OSAMU AOKI 7th Dan
Osamu Aoki 7th Dan is the Chief Instructor for JKA Spain. A student, like his close friend Sensei Osaka (Japan), of Takushoku University, this man comes from a tough background. Here within this interview conducted on our behalf very kindly by Jeanin Sabah (Secretary to JKA Spain) we gain a full and detailed insight into his experiences. We hear about his relationship with Sensei Nakayama, his experiences heading JKA Spain and his approach, entitled AOKI BIO ENERGY. This fascinating interview gives us an insight into Sensei Aoki the man and his karate! – Shaun Banfield 08
Questions by THE SHOTOKAN WAY
(Jeanin Sabah) Can we please start the interview by saying how grateful and thankful we are that you have been willing enough to provide us with this interview!
I would like to begin by asking how you first got started in the Martial Arts, and would you please share some early memories of your training?
(Osamu Aoki) My first contact with the Martial Arts was when I was 14. At the time it was difficult to find a karate dojo as they were all judo or kendo dojos, but nothing else. At that time karate was not very known, it was even considered as something dangerous. People had the wrong idea. I was only a child and I had no idea about karate, styles or different schools of karate. Since I was little, I played table tennis, and I joined the regional team. After table tennis training, I used to then go to karate training. Well, at the time I thought it was karate, but in fact it was a type of jujutsu. There was nothing else near my house.
I did not know anything about the JKA or Shotokan until I went to Takushoku Daigaku University. I entered that University because at that time it was very known for its karate team, although also very famous for its level of education and its way of becoming international and to give you an opportunity to serve abroad. My parents did not let me do karate, so until I went to University they never knew I was training in karate.
(JS) Can you please tell us about your relationship with Sensei Nakayama? What was he like as a teacher?
(OA) My relationship with Sensei Nakayama was unforgettable. His way of teaching was so emotional. He was very caring and human.
Amongst the nicest memories I have are the times we went skiing. He was a very good skier and so was I (I almost got into a University to take part in the ski team).
In the third year of University, I joined the ski trip and sensei Nakayama was the man in charge. Because I had a good level, he chose me to ski with him during the five days. We used to ski during the day and he would invite me to have dinner and a drink with him at night. That trip gave me the opportunity to know him much better, and he influenced me a lot.
At that time I never thought of dedicating my life to karate, especially in Europe. I remember most of all, his influence on the way to become an international person. Once I was in Spain, Sensei Nakayama used to visit. I remember once with Sensei Nakayama, Sensei Tsuyama and Osaka, we went to teach the Police National Academy in Ávila. There was a lot of people, students from the elite forces and the authorities. Sensei Nakayama was very inspired and gave a very nice speech and he mentioned one of the phrases of our University hymn “In front of me there are no frontiers of blood neither of earth ….” I was translating and I was very nervous trying to say exactly what he was saying. At the end everybody stood up and did not stop clapping. Sensei Nakayama thanked me for that, and I never forgot the look he gave me.
As a sensei, he used to tell me that more important than the training itself it was the way we enrich our personality. He used to talk a lot about this. He even gave me, with his handwriting, the dojo kun and some kekejikus (with his thoughts). He also gave me his kimono and a belt with his name on it. I have lots of memories. But most of everything I remember his way of treating me and others with a high human quality.
I also remember when I was not very known and Sensei Nakayama called me to attend a Shihan Kai meeting in front of all the big masters Nishiyama, Okazaki, Kanazawa, Kase, Shirai, Miyasaki, Ochi, …Osaka was the secretary and he introduced me as the JKA Spain representative, I was the youngest. That kind of experience not everyone has. He had an incredibly human outlook on things. There are hundreds of details and memories, he was a great person, but also he was like a father to me. Even today I try to talk to him when I am in my own dojo.
(JS) What were the most important things he taught you that have influenced you throughout your entire karate career?
(OA) One of the most important things he taught me was to learn how to be a flexible person and to serve the society, his influence as a leader and how one can become a true leader.
(JS) You were friends with Osaka Sensei since you were very young am I correct in thinking? Can you please tell us about some of your peers from your early training years?
(OA) Osaka and I have been friends since we entered the Takushoku University. He was accepted for his karate level (he was student of Sensei Miyata, the right hand to Sensei Nakayama) and I was accepted because of my academic grades. But we were both accepted without passing the admission exams, so we were there a couple months before the other students, while they were passing the exams.
We were roommates. Since then, our friendship has lasted until now. He was very shy and I also liked his humble nature. We used to hit makiwara together, our only interest was karate.
(JS) You are the JKA Chief Instructor for Spain, and you are a fluent Spanish speaker. In what direction have you tried to take karate in Spain?
(OA) I have been the JKA representative since the 70´s. To start, my very first my duty was to spread the word about karate. Sensei Nakayama asked me to translate his books. He introduced me to the Japanese Editorial Kodansha International in Tokyo to carry out theses translations. There weren’t any other books about karate that explained the techniques in a scientific way. After that, our aim was to improve the general level of karate with help from Sensei Nakyama and Sensei Osaka. Every year Osaka used to come to Spain and we would travel all over the country to teach for 30 or 40 days.
Now, after 40 years of teaching, my objective is different: provide an adequate way of teaching in a scientific and rational way, to be able to give emotion, motivation and accentuate the value of karate itself and go deeper into the world of this Martial Art.
(JS) Following the JKA split you remained with the JKA. How did this split affect the JKA Instructors outside of Japan such as yourself?
(OA) The split and all that transpired was a real pity. Each Master has his own personal way of training and teaching and that variety in the methodology was something very characteristic of JKA. This was Sensei Nakayama´s print. All that diversity was what made JKA more attractive. The split in my case in Spain was bad, and forced the separation of a group that had a very strong bond. We, as instructors that were in Europe had to reorganize everything all over again, and it demanded a lot of effort.
For myself, this unfortunate incident made me stronger in every aspect, professional and personal. It is very important that we all work together for the good of Karate. Each sensei and each organization should not lose this objective. We need to recuperate the emotion of the senior students; the number of practitioners are lower each time.
Another thing we have to have in mind is to revaluate this art, develop it more and make it better, especially the teaching method relating to each step and level, in order to be able to give emotion, and to motivate the students on their journey.
(JS) You have however developed a very specific approach to karate training that differs somewhat from the standard JKA am I correct in thinking? Could you tell us about how you first got started in the direction and research you are now involved in?
(OA) I have been fortunate enough be able to be outside my country since I was young, I have had the opportunity to take an objective view of my country from far away, to appreciate the good and the bad of it.
As Sensei Nakayama said, each one of us has a mission: we should develop by looking for the virtues in each one of us; it is only now that I start to understand some of his words. Each one of us has a duty to develop, to search and to find your own virtues. Before, my duty was to get close to the good karateka, like Osaka. I studied and even copied him. But I am not Osaka, he is a technical role model, but even if I could imitate him it would still be a copy. There should be originality and creativity, at the end of the day that is what an art is.
When I realized this I completely changed my way of thinking and planning. The majority of karateka train for many years, 30 or 40 with much effort and spirit, but instead of developing, they loose the emotion and the motivation and they stop training. Nevertheless, our mind, body and spirit, that is to say our interior wisdom keeps growing but we do not know how to feed it without the aid of the physical body, and because we can´t render as much as we did when we were 20, a lot of people stop training in the Martial Art. The majority of karateka over 40 years old forget that karate is a martial art and like any other art it never ends: and once you learn the first steps (maybe those first 40 years) you can start to create and develop your own art. But without a different point of view it is very difficult to follow the path. And it was at this point that my search began, looking for the effectiveness, not only with senior students but also with children.
Coaches always choose the best students; but what happens to the others? The majority don´t make the cut and therefore loose the confidence and interest to practice, and finally they quit. The worst is, when they think that they are not good enough and that their body is not god enough, this is not educational, no way to teach. We have a big responsibility.
So, the question is: what is needed to be able to offer dignified teaching for the young people?
What type of training should we carry out to give motivation, enthusiasm, and to develop our bodies and our techniques? My research goes in that direction.
(JS) You teach Aoki Bio-Energy karate. Can you please explain to us exactly what this is?
(OA) Like many other karateka it is normal that after 45 years of practice all different kind of pains and injuries can occur, mainly in the bone joints. There are many therapies, but no one therapy has been satisfactory, so therefore I started to study the inner body and the mind. How to respect the natural mechanism of our own bodies? And the answer to that question is to search and to discover our own natural faculties as human beings. Aoki Bio Energy is a method to know all of this and use it in the correct way. Aoki Bio Energy is a method of self regulation and understanding our own body and mind.
(JS) Your training consists of 5 main parts? Can you please explain the concept of each of these 5 parts?
(OA) This answer can be very extensive, it has a wide scope both of the body and the mind, but the basis consists of 5 parts, which are the following:
1. Body side: to recognize, correct, obtain flexibility, sensitivity of the body
2. Mental side: obtain calmness and relaxation
3. Exercise to loosen and release
4. Breathing method
5. Equilibrate the body by balancing one´s ki.
(JS) Can Karate training improve the health of karateka do you think?
(OA) Like training in any sport or activity, one must be sensitive. The body is an article of usage and up to 30 years of age, problems do not generally occur. It is possible to pass ourselves to the limit but always under the supervision of an instructor with adequate preparation. At the age of 40 one must change the way of using one´s body. We have to be more kinetic and more scientific. We should not abuse our body or over-exercise.
(JS) How significant is the breathing to your training, and how do you think we should breathe in order to improve efficiency?
(OA) We all know that breathing is very important as a vital force, especially as a vital reaction to be able to progress (to acquire subtlety to augment the efficiency of the technique), but even more so in our every day life.
For a long time there have been investigations into this subject, and each time the scientific proof of its importance is demonstrated. There are schools that try to teach how to breath, as far as I know however, their methods come down only to the technique, in the majority of the teaching. It is very important to know beforehand however that there are many factors that are needed to improve breathing efficiently. This means preparing our body to be able to do any activity. The importance of breathing is related to any activity that we want to do, not only karate.
A baby is an ideal example to understand. To observe his muscle quality, as well as its flexibility, elasticity, mobility, suppleness and sensitivity. All of his organs move freely without any contraction. To have vitality and train for much longer, it is essential to take care of our body in the right way.
(JS) Can you please explain the concept of ‘Wave Motion’?
(OA) We should not forget that our body has around 200 joints. By using them in the correct way, we can generate wave movements.
“Crane” theory: which means to obtain a good structure or physical position to generate this sinusoidal movement.
To do this, you need to use the force of gravity, or work against it, like an axis. That is to say, to be able to follow the force of gravity, we need to start from a firm base and that will allow us to create a vertical axis and from there, any wave movement, rotational, spiral, or combined up and down movements (in favour of the force of gravity, in favour of the Earth`s movement) or down to bottom (against the gravity force, to the ceiling). All this will require the work of the different inner structures like seichusen, Tanden, Gravity, etc.
(JS) Can you please tell us your opinion on ‘ki’ and its relevance to karate?
(OA) Ki is something that has a wide interpretation and is of vital importance in every aspect. It is a deep structure that helps us to guide and improve our body and mind, to obtain efficacy in our technique, to help coexistence, to obtain social welfare, etc.
Using Ki (sometimes interpreted as consciousness) should always be accompanied by a preparation of our body and mind accordingly. To loosen and to sensitize our body will allow us to be able to have a more intimate contact with our senses, and with the aid of the breathing we will manage, through our nerve system, to get into our subconscious. There isn’t any specific formula, it is all the result of a total development and evolution along time by putting together body, mind and spirit. Proper training and perseverance will be necessary for an upward development.
Our method consists of an adapted system of training to be able to comprehend our body. The body should be able to pronounce itself and act freely, the brain is there to help and collaborate, and so this way we can obtain creativity and originality.
(JS) You are an incredibly flexible gentleman. How important is flexibility in karate do you think and how does it affect our techniques?
(OA) I have not always been so elastic, at one time I was the opposite, Osaka sensei can tell you about that because he knew me from that time. I wanted to be as elastic as he was, It was enviable, and there are many anecdotes about his muscle quality, but it is something that not everyone can have. But by only imitating I will never understand his gift.
As I said before, this was the beginning of my investigation, but a copy is never the original. It is important to copy and imitate during 25 or 30 years, you learn if you have good material. But after that, one should search and investigate deeper and higher to what you usually do.
We are human beings and it is difficult to remain young. When the time comes that muscular power ends, only the spirit can help when our body deteriorates. It is in that moment that courage should go deep down inside so that we will be able to have vitality and mobility. The only problem is that there has never been any teaching, training methods or system that talks about this; and that is how people loose motivation
Flexibility is an important factor in order to perform movements easily and to avoid injuries. But there are also more essential factors like sensitivity, suppleness, etc
Think and research about the great master that would continue to develop and evolve although they were aged, what factor did they have?
We should realize what factor we lack in order to be able to improve and above all, be able to have motivation.
(JS) During my research, it has been said that you are able to stop someone from picking you up from the ground. Can you please explain how you were able to achieve this?
(OA) As I do not have much weight (58 or so Kg.) or height, I need to turn my body in a way that it is firm, agile, heavy, light, etc. It is training on how to use the body and conscience in a rational way. Taking advantage of the gravity force is essential to convert the reaction force, the centrifugal force, centripetal force, etc All this is what I have systematized in the Aoki Bio Energy training method.
(JS) How important are the feet positions with relation to power?
(OA) The position of our feet is fundamental and one should use them in the correct way. We need to know that the feet are the only area of our body that has contact with the floor (the sole of the feet). The feet and toes are essential elements in the body’s movements, they support and propel our body weight during any movement and they also help us to maintain the equilibrium during the changes of position.
Think that each foot has 26 bones, more than 100 ligaments and 33 muscles. Is not only the foot position but also the adherence, power and agility.
(JS) Can you please explain the finer details of how we could refine our techniques in order to make them more energy efficient?
(OA) To be conscious of our own body, we should also resort to the deep structure (our inner body) so the training, drilling are more rational, scientific and dynamic.
(JS) And how important is posture do you think?
(OA) Posture helps and has an influence with your physique (self confidence, decisiveness, firmness, etc) With regards to the efficiency of the technique, it is fundamental to find a solid but efficient posture, which is based on important elements such as seichuusen, Tanden, etc. This means having the correct attitude in order to apply and carry out these techniques.
(JS) What would you say is the biggest common mistake in most karateka do you think?
(OA) The most common mistake I think is the abuse on the muscles` power, in a violent way. The quality of our body changes depending on our age, however people do not change the way of training, it is always the same no matter your age, 20, 30, 40 or 50 or even older. Everything is done in the same way, they do not realize that circumstances change all the time and so therefore it should change the way we train.
Methods should be adapted and progress from the time of childhood, primary school,
secondary school, university, master, doctorate, expert, originality, creativity, etc
This way you will always be accompanied by emotion and motivation.
(JS) In what ways does your specific approach to karate affect the mind do you think?
(OA) It was a time that the more I trained the more I was affected by the obsession of becoming stronger, and that was making me a limited, inflexible, antisocial person.
But now, training is something to become a better person, is a way to see and to know myself, to progress and not get trapped in a karate that does not develop.
(JS) How has your specific study influenced your fighting ability do you think?
(OA) To progress from a simple game, jumping,....with a basis of rules in sports to be able to approach towards the purest of martial arts like Iaido can be. This has given me more self confidence both on a physical and a psychological level and it allows me to be more relaxed, fluid, comfortable and efficient.
(JS) How important is kata to you and your study?
(OA) To practice kata is very important, it is a way to come back from any derailment (fantasy, karate vices, selfishness, etc); it is a way of understanding and getting closer to the masters´ philosophy. Trying always to go deeper in each technique.
(JS) What is your favourite kata and why?
(OA) Tekki Sandan, Bassai Dai, Nijushiho.
Above all Tekki Sandan for the recommendation of Master Nakayama. I can imagine that my level at the time required that I dominate more the situation of my elbow, the use of both arms at the same time, breathing etc. This Kata can also be practiced in any place including whilst walking. It is good for the use of the ribs and shoulder blades.
(JS) Can we just say a huge thank you for this opportunity to interview you, and may we wish you every success for the future.
(OA) I hope that I have been able to reply to all that you have asked me. It is difficult to grasp your questions without maintaining a verbal communication face to face and of course the language limits our interpretation.
For these reasons I would like to say thank you to my disciple & secretary Jeanin Sabah who has been practicing with me for more than 25 years and beholds the most knowledge of my activities for both karate and Bio Energy. Her dedication and commitment to the organization has been admirable and essential to our success.
There are times that her efforts appear to be overlooked and unrecognized by many due to her very particular and humble manner of carrying out her tasks.
I hope we can meet and train together one day
7º dan JKA
Chief Instructor JKA Spain
Chief Instructor Aoki Bio Energy & Karate School
Translation Spanish – English
4º dan JKA
Secretary JKA Spain
Aoki Bio Energy & Karate School Instructor