The Shotokan Way are lucky enough to have an interview with World Famous Takeshi Naito Sensei here on our site. May we pass on a huge thank you to Michele Romano for conducting the interview for us, Mrs. Romano for helping with the translation and also to Susan Westlake for helping us arrange the interview- Shaun Banfield 3rd August 2007
(Michele Romano) Could you please tell us how and why you started Karate?
(Takeshi Naito) Actually. I started practicing Judo. I moved to Karate when I was attending the 3rd year of the secondary school, because my body was not so well built for what Judo required.
(MR) You had a long run as a very successful competitor. How would you describe competitions back then?
(TN) Concerning the technical level, in my time karateka started using the sen no sen with kizami-tsuki, uraken, gyaku-tsuki techniques. The kumite turned a resemblance to the jiyu-ippon kumite; one could hardly see a deai (Direct counter against an attack – Edit note – description taken from ‘The Shotokan-Karate Dictionary’ by Schlatt).
(MR) Would you care to share any memories you have from your competing days?
(TN) I first came to Europe in 1970 as an athlete of the University National Team, which was made up of students from several Japanese Universities in Europe where we met a selected European Team whose athletes came from Italy, France, England, Germany, Yugoslavia and Belgium. It was a great experience because I had the chance to compete against athletes who had broader bodies than I had. In Japan I was amongst the biggest body types and from that experience I understood the importance of karate based on body shifting.
(MR) Competitively, who would you say were your biggest influences and why?
(TN) In Kumite I took inspiration from Mr. Oishi, and in Kata from Mr. Takahashi.
(MR) You were also a member from the infamous Instructors' Course at the JKA. Could you please tell us about this time in your life?
(TN) In those times, when training in Kumite there wasn’t any self control. One day we as “Kanto Tokio Shotokan” happened to meet some athletes from “ Kansai Osaka” who used to practice the Goju Ryu. We trained together and all wanted to make our own style prevailing over the other. The main rule therefore was “hit as hard as you can”.
(MR) Who taught most of the classes back then, and what did the Instructors' Course place most importance on?
(TN) Mr. Oishi used to teach Kumite and Mr. Takahashi taught Kata. (Editor’s note - Takeshi Oishi was JKA Individual Kumite Champion in 1969, 70, 71 and again in 1973 – Yoshimasa Takahashi was JKA Kata Champion in 1970, 72 and 73.)
(MR) Am I right in thinking you had to submit written essays about the bio-mechanics of the Karate techniques on the Instructors' Course. What essays did you write?
(TN) Back then the theory was poor and was separated from the practice. Traditional Karate and Sport Karate are different.
(MR) You have worked very closely with Sensei Shirai and Kase. In what ways would you say they have influenced you and your Karate?
(TN) Mr. Kase and Mr. Shirai and I belong to three different Karate periods. I however can say for sure that they both passed onto me the spirit and the sense of respect, which are the essence of Traditional Karate. Every age can develop different techniques and ways of doing Karate, but the real spirit is always the same; this is a great satisfaction to me.
(MR) You are also known to have taught at the famous ‘Fujiyama Milan’ dojo in Italy. Why do you think this dojo has gained the reputation that it has?
(TN) The dojo Fujiyama is famous because it has always “produced” a champion and it’s still gaining constant positive results, either in Kumite, or in Kata, and in embu.
(MR) You are a leading figure in FITKA. What are the central things emphasised in this group and indeed in your teachings?
(TN) While teaching, I constantly focus on the spirit of Traditional Karate. The Japanese culture is different from the European, and the European karateka are fond of the Traditional Karate roots.
(MR) You share a very close relationship with Sensei Kawasoe. Can you please tell us what it is that has made him one of the most famous Karate teachers in the world?
(TN) Mr. Kawazoe is very flexible and good using kicks. These qualities have made him so special.
(MR) May I ask Sensei, how often do you yourself train at this present time?
(TN) I am constantly training each Wednesday with Mr. Shirai and also when I teach Karate to the Karate athletes. It helps me to feel young.
(MR) How has your Karate developed would you say since your younger days as a Trainee Instructor?
(TN) Nowadays, the practitioner’s level is higher than in the past, because the age range has increased and lots of women have also started practicing Karate too, a practice traditionally regarded as a man’s art.
(MR) You are renown for your technical excellence. Do you think it can be a disadvantage to stick too rigidly to the form of Karate, as you become more advanced karateka, when it comes to a Kumite situation?
(TN) When one reaches high standard levels in Karate, he/she develops his/her own style.
(MR) Those who have watched your Karate have described it as ‘Cat Like’, I believe referring to how nimble and relaxed you are. How can students of Shotokan achieve similar traits in their Karate?
(TN) I teach the Karate foundations and its main techniques as precisely as I can. While teaching Kumite, I always try to respect the athlete’s main feature. The important thing is that he/she has the right spirit.
(MR) What is your favorite Kata and why?
(TN) Sochin and Chinte are my favourite kata. The first because it is “male” and strong; the latter because it has got harmonious techniques built upon a strong basis.
If one knows the bunkai and the context of a kata very well he/she can surely apply it as much as he/she likes at liberty. There doesn’t exist only one strict application of kata. If one trains his/her own technique, mind and spirit so that they become stronger, he/she learns lots of useful things for both the bunkai and his/her own life.
(MR) Can we say a big thank you for this opportunity to interview you and we wish you every success in the future.