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Sonny Kim


An Interview with Sonny Kim


This interview with Sonny Kim gives a full and broad picture of his life and martial art career. Originally starting Korean karate at aged 7, Sonny immigrated to the USA in 1973, where he later joined a Shotokan dojo under the leadership of Chicago’s Shojiro Sugiyama. Now a member of Richard Amos’ WTKO, here within this interview, Sonny Kim gives a full discussion of his early training years, his competitive career and his perspective, being a sensei himself.


A Police Officer by day, Sonny – at times – offers this unique perspective, from an angle of day-to-day conflict, specifically when talking about the concept of Ikken Hissatsu. This interview covers a wide range of issues, and I have no doubt you will find it both an interesting and engaging interview.


I would like to thank Sonny Kim for his time and generosity with his time and knowledge. – Shaun Banfield


Questions by THE SHOTOKAN WAY.


(Shaun Banfield)     Can I please say a big thank you for agreeing to this interview; I hope you enjoy speaking about your karate and sharing your experiences.


(Sonny Kim)     Thank you for this opportunity.


(SB)     Can we please start by asking about your pre-karate introduction to the Martial Arts. You got involved with a number of different Martial Arts am I right? Could you please tell us about them and share your memories.


(SK)     I began training in Korean Karate in South Korea when I was around 7 years old.  The instructor was a friend of my father and that was the only reason I was allowed to join his class.  Most of the students were high school age (young adults).  I was advised that he was the martial arts instructor for the South Korean Army unit near Seoul, Korea.


I immigrated to the USA in 1973 and continued to train with a local Korean Karate dojo in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The dojo was too far from my home and I stopped training for approximately one year.



An Interview with Sonny Kim



(SB)     Could you tell us about this Korean Karate, and how you it differs to the Shotokan you later came to study?


(SK)     I practiced Heian katas and Bassai-Dai.  The kihon and kata were almost identical to Shotokan Karate.  I practiced basic 5 and 3 step kumite, along with basic 1-step kumite.  The main difference at that time is the Korean Karate emphasized more kicks and in particular Jodan (high) kicks.  I didn’t know it at the time, but once I started in Shotokan Karate I had an advantage because I was already using ura-mawashigeri, ushiro-mawashigeri, which are common for Shotokan competitors now but back in the 1970’s, Shotokan Karateka applied more basic kicks. 


(SB)     And how did you get involved with Shotokan karate, can you tell us?


(SK)     While a member of local gym, I saw an advertisement about a karate class at the gym.  I joined the karate club around 1977 and began training in Shotokan Karate.  I did not realize that I was training in Shotokan Karate until months later.  Back in the 1970’s the kata and the kihon and the methods of instruction did not vary much between Shotokan Karate and Korean Karate.  Many open-style tournaments had Japanese Karate and Korean Karate competing together in the 1970’s in the US. 


(SB)     And did you compete in many of these competitions? Could you tell us about them and your experiences?


(SK)     I very much enjoyed competing and did well in kata, and placing in the top 3 in most tournaments I competed in during my youth.   I was not so successful in kumite early in my competitive time as a youngster.  It’s not that I did not win, but mostly got disqualified for excessive contact.  You have to understand, it’s not like most competitors now where they understand the rules and train for competition.  Back then, we just trained in class with no emphasis on competition; just show up to the tournament with a “let’s get it on” attitude.  Frankly, I did not care about winning or losing during that time. 


(SB)     You are a student of Sensei Shojiro Sugiyama. Can you please tell us a little about him and your experiences with him?


(SK)     Our family moved to Chicago, Illinois when I was 14 years old.  I was advised to look up Sensei Sugiyama’s dojo in Chicago.  I had competed against some of Sensei Sugiyama’s students from his dojo (Great Lakes Region – AAKF) in Cincinnati and Kentucky.  The competitors from his dojo/region were very good at the time and I wanted to train with him.


I really enjoyed his style of teaching, the sense of Japanese culture, and the strong positive competitive atmosphere he brought to his dojo.  His methods of instruction were far different from what I was accustomed to.  No more kihon test routine-type training up and down the dojo floor.


An Interview with Sonny Kim


(SB)     You say that his methods of instruction were different to what you had previously experienced. Could you expand on this point and give us a more detailed insight into his approach?


(SK)     In the past, most traditional Shotokan instructors taught the 3-K’s and the structure of the classes were basically the same: Start with warm up and spend 1 hour on kihon, mostly up and down the floor performing test routine kihon.  Then we would move on to 30 minutes of kata and the last 30 minutes on kumite.  Sensei Sugiyama structured his teaching much differently.  For instance, if the class focused on kihon – mae geri we would break down the technique and perform and practice with a partner and move onto working on timing for mageri during basic kumite application, or use the padding to kick with mageri and other related drills to improve and understand mae geri.  This class structure would apply to kata and kumite.   It has helped me to understand and analyze the technique and how it applied to my own teaching methods.


(SB)     And do you have any stories of him that you could share with us to help illustrate his character and his karate?


(SK)     As I reflect back, Sensei Sugiyama warmly welcomed me to his dojo and never made me feel like an outsider.  I trained in his afternoon classes 3 times a week once I started college.  The class had about 10 students training regularly and they were all Japanese, except me.  Sensei taught the entire class in Japanese and many times he would yell commands or correct me in Japanese. He would catch himself and would say “I’m so sorry, Mr. Kim”.  I thought it was amusing.  He would have a smile on his face. 


(SB)     And what would you say is the most important thing he taught you?


(SK)     Sensei Sugiyama was able to break down the kihon technique and incorporate methods and drills to improve that specific technique. He also utilized specific drills and methods to understand timing and distance in kumite application.  He was very innovative in using padding and form for striking drills to test our technique.


I want to thank Sensei Sugiyama for his innovative teaching methods and helping to improve my karate knowledge during that time.  Because of his innovations, I realize the importance of always learning new ways to improve my karate.  In return, this helps me to be a better teacher to my students and always keep an open mind.



An Interview with Sonny Kim


(SB)     Sensei Sugiyama came from an ‘old school’ JKA background in Japan, training in the 1950s. In hindsight, can you see evidence of this in his approach, and perhaps method of teaching?


(SK)     The main focus of “old school” JKA at Sensei Sugiyama’s dojo was to be mindful in class and always display a strong spirit in your training.  This is what he expected from his students.   I felt under pressure to train hard and not to slack off in class or receive a not-so-friendly reminder from the sempais during kumite. 


(SB)     Did he ever share his stories, and memories from his experiences training at the JKA in Japan?


(SK)     I just trained very hard in class and went home.  I did not approach Sensei Sugiyama during or after class to ask any questions.  That would have been disrespectful and not acceptable in those days.  I don’t recall Sensei speaking much about his experience at the JKA honbu dojo.


(SB)     You spoke earlier about your competitive career. Can you tell us about your later competitive career?


(SK)     I had some success in local and regional AAU and USNKF (Old WUKO) tournaments in the early 1980’s and competed in many Great Lakes region AAKF-JKA collegiate tournaments.  The Windy City Tournament in particular, was a large traditional tournament held in Chicago with mostly JKA Shotokan competitors.  I had the opportunity to compete internationally at the Funakoshi Shotokan Championship in England and USA.


(SB)     You are now affiliated to the WTKO. What drew you to Richard Amos and the group?


(SK)     I suspect many of your readers already know of Sensei Richard Amos, Chief Instructor of WTKO, or have trained at one of his courses in Europe or here in the US.


My friend Brian Evans is a member of WTKO and now serves as the chief instructor of WTKO Illinois.  He invited me to his dojo in 2005 where he was hosting Sensei Amos for a course.  I really like Sensei Amos’s karate and his teaching ability.  He has a way of intelligently articulating to the students, regardless of rank grade level, his point and making them fully understand.  Of course, it’s up to the individual student to work hard and apply his teaching to fully appreciate his point.


My decision to affiliate with WTKO was a combination of several factors.  I had the opportunity to meet and train with all the senior members; Sensei John Mullin, Sensei Fred Serricchio, and Sensei Eiji Maeda, along with Sensei Amos at the WTKO honbu dojo in New York City during our annual summer camp.  All the seniors were on the floor training and not sitting off to the side.  It was refreshing to see all these senior Karatekas on the floor training and sweating alongside all the students.  It was a very positive experience to see that they really enjoyed the training and their enthusiasm was emulated by all the students in class.  I felt at home with WTKO because training  

in Shotokan Karate came first.  They are all sincere and kind off the floor with no pretense.  Lastly, I would encourage everyone not to miss an opportunity to train with Sensei Amos in the future.  You will not be disappointed!



An Interview with Sonny Kim


(SB)     Your exposure to Richard Amos, and the other senior WTKO Senior members must have influenced and developed your karate. Can you please tell us the most important developments you made?


(SK)     There are several factors I would like to point out about Sensei Amos’s Karate.  Sensei Amos is that “elite professional Karateka”!  He is like the golf professional on the PGA Tour, playing and competing at the highest level like Tiger Woods.  If you are a golfer you will appreciate and understand my analogy.


Sensei Amos’s karate is very refined and dynamic and he makes it look so simple when he demonstrates and performs.  I understand clearly from training with him that it’s not so simple at all.  He is able to convey clearly each technique to the students in a manner they can understand and apply with continued practice and dedication. 


(SB)     Is there a difference do you think in having a Western Karateka as a Chief Instructor rather than a Japanese Chief Instructor? If so, what are these differences and what impact do they have on the students and organization?


(SK)     This is a great question.  As it relates to the Chief Instructor of an organization, it does not matter so much on nationality of the instructor as long as he or she is capable and competent in their karate.  If you invite a Japanese Chief Instructor to teach a course, it is critical that he or she is able to communicate to the students clearly, because sometimes there are can be language issues.  


As a result, sometimes the Japanese Chief Instructor must resort to just counting and yelling out simple commands in Japanese, resulting in a very basic course where the students are left to simply figure things out themselves.   I understand and appreciate the cultural and historical positive aspects that a Japanese Chief Instructor may bring to the organization, but it is more important that the student first learn Karate.


Karate organizations should be structured to serve its members and not the members to serve the organization and the chief instructor only. Most Karate organizations fail to appreciate or understand that in any organization or business, both sides should benefit mutually.  If not, you have a dictatorship and risk losing their membership to other more professional organizations.  I suggest that chief instructors work harder to serve its members to keep those loyal students from leaving. The “old school” modus operandi of poor service is over because there are too many good organizations for students to choose from.    


(SB)     Would it be your opinion therefore that too many Organisations treat the act of teaching karate as a business rather than teaching it for its Martial Art merits?


(SK)     Karate organizations should run like any professional business or organization and understand the need to provide professional service to its members.  Instead, you have many karate organizations that only benefit and serve the top few.  Most Senseis in the US and UK run their dojo and most also have a full-time career.  Most of us started teaching by default for the pure passion and love of the Martial Arts.  If you can keep enough students to pay the rent, you run a successful dojo. I know too many Senseis struggling to maintain their dojo rent, due to yearly dojo membership fees, individual student membership fees, inflated test fees and registration fees!  After all that, you are still left waiting months to receive diplomas, certificates and membership passports.  No wonder so many traditional Shotokan dojos close or have very few students.  These organizations seem to care more about making profit than teaching karate-do. 


Karate organizations should consider the principal of a “Win-Win” between the individual dojo and the parent organization.  It does not benefit any organization if dojos close and go out of business! 



An Interview with Sonny Kim


(SB)     What are the most important technical aspects you stress when teaching kihon? Can you give us a detailed insight into this?


(SK)     I strongly encourage my students to develop their kihon, which is the foundation to improving their karate in the future.  I am not the only teacher that believes that developing correct and solid kihon is the key to one’s success in karate.  I understand that repetition in kihon has its importance but only if practiced correctly and safely.  The old method of mindlessly drilling up and down the floor is a very lazy way of teaching and training without any intelligent thought.


I teach a rotating curriculum at my dojo and I just don’t teach on the fly.  I plan out my teaching schedule on a bi-weekly basis and rotate what I focus in class.  For example, I will focus on 2-topics, kihon and kata and teach according to the class grade level.  If you’re teaching children it also must be taught in a slightly different manner than teaching adults.  Teaching kids too much repetition in kihon is not only boring to them but not always safe physically. 


(SB)     It’s interesting that you differentiate your classes. Would you say that you differentiate the content to different grades, as I know some instructors teach for example hip rotation differently to different grades?


(SK)     You are correct that in my dojo I have the youth group separated from the adult/teens.  I also break the group up by rank grade levels.  Beginners, novice, intermediate and advance level groups. I know it sounds complicated, or that I run too many groups, but that’s not the case. 


The teaching system that I apply for each group is the same in that I have my lesson plan and the focus on 2-topics, kihon and kumite for example, but I teach each group at that grade level within their syllabus.  I find this system works well in my dojo.


(SB)     You talk about a ‘lazy’ approach to teaching. Do you think having a structured plan helps accelerate student development?


(SK)     As a teacher you must have a lesson plan and a structure for your lessons if you want to engage your students and keep their interest.  Having this structured plan also keeps you focused on the content of your lessons and how appropriate the lessons are according to the grade level and age group you teach.  A structured plan also helps to measure the progress of students and catch their weakness early so you can assist and direct the student in the right path to progress and not leave them behind. It takes time, study, and hard work on the part of the instructor to keep the lesson plan fresh and progressive.



An Interview with Sonny Kim


(SB)     What training drills and exercises do you enjoy using most? Could you describe them for us and explain how they develop certain points?


(SK)     I don’t have one particular drill that I enjoy teaching the most because they are all equally important.  I want the readers to understand that I am not teaching by the numbers and my lesson is not a simple “Tae-Bo” cardio workout drill that anyone can follow along on a DVD.  My lesson plan is a guide and structure for the instructor to follow and to make sure one topic does not dominate in the course of one’s teaching and to make sure the students receive and train in kihon, kata and kumite equally, enabling them to experience and understand the relationship between all three K’s.  It’s not just a matter of drills or exercise that is important, The instructor must be able to logically and intelligently convey to the students each technique (and their bunkai) and create those drills and exercise accordingly.  Lastly, the instructor must inspire the students to focus and to work hard with the right attitude and spirit in the class. 


(SB)     Very important to you are sweeping techniques. Can you please tell us a little about your interest in them, and their origins?


(SK)     Judo throwing technique, nage-waza, is the origin for many of the foot sweeping in karate.  As your readers may know, stand up fights in Judo entails you and your opponent attempting to hold and gain control over one another in order to take them off balance with a foot sweep and take them to the ground.  The difference in karate is the distance and the timing.  Karate arsenals are mainly striking so you must break the timing and create an instant distraction to cover the distance to apply a sweeping technique to the opponent without being hit.  Without timing and distance your technique is ineffective. 


My interest in the study of foot sweep technique is due to my size and build.  As a smaller karateka, I’m 5’ 6 and 158 pounds.  I believe mastering the art of the foot sweep will give a smaller karateka an advantage over the larger opponents.  It is a very devastating and psychological advantage when you sweep your opponent to the floor and follow up with a finishing blow (Ikken Hissatsu!).


(SB)     Naturally, if the karateka is small, and has smaller legs it can at times be difficult to move a stocky, heavy leg, even when the timing is exactly correct. Are there ways to lighten your opponent, or create actions that help facilitate the sweep?


(SK)     You are correct if you are trying to sweep a larger opponent that is in a firm stationary position.  The smaller karateka must break timing during kumite on the larger opponent and utilize his speed over the opponent’s size.  Hit” your larger opponent “hard and fast” to lighten him up before executing the sweep. Through precise timing in your sweeping technique, the smaller karateka can cause the larger opponent to lose their balance and give the instant opening to apply the finishing sweep along with a hit to the opponent. 


(SB)     And what methods of teaching do you employ to teach them? Any exercises or drills that you could describe for readers of this interview to incorporate into their training?


(SK)     Two basic foot sweep exercises or drills with your partner:


  1. Outside foot sweep:  Starting from a ready position-left foot forward.  Shift forward toward your partner with a jodan kizami-tsuki with your left foot and grasp your partner’s left wrist or sleeve with your right hand as he attempts to step back.  Bring your right foot forward in a sweeping motion and pull your partner’s arm away from him and downward, sweeping his rear leg.  Hold onto his left arm as he falls for control and immediately follow up with a finishing punch as your partner falls to the ground. 



  1. Inward front leg sweep:  Start from a ready position and mirror your partner.  As your partner shifts forward, or steps forward with an attack, respond by shifting away and create a reaction distance from your partner.  Use your front foot to sweep inward and catch your partner’s front leg between their attacks.  Follow up with a counter attack as he falls or loses balance.    


Correct technique is important, but the timing and distance is necessary in making the technique work in all foot sweeps in kumite.  Timing and distance applies in all karate technique in a real kumite situation.


Foot sweeps lend a valuable dimension in your karate, creating greater versatility and the element of surprise and psychological advantage in kumite.  One should practice foot sweep or all aspects of technique constantly and observe the following training tips:  Work each foot sweep technique slowly until you find the body position correct and comfortable for you.  Have your partner give you feedback.  Increase your pace and speed as the technique is more comfortable, then, move at full speed.  Lastly, relax and work as partners in your drills, not as competitors. 



An Interview with Sonny Kim


(SB)     You also pay attention to the skills in kumite of camouflage and distraction. Can you please tell us about these concepts and give us an insight into their application?


(SK)     Use camouflage and distraction in your kumite to elicit a reaction from your opponent in order to create an opening for your technique.  You can create this through pressuring your opponent aggressively or passively in your fighting style to camouflage your intent.  The most effective form of camouflage and distraction during kumite should be very subtle and not obvious to your opponent.  It must be natural in order to work against an experienced karateka.


(SB)     So would you suggest having a pre-conceived plan when fighting, or being reactionary?


(SK)     It is good to have a pre-conceived plan, but once you get hit, your plan goes out the door! Reaction is slower than action and my suggestion is to keep both in mind, “action and reaction”.   


(SB)     Can you tell us about the concept of driving and pursuing?


(SK)     Driving in and pursuing your opponent is more than just deploying an attacking technique.  It’s your total commitment and focus to delivering a strong continuous attack on your opponent.  This attacking action is necessary when applying your sweeping technique. 


(SB)     Am I correct in thinking that the concept of IKKEN HISATSU – the finishing blow - is very important to you? Can you give us your own personal perspective on this ideology?


(SK)     Ikken Hissatsu, in itself, is actually not hard to understand.  It means simply to “kill with one strike”, or “one fist, certain death”.  The term is used more commonly in Kenjutsu and makes more sense since you are dealing with a live blade.  Karateka should not take the term Ikken Hissatsu literally.  I use the term Ikken Hissatsu as merely a philosophical concept and attitude. 


The concept of Ikken Hissatsu used in kumite competition is important; the finishing blow!  When you engage in kumite during competition the finishing blow is to score the winning point (Ippon), but in a real fight, Ikken Hissatsu is the killing blow!  That may sound a bit harsh but when you engage in a life and death situation, there is no substitute for second place! 



An Interview with Sonny Kim


(SB)     And do you think it has a place in the modern world?


(SK)     As a police officer, my philosophical concept of Ikken Hissatsu is simply the mindset of a winning attitude.  When I train new police recruits, I explain this concept of Ikken Hissatsu to them as it relates to their personal safety.  Ikken Hissatsu is the winning attitude and survival mindset.  When taking an aggressive action against your opponent that maybe attempting to assault or kill you, you  must win! – Ikken Hissatsu!  As you can see, Ikken Hissatsu is simple and complex at the same time.


(SB)     In your experience as a police officer, you must have experienced many situations where fear has kicked in, adrenaline has started to be released and you have to cope under duress. How do you train for such emotional and physiological responses do you think?


(SK)     As a police trainer we have a saying which is, “You will perform how you train.” One must train hard and under pressure in a realistic environment.  In the USA, most of our police tactical training deals mainly with firearm encounters.  Having an assailant with a firearm will put you under some emotional and physiological duress.   Back to karate-The point I want to make is you must also train your karate under pressure, consistently and physically hard to have a better chance to overcome and survive under duress. 


(SB)     From this reality based perspective, would you say karate is a ‘complete’ fighting system, or do you think techniques and areas of training need to be borrowed and stolen from other systems?


(SK)     Shotokan karate is my foundation and study, but one must also understand the need to have a broad and well-rounded understanding of other fighting systems.  The more you learn and understand other fighting systems, the better chance you will have against an opponent. 


A true karateka should always find ways to improve their training and if that means to borrow or steal from other Martial Arts, then do it!  I also believe a well-conditioned fighter has a better chance in a fight than someone out of shape.  Weight training and conditioning with diet and nutrition must be incorporated into one’s karate training and study.


(SB)     How would you say WTKO karate is different to the JKA you knew and practiced?


(SK)     Technically speaking the karate is the same.  All the senior instructors in the WTKO started with the JKA.  Sensei Amos graduated from the Asai Sensei’s JKA instructor course, and trained, and taught at the JKA Japan headquarters with all the JKA instructors before the JKA break up in Japan.  The main focus or difference I see is that WTKO instructors place training, practicing and studying the art of Shotokan Karate first!   


An Interview with Sonny Kim


(SB)     Being a part of WTKO you must have had experience with the likes of Steve Ubl. What have you learned from training with him?


(SK)     I just returned from a course taught by Sensei Ubl in Pensacola, Florida this February 2011. 


Ubl Sensei’s karate is all about effective practical karate and not competition karate.  His karate is not about scoring a point on his opponent, its purely effective application of karate technique.  The bottom line is, Sensei Ubl teaches Martial Arts and not sports karate!


(SB)     Steve Ubl uses almost a hip dominance in all he does, yet he seems to have the capacity to relax and control them. In your observations, how has he achieved this do you think?


(SK)     The physical power source in karate is delivered from the legs in connection with the hip movement.  Sensei Ubl has developed, through his continuous training, the subtle hip movement to deliver effective and strong strikes and kicks.  His hip movement is noticeable but very natural and subtle and one can witness the awesome power and speed in his technique.


Sensei Ubl explained several times during his course the importance of understanding and continuous mastery of fundamentals in Shotokan Karate.  Students training should reflect and work toward the effective application of karate technique and get away from stylizing movements.  If your main focus and practice is geared toward sport and competition karate, it will be very difficult and challenging to fully understand and appreciate Sensei Ubl’s karate.


I highly recommend your readers take a course with Sensei Ubl in the near future to experience and appreciate his unique Shotokan Karate. 


(SB)     WTKO Karate, like JKA Karate, teaches the pivoting on the heels when turning. Why is this, rather than pivoting on the ball of the foot, what is the benefit would you say?


(SK)     I apply “pressure” on the heel of my pivoting foot and not on the ball of the foot when turning.  You cannot come up on the heel or the ball of your foot in a dynamic movement or you will lose your balance.  I find using my heel during pivoting movements allows for better balance and quicker transition in technique.  I also apply the pressure on my pivoting heel in my turning movement to propel my momentum forward in my action.  In time and practice you will make pivoting on the heel of your foot more comfortable and natural in your technique. 


An Interview with Sonny Kim


(SB)     But pivoting on the skeletal structure (heel) means, if swept that you have no capacity to maintain or regain balance, don’t you think? Whereas pivoting on the balls of the feet increase the likeliness of achieving this?


(SK)     You may be correct in your assessment but, if you are being swept off your feet, it does not matter if you are on the ball or heel of your foot.  I remember that several years ago everyone was writing articles and heated discussions on the topic of coming up or not on the ball of your back foot during executing a gyaku-tsuki and keeping the heel on the floor.  Each karateka should evaluate their technique and in time adapt the technique to fit their body.  What works to one person, may not always work for another.  This is what studying and not just training karate, is all about. 


(SB)     Central to Karate is the development of strong stances (dachi), and as Richard Amos has shown, the correct architecture of a stance can be the determining factor in its usefulness and function. What are the main things you stress when teaching stances, and do you have exercises you can suggest to help develop specific dachi?


(SK)     I recall that Shotokan karatekas in the 1970’s and early 1980’s had long and much exaggerated low stances.  You can see this in the old films of competitors performing kata or in their kumite stances.  I recall many Senseis back then commanding their students to get lower in their stances. This may be good for developing strength and flexibility, but hard to move or react quickly in kumite.


In the lower kyu grade stage of training have the students work on good form and balance in their stances.  They can work the stances in kihon and through their kata.  Partner drills using elastic band or their obi (belt), is also helpful in putting their stances under pressure.  Clearly demonstrate to the students the connection with their stances (legs) with the upper body in executing their technique. 


Start introducing to the upper kyu grade level and dan grades the relationship between stances and the hip (center) body movement to produce effective power.  In this stage of practice start demonstrating and breaking each stances to show the subtle use of ankle and position of the foot, along with rotational/counter-rotational and explosive thrusting action of the hip in the stances, through the technique. 


Train and practice the stances under pressure in jiyu-ippon kumite and jiyu kumite.  Having the students work dynamic and flowing (relax) movements with their partner to understand the contraction and expansion in their stances to make correct distance in kumite.


Encourage supplementary training to the students to develop muscular and flexibility in the legs which will contribute in developing strong stances. 


(SB)     What is your favorite kata and why?


(SK)     Currently, my focus kata is Sochin.  I really like the contrast of slow movement (contraction) and the fast explosive movements (expansion) in the kata.  During my competition time I liked the kata Kanku-sho and Nijushiho.  I believe all of us go through different periods in our karate and the kata reflects this.


An Interview with Sonny Kim


(SB)     What is the purpose of kata do you think? What is the point in studying it as some cynical martial artists may suggest it has no value in developing fighting skills?


(SK)     The kata is an extension of kihon practice and with consistent practice, study, and experience you will also realize the kumite application within the kata.  I would hope that instructors and students reading this article are traditional Shotokan karatekas, so they understand the importance of kata.  If not, keep training!  For those cynical martial artists, may I suggest that this interview is not for you! 


(SB)     What is your personal approach to teaching kata? How do you teach it, what are the components you cover and how from a pedagogical perspective do you help the students develop a thorough understanding of the kata?


(SK)     Teaching kata or any karate techniques, start out by teaching the appropriate kata for the student’s grade level.  It may seem silly, but I see too many junior grade students begin learning kata way beyond their level for the competition purposes.  I hate to see a 3rd kyu level student performing Unsu and gojushiho-dai or other upper grade Dan level katas in competition.  The JKA system of kata competition is the best, in my opinion, because it forces all competitors to perform basic katas first.  Kyu grade levels are required to only perform katas within their grade level.  I am only expressing my personal opinion.  I know some readers are going to say that if a student has the abilities, regardless of grade rank, they should be introduced to higher level katas.  I strongly disagree!


Start by teaching the student the proper basic movements and the enbu (pattern) of the kata. 


Have the student follow along in a slow count and to hold each technique and make corrections accordingly.  Proceed to counting and changing the tempo of the kata and start introducing the kata in a sequence of movement and not just single technique.  Have the students work on the kata in segments (half the kata). 


Introduce the basic application (bunkai) early in the kata and this will help the students to visualize the technique.  In the upper level grade, you can work the application in a more dynamic movement and less static form. 


Have the students perform the kata for the other students in class and give feedback accordingly. 


(SB)     Are there any points that we have neglected to ask you about that you would like to discuss?


(SK)     We covered a wide range of topics, Shaun.  One topic, I would like to discuss is the importance of continuous and consistent physical training for all instructors.  I witness too many overweight and out of shape instructors teaching karate and it’s very shameful!  Sensei Malcom Phipps from UK and I had this same conversation last year after his course at my dojo.  I have a policy in my dojo which simply states, if you don’t train, don’t teach!  If you’re offended by this, then start training!  OUSS!


(SB)     Can we please say a sincere thanks for agreeing to this interview and I wish you every success for the future.


(SK)     I thank you Shaun and much success to The Shotokan Way. OUSS! Sonny Kim


An Interview with Sonny Kim