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Sensei Manabu Murakami

Here we have the Internationally respected Manabu Murakami, interviewed by Darren Jumnoodoo, on behalf of The Shotokan Way. If we flick through many of the world’s most popular Shotokan books, such as Hirokazu Kanazawa’s Karate Fighting Techniques, or Black Belt Karate: The Intensive Course, we will see this gentleman. He is the man at Master Kanazawa’s side. He is undoubtedly one of SKIF’s most popular instructors, and has been kind enough to give an exclusive interview to TSW. Here he talks about his experiences with Sensei Maruo, his time spent on the SKIF Instructor Course and his travels throughout the world promoting and teaching Shotokan Karate- Emma Robins & Shaun Banfield 07


(Darren Jumnoodoo)     Can we please just start by saying a big thank you for agreeing to do this interview for TheShotokanWay. It is very much appreciated and the readers are very excited about this interview. This is a bit of a predictable question, but would you mind just opening the interview by telling us a little about how and why you first started karate?


(Manabu Murakami)     I started in Kyushu, in southern Japan, when I was 9 years old, training under Sensei Takaki Maruo. However, between the ages of 11 and 15, I played baseball, and then started Karate seriously at 15 years old.


(DJ)     You started your karate training under Sensei Maruo. Can you please tell us a little about your experiences with him?


(MM)     Sensei Maruo was a JKA Instructor. He was a student of Miyata Minoru Sensei, who was Fuku-Syuseki-shihan (Assistant Chief Instructor) of the JKA under Nakayama Sensei. Miyata Sensei was also a Takushoku University graduate. So being a student of Sensei Miyata, Sensei Maruo was technically very good and was also a very good teacher. So basically my Karate is from him.


(DJ)     You studied at Takushoku University. This is obviously a place where some of the greatest names in karate had once studied. How did it feel knowing the University’s history and standard of karateka to have come from it?


(MM)     When I was 18 I moved to Tokyo for the University. At that time I was very confident in my ability. Then, on the first day of training at Takushoku, my confidence was broken. (Many laughs!!!). All of my first-year classmates were champions in each area in Japan. Also, even the second-year, third-year, and fourth-year students were all champions across Japan, so I did not feel strong enough. The training was under Sensei Tsuyama, so the training was very hard.


(DJ)     After University you then decided to undertake the SKIF Instructor’s Course. Can you please tell us a little about the Instructor’s Course; what training it involved and what you specifically studied?


(MM)     By now my confidence had returned so I decided to do the course. It was very similar to the JKA Instructor’s Course and it was much harder than I thought it would be, so my confidence was challenged again, like when I entered Takushoku University.


(DJ)     And who were the main instructors who taught on the Instructor’s Course?


(MM)     Of course Sensei Kanazawa and at that time Sensei Kasuya. Sensei Kasuya was very strict and I think he only thought about Karate 24 hours a day. I was not like that then, as I sometimes thought about Karate, and sometimes went drinking and socialising. But of course I trained very hard and sometimes I got tired.


(DJ)     Now you are at Kanazawa Sensei’s side and have been for a long time. How does it feel to be in such a privileged position?


(MM)     The first time I saw Kanazawa Sensei was when I was in high school, when he came to my hometown. I said to my mother that I would like to carry Sensei’s bag and to travel with him, and if I could only do that once, it would be a dream come true. So now I think I am very lucky, but take a heavy responsibility.


(DJ)     And in private how would you describe him?


(MM)     Karate is not only about the Martial Art. Karate is also about the relationship between the Sensei and the student, which is similar to the relationship between a father and child. But children cannot choose their father, but in Budo, a student can choose his teacher(father). So, only training in Karate cannot make this type of feeling, so I am always with Kanazawa Sensei, sharing rooms with him, eating with him, etc. Of course I study his Karate, but I also study from him to learn how to be a good man and a good human being.


(DJ)     Sensei Kanazawa is probably one of, if not the most famous instructors in the world. Technically speaking, as a karateka, why do you think he is so popular?


(MM)     Technically his Karate is very dynamic and elegant, so people think that they would like to be like him. But technically, everybody is different so for example other Senseis also have fantastic techniques. But I think it is his character that makes him stand out. For example, he will speak to a President of a Country or Company the same way as he would speak to the mother of a dojo student. He is always thinking about this and it never changes. This is what I study and I want to be like him in this respect.


(DJ)     You are the Head of SKIF International Affairs. Could you please explain to us a little about what this job entails?


(MM)     I am responsible for the communication between SKIF Headquarters and all member countries and I have to listen to what they think. Also, arranging the overseas schedules for the Instructors and also the programmes within some member countries.


(DJ)     Kanazawa has written many books and featured in many DVDs around the world, and you have also featured in them. Would you care to share any fond memories from any of the filming or photographic shoots?


(MM)     Once we were having a photo shoot and interview for a Japanese Martial Arts magazine when I was a trainee instructor. They wanted a photo of Sensei doing a flying kick so he practised maybe 20-30 times. Each one (laughing) hitting me here (pointing to the side of his head). Then they said “ok we now have a good shot”, however they did not publish it in the magazine!


Also when we filmed the DVD in the US, we had a very, very hard schedule and we were all very tired. Finally Sensei made a Kata demonstration for Nijuhachiho. That was very, very impressive.


(DJ)     You spend a major portion of your time travelling the world, teaching karate. Do you enjoy teaching such a varied selection of groups in so many different countries? And what’s the best thing about leading this type of life?


(MM)     I think Karate is one of the best Martial Arts, also the Japanese can be proud of Karate, which helps show our culture. So I am happy and proud to introduce Japanese culture to so many countries around the world. Also, I think that having no memories, no dreams, and no friends makes a poor life. Usually many people do not have friends overseas. I have many all over the world and also I can see, feel, touch and experience other countries cultures. So this is--how can I say--a very valuable thing in my life.


(DJ)     Have you experienced any funny events whilst travelling and teaching? If so could you please share any of these stories with our readers?


(MM)     (Laughing) You know, maybe some of them should not be printed!! But I have had many experiences, like the first time I visited Romania. Before I went to Romania I was in the Ukraine, and the Romanian people said it would be better to drive from Ukraine to Romania. It was a 700 or 800 km journey, which should have taken 8 hours. So I said, No problem. It was the middle of April and I left from Odessa, and suddenly there was heavy snow.


At that time I did not know we had passed over Moldova, and I did not have a visa. And so the Instructor from the Ukraine sorted this out somehow (laughing). And then, after entering Romania the snow got heavier and we could not move. There were five of us in a small Mercedes. We had to push the car but the students said,Sensei, you must stay in the car.But the car did not move. So I was wearing leather shoes and was helping push the car. Then 30 minutes later, we were stuck again, so again we pushed the car. Finally, 40 hours later, we arrived at our destination. During the travelling, we only had one bar of chocolate between the five of us!! Then the Romanian instructor said,Sensei please don’t hate Romania!


But all those hours in the car I enjoyed, and I was thinking that it is very hard, but also thinking that it could be a big memory for my life. I think that Karate training helps me think this way.


(DJ)     You have enjoyed some major competitive successes. Which one stands out in your mind and can you share some of your memories?


(MM)     The biggest memory for me during a tournament was in 1988. The 3rd SKI World Championships. I was in my fourth year at Takushoku University, so I was in good condition and was very confident. In the individual Kumite quarter finals I fought a German; he was very tall, and I knocked him down. I thought it was an Ippon technique, but he could not stand up so I lost by Hansoku (disqualification). This is my biggest memory because if I had won that tournament, then maybe I would have returned home and got a job or started a different career. But I lost so I thought I should continue Karate until I became the champion. If I had won that tournament, maybe I would have continued or maybe I would not have, I am not sure. So now I think this tournament changed my life. Of course I have participated in many tournaments. If I won, I do not remember them well, but if I lost, I remember them very well.


(DJ)     Who stands out in your memory as a particularly tough or difficult opponent?


(MM)     (Laughing) Everybody is difficult!


However, Mr Sugimoto, who used to be an instructor with SKI. I fought him many times. He was not natural at Karate but worked very hard to make his techniques good, so had very strong focus and spirit.


(DJ)     Sensei Kanazawa places much emphasis on the breathing in his teaching. Can you please tell us what Sensei Kanazawa has taught you about the importance of breathing and its influence on your karate?


(MM)     Actually, it’s not only breathing. He never says to me that I have to do this, or have to practice like this. But, watching his movement and during his life, I must steal what is good. I think: “Why can he do it like this?” Or, “Why is his technique like this? So, not only breathing, but all kind of techniques. He never says that I have to do this or that, that’s why I have to think. I have to do it. If he says that I have to do this, then maybe I don’t have to think. I have to think for myself; I have to watch him. In Japan, the old-culture masters never teach the student. The student has to watch the master and learn, and then think for himself. Because I practise and perform demonstrations with Sensei, I can feel how to breathe and what Sensei wants me to do, and now we can perform demonstrations with no need to practise beforehand. This comes through experience, first you understand then you can do.


(DJ)     You are renowned for your excellent kicking ability. What is the key to this kicking ability as I’m sure our readers would love to know?


(MM)     During my university time, Sensei Tsuyama taught us only mae-geri and yoko-geri, never mawashi-geri. He said that if you practise mae-geri and yoko-geri-keage, then automatically your mawashi-geri will be good. So during university training, we never practised mawashi-geri, but of course for tournaments we practised outside of class. Maybe because I practise mae-geri and yoko-geri a lot.  Also I always imagine how to kick, and how to do damage with the kick. I imagine how to use my ankle, how to use my knee, how to use my hip joints. I am always imagining and thinking, and then if someone has a good kick, I ask myself: How does he do that? Then I try and make the image and my body comes together, but not only for kicking though.


(DJ)     Many people talk about KIME quite often. Some stress the need for whole body muscular contraction; others stress relaxation at the point of impact. Can you please tell us where your thoughts and beliefs lie on this issue?


(MM)     Kime is the same as control; some say focus, but it is the same as control. When we punch, some muscles are for pushing and some are for pulling. If they are working at the same time, then you cannot punch. So, when punching, the pulling muscles should be relaxed to allow you to punch. For example, think about football. Scoring a goal is the job for the attackers. The defenders do not need to work when the ball is near the other team’s goal. But to prevent the other team from scoring, the defenders must do their job. The body is the same as this. If the muscles work together, then the technique will be more efficient.


For me, Kime is when the muscles, tendons, ligaments and spirit, intention etc. Everything locks for a split second, to spark all of my energy to the target. There is no waste. It is a state of nothingness (“Mu” in Japanese). It is more of a feeling, do you understand? The muscles go from relaxed, to locked, to relaxed again.


(DJ)     Where do you see your own karate evolving in the future, and what goals are you yet to achieve?


(MM)     One day I would like to be satisfied with my gyaku-zuki or my mae-geri. In fact, I would like to perfect all my techniques.


(DJ)     You have studied karate for a long time now. But what are you currently researching or studying in your own personal training?


(MM)     Of course, our karate changes when we get older. When I was younger, I had a lot of speed and power. I don’t want to say it, but maybe now I don’t have so much speed and power. So, I have to use something else, otherwise I will not improve. Maybe I must harmonise my body more, or use my opponents’ power, or improve my timing. I try to understand my Karate more, not just physically, but mentally.


(DJ)     Can you please talk us through your personal training routine?


(MM)     Same as you I think! We have instructor training at Honbu Dojo, where this training is more like up and down and each technique many times. Maybe the only difference is the intention and image of the technique during training.


(DJ)     When you are travelling it must be difficult to find time for your own training?


(MM)     Even when I am teaching, I try to do the techniques as many times as possible, demonstrating them to the class. So, I must show strong techniques and do them correctly. Also, I don’t only train in the Dojo.


(DJ)     What is your favourite kata and why?


(MM)     This is always changing. If I have a demonstration, I tend to practise Nijushiho, Gojushiho or Sochin. But my favourite kata is always different. It is like food through life. When we are young, we like more meat. Then, as we get older, we like more fish and perhaps vegetables. It depends on your bodyMaster Hirokazu Kanazawa, Darren Jumnoodoo, Sensei Manabu Murakami condition and state of mind. So is what I think about what my favourite kata is.


(DJ)     We spoke before about Okinawa and if you would like to study there?


(MM)     Ah yes, because Okinawan Karate is very different to modern Karate, so if we don’t know the original point, then maybe we cannot understand the real meaning of Karate. So if I have a chance, I would love to go to study in Okinawa.


(DJ)     May we just say a major thank you for this interview, and may we wish you every success for the future.