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Malcolm Dorfman 
Part 1
An Interview with Malcolm Dorfman Part 1

It was eight years ago that Malcolm Dorfman was first interviewed for The Shotokan Way. At that time, TSW was very much in its infancy, but Malcolm and a list of other very senior karateka kindly gave their time and shared their experiences with our readers. In many ways, Malcolm and these other exceptional martial artists helped set the tone and standard of the magazine. I have always been fascinated with Malcolm’s karate story, not only the - rarely paralleled - experiences of his youth, but also the fact he has been integral to the development and propagation of shotokan karate in South Africa. To this day, Malcolm remains steadfast in his obsession with Budo karate and the commitment to ensuring it continues to flourish. Throughout the course of this new exclusive interview, completed over the course of the past year, Malcolm enabled me to indulge my technical appetite, answering questions on a range of issues. This opened technical discussion related to many of the key fundamental principles of Mikio Yahara’s karate. The interview, at times, therefore also delves into issues very much at the core of Budo karate including the concept of ikken hisatsu. I must say a sincere thanks to Sensei Dorfman for being so generous with his knowledge and time. I hope you all thoroughly enjoy this interview. S. Banfield 2013

Interview by Shaun Banfield


(Shaun Banfield)     Can we start by me saying a huge thank you for this opportunity to interview you? I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts and opinions.

(Malcolm Dorfman)     Thank you. I hope my thoughts and opinions will be of interest or value to your readers.

(SB)     It has been eight years since you were last interviewed for our magazine. Can you please tell us what has changed in your life in that time?

(MD)     On the surface, very little seems to have changed, other than being eight years older. However, with the passing of time I would hope and believe that I have achieved a better understanding of Budo karate and continue to do so which enables me on a continuous basis to impart that knowledge to my students and participants of seminars I give both locally and abroad. 

Hopefully I have also mellowed and become more tolerant of those who need compassion for whatever weakness they are presenting or exhibiting. Karate-do is about hard and soft, not only in the physical sense but in one’s outlook on life. What has changed for me over the past few years is the fact that I have developed an advisor which greatly assists me in making decisions. The majority, if not all, of one’s senior students tend to withhold criticism of their sensei or hesitate to give advice.  My son Shane on the other hand has been able to find a compromise between being both son and senior student and is now, as a mature adult and very senior grade, able to point out, of course respectfully, where he believes I am wrong or give me an alternative if necessary, in dealing with members, the public or the organisation as a whole. Two heads are always better than one and this now allows me more time to focus on technical theories and improvement of training methods.

Besides my position as Assistant Chief Instructor  of Yahara Sensei's KWF organisation and my organisation's affiliation to KWF, I have also founded an organisation called Budo Karate International abbreviated to BKI, where I am able to freely express my views, training and results of my research into Budo karate.

(SB)     Before we progress any further into the technicalities of your karate, could you share some insight into the connection between Karate-Do and Bujitsu, for whilst many readers will understand the terminology and translation, they perhaps won’t understand the contextual or historical relevance of Budo and Bujitsu to karate.

(MD)     I seldom use the term ‘Bujitsu’ because to me this is historically a pre-Budo term and while the term ‘Budo’ obviously originated from ‘Bujitsu’, in relation to karate-do, is far removed from the military/warlike connotation of ‘Bujutsu’. For traditional karate purposes, the term Budo is far more applicable to be applied to the spirit in which the essence of karate-do should be practiced. In simple terms, Budo karate is about training for reality, as opposed to tournament and social karate practice. There are those who substitute the term Budo with the term Bujitsu to indicate that the karate they practice is about reality, but the term Budo does that aptly enough.

I also use a similar term ‘Karate- jitsu’ or ‘Karate-jutsu’ ( 空手術) which has two connotations. The first is in the same vein as Bujitsu with a warlike connotation. The second is based on the meaning of ‘jitsu’ which translates as ‘art of’ and I see ‘Karate-jitsu’ as meaning the ‘Art of Karate’ and in my case, in my approach to my training, used to describe the emphasis I place on developing the art of the ‘killing blow’ as opposed to merely the practice of ‘Karate-do’, the ‘Way of Karate’

(SB)     The ethos of the killing blow is embedded within the core principles of the KWF, and Yahara Karate. Is there a disparity between this perspective and the philosophy of ‘there is no first attack in Karate-Do’, a founding feature of Funakoshi karate?

(MD)     This is an easy one to answer. No disparity whatsoever and in fact the two blend into a complete unit. The karate cliché ‘harmony of mind and body’ comes to mind here. Self control is an integral part of the ethos of karate-do, irrespective of whether it is KWF or any other organisation. It is part and parcel of the development of a moral character that one should strive for. On the other hand, we have the physical aspect and that, in true Budo karate, is to develop the killing blow. It has never been suggested in my circles that the development of this killing blow should be abused by utilising it to initiate a confrontational interaction.

So in karate terminology, there is no conflict or disparity in the KWF philosophy and certainly not in my personal philosophy, between ‘ikken hissatsu’ and ‘karate ni sente nashi’.

Malcolm Dorfman with Mikio Yahara, KWF Chief Instructor

(SB)     The concept of ‘There is no first attack in karate’ seems perhaps idealistic if interpreted literally. Some defence experts clearly state that pre-emption (making the first attack) is the only option in self defence if one is to survive. Do you therefore think that the concept of ‘No first attack in karate’ is simply a day to day philosophy of peace, and of seeking harmony at any cost?

(MD)     I think the defence experts you mention above have a very valid argument. The saying ‘the best defence is attack’ is well known and has great merit. So now this appears to be a contradiction of ‘no first attack in karate’ should the karateka make the first physical attack. However, everything has to be based on an understanding and interpretation of what is considered to be the ‘first attack’. If it is understood that the ‘first attack’ need not be of a physical nature, for example, a threatening gesture or statement of injurious intent, and the karateka launches the first physical blow, this is merely defence against the ‘first attack’ of the opponent.

(SB)     The killing blow, as we have said, is central to the KWF, and therefore to your karate too I would assume. What are the features that differentiate between a ‘killing blow’ and a technique unable to finish the opponent?

(MD)     There are several examples I can give but the most blatant is the difference between the blow that in most cases gets one a waza-ari or even an ippon in tournament karate and the blow that saves one’s life in the street. Training in most cases today is either about developing techniques to score in tournament or catering for a family type environment. I’m neither condemning, nor criticising this, because it is of value to those who have this as a priority and train with that as a motivational factor. I classify karate practitioners as (1) tournament karateka, (2) recreational karateka, (3) budo karateka. The first two categories generally do not develop the killing blow as part of their repertoire, but the third category cannot be classified as such without having this killing blow. I will quote what I wrote in both my Budo Karate International membership book and my KWF SA manifesto and hopefully this will explain the killing blow. Of course, a visual demonstration is really necessary to truly understand the killing blow, not merely a summarised oral or written explanation.

I describe the characteristic feature of both BKI and KWF karate as 'the way the whole body is fully utilised to produce dynamic and extremely strong techniques that are explosively powerful and have the potential to incapacitate the opponent with a single technique. This is known as Ikken Hissatsu or Ichigeki Hissatsu in Japanese. The source of power and speed emanates from extreme hip movements, the release of compression in the legs, use of core muscles, control of the centre of gravity and vibration throughout the body at the precise moment of impact.’

The killing blow however is more than this. It is a total commitment of both mind and body to culminate in that one fraction of a second of total devastation of the contact point of that blow.

(SB)     The ‘Yahara’ hip action is centrally connected to the concept of Ikken Hisatsu. Can you talk me through the intricacies of this hip action which many may have misunderstood in translation?

(MD)     This hip action at first glance appears no different from the hip action of all Shotokan organizations. It is the finer points that make the difference, and in fact, a great difference to the impact of, for instance, a gyaku-zuki.

All Shotokan students are taught in principle to hold their hips in a hanmi (45 degree angled position) in fighting stance or gedan barai position. This is where the first difference appears. Yahara preparation hip position is virtually 90 degrees or as close as possible depending on the flexibility of the karateka’s back and hips. This creates an extreme and wider range of hip movement, (90 or almost 90 vs 45 degrees) with the impetus increasing degree by degree after release. Despite the hip pulled back to such an extent, the front of the back thigh is turned in, aligned to face the opponent so that extreme torsion is created by the opposite direction the hip and thigh face. An analogy can be the twisting an elastic band to its maximum, which if released, would sharply unravel itself. If the preparation position is fighting stance, the back leg is compressed to its maximum both at ankle point and in the quadriceps. We now have extreme compression, extreme torsion and extreme rotational range potential.

On release from this position, the thrust of the back heel is utilized. The ankle spring adds to that heel thrust, the quadriceps straighten and contract to the fullest extent, the forward thrust under the buttock cheek is then incorporated, the hip is rotated inwards, exacerbated by utilising the adductor muscles of both thighs to pull the hip inwards and create a locked link between the hip and the legs. In principle in the Shotokan style, the end point of the hip once the punch is completed is front facing (i.e. shomen).  This is where the Yahara hip action differs once more. His hip action continues to gyaku-hanmi position and locks in at that point. This adds to the rotational or centrifugal range and as such the continuation of the impetus for longer. The shoulders however lock in the shomen position at the point where the maximum impact can be delivered due to the maximum body weight being behind the punch and aligned on the opponent. At the kime point of the punch, the final factor is the immediate shooting forward of the back leg into a new fighting stance simultaneously with a retraction of the hip back to the original 90 degree position and the retraction of the punching arm, creating a deep seated vibration similar to the effect of the impact of the snap and retraction of a maegeri on the contact point.

Malcolm Dorfman with Sensei Tanaka

(SB)     You make the specific point that ‘the thrust of the back heel is utilized’, in order to drive the hip forward. Can you please elaborate on this point, and explain why this heel must be driven into the floor, and how it affects the level of power created?

(MD)     Short and sweet – take the example of the 100m athlete at the commencement of the race. The athlete’s back foot is pressed firmly against the starting block and an explosive thrust against the starting block creates a powerful, vibrant and speedy send off. For the karateka, the ‘starting block’ is the floor and the back foot thrust against the floor creates that same powerful effect as with the athlete.

(SB)     And why does pushing from the ‘heel’ rather than say the ‘ball’ of the foot influence the explosiveness of the hip action?

(MD)     Not only the hip action, but the thrust itself. The two actions work in conjunction with one another.  In principle there are two reasons, the first being the instability of the ball of the foot as opposed to the solid heel and the second being the direct line of the heel in relation to the line of the full leg.

(SB)     In developing this increased compression in the rear leg, could you please talk us through some of the exercises and drills or that you get your students doing in order to develop this?

(MD)     There are several exercises I use to improve the thrust potential of my students. They are not unique, mostly simple and I am sure used by most teachers. I just ensure that they are not neglected.

Examples would be:

1: standing with one’s back to a wall, heels touching the wall and hip-width apart, upright posture with pelvis in an uplifted position. The student bends the knees till maximum compression on both the thighs and ankles is attained and especially the side that will be doing the thrust. The student then thrusts the heel against the floor driving the other leg forward into zenkutsu-dachi ensuring that the thrust is the initial action and not a slight movement forward with the other leg before the thrust is initiated. That is the natural tendency and must be avoided to gain the full benefit of the driving action. The front leg is then pulled back to the original heels in line position by means of adduction. This thrust and return action is repeated many times over and over until muscle fatigue in the thrusting leg is reached.

2: standing in fighting stance with the back leg compressed (thigh and ankle) and a thrust action from the back leg projecting the front leg forward (as described in ‘1’).

3: one-legged squats – the student extends one leg horizontally off the floor to the front and squats down placing the buttock on the back of the ankle of the supporting leg ensuring that the heel of the supporting foot is pressed firmly to the floor. The muscles required for the thrust are now isolated and aspects such as a smooth thrust (via the need for good balance and posture to implement this), improved ankle compression/flexibility and thigh strength are attained. The up/down action needs only to be done a few times to reach muscle fatigue in the thrusting/supporting leg.

4: Plyometrics – the use of thrusting from a squat type position into the air utilizing maximum power and speed develops the explosive power needed for the karate thrust. Plyometric exercises are well documented and there is a wide choice that will assist the karateka in this regard.

Of course there are other exercises to achieve improvement in thrust. The ones I have mentioned are merely examples.

(SB)     You also mention that when making Gyaku-zuki that the hips are at gyaku-hanmi position, whilst the shoulders lock at shomen. Therefore, the hips and shoulders are not aligned as they are at different angles. Is this healthy on the back and shoulders if put under the stress of intense impact?

(MD)     I have not found any detrimental effects on my body or that of my students from this position despite extensive repetition over the years. In fact to the contrary, after the centrifugal hip action, the locking of the hips into the maximum closed position i.e. gyaku-hanmi, creates a postural stability far greater than a semi locked position of shomen. I say this with the proviso that the core muscles must at the same time be holding the mid section of the body, especially the lumbar area in perfect vertical alignment. This is to avoid contortion of the spine which would result from hyperextension of that area.


The hips and shoulders of a human being are constructed to function independently within a certain limited range and having the hips in gyaku-hanmi and the shoulders in shomen does not exceed that range. With regard to back and shoulders, these two body parts remain in the same plane, from the coccyx to the neck in this locked gyaku-hanmi position.

(SB)     The epitome of the ‘one hit one kill’ mentality is Oi-zuki, and you have a very specific approach to Oi-zuki, am I correct? Could you please give us a detailed account of its technical specifics?

(MD)     First let me give you my motivation on what you term ‘my specific approach’ to oi-zuki. Yahara Sensei instituted the rule in our Budo-style Shobu-ippon tournaments that oi-waza, be it oi-zuki or oi-geri, if having the required criteria, would automatically be awarded ‘ippon’. I got to thinking why is it that in our daily training year after year we do so many oi-zuki, yet in jiyu-kumite, both in the dojo or in shiai it is so seldom used. If one considers the amount of times it is done in ippon-kumite, sanbon-kumite, gohon-kumite, in kata, especially Heian Shodan, over the years, it is tens of thousands. Yet we hesitate to execute this in a non-formal karate interaction with an opponent. I cannot come to any conclusion other than the way we have been taught oi-zuki must have major flaws when it comes to implementation.

Let us examine the way oi-zuki is taught in both Dynamic Karate (M. Nakayama Shihan) and Karate – The Art of Empty Hand Fighting (H. Nishiyama Shihan). The punching hand is held at the hip until the rear foot passes the front (pivot) foot and only then is the punch released together with fumidashi action of the pivot leg. The hip may be held back in hanmi position until the release of the punch. This is perfect for gohon-kumite and Heian Shodan because the opponent in gohon-kumite only counters after completion of the final oi-zuki and the imaginary/visualised opponent in Heian Shodan is not countering. It is of course powerful and aesthetically appropriate for kata but apparently not appropriate for jiyu kumite because it is rarely used and the reason is because it is too slow for a fast countering opponent.

If we examine fighting stance, the rear leg has not yet passed the pivot leg, yet the punching fist is no longer at the hip – different to the basic (kihon) way it is taught where the fist is at the hip. So what is the relationship between fighting stance and zenkutsudachi especially with reference to the execution oi-zuki?  If the basic zenkutsudachi with the punching fist at the hip, the opposite arm in gedanbarai or tate-uke position and the hip in hanmi position is the origin or STAGE  1 of the path of the oi-zuki,.


Stage 2

STAGE 2 of the path is the same position as fighting stance with the punching hand far more forward, the opposite arm partially retracted, the back leg drawn up closer to the pivot leg by use of the adductor muscles of the inner thighs and the hip position still hanmi.


Stage 3

STAGE 3 of the path are the two feet exactly in line (same distance from the target) with both arms and fists also exactly in line (elbows in front of the ribcage). The hip is now square after a sharp rotational inward movement from the hanmi position. At



Stage 4

STAGE 4 - the punching fist which is now so much more forward than if it had remained at the hip continues its path to the target simultaneously with the hikite of the opposite arm and fumidashi of the pivot leg. The whole point is that the movement of the punching arm, the retraction of the hikite arm and the movement of the back leg (foot) must commence simultaneously, continue simultaneously without pause through each stage and the fist must reach the contact point simultaneously with the hikite action and stepping foot reaching their final point and at the last moment, the opposite hip locks in. The initial stimulus is a sharp compression of the core muscles and immediate release of this compression which is the driving force behind the movement of both arms and legs. This is accompanied with an initial jun-kaiten hip action followed by an immediate final gyaku-kaiten hip action.

If the simultaneous movement of arm and leg in each individual stage of the path is possible, then it can be put together as a complete unit, arm and leg starting together and ending together, but requires hours and hours of speeding up the adduction and abduction stages of the step to acquire the necessary leg speed to match the arm speed. Without this, there can be no total co-ordination of arm, leg and hip actions. With this method, the countering opponent no longer has the advantage of his/her punch being released first, in fact to the contrary. 

(SB)     If you were to throw a tennis ball, accompanied with a step, you would allow the hip on the throwing side to extend forward, rather than get the hips to rotate inward. So why is this different in oi-zuki do you think? 

(MD)     With respect, I don’t think I would throw a ball accompanied with a step. I would throw it with my left leg forward if using my right arm, utilising my hip action as the main source of power. Using a karate analogy, it would be like a right gyaku shuto uchi (Kanku Dai movement 16). However to answer your question, regarding a throw with a step, the timing is different to oi-zuki. In a throw with a step, the arm action and release of the ball would be completed before the stepping foot reached the final position and this forward stepping action would be as a natural result emanating from the momentum of the hip and arm.  This extended forward position of the throwing side hip on landing is therefore merely incidental and no longer significant to the outcome of the throw whereas in an oi-zuki, the arm and leg start together and end together (the way I do oi-zuki) with the inward action of the hip being of total relevance to the outcome of the punch as it occurs and locks in at the moment of contact of the fist on the target, i.e. the kime point.


Part 2 follows in the next edition


For Previous Interviews TSW has conducted with with Malcolm Dorfman:

An Interview with Malcolm Dorfman Part 1 2005


An Interview with Malcolm Dorfman Part 2 2005