I first met Takashi Naito in Manchester, in 2008. He was in attendance for the JSKA World Championships, accompanying World Chief Instructor Keigo Abe. I was immediately impressed with his openness and willingness to discuss his karate background.
Three years later, I get opportunity to interview him myself, through the support and aid of Fumiko Teshiba. May I please share my gratitude to both Fumiko and Sensei Naito for their time and support.
I sincerely hope you enjoy this interview- S. Banfield 2011
Interview Questions by THE SHOTOKAN WAY.
Interview conducted by Fumiko Teshiba.
(Fumiko Teshiba) Sensei, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed you. We met in Manchester a few years ago, I have been eager for this interview for a long time, so thank you! You were born in Fukukoka in Kyushu Island, am I correct? Can you please tell us about your childhood, and your early life and family?
(Takashi Naito) Yes, I were born in Fukuoka, west south side of Japan. It is a beautiful city close to the sea. My paternal grandfather was a university professor teaching German. My maternal grandparents were lords, old time Samurai lineage. I didn’t play any sports (as a youngster), especially of course not Karate.
But I was fine and spirited. I used to enjoy playing in the sea and upon the mountain.
(FT) You attended Nihon University. What degree did you study there?
(TN) I was belong to the department of science and engineering , studying to be a mechanical engineer because I liked to mess around with mechanical things.
(FT) The instructor there was Sensei Kiego Abe, now Chief Instructor of the JSKA. Can you please tell us about the training you experienced there with him at the University?
(TN) Abe Sensei’s training was so rigorous. He came to teach to the University 3 times in a week. I felt that the training time of the day was so long.
One day, a student advanced the hands on the clock by one hour so we could finish early, but Abe Sensei found that, and we had to continue the training until midnight.
(FT) You have, in the past, stated that Sensei Abe’s training was very ‘harsh’. Can you please elaborate on this, and explain why the training was so severe?
(TN) The training was mainly Kihon every day. We did Tsuki and Keri hundreds and thousands of times. Abe Sensei always said that you have to be able to move the right hand , left hand, right leg, and left leg ; each freely and under your control in order to deliver a blow to the opponent.
(FT) And did you ever consider giving up?
(TN) I most likely did. But I thought it was the best moment when I almost gave up to improve my involuntary movement. When I understand that, it was a start of training for me.
Almost all students cut corners when the training is severe. But I tried harder at such times. Once I tried, I got, and I could do more than I thought.
(FT) It must have been from this time that you developed your relationship with Sensei Abe. Are there are any stories of him that you could share with us, I know our readers would love to hear them?
(TN) When I was a university student, Abe Sensei was a famous instructor of JKA and also captain of the National Team. In the competition, sometimes he committed fouls. I remember the opponents were overturned or lost consciousness, or had teeth blown off. We were so excited and thought we wanted to be strong like him. He was our hero.
(FT) Since you are so close with Sensei Abe, maybe you could give us a clear understanding as to how he and his karate has changed since your Nihon University days, to today?
(TN) His Karate concept hasn’t changed. His style is very orthodox, which can be to use actual fighting, and consequently defeat the opponent. In terms of personality, he became softened since his youth, as I can talk with him in feeling at ease. In my university days, I feared to talk. In memory, I always just said “OSS”.
(FT) In 1975, you won first place at the Individual kumite section of the JKA University League championships. Can you please tell us about this event, and share your memories. Who did you fight?
(TN) There were only 2 big matches, JKA Student Championship and National Championship in those days. We put one year’s training into a few minutes. In the final match, I fought with Mr.Sakata from Komazawa University. Although he attacked, I won by Ura-ken, which was rare at that time.
The judge was Masatoshi Nakayama who was a charismatic leader, and built up the JKA base, being Chief instructor of JKA. It was so honorable for me, for after I joined the JKA and became a Karate professional, Mr.Sakai became an instructor.
(FT) And in 1976 and 77, you competed successfully at the All Japan Karate Association Championships. Can you please tell us a little about your competitive career, and share some of your memories from such prestigious events?
(TN) In the year that I joined the JKA, I think I took 3rd place. Because I was published in a karate magazine, and within Nakayama Sensei’s book, as a young player who has a great future, I was elated.
(FT) In 1976, you embarked on what many describe as the pivotal point in their karate career. You joined the JKA Instructors course. Can you tell us what you learned most from Nakayama Sensei?
(TN) He was so gentle that he was loved and respected all over the world. He was haughty, and never shouted. He excellently commanded about 30 instructors who were individual ruffians.
(FT) And are there any stories of him that you could share?
(TN) When I went to his home, I looked at a picture from his youth. He rode a horse in China, as he grew up there. I remember I was so moved by the picture.
(FT) Apart from Abe Sensei, you also note Sensei Tagaki as someone of great significance to you. Can you please tell us about him, and his karate, and the ways in which he influenced you?
(TN) Nagaki Sensei was my Karate brother. He was 2 years my senior in university, and we both learned Karate from Abe Sensei. His age was the golden age for Nihon university. They won all matches. Though I couldn’t take part in these competitions, because of being two years their junior, I think I learned how to win.
(FT) Some have suggested that the training on the Instructors course was brutal and at times severe. Was this a true reflection of your experiences on the course?
(TN) Yes. I didn’t want to go up to the stairs to the dojo. When I finished training, I thought that I barely could survive today. In my university days, I had been elated because of my strength and speed. In the Instructors course, I was so surprised by the different dimensions of being professional.
The difference between students and being professional was right in front of me.
(FT) Are there any anecdotes that you could share from your training there, that could possibly shed a truthful light on the course?
(TN) Almost everyday, I was knocked out. The instructors were incredibly strong. To be a member of them was one of the status. Those chosen were there.
(FT) In what years did you travel to Iran to become the JKA Chief Instructor there?
(TN) Two and half years.
(FT) And how did this come about? Why were you chosen to go there?
(TN) Iran adopted the Japanese Budo Education. They invited Judo and Karate and Aikido instructors from Japan. The Judo instructor was from Metropolitan Police Department. He had gone before me. Next I was picked and went. We saw the Iran revolution without the Aikido instructor coming.
(FT) How established was karate there, prior to your arrival?
(TN) Iran team’s members were individual. They had sharp techniques and fighting spirit. My goal was to develop their ability and make world class Karateka. I think I achieved that. Most of them became instructors and have taught Karate all over the world, even now.
(FT) Could you tell us about your time there and the experiences you had there?
(TN) My best memory is Iran’s revolution. One day when I was about to go training, the firefight started. I was so surprised that bullets showered into the room.
(FT) And what prompted your departure?
(TN) I would stay after the revolution because my students helped me very much. But a state of confusion was getting worse. Prince Shahariyaru was an encouraging sympathizer of Karate and invited me, but he departed to Paris and was assassinate only 3 days after.
For that, gatherings including Karate training etc were prohibited. We couldn’t train and I couldn’t get any salary. I started to feel bad that I was well treated by my students, so I thought that I would go outside the country once and come back when everything calmed down.
(FT) You were former Secretary-General of the Japan Karate Association (Matsuno) from 1991-2000. What did your general duties involve, and could you give us an insight into your experienced doing this job?
(TN) Then, after the JKA lost its amazing leader, Nakayama Sensei, the JKA divided and continued in conflict for 15 years, as you know. The conflict dragged on and was harsh for us. But similar conflicts happened all over the world.
(FT) And how did the infamous JKA split affect you, as you must have had friends on both sides of the split am I correct? Did this cause you any personal hardship?
(TN) For such conflicts, there are many examples where good friends fight and family separate. If it were in the old Samurai age, people really would kill each other. When I imagined that, it made me think deeply about old history and life.
(FT) The JKA around the time of the split had many big name, significant and unique characters. Prior to the split, were these unique characters helping to develop JKA karate do you think?
(TN) The JKA had many unique characters as there couldn’t be in general public. It is an obvious fact that they made many legends, and history for better and worse. I think the remarkable heros like them can’t appear in current society.
(FT) For many years you personally organized the All Japan Karate Championships, including many, many other high class events. Did you enjoy being involved in that side of the events?
(TN) In those days, there were only 2 big matches as I write above. So a tense atmosphere could be felt everywhere in the competitions. Though I am in business now away from Karate, I yearn for that tension, and focus that I put together technique in a moment .
(FT) Did you ever encounter any significant difficulties in organizing such huge events? If so, what kinds of problems and how were they overcome?
(TN) Games based on rules are quite different from actual fighting. It’s true that games contributed to the development and spread of Karate very much. To compete toward being a champion is a fabulous experience in life. But I think Karate is to make up physical and mental strength through training oneself.
(FT) You now run a dojo in Yokohama, Japan. Can you please tell us about the dojo, and your hopes for the future with it?
(TN) I run a dojo with my senior at University near my home in Yokohama. Mainly children enjoy to learn manners, so that their parents are glad. I think it is so popular though I haven’t taught there. If you have chance to come, please drop in.
(FT) You are a part of the JSKA Shihankai. What is your role?
(TN) I haven’t done Karate for a while, so am just organizer and operator.
(FT) For a short while, JSKA competitions adopted the WKF rules of Sanbon-Shobu, am I correct? What was the reason for introducing such rules? And why did they then revert back to Ippon Shobu ruling?
(TN) JSKA competitions have adopted Ippon Shobu ruling. Only for the final, Nihon Saki-dori.
This hasn’t changed.
(FT) WKF sport karate has a big influence on karate practiced throughout Europe and here in the UK. What is your opinion of the influence of sport karate in Japan? Does it have much of an effect on the karate being practiced there?
(TN) In Japan, WKF rule is the main too. For fairness of Judge, the rule had changed like that. It’s natural and I don’t think it is bad. But Karate-ka shouldn’t forget that karate is a process of life training.
(FT) Are there any points I have failed to cover that you would like to discuss?
(TN) I went and taught Karate abroad. I’m moved that nowadays so many people learn Karate, no matter where it is, such as in small towns all over the world. Through Karate, we can make many friends. It is a big charm of Karate.
(FT) May I take this opportunity to thank you personally for this unique opportunity? May I wish you and your students all the very best for the future?