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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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Stan SchmidtWell, well…when Sensei Stan Schmidt agreed to give us this interview I thought I would pass out with joy. In several books over the years I have read so much about him, I have seen such impressive video footage of him, and of course heard so many stories of his skills and abilities. Stan Schmidt however, in and beyond the karate, is a true gentleman who has kindly given us an insight into his experiences and understandings of Karate-Do. Stan Schmidt is simply a living legend and one of the most senior Shotokan teacher's in the world. This interview completed over a five-week period has to be one of the best we have done here in TSW. This interview is personal, funny and thought provoking. Interviewing a man such as Sensei Schmidt is an experience I will forever cherish and I hope you enjoy reading the interview as much as I did doing itShaun Banfield 07

(SB)     Would you care to tell us a little about the types of classes you experienced during your stay in Japan and what would you say were the most important things you took away from training and studying there?


(SS)     Let me try to answer the second question first:


What I took away?  The immeasurable treasure of actually experiencing Budo-The true Martial Way.


Overcoming fear; Learning the importance of Self-Discipline; Discovering abilities in myself that I previously thought impossible to achieve; Learning that I may at times have to GIVE IN—but that no one could ever force me to GIVE UP. I must finish the race; Learning that “The true Karate Man/Woman never stops training and learning.”

Learning that those who you may feel are hard on you, may turn out to be friends at the end of the day.


Learning that The Art of the Empty Hand properly taught and practised, is a marvellous vehicle for developing (in young and old), healthy habits, an alert mind, and a good attitude, in its practitioners-- that is, provided the Teacher works at becoming a sincere role model of the Art, demonstrating some of the ethical qualities of the art viz: Character, Sincerity, Effort, Etiquette and Self-control.


The study of Karate in Japan has been a wonderful stepping-stone for me and has helped me to see the Great value of my own Christian heritage; In other words, The Father in whom all power lies is my Ultimate Sensei. 




All Japan Championships quarter final - left Oiishi Sensei and Stan SchmidtThere was never an easy training class. I always came out exhausted and often extremely bruised and aching - but I couldn’t get enough of it. It was forever a challenge just to keep alive and not have your teeth knocked out. (I am proud to say I still have my full set of teeth.) I visited and trained in Japan over 20 trips and experiencing heartache, fear, and pain; culminating in relief, redemption and joy. All worth it.


The class always started with a short standard warm-up session given by one of the kenshusei. (You were expected to do a more thorough warm-up on your own before the class). Also after the class one did jiyu- kumite, makiwara, kata , strength and conditioning or stretching . So a one-hour class was in fact more like two hours.


Then one of the first drills we often did (after forming a circle) was repetition work of punching techniques and then kicking techniques from a jiyu-kamai stance---for at least 20 minutes. Following this was usually kihon combinations (Basic techniques eg Ude uke/ Empi uchi/Uraken Uchi/gyaku Zuki etc etc). Yamamoto Sensei - later a world champion - was like a lethal rocket with his Jodan Oi zuki attacks


Just before doing Kumite drills we would often do combinations of techniques against a partner charging up and down the dojo with the receiver countering at the end. This was an anaerobic (without oxygen) type of training. Very exhausting. I found Oiishi Sensei (Many times All Japan Champion ) the hardest to face during this “chasing” training. He was extremely fast off the mark.


Then Jiyu-ippon Kumite done in a different number of ways at each session. This training I found the scariest. The attacker would go full-out after warning “Jodan” “chudan” or ‘maegeri” or whatever. You were expected to block or avoid and counter these deadly blows.


Stan and Nakayama Shihan on his first visit to South AfricaWhy was it so full-out?  Because you had been warned of what was coming.  The most challenging of these Jiyu-ippon scenarios was when you were told to take up your ready stance, with your back to a wall. Then a queue of twenty or more Japanese Juggernauts would each in turn endeavour to get his announced attack through your defences.


There were numerous such drills, which tested ones strength of character to the limit.

During Sensei Nakayama and Shoji’s era at least 15 minutes of kata was done in each class. There were not many kata that we did. Mainly the Heians, Tekki 1 and kata like Bassai-dai, Kanku-dai, Jion and Empi.


Quite often often The Sensei would split us up into groups and a senior sensei would watch each of us individually giving advice.


In those Suidobashi days I remember we often formed a circle as the class was about to end and then we would do dojo free fighting (jiyu-kumite) with each us getting a couple of turns. My most memorable and dangerous confrontations were with Sensei Yano (known asThe Animal”). Nakayama Sensei once forbade us to fight each other for a month until we could exercise more self-control when facing each other. Yano only knew one way and that was forwards. Then we were kind of enemies. Now today we are friendly to one another. We are now both members of the Shihankai (Masters Board) of JKA Japan.


There is much more to tell.


(SB)     During your stays in Japan, what other non-Japanese karateka were in the sessions that you remember?


2	In Kirohime mountains - left to right the host (I can't remember his name), Ikeda - Kendo master who is mentioned in C.W. Nicol's book "Moving    Zen", Stan, C.W, Nicol and Seto (also mentioned in the book).  This was a reunion organised by Seto.(SS)     Gary Friedrichs (USA) in the sixties and early seventies; Jose  Pacheco from Portugal , another from S.America (Roberto); Ken Funakoshi from Hawaii, Sabeth Mukhsin from Indonesia   I think it was; (The names will come back to me , cant quite think of them now), Malcolm Fisher (Canada); One or two from Great Britian; The South Africans; Ken Wittstock, Ed Dorey, Norman Robinson, Nigel Jackson, Malcolm Dorfman, The late Derrick Geyer, Keith Geyer, Robert Ferriere, Johan Roets, Dave Friend, Ed Mtshali. There are some others who trained for short periods in that class especially in the eighties and nineties.


(SB)     You also travelled to the UK am I correct? What did you think of the UK and where and who did you train with?

(SS)     I haven’t done many appearances in the UK. Too busy in South Africa with building the SA Karate Organisation. I trained once at the Crystal Palace venue with the likes of Terry O’Neill and Andy Sherry and other good Senseis. Also trained in Ireland twice and loved the folk there; Seamus O Dowd, Ray Payne, Gary Cashman and other top Senseis.


Terry O Neill visited me in South Africa in the early days, and we got on like a house on fire. He has a great sense of humour, and those Mawashi Geri Kicks of his—Too marvellous for words. He had many thought-provoking stories to tell.


(SB)     The likes of Terry O’Neill and Andy Sherry are obviously some of the most important karateka in the UK. Were you impressed with them?


(SS)     Yes they were, together with a handful of others, the pioneers of UK Karate; All great Karate men and women, totally dedicated and fine role models of the Art.


3	017    Stan scoring in team event (All Japan championships approx 1966).  The ref Sugiura Shihan.(SB)     Who or what would you say has been your biggest influence in karate and why?


(SS)     * All those people mentioned so far; Plus my wife Judy who went with me to Japan in 1963 and was my first “coach” for a couple of years (she had studied the top Japanese in their training and would watch me when back in South Africa, and say; “No , not like that Stan, this is how they were doing it!”)Plus my close colleagues and training partners in the Early Birds:  Ken Wittstock; Johan Roets; Derrick Geyer; Keith Geyer; Dave Friend; Gordon Richardson, Ed Dorey, Ed Mtshali, Norman Robinson, Malcolm Dorfman, and the many other dedicated Early Birds.


* Gary Player, who I was at school with. I have always admired his fighting spirit. At school he told us once, “If I take my shirt off, I am superman.”

When he left to become a professional golfer he came to all of us and said, “Let me autograph your books now. Someday I will be the best golfer in the world.”

He had three things; Vision, Good Spirit and Habits, and he Practised very hard indeed. He has always been a kind of role model to me.


* Claude Chanu (my ground work teacher, who I could never beat up to his dying day); Jimmy White (My Judo Teacher); Jimmy Coker a Judo colleague who encouraged me to go to Japan in the first place; Cecil Wolov who kept an eagle eye on my training in the early days


Stan in 1962 before leaving for Japan.  Training with Ervine Katzer in the bush.*  Professor Phillip Tobias (Previous head of the Dept of Anatomy at WITS Medical School, and currently a world famous Anthropologist). After seeing demonstrations of Karate he was, for lack of a better description, a patron of the Art of Karate. He saw its many benefits and quoted: “The Art of Karate is a crowning achievement in human poise and skilled movement, and facilitates the important link between mind and body.”


* Mark Robinson (more recently) whom I consider the greatest Mixed Martial Artist I have ever come across. He is the son of Norman Robinson.Mark is a world Champ in about six different disciplines (Now mainly Submission grappling) He instructs at my house-dojo in Sandton , SA and we are good friends .I see him almost every day when in South Africa . Although he is only in his early forties he is superbly fit, healthy, strong; a potent fighter, and above all, a true gentleman.


* Along with our training we also do Bible Studies together with my son in law Mark Hildyard who has, in addition, shown me the way regarding smart approaches to strength and conditioning for myself and our Association. He is featured on one of Tanaka Sensei’s tapes.


As the years have passed I now realise that my biggest help has, especially in recent times, come from The Word of God;  I am strong in the Lord and in the Power of His Might’. He is my Master and without him I am weak.


(SB)     You have produced some excellent DVDs and books, including the likes of the ‘Stan Schmidt Instructs Shotokan Karate’ series as well as being an avid writer. Demand for such DVDs and books are clearly a testament to your skills and reputation. Do you or did you enjoy the experiences of spreading your understanding of the art through these mediums?

(SS)     I prefer to do it hands on, meet the guys and learn from them in turn; but I am working on some projects at present.

(SB)     You have been described as ‘A teacher of teachers’. How does that make you feel to be seen as such a light, and do you think there is a difference between a karate instructor and a karate teacher?

(SS)     Am I a “light?” Thank you. I would love to be a light to others, but I need to improve the light inside myself first.


Instructor? Teacher? Good question.


Stan in Las Vegas with leg catching technique and throat attackIn essence: An Instructor gives orders; a teacher demonstrates, guides, encourages, corrects, rewards, and above all, should endeavour to be a good role model in all ways…not easy…but continually striving to get to the unattainable is what its all about.

(SB)     Judging by those who have mentioned you, you seem to make it appear pretty easy, mentioning what a brilliant karateka, role model and all round influencer you are. What do you think is the role of a ‘Sensei’? Do you think the responsibilities of this goes beyond the dojo?


(SS)     Firstly, let me be clear about this - In my life I have, in the past, messed up and made mistakes. There were times when I allowed myself to become caught up in the macho lifestyle of pleasure seeking, over-drinking, and being a big deal. This was a dead-end road. I needed to change this.


After all, if one can improve one’s techniques with proper training, then one should be able to change one’s destructive habits with a constructive attitude, relevant training, and self-control.


There came a time when I had a good look at my life. I always enjoyed teaching. But I began to realise that a good teacher puts his students first, and himself second.


I want my students to stand on my shoulders and attain levels I could never reach.


In Japan - breakfast before training with left to right Senseis Okuma, Osaka, Ueki, Takahashi and Stan.A teacher’s major role is to serve. H.Ochi Sensei and my son in law Keith Geyer are good examples of being happy to do menial tasks, as well as facing up to testing challenges.  I have seen them on different occasions, setting up, sweeping or cleaning the dojo, or hall before or after a function - and then later, taking opponents apart in dojo kumite – with control, of course!  And then still later, gently and with humour, showing and demonstrating for little children how to punch, kick, block and strike. The good teacher must have knowledge and necessary techniques. But above all of this, he/she must have WISDOM.  Wisdom embraces both the realms of the dojo and the greater world.

(SB)     What are your central goals as a karate teacher, and what elements of karate are at the heart of your teachings?

(SS)     I noticed you called me a ‘teacher’…thank you.  I am an instructor, yes---but always striving to become a good teacher. This is an ongoing process of learning, renewal and discovering ways of leading the students into the art gently, with a clear understanding of their talents and shortcomings, and to encourage them to strive for a higher level of thinking and performance -always with their physical and mental health in mind. Eg, Don‘t force an arthritic person in their seventies to do Unsu kata and then sneer at them when they are not able to achieve the high jumps and drops to the ground. Be wise, modify the kata if necessary and make it workable for the student. Set realistic goals and praise when reached.

(SB)     With the likes of Yahara Sensei or Tanaka Sensei for example, the Budo approach to karate training is paramount. What is you understanding of Budo and how it applies to karate and you as a human being?


(SS)     Budo (or Bushido) is basically The Way of The Warrior. A warrior is a committed soul. The warrior does not merely train for a particular tournament or event, and then relax for weeks or months until the next event.


 The warrior trains his or her body and mind to be alert and in the best possible condition, on a daily basis. The Bible tells us; “The evil one comes to steal, kill and destroy – and he comes like a thief in the Left to right Keith Geyer, Dolf Lundgren and Stan after training in Johannesburgnight – unexpectedly.


Thus the warrior must not allow destructive habits to interfere with his/her cause; which in essence is, to act in the interests of Justice, aiming at “controlling the enemy - and restoring harmony.” The enemy in this case may be seen as a terrorist; a tsunami, a street fighter or ones own inner emotions, such as jealousy or hate. 

In short, I would like to think that I am a Budo-type karate man – a Martial Artist rather than a sportsman. The sporting side of karate I see as an extra-curricular pursuit to be engaged in for a short season of ones training life. I state what Funakoshi Sensei once wrote: ‘When you advance you should study Jiyu-Jitsu techniques’.


I believe that our Shotokan style is a magnificent base on which to build and grow fruitfully through further studies of other Styles, Martial Arts, Physical arts and Sports.

(SB)     Do you think karate today in this way has that same intensity that it once did?

(SS)     Depends on the head Instructor/Teacher. Some schools yes…others no.

(SB)     What is Sensei Stan Schmidt’s favourite kata and why?

(SS)     All of them and more. I have had to create some of my own kata to overcome an accident and age (now 70 years). Bassai-dai was my first BB kata and is still a favourite…Plenty to discover in this kata. Also the Tekki katas. There is some hidden and interesting bunkai in these kata.

All Japan championships - Bassai dai, Stan reaches the last eight(SB)     You have a huge knowledge of kata Bunkai. Rarely however do we see many Japanese Instructors teaching kata Bunkai in their classes.

(SS)     Some do, some don’t. Sugiura Sensei Chief Instructor of JKA Japan and Ueki Sensei do quite a lot of bunkai in their seminars. I attended a bunkai class of theirs a few months ago.


Regarding my knowledge of bunkai - I study and learn something new each day. It is a labour of love for me, and a never-ending process. I personally believe that bunkai is essential to gain a three-dimensional perspective of the Art. “Kata without bunkai is like a smile without teeth.”


Kumite against only one opponent is different, in essence, to what bunkai is all about.


Bunkai deals with one or more opponents; from close up, medium distance, long distance, coming at one from different directions and angles , with or without weapons. This demands a different kind of fitness, perception and level of skilled action.


Some of those young guys wanting to leave out kata and only do free-sparring are maybe not considering that they may one day be forced into having to deal, in real life, with more than one opponent. One of my best students, Sensei Ken Wittstock, defeated a group of three “nasties” that attacked him one night on a train. He told me that if it wasn’t for the Kata training and Grappling training, he may well have been a dead duck.


The application of a move, or moves, from a particular kata may be somewhat different for say a short person compared to a tall person, and so on.


 Eg:  The 4th move of Heian- shodan (1st kata);


A strong karate man may be able to pull his arm out of the attackers grip (to his wrist) and then hammer him on the head. But this is not a recommended bunkai move for say a child. The child’s main purpose in executing this move is to get her arm out (with the help of, say her other hand, if necessary), and then run like a cheetah to a safe place. Escape is one of the important elements in the application of Bunkai from Katas.


One other thing. In the katas I have created, I have included moves which deal with close quarter gun hold-ups and against knife attacks. I believe we have to be relevant in our training regarding the ever-changing threats in todays society.

Stan and Chuck Norris in South Africa.  Chuck came to promote his film "McQuaid".  Taken at Stan's dojo.(SB)     Rarely do you see Japanese Senseis teach Bunkai. Why do you believe this is?

(SS)     Some do, some want you to seek and find for yourself, others just don’t know.

(SB)     You are one of the world’s most senior karate teachers. But when you want questions answered, who now is your first port-of-call to answer your questions?

(SS)     Many sources, like consulting one of my ten grandchildren - ha ha. But mainly it depends upon the nature of the question. I fortunately have some good friends and contacts all over the world that I often discuss things with.


 My first ever one-on-one student, Ray Joffe (5th dan), now a Sensei in his own right, is a close friend who has guided me in many ways through thick and thin. When I need an answer to a challenging question I try to go and get advice from a qualified expert in their field. 

(SB)     Where do you see your own personal karate training going in the future, and what kinds of research are you currently interested in?

(SS)     To never stop training and studying. The great teachers are great students. I train at least 5 times a week for 45 minutes to an hour each time…sometimes alone and sometimes with one or more partners. Some days I push it hard, other days smooth and soft. My main purpose is to move with the appropriate spirit. Sensible movement is health giving. Moving mindlessly is destructive to ones own body and soul. I want to continue to do what I can with what I have. This is a blessing. Kata is the key. Many of the bunkai moves just come to me, from above I believe, without much thinking. I am sure there are still many to come. Part of my credo is; “Taking from the past; creating in the present; giving to the future.”

Stan on one of his personal gasshukus (I would often go away for a few days and train alone in the bush)(SB)     Your training schedule is truly very impressive and extremely inspiring. Do you still view yourself as an eternal student of Karate-Do?


(SS)     Yes.

(SB)     In what ways do you think Karate-Do can develop the human being, and in what ways has Karate-Do developed you as a human being?


(SS)     I think I have dealt a little with this question in previous questions. In any case it is very difficult for me to assess myself, and to place the praise or blame entirely on karate for my successes and shortcomings.  One’s life is a tapestry of influences woven together in a mysterious way, hopefully with the help of our Creator.


I read somewhere that an old Okinawan karate master had said  something like this : “We should only teach the deeper Bunkai to those virtuous souls who will not misuse their power.” Thought-provoking words.

(SB)     You previously mentioned that you have had experience of Judo and obviously Shotokan, but have you practiced any other systems and Martial Arts? If so, what have you found to be the benefit of training elsewhere and integrating into your karate?


(SS)     I have, and still do, practise and learn kata and fighting methods outside of the regular Shotokan curriculum. In our SA JKA curriculum for Instructors we encourage 4th and 5th dans and above, to do research which they believe can be suitably harmonised with Shotokan techniques and can enhance their skills and abilities. Their research findings are often demonstrated at the time of higher Dan gradings.


In my own case, I will summarise as follows: 


  • Weight training as a young man (and still today);
  • Judo before I knew of karate;
  • Jujitsu-type grappling (with Claude Chanu) for many years (more recently learning from Champion Mark Robinson – only theory, I wouldn’t want to roll on the mat with him now. I would describe him as a lethal gentleman).
  • Karate from books;
  • Shotokan JKA karate in Japan, South Africa, USA, Okinawa, Germany, etc ;
  • A short stint at Aikido with Sensei Tissier in Japan;
  • A short stint at Kendo – in Japan;
  • Knife fighting techniques and defence moves – with Sensei Ed Dorey;
  • Some Go-ju-ryu  kata with Sensei Arnold de Beer;
  • I have in addition created and included (for my own training) , Heian katas 1 to 5 plus Tekki-sho-dan, done with Nunchaku as well as with the Bo;
  • Furthermore , because of having to undergo bi-lateral hip replacements, 17 years ago, largely because of an auto accident, I needed to create a number of my own katas which I practise with a couple of selected students to this day.

(SB)     What would be the single best bit of advice that you have been given, and how did it affect you and your karate?


(SS)     My judo colleague Jimmy Coker in 1962 watching me train karate from books and telling me: “Stan, make a plan, go to Japan.”


(SB)     What is your understanding of ‘sen no sen’ and ‘go no sen’? Would you please explain to our readers the meaning of these terms and how they should be applied?


(SS)     I like to look at the above tactics in terms of “Kyo” – ie Good timing for seizing or creating the opportunity to deliver the finishing blow. My idea of “kyo” would take me a number of pages to explain. So I will shorten it and give just three of the seven elements regarding “kyo”.


1.        Kake no sen:    Your opponent intends to attack you and is entering your ideal distance (he has not delivered a technique yet);  You nail him.


2.        Tai no sen:   As your opponent begins to deliver a technique, you intercept it with a block( or avoidance move) and nail him.  Ie; before it gets to you. (Sen no sen – taking the initiative earlier).


3.        Go no sen:   Your opponent  delivers a technique. As he is completing it , you block the almost completed technique while moving backwards or around him, and nailing him before he can add another one. (Go no sen – taking the initiative later.)


(SB)     As a very experienced fighter, when you fought, in what ways did you dominate your opponent and get them into a position that you would want them?


(SS)     In the early days I fought with pure fighting spirit, only going forwards - Sometimes like a bull in a china shop.


"Stan no katchi!"Later I learnt to relax, use angular shifting, block more, allowing my opponent to make mistakes; and then apply a sudden explosive technique.


In dojo fighting I would try to end up by throwing my opponent and getting him to tap out. It worked most of the time, but not always. Knowing ground work was an asset in the “hornets nest”. It got me out of trouble a few times.


During the nineteen-sixties and seventies, I was challenged quite a few times by  outsiders, at my own dojo, and once even at my home. I never lost one of those. The appropriate tactic just seemed to come to me. I would do or say something to create doubt in my challenger. Before one such challenge I asked the man to sign an indemnity, releasing me from being responsible should I maim him. Some of these were not nice guys. I never refused a challenge in those days – pride I guess.

Today I would handle it differently.  With grace hopefully, rather than with pride.  Karate is about showing respect to others. Nakayama Sensei said; “It is hard to strike a person who offers you genuine respect.”


(SB)     Karate in South Africa is world renown and has a wonderful reputation for creating some phenomenal talent. Why do you think this is and what has been your approach in your teaching?


(SS)     Thank you. This, I believe is due to team work; We are fortunate to have so many excellent and dedicated Masters and Instructors in SA JKA, who are gifted in their fields; some at Judging, others at organizing, others at performing and still others at teaching and so on.


From the outset I always encouraged my seniors to visit and train in Japan and in other top countries.  Besides the daily Early Birds training in Johannesburg, we also have regular Gasshuku’s and Seminars where our black belts from outlying areas can come together, train and share knowledge. “Those who train together, remain together.”


(SB)     To be a good fighter, one must be determined and passionate. As a very successful teacher, what do you think is the best way to facilitate these qualities and encourage them?


 (SS)     To first build up the students confidence and belief in himself/herself through establishing a strong foundation through repetition work on the basic kihon, bag and makiwara work-(always giving clear instructions; guiding; challenging; encouraging; and rewarding).


Giving realistic and spirited Go hon kumite , Ippon kumite and Jiyu ippon kumite drills – against ones peers first, and then against higher skilled Dan degree holders. Hard and testing, but fair.


The instructor should be a dedicated trainer who teaches by example – being a living role model of what he/she expects from the students.Stan and Judy's second daughter Debbie weds famous karate man Keith Geyer - now teaching in Australia


Now that I am in my seventies, I always have one or two young skilled, and spirited instructors assisting me, the likes of Johan la Grange and Karin Prinsloo, where I am not able to demonstrate fully what I want the students to achieve, especially when it comes to fast dojo and competitive sparring.


An average student who is passionate about karate who is placed in a high-level class will progress. In other words “As iron sharpens iron, one man sharpens another.” 


(SB)     You have produced some fantastic students, who in their own right have made impressive names for themselves and created excellent reputations. Who over the years has particularly impressed you?


(SS)     There are a good number of shining stars; and one of the brightest is Sensei Keith Geyer 7th Dan.


Sensei Keith Geyer joined our Early Birds as a teenager. He was my main sparring partner throughout most of our formative years. When I am in Australia I sometimes teach the class for a time and then work out under his direction, in say the kihon part of the class. His classes are very challenging so I do only as much as what my age and body will allow; for example Sensei Keith will demonstrate a mawashi geri – uraken uchi – gyaku zuki combo and have the class do repetition work on this. Instead of sitting out I may just do the Uraken uchi – gyaku zuki part. Sensei Keith is considerate of his students in this way, and it is marvellous to see how they grow and flourish under his participating leadership.


(SB)     May we just say a huge thank you for this opportunity to speak with you, and may we wish you every success for the future!!!

(SS)     Thank you. May God bless you in your quest for Shotokan Karate-do. Keep up the good work, and may you be abundantly rewarded for your efforts.



Melbourne, Australia.  July 2007-07-13 


Many thanks to Sensei Stan Schmidt for providing these wonderful photographs and descriptive captions.