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Part 2


Kenjiro KawanabeThis is the 2nd part in our coverage of Kenjiro Kawanabe. The first interview was conducted and kindly sent into us by Carlos Varon, who had opportunity to train with the Master and set his questions forward to him. After receiveding the interview from Mr. Varon, I asked if it would be possible to submit additional questions to Sensei Kawanabe to create a second part to the interview, to give he ideas a real opportunity to be understood by our readers. Here is that interview, with questions collected by myself and some additional questions from David Anderson.

I would like to say a big thank you to Carlos Varon and Eli Curiel for bringing this interview to us here at TSW, and working hard to make sure people have an opportunity to learn more about this Master. Can I also say thank you to Carlos Varon for his very kind use of photography. –Shaun Banfield 08


(Shaun Banfield)     Your seniors when you first started karate were the likes of Sensei Egami.  Can you please share your memories of him and possibly tell us some stories that you have of him?

(Kenjiro Kawanabe)     I think there may be a difference of 19 years in age between Egami Sensei and me.

In those days when Funakoshi Sensei and Yoshitaka Sensei were actively teaching, naturally seniors like Egami Sensei would fall under their influence.  Mr. Egami could be said to be one of the representatives and a typical student devoted to the practice under these two senseis.

There is much difference in the idea and philosophy between Karate in those days and modern sports Karate.  Egami Sensei’s devotion under these two great senseis might have produced the difference in quality and quantity leading to his achievement.  Generally speaking, people develop their values according to their philosophy. 

(SB)     Sensei Egami practiced a far more relaxed type of movement compared to the JKA style of movement am I correct? Can you tell us a little about this?

(KK)     Egami Sensei in his old days studied under Inoue Sensei mostly in the spiritual or theory aspect rather than actual physical training. 

(SB)     Karateka over the years have almost made Master Funakoshi a demigod, telling wondrous stories about him.  Is this image of him one that you remember? Can you please share with us your memories of him as a human being?

(KK)     Funakoshi sensei could be viewed in various aspects.  His achievement in the history of Karate-do can not be denied by anyone.  Aside from this achievement, I admired and viewed his daily conduct or behavior while talking, eating and walking together with him.  He was a gentle person who was always humble, never showy and disliked quarreling.  He used to tell us that if you could lead a life without having to use your karate skills on anyone, you would be very fortunate.  Therefore he said never dare to get involved in foolish fighting since one punch can kill a person.  Since Funakoshi Sensei was such a person, there were many people who couldn’t realize his true greatness and some even criticize and slander '' Shotokan Ryu ''as merely just gymnastics.

There is the incident in a train where Funakoshi Sensei rescued a girl from a rascal by deterring him with his umbrella posted on the foot of the rascal and then pretended nothing happened. This is a story I heard personally from an acquaintance of mine who happened to witness the incident in the train.  Funakoshi Sensei never tells such things and is rather ashamed of the publicity from this story. 

This technique done by Funakoshi Sensei involves placing your whole weight just lightly on the ground.  I hope you can understand this technique.  This is just one of the stories where he had experienced a severe time, I think.

(SB)     You quote Sensei Inoue, stating “Budo technique can be compared to the falling cherry flowers drifting in the wind”. Could you please elaborate and tell us what this means?

(KK)     The falling cherry flowers drifting in the wind look like they are playing mindlessly; lightly yet swiftly according to the wind. This is surely a master's mentality and movement.  This light, full and swift movement is an example of both the physical and spiritual aspect of Budo practice.  Similarly, when this light, deep and strong breath is well trained, one only needs to make various breath rhythms adaptable to be ready for any changing movements. Okuyama Sensei states that “Ki” is breath.  I agree, but in my view ''Ki'' has two sides- the mental and physical aspects.  Mental ''Ki'' appears and works physically in the form of breath.

(SB)     How significant is the concept of “One Hit One Kill” (ikken hissatsu) in your teaching and study of karate, and how should this concept be held in your mind when you are training?

(KK)     We have various purposes for the pursuit of Karate-do and let me leave the purpose here up to the individual although my philosophy strictly follows Funakoshi Sensei's perception.

In a simple and short way, either mentally or physically, my idea is to produce a nuclear weapon instead of making a pistol.  The purpose of making a nuclear weapon is not for the purpose of fighting, but for deterrence.  Creating the most powerful and sophisticated techniques is compared to a nuclear weapon and for creating this we have to use the almighty, and exploit and develop both mental and physical powers, both scientifically and philosophically.  Actually availability or utility and relativity naturally comes into our mind first, but we need to research and develop ourselves by making a correct fundamental practice of the ''Hachiriki,'' foot work etc. just like in penmanship training.  Killing a person with just one punch means an instruction that you should strive with utmost effort to complete the most sophisticated techniques and avoid from getting into foolish fighting.  We should have a higher target, absolute and beyond the relativity.

(SB)     You talk about how breathing helps to develop the personality. Can you please elaborate on the significance of the breathing?

(KK)     As you see our heart and soul originates from the breath that produces or expresses every action or conduct of the human being.  A saint whose spirit is ideally trained and polished must have a naturally peaceful and harmonized breath, which only a master can have in order to show his wonderful ability.

The ideal technique in Budo can be produced through ideal body work accompanied by ideal breath work.  When the breath fills and penetrates the body in an ideal and natural way it follows the principle of Budo theory.

Our breath is changeable according to our emotions in which gladness, anger, love and pleasure are all included. This means the breath can control our emotions and therefore our spirit and heart.  My philosophy is the research (study) and practice of ''Do'' or "Michi" through Karate-do.  ''Do'' is the will of the universe and the universe itself could be said to be the manifestation of "Do".  "Do" is bestowed or born from the great nature and therefore should be regarded as the supreme law for the human being when we think apart from the worldly law.  "Do" is the origin of all the virtue, truth, goodness, and beauty, etc.  When we continue to practice Karate-do with these virtues in mind, our breath will be gradually trained like the one described above – a mist when elevated high.  Therefore breath training is closely related to the completion of the personality and one of the big targets in the practice of karate-do.

(SB)     How important is the ‘Hara’, and can you please explain its significance in Budo?

(KK)     The value, principle and the importance of the stomach is noticed gradually.  First of all, as everybody knows quite well, the waist is located in the center of our body and the origin of physical power and its movement, especially the lower part of the stomach movement is accompanied with the waist.  The ideal work in Budo can first be made by breath work which operates the waist movement in a cooperative way.  The foot work can be followed naturally like a shadow of the waist movement.  When the waist movement can be done together with the breath, our physical work and technique depends entirely on the breath work.  This is why breath training is important in developing our technique.  The breath, body, fist or kick should be matched at the same time with each other.  This is called “Ki-Ken-Tai no ituchi” in Japanese.  “Ituchi” means match or coincidence.  The inhale or exhale can make power, movement and rhythm and the stomach is really part of the source that produces everything.  Breath work is just like a wave of the ocean that shows various phenomena.  Techniques are the expression of the breath.  Try to develop the violent technique of a hurricane as well as the calm technique with your stomach breath.  The inhale and exhale can be made seamless in various rhythms and powers.

(SB)     Budo obviously has strong connections to the samurai and to the sword am I correct? Can you please tell us about the most important principles of the samurai and how karateka should use these principles to develop their karate?

(KK)     The Samurai in the feudal era was regarded as honorable and of the highest rank socially, since they were the guardian of the society.  Therefore samurai have the spirit of noblesse-oblige. They had a strict discipline known as samurai-do (called Bushi-do), which they followed even at the risk of their own life.  A samurai boy had a growing up ceremony at the age of 15 and was taught how to cut his stomach to kill himself (seipuku).  The most important observance for the samurai was not to be disgraceful and to maintain honor, pride, loyalty since they despised meanness and cowardly actions.  In order to practice and follow the ''bushi-do'' they had to be strong mentally and physically as well as intellectually. These are the reasons why they were so devoted to the practice of the ken as to risk their life either in accomplishing the skill of the ken (Budo) or attaining their duties.  I think we should learn their earnest desire and passion for making our karate skill as well as our crystal spirit.

Kenjiro Kawanabe with Carlos Varon(SB)     In Budo should attack or defense be the priority? If you were to an attack with an oizuki, should you be 100% committed to the attack, or should you hold back a little just in case you need to block?

(KK)     As you know there is a saying in the twenty admonitions of Funakoshi Sensei that ''there is no first attack in Karate-Do''.  I think you know this principle mentally.  But in reality, this armchair theory won't be practiced so easily even by the most experienced person.  This implies the technique capable of using ''go no sen'' which in Japanese means your counter attack strikes the opponent first, after observing the opponent’s initial attack.  I believe the practice of ''go no sen'' requires not only skill but also mental power in a real situation.  I think it also depends on a case by case basis whether you should be 100% committed to the attack or hold back a little. 

There is also a saying that ''attack and defense should be made one''.  This means while your oizuki attack is half way there and it meets the other's counter attack by coincidence, your 70% attack can be changed to a second attack at a different angle or posture.  This 70% attack doesn't mean you are weak in power because the power erupts at the point of the contact together with the waist movement.  Your blocking hand against the kick or punch can also be changed to an attack at the same time.  This is the ideal method of the principle of the coincidence of attack and defense, and also in some sense is ''go no sen''.  Go” means after or behind and “sen” means ahead of or before.

Here is a principle of breath work you need to remember, although you may know it well in theory.  Your breath together with the imagination should first be sent in the opposite direction ahead of the direction your body is going.  Inhale/exhale or exhale/inhale should be done at the same time when needed, just like when you step back and forth.  A movement upwards needs an exhale breath just ahead of the inhale breath so you can have stronger elastic bound power.  This can be applied in various ways.  Your oizuki punch will certainly be stronger by using this breath work.   While putting your breath on your fist, punch with a relaxed muscle.

(SB)     In what ways would you say kata is different today to how it was practiced when you were younger, and do you think these developments/changes are positive?

(KK)     In our Karate-do we are not so much concerned or committed to competition like the usual tournament, but rather concerned and focused in making the real skill needed in protecting ourselves.  Therefore the difference in philosophy has produced the difference in kata and kumite as well as the fundamental practice.  Each kata has its own deep instruction both physically or philosophically when we observe it deeply.

(SB)     What would you say is your favorite kata and why?

(KK)     Funakoshi Sensei's favorite katas were ''Kanku and Tekki''.  I think since I am short like Funakoshi Sensei, I rather like the same kata as him.  Jutte kata is short and can be done in a rather relaxed way, so to me it is the easiest kata for me at my age.  In modern karate, kata has become more showy and seems to have a gymnastic factor.

(SB)     Looking back, can you tell us if you wouldn’t mind, how Master Funakoshi’s death affected the Karate community both on a technical and personal level?

(KK)     The death of Funakoshi O’Sensei and Yoshitaka Sensei has given much influence in various respects to the karate community either in reality or subliminally, especially to those who received instruction directly under them.  Since O’Sensei was very a mild and gentle person, who rarely showed anger or scolded the students except in such a case when my colleague behaved wildly, kicking the wainscot of the dojo at random.  I think he [O’Sensei] might have regarded the karate community with a kind of superior sense to the worldly estimation and he rather put weight on mental training more than technical training.  O’Sensei might have not regulated forcibly those who were not docile.  I don't know Yoshitaka Sensei personally and I just have heard from my seniors like Okuyama Sensei and Egami Sensei about him. Quite opposite to O’Sensei, Yoshitaka Sensei was a very hard and strong man and every student was afraid of practicing “Kumite” with him.  They say that if Yoshitaka Sensei had lived, he might have controlled the Karate community differently and would have changed it much from what it is now.

(SB)     You speak about the spiritual aspects of karate-do.  Can you please tell us how karate-do has affected you spiritually?

(KK)     I have walked in Karate-do to my current age of 77.  I started at 18-years of age and I believe I am just now at the entrance gate of Karate-do with much hope and pleasure.


(SB)     Can we please ask, what type of training do you do these days? Could you please tell us about your daily training regime?

(KK)     As usual, I am endeavoring the practice of ''oizuki''.  As you know this practice includes the most important factor just like in operating the spear.  This simple work can expand endlessly along with your imagination, leading to the ''Hachiriki'' practice in ''Ken'', supposedly the origin of Karate.  In these days I am more interested in the practice of ''ken'' and the practice based on ''Hachi-ken or Hachiriki'' and its various kumite applications in Karate. I have a firm belief that when the correct practice of the ''Hachi-ken or Hachiriki'' can be traced diligently, we can first learn the technical essence of the true Budo karate. And without it, I think it is hard to master the ideal techniques of Karate.  In a nutshell, there are various ways to get to a certain objective point, but the Way of ''Hachi-ken or Hachiriki'' is the only way I know to get to the ideal point; the ideal technique.


Kenjiro Kawanabe(SB)     Is the karate you practice and teach today exactly the same as the karate you were taught and practiced when you were younger? Can you tell us about any developments etc?


(KK)     As you know karate has been diversified over these past 50 years and it has become much more sporty and different from the ancient one along with the modern trend.  Of course both have their merit, but became different according to the purpose.


The practice of Karate in my young days is just the one that depends mainly on physical power and high spirit and was quite different from what I am now practicing. It wasn’t until I met ''Inoue Sensei'' that I came to notice the true technique in Budo beyond just strong or weak.  It was really after I began studying the ''ken and Hachiriki'' from Okuyama Sensei that I was awakened in the ''Budo'' and since then I have been learning little by little the depth of Karate-do in Budo toward the accomplishment of Karate-do.


(David Anderson)     Is Okuyama still alive?

(KK)     Okuyama Sensei passed away 8/16/2006. 

(DA)     How many kata do you teach, and which ones etc?

(KK)     In my dojo we practice 15 katas in all.  7 advanced katas (Bassai, Kanku, Jion, Jutte, Hangetsu, Empi, Gankaku); 3 Tekki Katas and 5 basic Heian katas.

(DA)     Do they favor fudo-dachi over zenkutsu dachi as other Shotokai groups?

(KK)     In the way of the stance, usually in karate practice ''fudo-dachi'' is mainly used. But as in kendo, vertical ken is usually done in Zenkutsu and like so, in the practice with the empty hand we can use either stance.

Movement is analyzed in various levels, vertical, spiral, turn around, etc.

(SB)     Can you please tell us about the type of training you teach at your dojo in Japan?

(KK)     In my dojo the training of the ''Hachiriki'' is the main focus.  As you know, what I wish to prevail in and insist proudly in confidence is the practice of the ''Hachiriki''.  It is through the “Hachiriki” which tremendous power and ideal movement can be produced according to the progress of the individual training. This training is quite unique and different from the methods of modern karate which are limited to waist movements simply in a one dimensional level.

Deficient physical movement, mainly in the waist and feet, is far from complete, regardless of how hard you train with the many Katas or the Hachiriki.

What is the ideal training, then?  It involves the following:

A) Breath, fist (or any part of the contact point) and waist are matched at the same time; finishing everything together with the right breath. (Ki Ken Tai no ituchi in Japanese).

B) The waist must be movable instantly in all directions, as if it is living and breathing together with the stomach and all this work must be done filled with Ki and sophisticated breathing.

C) All the work must be done according to the condition, but self-practice must be done with utmost speed and power. (Inoue Sensei states '' Budo technique can be compared to the falling cherry flowers drifting in the wind.)

D) Making most use of the elbow is very important and is effective when used ideally. Sophisticated breathing produces fine technique and personality. Therefore the purpose of Budo training is to train the breath.

(DA)     Do you call your karate Shotokan or Shotokai?

(KK)     Many years ago while I was in Arizona it was suggested to call our karate-do by my personal name Kawanabe Karate-do in order to avoid the confusion with other dojos. This came not from the wish to sell my name.  My wish is to prevail in Budo Karate which can render ideal techniques and spiritual aspect together with philosophy.  I am not against Shotokan if they say so, but I am not a present member of Shotokai Karate either.

(SB)     Can I say on behalf of us all at TSW, and from all of our readers around the world, a big thank you for kindly giving us your time, and may we wish you every success for the future.

Kenjiro Kawanabe