Sensei Randall Hassell is one of the most Senior Martial Artists in America. As student, he studied under some of the Worlds top Senior Instructors like Nishiyama Sensei, Okazaki Sensei, Nakayama Sensei – just to name a few. Today he is Chief Instructor of ASKA (American Shotokan Karate Alliance) and along with several Senior Instructors like Sensei Edmond Otis and Leslie Safar (See previous interviews), Sensei Hassell is President and an important part of the American JKA. An avid writer and author of some 28 books to date, he plays a vital role in the education of many. He has been described as ‘The spiritual voice for a generation of karate-do practitioners’ by Fighter Magazine, and is an incredibly popular and sought-after instructor who passionately passes on his years of experience. It has been our complete pleasure to be able to get the opportunity to speak with such an inspirational man and karateka – Shaun Banfield August 2007
(Shaun Banfield) Can you please start by telling us how and why you first started karate?
(Randall Hassell) I started karate training in 1960. I was born with eyes that did not focus on a single object at the same time, and I was, therefore, very awkward at sports, because I had no depth perception. Then, one day in a bookstore, I saw the book, Karate, the Art of Empty-hand Fighting by Hidetaka Nishiyama and Richard Brown. I was fascinated by what I saw and also by the idea presented there that almost anyone could learn this art, and at their own pace. I saw the Japan Karate Association mentioned in the book, and my aunt took me to the library, where we were able to find an address. I wrote a letter to Mr. Nishiyama at the JKA saying that I was interested in finding a place to learn karate. Much to the surprise of everyone, he wrote back and said that he was coming back to the U.S. later in the year, and that he would contact me then. He did, and the rest is history, so to speak.
(SB) Wow, what a tremendous introduction to karate. And do you remember that very first session you took part in? What did you think of Nishiyama Sensei and Karate-Do?
(RH) I was delighted. The training was everything I thought it would be, except physically harder. But I was so young, the physical part was no problem at all. In addition to occasionally training in Los Angeles, I was able to connect with people from other styles and organizations in my local area, so I was exposed very early on to Matsubayashi Shorin-ryu and Japanese Goju-ryu. Most of the instructors back then were returning servicemen, who had learned their karate in Japan and Okinawa. Anytime anybody would let me into their dojo or club, I would participate. And I did a whole lot of self-training and practice. Starting around 1964, Senseis Mikami and Sugiyama established clubs in the Midwestern U.S., and I was able to train more regularly after that, particularly with Sugiyama Sensei.
(SB) So many people have said that karate taught during the beginning of the boom of interest in karate, was very very basic. Was this your experience of early training and what do you remember from this time in your training?
(RH) I don’t think the technical aspects then were much different from what is being taught today, but at the very beginning, there wasn’t nearly as much creativity in constructing classes as there is today. I think this was primarily because the instructors were Japanese and were trying very hard to adjust to a whole new lifestyle in America. I remember basics, kata, and sparring being taught in almost every single class. But the original Japanese method of more repetitions and fewer questions often was employed, so the training often seemed harder than it is today. I would point out, though, that it was often extremely boring, especially compared to today’s training.
(SB) Have your Instructor’s developed their teaching style over the years and how?
(RH) Oh, yes. Every single Japanese instructor who stayed to teach in America—at least every one I met—developed and progressed rapidly as they became more comfortable with their surroundings and the language. Classes are now more innovative and well-structured than they were at the beginning.
(SB) You are one of the earliest practitioners of karate in America, beginning in the 1960s. Since that time karate has changed and developed a great deal. What kind of developments have you personally witnessed?
(RH) Speaking only of JKA-style Shotokan, excluding the development of sport karate, I have seen many positive changes. Today there is not nearly the emphasis on macho posturing that was clearly prevalent among many male practitioners in the 1960s, and we do not see as many injuries now as we did then. Also, today’s training methods borrow heavily from sport science and other sports themselves, and that is a very positive thing, indeed. With the exception of Nishiyama Sense’s teaching (he was always looking outside karate for useful information), that was not always the case in the early years. Today there are many women and children training, and that was almost unheard of in the 1960s. So, overall, I would say that our karate has grown and improved just as most other physical arts and sports have, and I also believe that the majority of today’s karate athletes are more skillful, technically, than their 1960s counterparts.
(SB) In 1984 you decided to leave the JKA to create an American counterpart, of which in 2002 you were later voted president. What were the central reasons behind leaving the JKA?
(RH) This has been well documented in my book, Shotokan Karate: Its History and Evolution, but essentially the problem was that we had a group of American karate-ka who had been training, supporting, and helping to develop the Japanese organizations in the U.S. for 25 years, but who were denied the right to obtain the credentials to fully support themselves as instructors and examiners. This was extremely important to us because most of us were full-time karate teachers. It seemed that every time the subjects were raised, though, either the rules were changed, or the democratic process was suspended. This was not a thing that happened suddenly, either. It was a process that developed over many years. We finally realized that we had run up against the legendary “brick wall,” and that we would either have to remain utterly subservient forever, find something else to do with our lives, or take matters into our own hands.
(SB) Do you think there were prejudices because you were not Japanese, or did this denial come down to other factors do you think?
(RH) I think I will let my book do the talking on this because it was a very complex, multi-layered problem. It would be easy to just write everything off to prejudice, but that would not do the subject justice. I will say that the difficulties we encountered with the JKA in the early 1980s do not appear to have changed much since then. This should be obvious by looking at what happened to the KUGB following the death of Keinosuke Enoeda. Beyond that, please read my book.
(SB) Was this a big move for you after so many years in the JKA?
(RH) For those of us who formed the American JKA, it was, with the exception of burying a loved one, probably the most gut-wrenching, heart-rending thing we had ever done in our lives. We never wanted to separate; we really wanted it to work as it was, but it became clear that, ultimately, we had no choice.
(SB) As mentioned earlier, in 2002 you were voted President of the American JKA. What does the job of President entail exactly?
(RH) Basically, my position of President of the American JKA is an honorary position in which I represent the organization to the public and to other organizations when asked to do so. And I offer advice and opinions to the members of the Executive Committee. Senseis Leslie Safar and Edmond Otis run both the technical and day-to-day administrative sides of the organization
(SB) We have already interviewed Senseis Safar and Otis, very inspirational men. Have you enjoyed working with these karateka and what do you think they have brought to American karate and not forgetting European karate also?
(RH) Senseis Leslie Safar and Edmond Otis are, in my opinion, two of the finest examples (in each of their respective generations) of superb karate technicians and teachers in the world. Sensei Safar was Sensei Okazaki’s first student in the U.S., and he was a highly successful competitor locally, nationally, and internationally. Later, he completed the JKA instructor course under Sensei Okazaki and became one of the finest teachers of the art that I have ever seen. His education in the art is long and deep, and he exudes an enthusiasm for teaching that electrifies the room when he walks in. Along with me, he was one of the co-founders of the American JKA, so we have a personal history that goes way back in time. Today, he is conducting the most highly technical instructor-training program in Europe that I have ever seen, and I think the impact of those brilliantly trained instructors will have an impact on many generations of students to come.
Sensei Otis, likewise, has an extraordinary amount of training and karate education under his belt. He never stopped training in the basics. Even after he had attained sandan level, for example, he would still go to the university where Ray Dalke was teaching, and he would just stand in line and train with all the white belts and lower ranks—in every single class, every day, year after year. Everybody knows about the legendary Frank Smith and what an incredible fighter he was, but few know that Edmond Otis sparred with Frank Smith virtually every day for 10 years. What an amazing background!
Both of these men, in my opinion, bring an intelligence and dedication to karate-do that is unique in my experience. They have dedicated their lives to karate, and they are inspiring, innovative teachers. I am proud to say that they are my friends
(SB) You are also Chief Instructor of ‘American Shotokan Karate Alliance’. Having read through the mission statement on your site, I was very impressed by the fact that it aims to genuinely promote good Shotokan Karate. Can you please tell us how successful you have been in achieving this?
(RH) Naturally, I want to say that we have been very successful, and the proof for this lies in the stability of the organization. ASKA, while nationwide in scope, is not a particularly large organization, nor do we seek to be large. We never recruit anybody, and we usually tell club applicants for membership to take a year or so and get to know us before actually joining. This almost always surprises them, but they soon learn that it is a good idea to wait and see how things actually work in the organization. After a year, we know each other better, and either side might decide that this is not the right place for the applicant. They are more surprised when we tell them that there is no club fee for joining—only individual memberships and rank registrations. We don’t issue assessments against our member clubs, and we don’t ask anyone to pay in without getting something in return. Not only do we encourage our instructors to seek higher qualifications and examiner licenses, we actually keep track of them and remind them when they should be applying for their next technical level. If they are having trouble getting the necessary training or experience, we try to get special help for them from among our senior instructors. Nobody, including me, is paid for their service to ASKA. We all make our livings separately and donate our time to ASKA. That keeps everybody honest and means that there is no money structure to vie for politically. Any money left over after paying the bills is used to support travel and expenses for athletes and selected activities for officials.
Another important hallmark of ASKA is that we do not restrict our members in any way. If they want to simultaneously be members of other groups or organizations, that’s fine with us. We just offer the best Shotokan karate we can, and so have nothing to fear from our members doing other things. This works from the top down, too. An example is that while I serve as President of the American JKA, Sensei Edmond Otis serves as Chairman of ASKA’s Shihankai. It’s a wonderful, mutually supportive relationship. Also, AJKA and ASKA mutually recognize each other’s rankings and technical qualifications.
A really positive thing that we do each year is Camp Shotokan in Carlsbad, California. Instructors and students from many different organizations gather there to train together, share ideas, and generally have a good time. I have personally participated in this camp for 8 years, and I look forward to it every time. Anybody who practices Shotokan is welcome, and they come from all over the world.
(SB) Who teaches at these camps?
(RH) It varies slightly from year to year, but I am almost always there along with Leslie Safar, James Yabe, Edmond Otis, Kevin Warner, Nick Palise from Michigan, Tony DeSardi from Illinois, Avi Azoulay from New York, Dr. Robert Myles from Texas, John Hanratty from Canada, and others. We frequently see instructors from many other countries, too.
(SB) You are well-known as an historian of the Martial Arts. In what ways do you feel this research has influenced the karate that you practice and teach?
(RH) I don’t think it has significantly changed the technical side of my karate, but it definitely has opened my mind to a much broader scope of ideas, practices, and philosophies. This has helped me grow and mature as a person and, therefore, undoubtedly has helped my karate. Some things that I used to dismiss out of ignorance, I now see as wonderful, beautiful aspects of the larger karate world, outside of Shotokan.
(SB) Can you give us an example of what you once dismissed?
(RH) Yes, I had very little knowledge of sanchin kata and ibuki breathing, for example, and so I just dismissed them as meaningless. As I met people from many different styles, though, I started to appreciate the value of these kinds of practices for many people—even if I didn’t practice them myself. My research also taught me to appreciate many of the supplementary training methods used in styles like Okinawan Goju-ryu. And whereas I once thought that JKA-style, big body dynamics were the only way to generate power, I found that I was sorely (in some cases, very sorely) mistaken. I had no interest in Okinawan folk dancing until I was shown how intimately some of it is related to some of the kata we practice today.
One of the things that really helped me broaden my understanding and appreciation of the karate world outside of Shotokan was my friendship with the late Osamu Ozawa, a friendship that began around 1980. Ozawa Sensei told me that if I was going to be a good historian of karate, I needed to see the “larger picture.” So, at his tournaments, year after year, he personally introduced me to many people from many different styles: Morio Higaonna and Teruo Chinen from Okinawan Goju-ryu; Teruo Hayashi and Kenzo Mabuni from the Shito-ryu styles; Yasuhiro Konishi from Ryobukai; and literally hundreds of other dedicated, non-Shotokan instructors.
I learned that there are just so many beautiful styles of karate around and so many wonderful people practicing them! My research and being exposed to so many different points of view instilled in me a deep respect for people practicing styles other than my favored one.
(SB) In your research of the Martial Art’s history, are there principles, concepts or beliefs you think that have been lost over years or anything we present students of karate stress too much?
(RH) This is such a broad question, it is almost impossible to answer, because there are so many different styles of karate alone, not to mention the myriad of other martial arts. Taken all together, I doubt that very much has been lost. Taken individually, yes, I have seen some styles change dramatically, particularly in their transplantation from Asia to America, and I’m sure the same is true in Europe and other places, too. On the other hand, I have seen many more styles of karate that do not appear to have changed significantly in 75 years or more.
I think we need to distinguish here between modern, popular martial arts like karate and judo and older, long-established martial arts that are practiced by a limited number of people, like many of the koryu and schools of swordsmanship. As society changes, people change, and their needs change. Modern, popular martial arts often reflect these changes because they are modern and popular. Older martial arts with limited numbers of practitioners do not rely so much on popularity, and so their changes are much slower to occur, if at all.
In JKA-style Shotokan, the only thing that I think is sometimes—but not always—stressed too much is tournament-style free sparring. I have nothing against tournaments or sparring, but I think a more realistic approach to sparring would be useful in many of the dojos I have observed. Everybody practices jiyu-ippon kumite, and I think that if it is taken seriously, with the attacker’s intention to actually hit the defender, it is more realistic in terms of self-defense than free-sparring. I also frequently teach jiyu-nihon and jiyu-sanbon kumite, in which two or three strong, all-out attacks can be launched at any distance with any timing, each with the intent to hit the defender. Control is necessary, of course, but the intention should be strong, and there should be some sense of danger on the part of the defender. This type of sparring, I believe, is very important.
(SB) You have written some twenty-eight books to date, is this correct? Which would you say was the biggest struggle or most rewarding?
(RH) It’s hard to pick just one, but I suppose the biggest struggle was Shotokan Karate: Its History and Evolution. Trying to verify so many details over the course of a number of years truly was a struggle. And I find it very rewarding to see that it still generates mail and discussions on the internet. The absolute hardest I ever worked on a book, though, was The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Karate, which I co-authored with Edmond Otis. We were on the most unbelievable deadlines for that book! We ended up working day and night at some points. Of course, that made the final product that much more rewarding. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Karate is now in its 7th printing and has been published in the Philippines and in Russia, and that is rewarding, too.
Just this year, four of my books have been completely revised, updated, and re-published by Empire Books (EmpireMediaLLC.com)—Shotokan Karate: Its History and Evolution; Karate: Zen, Pen, and Sword; Karate Ideals; and The Karate Spirit—so I have been very busy.
(SB) One of your most famous books is indeed ‘Conversations with the Master: Masatoshi Nakayama’. How did this come about?
(RH) At that time, I was a Regional Director in Sensei Teruyuki Okazaki’s International Shotokan Karate Federation (ISKF), and we were preparing for Nakayama Sensei to make a tour of the U.S. I had the idea for the book, but it would be a complicated proposition to follow Nakayama Sensei around the country and to always have someone there who could translate. But Okazaki Sensei thought it was a great idea, and he readily agreed. In fact, he did most of the translating himself. I am indebted to him for providing me with that opportunity. In fact, I might re-write this book someday because I tape recorded most of my conversations with Nakayama Sensei, and I think it would be interesting to go back and have a thorough translation done from those tapes. At the time, I had to rely mostly on on-the-spot translation, and sometimes we were rushed and there were other distractions. So it might be interesting to take another look.
(SB) And what was Master Nakayama like in person? Was he what you expected?
(RH) Well before I embarked on writing the book, I had trained with him a couple of times in the 1960s, when he was touring and teaching, so I had a very clear image of him as an instructor. But when I sat down with him to talk, no, he was nothing like his instructor/taskmaster persona. He was one of the most down-to-earth people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. He was delightful—funny, engaging, open, and friendly. He went out of his way to make me feel comfortable, and he often chatted with me about my personal life—my family, my other interests, and so on. I remember that he once had a fairly long chat with me about Humanism and the positive effect he believed that particular philosophy had on the Japanese people after their defeat in World War II. He was a highly educated, well-read man, and he seemed curious about everything. My one regret where he is concerned is that he refused to let me write his biography. I pleaded, but he insisted that such a thing should only be written after he was gone. Of course, when he did pass on, it became impossible for me to do. I hope someone does write a good biography of him someday. He was a very complex, very fascinating character.
(SB) You mentioned that Okazaki Sensei did a lot of the translation for you with Nakayama Sensei. What kind of relationship did Okazaki Sensei have with Nakayama Sensei?
(RH) They were extremely close. It seemed to me that they shared a very strong personal bond and that they were genuinely fond of each other.
(SB) You are in fact Senior Editor of the excellent Tamashii Press. What is your role in this company and what are the primary goals of such a company?
(RH) Tamashii Press is run by my son, and I act as Senior Editor for the company. I help him evaluate manuscripts, DVD ideas, and so on, and I perform the actual editing chores on his book projects, but I am not active in the business beyond that. The latest Tamashii book that I edited is the newly revised and expanded edition of Advanced Karate-Do, by Elmar Schmeisser, and the latest DVDs I have worked on are the Shotokan Master Seminars series. Tamashii Press is always looking for high-quality book and DVD ideas.
(SB) During my research for this interview, I have read many kind comments about you and your karate classes. Why do you think you and your classes are so popular?
(RH) I don’t know that my classes are so popular, but I appreciate you saying that they are. Particularly when teaching seminars and clinics, I just try to connect with people on a personal level and try very hard never to teach the same thing twice to the same group of people. I really enjoy conducting seminars, and I want the participants to enjoy themselves, as well. I think seminars should be fun for everybody involved—not at all like hard daily training.
(SB) What do you think is the central key to being a great instructor and what tips do you have for fellow instructors?
(RH) First, in the ASKA and AJKA instructor training programs, I tell the instructors that two things are required to be a successful karate instructor: 1) You have to believe that karate is a worthwhile thing for human beings to engage in, and 2) You have to believe that other human beings are valuable enough to you for you to want to pass karate on to them.
Second, when I am evaluating instructors in the program, I look for the human qualities that would give me reassurance if I were dropping my children or grandchildren off for a lesson with them. I look to see if the instructor shows interest in understanding and relating to the students rather than just standing in front of the class, counting military cadence and barking orders. Frankly, just about anybody can do that, and in the past, we have thought that if they also had good physical skills, they must be good instructors. To me, that’s nonsense. A good instructor needs to be aware of the needs and even wants of the students and try to find something positive in the student’s personality or behavior to reinforce and reward.
Finally, I tell them that a good instructor realizes that the class is about the students, not the instructor. I quote Gichin Funakoshi from the original version of Karate-do Kyohan: “Always remember your original intention, when you were a beginner.” In other words, keep the mind of a beginner, and you will be a good instructor. Or, as I often say to instructor trainees, “Get over yourself. This isn’t about you; it’s about your students. Your own training can be done at another time.”
That’s an excellent point. Do you encourage your instructors to differentiate between the teachings of different ability students, and how do you think an instructor can almost give personal attention to each student while teaching a big numbered class? Do you have any advice with this?
Of course it is essential to distinguish between the different levels of ability among the students and to try to teach each of those levels appropriately. I have carefully planned several clinics and had to change my plans at the very last minute because only intermediate students showed up or only black belts with just a couple of intermediates and beginners. In that case, the instructor must adapt to the situation and change their plan. Again, it is about the students, not the instructor.
As for making the students think they are getting personal attention, there are three main ways that I try to accomplish this: eye contact, touch, and voice. The way I do it, and the way I encourage our instructor trainees to do it, is to more or less constantly move among the students, look them in the eye, speak quietly and directly to as many of them as I can, and touch them. By touching, I mean either adjusting an arm or hand position or the like, or just a touch on the shoulder while quietly saying, “Very good!” This is just my way, and I think it’s important.
(SB) What do you think a well-structured class (From an instructor’s point of view) includes; keeping the students interested, working up a sweat and keeping them intellectually stimulated?
(RH) Every class I teach has a theme or central point, and I try to carry this theme through basics, kata, and kumite. I have found that just standing in front and counting leads to boredom. If, for example, I were to tell the students, “Okay, we’re going to do 500 front kicks on each leg,” I would lose many of them around the count of 25 or so. If, on the other hand, I tell them that we are going to concentrate on refining the angle of the leg in relation to the body in kicking techniques, they will easily complete hundreds of kicks over the course of the class without thinking much about it. They will do more kicks in kata while concentrating on that principle, and more even in kumite, as I keep emphasizing that point. There are many ways to teach interesting, challenging classes. This is just my basic way, and it seems to work for me.
(SB) One very important part of your karate is your attention to the effective application of karate techniques. Do you think enough attention is paid to this and do you think this is one of the weaker parts of karate?
(RH) I think that too much attention to sport karate can weaken karate overall, because for me, karate is a lifelong adventure, and I want it to be effective for me until I’m too old to move anymore. Sport karate is only effective until younger athletes come along and start defeating you consistently. Lifelong karate has a certain level of effectiveness until the day you die.
(SB) Technically, as an instructor, what do you stress most frequently in your classes?
(RH) Technically, I stress awareness, concentration, balance, timing, distancing, and focus (decisiveness). Taken together, these fundamental points enable us to deliver impact force, or shock, on the target, with stable emotions under the pressure of attack.
(SB) Internationally do you think enough attention is paid to the budo-attitude in karate training, and do you have any suggested methods for instructors to teach their students about this attitude and its necessity in traditional training?
(RH) Within the Shotokan structure, I’m not worried at all about the art being passed along correctly. I have yet to meet a high-level Shotokan instructor who says that the traditional precepts and human development goals of martial arts are not important. I have met a few competition-oriented instructors who don’t seem to talk about it much, but you know, on balance, they are in fact passing along a lot of self-discipline, concentration, and confidence to their sport-oriented students just by virtue of pushing them to be elite athletes. I think that when the sporting days for those students are over, they will retain quite a bit of the positive effects of their training, and a number of them will choose to look more deeply into their art and themselves, so it’s not as bad as some might think it to be.
Overall, I think that to develop a strong spirit and indomitable attitude, the training must be serious, consistent, and, at times, difficult. But more than anything else, the instructor must consistently impress on the students that they are in karate class for their own, personal growth and development. They should remind them that the purpose of karate training goes beyond simple punching, kicking, blocking, and striking. The students should be encouraged to challenge themselves, and they should receive positive reinforcement for their efforts.
On the other hand, and I’m sure this will sound strange to some people—especially coming from me—but I don’t believe that karate can improve anyone in any way, all by itself. I believe that it is a wonderful, extraordinary tool available to people who want to grow and improve, but they are the ones who have to put the tool to use. I think that if we seek to use karate-do as a tool for self-improvement and the realization of human potential, it works beautifully to help us toward those goals, as do many other arts and physical activities. But I don’t believe the virtues of karate-do are sitting out there on a platter, so to speak, for just anybody to pick up and stick in their pocket. I think any tool is only as good as the skillfulness and intentions of the person using it. A hammer can be used to build a beautiful house, or it can be used to smash windows and break into houses. If a person is taught by a skilled craftsman how to use a hammer properly to build things, it is more likely that that is how the hammer will be used, just as it is more likely that a person who learns karate from a sincere and skillful teacher will use the art more positively than one who learns it as just another weapon to have in their arsenal to beat people up.
(SB) And who would you say has inspired you most both technically and philosophically?
(RH) I have found inspiration in almost every instructor I have ever trained with, and I mean that sincerely. Nishiyama Sensei and Shirai Sensei probably were the most inspiring technically, but at the same time, I was always awestruck by Okazaki Sensei’s beautiful form. In my early years, I, like everybody else, was inspired by Asai Sensei to want to jump so high and spin in the air. Of late, I find myself philosophically inspired by Kanazawa Sensei, in particular, and I would give anything to be as gifted a teacher and leader as Stan Schmidt is. The list is almost endless.
I have already mentioned Senseis Safar and Otis, and to the list I would add Ray Dalke and James Yabe, two truly gifted and inspirational instructors. The list is so long that I couldn’t begin to list all of them.
(SB) What is your favorite kata and why?
(RH) It changes from time to time. When I was young, Kanku Sho was my favorite because I was able to perform the jumps and turns with great speed. It just felt wonderful to me. I also spent considerable time practicing Sochin and Nijushiho because they fit my body type very well. Right now, my favorite is probably Hangetsu. When I was a teenager, while playing high school football, I almost destroyed my right knee. Years later, I went through three surgeries and was told that I probably would lose 80 percent to 90 percent of the flexibility in my knee. So, as a part of rehabbing my knee, I stopped jumping in the air and landing on it, and started concentrating on the Tekki kata and Hangetsu to try to strengthen it in different directions. Since that time, Hangetsu has grown to be almost meditative for me. Not only does it feel good to my legs and hips, but the deep, controlled breathing really helps me clear my mind when I feel restless. I now have great flexibility in my knee, by the way.
(SB) I’m not sure whether you know this or not, but the last question is the question we ask everyone. We like to do this because there’s almost a running link within all of our interviews. Interestingly enough, I would say Hangetsu is probably the most popular kata across the board from those we have interviewed and it’s a personal favorite of mine. Many people believe Hangetsu to be possibly the best kata when applicated for street defense. What do you think of this?
(RH) For me, kata are tools to help me attain physical, mental, and emotional balance and stability. They challenge me to balance these facets of my life, all by myself, with no help from anyone. So I believe that every single movement of every kata helps me develop my skills correctly so that they will serve me well in times of crisis. Similarly, I believe that every time I pull back the opposing hand when punching, I am developing an elbow strike with it, and I am developing a whole-body feeling with both of them together. All of these things apply to a real self-defense situation. Therefore, every body movement applies to self-defense—not just the movements of a particular kata or the perceived applications of those movements.
(SB) Can we just say a big thank you for this interview, and may we wish you every success for the future!
(RH) Thank you. It has been my pleasure entirely, and I’m honored to contribute to TheShotokanWay.com.