Over the past couple of months, Shaun and I have made some fantastic friends. One such friend is Robert Sidoli, who has provided continued support for our project since it began. On behalf of The Shotokan Way providing us with an EXCLUSIVE inteview, Robert Sidoli has interviewed the legendary Malcolm Dorfman. Please enjoy these inspirational words as much as we have. Thank you Robert…
(Robert Sidoli) In 1986 you were awarded 6th Dan by Nakayama Sensei himself, making you one of the highest Dan levels awarded to a non-Japanese during his lifetime. This surely reflected the esteem you were held in. Looking back on those days now. Would you go through them again?
(Malcolm Dorfman) Not a doubt in my mind. Karate is my passion and lifestyle. Every sacrifice was worth it. I wish I was back in my young days. There was never a happier period in my life.
(RS) Would you share a few memories please of training with Nakayama Sensei?
(MD) In the early days I didn’t always understand what Nakayama Sensei wanted. Years later I came to realise what depth of knowledge he had and what he actually meant and required for the various techniques. But he was so helpful, so kind, so patient and so wise. He knew that I (and others) lacked the maturity to grasp his ideas but always persevered with us. Today, so many years later, we reap the benefits of his wisdom in so many ways.
(RS) For a time South Africa as a nation seemed not to engage in International Competition. Did this also occur within karate? If so what was the effect on karate in your country?
(MD) Over the years, Stan Schmidt, Norman Robinson and I had established many high ranking and influential friends and contacts worldwide. So in this period, the South African karateka were never short of international training and championships in the traditional sphere (other than not being permitted to compete in the official JKA World Championships). Where the country suffered was in the all-styles arena (WUKO / WKF) where officialdom in sport ruled us out of competition. Even today, the detrimental effect on our WKF (all-styles) karate competitors is still noticeable, while the standard of our traditional karateka continue to be on a high level.
(RS) South Africa has produced a glut of high level karate-ka over the years, from Stan Schmidt, Norman Robinson, Ken Wittstock and of course yourself. To what do you attribute this success as a nation?
(MD) This is a hard question to answer. South Africans are generally tough, sporting mad and karate was popular. There was a great desire to succeed and the South African attitude was not dissimilar to that of the Japanese. JKA Japan took a liking to us and we received great encouragement from Nakayama Sensei, Tanaka Sensei and Toru Yamaguchi Sensei, and from Japanese instructors in other parts of the world like Enoeda Sensei and Ochi sensei. Karate just grew from strength to strength and for the first two decades we were very unified, adding to the success and development.
(RS) You also held A-class International Instructor, A-class International Judge and A-class International Examiner from the JKA and was elected to the International Shihankai of the JKA. (Nakahara). What other non Japanese sat on the Shihankai?
(MD) At that time only Stan Schmidt, Norman Robinson, Bura Larsen from Denmark and I were on the Shihankai Board. I have no idea who else was elected after I left the Nakahara group in 1993.
(RS) You were one of the first Westerners to regularly visit JKA Hombu and your contact stretches back a long way. What is your relationship with Kanazawa Sensei?
(MD) Kanazawa Sensei was my first instructor on my first trip to Japan. He taught me every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for three months. We developed a good relationship from those days. This relationship has been maintained over the years. In 2004 I took a group of seventy South African karateka to train with an approximately equal number of his students in Tokyo. The vibe between the two groups was fantastic and I think it was because all saw how friendly Kanazawa Sensei and I were. He is a phenomenal man and for me probably the best Shotokan instructor I have ever trained under.
(RS) You fought Mori in competition. What and where was this bout? Could you share a little about this fight, and any other memorable fight you have had with the JKA ‘greats’ in competitions?
(MD) This is one fight that I remember with total irritation but would prefer to forget. It was the All Japan championship of 1974. In those days, the perceived impression was that the very senior senseis had preconceived ideas of who should be champion for a particular year or at least who should go far in that championship and turned a blind eye to anything contrary to their plans. I hit Mori with so many gyakuzuki, a solid chudan mawashi and best of all a maegeri which stopped a charging 105 kg Mori in his tracks. I weigh 72 kg so you can imagine how strongly and effectively I kicked. I was given ‘torimasen’ for all my efforts and he never laid a fist or foot on me. A few seconds before the end of extra time the referee suddenly called ‘yame’ and awarded him a waza-ari. No one saw any technique land on me. I don’t think my story is unique. Many western contestants fighting top Japanese competitors have experienced the same result. I was sitting next to Yahara Sensei at the JKA World Championship (Asai faction) in Switzerland in 1998. At one stage he got aggravated at a Japanese referee awarding unwarranted points to a Japanese contestant and ignoring points scored by the western competitor. He hissed out: “ some Japanese judge never see western point”. Yahara Sensei is such a fair referee. At the All Japan Championships that I competed in, I preferred fighting in the team events, because there I would be representing Tanaka Sensei’s team which made me an ‘honorary’ Japanese for that event. There my scoring techniques became amazingly more visible to the judges and in 1977 for example, up to and including the round that Shokukan was beaten by Takushoku Old Boys (in the quarter or semi finals), I was unbeaten. Despite the fact that at that time a westerner was on a hiding to nothing in the individual sections of the All Japan Championship, the fact that I was considered good enough and allowed to compete is still a source of pride.
(RS) Is this the same Mori who fought Frank Brennan? Did you witness that epic moment in Great Britain’s history? If so what are your memories.
(MD) It is the same Mori. Unfortunately the World Championship in Bremen in 1980 was part of the period where South Africa was banned from participating, so I didn’t see it personally.
(RS) Who in your opinion follows Nakayama Sensei’s teaching most closely?
(MD) This is difficult to answer because so many of the great legends of JKA have their own individual differences. Even Sugiura Sensei, head of JKA deviated greatly from the Nakayama ‘Best Karate’ in his first instructors’ seminar that he gave circa 1991. Perhaps Tanaka Sensei does, because I once asked him a question on why something is done that way to receive the reply: “Because Nakayama Sensei say so”. I am sure that Kawawada Sensei, Nakayama Sensei’s assistant at Hoitsugan and who took over Hoitsugan after his death, would try to impart Nakayama Sensei’s teachings copybook style. For the record, Nakayama Sensei’s ideas form a great part of my teaching regimen, especially with regard to the standardisation of kata, but I too have my own individual ideas.
(RS) Your sons Shane and Saville are/were both well known champions. You must be extremely proud. Tell us a little about them?
(MD) Saville had so much potential. He was KWF Junior World Champion in 2000, All-Japan Junior Champion at 12 years, a member of the senior S.A. national kata team at 16 years, but his path as an adult is different to mine. He has a right to his own dreams and aspirations but of course I miss not having him in the dojo training with me. Shane for me is rather unique. He graduated as a medical doctor (cum laude), graduated with an MBA (cum laude), won the KWF World Championship in 2000, 2002 & 2004 (Grand Champion in the latter two) and in 2005 won the WSKA All-Shotokan Kumite title. He followed in my footsteps as Captain of the South African Protea team (formerly known as the Springbok team) and held the South African title both in Shotokan (JKA and then KWF) and All-styles from 18 years to 29 years after being S.A. junior champion from 7 years to 17 years every year in his age group. He also won the Under 19 and under 21 World Championship.
(RS) Apart from Shane, you have personally trained many great karate-ka, Ian Duncan, Mike Dukas, Michael Roetz, Marco Fanicchi are just a few names most JKA competitors would recognise? How have you developed such a strong stable of karate-ka?
(MD) Of course I must give credit to other instructors who contributed to the development of Mike Dukas and Ian Duncan earlier in their career. Michael Roetz, Marco Fanicchi and Shane were my students from childhood. However, the reason I have, as you put it, a strong stable of karateka, is that I do not suppress the potential or opinion of these very able karateka, but rather channel it in a spirit of Budo, camaraderie and scientific application and implementation of technique. We work together to improve our organisation and politics is taboo. The requisite to be a member of the KWF S.A. Shihankai is to be a technically proficient qualified instructor with a Budo attitude and high rank, but first and foremost a TRAINING karateka who leads from the front.
(RS) You have chosen to follow Yahara Sensei’s path. Why?
(MD) He himself is undoubtedly an outstanding example of Budo, the policy of KWF is Budo and the senior members of KWF are Budoka. This matches both my approach and that of my seniors in KWF S.A. He is younger than the majority of heads of the various Shotokan organisations which increases the potential longevity of his leadership for the future. We met in the early 70s. We have trained together, dropped sweat on the same floor many times, bled on the same floor many times and most important, he is my friend. Furthermore I count it as a privilege that he would want me as the Assistant World Chief Instructor of KWF. As a non-Japanese, one tends not expect an appointment of this status in a Japanese dominated organisation. I view the impartiality of his choice with respect.
(RS) You are also credited with introducing Kendo to South Africa. How did this come about?
(MD) I had done some Kendo at the Nihon Budokan in the early 70s. In 1983 I felt a need to do something more to do with the Japanese martial art culture to add to what I had learned from Karatedo. I felt Kendo, because of its very traditional approach, to be the correct way to go. Iida Sensei, a JKA Honbu instructor, took me to meet and train with the instructor who taught Kendo in his personal karate dojo. Iida Sensei was also a priest. and his dojo was part of a Japanese temple. In 1984 on my return to Japan I found a Kendo instructor Akira Kubo Sensei who owned the Kyumeikan Dojo which was famous for teaching westerners. In 1986, a week before I received my 6th Dan from Nakayama Sensei, I received a Nidan from the All Japan Kendo Federation and on my return to South Africa started Kendo classes at my dojo. However, a few years later, with increasing karate commitments, I was compelled to hand over the reigns to two of my top Kendo students, one of whom is still the current president of the S.A. Kendo Federation.
(RS) What is Malcolm Dorfman’s favourite kata and why?
(MD) Nijushiho. In the mid 60s I saw the South African champion of the time performing this kata. The flow and beauty enthralled me and I asked Stan Schmidt Sensei to teach it to me. In those days one could do it as the tokui kata for the Shodan examination, which I did, and in fact, performed Nijushiho in each and every one of my grading examinations from Shodan to Hachidan. My son Shane also has Nijushiho as his tokui kata.
(RS) You are almost 60 years old, but still have great energy. To what do you attribute this?
(MD) Possibly good genes but mainly because I have a very scientifically based exercise and fitness program to supplement my karate training. Seeing my body in really good shape and condition motivates me to maintain this level. I also have a great desire to keep as young as possible on both a physical and mental plane and attitude plays a major role. My karate training is balanced between hard training and moderate training in order to limit abuse on ligaments, tendons and joints. My goal is to be able to train till well into my 90s if I am fortunate to live that long.
(RS) Are the ‘old days’ really any different to training today?
(MD) Oh yes. Even in Japan it is no longer the same. Commercialism, sport, modern soft living have all tainted the beauty of the old ways. It is sad that the majority of the modern karateka will never know the joy of the training that one had in the 60s and 70s with and at the JKA. But despite this, karate continues to be a most wonderful lifestyle for its practitioners, with untold benefits.
(RS) Do you believe that the 70’s were the ‘halcyon days’ of the JKA and Shotokan in general, or were they even prior to that period?
(MD) I think it commenced in the late 60s, but the 70s were never matched totally in the years that followed. If you recall, 1970 was the year Yukio Mishima, the renowned author, publicly committed seppuku to draw attention to Japan in general starting to lose it’s Budo approach. I think he was right in what he forecast. The JKA in the 80s and 90s did not have the depth of warrior karateka that the 70s produced. Today, where are the new Tanakas and Yaharas?
(RS) Do you believe that Western Karate has been going in the right direction?
(MD) Possibly in the area of popularising karate for the average man and woman as an alternative physical fitness regimen and for children as a fun activity, the answer in this case would be YES. But in the area of the true essence of karatedo, the answer is an emphatic NO. In the tournament sphere, the emergence of the karate athlete has come about but the true Budo feeling has been lost to a simulated version. The etiquette and ethos has also deteriorated. So for me, an adherent of the old school, if I must comment in general, my answer is NO.
(RS) What in your opinion makes a ‘great karate-ka’?
(MD) To be a great karateka, one must be technically proficient, have great knowledge, be motivational, be courageous, tough, compassionate and possess an ability to impart knowledge efficiently and patiently. Other requisites should be truth and loyalty and any arrogance should be substituted with the trait of confidence. But first and foremost, the great karateka must be a training karateka.
(RS) What advice would you give to ‘traditional’ shotokan karate-ka in today’s ‘sport oriented’ karate world?
(MD) Like the majority of sports there is a limitation on the period that one can be successfully active. By 35 one would be over the hill in top level sport karate if not sooner – and then what? Karatedo is so broad in what it offers but to be able to take advantage of this, the traditional aspects should not be neglected even during the sporting era. Karate is a lifetime study that leads to fulfilment. It should at all times be remembered that the sport aspect is only a small part of the totality of karatedo.
(RS) Malcolm Sensei thank you for being candid with me, it has been a pleasure. I wish you and your students the best for the future. OSS.