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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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Within this widely expanded world that is the karate community, there are instructors that are deemed legendary due to their status and place in the legacy of the art. Masao Kawasoe seems to have this wonderful connection to this legacy of the art, but also beholds something else that is very special. His movement has been described, by some, as ‘genius’. The fluidity, the ease with which he moves illustrates not only perhaps an immense talent, but more specifically and more accurately, his dedication to the close analytical study of movement. This text by Dr. Clive Layton aims to take just a little of Kawasoe’s fifty year study, and channel a few gems direct to the reader for their pondering.

Throughout my twenty year karate career thus far, I have collected a very healthy Martial Art Library. This of course has been impacted by the amount of review material that I get sent for TSW, and I am lucky and thankful to have shelves and shelves of textbooks by most of the authoring Shotokan Karateka. Admittedly however, there is always something quite disappointing about Karate textbooks and manuals. They either provide no technical detail at all; instead just talking you through the technique, or the points they do make are nothing revolutionary to the content you get in your everyday dojo session. Therefore, shelling out that £20 seems a complete waste of time.

This text however is an incredibly detailed and articulate exploration of movement, where Layton uses interviews with Sensei Kawasoe to explore some of the finer and fundamental principles of the art; using just one stance, two variations of one type of punch, two types of block and one type of kick which Sensei Kawaose believes ‘underpins all Shotokan technique’.  To illustrate the style and level of analytical depth, I will provide an excerpt that I feel will excellently convey my point:

‘…the energy generated from the pressure gained from the body dropping and rising and the consequent straightening of the back leg has to be harnessed otherwise it will simply dissipate, and dissipate extremely quickly. If a ball is dropped it will bounce back up and then fall again, but with less energy, and then rise again, but with less height.’

As is clearly evident, this text does not steer clear of detailed explorations. For some, this will be regarded as perhaps an unconventional method of learning suck knowledge, yet the front cover does clearly declare ‘This is not a training manual’. Therefore it should not be treated as such. Instead, this should act as a useful educational prompt, or a pathway to develop deeper understanding. Viewed within the correct context, it is possible that this text could become an invaluable text that helps join dots in a karateka’s understanding, and answer developed or previously conceived questions about their own karate.

The main criticism of Layton’s work that detractors often make concerns the heavy level of detail that he gives to aspects of texts, often making reading at times laborious. It is important to note however that texts such as Shotokan Dawn, whilst being texts for reading, are equally designed as historical records to give a full and frank picture of events. Layton’s more popular texts tend to be the more biographical, anecdotal works. ‘Masao Kawasoe – The Foundations of Shotokan Karate Technique’ contains a very pleasant balance between technical detail and the enjoyable and easy reading experience of Layton’s biographical works. This I confidently say makes this book accessible to everyone.

One area I feel this text falls slightly short is the lack of photographical accompaniments. Throughout, there is a lot of technical detail provided, and to even the most technical and senior of karateka, visualising these points can be incredibly difficult. In such parts, photographical  support would help lift the education value of the reading experience. Nonetheless, please don’t take this as too heavy a detracting factor.

As with all of Layton’s texts, the ‘References and Notes’ section of the book could be a considered an enjoyable text in itself, and makes for some excellent reading.

The book clearly states, ‘THIS IS NOT A TRAINING MANUEL’ and I agree, treat it as such and you training will not be reflective of the text’s or author’s aims. Instead, it is a text written with the objective of providing a muse to attack the monotony of training, a stimulus to get the creative and analytical juices flowing, or perhaps just to give your study of training a new and more profound level of depth.

I can only advise members to spend the menial amount requested for this textbook, as I truly feel that there are gems of information and explanation within. If you wanted technical understanding, you look to a technician, and Sensei Kawasoe is exactly that. He is without question one of the world’s finest karate technicians, and you will therefore not fail to be inspired by this educational read.

Shaun Banfield