We have been lucky enough to train with many fantastic karate-ka over the years, but one Sensei that really stands out in my mind is Isaka Sensei. He is a fantastic sensei and karate-ka, but more than that he is a very special person. I feel honoured to say that this wonderful man gave us much of his time over a weekend course, and patiently answered all of our questions, and the answers follow. We would like to say thanks to Yuko and Paul Kallender-Umezu for taking time to translate this interview for us. Huge thanks have to go out to Robert Sidoli, and Yoshiko for helping in every way possible, including translating, and thanks also to John Barker and all at Chikara for welcoming us so much.
(Emma Robins) Could you please tell us how you got started in Shotokan karate?
(Isaka Sensei) I started training Karate at Asia University in 1960 and I was taught from 1960-4 by Motokuni Sugiuri Sensei, who is now leading the JKA.
(ER) What was the training like under Master Nakayama?
(IS) One of the most important things emphasise was pushing from the hips in heisokudachi, and to keep the rotation of the hips smoothly, always keeping the direction of the rotation parallel to the floor.
(ER) You joined the JKA Instructor course in 1965, can you please tell us a little about this, and what did you learn from this time in your career?
(IS) Well the practice was really rough, I think it was regarded as at the same sort of level of toughness as Sumo training, which represented the national standard in those days. In the era I joined the JKA as a trainee instructor, it was a time when many instructors and sempai were spreading Karate around the world. In particular, the training of technique was excellent, so I can say that the level of technical excellence was really first rate, I think. By being able to see with my own eyes and experience with my own body so many great teachers and sempai capable of such a high level of Karate represents a huge source of wealth and experience for me.
(ER) You also spend a period of time in New York along side Mori Sensei. What was it like to work alongside him, and how would you describe his karate?
(IS) I think what was special was his focus on maintaining a low center of gravity.
(ER) You are now Assistant Chief Instructor to the KWF. What was it about Yahara sensei, or this association that appealed to you so much?
(IS) The KWF is an organization that is able to successfully continue, support and pursue Yahara Sensei’s Karate in terms of technical, theoretical and spiritual aspects that his Karate embodies. Yahara Sensei and I have a tremendous enthusiasm to pass our techniques, which were taught to us by our sempai and many older masters to as many of the younger generation of Karateka as possible all over the world. I think this will also lead Karate back to its original purposes and foundation, not only technically but also spiritually.
(ER) In what ways do you think Yahara sensei has influenced your karate?
(IS) Well Yaraha Sensei and I feel as one. I have total commitment and respect to Yahara Sensei’s position 100 percent. Yahara Sensei is a genius as a Karateka and his body is able to generate three times the power/ three times the instantaneous speed of a normal person. For Yahara Sensei, naturally, the process and training to develop technique is not the same as a normal person. My duty is to be able to pass on to and make sure that Yahara Sensei’s students really understand what his Karate and what he is trying to teach.
(ER) One thing you are world famous for is your method of slow motion training. After your many years of practicing this, to what extent do you feel this has made your karate more effective?
(IS) Well, I wasn’t the person who discovered this sort of training. It was taught to me by someone who had no connection to Karate. In terms of improving the quality of the body’s muscles and improving technique, I (believe) this sort of practice can raise people’s abilities up to the highest level.
(ER) In this type of slow motion training solely applied to kihon training, or do you feel it is useful in kumite and kata too?
(IS) It’s practical and it can be applied for everything in Karate.
(ER) Once you have understand the fundamentals of a technique through slowing it down, how should you then apply this knowledge and feeling of the technique when performing the techniques fast and with 100% commitment?
(IS) I think it’s extremely important that everyone understand what’s behind the ability to move really fast. Fast movements can be differentiated into
1. Speed over time, which can be divided into instantaneous movement and acceleration and;
2. Speed beyond time, which is the movement of the body as space.
The ideal training to develop instant or instantaneous power comes through training the body with slow movements. In order to be able to develop the body so that it can accelerate, you must be able to understand how the body moves, and this understanding can be developed through slow motion training. To develop a body that can generate speed that ignores time, you must think of creating movement that is three-dimensional. I will talk more about this on the KWF web site later.
(ER) Why do you feel controlling your centre is so very important?
(IS) This comes firstly from understanding the basic skeletal structure. The understanding what the center is of your body is very important. Primarily this is the back and the pelvic girdle, especially the sacrum in the center of the pelvic girdle, the bone at the base of the spine. This is the center of the body’s balance from which the back and the pelvis are articulated. In order to make smooth motions, you have to use the muscles and tendons that are attached to the bones to enable the bones to move. Because of this, unfortunately, perhaps only one in 100,000 people, only really gifted people know instinctively or naturally how to move in this way and most of us don’t know how to use their bodies to their full efficiency. My training provides a way in order to naturally learn to control the center of the body, to understand the center of gravity, and the ability to do this is essential in order to be able to the body correctly. The nerves in the back bone and in the pelvic girdle will create the ideal sense of moving the body correctly.
(ER) What is the significance of the ‘Hara’ in your karate, and could you suggest ways in which a karateka could strengthen it to improve their karate?
(IS) Well more important than, or more fundamental to the hara are the hips. The pelvic girdle is actually. The pelvic girdle consists of the central chassis at which the sacrum is the base and the two paired hipbones. So realizing how the hip moves is extremely important. Again, 99.9999% of people have no ability to have a sense of how to use their hips. Most people end up completely unable to use this ability. So, at the point when somebody is able to move in this way, they can achieve unbelievable and unimaginable sense. This is the purpose of this training. To get to this. In our (Shotokan) Karate, there are many forms and stances. Please make them low. Please make them correct. Then when you forward or backwards, left and right, train to keep your stances as low and flexible as possible. By doing this you will able to build the muscles and flexibility in your hips. I’ll be explaining more about this later on the KWF web site.
(ER) What is Sensei Isaka’s favourite kata and why?
(IS) Actually I don’t have a kata that I particularly like more than others. The number of people who really understand how to perform kata in the way they should be performed is now very limited. Of course, there isn’t a single kata I can myself perform perfectly. But I still continue to study all the kata that I learned during my years at the JKA through slow motion study. This practice is not for performing, it’s to be able to study the various techniques and the kihon that is at the heart of the kata.
(ER) If you could give one piece of advice to a shotokan practitioner, what would it be?
(IS) I would ask you to thoroughly study the techniques at the heart of Shotokan Karate. Please with all your heart strive for a deep understanding of the technical foundations of Karate, doing this by learning about the fundamental mechanics of how to use your hips and back and training as hard as you can to improve this understanding.
(ER) Thank you Sensei very much for giving us your time. It is much appreciated.