South African karate is regarded and respected internationally for its strong, spirited and dedicated establishment of Traditional Shotokan Karate. We have interviewed several significant members of the South African karate lineage, and I am so excited to bring to you another such interview with Nigel Jackson. Conducted over a period of weeks in 2010 – with updates in 2011 – this interview is a ‘straight down the line’ discussion of some significant points in his long training career.
With vivid and colourful detail, Nigel discusses a wide and varied list of topics, ranging from his time in Japan, his experiences with instructors there, and his more recent direction in the Martial Arts.
May I take this opportunity to thank Nigel for kindly giving me his time and sharing his stories, and also to members of THE SHOTOKAN WAY for providing suggested questions. – Shaun Banfield
QUESTIONS BY THE SHOTOKAN WAY
(Shaun Banfield) We asked you earlier about your outside life during your kyu grade training period. Can you please tell us about your life outside the dojo during your period in the Instructor Program? How had things changed, if at all?
(Nigel Jackson) Our lives outside the dojo didn’t change much, except that Yvonne and I had become very comfortable with our life in Tokyo with our son and our expected baby.
Eddie Dorey had responsibilities at home and returned home earlier than he at first intended, leaving me without a non-Japanese friend. Yvonne had made a Japanese friend who often accompanied us on trips around Tokyo. I made no friends outside of the martial arts.
The JKA instructors still kept their distance but the martial arts luminary Don Draeger, my teacher and friend, always invited me and my family to the very select All Japan Budo Federation’s demonstrations where Shimizu Sensei, the head master of the Shindo Muso Ryu Jodo organisation and his students performed Jodo (stick fighting) demonstrations. He was strict on the dojo floor but friendly off the floor, a valuable lesson I learned about how to treat students properly.
Don was generous with information about Japanese ways and customs, and the martial arts. I suspect he knew I would not receive any enlightenment from the JKA instructors and so he provided me with the knowledge I needed.
We would always go sight-seeing in and around Tokyo on weekends, sometimes accompanied by Yvonne’s friend Kimiko, eating out at the small inexpensive traditional food stores and visiting interesting places.
We were cash-strapped and had to work consistently in our teaching jobs. I obtained prestige jobs at some of the big Japanese corporate head offices teaching executives to speak Queen’s English. We were able to earn enough to sustain ourselves, but it was always a struggle. Often we couldn’t eat that well on a Monday because we didn’t earn money on the Sunday.
Then of course Yvonne had to care for her diet during her pregnancy, and our son’s good diet was also a priority.
(SB) Many records out there that list the graduates of the Instructor Program fail to list you as a graduate. Could you shed some light as to why this is, and why has your record been omitted?
(NJ) Yes, they fail to list me, but also other non-Japanese as well. It never bothered me until I saw the JKA web site, then it irked me that they erased pure factual history.
I learned that Malcolm Fisher from Canada, Leon Montoya and Ennio Vezulli from Brazil and perhaps others were also erased.
Horst Handel and I completed the course and graduated to San Dan along with other kenshusei. Masao Kawazoe, now in England, is an example of a Japanese training colleague and friend who completed the course with us, he is listed, but Horst and I not.
Considering the ordeal I endured as a kenshusei, often more than my Japanese colleagues, I don’t understand the omission, but I can speculate about it.
I wrote to the JKA authorities by email and then sent it by slow mail to ensure that it arrived. I politely pointed out to them that my name was omitted from their graduate list. I asked them to correct this but I was ignored, quite rude in my view and not in line with Japanese manners or budo.
Perhaps I was omitted because I didn’t graduate from a Japanese university, or simply was not Japanese. The certificates that were presented to Eddie Dorey and I when we were accepted into the program by Nakayama and Takagi stated that we were “international kenshusei”, so it’s possible we were omitted because we were not Japanese.
There is no doubt that the instructors at that time wanted the kenshusei group to remain purely Japanese. They all made that very obvious to us, some viciously. The frustration at not being able to intimidate us and expel us out of the program, as they did to the two Ni Dans, must have irritated them.
We were never permitted to enter or use the kenshusei and instructors change rooms. We had to use the common changing facilities with the general membership. We were permitted to join them for dojo breakfasts after the special “kangeko” winter training.
Perhaps it was racial discrimination, I don’t know, but it’s too bad the Japanese have not paid me the courtesy of an honest reply to my enquiries. Your readers can make up their own minds.
(SB) Following the passing of Nakayama Sensei, splits within the JKA emerged. Did you ever see evidence of such divides years prior to his passing, or did these divisions only emerge afterwards?
(NJ) During kenshusei training, and especially in dojo kumite training, there were obvious divisions, at least to the kenshusei. It was an unspoken thing, not noticeable to any outsider.
There were two factions in the dojo. The faction that adopted me included the late Takahashi, Oishi, Ochi, Tabata, Iida, Okuda and Ueki. For example, when yame was called during kumite and I was caught off sides, surrounded by the other faction on the floor, and a senior from my faction couldn’t partner with me, then I was on my own and in danger of being attacked and the chances of being injured increased considerably.
When the split ultimately occurred in 1987 I think it comprised the same two opposite groups that existed in the 1960s. I wasn’t surprised.
(SB) Can you please elaborate on this? Was there a long running divide?
(NJ) I mentioned before that there were two groups (camps) of instructors on the Instructors training floor. These groups always remained, so I believe that there was a long-running divide. Japanese people, and especially the JKA instructors, never indulged in “colleague camaraderie” like Caucasians do. Each instructor was very much his own man. I wasn’t interested in their social ways, so didn’t observe or contemplate their ways off the floor.
(SB) In 1980, you decided to part company with the JKA. What prompted this decision? Could you please describe your feelings in leaving what must have felt like a family for so long to you?
(NJ) I saw it coming because I increasingly found myself at odds with the South African JKA. However, one event in particular made me decide to quit and not be associated or affiliated with any one in Japan. I communicated with the JKA in Japan about my difficulties with the SA JKA and assured them that my decision should not be seen as anti-JKA Japan. However, shortly thereafter the SA JKA invoked a section of the South African All Style Karate body’s national constitution which stated that an individual could not operate a dojo in SA unless he was a member of a recognised Japanese style.
The SA JKA pounced on this rule and used it to strip me of my positions on the all-style executive in South Africa, the national selectors board, and the executive committee. The JKA in Japan condemned my actions and stripped me of all my Dan ranks, issued a warning to the effect that I should not be allowed to enter any JKA dojo.
Many years later, I asked a senior South African JKA instructor why the seniors had agreed to axe me. Blame was assigned directly to the chief instructor; all other instructors feared that he would also have them discredited in Japan if they did not fall in line with the decision to ban me. This was a shining example of the discriminatory mentality that permeated the SA JKA at the time.
My book on the JKA finally closed on one of my visits to Japan when I met Shoji Sensei by chance. He was overjoyed to meet me again and apologized to me for the wrong that the JKA Japan had done to me.
My high opinion of Shoji Sensei increased even more. I departed from him with a happy heart and a closed book on that period of my Karate career.
(SB) South Africa was at times in turmoil due to the apartheid. Did this have any impact on the development of South African karate do you think, and also did it affect you at all?
(NJ) Apartheid was a terrible travesty against all non-white South Africans.
The Japanese were effectively second-class citizens and no Japanese instructor wanted to be based in South Africa. Local karate-ka had no choice but to travel to Japan to train at the JKA in Tokyo and thereby experience authentic training. Blacks who wanted to, couldn’t afford the a trip to Japan but, even if they could, their passports probably would have been denied. The apartheid mentality was deeply ingrained in the SA JKA leadership. The seniors at the time were whites who, to my knowledge, supported the apartheid government, in line with the majority of whites in S. Africa.
During a brief stay in S. Africa from Zambia, I attended Enoeda’s first training session in Johannesburg. Non-whites were barred from attending but, in any event, wouldn’t have been able to stay long as they had to adhere to evening curfews.
This era produced a band of highly-trained Shotokan karate men, due to their direct and early exposure to training in Japan. Sanctions against South Africa isolated us and therefore the rest of the Shotokan world had scant exposure to South African Shotokan young players and senior instructors. That was everyone’s loss!
After my arrival in South Africa I became a member of the SA JKA organisation, even though I privately had intentions of moving abroad at the first opportunity. Because I did not grow up in S. Africa I wasn’t a product of the apartheid education system, so I believe I had a different mindset to my colleagues in the SA JKA hierarchy.
My plans to emigrate were suspended when I moved to Cape Town to work for a Swedish industrial engineering and steel company. Cape Town is far removed from Johannesburg, the centre of South African karate. The SA JKA leaders in Johannesburg were arrogant, aloof and unaccountable, committed to manipulating tournament results for each other and being hostile and superior to the other South African Japanese style organisations.
Funakoshi’s Dojo Kun and Twenty Precepts couldn’t be reconciled with the apartheid laws and had to be conveniently ignored by South African karate instructors.
The SA JKA chief instructor in particular was accountable to nobody and had JKA Japan’s blessing. The other seniors fell in behind for years but eventually they decided that they could no longer simply follow. The results of this system are evident today: the once omnipotent SA JKA has become fractured, and divisive. Virtually all of the notable seniors split from it, while many others, including the chief instructor, live abroad.
He must look sadly at the self-destruction of his association.
The impact of all this on me personally was significant, however, I wonder about my impact on South African karate. I was the first white karate man to openly instruct non-whites. A few did so before me but they always did so secretly in the very early morning hours.
I don’t consider myself politically dissident but have always been a liberal thinker who believes in justice. This sent my opinions into turmoil.
In Japan I closely observed the horrors of the unwinnable Vietnam War and feared a similar thing in South Africa. I calculated that the apartheid regime could never be sustained over the long-term. I believed in the karate-do principle that training was for all people.
I opened my dojo in Cape Town to all races, causing about two thirds of my white membership to leave in disgust. This also brought me to the attention of the State security police. Whenever I instructed at one local Cape Town school for coloured people, a security policeman was there to observe. It was quite bizarre.
The national SA All Style karate body eventually declared that the government would permit non-whites to learn karate as long as they did so “separately.”
I continued to ignore this so-called concession. After a particularly harrowing instance of intimidation by the security police I reassessed my position and my family’s safety. I decided to “cop out” of the South African system by convincing myself that I was a Zambian and that the system in South Africa was no business of mine. The fact that I could easily have been deported to Zambia was not lost on me either.
I decided to keep my opinions to myself and resolved to concentrate on my two sons’ education and our safety. I would emigrate as soon as their education was complete.
I once dropped my guard in a conversation with a senior SA JKA instructor. I said that my sons would never be allowed to point a firearm in anger at a black South African. I was branded a traitor and publicly berated by another senior JKA man for “teaching black people karate to enable them to kill the whites.”
I ultimately found no suitable country to emigrate to and so waited for South Africa to normalise politically. I maintained my Cape Town dojo which I treasured and was able to resist technical changes whenever a senior instructor returned from the UK or USA with some fancy but totally misunderstood technique that was not taught in Japan.
I was a SA JKA member. I attended all training sessions and cooperated to further the association’s aims in South Africa but, to this day, my way of Shotokan is very evident in the Western Cape.
I left the SA JKA because of the senior instructors’ attitude. I had attained Go Dan. I loved the way and discipline of Japanese karate-do. However, I resented the chief instructor’s autocratic approach and I rejected the cliquey atmosphere cultivated by the other seniors.
I discovered that they were conspiring to undermine my karate efforts and I decided to make a move, the first high-ranking non-Japanese to break from the JKA.
Within a few weeks of my resignation the JKA in Japan quickly disciplined me, with the blessing of the SA JKA seniors.
(SB) So with the apartheid stimulating much violent conflict, did you ever have to use your karate skills for self defence?
(NJ) Life in urban South Africa was no different to anywhere else. Violence was mostly contained to the bush and border regions, although in the 70’s many thought it fashionable to get involved in some kind of punch up. Cape Town didn’t have that kind of culture. Besides, by nature I am a friendly person who isn’t provoked easily. I would prefer to make a buddy than indulge in a fight. My friendly disposition and aura of self-confidence made me an unlikely target for the local bully brigade.
Trouble came from visiting South African JKA instructors from up country or north of our borders. I experienced some situations from “scalp hunters” who mistook my relaxed and friendly manner as a sign of weakness. I handled them easily as I had so much more skill.
However, once during a kumite session training a visitor from Zimbabwe suddenly switched his manner. When I was looking the other way he threw a massive roundhouse punch to my face. I sensed what was coming and was able to roll with the punch and so limited the damage that it could have done. I calmly told him that I had been treating him as a guest student but now I would fight him as an equal. I ordered the class off the dojo floor and then proceeded to thrash this individual. I exercised control but I could have gone too far had my wife Yvonne not ordered one of the black belts to intervene. She saved both of us from a disaster.
That experience was a stark reminder to that I was potentially still a trained killer. I vowed never to expose myself to that kind of unpleasant situation again. For a time I felt bad about the injuries I had inflicted on my opponent. That was until I heard that he was a serial “scalp hunter” and had better success with an instructor up-country. At least one good result was that nobody ever tested me on the dojo floor again.
(SB) You went on to join the SKIF, which was and still is, led by one of the world’s most senior instructors – Hirokazu Kanazawa. Can you tell us a little about him?
(NJ) I didn’t have any contact with Kanazawa while I was at the JKA as he had already moved to Europe. I looked forward to working under this so-called great master but he was a disappointment. Although a natural athlete, he never demonstrated anything to justify his reputation.
(SB) And how about the other Senior SKIF members such as S. Ichihara etc?
(NJ) Ichihara must have been a high school level karate graduate, certainly well below par when compared to the quality Japanese instructors. He was a sullen, unfriendly individual.
Koga, the chief instructor in Switzerland, was a diminutive man who also exhibited high school standard karate ability.
The young and talented Murakami was still a Takushoku University student during my time at the SKI. It is a great pity that he hasn’t been able to realize his true karate potential in the SKI.
(SB) In 1990, Sensei Kasuya formed the WSKF. You decided to follow. Could you please explain why you decided to do this?
(NJ) Kasuya and I were joint founders of the WSKF so it wasn’t a matter of me following him into the WSKF. My members and I were already committed before the federation was actually formed.
For several years both Kasuya and I tried in vain to implement changes and improvements to the SKI. He even departed from the SKI in frustration on one or two occasions but was persuaded to return. Early in 1990, after enduring another frustrating and annoying experience with the SKI way, I decided to sever my ties. I telephoned Kasuya from Johannesburg and told him that I was getting out of the SKI and that all of my instructors had agreed to do likewise. He said that he was in the same situation and was about to do the same. After prolonged communications we settled on our new organisation’s name and logo. Kasuya notified certain people about this. Denmark was the first to join with Japan and South Africa.
On my very first trip to the Tokyo SKI dojo I crossed paths again with Kasuya. We remembered each other from the JKA Suido-bashi Dojo and became friends. Frankly, the reason that I tolerated the SKI was because of Kasuya’s presence.
I enjoyed his serious dedication to karate, his physical mastery of karate techniques and exceptional flexibility. I judged him to be the best Shotokan exponent that I had ever seen. Besides that, he was a good example of a very well-educated, cultured, groomed and mannered individual off the dojo floor. I considered him to be the ideal person for my South African students to align.
(SB) And has his karate evolved do you think, has he developed and progressed forward in his thinking and practice?
(NJ) Kasuya is a no-nonsense traditionalist imbued with old-style Japanese class and refinement. He continually researches how karate was practised during the Funakoshi era, and has used his non-JKA position to gain information from the older university karate schools (e.g., Keio and Hosei) that never veered from the traditional approach. This makes for intelligent and stimulating conversation with him on all aspects of karate.
On the flip side, he has a natural ability to be totally original. Attend his seminars to observe a style of Shotokan virtually unknown to all other Japanese instructors. He rejects boring basics, the marching-up-and-down-the-floor training prevalent in the Shotokan. He is a master of innovation, especially techniques involving rotary motion, and combines linear movement with an array of multi-directional and spinning techniques that most non-WSKF practitioners can barely comprehend. These are then applied to kumite in clever and effective drills that force practitioners to think about how to create angles with Tai Sabaki, how to use an opponent’s power against him, and how to strike using the power rotation.
Most impressive, though, is that Kasuya is a working instructor, I mean that you won’t ever see him emulating the typical “Japanese master” who stands off to the side barking out orders to students. Kasuya trains alongside his students in every class, demonstrates every technique, and at 63 he is fit, fast and flexible, able to manage and control opponents in seamless jiyu kumite. He’s evolved into a karate man whose sole aim is to lead by example.
(SB) It has been suggested that Kasuya Sensei’s karate is representative of the karate of the 60s, and represents a close link to Funakoshi’s principles. Can you explain what you feel about this?
(NJ) Kasuya’s karate is definitively representative of the karate of the 60s. This is the reason why I identified with him when we crossed paths in the SKI on my first visit there. He was doing the type of karate that I was familiar with and continues to do so. He had been researching Funakoshi’s original style of Shotokan and applying his findings to his own brand of Shotokan. I found this very refreshing, especially since the JKA in the 60s preferred not to evoke Funakoshi’s name because they wanted the JKA style nationalized as Japanese, not Okinawan karate
While at the JKA in Tokyo I frequented the foreign book shop on the Ginza and bought all the karate books in stock from time to time. This was a valuable additional resource and where I read about the principles of Funakoshi’s karate-do, which were not taught at the JKA in my time.
(SB) How would you say WSKF is different to other organisations?
(NJ) Because the WSKF is a JKA derivative, there are technical similarities – we do the same kata, after all – but we prefer more natural flowing movements and breathing to the over-emphasis on power techniques and heavy breathing prevalent in the JKA. And of course, the primary WSKF distinction lies in the multi-directional, spinning movements in its kihon and kumite syllabi. I defy any hard-nosed JKA acolyte to try get to grips with a Kasuya-style session.
For the most part, with Kasuya Sensei at its helm the WSKF projects an image of refinement, class and culture combined with technical excellence, so very different to its big JKA brother. Administratively, the WSKF has always been different to other Shotokan groups, especially the JKA, in its egalitarian approach. By that I mean strict hierarchy is maintained in the dojo setting but at meetings, etc, where administrative issues must be dealt with, rank plays no role and juniors may speak their mind without fear of retaliation from seniors. Also, senior non-Japanese instructors are more visible and prominent in the WSKF organization.
But I sense a return in the WSKF to the obsolete notion that control of the organization must be retained exclusively by the Japanese. This is an unfortunate and misguided view, especially with ever-increasing evidence that it doesn’t find favour as it once did among non-Japanese.
Luckily, the WSKF is still a young and flexible organization that will hopefully be able to retain its original inclusive direction.
(SB) In December 2010 you decided to leave the WSKF. What was the reason behind this decision?
(NJ) There were compelling reasons but I must emphasize that there is no acrimony between our South African group, Kasuya Sensei and any of the WSKF branches or Japanese-style organisations. We will continue to follow the Japanese karate way and maintain our strong Shotokan Karate identity.
We got tired of the autocratic Japanese approach which we felt was too prescriptive and stuck in the 1960s karate mentality. This hindered our progress and innovation. I rejected the notion that only the Japanese are able to understand “budo’ and “karate-do” and therefore only they should be in control of karate organisations.
I have been involved in Japanese karate for 48 years. Our South African Shihankai comprises excellent instructors with an average of 35 years training in Shotokan karate.
The years spent in the JKA and WSKF organisations were ideal developmental years for us all but now I believe that we are qualified to operate without Japanese control.
(SB) Could you please describe the structure of your new group?
(NJ) We are an organisation that has successfully fused democracy with karate discipline and karate-do. We are not establishing ourselves as another international group.
I have retired as Chief Instructor and will now act as Chairman. Our group is controlled by our Shihankai. Each member is a highly-trained and graded international instructor with long years of experience in the JKA and WSKF systems.
Those with particular ability and skills will be responsible for specific portfolios. We have added two extra portfolios – “alternative fighting methods” and “martial arts”.
(SB) Can you explain the two additional portfolios?
(NJ) The late Don Draeger, my Martial Arts teacher in Japan, would often stress that classical traditional Japanese karate had limitations in real combat situations. He emphasized the great importance of mastering the concept of “Zanshin” in any martial art. I applied his wisdom in the dojo by teaching no-holds-barred fighting techniques.
A Brazilian Black Belt who was also a Brazilian-style ground fighting expert joined our Cape Town dojo for a period. He gave us a deeper understanding of how to defend when taken to the ground.
I emphasize that we are not advertising ourselves as qualified teachers in any of the Budo Arts. We teach techniques from other Martial Arts to enhance our fighting capabilities and so enable our members to become traditional Shotokan Karate practitioners with added value. Our goal is simply to make them well-rounded fighters and technicians.
(SB) What are your hopes for the future?
(NJ) We hope to continue with our entrenched karate-do and technical excellence. We’ll also continue to co-operate in friendship with all karate and other martial arts groups and organisations.
I am hopeful that our organisation, “Shotokan Karate”, will continue to produce karate-ka of excellent calibre, well-balanced in both karate-do and budo. I also look forward to our youngsters becoming well rounded tournament champions in the future.
(SB) How would you describe yourself as an instructor, and could you give us a glimpse into your teaching style?
(NJ) I am a passionate teacher of my way of Shotokan Karate-do and Budo as I know it. This is the reason why I am still involved in the art at my age.
I love passing on what I know about Karate and Martial Arts to any student and enjoy assisting my senior graded colleagues who are mostly my past students and all excellent exponents of Shotokan Karate.
I believe Karate is a wonderful way of motivation -- on and off the Dojo floor.
(SB) Do you feel that the balanced kihon, kata, kumite structure and focus is still the best and most effective format in order to encourage progression in Shotokan Karate ?
(NJ) As a traditional Shotokan practitioner I have a strong belief in systematic training in all of the kumite categories (ippon, gohon, sanbon, kihon ippon, kaeshi ippon, okuri ippon,jiyu ippon and jiyu) and in kata and kihon. These are the basis of Shotokan and what makes it the strong karate style that it is.
These various stages allow the correct development of distance, timing, balance and Zanshin at a pace that promotes controlled physical and mental development as well as the building of confidence.
All too often, instructors skip this structured system to concentrate on tournament type jiyu kumite, only to discover much later that the structured approach is the only way to become an effective holistic Shotokan practitioner.
(SB) How has your attitude and feelings towards karate changed over the years, and do you personally have a karate philosophy?
(NJ) My attitude and feeling towards karate have remained constant since I began training long ago. I’m approaching 70 now and am still as enthusiastic as ever about Budo and Karate-do. I love teaching our young students.
I’ve trimmed its philosophy to suit Caucasian ways and then adopted it as my own.
Though defined as a martial art, karate is not merely a form of human movement expressed in kihon and kata. It is ultimately about fighting and, in my view, black belt practitioners must be able to apply their art through genuine defensive and offensive kumite.
Unless handicapped in some way, no black belts, especially San Dan and above, can progress further under me unless they can demonstrate effective fighting skills.
Finally, I found Funakoshi’s Niju Kun of Karate quite profound when I read them and decided to adopt them as a life-directing philosophy. I try to apply this in my instructing, especially in encouraging my students to think with an enquiring mind and to understand what they are actually doing in their training.
(SB) Are there any points that you would like to discuss that I have neglected to ask you about?
(NJ) I have so enjoyed doing this interview with you. Can I finish by encouraging everyone, especially young people, to participate in karate training. In my opinion there is nothing better to develop character and self-discipline.
Practise the way of karate, not just its techniques, not forgetting the martial principles and the five maxims on and off the dojo floor. That is the way to experience the beauty of the art and its many wonderful practitioners.
(SB) Can we please say thank you for all of your time, effort and support in bringing this interview to our readers. It’s been an utter pleasure and may I wish you all the success for the future?
(NJ) Yes, it has been a great pleasure! Thank you! You’re very welcome.