Graham Noble: You went to Hawaii in 1960.
Hirokazu Kanazawa: 1960, yes.
GN: You say in your book that many of the Americans were teaching karate then, even though the may have only been brown belts, and that meant the standard wasn't very high.
HK: That's right, because at that time they had come out of the army, the military, and had been training in Okinawan or Japanese dojos. But they hadn't trained a very long time so they were mostly brown belts; they had to go back to the U.S. before they could take their black belts. Then they started to teach karate.
GN: And you had some challenges in Hawaii from boxers and wrestlers.
HK: Ah yes, not just from karateka, but from many kinds of fighters, boxers, wrestlers, kajukenbo. There was a karateka with a connection to Kushinkai. After he fought with me and lost he joined Shotokan.
GN: What techniques would you use against a wrestler or a boxer?
HK: Jodan mawashi geri--Bang!--using the instep or otherwise (with the ball of the foot) too dangerous. I feined and then kicked jodan, and bang! They were knocked unconscious. Because they didn't know jodan mawashi geri. Punching, they could maybe block, but jodan mawashi geri, no. Therefore, for strong people I would kick jodan mawashi geri. And for the boxer I used ashi barai. When he punched I could see the fist coming, but I had done boxing so I knew there would be a "one-two". So after the first punch, when the second one came, I dropped my body and threw him over using ashi barai and then Bang! (Finishing punch). This needs good timing. It was on a tatami, but he still hit his head and was stunned.
GN: In Trinidad and Tobago you had to fight another karate man who said that all of the previous Japanese instructors had been afraid to fight him.
HK: Yes. He had lumps all over his arms; he would hit a tree every day to harden his body. When I was taking a class he went round the students talking to them. I was very unhappy about this and told the students they must not stop, must keep training. This man was telling the students: "His (Kanazawa's) karate is not real karate, it's just gymnastic karate. My karate is real karate." Then after training was finished, he still stayed around. He said to me, "I want to fight with you." I didn't want to fight because if I won that wouldn't be so good, the people of Trinidad might become my enemies. If I lost, that would be the end of my teaching. So I said to him, "You can join the class, do some kumite training." At that time there were only two black belts in Trinidad, the rest were brown belts or lower grades. So I did kumite with five or six black and brown belts. The man was watching me doing kumite, but I was very careful, I never showed jodan mawashi geri. It was a demonstration with him in mind, so I only showed punching and mae geri.
Then I made as if to see him and said, "Oh sorry, please (do jiyu kumite), so he got up and took his stance, shouting, "Aaargghh!!"
I did mae geri to his front knee (Kanazawa showed a mar geri which skimmed across the opponent's knee) and then immediately switched into jodan mawashi geri--bang! He was knocked unconscious. The head was my target because I knew from Hawaii to use jodan mawashi geri against strong people. Then after he woke up, he said, "I didn't know the knee had a vital point." I said, "Oh, no, I kicked you in the face after I kicked your knee." He said, "Oh, that was so fast, so this is karate." I said, "My karate is good for health, so even if people call it gymnastic karate I am happy. But good gymnastic karate is also good for real fighting."
Then I said to him, because when he first came in and I said I didn't want to fight him he said, "Hah, all the Japanese instructors say that to escape from fighting." I said, "Who were these Japanese instructors?" He gave five names, Nishiyama and Ohshima, and three others I didn't know. But I explained to him that they were very good karateka, masters, therefore they shouldn't be your partner in fighting. But I was still young, still not at their level, so I could fight with him.
"Oh," he said, "Now I understand." Now a few years later in Mexico there was an international tournament and I was with the Japanese team. Enoeda was there too. Nakayama sensei said to us: "Kanazawa, Enoeda, two persons say they want to fight with Japanese players, but I don't want a problem at the tournament. Can you go and deal with it. These two persons went to get changed to fight us, but we were waiting, waiting and they never came back. Then afterwards I realized that one of the people was the man from Trinidad.
GN: In Hawaii you were challenged by a Kajukembo master and he was a twelfth dan. (He withdrew his challenge after seeing Kanazawa give a breaking demonstration).
HK: Yes, twelfth dan, gold belt. Silver belt was eleventh dan.
GN: Who was that? Do you recall the name?
HK: I can't remember the name, but he was Hawaiian, a big strong man.
GN: In 1965 you did a world tour with Kase, Enoeda, and Shirai. For many people that must have been the first time they'd seen karate.
HK: Yes, yes.
GN: Were there any challenges during that tour?
HK: No challenges, but when I was training in Chicago I was partnering a very big guy who was coming at me with punches and kicks. I closed in to stop him and did seionage (shoulder throw), but he was too heavy and he came down on my leg. I was on crutches until the time we arrived in Europe.
GN: Can we talk about your visit to Okinawa in 1964. You told me earlier that the person who impressed you the most was Chibana Sensei. (Choshin Chibana, the headmaster of Shorin-ryu).
HK: Yes, we met him at his house, sitting round, drinking tea and talking, many questions. Sometimes the questions were not very good, but of course the students were young. But one asked a question about technique, and Chibana Sensei said, "OK you try and attack me, any technique." So the student went to attack, I'm not sure what attack, I think he tried to grab Chibana Sensei's wrist, but before he could get the grip--"Bam," he was thrown across the room. Chibana Sensei remained sitting down.
GN: And Chibana Sensei said to do any attack?
HK: Yes, "Grabbing, hitting, you try."
GN: You also saw him put his fingers through a bundle of bamboo.
HK: Yes, yes. A bundle of bamboo. Some of the students held it and he hit it with nukite--Agh! Agh!--then kicking with his toes, his toes were pulled together like this, and Bang! Bang! I was surprised, and the students were--"Ohh!"
GN: And he was almost eighty years old at this time?
HK: Something like eighty years old.
GN: You also said that he used very high stances, and he explained to you why.
HK: Yes, he thought that was better for power. He explained... when you are punching, your body must expand--Bam! so that your power goes in to the punch. (Here Kanazawa demonstrates moving from gedan barai in zenkutsu dachi to the punch). I think his training was reality training. That was my impression.
GN: You also mentioned Yuchoku Higa Sensei and his special way of hitting the makiwara.
HK: Yes. The first time I saw him I thought he wasn't very good, I thought he was missing the target. But I misunderstood. After four or five times I understood: he would hit each corner of the makiwara and then the centre. So he would hit. Ba-ba-ba-ba-Bang! Ba-ba-ba-ba-Bang! And then on the last punch he hit so the makiwara sheaf was knocked off the makiwara. Special technique.
GN: Did you train at the dojos when you were in Okinawa?
HK: Yes, at Yuchoku Higa Sensei's dojo.
GN: Was that mainly kihon and kata?
HK: Yes, kihon, and showing us kata.
GN: Did the Okinawan teachers show you bunkai or different ways of using the kata?
HK: Well, we were only at each dojo one day. We were at Yuchoku Higa Sensei's dojo for two days. His dojo was half inside his house and half in the garden. But also we trained every day at the dojo of the Immigration Department. That was through Meitogu Yagi Sensei who arranged for us to use it every morning to train.
One day some challengers came to our hotel. They were from Okinawa Kempo. They wanted to fight us. But Seikichi Toguchi Sensei (Goju-ryu), who was looking after us, said that it would be better not to fight, because Okinawa was like a family group, and if there was trouble all the Okinawan people would be against us. It would be better if the Okinawan Kempo group came to the dojo to train together. Therefore we answered: "Every morning we train at the Immigration Department Dojo. You can come there any time to train. You are welcome." So for a few days they came and watched from outside, but they never came into the dojo. Therefore there wasn't a problem.
GN: Moving on to more recent times, you have introduced kata from other styles into your teaching, such as Seiunchin and Sepai from Goju-ryu.
HK: Yes, Seiunchin from Shito-ryu and Sepai from Goju-ryu.
GN: So you are bringing Naha-te and Shuri-te kata together in your teaching?
HK: Naha-te is I think more Chinese Style, the technique is more round, (circular). Shuri-te is maybe more Okinawan. Some Okinawan people say, "Our style is not from China we had our own Okinawan techniques. This is Shuri-te."
Naha-te is more from contact with China, Chinese technique and Okinawan technique brought together. Tomari was similar, close to China. Shuri-te is more in keeping with the original Okinawan karate. This is what they say, thought I don't know really.
GN: Is it useful for Shotokan people to learn Goju-ryu kata?
HK: I think so. The reason I can still do karate at seventy-three years old is because I do tai ch'i. Tai ch'i is so different, extremely different from karate. In karate speed is very important, but in tai ch'i you much not use speed. Power is very important in karate, but in tai ch'i you must not use power: you must only move by intention, don't use muscle. Focus is very important in karate, but in tai ch'i you must not use focus: in tai ch'i before you can focus you are already starting the next movement. But of course I understand the reason for this. Because in karate "no focus," means that at any time you can make focus. If you move slowly and relaxed, any time (any instant) you can make speed. And if you really understand relaxing, you can really understand power. So by doing tai ch'i I can see my karate very well. So tai ch'i supports my karate.
Therefore it is also good to study other karate styles. Especially, for example, Shotokan does not have shiko-dachi. But shiko-dachi is a very good stance. Kiba-dachi is very strong, but if there is a mistake in timing it can lose balance. Shiko-dachi is like a wooden house, a Japanese house. Kiba dachi is like a stone house, a Scottish house. In a typhoon the stone house will stand up, but the wooden house will be blown down. But in an earthquakes--you do not have earthquakes--the stone house will be destroyed while the wooden house remains standing. So therefore each has good points. Both (stances) are necessary.
GN: The Shotokan style is more of a long style while Goju-ryu is more close in. Do you think karate should try and bring these two ideas together?
HK: Yes. During training I say wide, deep, strong. But for kumite, short, high, relaxed. In training, although it may be difficult to move fast from deep stances, you should always try to move faster, faster, faster. Then when you are in a short stances it is very easy to make fast movement and quick tai-sabaki.
GN: Today you did breathing exercises in class. Is that a kind of ch'i-kung?
HK: A kind of ch'i-kung, yes.
GN: Did you get that from Chinese systems, or is it you own development?
HK: My own, from tai ch'i, from karate, and from my own research. For example, Goju-ryu has a lot of breathing, but Goju-ryu breathing is only for fighting. My breathing methods are more internal. Of course, breathing methods can be of many kinds: for fighting, for confidence, for calming, for clearing the mind, for power.
GN: Sensei, thank you very much for your time.
HK: OK, OK. Thank you.
Sincere thanks to Mr Graham Noble for so kindly allowing us to use this interviews