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.
(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
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?
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?
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.
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?
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?
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
(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
(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
(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
(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
(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
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
(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
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.
(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.
Interviews TSW has conducted with with Malcolm Dorfman:
An Interview with
Malcolm Dorfman Part 1 2005
An Interview with
Malcolm Dorfman Part 2 2005