(Paul Herbert) Simon, many thanks for agreeing to speak to The Shotokan Way and I’d just like to start by congratulating you on your recent promotion to 5th Dan with the ASK. What does this mean to you?
(Simon Staples) It is a great honour to think that my Karate is worth 5th Dan, there is also a great deal of responsibility to live up to the grade.
(PH) Going right back then, can you tell me how you first became involved in Karate?
(SS) Whilst standing in a fish and chip shop as a nine-year-old waiting for my chips, I saw a poster advertising Karate and thought that’s for me.
(PH) You have lived and trained in Japan. What made you initially decide to go to the land of the rising sun?
(SS) From a red belt, I always wanted to train in Japan, especially after seeing a martial arts demo by the Japanese navy in the Mountbatten centre Portsmouth.
(PH) During your second visit to Japan you were training at the most volatile time in JKA history – I know from talking with you in the past that due to the political chaos the dojo was incredibly split into two sides we both factions training at the same time. What was this like? How was the training differing between the two camps? And what was the atmosphere like both in and out of the dojo? How did the training differ compared to your first visit in 1990?
(SS) My training there was brilliant, as most of the instructors from both sides, made time for all students, and being a foreigner, it seemed they wanted to get you on their side.
The lessons would be taken on occasions by one senior and walking around the session one or two other instructors quietly giving advice to the students and quite often they would be from both sides. In the daily session the instructors still kept a theme running through the lessons.
The only time I saw a difference in the two factions that was visible to the eye of a foreigner, was when the instructor’s class was about to start. As they were preparing themselves by warming up there was definitely two groups. And as an onlooker it seemed if one group was warming up with Kihon or Kata, the other would be doing Kumite.
There were two times that I felt a real atmosphere between the two factions. The first time was after the 10:30 class at the Honbu.
I remember taking my time getting changed, so I could see more of the instructors warming up and watching them sparring, hitting the Makiwara etc when I got spotted by Arimoto Sensei, who asked me to leave.
Which I did quite quickly, but both sides had stopped what they were doing and just stared at me.
The second time was on one morning at the Hoitsugan Dojo, we were all in our Dogi’s waiting for Kawawada Sensei to take the lesson, he done a short lesson then sat us all down and explained that the J.K.A was in trouble and we the students must choose and be loyal. I then thought things must be coming to a head. At the end of 1990 I ran out of money and had to come home.
I returned in 1994 the main Honbu Dojo that I knew was, I think a restaurant. And the new Honbu Dojo of Ueki – Tanaka Sensei’s was just around the corner from it. The training was much the same, apart from the Kata, which would be performed different from four years ago, but then the other side was much the same.
(PH) I believe you also competed whilst you were there in 1990?
(SS) Yes, during my first visit I was part of the Hoitsugan Kumite and Kata team. At a regional competition, which we won, team Kata, which earned us a place in the all Japans at the Budokan.
(PH) Having experienced training at the JKA at such contrasting times, do you think the JKA holds the same kudos today as it did, say 15-20 years ago?
(SS) We will always look to the more senior instructor that came from the one J.K.A for knowledge and inspiration, but we can only live and train in the time that we are in and make the most of it.
(PH) With the likes of Richard Amos and more recently Scott Langley completing instructor classes in Japan, is this something that was ever an option for you whilst you were there?
(SS) As I said before in 1990, especially toward the end of the year the instructors spent a lot of time on the students, especially the long time foreign students,
When I returned in 1994 some of my friends, Sempai and Kohai were Kenshusei. But looking back I was too young first time around. So in answer to your question, I’d have to say no.
(PH) Knowing you as I do, I know that you’d have relished the intensity of that kind of training. Do you think your Karate today would’ve been any better or even worse for the experience?
(SS) I think you have to live through that type of experience to be able to answer that question.
(PH) What is Simon Staples favourite kata and why?
(SS) Unsu has to be the one as it has it all.
(PH) Would you care to break that down for me, how does Unsu feel to you?
(SS) It feels natural to me and is the type of Karate for this time of my life.
(PH) Do you think that Karate is relevant in today’s world? Some would say that an antiquated art from the last century has little meaning today and that mixed martial-arts are really ‘where it’s at’ - What ways do you adapt the basic principles of Shotokan and apply them to real situations?
(SS) Yes it is relevant today and mixed martial arts are getting more popular today, because it is a quick fix, without the restraints that come with studying a traditional martial art plus it gives the fighter a real test.
Shotokan has it all, long medium and short-range defence and attacks, even a little ground work. They are all in Kata’s, I take techniques from them and train with them in basics, Kumite, bag work, Makiwara and adapt them against so called real life situations, not just doing a certain technique in a Kata at one time, really working with all types of Waza.
(PH) You have been involved in many demonstrations with Sensei Hazard and Sensei Lavander. How would he describe these experiences, and how does the feeling of adrenalin differ to the nerves that accompany competition?
(SS) I feel very privileged and honoured to be involved in them the nerves and adrenalin do kick in, but we have done much practising before hand, my main fear is that I do my parts good enough for Sensei, plus if I was competing after the demo, I found it helped me and I always done well. Maybe because I was on a high and focused, and after the demo had a free mind.
(PH) ‘False feedback’ in a karate technique is something many karate-ka get lulled into believing is a powerful technique or ‘kimae’. Can you explain what ‘False feedback’ is, and how do you avoid it in your karate?
(SS) False feedback in Karate techniques is simply a body shock through your own body, keeping the energy in your own muscles and skeleton. This feels good to the brain and tricks us into believing it was an affective technique.
When what we should all try for is to develop energy through good Kimae, relaxation and speed, and let the energy flow out of our techniques not hold it in.
Makiwara, bag work pads and a suitable partner plus breathing exercises help me to improve my delivery of energy.
(PH) Who have been your biggest influences both within and outside of Karate-do?
(SS) Within Karate Sensei Dave Hazard, for the knowledge and support, outside Karate my wife and children for showing me that there is more to life than just Karate.
(PH) Each year, you and Darren Jumnoodoo of TKI run a very successful ‘Shobu-Ippon International’ competition. This year’s championship saw an incredible 1000 competitors taking part, can you tell us a little bit about the background of this event and what you are achieving through it?
(SS) My self and Darren are both passionate about Shotokan and wanted to hold and open event, to promote Shotokan and the Shobu-Ippon format.
Also today there are many Shotokan groups some large some small, we would like to think we offer an event that is non bias, and the only thing that matters is good strong Shotokan where everyone can have a good day out.
(PH) You were a successful competitor yourself for many years with SEKU and you are now the current ASK kata and kumite squad coach. How much relevance do you feel that competition holds in modern day Karate and who were you own influences?
(SS) Competition can give a student direction focus and purpose to their Karate especially the younger students. They should also train in regular classes and look at their Karate more deeply, so when competition days are over they keep training. My own influences were and are for Kata, Kumite were all the greats from Japan and England
(PH) What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received during your time in Karate and from whom?
(SS) Make the best of your body and health while you can - from a non Karate-ka.
(PH) Having trained with Sensei Hazard for so many years, how would you describe his Karate in 2007 compared to when you first met him?
(SS) Sensei Hazards Karate was and still is technical, dynamic, affective and as always he is enthusiastic about the art, and still an inspiration to train under.
(PH) What do you think is the most important thing to study in your karate if you want to make it as effective as possible? Nowadays, what do you place most emphasis on in your own training?
(SS) Study the true form of the basics, and breathing when training on my own. I study lots of basics trying to get them natural and not forced, plus apply techniques against Makiwara, bags etc, when with a partner lots of Jyu Kumite, all ranges plus groundwork.
(PH) Just finally, are there any points or subject matter that you’d like to comment on that I’ve neglected to ask you?
(SS) No and thank you.
(PH) Simon, on behalf of Shaun, Emma and everyone at The Shotokan Way, thank you very much for a very interesting and insightful interview.
For more information on Simon Staples, visit: www. kihakudojo.co.uk