leader, as well as an instructor of the superior type; he raised a large number of excellent karateka, and as Abe Sensei’s assistant I see my role as helping him to convey his philosophy to the world, and make it then possible to raise a large number of excellent karateka.
(GC) You have a wide and varied tournament record; can you tell us something about this?
(MN) In my university years, under Abe Sensei’s coaching, our team was very strong, and we invariably finished at the top. After graduating, as I returned home to Matsuyama and started to work in a government office, it became quite difficult to keep work and karate compatible, and for this reason I did not participate in tournaments. But I went on with my practice of Karate-do, and never missed a class. By my forties, my professional life started to leave me some more room and time, and I could then start again to participate in tournaments. I then accumulated champion’s titles in the senior category in JKA and JKF tournaments.
(GC) When did you begin training in karate and with whom?
(MN) I started karate at Nihon University, and learned karate from Abe Sensei, and it is at this same University that 2 years later Naito Sensei, who is now a business manager, started. After graduating, Naito entered the JKA as a trainee and later graduated as instructor.
(GC) Can you tell us something of your past experiences in the dojo and what instructors influenced you the most?
(MN) The training under Abe Sensei at Nihon University was really harsh, and as many people gave up as many persevered. As for me, because I was originating from judo like Abe Sensei, and furthermore because we come from the same countryside, it was impossible for me to escape by just returning home and for these reasons it was impossible for me to stop training. I am still training to this day.
(GC) How do you feel that Kihon, Kata and Kumite help in this approach?
(MN) Kata is very much respected in the traditional Japanese arts. In the Budo, kata is and expresses a most correct form [of the art]. This is true not only for Budo but for other arts, like Ikebana (flowers arrangement) or Chanoyu (Tea ceremony). Any form of art that has kata in its vocabulary could survive and go on developing lively for more than a thousand years. This may be something difficult to understand, but the harsh restrictions inside a kata contain the whole of life, how the spirit, the body, and their coordinated movement flow beautifully, and this does not present any limit, it is an unlimited work on oneself. Basics and Kata are two words that belong to the karate, which is a budo art. For instance, superior literature cannot be written without sharp and extended vocabulary, and depending on the way the kata is refined, the superior budo appears. If the vocabulary at one’s disposal is limited and restricted, to express deep and complex thoughts is a difficult task but when the proper words are used, superior literature is born and sublimates the art. Kata is not something that is just repetition practice of movements and combinations for Kumite.
(GC) What are your main objectives in teaching karate?
(MN) To become strong, by consistently training hard and very hard and after that harder, allows a person to attain a permanent state of calmness and coolness, and this is where lays the importance of becoming strong. Karate must be something, which brings harmony and peace to the heart of the student.
(GC) Do you feel that competition rules are becoming too sports orientated?
(MN) In order to make it easy to understand to [as] many people [as possible] and to allow them to enjoy it, there must be a “sport” side. However, if in tournament the fundamental links to the martial arts training do not appear, it just becomes, I believe, a trivial form of sport.
(GC) As a former coach of the Japanese team, can you tell us about this role?
(MN) As national coach of the Japan representative team, more than giving guidance in the basics of a martial art, you are expected to train your pupils with the unique aim [for them] to win competitions. At this point, it can be said to be a very difficult task, especially because the whole [related] world is watching you, and all the more in the case of the Japanese team.
(GC) How much influence has Abe sensei had on your karate?
(MN) Abe Sensei has influenced me not only in karate, but in all aspects of my life.
(GC) How do you see the survival of budo in the modern concepts of karate training?
(MN) From former times the martial arts were purposed to “live and exist in their own era of time”. Because in today's society it is not a common thing for people to meet situations where they have to fight for their life, I think that naturally training concepts have changed, are changing, and will change again.
(GC) You hold grades outwith the JSKA ?
(MN) I hold dan grades in the JKF, JKA, JKS and JSKA. A dan grade is not [about] an instructor praising [the beauty of the art of] the student, but it is a personal statement [from the instructor] saying “this person holds the capacity for such grade”, and as it varies widely as well depending on the group [to which the instructor belongs], I think that there is nothing or not much really to say about that.
(GC) What advice do you have for all karateka who really desire to improve themselves?
(MN) Funakoshi Sensei said that that karate is like hot water, and if you don’t maintain the fire under it, it will very fast become cold. For me as well, while I practice consistently, I feel that the aim [to which I am aspiring] is an endless task, is most probably unreachable.
(GC) How do you see the philosophy behind karate in general and shotokan specifically?
(MN) Shotokan karate is very dynamic, and at the time of Nakayama Sensei even points referring to theory only, were largely or fully accepted by many people. In addition to this, karate is an internationally known word, and the karate-do has now spread all over the world. Many children love karate and this love must be nurtured. Karate teaches important things to children, and myself I would like to be a part in giving children a desire and a dream for their karate practice.
(GC) Thank you sensei.
(MN) Oss. you are very welcome George