Sarah Amos: Could you please tell us a little about your start in Karate?
Rod Butler: Most of the things that seem to happen to me are accidental and certainly starting karate was not really something that I planned or gave a lot of thought to. I used to sit every week waiting for my young son (who is now 38) to finish his karate class. I sat with loads of other parents totally bored watching the class marching up and down blocking and kicking. The class got to the point where the kumite started and then I took an interest. The moves suddenly came to life and had some meaning. I signed up, paid my dues and started the following week never realising that I was starting something that would keep me interested for the next thirty odd years.
SA: What were your experiences training with Sensei Enoeda?
RB: Sensei Enoeda had a great skill, one that is rarely seen in any other instructors. He could make you go past the point of your own personal ability. In the dojo his presence seemed to push you further, even if you could barely stand he would will you to keep going just a little longer. Your stances, your kicks, your kata, your kumite seemed to be faster, stronger and more technically correct. When he said "Score a point" - you did, when he said "No good", you performed better, when he said "YES, very good" you tried even harder. He was like this in and out of the dojo and a lot of the success that I have experienced personally is down to his advice and encouragement. He was indeed a mentor to me and I am sure many others too. Outside of the dojo he was fun to be with although a hard taskmaster. If there was work to be done it had to be done properly with no messing. If you messed up you would be sure to get a good slap. He encouraged me greatly with the 'Masterclass' always saying "Next year even MORE success."
SA: Apart from Sensei Enoeda, who else would you say has been of great influence on you and why?
RB: I am lucky having so many positive influences. For one thing I have a wonderful group of senior Dan grades who have been so loyal and supportive during the many disruptions that have endured in the world of karate. They influence me to do my best and work hard. I am also influenced by students in the class; even a white belt may teach me something in the way he learns or the questions that he asks. There is nothing quite so inspiring as a small child giving all to his karate and really getting results. If you see a child working like this you know you must be doing something right. I have been lucky in seeing many of these kind of children grow into adulthood and still continue with their karate. This is indeed a wonderful feeling. Seeing them still getting enjoyment from karate is inspirational. My partner Lucy has always encouraged me and totally supported me during the difficult times. I am indeed very lucky and I never take this for granted.
SA: You are the author of the excellent book ‘Enoeda, the Tiger of Shotokan Karate’, what was your inspiration to start writing the book. What was that initial kick-start for the whole process?
RB: It was just one of those ideas that you start but never get time to finish. On first sight Sensei Enoeda was charismatic. Gradually after years of struggles and effort in karate I was still there, training and sweating. During that time I got to know him and helped him with many different small things in the dojo and outside of it. Everything from taking him to the doctors, picking him up when his car broke down, helping him move house - loads of small and insignificant things. If he asked me to teach the classes at Marshall Street while he was away I always felt very honoured, but I’ll tell you something, I did not take one class for him where he did not personally thank me. During these years I collected photos, tape recordings, notes and stories that he told me, with the idea that I would put together a book of memoirs for him and present it to him at Christmas or on a birthday. Of course it never happened but after he passed away I felt it a duty to finish and publish the book as a kind of memorial to him.
SA: Obviously, writing a book about someone so influential is a frightening feat, and I would imagine would cause many problems. Did you encounter any difficulties in the research and writing of the book?
RB: A lot of the research and information was already there in my own notes and photos. I had to learn about files, printing, paper, shipping, international duties, customs, storage, insurance and a whole host of other book publishing skills. What can I say? It was challenging and educational - but it was difficult. I just imagined Sensei Enoeda standing behind me and waiting for me to mess up. I had to overcome those difficulties and learn quickly.
SA: Without discussing it too extensively, due to the many political splits since Sensei Enoeda’s death, was this a problem for you, trying to speak to everyone who knew the Master, or did everyone just put aside their political differences to ensure the memory of Sensei Enoeda got honoured?
RB: It would be wrong for me to say that everyone put aside their differences and contributed to the book. Some people volunteered their thoughts and memories gladly; others didn’t return my letters or telephone calls. Some were more interested in glorifying there own names or interests. I can understand it though. We were all - the whole family of karate - in shock. I did things and made decisions then that I now regret and maybe others did the same. Don’t forget that I was in shock while the book was being completed and published. It takes a long time for people to recover from the loss of someone like Sensei Enoeda and maybe the book was too soon. Everyone was still in shock and there were some terrible political pressures boiling away in the pressure cooker. I felt those political pressures quite acutely, but can now look back in a much more balanced way.
SA: How did you feel about the success of the book? For its success in my opinion is a combination of both your excellent writing, but also it’s a credit to the kind of man that Sensei Enoeda was.
RB: I was surprised at the success of the book. It has sold in just about every country in the world from Iceland to New Zealand, from Hawaii to Estonia. I hope that in time the book will be seen as a true tribute to Sensei Enoeda and nothing else. The book is about sensei Enoeda and the effect that he had in the world - nothing else. If anyone sees politics in the book please ignore that part and read about the man himself.
SA: You are currently in the process of writing another book, this time on Sensei Okazaki. Why was he your next choice?
RB: Well, its the other way round I was his choice. He has seen quite a bit of my work, likes what he has seen, and his biography was suggested by some of his closest students. We are working on the book - Okazaki ~ Karate Legend together, and some of his long time students are helping as well. He is a wonderful man, very good natured and humble, with a terrific sense of humour. I would also add that he is a true leader genuinely loved by his members. His ISKF members think the world of him and some have been with him for 40 years or more. He has around 50,000 members and everyone that I have met in the ISKF is totally dedicated and loyal to him. It is a great honour for me to be working with him. I will take a chance and plug another book which is shortly to be launched internationally. 'Funakoshi ~ Father of Modern Karate' is the brainchild of Sensei Willy Ortiz 7th Dan, the Chief Instructor of Finland. I have re-written and edited the book and it is full of information and packed with some really old and interesting pictures as well. It will be available by the end of 2006 on our website www.shotokan-karate-england.co.uk (end of plug).
SA: How was your trip to the USA? How did your lectures and book signings go?
RB: I loved it! The training was great with some real Masters of Karate. 6.00am get up. 6.30am Mokuso and jogging. 7.00am karate classes then breakfast and a lecture. Lunch, more classes, instructor’s classes or exams. Dinner, evening lecture. There was so much to fit in, and as well as all this we had the Masters Camp International Tournament. I was asked to judge and referee, the standard was excellent. I did the book signing but still kept getting asked to sign copies at lunch time or dinner time. I didn’t mind it was great fun. I was nervous about the lecture. There were some very eminent lecturers who I knew were real pros - doctors, lawyers, teachers - all professional people. A large crowd turned up for my lecture but I was supported by some good friends, as well as Dr Paul Smith and so away I went! Get me talking and I don’t stop!
SA: What is your opinion about the current state of the Karate world, where people seem more interested in their political power, than in their karate?
RB: Well, you know I have just finished working on the book Funakoshi ~ Father of Modern Karate. The book is being prepared for publication as we speak, and if you read into this history of karate you will see the same old problems. The political power that you mention has always been there, even in the days of Master Funakoshi and even earlier in Okinawa and China there were rivalries, jealousies and power struggles. It seems as though the catalyst is death. When a leader dies there is a rush for the power and money that can be made. The amazing thing is that sometimes differences are put aside, for example the troubles between Lebanon and Israel. On a course you may see students from both countries training happily together but back home they are fighting. Serbs and Croats used to train together at Crystal Palace but back home they were killing each other. Karate has the power to bring people together but it also has the power to tear apart. Some people with jealousies, rivalries and greed are raising and feeding the negative power that karate has.
SA: Having travelled, and witnessed Karate in many places, what do you think is the strongest and weakest parts about Karate in 2006
RB: The strongest part is the tradition, etiquette, technique and history. The weakest part is the fact that people who know very little about karate try to dictate and control.
SA: What is Sensei Rod Butler’s favourite Kata, and why?
RB: Over the years it has changed from kata to kata. At the moment I really enjoy Tekki Sandan and Meikyo. Tekki Sandan is really difficult and always challenging - I like difficult things. Meikyo is fairly 'basic' but I love the rhythm of this kata.
SA: Who of your students do you see continuing your work and memory in the future?
RB: We have a very good group of 3rd, 4th and 5th dan Instructors who are totally capable of taking over from me. There is also now a group of young shodans who are showing very good promise and helping the younger students.
SA: Having trained for so many years, what keeps you inspired?
RB: I have always found karate difficult, so in a way that is good - it keeps me keen. As you know there is always something to learn and so the inspiration is never ending. As I said earlier, seeing youngsters enjoying karate also inspires me.
SA: Who do you now look to for guidance on technical issues, and why them?
RB: Sensei Okazaki, as he was a student of Master Funakoshi. Also Sensei Mikami, Yaguchi, Koyama, Takashina, Osaka, Kasajima and Ortiz. These are 7th, 8th and 9th Dan Instructors and you can ask them anything. Each one will give a different answer to your question. That’s the great thing about karate - its variety of teaching skills. In England there are some marvellous instructors; Andy Sherry, Frank Brennan, Dave Hazard, Harry Cook and of course Masao Kawazoe, there are loads more and no shortage of good karate.
SA: What is the most important thing that you stress in your teaching?
RB: Attitude. A good attitude in the dojo is of paramount importance. No matter how good someone is, if their attitude is not right they will not learn, understand or be able to help others. Walk through that dojo door with a good honest attitude or don’t bother to come in.
SA: If you could give one piece of advice to any Shotokan Karateka reading this interview, what would it be?
RB: Enjoy your training, the progress will come. One day you will look back to your start and see just how much you have learnt and improved.
SA: I would just like to say, on behalf of myself and all at The Shotokan Way, we truly appreciate you giving us your time, and we hope all goes well with your new projects, we’ll look forward to reading and reviewing them.