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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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Yoshiharu Osaka

An Interview with Yoshiharu Osaka

‘Go until saturation then push harder and go beyond’


I remember being 15, sitting in the school’s ICT computer suite researching and reading about different instructors when I should have been writing history assignments. My GCSE studies often seemed to conflict with the seemingly more important karate research that I wanted to do. As I researched, I found increasing references to a karateka that appeared flawless within all photographs I found. I had also recently bought Masatoshi Nakayama’s Best Karate No.10. This kata textbook included awe inspiring executions of Unsu by M. Yahara and Nijushoho by T. Asai, but as my bookshelf expanded to include other volumes of the textbook series, I noticed the Sochin’s performer Yoshiharu Osaka seemed to make several appearances across many of the textbooks. His performance within made it abundantly clear why he was featured with such frequency.

My research and extended reading about the Shotokan style of course led me to the most prominent and most widely documented feature of Shotokan’s expansion – The Japan Karate Association (JKA). The nucleus from which all shotokan dojos stem, the JKA was the most influential force in the worldwide exposure of the style, and propagation of the art.

I am not a JKA member, but like all shotokan karateka, I have a lineage to the JKA. In my childhood, that link would be via Sensei Mike O’Brien, Chief Instructor of the Karate Union of Wales, former KUGB member. These days my link would be via my teacher Sensei Dave Hazard, Chief Instructor of the Academy of Shotokan Karate, student of Sensei K. Enoeda, who lived and trained in Japan in the JKA Instructor’s class. The point I make is that however ‘disconnected’ from the JKA we believe to be, we are often embedded within the body of the JKA shockwave.

However, the more I researched, in paralleled quantity of the ‘technical’ and positive material I read, there seemed to be just as much ‘dirt’ written on the ‘big’ names that made up the organization. Tales of bullying, of brutality, of exploitation of power and status. Ego seemed to rein supreme, with many tales of karate being used as a means of feeding the fallacy that hierarchy validates vindictiveness and cruelty. Yet, in spite of all of the reading I did, not once did I read of said exploitation by Osaka.

Furthermore, years of late night dinners and drinks, and even post-interview discussions never led me to such damming stories of Osaka. As abundantly pure his form, his history seems to be just as uncorrupt. This, in my eyes, made him stand out from many of the other senior instructors I have trained with. A close friend of mine once described him as a ‘gentleman’, and truth be told, I couldn’t have put it any better.

Within this article, I would like to discuss the background of Sensei Yoshiharu Osaka, share some of the things I learned from him during my very brief weekend training under him, and present an interview with him, conducted by Arijit Chakraborty.

Yoshiharu Osaka

Yoshiharu Osaka 8th Dan

Born in 1947 in Fukuoka Prefecture, Yoshiharu Osaka today is known internationally for his outstanding technical excellence. In 2009, Emma and I were accepted to participate in the JKA England Spring Course, with the headline instructor being Yoshiharu Osaka. This was an opportunity I would not only relish, but would refer back to consistently for years to come in my own personal study and training. Whilst there, I spent time with the Secretary and senior members of JKAE, that told me that any visiting instructor is met with a good attendance and popularity, but when Osaka Sensei is ‘headlining’, ‘the course is packed to the rafters’. The popularity of this instructor did not just come down to his technical excellence. His smile had something to do with it too.

Like many of Japan’s most excellent and shining talents, Osaka attended Takushohu University (1966). The University that helped facilitate the development of renowned instructors like Teruyuki Okazaki, Hirokazu Kanazawa, and Keinosuke Enoeda, Takushoku University, and its intense and grueling training, was the breeding ground for a ‘unique’ level and standard of karate. Osaka became a part of this ‘elite’ heritage. Whilst at Takushoku University, Osaka was mentored by none other than Katsunori Tsuyama.

Readers of Masatsoshi Nakayama’s Best Karate Kumite 1 will remember Tsuyama’s awe inspiring demonstrations of mawashi-geri. Of Tsuyama, Nakayama wrote ‘Tsuyama has such hips only because of the accumulated effect of honest training’. It was this ‘honest’ training Tsuyama passed on, and undoubtedly influenced not only Osaka’s skill, but his attitude to all aspects of karate.

Upon graduating from Takushoku University, Osaka joined the JKA Instructor’s Class, eventually graduating in 1972. It was during this time that Osaka’s honing of skills led him to competitive success, initially taking 2nd place kumite at the All Japan Championships (1972). This was the start of an impressive and rarely paralleled competitive record that earned him a reputation internationally.

Today, Osaka is both Vice Chief Instructor (supporting Masaaki Ueki 8th Dan – JKA Chief Instructor) and General Manager of technical division. A JKA Honbu Instructor, and one of the JKA’s most senior instructors, Osaka teaches both at the HQ and internationally as a popular and highly demanded visiting guest instructor.

Recently, Osaka was on such a visit, teaching in India, and was interviewed by Arijit Chakraborty. Whilst short, I enjoyed this interview and felt it effectively encapsulates the open attitude of the man.

Yoshiharu Osaka

‘Kata King’  

Yoshiharu Osaka Shihan, 8th Dan JKA,

Yoshiharu Osaka Shihan is an 8th Dan JKA and Deputy Managing Director of JKA. He is the ''living textbook' of Shotokan and has been the 'blue-eyed boy' of Masatoshi Nakayama Sensei, 9th Dan JKA Chief Instructor (1913-1987). Osaka Shihan featured in numerous JKA Videos, magazines around the world and has won the All Japan JKA Kata title a record 7 times , every year in succession. He is world renowned for his expertise in kata and is the epitome of JKA Shotokan. A technical expert, he is a quiet humble man, with a smiling disposition. He exhibits 'internal' strength in his techniques, which 'are penetrating' and '' his kata is of the first rank', as described by the Late Nakayama Sensei. Myself being a Shotokan karate student from the 1980 s, I have trained in JKA Style Karate , hence I took up this golden opportunity to interact with the legendary Master of Karate-do and present  readers and Karate enthusiasts, a brief tete-a -tete from Osaka Shihan. Many thanks to Anil Sinha Sensei,6th Dan and JKA India Chairman ,Anand Ratna Sensei, 6th Dan and JKA India Chief Instructor / Executive Head and Sensei Neeraj Dhawan, 5th Dan JKA for facilitating and interpreting the interaction with Osaka Shihan - Arijit Chakraborty

(Arijit Chakraborty)      Shihan, welcome to India! Oss! Please share your views on shotokan’s technical evolution and the role of the JKA.

(Yoshihau Osaka)     Oss, you see JKA karate has always been hard, fast and tough…strong Kime (shihan shows a strong punch, which we barely see due to its speed). In recent years we have been doing more research on how to harmonize kihon, kata and kumite for all-round physical and mental development. Younger JKA Instructors like Naka, Kurihara, Kobayashi and others are continuously seeking new ways of executing technique, adopting a softer approach, utilizing ki energy and ensuring karate training can bring lifetime benefits.

(AC)     Shihan, what is your view of Karate as a stress management tool, given the speed and complexity of modern urban life, please share

(YO)     Very good question. Let’s remember that Karate is also for health and for life. Many students come to the JKA Honbu dojo for learning once or three times a week. Some can afford daily practice, depending on profession, flexibility etc. I say- you must decide on your training frequency  first, fix it, and then follow it. You may lie on just half the tatami, but when you practice, use the full tatami, so utilize all your time and space fruitfully. This will bring holistic development in character and technical capacity

(AC)     Shihan, what are your thoughts on sports Karate?

(YO)     (Smiles) You see, sports karate is so popular, but the career span is only ten-fifteen years, you retire by thirty five maybe, but traditional karate is lifelong. You also practice and benefit in your 70s, understand body limitations, appreciate the mental aspects, how the mind and spirit are together. A lifetime dedication is so important. You see Senseis Ueki, Tanaka , Sugiura , although at an advanced age,  they are so fast and strong. This is consistency and sincerity in training as karate helps to expand your lifespan. Please understand that development never ends, so one should choose between short term gain like in sports karate, and lifelong benefit like in traditional karate, with strong focus on kihon and kata.

(AC)     Shihan, we are just inspired by your unparalleled record in karate - may I call you the ''Kata King''? What is your secret, please share?

(YO)     (Laughing) No, no, please see that I have no secret! I do daily training, 'Moving Zen' is kata, do it with sincerity, from the heart. You must go until saturation, then push harder and go beyond. I always say - ''Mukin Shori''- the way to success has no short-cut!

(AC)     Shihan, please share your favorite kumite technique and kata?

(YO)     (Smiling) Always gyaku-zuki! (Shihan demonstrates, we move away, his punch is incredibly powerful), as for kata, I have always loved ‘Sochin’! I just try to practice it more.

(Editor’s Note – Sochin – translated as ‘Immovable’, encapsulates the attitude of being ‘Immovable in the face of danger’. Therefore, its execution should be of  dogged fearlessness, and a determination to remain unfazed by the threat of physical violence. Unlike the spring and athleticism of Unsu and Empi, Sochin has the feeling of being ‘inside’ the ground, rather than operating upon it. Therein lies the value of Fudo-dachi, often referred to as Sochin-dachi within the kata. Within the spirit of the kata, many try to achieve this ‘immovable’ feature with a regrettable level of stiffness and over-tension. Osaka Sensei’s sochin has the ideal balance of weight, heaviness, and rooted commitment, whilst also being effortlessly smooth.)

(AC)     Shihan, please share your message for Shotokan Karateka , readers of this interview, and all martial artists.

(YO)     Please train together, learn and respect each other. Please train and use each other, understand body structure and related techniques, try, learn, practice. Be open, and flexible. Experiment, ask, seek and pass on as a diligent, focused study is vital! Development is like a never-ending staircase, you go up and up, so you must try harder! Also do more makiwara, geta training, rubber/resistance training as just air-work is not enough, feel the impact and distancing (ma-ai) of technique, all the best to readers!

(AC)     Oss Shihan, thanks so much for your time and thoughts. Thanks also to Anil Sinha Sensei, Anand Ratna Sensei and Neeraj Dhawan Sensei. Let JKA India grow from strength to strength, Arigato Gozaimasu!

(YO)     (Smiling) Oss , Arijit San


Liquid in Motion

Throughout my training career, I have had opportunity to train with a vast array of outstanding instructors. Some however light a spark that seems to burn for a long time. In 2009, I had the opportunity to travel to Guildford and train with Osaka Sensei. Over the course of the weekend, I took 4 separate classes with the instructor, and whilst this time is of course incredibly limited, many of the technical points he stressed have become key to many classes I teach and certainly to my own personal study.  In my report of the Spring Course, I described Osaka Sensei as ‘Liquid in Motion’. Here I will share just a small handful of the key technical aspects I enhanced or had highlighted to help illustrate the level of technical excellence Sensei Osaka is working at.

Many instructors’ focus within kihon and kata tend to be externally attentive. Therefore attention is paid, not just necessarily to the aesthetic, but to the simplicity of angles. Geometry is therefore a priority, ensuring the hips are at a 45º angle, that the rear foot is at X º, the front foot is at Y º etc. This geometry in kihon is of course essential, especially when considering issues of joint protection, and maintaining a healthy body for longevity within the art. Osaka however seemed incredibly occupied with the internal, and not just the external. He was trying to capture the ‘Feeling’ of the technique, rather than just its geometry. An example of this was highlighted within the Kata Tekki Sandan.

All Senior grades (3rd dan and above) were taken to a private and more personal room for a more intensive session with Osaka Sensei. During this session, Osaka taught the kata Tekki Shodan. Naturally, he highlighted many of the aspects that reflect the JKA’s standardization. He was therefore often stressing JKA specific technical details. He then struck upon the way the hips operate in Kiba-Dachi, something I’ve researched deeper myself.

He of course highlighted that within kiba-dachi there should not be excessive internal or external pressures on the ankle. He also noted that during the rotation of the hips within kiba-dachi the knees should remain static, and unaffected by the movement. This therefore means that the knees should not go forward and back or side to side during the rotation. All of this is very generic. He then started to talk about the ‘feeling’ of the technique when rotating the hips. Specifically he explored which buttock should engage and at what time, where we should be squeezing and at what time, and where we should be relaxing, and at what time.  It was this attention to specifics that blew my mind. I have since used this specific point as the impetus for masses of personal research, not just into Kiba-dachi, but into applying this same concept into all techniques in kihon. That ‘sole’ point has generated limitless depths of research for me.

What impressed me most emphatically was that to the aesthetic, the correct and incorrect version look more or less the same. They don’t really look too different. But to the practitioner themselves, and to the opponent attacking, the difference is more than evident. It is this internal attention that gives further value to technique.

Another example happened on the 3rd session of the first day’s training, during the class dedicated to Jion. Sensei demonstrated the kake-wake-uke as your step into zenkutsu-dachi. From the mae-geri, there is a habit for the right shoulder to elevate slightly before rolling ‘up and over’ before going forward with the punch as you land into zenkutsu-dachi. Sensei had us work on rolling ‘under’ before going forward. Whilst almost impossible to describe on paper, the two appear practically no different to an observer. The ‘feeling’ however is the difference between night and day. By rolling ‘under’, you are further connecting the shoulder and limb to the trunk via the side muscles so that they are therefore fully connected to the core. Therefore, when making impact, the technique doesn’t bounce off as it’s connected to the mass of the body. Conversely, rolling ‘up and over’ lessens the connection to the body. Impact on a bag or pad and the difference becomes apparent. 

After the course I was told that Osaka Sensei is one of, if not the most demanding of all the grading examiners. Due to his finely tuned and keen understanding, he is able to fully identify exactly where the technique is going wrong.  As he noted within the interview above, we should train to ‘understand body structure’ and be sure to ‘Experiment, ask, seek and pass on, as a diligent, focused study is vital!

The truth is, that without a close, finely tuned study, coupled with hard, rigorous training, we as karateka are going no-where. As he said himself ‘go until saturation, then push harder and go beyond’, Osaka Sensei certainly did!!!