Karate No Michi South Africa
South Africa has, over the years, produced a very remarkable type of karateka. They are typically very tough, and remarkably determined. When I have spoken to people of Mike Dukas, I have heard nothing but praise. He is a karateka that seeks the Budo way of karate, determined to keep within the spirit of Ippon. He has had a long and very interesting journey in karate, discussed at length here in this interview. Here he talks about his experiences with Stan Schmidt and the gruelling training he had with him. He speaks of his first mentor James Havenga and all he took from his study with him. Mike talks about Kanazawa Sensei and Kasuya Sensei and the things he learned from them. Most significantly however, he talks about his current life within Mikio Yahara’s Karate No Michi (KWF). He shares his insights on the man and his assistant Chief Instructor Akihito Isaka, and the methods of KWF Karate. This is a great interview with a fascinating character, and I hope you enjoy this as much as I did. Shaun Banfield 08
(Shaun Banfield) Can we open the interview by saying a very big thank you for this opportunity to interview you for our magazine?
(Mike Dukas) It is only a pleasure.
(SB) Can we open by asking how you first got introduced into the Martial Arts?
(MD) In 1967 my brother had a friend called Frank Smit who practiced Judo. Frank later became the South African Open Judo Champion. He used to spend weekends at our home and that’s when I started getting interested in the Martial arts. I later walked into a karate Dojo in Sasolburg and liked what I saw. I was immediately “hooked” to karate.
(SB) Did Frank Smit teach you any Judo whilst staying at your home? What kinds of things did he teach you?
(MD) Yes he taught me the basics throws etc. When I was a 2nd Dan in karate and running my own dojo, I practiced judo with both Frank Smit and Thomas Dunker (who is now the president of the South African judo association). We would train every Sunday morning. I would teach them karate and they taught me judo.
(SB) You say that you walked into a karate dojo in Sasolburg. Do you remember what was being taught on that first introduction to karate, and who was the teacher?
(MD) Yes they were doing kihon Ippon kumite and then they did kata training. The teacher was the late Sensei James Havenga who was my mentor.
(SB) You were of course South African All Styles Kumite Champion in 1973, and continued to have wonderful competitive successes throughout your career. Can you please tell us abut this?
(MD) Yes I became South African all styles Kumite champion in 1973 in the under 70 kg division. Over a period of approximately ten years, I took part in many championships in both kata and kumite divisions.
Ten years later, (1983) I attained the bronze medal in the same division.
(SB) How important was competition to you when you were younger?
(MD) For me, although competition plays an important role in a karateka’s career, it is not the ultimate aim of karate. It has always been my strong belief that however good it is to win, it is far more important to keep training in the traditional way of karate and to endeavour to master as many techniques as possible through the correct training methods. Also through hard karate training one becomes humble and realises that winning is not always important.
(SB) Would you say this is a belief you have acquired with experience and maturity or did you always hold these values?
(MD) I think that I have always held these values - and I think they have become stronger though by training all these years. I would like to refer to a quote by Soschin Nagamine "Karate-do may be referred to as the conflict within yourself, or a life-long marathon which can be won only through self-discipline, hard training, and your own creative efforts.”
(SB) Could you please relay any memories that you have of any memorable matches you experienced?
(MD) A significant competition event that has stuck in my mind was at the South African JKA championships which were held in Durban in 1976. I went on to the finals and eventually got a third place in Kata and a third place in kumite.
(SB) Who did you fight in the finals at this event to take third place?
(MD) I cannot remember if it was Keith or Derrick Geyer that won that year but I remember in both in Kata and kumite I came up against one of the Geyer brothers which was very exciting because they were the up and coming karate champions.
(SB) Could you please share your memories of the excellent Geyer Brothers? Their reputation as excellent all round karateka is well known, but could you tell us what they were like as men as well as karateka?
(MD) It would be unfair for me to comment on their characters as men, as I did not have much contact with them off the dojo floor. The reason for this is that I did not stay in Johannesburg and always left straight for home after any championships or training. But as karateka there is no doubt that they excelled in all aspects.
(SB) Who ran most of the South African JKA Championships?
(MD) The JKA championships were run by SA JKA.
(SB) Can you please give us an insight into your younger years training in South Africa? Possibly tell us a few stories from that time to give us an insight into the types of things you experienced?
(MD) Training karate in my younger years was very difficult and took a lot of perseverance. I lived +- 120km away from Johannesburg where most of the top karate instructors trained. I travelled to Johannesburg whenever I got the opportunity, but being married and trying to build a career at work, it took a lot of sacrifice from my wife, Marion, and I having to find the time and the finances for this. I used to spend at least one week of my annual leave training in Johannesburg under Sensei Stan Schmidt. This was always an inspiring time of the year for me. I regard Sensei Stan as one of the best karate instructors in South Africa.
(SB) Can you please tell us about the training with Sensei Schmidt? What did the training consist of?
(MD) Sensei Stan’s training was very balanced – when I think back now I realise how well he structured his classes to include all of the aspects of karate, such as kihon, kata and kumite.
(SB) And who were the other students training in the classes?
(MD) Other students in the classes always included Keith Geyer, Derrick Geyer, and Malcolm Dorfman. Also at times there were Ken Woodstock, Norman Robinson, Eddie Dorey and a lot of other black belts that were students of Sensei Stan.
(SB) Could you share any memories that you have from these training sessions, as I have been told by many that training under Sensei Schmidt was very hard and intense, but extremely rewarding also.
(MD) Stan Sensei’s classes were always hard but rewarding. My wife Marion often told me “I don’t know why you are doing this to yourself”. I used to return from training full of bruises and at times could hardly walk, but the next day I returned to the dojo and received the same treatment. Sensei Stan kept a watchful eye on the so called “outsiders”. His method of training made us tough and taught us to take punishment. Those who could not take the punishment usually left karate. Many students that I trained with no longer train. I think this is because they never really understood that karate is a process that takes a lifetime to develop.
(SB) In your younger years training in South Africa, who would you say had the biggest influence on your development?
(MD) I would say that my late Instructor, Sensei James Havenga, played a prominent role in developing my love and devotion to karate. He was a wonderful man and I cherish the time I spent training with him, especially our early morning sessions! We trained together every morning (except Sundays) from 05h30 to 06h30am.
I remember clearly one evening my wife and I were out dining with a few friends of ours when one of the women started complaining about her husband’s early morning running programme. Marion immediately replied. “You are lucky; I have been married to Mike for seven years and I have never woken up in the morning with him lying in bed next to me except when we are away on holiday”.
I then realised how karate had changed my life!
I have trained with many other Instructors and of course all had a significant influence in my development.
I consider myself very fortunate for not having trained only under one Instructor my whole life, as this gave me the opportunity of taking the best teaching methods from each instructor, and incorporated it into my training. I therefore have a very versatile method of teaching my student.
(SB) Would you say this is something others should consider also? Expanding their experience and vision outside of the one instructor? Could you please give us some examples of how this has helped your karate study and teaching?
(MD) Yes I believe that training with one Instructor only is not good for a person’s development.
South Africans on the whole are fairly big people, so for people like me who only weighed 68 kg it was very difficult to fight larger opponents.
Kanazawa techniques utilise the techniques of using your opponent’s strength to your advantage.
An example of this is that when a strong opponent attacks, you block by doing a rotational movement. By rotating you can utilise his strength and combine it with your own strength, into a powerful counter. This sounds very easy, but timing is very important and this is what makes these techniques hard to do.
(SB) You were once a part of SKIF am I right? Can you please tell us about your time training with SKIF? You did your 4th Dan grading with Sensei Kanazawa am I correct?
(MD) Yes, I originally stated karate with JKA and attained my 3rd Dan under the JKA. I resigned from the JKA after 15 years to join SKIF under the leadership of Sensei Nigel Jackson. I attained my 4th Dan grading in Japan under Kanazawa Sensei. To this day I have the greatest admiration and respect for this wonderful karate master. I was a 3rd Dan for almost 8 years. The reason for this was that all 4th Dan and above examinations had to be conducted in Japan.
After 1983 South Africans could not easily obtain visas to enter Japan. Luckily in 1988 I managed to get a visa via the company I worked for, so I was able to train and grade in Japan. The visa clearly stated “The holder of this visa shall not participate in any sporting or cultural events” I still have a copy of that passport with the visa in it! I then spent 5 weeks training with Kanazawa and Kasuya Sensei. A truly memorable time.
(SB) Could you share some anecdotes or memories from this time in your life as we would love to hear them?
(MD) Those were difficult times for me - having used up all of my savings to get to Japan to train was a period in my life that I will never forget. Kasuya Sensei was kind enough to let me stay at his home for about four weeks.
During those weeks I trained with Kanazawa Sensei every day and attended all of Kasuya Sensei’s classes at the police college, universities and at the Honbu dojo in Yotsuya. I even travelled to Taiwan with him for training.
One of the highlights was having dinner with Kanazawa Sensei at his home in Chiba. After dinner he gave me a Japanese tea pot which I treasure to this day.
(SB) But when Sensei Kasuya split you followed and became a part of his WSKF am I correct? Can you please tell us a little about Sensei Kasuya’s karate and the WSKF approach?
(MD) Yes that is correct. At that stage Sensei Nigel Jackson followed Kasuya Sensei, and therefore it was only natural that I followed suite.
Kasuya Sensei’s training methods were very similar to those of Kanazawa Sensei as Kasuya Sensei was a student of the legendry Kanazawa Sensei.
(SB) Many have said that Sensei Kasuya developed his karate differently in some ways to that taught by the JKA. Can you identify with this from the time you spent training with him? What were the most important things he stressed?
(MD) Kasuya Sensei, like Kanazawa Sensei worked a lot on rotational movements that I myself did not experience a lot of while in the JKA. I also enjoyed the friendly manner of both their teaching methods. Although friendly there was always that respect that we had for them as Instructors and I always remember the patience that both of them had while they were teaching us something new.
Both Kanazawa and Kasuya Sensei stressed that a karateka should be supple, and I always worked at that. The benefits to suppleness are long term. I can at my age 59 still do the leg splits and high mawashi geri etc.
(SB) You and your students are now a part of Karate No Michi South Africa – which of course is part of Mikio Yahara’s KWF. Karate No Michi South Africa is headed by Malcolm Dorfman. Can you please tell us a little about him and the values that he brings?
(MD) There came a time in my karate career where I had to decide about the future of my son Bryan and all the other members of my dojo. With this in mind, having always admired Malcolm Sensei’s teaching methods I made the decision to join KWF.
Being an outsider while competing in South Africa during the early years it was difficult to get support from the top Instructors, but I clearly remember that Malcolm Sensei would always support me when there was a dispute regarding a point.
Malcolm Sensei has the same approach as Yahara Sensei – both love the Budo way of karate and that suits my karate philosophy and the way I teach.
(SB) How would you describe Dorfman Sensei’s teaching style?
(MD) Malcolm Dorfman’s teaching style is one of perfection – perfection of stance, kata and techniques.
(SB) South Africa has produced some of the finest, toughest and most dedicated karateka in the world – Schmidt, Dorfman, Robinson, the Geyer Brothers, Jackson etc. What do you accredit this to?
(MD) Correct – during the 70’s and 80’s South Africa was rated as one of the strongest karate countries outside Japan and this can be accredited to none other than the dedication of Sensei Stan Schmidt and his Shihankai.
(SB) Who were this Shihankai, just to clarify for our readers?
(MD) South Africa Shihankai at that stage consisted of the following people:
Sensei Stan Schmidt, Sensei Norman Robinson, Sensei Ken Wittstock, Sensei Eddie Dorey, Sensei Malcolm Dorfman, Sensei Robert Ferriere, Sensei Johan Roets and Sensei Nigel Jackson.
(SB) The KWF Group Internationally appear to be very well structured and united. Would I be accurate in thinking that this is because the Shihankai are passionate about achieving a common goal?
(MD) Yes – you are correct; Yahara Sensei has a very open approach and expects his Shihankai to be passionate about karate. He also expects his Shihankai to be creative in their approach to karate. KWF approach to achieve a common goal is to regularly train together and in this way share our knowledge. This can be clearly witnessed at our international seminars.
(SB) You mention that it is expected that the Shihankai be ‘creative in their approach to karate’. Could you please elaborate on what you mean by this?
(MD) An example of the creative approach to karate by Shihankai members is this: when a question was raised to Yahara sensei regarding the KWF grading syllabus, his answer was, " one must not become robots and only train what is in the syllabus, I would like my Shihankai members to be creative and study all various types of moves and approaches”. So our KWF grading syllabus in SA would be different to the Grading syllabus in England and so on.
But when we get together at seminars then it is amazing how we all do more or less the same Yahara type of karate!
(SB) Is Yahara Sensei open to suggestions also?
(MD) Yahara Sensei is very open to suggestion. This can be seen on our website. The Shihankai have access to a special folder where all Shihankai members are asked for feedback on decisions to be taken on KWF matters. All feedback is then openly displayed and made available to any Shihankai member.
(SB) Do you have any fond memories of any experiences that you have had with Yahara Sensei in or outside the dojo?
(MD) My memories of Yahara Sensei are this - he always gives more than 100% during training.
I remember training with him in England in 1976 when he was a 4th dan. He stood in front of the class and said "today we do Kanku - sho fifty times". What amazed me was that he did the kata with us and even while the majority of the class was totally exhausted he carried on until we had done the kata fifty times.
(SB) KWF, whilst being very much rooted in the JKA style of karate, has taken the basic principles further and pushed the envelope; which for example can be seen in the extreme method of hip rotation. How different do you feel is the approach by KWF to that which you had practiced during your younger years of practice?
(MD) Yahara Sensei’s approach to hip rotation is not very different to Kanazawa Sensei’s approach. I think that Yahara Sensei’s approach to “extreme” hip rotation and “extreme” leg compression and expansion is more pronounced. This is what makes Yahara Sensei’s karate different and very effective once you have mastered it.
(SB) Critics of this type of extreme hip rotation have argued that it slows the technique, and makes it more impractical. How would you counter this argument?
(MD) An extreme hip position does not make one slower. This is the answer we mostly get from people that do not understand the reason for extreme hip positioning. Extreme hip positioning is done during basic training. One must always bear the following in mind - training basics and doing actual kumite are two totally different approaches. Doing extreme hip rotation during basic training will help develop the muscles at the side of the abdomen. With constant training it will produce a sharp, fast and snappy hip rotation. This is necessary to achieve the "one blow technique” that KWF strives for.
(SB) Isaka Sensei’s slow motion training seems to go over so many people’s heads and its value can at times be somewhat over looked. How has his training influenced you would you say?
(MD) Isaka Sensei’s slow motion training is very, very difficult. A lot of people don’t understand his approach, maybe due to lack of exposure, or due to fact that they have not trained with him.
I find his training methods superb, especially his slow movements of centre of gravity, geta training, makiwara training, leg strengthening exercises and the different ways of doing push ups. I have just returned from Japan where I had wonderful training sessions with Isaka Sensei (Please note that this interview was conducted in 2008).
(SB) And how much emphasis in your own teaching do you place on this approach?
(MD) When I first started training Isaka Sensei methods, it was difficult to understand exactly what was required. After a few visits to Japan and training everyday with him while in Japan, I can now say that I am beginning to understand his “basic before basics” philosophy.
I have included his teaching in my own dojo and also incorporated it into our area Grading syllabus.
(SB) Isaka Sensei travels to the UK once a year, and for the past three years I have been fortunate to go along and train with him, which has been amazing. Every time I train with him I expand my understanding of his approach that little bit more. Could you elaborate for our readers what you think he means by ‘basics before basics’?
(MD) Isaka Sensei always talks about “basics before basics”. My interpretation of this is as follows: This should be done with beginners and even advanced students that have never done this before.
Start training the basic punch, shuto strikes and blocks by sitting down on the mat with both legs extended to the front. Note that the centre of gravity should be slightly forward. While executing the punch or block, place a lot of emphasis on big circular movements and utilise the back muscles. All these techniques are done to the side of the body.
Also train all the stances by working very low down while moving slowly and concentrating on shifting the centre of gravity.
Once the above basics have been mastered, only then one can start working on karate basics such as kihon, kata and kumite.
(SB) You mention that Isaka Sensei stresses the full use of the back muscles when executing his techniques and achieving a feeling where the back muscles are helping deliver the techniques. Is this something that has been developed by Isaka Sensei and the KWF or did you see this being emphasised also during your time with other groups?
(MD) In Japan, during a discussing with Isaka Sensei, he told me that he was 45 years old when he started training the use of utilising the back muscles and found that his techniques were starting to get better and stronger.
I myself did not encounter this type of training with any of the other groups anywhere in the world. Of all the Japanese Instructors I have trained with, Isaka Sensei is the first to teach me about utilising the back muscles. (Maybe there are other instructors doing it, but I have never encountered it before).
(SB) And how about KWF Kata, how would you say that is different from what you had experienced elsewhere, as it has been noted by many that Yahara Sensei is attempting to bring kata back to its original state? Has Ibusuki Sensei had an impact on this?
(MD) Yes I can clearly see that Ibusuki Sensei has an impact on KWF kata.
Ibusuki Sensei is highly respected by both Yahara and Isaka Sensei. I was fortunate enough to attend his kata classes at the Honbu dojo, and one can clearly note the big movements that he wants which also blend with what Yahara Sensei is teaching. One must also realise that KWF is fortunate to have a great man like Ibusuki Sensei who trained under the late Funakoshi Shihan.
(SB) Readers of The Shotokan Way will know a bit about Ibusuki Sensei from our interview with him last year. We would however like to learn a little more about his approach to teaching. Could you please give us an insight into his classes and what it is like to train under him?
(MD) When I train with Ibusuki, I can immediately feel that this wonderful man has such an in depth knowledge of fighting skills. He taught us a lot of simple but very effective techniques for close combat fighting.
My son and I were very fortunate to have supper with him one evening.
As we were chatting he asked me if he could I feel my hands. “Please make knife hand” he said. He then felt the muscles on the sharp edge of my hand and smiled. He then asked my son Bryan the same and the same grin appeared on his face.
He then asked us to feel his hands. My son and I were both shocked; they were like a solid rock. His wife then said. He still trains every Tuesday and Thursday in the park hitting a “special tree” with his hands. I said to my son after that, now you know how he broke bottles with his bare hands. (Editor’s note: For more information about Ibusuki Sensei, please visit the Interview section of TSW).
My lesson to that meal was this. No matter how hard you train, if your striking weapon (hands, elbows, knees or feet) is not conditioned it is like having a blunt katana. (samurai sword, the best sword but not very effective if blunt)
(SB) In 2006, you sat your 7th Dan grading in front of Yahara Sensei, Isaka Sensei and Ibusuki Sensei. Can you please tell us what you underwent and give us an insight into your experience?
(MD) Correct – there were two of us from South Africa, Ian Duncan Sensei and myself. We went to Japan and trained for ten days with Yahara Sensei to prepare for our 7th Dan. On the grading date we first did the normal two-hour training in the black belt class then Yahara Sensei said – “Ossu, now we can start with the grading examination.” That was an exhilarating experience for both Ian Sensei and me. Anyway all went well and we both passed.
(SB) And what did the grading consist of exactly?
(MD) My grading consisted of two kata and kumite.
(SB) The Japanese approach to karate is typically quite different to the Western approach. Where does KWF SA sit with this? Closer to the Western approach or Japanese approach and why?
(MD) KWF South Africa approach is not at all competition style karate but more the traditional Budo way. KWF approach is “one blow” technique which is easy to say but difficult to do.
In South Africa, Malcolm Sensei and all of the Shihankai believe in the KWF Japanese approach to karate. I think the reason for this is that we have seen and felt the speed, power and dynamics of Yahara Sensei’s karate.
(SB) Many groups in the west have somewhat toned down the intensity of the budo training in order to get more students through the door and keep them there – making it more commercially acceptable you could say. Has KWF SA done this – and if not how have you tried to avoid this?
(MD) I have always believed in fairness and honesty. My karate training has only enforced these principles and I have always defended them. I have studied karate with only one thought in mind and that is to train hard and respect others.
Many people believe that by toning down the intensity of training, one gets more students. I think that this is only a short-term solution. My definition of a great karate instructor is one that can keep his students interested in karate for twenty years and more and to build and mould them into fighting machine to the best of his/her abilities with control. Karate being a martial art is a life time study and I have students that have been with me for over thirty years.
Instructors have to realise that not everyone can be a Champion or a fighter but everyone can strive to improve their character and way of life by training hard.
Sensei Malcolm has often told us “I would rather have a small organisation of true karate students than a large organisation with only a few exceptional karate students”.
This is one our beliefs in KWF SA.
(SB) How big an impact has WKF had on karate in South Africa? Is it popular there?
(MD) KSA (National Karate body in South Africa) has been accepted by our government as the official karate body in South Africa. So National colours can only be awarded through KSA, who in turn is affiliated to WKF. So yes WKF is popular in South Africa.
(SB) Your son is the very talented Bryan Dukas. Can you please tell us a little about his development over the years and how does it make you feel to watch him train?
(MD) Yes Bryan is very talented – he started karate at an early age of 4 and 1/2 years old.
He has won many tournaments and when I see him perform I feel proud.
Although he is my son, I have to say that his dedication to karate is phenomenal. Another wonderful aspect of his character is his politeness and humble attitude. This makes me even more proud than his ability to win medals. After all this is what karate is about and that is the reason that I myself practice this wonderful art.
Talent alone did not make him the good karateka that he is, but a combination of talent, humble character and constant very hard dedicated training.
(SB) What is your favourite kata and why?
(MD) When I was younger I used to do Sochin as my favourite kata, but now find that it is too much strain on my injured knee. I now perform Gojushiho-sho, which is less strain on the knees. From this kata one can demonstrate a variety of techniques, different feelings and also a variety of stances.
(SB) KWF Karate strives for the ‘one hit one kill’. In what ways do you teach kumite to place extreme emphasis on this?
(MD) I teach the extreme contraction and expansion of striking utilising the straightening of the back knee. Of course there are many other factors like the one mentioned in my answer in question 15. If your hands or feet are not conditioned you will never achieve the “one blow” technique. So obviously we also do makiwara and bag training.
(SB) I have heard that KWF competition is a little different from the normal Shobu-ippon. How are the rules different would you say?
(MD) If you are referring to the JKA Shobu-Ippon – I would say it is no different other than:
In KWF, head butting is allowed, but controlled and only allowed in senior events.
Step in techniques like oi-geri and oi-zuki are usually Ippon, if all the criteria are met.
No points are given just because you have managed to strike the opponent, if the strike was not effective and all the criteria are met regarding the blow, then that technique will not score. This rule is strictly adhered to. So scoring points is not easy in KWF.
Other than the above the competition rules are basically the same.
(SB) Can you please tell us some of the kumite drills/exercises that you teach in order to help develop the concept of ikken hisatsu?
(MD) We do a lot of repetitions, makiwara and bag training. This is important to develop and groove the techniques. In a real situation one might only have one opportunity to block or attack and it better be correct.
I also work a lot on timing. Example: Rotating and striking, rotating and kicking, striking while the opponent steps in and of course compression and expansion while blocking and striking.
(SB) This contraction and expansion of the body is very much a part of the JKA Style karate, but has been taken even further by Sensei Yahara. Can you please explain how this extreme contraction and expansion of the body help generate higher levels of power as opposed to the less extreme approach?
(MD) As I mentioned before, the extreme contraction and expansion practiced during basics will help develop the body by being more flexible.
A simple answer to the extreme rotation as opposed to the less extreme approach is this:
Extreme rotational approach, the punch or block travels further so it will develop more power. It is not just the turning of the hips that is important but the sharp, snap rotation of the hips that helps create the power.
If one sees how Yahara and Isaka Sensei move and the power generated from their kicks and punches, then in order for us to be like them we have to train our basics the way they do it. Because of the extreme rotational movements one becomes more supple around the abdomen, especially the sides of the abdomen, shoulders, chest, arms and legs, this in turn helps to develop flexibility and speed.
Yahara Sensei explains this by comparing your body to a coiled spring. The more torsion you create on the spring by turning it inward and holding it there, the greater the explosion is when you release the spring.
(SB) What does your current training consist of? What are the most important things you are now working on in your own personal development?
(MD) My current training program consists of stretching and strengthening my back muscles and trying to separate my hips from my spine by stretching the groin muscles. This I find very difficult but I am getting better every month.
Then I am working hard on trying to shift the centre of gravity in various stances as Isaka and Yahara Sensei do. This is very difficult but the rewards are looking good.
I am also working hard on hand and arm conditioning by doing makiwara and bag training. Besides all the above, I work on kata and basics as always.
(SB) Are there any points that you would like to speak about that I have neglected to ask you about?
(MD) Thanks I think you have covered a lot about me and this has been rewarding because it brought back some old and lost memories.
(SB) Can we say how wonderful it has been being able to interview you, and may we wish you every success for the future?
(MD) Thank you