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Malcolm Dorfman
Part 2
An Interview with Malcolm Dorfman Part 2

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 appetitive, 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

Part 2


(Shaun Banfield)     KWF karate involves a huge emphasis on spinning strikes, particularly uraken etc. Movement starts from the ground upward, so in the renown KWF Spinning techniques into Kosa-dachi, can you please talk us through the action, most specifically on where our focus should be?

(Malcolm Dorfman)     The emphasis on spinning strikes in KWF is a result of this being Yahara Sensei’s tokui-waza. It is not part of the grading syllabus for example, but because it is done so dramatically by Yahara sensei, many KWF exponents try to emulate this and as such, it has become a ‘popular’ technique. The rotational hip action over such a wide range of movement requires perfect vertical posture and a blatant adjustment of the front foot (similar to a ballet turned out foot position) to maintain balance and allow the hip more range freedom. This is virtually a 360 degree turn, so speed to create momentum also comes into play as does locking of the adductor muscles of both thighs to create a cohesive link between limbs and body. The fist is at the end of a straight arm – there is no elbow snap as is the norm for an uraken – and the power from this strike emanates from linking this straight arm to the swivelling hip as one complete unit. The back heel cannot stay flat but the uplifted heel which could result in instability, is counteracted by the locking of the buttock on the side of the other leg. The impact is devastating and from there, the return hip action together with the straight arm strike of the other arm results in the ‘croup de grace’ making it twice as efficient and damaging. The return strike can also be done by a simultaneous leap in the air simultaneously with the hip rotation which allows for greater range of hip movement and a greater resultant force.




(SB)     Mae geri, like Oi-zuki is key to KWF. You are very specific about its execution for safety however. Could you talk me though your opinions on this?

(MD)     I have no disk between S1 and L5. Fortunately, the two vertebrae fused together naturally eliminating a need for a spinal fusion operation. However, at an early stage with this condition, hyperextension of the lower spine while thrusting the hip forward resulted in a shooting pain down my supporting leg. This was of course due to impinging of the sciatic nerve. This demonstrated the fact to me that the dynamics of doing maegeri this very common way was contra-indicated in terms of body health and therefore incorrect. I remembered Nishiyama Sensei's pendulum action for maegeri that he taught and on further examination and research into the position of the spine during execution of a maegeri, developed a scientifically dynamic and medically safe powerful kick. The secret is to have an uplifted pelvis postion correlated with the core muscles of both abdomen and lumbar area firmly under control, together with the spine locked in one straight line from coccyx to neck while executing the kick with the Nishiyama pendulum action.

(SB)     And how about mawashi-geri?

(MD)     Initially I was taught to do mawashi-geri almost front facing and contorting the spine in order to kick laterally.  I believe that while one is young, one can possibly get away with this but as one gets older, the damage to hips and spine is so obvious with the amount of hip replacements that so many older karateka need to undergo. If one takes natural body positions into account, where the chest and hips face, that's where the legs and feet face too. Simply then, the core muscles need to be firmly under control, the spine held in a straight line from coccyx to neck and the hips and chest facing the same direction (sideways) as the kicking knee and kicking foot. That alignment not only makes for a more scientifically correct kick but is anatomically far safer.

(SB)     Something you are emphatic about is respecting the western body, and not trying to imitate the Japanese’s stances. Can you tell me why this is dangerous, and how we should modify the stances slightly?

(MD)     This is more specifically for the long limbed westerner whose body differs greatly from the average Japanese body. I also refer more specifically to the Shotokan stances, especially Kibadachi. With respect, one only has to walk through Tokyo to notice that the majority of Japanese have legs that are bandy - no disrespect meant, my younger son also does - hence his natural Japanese looking Kibadachi. The long legged westerner in order to emulate the natural arc of the kibadachi of the average Japanese karateka, forces his knees to the sides to create an unnatural position, one that does damage to those knees. The westerner needs to uplift his pelvis, which in turn opens the hips which allows an outward look to the knees while in actual fact those knees are still facing and bending naturally to the front. Western karateka that force their limbs into positions that are unnatural to their bodies in an attempt to look like Japanese in that same position shorten the longevity of their training years.

(SB)     You have written elsewhere that M. Tanaka once told you that in order to have good karate, you must keep it simple and become a master of that simplicity. Can you expand on what you think he was talking about?

(MD)     That statement actually came about on a discussion of the bunkai of moves 34 to 37 of Jion. Tanaka Sensei asked the class their view and their explanations were so involved and complicated. Tanaka Sensei gave a direct and simple explanation and told the class that karate was not about fancy and complicated moves. Direct, strong, fast, powerful, simple but masterful moves are what was needed to be effective.  It is interesting to note that two devastating fighters like Tanaka Sensei and Yahara Sensei both have a similar approach regarding the necessity of  simple ikken hissatsu blows even though they utilise different techniques to implement this concept.

(SB)     I recently attended a competition attended by competitors from KWF, JKA, JKS, SKIF, JSKA and WKF dojos. Watching them all, I was struck by the sheer diversity of approaches to their shotokan. Do you think this diversity is strengthening karate or ultimately weakening it?

(MD)     I believe you are referring to the WSKA World Championship in Liverpool. Competitions of this nature have a two-edged blade. For those who are Budo or classical practitioners, it gives them an opportunity of demonstrating their skills and testing themselves against the karateka who tend to be more orientated to the WKF Sport karate way of fighting, a methodology the Budo or classical karateka are often not exposed to. For those WKF style exponents, they are then exposed to what I term the 'real' karate and perhaps then shown an outlet to continue their karate when their 'sport karate' career comes to an end. Sport karate, like any other sport has a limited number of years so a competition like WSKA World Championships perhaps is an eye opener to those who are aware and astute enough to realise the longevity and long term benefits of Budo or Classical karate as a lifestyle.  I must mention that the policy of WSKA is to propagate the ideals of traditional Shotokan karate and the rules are of such. But diversity will always be there with such a wide spectrum of karateka participating. In my view, I respect the athletic ability of the top WKF style karate competitors and there are novel training aspects from the diversity that one sees there that can enhance the traditional way without detracting from its essence. However, I derive great pleasure when a top Budo karateka is able to defeat top WKF Style Sport karate athlete in shiai, and by that validates the effectiveness of correct karate. On both a personal level and as a validation of my Budo instruction methodology, this was demonstrated emphatically at the 2005 WSKA World Championship when Shane Sensei, utilising strong driving classical KWF/JKA Shotokan techniques, dominated the open kumite category, winning the WSKA world title after defeating several WKF and EKF champions and medalists en route. 

(SB)     The surge in popularity of MMA has been viewed by many martial artists as a potential threat to karate. Others however argue however that it is merely filling a void in the Martial Arts, since karate etc are regarded as un-functional and ineffective. What do you think about this?

(MD)     It is a threat and takes away many karateka especially between the ages of 18 to 26 because of the 'macho' image of MMA. I understand this and believe the fault lies with the dojo heads who have watered down their approach for the sake of commercialism which in this case has backfired for them. If dojo heads would truly teach real Budo karate, the teenage member would not be drawn away because karate then would be seen as functional and effective.  The problem however, is that there are a glut of dojos throughout the world where the actual dojo head is not a Budo karateka and cannot teach Budo karate.

(SB)     It’s been argued that karate has become ‘sanitised’, so much so that it renders practitioners unprepared for the reality of conflict. What shift needs to take place do you think to bring the effectiveness back to karate?

(MD)     I believe I answered that in my previous comment. To reiterate, the answer is genuine Budo karate. Does anyone doubt the effectiveness of Budo experts such as Tanaka Sensei and Yahara Sensei?

(SB)     In 1986, you were awarded the grade of 6th Dan by Master Nakayama, the highest grade he awarded to a non-Japanese karateka. Can you please tell us about your relationship with him and possible share some stories you have of him?

(MD)     I was fortunate to have trained under him in both South Africa and in Japan, but unfortunately not enough because I believe he had infinite knowledge. He was an extremely busy man but always found some time for personal interaction with those he felt warranted his attention. An indication of how he felt about me can be seen by the fact that every time I came to Japan, I would always get an invitation to tea at his apartment above his private dojo Hoitsugan. He would chat to me about life in general, my life, my aspirations and I would leave after an hour or so, so elated at my interaction with so great a man and leader. 

(SB)     In 2000 you travelled to my home city of Cardiff for the KWF World Championships and to sit your 8th Dan examination with Yahara Sensei. Can you please explain what you had to undergo?

(MD)     Like any higher level karate examination, I presented my kata, Nijushiho, and then was asked by Yahara Sensei to present Bassai Dai. Obviously at this level, the elements of maturity and movements demonstrating the Budo elements were a necessity to pass. Then came what is called Jitsugi, a presentation and physical implementation of my special technique, something that is unusual and contributes to Karate-do. To describe it is difficult but in essence it is a counter to any technique but especially a kicking technique whereby with one hand I catch his throat smashing his windpipe and elevate him horizontally into the air by means of timing, hip dynamics, my momentum, my opponent's momentum and a fraction of a second before my opponent crashes to the floor, changing the angle of my wrist so that the initial impact on the ground is with the back of his head. This was my Jitsugi, my Ikken Hissatsu technique.

(SB)     What does Isaka Sensei’s slow motion training contribute to KWF karate?

(MD)     Isaka Sensei is a very deep thinker and has become so unorthodox in his approach to training. His training is about developing speed by means of attaining perfect control of the techniques in slow motion. This seems to be a paradox but has worked for him. His other main objective is to develop the muscle groups that human beings have allowed by evolution to atrophy, especially the back muscles due to human beings now sitting, standing, walking and running in an upright position. For those who understand his methodology and apply it, there is benefit. For those who don't understand it, it is an approach that could perhaps have been of great value. But his training is certainly not easy and is extremely taxing on the body.

(SB)     Many have expressed their concerns about the future of karate due to the prevailing influence of sport karate. Do you share these concerns?

(MD)     Of course. Sport karate is very attractive and requires a very different effort to succeed from the deep understanding required for Budo karate. Medals and accolades are a great draw card and very different from the non tangible 'medal' of enlightenment that years and years of genuine Budo training give to the Budo practitioner. Had Sport Karate made it to the Olympics, this would have greatly exacerbated the problem of maintaining the future of Budo or classical karate. This is where hopefully Japanese karateka like Yahara Sensei and western karateka like myself and those with a similar mindset can keep it alive for the next generation.

(SB)     KWF karate is epitomised by its focus on the killing blow, using the whole body’s mass to destroy the opponent. In light of this outlook, what is your view on pressure point training, etc?

(MD)     This is an area which I do not claim expertise other than a general knowledge. Obviously an attack utilising pressure points, being it in a standing fight or fight on the ground, is effective if implemented accurately. I think that while an opponent is punching, striking and kicking me, to find that exact spot is rather difficult. So I believe I'm not in a position to give an expert answer on pressure points. In a fight, I would prefer to use my expertise in body dynamics to execute an' Ikken Hissatsu' blow on a vulnerable area.

(SB)     Yahara sensei in an once stated that ‘Karate has no philosophy’, yet a plethora of books have been written linking karate to the possible philosophical and spiritual benefits. How do you feel about this?

(MD)     That is Yahara Sensei's outlook on life and obviously his 'no philosophy’ is a result of his life and lifestyle. One's formative years, one's experiences throughout the years, both good and bad, influence one's approach to life as the years go by. My life has been such that I believe that karate enhances one's spirituality and while not detracting from the physical side, improves me as a person, facilitates the ease in the way I interact with other human beings and gives me the tranquillity that I need to be happy within myself.

(SB)     Can you please tell me about the aims, objectives and premise of the BKI - Budo Karate International?

(MD)     My son Shane Sensei and I spent time in summarising these aspects for our BKI website. I'll quote them because I feel this sets it out clearly.

1. BKI is a Shotokan organisation founded by me catering for authentic Karatedo and Karatejitsu exponents worldwide.

2. BKI aims to be the pre-eminent authentic Budo Karate organisation in the world by creating the ultimate learning hub for its members along multiple dimensions.

3. The purpose is to maintain and preserve the Budo aspect, original values, traditions and ethos of the Martial Art of Karate while continually evolving by means of incorporating correct, scientific and safe modern exercise technology.

4. BKI believes a true karate-ka is a holistic being and aims to maximise the physical, cognitive, emotional, value system and life-skills of its members.

5. BKI recognises that sustainability of its members requires more than just ‘renshu’ (training) on the dojo floor and provides opportunities for personal growth as well as organisational/business success by using its key networks of experts in various fields.

6. The core value of BKI is Shojiki (integrity).

7. The maintenance of a link, affiliation or membership of a BKI member with a Japanese organisation is permitted. The intention of BKI is not to hinder or restrict the status or development of members but to add value to the member’s karate path and future development.

Malcolm Dorfman and Stan Schmidt

(SB)     Stan Schmidt is attributed as the BKI’s honorary President. Could you please tell me about your relationship with him, the influence he has had on your karate journey, and possibly share a few anecdotes about him?

(MD)     Firstly, as you mention Stan Sensei as BKI's Honorary President, this is what I put on BKI's website in this regard.

"Stan Schmidt Shihan was my first karate instructor, a mentor for many years and the man that put me on the Budo path. It is fitting that he should be linked to the international organisation I have founded which is based on principles that concur with his. Budo Karate International wished to honour this great sensei with this appointment and are in turn honoured by his acceptance of this position."

My relationship with Stan Sensei reads like a novel. I started off as his student in the 60s and became his blue-eyed boy for many years. A few years later, as I achieved higher rank, I became part of his Shihankai in South Africa which developed to the point, if you compare the JKA in South Africa to a public company, Stan was 'Chairman of the Board' and I was the 'CEO' of the JKA in South Africa. We trained together, strategised together, travelled abroad together and had an incredible personal and karate relationship. I learned much from him but believe I contributed to him also. Sadly through circumstances our relationship deteriorated in the early 90s, especially and understandably after I resigned from Stan Sensei's JKA organisation.  But a true bond can never be broken and both Stan Sensei and I maintained a mutual respect which led to a renewal of good relations 10 years ago and has developed, despite living in different countries, to a great friendship these days. Hence Stan Sensei is the Honorary President of Budo Karate International because not to be linked together in friendship, karate and Budo would be so wrong. As regards anecdotes, I'll keep that private and personal but there were many that were serious, funny, embarrassing and best kept to our private reminiscences. To conclude, Stan Sensei is a special man and karateka and I may not have been where I am today without him initially channelling me on to the Budo path.

(SB)     Are there any points you would like to discuss that I have neglected to ask you about? 

(MD)     I would just like to thank my current KWF SA and BKI Shihankai for being so steadfast and loyal to me, giving me the chance with their help to develop to where I am today.  For the rest Shaun, your questions brought out so much that I had to think about on a technical level to put on paper and in this and the previous interviews with The Shotokan Way, reminded me of so much that has gone by in my life that has been tucked away in the back of my mind. The range of questions was incredible. So I think we can call it a day till a possible next time.

(SB)     Thank you Sensei for providing such an insightful interview. It has been a real pleasure! 

(MD)     For me too. Thank you for allowing me to express my views. I hope your readers find it interesting and perhaps even helpful.


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