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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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YASUNORI OGURA

An Interview with Yasunori Ogura

Yasunori Ogura 7th Dan JKA, was born on 21st January 1958 in Hokkaido, Japan. He started karate at the age of 15, while in High School, and then went onto Taisho University. H eventually entered the JKA Instructor Programme, and is now a JKA Hombu Instructor. He is also however General Manager of Foreign Affairs Division of the JKA, and one of the HQ’s most valued instructors. Ogura Sensei has a truly impressive competitive record, most notably winner of the 19th All Japan Championships in 1986. This interview was completed during a visit to India – where Sensei Ogura was teaching. R. Anand conducted the interview on behalf of The Shotokan Way after spending time training with Sensei Ogura – Shaun Banfield 08

 

Questions by The Shotokan Way, Photography courtesy of Neil O'Connor

 

 

(R.Anand)     Can you please tell us how you first got started in the Martial Arts?

 

(Yasunori Ogura)     I started Karate when I was 15 years of age in the first year of my High School. I was small built so I took it up to build my health and also to learn to be able to defend myself. Before that I used to play baseball.

 

(RA)     You attended Taisho University am I correct? Can you tell us about the karate there?

 

(YO)     My high school teacher was an OB of my University, Taisho, so I got into the karate club there. The karate there was very strong and training was hard.

 

(RA)     And what initially drew you to the JKA Instructor’s course?

 

(YO)     Because of Iida Sensei. Iida Sensei is also from Taisho University. (Editor’s Note: Norihiko Iida is featured in Master Nakayama’s famous Best Karate Series. Iida Sensei in Volume 3 is used to demonstrate (GO NO SEN) with Y.Osaka)

 

(RA)     What would you say were the high points and the low points of your training?

 

(YO)     It is difficult to say. The training was always hard, so the memory is always good.

 

 

(RA)     Those who have completed and trained in the Instructors Class mention that it tends to be ‘Back to Basics’, and the very essence of fundamental karate. Can you tell us about the training you experienced back then?

 

(YO)     Yes the emphasis on Kihon is always there. The leg and waist strengthening training was very demanding and tiring. The ability to correctly use the waist and legs while moving was the main point of the kihon training.

 

(RA)     Can you please tell us about your time spent with Nakayama Sensei, and possibly share some memories or stories that you have of him?

 

(YO)     Nakayama Sensei was my teacher and a great man. His character was such that he always used to care for his students wherever they were. One memory that I have which reflects on his kindness was when I had accompanied him on a teaching assignment in a far off place in a foreign country just before the IAKF tournament. By the time we reached the venue, everyone was very tired. The students there had kept food, which we really did not find to our taste. However despite being very tired and not liking the food, Nakayama Sensei ate the food served and thanked his hosts who were greatly appreciative. He only had kind words to say to the students because they had waited for a very long time. Such was his character.

 

(RA)     In comparison, karate today has been widely described by many as softer than the 70s and 80s. What do you feel about this?

 

(YO)     In terms of technical matters maybe it is not so progressive. The strength of a karate-ka is the level of his or her skill, the level of his or her concentration and determined by the karate of the past, which is strong.

 

(RA)     How do you think this will affect the next generation of karateka?

 

(YO)     It depends on the individual and how he or she treats her training.

 

Yasunori Ogura at the JKA Hombu

 

(RA)     In your younger years you were an excellent kumite competitor. Can you please tell us about some of your more memorable fights?

 

(YO)     There are many fights that I remember very well however the one that I like is not the Championship fight that I won but rather it was the one with Mr. Imamura in the 1985 All Japan Championship in the quarterfinals. It was something that I will always remember. I was 28 years old then. (Editor’s Note: In the actual final of the above mentioned 1985 All Japan Championships, Y. Ogura faced M. Kagawa. And in spite of landing the first blow, took 2nd place. It was a different story the year later however when he faced Imamura in the finals of the All Japan Championships. Again, Ogura was first off the mark to land the first blow initially going for a jodan gyaku-zuki but adapting to the change of circumstances where Imamura jumps in the air and consequently lands a chudan oi-zuki. Shoji Sensei refereeing awards Ogura with wazari. The second point was for Imamura however who scored chudan gyaku-zuki fractionally before Oguras jodan gyaku-zuki. The third point again was from Imamura who scores again with a chudan-zuki. Ogura however made an impressive comeback with his mae-geri which received him ippon and thus regaining him his lead over Imamura. As I am watching this fight, especially the stalking of one another around the 3.30seconds mark, I am thinking about the caution of these two fighters. Both know one another’s skill and are cautious that when they do make their move it must be at the right time. The next point came from Ogura who scored again with his powerful jodan zuki and after almost 6 minutes of intense fighting Yasunori Ogura was announced 1st place All Japan Karate Championships winner.)

 

(RA)     How has competition changed these days do you think, in and outside of the JKA?

 

(YO)     I think the attitude of the competitors has changed. 

 

(RA)     You are now Manager of the ‘General Affairs’ Division of the JKA. Could you please give us a brief description of this role?

 

(YO)     Yes. I am currently the General Manager of the General Affairs Division of the JKA Headquarters. My job concerns the day to day affairs, like annual fees, the certificates, pamphlets etc. It keeps me busy. But responsibilities keep changing from time to time.

 

(RA)     You also taught the women only class at the hombu dojo. How does teaching women differ to teaching men do you think?

 

(YO)     Yes. I did teach the women’s group at the hombu dojo. Indeed it is different. Women are more flexible and more supple than men. The purpose of teaching them is to ensure that they build their bodies using their strong points and seeking to improve on their weakness. Similarly speed can also be taught to bring about strength. Therefore the method of teaching used for teaching karate to women is different from men.

 

(RA)     Do you believe in equality in karate, putting women against the men? What are your feelings on this?

 

(YO)     In social life yes, all are equal. In karate, maybe as far as self defence goes. But it is not the same. However, again this may be a case by case situation as physically everyone is different.

 

(RA)     You taught the Kata Class at the hombu dojo for many years. In the teaching of kata, which do you think to be most important, ‘form’ or ‘feeling’?

 

(YO)     Both form and feeling are essential. If your posture is not correct, then form is important, if feeling is not there then the kata is not complete. Age is also important. So you should do the kata naturally with feeling. This is what I teach.

 

(RA)     Nakayama Sensei highly stressed the importance of returning to the point you start the kata, embusen. Many are now saying that this is not all too important. What are your feelings on this, should the kata start and finish at the same place? If so why?

 

(YO)     Nakayama Sensei may have said it in connection with tournaments. So that it could be a point for assessment of the kata.  However there are kata like Goju shi ho Dai which is a little bit difficult to return. About the Tokui Kata, it always a point of ensuring your kata is learned with discipline and for juniors it is also a point of learning.

 

(RA)     The Kata Ji’in and Wankan have reportedly now been dropped from the JKA kata list. Can you please explain why this is?

 

(YO)     Wankan is still there. However Jiin is no longer in the list. Shuseki Shihan Sugiura along with the other members of the Technical committee decided on the issue but I have seen the kata.

 

(RA)     What is your favourite kata and why?

 

(YO)     There are many kata that I have enjoyed doing but Goju shi ho dai is the kata I like doing and have been doing for some time.

 

(RA)     Can you please explain, what is Shime? And how is it different to Kime?

 

(YO)     Shime is tensing & closing of muscles, Kime is to focus. If shime is not done then Kime is not possible.

 

(RA)     Hip rotation is very important in karate, but certain stances have limited hip movement such as kokutsu-dachi and Neko-ashi-dachi. How should the hips work in these stances differently to a stance such as zenkustu-dachi where rotation is simple and easy?

 

(YO)     The inside muscles of the thigh and the junction of the leg and the groin should be used while moving.

 

(RA)     When kicking Ushiro Geri, should the kicking hip lead behind (almost like you’re pushing that hip backwards, or should the hips remain at shomen as you turn and just tilt the hips? How do you perform this?

 

(YO)     The hip is thrust by me with using the strength of the support leg

 

(RA)     From your experiences training and teaching, are there any exercises or drills that you use to develop timing kumite?

 

(YO)     Distance drills and reaction timing training teaches one to either go in or move away.

 

(RA)     And how about reflexes, do you have any exercises or drills to develop the reflexes?

 

(YO)     For Beginners: make a target attack and defend with different techniques, over and over again. It takes time and effort. 

 

(RA)     What do you enjoy teaching now?

 

(YO)     When the students learn from me and improve, it makes me very happy. I also enjoy teaching different peoples having different levels.

 

(RA)     How has the JKA changed or developed would say since coming under the leadership of Master Sugiura?

 

Sensei Ogura at the JKA Hombu

 

(YO)     There are some developments like movements in various Kata have now been prescribed in text books for Kyokai members.

 

(RA)     It has been said that you have a great sense of humour, even when teaching. Do you think this is important in the dojo as a teacher?

 

(YO)     It is dependant on the situation. Strict and humorous is how I would put it. Teaching an All Japan Class is different from a regular dojo. But yes, humour is important.

 

(RA)     Of the people who visit the JKA Hombu, they must be so many people who try and emulate you and your karate. When you were younger, who did you try and emulate?

 

(YO)     There are so many. For example Ueki Sensei for his kicks, Osaka Sensei for his basics, Yamamoto Senpai for his body shifting. There is no single person but so many.

 

(RA)     Are you still researching and studying karate-do now after all these years of studying?

 

(YO)     Yes on the methods of teaching an individual - on ways to improve the weak student.

 

(RA)     Your motto on the JKA Website is ‘Achieve your passion with silent, unfailing effort’. Can you please explain this to us and how this has carried through your training career?

 

(YO)     Maybe- it is a difficult question to answer. I enjoy teaching, so it applies now a days.

 

(RA)     Where do you see JKA karate heading in the future?

 

(YO)     JKA Karate is Budo Karate. The tradition of Budo and and the spirit of the bushido is kept alive by the JKA in everyday dojo and in daily karate-do. However, the competitive aspect in karate is also clearly defined by the JKA through Tournaments. These two aspects move together in the JKA.

 

(RA)     Can we just say a huge thank you for this opportunity to speak with you and may I wish you every success with the future.

 

(YO)     Thank you too and the same to you too.