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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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Perfecting Kumite 

Masahiko Tanaka

Tanaka Sensei is renown for his fighting and technical ability. His reputation is respected and it could be said feared throughout the world. His karate is top standard, and his devotion to the art is undisputable. Here is his literary contribution to the Martial Arts.

This, in my opinion, is the best kumite book out there. That is a very bold statement I know, and I am about to give you very good reason why. One thing I will point out is that this is very much a ‘techniques for kumite’ kind of book, rather than a ‘types of kumite’ kind of book. This does not cover gohon kumite for example. Therefore, this book is perfect for fighters both in the dojo and within the competition arena. This book, because of its educational value, will teach you not just ways to win, but also how to make your karate all the more technically accurate. In this sense, this book could even be of value for kihon training. 

 I will comment first on the presentation of the book. Because it’s the most impressive aspect about the book? Not necessarily, but because it was the first thing I recognised when I took the book out of the envelope. This book is beautiful. Not just nicely designed, but totally beautiful. I know, the cynics will say that the presentation of the book is beside the point, but I disagree. It’s because of the design that the book is so easy to follow, and it makes reading an absolute pleasure.

First off, the photography of the book is very good, therefore, following the techniques is that much easier. This is important, because if you have good educational technical points, without examples that are clear, the point can get lost. Secondly, throughout the book the calligraphy is by Sensei Tanaka himself. I had heard that he has a very keen artistic eye and talent, so it came as no real surprise when I indulged in the calligraphy used and his small illustrations of a flower and two perfectly depicted fish.

Photography in this book, as with most books on the Martial Arts is very important for it makes understanding the points explained so much easier. So often however, many people photograph these techniques from a still position, so you can appreciate the technique, but not the actual effects of the technique. Here however, just like in the Best Karate series, Tanaka uses action shots. Because of this, when he performs a tsuki on Imura Sensei, you can see the total commitment Tanaka uses, and from the expression on Imura’s face, for a great deal of the time, you get the very vivid impression that Tanaka is also quite powerful. Rather him than me, that’s all I can say. Sometimes, it’s very easy to say that if you kick like this, it will cause this effect. But it doesn’t always work out like that. Tanaka steers clear of such problems and proves to all that his karate works. Follow by example and you’ll succeed - if you will.

On this point, I would also like to say that throughout the entirety of the book, Tanaka’s technique is close to perfect. Every kick is wonderfully targeted, and executed with absolute precision. Every movement is purposeful and each technique is impressively accurate. This alone is very inspiring. Without sounding overtly shallow, I think I would buy this book just for the pictures, but to say that out aloud would be totally unfair, especially since the textual information is so impressive.

The book is categorised into the following chapters:

Frontward Moving Techniques

Backward Moving Techniques

Application of Hand Techniques

Tai Sabaki

Techniques to Destroy the Opponent’s Fighting Position

Pressing Techniques

Kata ‘Gankaku’



Translation of Japanese terms

About the Author

Each chapter then has its own categories. For example, mae-geri would go under the ‘Frontward moving techniques’. Through this kind of organisation and structure, finding your way around the book is very simple, and also, if you just need to quickly refer to one technique or one section, navigation is not too difficult.

One very nice part of the book is the foreword provided by Master Nakayama. This is a very personal forward, where the Master talks with total praise stating ‘Masahiko Tanaka is one of the greatest karateka of the Japan Karate Association.’ There are also contributions from the translator Schlatt, and Gary Player.

This book is a very valuable piece of material, for it supplies an impressive amount of technical information textually, further illustrated by the photography. With mawashi-geri, for example, first off, there are eleven pictures, showing Tanaka Sensei demonstrating the kick alone. Along with the photographs comes a brief introduction to the kicking technique. Most significant though is the important points section, where twelve detailed points are made pertaining to the effective performance of the kick. E.g. point number five states ‘The central axis of rotation depends on the distance, and is either in the middle of the body or transferred to the pivot leg. Try to make this rotation axis the centre of your turning movement’. This is just an example of the type of details provided with the technique. I personally feel this is very impressive. The kick is also shown from a variety of angles, with a demonstration of how to kick using the ball of foot and the top of the foot. With solo photographs and photographs simply of the kick, the technique mawashi-geri is further considered as Jodan kizami-mawashi geri, Jodan kizami-mawashi geri with a switch over from a long distance, winding half-mawashi geri, mawashi geri while diving downward, and fake mae-geri, same leg mawashi geri. Each of these categories are as detailed, showing Tanaka’s deep knowledge and making the book invaluable to all karateka.

At the very end of the book comes Tanaka’s famous performance of the kata ‘Gankaku’, which is as detailed and accurately performed as the rest of the book. Here the kata is performed in its entirety, with detailed descriptions of each technique. To further inform comes an important points section, where, for example, the opening technique is photographed up close and described further. Also, for each technique of the kata comes easy to follow application photography and descriptions. This is very useful, and makes for very good reading.

One thing that is quite remarkable about this book - and is a very nice touch - is the personal accounts that Tanaka Sensei provides. At the very beginning of the book, Tanaka recounts his experience at the 3rd IAKF World Championships in Germany in 1980. Here he talks with great enthusiasm about his experience and feelings of the time, and by reading these accounts, you develop a greater understanding for Tanaka’s style of fighting, and his personality, making the reading of this book all the more practical.

I really love this book, and I would openly tell all to purchase it. It’s both informative and educational, and you will undoubtedly take much from Tanaka’s experience. Here, this fantastic karateka gives us all of his tricks of the trade, offering his years of experience over 248 pages. Not one page is wasted, and all information is useful. Whether you are a budding competitor, an instructor or coach, or even a passionate karateka, you’ll love this book, and refer to it throughout your karate career.

Mark Thompson


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