A student of Master T.Okazaki 10th Dan for over 45 years, Robin Rielly is certainly one of the States’ most senior practicing karateka. A popular instructor in his own right, Robin Rielly has spent his life practicing Shotokan karate. This interview gives us all a glimpse into this life, one of loyalty and dedicated practice for the better part of five decades. In this interview, Robin Rielly speaks about his time in the Marine Corps and experiencing karate in Japan. He expands to discuss his return to the States, and his path from there on, following his teacher Master Okazaki, whilst also speaking about his training with Senseis Kisaka and Enoeda.
I would like to say a big thank you to Sensei Rielly for this opportunity to speak with him, and for sharing his photographs. – Shaun Banfield
(Shaun Banfield) Prior to your karate training, you studied judo am I right? Can you please tell us what your initial impressions were of the Japanese Martial Arts?
(Robin Rielly) Actually I began the study of both judo and karate about the same time in 1959. In that year I went off to college and within the first week made friends with an Indonesian exchange student who knew both judo and karate. We were interested in the same things and so several of us asked him to teach us. He began with judo and quickly moved into karate, so we practiced both for the two years I was there. He had no formal rank in karate, but did in judo. We used Nishiyama Sensei’s book as a guide and that is where I first saw the man who would become my lifelong teacher, Okazaki Sensei. I determined at that point that I wanted to train with him, but I had no idea that he would soon be in the US.
I thought that Japanese martial arts were the greatest thing I had ever seen. This was particularly true, since in 1959 there was so little of it around and few people actually had the chance to train in it.
(SB) You say that ‘I was determined at that point that I wanted to train with him’. What was it about him that made you immediately want to become his student?
(RR) In looking through Nishiyama Sensei’s book I was amazed by Okazaki’s kicks, they were clearly superior to all the other karate experts in the book.
(SB) Did Judo hold the same philosophical principles that karate has become renown for– dedication to practice to develop and improve character?
(RR) I was 17 years old when I began practicing martial arts, so questions of philosophy did not enter my mind. I was just a kid learning how to fight and defend myself. Although I practiced judo on and off for a number of years, I never took a rank test. After leaving the U.S. Marine Corps in 1964, I taught karate in judo clubs for a number of years. So after karate training was over I would sometimes stay to practice with the judo club. Mamoru Shimamoto Sensei was the judo instructor in one dojo where I taught, so I had lots of expert instruction. However, my view of judo was that it was a back up for karate training, it helped me to develop my foot sweep and throws that I could use in combination with kicks and punches.
(SB) You had your first introduction to the Martial Arts whilst stationed in Japan with the U.S Marine Corps am I correct? Where in Japan were you stationed and in what year were you stationed there?
(RR) No, my first introduction to the martial arts was in college in 1959, as I stated above. I left college in the spring of 1961 and enlisted in the US Marine Corps. After finishing basic training at Parris Island and Camp Geiger, I was assigned to East Camp Atsugi, Japan. I arrived there in February, 1962 and remained until fall of 1963, about one and one-half years. The US Navy had the major part of the base, and the “East Camp” was reserved for a Marine Air Group. We had three fighter squadrons and I was in a unit that had to guard the airplanes, buildings, gate, and base. Atsugi is next to the town of Yamato, which is about one-half hour from Yokohama, where I did most of my training. To get to Tokyo was a two hour plus train ride, with several train changes. I went there a number of times, but usually got lost on the way back by making the wrong train change in the middle of Tokyo. Going to Tokyo to practice karate made no sense, particularly since there were many dojo in the Yokohama area. Keep in mind that I was relatively unsophisticated about karate schools, one looked as good as the other. In addition, I had never heard of the JKA at that time.
(SB) Between 1962-63, whilst stationed in Japan you studied Shin Kage Ryu Jujutsu under Master Fumio Nagaoka and Shorin Ryu Karate under Master Eizo Onishi. Can you please tell us about your training during this time and share some memories that you have?
(RR) After leaving boot camp on the east coast I was sent to El Toro, California to await a draft of troops going to the Far East. There I met Don McNatt, who also had prior training. We trained together on the base for a couple of weeks. On the base there was a Gunnery Sergeant Edwards who was a shodan in Wado Ryu and had just switched to train with Nishiyama Sensei. We trained with him a few times and then on the troop transport as we steamed for Japan. We arrived in Japan and the very next day we had our first liberty pass. Don and I went to Yamato and asked the first policeman we found where there was a karate dojo. He told us we had to go to Yokohama and pointed us toward a train. A half hour later we arrived in Yokohama station and asked another policeman. He sent us to the Chinatown section, which is a rough area in the port section of Yokohama. We got off the trolley and asked another policeman, who sent us around the corner. There we saw the Kobukan dojo. We approached and heard all sorts of loud kiais coming from inside, with the occasional sound of bodies being thrown into the wall. After much trepidation, we entered and stood in the entrance way at attention (we were Marines and wanted to show respect). After a few minutes, Nagaoka Sensei came over and asked if he could help us. We were surprised to find that he spoke good English. We told him we wanted to practice karate and he told us that he taught karate jujitsu. The little we had seen looked impressive, so we asked to join. This was in 1962, and many Japanese really did not like Americans. We were the only ones in the place. Nagaoka Sensei had been a Colonel in the army and had served against the Russians in Manchuria. He took a registration fee, first month’s dues, and then a deposit for a gi. This amounted to about a full month’s pay for the average Japanese salaryman. We didn’t know at the time that this treatment was reserved for gaijins. His standard practice then was to make the first experience so hard that any foreigner who had dared to try would quickly quit. We spent the better part of about two hours standing in kiba dachi and punching, while he kicked us in the stomach and pounded us around. His objective was to make us quit. However, we had just been through Marine Corps boot camp, and we had been beaten up for months by drill instructors, so he could not discourage us. The Japanese viewed us as potential enemies from the war and, as Marines we had the same attitude. After about two weeks of this he recognized the reality of the situation and began to take an interest in us. From that point on our training progressed rapidly as we trained seven days a week and were usually the first ones there and the last ones out, a period that lasted from around 7 to 10:30 in the evening. Don McNatt was transferred to Iwakuni, Japan after we made brown belt and began training there in the JKA under Akayama Sensei, who trained many Americans. Don was very strong and, I believe, was the first American to make nidan. Upon his release from the Marine Corps and subsequent return to Florida he founded JKA there and joined with Okazaki Sensei’s organization on the east coast.
Training under Nagaoka Sensei was very interesting as he had us do all sorts of techniques. His specialty was a back roundhouse kick after which he would foot sweep you and finish you off. He also taught us ground work in case we were taken down by a judo man. This was fine by me as I had already practiced judo; Shin Kage Ryu fit right in. The kicks and punches were the same as Shotokan, but our stances a bit shorter. Renting space in the dojo was a JKA Shotokan club which practiced three nights a week after we ended. So they sometimes cross trained with us and we stayed and trained with them. It was run by a sandan named Suzuki. There was a local college student from Tokyo University named Tachikawa, who frequently visited. He spent a lot of time helping me with the roundhouse kick.
Shortly after I began training, one of the Japanese students and his brother took an interest in me and we became close friends. They invited me to their home many times and we spent a lot of time together outside the dojo. The younger brother Yoshio Kikuchi made shodan first, then my friend Satoshi Kikuchi and I tested together. Fortunately we both made it. Our school was not part of a large organization like the JKA. I forget the name of Nagaoka Sensei’s teacher, but he was very old and came to visit one night when I was not there. He died a few months later. Occasionally Japanese men would join who did not like Americans at all. A local yakuza joined the club and decided to rough me up. Nagaoka Sensei asked me to spar with him and told me to take it easy. I did and my opponent rewarded me by giving me a hard shot to the side of the jaw. I figured I was at war, so I hit him with a side thrust kick that lifted him off the floor and sent him flying into the wall. Nagaoka Sensei stopped it there. The next night he wanted me to spar with this guy again, but the man would not fight me.
In the spring of 1963 I noticed a sign on a pole on the road to Yamato that said there was to be a new karate school opening. Practice was to be held in a local civic center (old wood structure). I showed up on the opening night along with about thirty Japanese and found that Eizo Ohnishi Sensei was to teach. He taught Koeikan Karate, which was a part of Toyama Kanken Sensei’s shudokan system (a branch of shorin ryu.). When I could not get to Yokohama to train with Nagaoka Sensei, I trained there, so I was able to train every day. It was a little different from Shin Kage Ryu, but not so different that I had any problems. Ohnishi Sensei was very small and quick and a nice man. I liked training with him.
(SB) How well organised were these two groups in comparison to the fully structured and co-ordinated JKA?
(RR) Again keep in mind that I was really not too aware of organizations at that time. Ohnishi Sensei may have been part of a larger organization, but I do not know as I spent most of my time with Nagaoka Sensei. In Shin Kage Ryu there were no contests or talk of any, training was strictly martial arts in the dojo.
(SB) In 1963 you joined the JKA. Was this while you were in Japan or when you returned to the States?
(RR) In early fall of 1963 I returned to the US and was given thirty days leave. In Japan I had picked up a Strength and Health Magazine which had an article on karate. Okazaki Sensei was demonstrating Heian 2 and it mentioned that he was now in Philadelphia. A day or two after arriving home, I went to Philadelphia and found his dojo. I went in, but he was not there. A man who seemed to be in charge asked me what I wanted and I told him I would like to train with Okazaki Sensei. He asked me if I had trained before and I explained I had just returned from Japan a shodan and would like to train. He informed me that I hadn’t trained. Fortunately Okazaki Sensei came in at that time. I introduced myself and showed him my membership/rank card from Mr. Nagaoka. He looked at it and explained that this was a different kind of karate so I would have to wear a white belt and start over. I told him that it didn’t matter to me what belt I wore, as long as he would teach me. He agreed and I signed on as a member of the Philadelphia Karate club and became a member of the JKA, where I remained until our ISKF became independent last year. During my thirty days leave I trained in Philadelphia a couple of times a week. Jim Edwards was his assistant instructor. We hit it off well as he had been stationed at Tachikawa Air Base in Japan and we had much in common. From that point on I trained in both Shotokan and Shin Kage Ryu, which was really no conflict since all the basics were the same. Shin Kage Ryu is pretty much the same as Shotokan except for the kata. I went back to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina for the remainder of my service time. Whenever I had leave I would make sure that I went to train with Okazaki Sensei.
There were several karate clubs already on the base at Camp LeJeune, but since their styles were a bit different I began my own club and taught for the next year. While there I won the Marine Corps Championships at Camp Lejeune in 1963, placing first in kumite and third in kata and getting the Grand Champion trophy. Late in 1963 the base formed a Marine Corps Karate Team and sent us to compete in the North American Karate Championships run by Mas Tsuroaka Sensei in Toronto, Canada. I won a couple of matches and then got eliminated, but overall the team did well.
(SB) Sensei Teruyuki Okazaki, who was to become your teacher, was sent to the States by Master Nakayama in 1961. By the time you arrived back in the States, what was the state of karate in the US?
(RR) It is thought by many that karate began in the US with the arrival of the JKA instructors. However, I believe this to be in error. In the early 1950s many American servicemen studied karate in Japan and returned to the US. Their efforts made it possible for the later Japanese karate emissaries to succeed as they made the public aware of karate. Of course their level of expertise was not that high, but that is how the karate movement in the US began. Instructing in the US at that time were representatives from a myriad of styles, Okinawan, Korean, and Japanese. When Japanese karate emissaries arrived here, these experienced Americans quickly joined them in order to further their knowledge. I have two sempai in the ISKF, Maynard Miner and Greer Golden. Both trained in Japan in the mid to late 1950s and returned to begin karate clubs in the US. Miner Sensei was teaching in New York when Okazaki Sensei arrived and quickly joined with him. Others, in spite of their limited knowledge, went their own way, taught and promoted many students, and eventually diverted from the path of traditional karate into what we see today. Fortunately, traditional Shotokan, wado, shito, and other schools have grown as well, so there is much good karate in the US, along with the bad.
(SB) You speak of Maynard Miner and Greer Golden. How big a following had they created prior to the JKA arriving in the States and could you please tell us a little about these karateka?
(RR) It is difficult to determine how much of a following they had. I believe that Greer Golden was training with Nishiyama in the early 60s. Maynard Miner had his own club in Brooklyn, but I am not sure how large it was. Both were pioneers in starting Shotokan in the US and were among the first American black belts in JKA.
(SB) In 1963 Sensei Okazaki formed the East Coast Shotokan Karate Association, but in 1977 he founded the ISKF (International Shotokan Karate Federation). Why was the ISKF formed and how did this change the way karate was developing in the US?
(RR) There has been no change in the way karate has developed in the US. The formation of the ISKF signified that we had split from Nishiyama Sensei’s AAKF, but we were still recognized by JKA and had regular contact with them. The split reflected personality conflicts more than anything to do with training. The JKA Chief Instructors and other JKA senior instructors always came to our Master Camp and our karate was the same, it had to be. ISKF was a part of JKA. As you are aware, ISKF became independent of JKA last year. This was a political adjustment and had nothing to do with the way we practiced Shotokan, it is still the same. The separation was necessary from our point of view so that the ISKF could grow. JKA had become alarmed at how successful ISKF had become. Part of the problem was that we had become an international organization within an international organization. As long as Nakayama Sensei was alive there was no problem as internationalization of karate was his goal. Once he passed away, it was only a matter of time before the organization began to unfold. Okazaki Sensei stayed as long as he could for Nakayama Sensei’s sake as he was his student, but it just wouldn’t work.
(SB) Why do you think the JKA were alarmed that ISKF had become an ‘International Organisation within an International Organisation?’
(RR) It is difficult for me to answer this, any opinion I have is just speculation. However, ISKF had become large enough to have influence in the Western hemisphere, perhaps more than JKA itself. Keep in mind that we had five senior JKA instructors heading the organization, Sensei Okazaki, Mikami, Yaguchi, Koyama, and Takashina. Perhaps JKA headquarters was of the opinion that ISKF had more influence in this part of the world and they felt challenged. Again, that is only speculation on my part as I cannot know what is in someone else’s mind.
(SB) What was your first impression of Sensei Okazaki when you first met him?
(RR) I think I answered some of this in a previous question, but he seemed to be a gentleman and willing to speak with me, so my impression was favourable. Of course, once I got on the floor and saw him demonstrate parts of a kata he was teaching us, I knew I had made the right choice.
(SB) Can you please share some fond memories or stories that you have of Sensei Okazaki?
(RR) I have been his student now for 45 years, so there are many stories I have. He came to teach at my club and give a promotion exam shortly after my first child was born. She was only a couple of months old. A few years later, when she was six, she began to train in my club, which at that time had only adults. For the next year or two, every time he came to instruct or examine, we took a group photo at the end. He always had her sit on his lap or at his side. He came to her wedding, and when we talk now, he just can’t get over the fact that she is now 38 and has two children of her own. He still remembers her as a baby. Of course, she is quite fond of him.
I had been practicing the kata Sochin for several years between my sandan and yondan gradings. I took the yondan exam in fall of 1976 and passed. For the next few years I continued to work on Sochin and thought I could do it well. One day I was driving him somewhere and I told Okazaki Sensei I was thinking of working on a different kata and asked him what he would suggest. He thought deeply for a minute or so and replied, “Why don’t you work on Sochin?” To which I replied, “I think I’ll work on Sochin.” So I did for a couple of more years.
(SB) Is this very much his attitude to kata? That of an older approach to studying kata and dedicating long prolonged periods to one kata rather than studying all the kata at once in minor detail. How did this influence your understanding of the kata Sochin?
(RR) It was at that time, keep in mind that ISKF considers itself very traditional. In the 1960s and 1970s we were not encouraged to practice a lot of different kata, just the basic ones and our favorites. Today, as contests become more frequent our students learn many more kata. I think I benefited more in concentrating on a couple of kata, rather than practicing all of them. Even today, I usually practice my two or three favorites in my own training. The others I practice along with my students as they learn them.
(SB) Technically, were there any major differences in the karate of the JKA and the karate you had experienced whilst stationed in Japan?
(RR) Shotokan always seemed to be very strong and direct, compared to the flexibility and variety of Shin Kage Ryu, which I was most familiar with. I continued to practice Shin Kage Ryu kata for a number of years since they gave me a different feeling from those of Shotokan, but it has been some time now since I have done them.
(SB) You mention that the kata of Shin Kage Ryu ‘gave me a different feeling’. Can you please elaborate on this for us to give us an insight into the Shin Kage Ryu kata?
(RR) This is difficult to answer. Movements in Shin Kage Ryu kata seem to have a bit more flexibility and there are many foot movements that position one for throwing techniques as a follow through. Stances are not quite as deep as Shotokan, so that when you practice one from Shotokan and then one from Shin Kage Ryu back to back the difference is obvious. Although since I have practiced Shotokan for so long, when I do a Shin Kage Ryu kata my stances are typical Shotokan.
(SB) Sensei Keinosuke Enoeda resided in the US for a year. Why did you come under his instruction?
(RR) Enoeda Sensei became Okazaki Sensei’s assistant in Philadelphia around 1966-67. At that time I was working my way through college by teaching karate at three places. One of the clubs was at my college and Okazaki Sensei would either send Kisaka Sensei or Enoeda Sensei to teach there once a week. I immediately thought that Enoeda Sensei was a great instructor and welcomed his visits. On Saturdays I kept my club teaching for the morning so that I could go to Philadelphia to train in the afternoons. I would always call the day before to find out where Enoeda was teaching and go to that club to train with him. I was sorely disappointed to find that after only a year here he moved on to Great Britain. Our loss was their gain, I hated to see him go.
(SB) Can you tell us about your training with him, and possibly share some anecdotes that you may have of him, or any prominent memories from your time with him?
(RR) The first time that he came to test one of my clubs at the Judo club, he taught for a while. We all remembered that he demonstrated a counter punch and the entire room shook.
After he had been in Philadelphia for a few weeks it was obvious that he needed a car. Mass transportation is not as good in the United States as it is in other countries, so a car is essential to getting around. When he came to teach at my college club I usually picked him up at the Trenton, NJ train station and returned him there after practice. Okazaki Sensei called to say that he would be driving his car and that I should meet him at that location so that he could follow me to the college. On the appointed day I arrived there and shortly thereafter Enoeda Sensei arrived driving his car. It was a Ford Falcon about 5-10 years old but in decent condition. He followed me to the college. I kept looking in the rear view mirror to make sure that he didn’t get lost. I could see his face clearly as he drove, he was grinning ear to ear. I am sure that it was his first car and that he was enjoying the experience of driving.
After training I decided to have some fun with him. I asked him if that was his car. He replied that it was. I said, “No, is it really your car?” Again, he replied in the affirmative. I feigned disbelief and asked again. At that point he slammed down his gym bag and took out his license and registration to prove it. Since he seemed a bit agitated, I did the smart thing and backed off. Of course if I did the smart thing I wouldn’t have tried to kid around with him, but I was still a bit young.
(SB) You were also influenced by Sensei Katsuya Kisaka, 1965 All Japan Kumite Champion, who was to become Sensei Okazaki’s assistant for a while. Can you please tell us about him?
(RR) Kisaka Sensei arrived in Philadelphia in 1965, shortly after he won the All Japan Championship. Okazaki Sensei introduced him to me a few days after he arrived and from that point on I did a lot of training with him. Since I was in college at the time I usually came to the Philadelphia club on Saturdays and he came to teach my Rider College Club in the middle of the week. On other occasions I also squeezed in a visit during the week, according to my schedule.
Training with him was very intense. Those of us training would arrive before class to warm up and within ten to fifteen minutes Kisaka Sensei would arrive. From the look on his face you could always tell if the workout was simply going to be brutal or if it was going to be brutal and you would be beaten up by him as well. Countless repetitions were the norm as well as standing in stances for long periods of time. Much of his training sessions would be described as “spirit training” today. He had a number of ways to beat on students in addition to the regular whacks with the kendo shinai. One of them was to stand the entire class in kiba dachi, back to belly in a long line. Each student had to be in contact with the one in front of him. Once he had tightened up the line he would go to the front and move back about ten feet or so. He would then charge at the first man in line and hit him with a front thrust kick in the stomach to see if he could knock the entire line down like dominos. If not, everyone had to get back in line and he would repeat the event until he made everyone go down. As the senior man at the time I was the first one in line and got to feel the power of his front kick first hand. Fortunately I did a lot of sit ups at that time so I was able to take the kick. He had many things that he did at that time that we all put up with, but in retrospect, I do not think it was good instruction.
Within a year or so his methods had a great deal of impact on the membership of the Philadelphia club, many people had dropped out of training because of him. As a result, Okazaki Sensei sent him to Trenton, NJ to take over a small club there, he was to be on his own. Since I was the senior man in NJ, Okazaki Sensei instructed me that from that point on I would train in Trenton with Kisaka Sensei and that he would be the one to teach at and examine my clubs. I was not pleased with this as I preferred to train with Okazaki Sensei, but had to go along with it. In time Kisaka Sensei began to help me more. I remember one night as I was bringing him to my club he told me that he liked me and my students because we always trained hard. He said that he wanted to help me to become better because of that. I was quite surprised and touched by that revelation, but on the training floor nothing changed, it was just his way of saying that he recognized my effort.
After he had been in Trenton for several years he called me to tell me that we were to become independent of Okazaki Sensei and just be under JKA. This was not to my liking as I much preferred to remain with Okazaki Sensei. From that point on we were all put in a difficult position. Nishiyama Sensei and Nakayama Sensei flew to the east coast to attempt to mediate between Okazaki Sensei and Kisaka Sensei but it did not work. All of us who trained had to make a decision, I chose to stay with Okazaki Sensei and so I have not trained with Kisaka Sensei since that time. His club is still in Trenton and he has trained many karate practitioners since then.
(SB) To your knowledge, did his methods mellow out at all or did they remain as intense?
(RR) I have had no contact with him for many years now, so I can’t say.
(SB) And how did he influence the way that you trained? What were the most important things you learned from him?
(RR) I have been training now for about fifty years and have either seen in person or on film most of the karate greats. I have yet to see anyone whose kicks could compare to Kisaka Sensei’s. To demonstrate a roundhouse kick or side thrust kick, he would do the kick in slow motion at head height or higher and hold it in place. As it was at full extension he would explain how to do it and what the fine points of the kick were. After a few minutes of explanation he would withdraw the kick. He had the ability to hold a kick out just as we might hold a punch in front of us to demonstrate, it was simply amazing. If he could do it, we figured that we could as well. So everyone who trained with him attempted to reach his skill with kicks. It helped us improve our kicking immensely but, of course, none of us could ever reach his level, he was simply unique.
Training with him was intense as I already noted. You could never relax your attention, your stance, and so on. If you weren’t focused on the imaginary opponent in front of you, he would become that opponent for real and you would be rewarded with a kick or slap. If your stance was wrong, you would get swept. As a result, we learned to concentrate intensely to ensure that we would not be the recipient of his attention.
(SB) You mention Kisaka Sensei’s kicking ability but of course, Okazaki Sensei himself is also very much renown for his kicking prowess. There are stories or rumours should I say of how Okazaki Sensei once did the splits and got someone to jump on his back in order to tear his hip tendons, in order to enhance his kicking ability. Could you give us an insight into whether there’s any truth in this?
(RR) I doubt that this is true, I never saw him do that. As long as I have known him he could always do full side splits. I can tell you, however, that it is a bad training method. Kisaka Sensei did this to me twice at the beginning of a two hour training session and then kept on me for two hours telling me to kick harder and faster. After driving me home, my students had to carry me up to my apartment and I was on crutches for a couple of weeks and then used a cane for a month or two. Where once I had a very nice side thrust kick, I found my form never came back right. My yoko kekomi was never quite as good as it had been. It was simply a needless injury and a bad instructional method.
(SB) We would like to learn a little more about Sensei Okazaki and his teachings. What would you say were the most significant technical points he stressed?
(RR) He always stresses basics, since he believes that they are the foundation for everything else. Hip movement and stance are quite important in his instruction. After many years of training, I am convinced that this is really the best way to train.
(SB) Sensei Okazaki of course released his book ‘Perfection of Character’. How would you say karate has positively affected your life?
(RR) As one undertakes the study of karate there is a certain impatience to learn new techniques. In time you begin to appreciate that anything worthwhile takes time and patience. Learning patience and perseverance has been very beneficial to me personally as it has allowed me to accomplish other things.
(SB) Did you train with Nakayama Sensei during any of his visits to the States? If so could you share any of the experiences or memories?
(RR) I only trained with him a few times as part of large groups, so my individual contact was limited. On one occasion he gave a large clinic and I was called on to help him demonstrate. Fortunately someone took a lot of photos of this, so they are among my prized possessions.
(SB) What is your favourite kata and why?
(RR) The different choices of kata over the years reflect the changes in my age and ability. In the 1960’s and 1970’s I was in my 20’s and 30’s and the kata I practiced at that time suited specific needs. For instance, I found that I sometimes was the victim of a sweep, so to increase my balance I practiced Gankaku. To strengthen my stances and develop more power I practiced Sochin. Each one served a need to improve specific points at a given time. Today I like to practice Chinte, Jutte, and Gojushio Sho. Since I am 66 years old, kata like Unsu and Kanku sho are more difficult for me to perform, so I need kata that will allow me to maximize the abilities that I have at this age.
(SB) You mention that ‘the kata I practiced at that time suited specific needs’. Is this a valuable way of approaching kata study do you think, as opposed to just learning a kata for a grade or competition?
(RR) I have never learned kata for a grade or competition. It has always been a question of what I can learn from a kata or what benefit there will be from practicing it. My competition career was not that long and, in the 1960s, we really didn’t stress competition as we do today.
(SB) How has ISKF karate changed/developed and/or evolved would you say since you first started training within the JKA?
(RR) Since I don’t train with JKA groups in Japan, I can only relate to training here. In the early days we thought only of fighting as self-defense in the traditional sense. Today there is more emphasis on sports. Students will learn a kata or technique with an eye towards using it to their benefit in competition. That being said, the basics and kata are still the same. However, as I watch tournament fighting and compare it to the way it was in the 1960s it is much different. Techniques that are regularly scored as a wazari today would not be scored at all in the 1960s. You had to really drill the kick or punch in to score then. There was no doubt that it was a killing blow.
(SB) Can we please say a huge thank you for this opportunity to speak with you, and may we wish you and all at ISKF the very best of luck and success for the future.