Interview with Takashi Naito 6th Dan, JSKA International Director of Administration
By George Carruthers
Once described by Masatoshi Nakayama as a kenshusei with a very bright future, Naito Takashi was born in Fukukoka in Kyushu Island, Japan in 1949. He began training in Shotokan karate in 1971 at Nihon Engineering University, Abe sensei's own alma mater. In 1975 he won first place in the individual kumite section of the JKA University League championships and in 1976 he entered the famous Japan Karate Association's instructors class under the direct tutelage of Nakayama Masatoshi sensei (JKA Chief Instructor) and Abe Keigo sensei (one of the most senior instructors of the JKA teaching faculty). While training at the JKA Sohonbu dojo, his instructors acknowledged his great ability in kata and kumite and in 1976 he took 3rd place in Kata, becoming the youngest ever medalist of the All Japan Karate Association Championships, again winning a medal in 1977.
He graduated from the instructor’s class in 1978 having been included in the renowned 'Best Karate' series books by Nakayama Masatoshi sensei and the JKA video archive footage 'The Legend of the Masters '. From 1978 to 1980 he was sent by Nakayama sensei to Iran to be the JKA Chief Instructor for that country and only left due to the Iranian revolution. He still maintains strong karate links in the region. A former Secretary-General of the Japan Karate Association (Matsuno) from 1991-2000, he has organised the All Japan Karate Championship every year, five world championships, and numerous karate seminars all over the world. Naito sensei edited the international rules concerning karate management and techniques which has ensured the standardisation of karate and qualification systems for instructors, referees and examiners. He holds a 6th Dan, is a member of the JSKA Shihankai and was also the first to establish a veteran category for competition.
Fluent in English and French, he is Secretary-General for the Japan Shotokan Karate Association worldwide, and International Director of Administration for Japan. Naito sensei is a man of principles, and has always been a faithful supporter of Abe Sensei for whom he has the greatest admiration and respect. He regularly teaches classes in his own privately run dojo in Yokohama, where he often welcomes foreign instructors and still maintains very close ties with his old karate group at Nihon Engineering University. – George Carruthers
(George Carruthers) Can you tell us about your training days at Nihon University?
(Takashi Naito) Nippon University is the alma mater of Abe Sensei, who was the instructor for the karate section. His training was extremely harsh, and many of the students while maybe moaning inside kept persevering. However his training was, and still is, truly strong and original, and that was something the students were very proud of.
(GC) What made you decide to enter the JKA instructor's class?
(TN) In my last year of University, I won the All Japan Universities Karate Championship, and was then called by the JKA. My work after graduation was already decided, and I was quite wavering about what I should do. However, I was told by Yahara Sensei, whom I admire: ‘Choose between work and wife which one you like better’ and I gave up starting a career in a company and instead entered as Kenshusei, or trainee, in the JKA.
(GC) Who were your contemporaries and who were your instructors?
(TN) Entering the JKA as kenshusei, I was at first very surprised, even if it should have been obvious, that I was to train every day with Nakayama Sensei - first of all - then Kanazawa, Asai, Abe, Ueki, Oishi, Tanaka, Yamaguchi, Iida, Takahashi, IIsaka, Osaka, Yahara, Mori, Kasutani, and other famous instructors, while Iimura, Kawawada, Hasama were of my generation.
(GC) As a graduate from the JKA Instructors class, outwith Abe sensei, which teachers influenced you the most and why?
(TN) Nakayama Masatoshi, who founded the JKA, and Takagi Masato were two instructors of tremendous existence for me. They never shouted in a loud voice, they were always calm, and were much respected by everyone and all. There is no wonder such characters attract the yearning of people around them, but it is a wonder how such characters are possibly built.
(GC) What was it like to train in the instructor's class in those days? and how did the training compare with that of the University?
(TN) The difference between the instructors class, as compared to the University training, was that in the instructors class you had to put a speed and a strength that is hardly possible to imagine. Everyday training was a continuous dread, and I still sense the feelings I had to escape while I was climbing the stairs to the dojo.
(GC) Can you give us some anecdotes?
(TN) The instructors of that time heavily drank, smoked, ate, partied and trained in the most unbelievable and irrational ways, and showed predominant strength and remarkable vitality. If you see it from the point of view of a contemporary and uninformed sportsman, they were a rough and outrageous bunch. They were complete outsiders of the normal society. There are for sure so many funny anecdotes, more than can ever be told, but when we have the opportunity, around a bottle of sake, we could talk about that.
(GC) What was it like to train under Nakayama and Abe Sensei?
(TN) The characteristic of Nakayama Sensei’s, and as well as Abe Sensei’s karate, is to employ unusual techniques but without any tricks behind them, attacking from the front. That is in truth strong karate.
(GC) How do you feel that Shotokan has changed since Nakayama sensei's passing, both nationally and internationally, if at all?
(TN) After Nakayama Sensei passed away, the JKA separated, but this was in fact quite a natural thing to expect, rather than all those unique characters managing together, I think that would have been more strange and surprising.
(GC) As General Secretary of the JKA (Matsuno faction) can you tell us much about him?
(TN) Mr. Matsuno Raizo was a formal high-ranking member in the Japanese government, and altogether a personage of superior quality. He is missed very much since he passed away. He had an advanced understanding of karate, and could with one or very few words pull people together.
(GC) You were involved along with Abe Sensei in Nakayama Sensei's 'Best Karate' series, can you tell us how this came about and your experiences of the time?
(TN) I was involved in the best karate series simply as a JKA trainee and played a role for photography purposes only, however I was later asked or told about these books so many times, that I think the power and influence of these books, was and still is enormous.
(GC) I believe that you were the JKA Chief Instructor to Iran for a few years before the fall of the Shah, can you tell us about your time there?
(TN) Iran shall be forever dear to me, and I feel about it like some kind of home. Many Iranian karateka supported me at the time of this tremendous experience that the Iranian revolution proved to be. The Chairman of the Iran Karate Association, Prince Shahriar Shafiq was assassinated while in exile in Paris, which on returning to Japan made me decide at the time to end my own karate career.
(GC) While with the JKA, you edited the international rules concerning karate management and techniques, why, for whom and what impact do you think that this has had?
(TN) The JKA had become a quite enormous organization, but in each country only Japanese instructors had the right to give examinations, while the territory consciousness was very strong. One felt that the development of the JKA was obstructed by this situation. On top of this, in many areas fake certificates and examinations had become quite a problem. More over, after Nakayama Sensei and his charisma had disappeared, it was necessary to set up codes to retain control. With a code of rules, it was possible for the JKA to entrust competent members with authority and I felt that would be a significant step towards the worldwide development of the JKA. The main thing was the qualification system, and to allow technical qualification upon fair test. Only the persons who were acknowledged these qualifications could then perform the duties and avail themselves of the authority defined and delegated by the JKA, and because the definitions as edited by myself were correct and easy to understand, they were adopted all over the world. For this reason, however, it is regrettable that the promulgation of this code was concomitant with the beginning of the JKA partition.
(GC) You are a very loyal supporter of Abe sensei. How has his teachings influenced your own karate?
(TN) I learned many things from Abe Sensei. At my age, I understand [know] that the value of what was taught to you is to try and apply it yourself.
(GC) Can you tell us about your role in the JSKA?
(TN) I am Secretary General and International Director of Administration.
(GC) How do you see the future of the JSKA within both Japanese and international karate?
(TN) In today's society and world, whatever is aimed at, there is no country that could work without any relation to other countries. Now, the JSKA is gathering members from 50 countries. For the karate leader able to utilize effectively the meaning of members in 50 countries, the future of the JKSA can be seen clearly enough, and for this, the necessary activities must be started.
(GC) What role do you feel the senior instructors will play in the future of the JSKA?
(TN) The JSKA must do something for the society and for the coming next generation of young people, must do what is possible, and I [am sure that I] would like to see a conference gathering the senior members who have built the first generation. I propose that as it is now possible to use the internet and video meeting [for this purpose], and I think it would be a good thing to try and build a vision for the JSKA future.
(GC) You run a dojo in Yokohama with Sato sensei and welcome JSKA instructors and students, can you tell us a little about it?
(TN) Yokohama is the second biggest Japanese city, bordering Tokyo, and in fact belonging to the Great Tokyo. There, with a senior of Nippon Daigaku, Sato Tsunehiro, we teach around hundred students, and anyone coming to Japan is welcome to train in this dojo.
(GC) What is your favourite kata and why?
(TN) My Tokui Kata is Kanku sho. This tokui kata was no special favorite of mine, but I was told by my Sensei that this Kata suited me. What I made of it is that what someone else sees of me is more accurately judged than what I can see and judge myself.