Interview with Mr. Najib Amin, ISKF 7th Dan
By Paul Willoughby
(Paul Willoughby) Mr. Amin, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. When and where did you begin your karate training?
(Najib Amin) I started Training in 1962 when, during a conversation with my neighbor about karate, he demonstrated a punching technique which was very impressive. I asked him to teach me what he had learned, and he started by coming to my house in the evenings after work. He taught me from October to December. One day be told me that he could not teach me anything more and suggested that we investigate a class being organized at a recreation center. In December 1962, we joined the Chick Webb Karate Club, where classes were conducted twice each week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I trained with the club for almost 3 years, during which time I learned the five Heian kata and was promoted to orange belt.
(PW) How were you introduced to Mr. Okazaki and when did you begin training with him?
(NA) In 1965 I heard of a club in the Highland Town section of Baltimore run by Bob Lent. I went to speak with Mr. Lent and learned that he had brought Okazaki Sensei from Philadelphia to conduct a demonstration which resulted in the formation of the Maryland Karate Association. In the meantime, Bob McPhearson was conducting a class in another section of the city. Bob Lent asked Okazaki Sensei to come to Baltimore to teach, but he would agree only if the two clubs consolidated to form one organization. At the time, the two clubs were racially segregated and Okazaki sensei said “we don’t do karate that way.” Together, we opened a dojo and Okazaki Sensei would come down to instruct about once a month (at the time we could only afford pay his train fare to Baltimore and provide him with a meal after training, but he generously told us that it was alright to pay him when we could). The following year, he introduced Kisaka Sensei to the club. Have you seen the picture in the dojo of Farid sparring?
(PW) I don’t think I have.
(NA) OK, it’s in the office. That man is Katsuya Kisaka, the 1965 All Japan kumite champion. He was sent to this country to assist Okazaki Sensei in Philadelphia and had accompanied him to Baltimore to be introduced to us. There were no children in the dojo at that time and when he saw Farid in a uniform he wanted to know who he was. Mr. Okazaki said, “he does Karate”. Mr. Kisaki said, “No, no, he cannot do Karate” whereupon he executed a jodan punch which Farid immediately blocked and countered. Kisaka Sensei said, “He’s OK.”
(PW) When did you establish your own club and begin teaching?
(NA) The Shotokan Karate Club of Maryland was established in 1992, However, my teaching experience began in 1968 when I was approached by the director of the YMCA to start a karate program. I was an ikkyu at the time and with no teaching experience was hesitant to take on the responsibility. I called Okazaki Sensei to get his permission because I didn’t know how to begin and did not want to be inundated, so I decided to accept only 8 students for the first session (the classes were run on an 8-week basis). I taught for the YMCA for 5 years, after which the club moved to the Department of Recreation and Parks where I taught for 25 years. At the same time, I conducted a 2 credit elective course in karate for the Physical Education Department at Catonsville Community College for 14 years. The idea for the present club came from my son, Farid. After my retirement in 1990, I believe he wanted to be sure I kept busy and decided it would be a good idea to establish our own club. Also, we were often preempted by other activities. I think you’ve experienced that also.
(PW) Yes I have.
(PW) How has Shotokan training changed in the years since you began training?
(NA) In my opinion karate has not changed a great deal but our approach has changed somewhat. Of course, having Okazaki Sensei as chief instructor is a constant source of information because he introduces philosophical points that we were not exposed to in the beginning. We were just told to block, punch and kick and we did as we were instructed. Also, some of the training methods have changed. For example, during one of our instructor training classes, Okazaki Sensei explained that the use of some training devices such as the geta (iron shoes) and wrist weights were counter productive. He also pointed out that we changed when better methods of training were introduced to us.
(PW) You were one of the original trainees that started the program in September of 1976. What was your motivation for joining the program?
(NA) The Instructor Training Program did not really start in 1976. Okazaki Sensei started the program earlier with Ronald Johnson and Gerald Evans as the first two students to complete the program on a full time basis. 1976, 1 believe, was the first full class and it was part time for those of as who worked full time and lived outside the Philadelphia area. We were required to travel to Philadelphia once a month to train and were given a curriculum which consisted of the class schedule and titles for the 43 essays to be completed during the three year training period. That class consisted of Maynard Miner, Leslie Safar, Robin Rielly, Glen Sappington, Bruce Crawley, Ron Romano, Elaine Moyer, Oscar Whiting and me.
(PW) Were there any other notable instructors in the program with you?
(NA) Yes, but I would like to specifically mention Mr. Maynard Miner, because he trained in Japan in the mid 1950’s. I have had many conversations with him about his days in Japan. He said he was passing a dojo one day, was impressed with the training and decided to join. I asked Mr. Miner if he had ever seen Funakoshi Sensei and he described an elderly man he did not recognize visiting the dojo but not participating in the training, so while attending a tournament in New York hosted by Mr. Miner’s club, I asked Okazaki Sensei and he verified that the man Mr. Miner described was, in fact, Funakoshi Sensei. Though a very modest man, Mr. Miner is one of the most experienced and respected instructors in the United States.
(PW) What was the program like when you began? What was the primary focus?
(NA) The primary focus was to become the best instructor possible and be able to impart to our students what we have learned. That’s the primary emphasis engendered by Okazaki Sensei and it hasn’t changed.
(PW) How do you feel the program has benefited you as an instructor?
(NA) I occasionally remind students that teaching is in and of itself a great learning experience. As I continue to instruct I would like to believe that I am growing and learning with my students. With age we cannot train with the same vigor as when we were younger, and though strength and flexibility wane with age, we never stop growing mentally. Therefore, we must modify our method but continue to train for a lifetime.
(PW) In what ways has the program changed since your days as a trainee?
(NA) I don’t think the subjects have changed, but in the beginning we were allowed to submit essays individually and at any time during the training and no written or practical exams were administered. Today we are required to submit the 43 essays at once and participate in written and practical exams for each level of achievement. The levels are D, C, B and A, and tests are conducted for Examiner, Instructor, and Judge. I’m not certain about this, but when I started the program the curriculum required trainees to attend Master Camp for 2 full weeks.
(PW) It still lists that requirement in the manual but I don’t know if it’s being enforced.
(NA) I’m not sure because I can’t think of anyone in the program from Maryland who has met that requirement.
(PW) Do you have any advice to offer the current and future instructor trainee?
(NA) Persevere and continue to practice. In one of Nakayama Sensei’s books he makes the analogy that daily training is like putting money in the bank; no deposit no withdrawal. Funakoshi Sensei says that water with a flame beneath it remains hot. Once the flame is extinguished the water cools. At nearly 75 years of age, my training is not the same as it was when I was younger, but I think it’s important for instructors, regardless of age, to keep themselves in their best possible physical condition, have the capability to demonstrate the techniques he requires of his students and by his decorum be a good example for them.
(PW) Thank you again for taking the time to answer these questions for me
(NA) I hope I’ve given you some useful information.
(PW) This is great stuff, thank you.