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An Interview with Takayuki Mikami


Mikami Takayuki, Hachidan, was born in 1933 in Niigata, Japan. He received his Shodan in 1953 while training under Itoe Sensei. He has been a JKA instructor since he graduated the JKA Instructor Program in 1957. As a competitor he won many titles in both Kata and Kumite and was the Grand Champion of the 1959 All Japan Championships as winner of both Kata and Kumite. He has lived in New Orleans, Louisiana, since 1965 and is the Chief Instructor of the Louisiana Karate Association. He is the Pan American Representative to the JKA International Board of Directors and in 2008, he was appointed the Senior Technical Advisor to the JKA. He is currently the Founder, Chief Instructor and Chairman of the Japan Karate Association American Federation (JKA/AF). For more information on Mikami Sensei or the JKA/AF please visit the website www.jkaaf.org.


The following interview was conducted over the course of a weekend at the annual training camp held in Greenville, Mississippi. Instructors Maria Hrabec (Godan, Managing Director JKA/AF) and Scott Decuir (Yondan, Secretary JKA/AF) conducted the interview with Mikami Sensei.Maria Hrabec 09


Questions by The Shotokan Way


(Maria Hrabec)     Can we please open the interview by thanking you for your kind willingness to be interviewed for our magazine?


(Takayuki Mikami)     You are welcome and thank you for the opportunity.


(MH)     You started training in 1951 am I correct? What initially prompted you to start training?


(TM)     I think it was 1952 or 1953. My purpose initially in training was to develop mental strength for competition and life.


(MH)     How widely known in Japan was karate at this time, would you say, and how popular was it?


(TM)     Some people were aware of it in the major cities, but in the smaller localities no one knew of it. It wasn’t very popular at that time.


(MH)     Were you an avid sports athlete prior to your karate training?


(TM)     Besides Karate I participated in track and field events and was a short distance runner.


(MH)     Can you please tell us about Itoe Sensei and your training with him? What was he and his classes like, could you please give us an insight?


(TM)     Itoe Sensei was the most important and influential person in my Karate life. He taught me very important lessons about character and mental development. His classes were composed of very strong Karate and were very serious, but beyond that he taught us lessons for life. He taught me that in life and in Karate you must always be honest.


Sensei Mikami in Trinidad


(MH)     You of course also became Captain of the Hosei University Karate Team. Who were the other members of the team?


(TM)     There were many members, but the only one that I am aware of that is still teaching is Mr.Takada Minoru, who has a club in Japan.


(MH)     What were the main responsibilities of the ‘Team Captain’ and why do you think you were selected for this position?


(TM)     To help improve the club and to assist in the development of all the members. I would assist with the training and the development of the mental and spiritual character of the members.


(MH)     Did you fight regularly with other Universities? Who would you say were some of the strongest University teams and why?


(TM)     Yes, we had matches with the other universities. At that time, besides Hosei University, the strongest university clubs were Takudai (Takushoku University), Keio University, Waseda University, Ritsumeikan University , Doshisha University, and Kindai University. (Sensei then proceeds to write down the names of all the universities). These were the major universities. They were the strongest clubs because these were the group of universities that all started Karate clubs before World War II. The clubs that were established before World War II were the clubs with Karate at the highest levels.


(MH)     Could you please share some memories from your time on the Hosei team? Possibly share some stories or memories from that time?


(TM)     What I remember the most was that there was just a lot of hard training.


(MH)     What was your academic study whilst at Hosei University?


(TM)     Academically, I studied Literature. I received my undergraduate degree in Literature. It was not really difficult to study and train, but my efforts were probably about 90% in Karate. That is because as I got near graduation, my focus was on enrolling in the JKA Instructor’s Course and I really didn’t worry about anything else.


Sensei Mikami Refereeing at the All Japan Collegiate Tournament


(MH)     In 1956 you started the JKA Instructor Program in the first year of its launch. What initially made you want to enroll on the course?


(TM)     My Coach, Mr. Itoe, recommended it.


(MH)     Was it your intention while at Hosei University to join the Instructor Program and become a JKA Instructor or was it a case of fate? What would you have ended up doing professionally had you not become a karate instructor?


(TM)     It was my intention before graduation to enroll in the course. Being a karate instructor has given me a lot of professional and mental satisfactions, but it is not without sacrifice, and has not always been very easy economically on my family. Many of my friends chose to become involved in a large company and have done very well economically. But, if I would not have become a Karate instructor I would have probably become a teacher or involved in the Education system in Japan.


(MH)     Obviously, being in the 1st JKA Instructor Program, it was a new venture for the JKA. Did you have a full understanding of what the program consisted of before enrolling?


(TM)     I don’t know about a full understanding, but I had a pretty good idea. The purpose was to train me to become an instructor and I knew it would be hard.


(MH)     Can you please tell us about the fellow students of the Program? Could you tell us exactly who they were, and tell us something about them?


(TM)     There were three of us in the program. Kanazawa Hirokazu Sensei was one of my classmates. Most people know about Mr. Kanazawa. The other student was Mr. Takaura Eiji. I believe that he is still competing in the Senior Divisions.


(MH)     And what about the training? How much of the course was based on the ‘teaching aspect’? Or was it mostly focused on the technical aspects?


(TM)     The course was mostly focused on the technical aspects of Karate. But I think that they also taught us how to deal with the overall experiences of life.


(MH)     Could you please tell us what the most important things you learned from the Program were, and how did the course develop you?


(TM)     The most important lesson that I learned from the program was to be honest.


(MH)     Who were the main instructors of the Program – Masters Nakayama and Okazaki, am I right? Could you please share some fond or funny stories that you had from this time in your life and possibly give us an insight into your experiences?


(TM)     Mr. Nakayama was the main instructor of the program, Mr. Nishiyama and Mr. Okazaki were the assistant instructors of the program. As to funny stories, I have a whole lot of them, but I don’t know how much I want to reveal (Sensei smiles broadly).


(MH)     And what about the Research papers you had to write. Do you recall what papers you wrote and what they were exploring?


(TM)     Every month we had to write a report. I don’t remember what the topics of the reports were. Back then the papers remained in the program. Today, they would have a chance to be published in an article or a book.


(MH)     Of course the Instructor Program was set in place to not only generate superb standards of karate instructors for Japan, but also to help spread the art throughout the rest of the world. How well do you think the Instructor Program at that time prepared you for life as an international instructor?


(TM)     The program helped me personally with my Karate and my pride and confidence, but economically it was a sacrifice for my family and myself. Back then, there were not many college graduates, so a degree from the University gave you an opportunity to work for a large company and do well financially. Also, schoolteachers were much more respected at that time, so that was also a good occupation to consider.


(MH)     You started the program in 1956 and graduated in 1957. Was the course 1 year long back then – and why did it change to become longer do you believe?


(TM)     We all graduated in one year. In my time, the program consisted of only three people and it was full time. We stayed twenty-four hours a day in the training hall. The three of us lived together as one group. We were cooking, eating, sleeping and doing everything together. Sometimes Mr. Nakayama would join us also. The training was much more intensive and much more personal. The program began every morning the minute we would wake up. I don’t think it is as restrictive or personal today, so it takes longer.


(MH)     Between 1957-58 you were sent by the JKA to teach in the Philippines. Had you traveled much prior to this time?


(TM)     That was the first time I had traveled overseas and that was the first time the JKA sent an instructor overseas.


(MH)     How did you feel being sent away for an extended period, and did you know prior to going how long you would be teaching there?


(TM)     Not exactly. At that time, I could only get a Visa for two months at a time to travel there. I renewed the Visa as long as I was allowed to stay, but I could only stay for 9 months.


(MH)     Can you please tell us about that year in the Philippines – possibly give us a glimpse into your experiences while living there?


(TM)     I really was lucky living there because I was living in the top level of society. The owner of the house I stayed in was the President of Far Eastern University (FEU), which is one of the largest private universities. His house was a large compound with armed guards, so I felt very safe.


(MH)     Was there a real sense of pride knowing you were a part of such an historic time in the propagation and development of karate throughout the world, being one of the first instructors to be sent out to develop karate outside of Japan? And did you realise at the time what a major development for the art this would be?


(TM)     Yes to both questions. Developing Karate worldwide was part of the strategy of Nakayama Sensei in designing the instructor-training course.



Sensei Mikami becoming the Kumite Champion at the 1958 All Japan Championships


(MH)     In 1958 you returned to the Japan. How did it feel going back after the period away?


(TM)     I had been away from Japan for almost one year, so I had to physically begin reconditioning myself. I was not in as good a physical condition when I returned as when I left. I had gone an entire year without attending any competitions and with limited training.


(MH)     What did you do upon your return? Did you teach at the Hombu or did you open your own club? What did the following years until your move to the States consist of?


(TM)     I trained every day and I began teaching for the JKA. I did not ever have a club in Japan. The JKA would send me to visit the different Japanese College groups and teach them. I would go to about four places every week. I would mostly travel to the different places using the Japanese Public Transportations system. The Japanese system of public transportation is very effective.


(MH)     You were of course also a part of another historic moment when you faced Hirokazu Kanazawa at the 1958 All Japan Championships. Can you please recall this event for us and tell us exactly what happened?


(TM)     That was the time that we tied in the Championship fight. I had just come back from the Philippines and I was not in very good condition in terms of my reaction time, strength and endurance. I had been out of training from most of one year, so I was not in my top physical condition at that time. As to the fight itself, I knew the favourite techniques that Kanazawa would use when he fought. His techniques involved large motions and moving very strongly. So I knew that I had to move quicker to be effective. But at that time I was not in physically good enough condition to prevail in the competition. Mr. Kanazawa was very strong it was very difficult to defend and then effectively enter for a counter attack.



(MH)     You then returned to the All Japan Championships the following year to become Grand Champion – winning both kata and kumite. Can you please tell us, who did you face in the lead up to the finals of the kumite? And who did you face in the final? Could you recall your memories from this event?


(TM)     In Kumite in 1959 I met Mr. Kanazawa again in the finals. I don’t remember all the preliminary fights I had. In 1959 I was in better physical condition, so I felt more comfortable at the tournament. That was the difference for me in that fight from the year before.


(MH)     In 1963 you were sent to the United States where you have lived until today. Why were you sent to the States do you believe in favour of the other countries throughout the world?


(TM)     The JKA sent me to the United States to promote Karate in this country. I did not request to go to the United States. Graduates had an order to determine when they were sent to different countries. Mr. Kanazawa went to Hawaii. I think that Mr. Shirai was supposed to go to the United States, but he wanted to go to Italy, so I was next on the list and it was my turn to come to the United States.


(MH)     What were your first impressions of the United States and did it take you long to adjust to the western way of life?


(TM)     I missed Japan. Well my first impression was that everything was very large and big and loud. Because I didn’t understand English, communications and life was very difficult. There were a lot of misunderstandings and mistakes. As to how long it has taken me to adjust to the western way of life, my whole lifetime (Sensei laughs). My wife says that any place that I go I first look for Japanese food. My eating habits have never adjusted.


(MH)     You initially started teaching in Kansas but after two years moved to Louisiana am I right? When you initially moved to Louisiana, had there been karate there before you arrived?


(TM)     It was less than two years that I was in Kansas City. Kansas City did not appeal to me as the right place for the promotion of Karate. They were too commercial in their approach to Karate for me. Louisiana already had Karate training in Shreveport and New Orleans. The students in Louisiana asked the JKA to transfer me there and I decided to go for two reasons. The first reason is that Louisiana has very good seafood (Sensei smiles). Another reason is that in Louisiana people were not interested in commercialising Karate. They were more interested in training.


(MH)     Can you please tell us about your Louisiana Karate Association and the karateka you have produced?


(TM)     We have had many fine karateka, but the first thing I think about the LKA and New Orleans that is that you have to push the students harder. That is what takes most of my energy and effort. People are not used to working too hard down here. They call New Orleans the Big Easy.


(MH)     In 2007, ISKF split from the JKA. Can we please ask why you decided to remain within the JKA along with several of your other peers?


(TM)     First, technically the JKA traditionally maintains the highest standards of any Karate organization. Secondly, the JKA is my home. I have grown up in the JKA technical system.


(MH)     How has karate in the States developed would you say since you have been living there, and how would you like to see it continue developing?


(TM)     I think that Karate is developing worldwide, but not always for the better. Some organizations are now considering abandoning Kata competitions and training because they believe that Kumite is more exciting to watch and spectator attractive for Olympic consideration. Some people argue that Kata serves no useful purpose in karate anymore. But we know that Kata training is effective because the early karateka practiced Kata almost exclusively and were able to effectively defend themselves and to effectively compete. I believe that traditional Karate without Kata would not be traditional Karate. Kata teaches footwork, balance, posture, smoothly shifting and turning. Kata also aids in the development of antagonistic muscle groups. This improves overall coordination and conditioning of the body. Also, the exercises associated with correct execution of Kata technique are designed to stimulate certain glands in the body, which assists the release of beneficial hormones throughout the body. This promotes good physical and mental health. So I would like to see the practice of Kata continuing to be an important part of the Karate development and I think that abandoning Kata is a mistake.



Sensei Mikami executing a throw to his opponent


(MH)     After almost six decades of dedicated study and practice of the art, what do you think are the most important things to develop and focus on in your karate?


(TM)     You must develop patience. You can develop patience through a whole lot of proper stimulation from your instructor.


(MH)     From reading your writing, you stress the development of the ‘mind like water’. Could you please tell us here in this interview why this is important?


(TM)     Water can adapt itself totally to its environment and still maintain its identity. Calm water reflects a total picture and troubled water reflect confusion. So approaching a problem with a calm and adaptable mind is very important to making the wise choices.


(MH)     How often do you currently train Sensei? And what are the most important things you now focus on in your own training?


(TM)     I can’t train for long periods of time anymore, but I still try to train everyday. I do a lot of leg exercises (Sensei demonstrates squatting exercises from a fighting stance). I also try to mentally focus on how to improve timing. So, I can’t train for many hours at a time anymore, but I still try to train every day.


(MH)     What is your favourite kata and why?



(TM)     I don’t have a favourite kata and I have never really had a favourite kata. I had a favourite kata that I used for competition, which was Kanku Sho, but there is not one particular Kata that I favour over another. I chose Kanku Sho for competition because it tended to get higher scores from the judges in Kata competitions.


(MH)     Can we please say a big thank you for this opportunity to interview you. Our readers are thrilled to get an opportunity to read your thoughts and about your experiences and I would like to say on behalf of our magazine and our readers around the world a big thank you for this opportunity.


(TM)     Thank you for your interest and the opportunity to give my opinions.


Sensei Mikami at the JKA in 1960