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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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Stan Schmidt and Sensei K. Enoeda after training in South AfricaWell, 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

(Shaun Banfield)     Can we firstly say a huge thank you for this opportunity to speak with you, we at TheShotokanWay are simply honoured to have this opportunity to speak with you.

(Stan Schmidt)    
Thank you.

 

(SB)     Can we first open the interview with a question you have probably answered a million times, can you please tell us how and why you first started karate?

 

(SS)     I started judo at age 21 - as there was no karate around yet – in South Africa. I guess I wanted to feel less lame and be empowered to handle would-be confrontations. My Judo instructor gave me a karate book while I was convalescing from a broken ankle. The first time I laid eyes on Nishiyama’s ‘Karate - The Art of Empty Hand Fighting’ I was sold on the Art, like it was my calling.

 

1965 Visit to South Africa at Kruger National Park - Sensei Enoeda and Sensei Kase in good spirits(SB)     So how did you go about starting karate and where and with whom did you first train with?

 

(SS)     From books; anything I could lay my hands on – Nishiyama, Oyama mainly. When my judo colleagues and students saw me training, some of them asked “What are you doing; we want to learn it.”  So I started training from books, with a small group on a daily basis; in my dojo, back yard and all over the place. It was rough and ready with lots of free sparring which always ended up on the ground where we would continue to wrestle. Some of my very first partners, who are still around and famous today were, Ken Wittstock, Norman Robinson, Eddie Dorey—tough guys and Masters in their own right.

(SB)     Who was the first person to make an impression on you as a beginner karateka?

 

 

(SS)     It was not one particular person. It was a squad of “Japanese Juggernauts.” When, in 1963, together with my wife Judy, I first laid eyes on the  JKA Japanese Instructors Class training, I was flabbergasted and very excited about what was taking place on the floor of the JKA Honbu dojo in Yotsuya.

 

Some of the outstanding karate-ka in that class were; Senseis Enoeda, Shirai, Ueki, Ochi, Asai and many other prominent Masters. Senseis Nakayama, Itoh, Shoji, Sugiura and Kase were the main seniors at that time; with Takagi Sensei the friendly Sensei who acted as PRO.

 

(SB)     Did Sensei Kase join Enoeda Sensei and Shirai when they first visited South Africa?

 

Enoeda Sensei's 2nd Visit to South Africa. Left - Right: Roy Brown, Derrick Geyer, Alberts, Stan, Sensei Enoeda, Bob Zagar, Norman Robinson, Eddie Dorey and Malcolm Dorfman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(SS)     Kase Sensei was the first JKA instructor to visit and teach in South Africa, in 1964. In 1965 Senseis Kase, Enoeda and Shirai visited and were later joined by Kanazawa. They stayed for approx 6 months each teaching in a different province. Enoeda Sensei stayed with me at my house in Gardens, Johannesburg. An Stan Schmidt sparring with Sensei Enoedaunforgettable experience for me , to say the least.

 

I graded to 2nd Dan under Kase and Enoeda’s direction and having to fight Shirai Sensei as part of my test; plus I did Empi kata and some Kihon combos. There were only the four of us in the dojo for the test. It was a challenging test for me!!!

 

(SB)     Could you recall you first impressions of Enoeda Sensei when he arrived in South Africa in 1965?

 

(SS)     A shaven-headed, dynamic and very loud Samurai of a man - coupled with a winning smile and a hearty laugh.

 

(SB)     What effect did it have on your Karate and that of the Karate in your country?

(SS)     The folk, and up-and-coming Instructors were enthralled by his phenomenal demos and ‘hands on’, and sometimes ‘feet-on’ training.

 

He demonstrated a Samurai type of fighting spirit and expected all of us to demonstrate the same spirit. He would do makiwara training every day, against a sheaved straw pad, strapped to a tree in my front yard.

 

Sparring with Sensei EnoedaHe left us with this legacy—“hard training, strong fighting, “take care of your body” and good friendship”

 

(SB)     What was the training like during those six months that he spent with you in SA?

 

(SS)     To quote him: “Mistah Stan, ‘Only kindness when teach beginner’, then he would chuckle and always add; “Okay!?”

However, when he taught us more advanced guys, he would demand: “More spirit, more down” and sometimes he proceeded to kick us down, (lightly of course in his opinion). We soon learnt to get down in our stances. But, very important; he always demonstrated to us how he wanted the techniques to be done.

(SB)     You mentioned that Sensei Enoeda had a winning smile? Did you develop a good friendship with him during his stay in South Africa outside of the dojo?

(SS)     Yes. We ate together, drank together, trained together, taught together, and finally attempted to play golf together. Our initial bit of equipment was three second-hand clubs, a few balls and tees, and new golfing shoes and pro cap for the Sensei. I just played in my sneakers- no cap. He warned me; “Stan, too much sun on head no good!”. He was a stickler for immediately cleaning even a small scratch and band-aiding it.

 

(SB)     Do you have a favourite story about Enoeda Sensei that you would like to share with us?

 

 (SS)     I have many stories about Enoeda Sensei. Here are just a couple:

 

* He was a total extrovert. A good friend of his Sensei Kon, said to me “ When Enoeda talks on the telephoneOutdoor training with Sensei Enoeda executing a technique from the kata Empi his voice is so loud he doesn’t need a mouthpiece.”

 

* He wanted to learn English. We suggested he sing along with a record and so learn English words. His favourite song whilst in South Africa was “Love is a Many Splendoured Thing.” (We met and taught a few times at Okazaki Sensei’s camps in Philadelphia, USA during the late 1990’s and he actually sang the song again with us—so loudly that some folks came to see what was going on.)

*
I was informed shortly after his arrival in South Africa in 1965; ‘Tomorrow me and you morning training’- in a nearby park. But on Fridays it was just him and me in the dojo - doing very serious jiyu kumite (dojo free fighting.) This was scary. My name should have been ’Sue’ not Stan. Why? Because I just had to get tough or die - like in the song ‘A guy named Sue’.

 

(SB)     What was it like to fight him and do any instances stand out in your mind?

 

(SS)     It was almost like facing a hungry tiger. Unlike the park training, which was hard and tiring, but done with a light-hearted approach - the mood before and during the Friday dojo confrontations was extremely serious -no smiling - just the two of us. We would sometimes fight for up to 30 minutes non-stop. “You must win the First South African Championships” he often ordered me.

 

Oss!” I would reply and under his demanding training I became grand Champion six months later. You didn’t argue with Sensei Enoeda. You just did as you were told.

 

1963, Stan Schmidt outside the Yotsuya DojoAlthough all of his techniques were strong, Enoeda had superb control. I quickly learnt the important art of uke-waza – blocking. He had the most powerful mae-geri I have ever faced. My forearms were bruised for the first two months of blocking his kicks. He also had a devastating leg sweep where he would take out both of your legs from under you. I saw him do this to many black belts who couldn’t figure out what had happened to them—a smoothe horizontal flight and sometimes a heavy landing.

 

I had to learn fast, and near the end of his stay I managed to get in a few side kicks to his short-ribs. He smiled - once only - showed me the red marks on his side, and said  Ah Stan, you now very strong…okay..once more..you try’’. We  re-started; I was getting a little confident. In the split second I began raising my knee to do my fancy kick, his heel came down on the centre of my thigh in a perfect kakato geri (axe or stamp kick). This was the most crippling blow I have ever received, even to this day. I limped off the floor that day and Enoeda Sensei laughed his heartiest laugh; “You know, Mistah Stan, this my special technique’’. I said “Oss Sensei”, and I limped for a week, but won the tournament about two weeks later; a painful but formative lesson.   

 

(SB)     You have spent much time studying in Japan at one time or another. Where in Japan did you spend most of your time training?

(SS)     Always at the JKA Honbu dojo, in the Instructors Class. (I named it “The Hornets Nest”) - In Stan Schmidt with Master Nakayama outside his famous Hoitsugan DojoYotsuya; then Suidobashi; then Ebisu (big dojo); then Ebisu (small dojo) and now, in the big new dojo near the Korakuen Park. (I sometimes visited and taught or trained at various universities and dojos). One of my highlights in teaching was,  a few years ago, when I was officially invited by JKA HQ in Japan, to give a seminar for the black belt Senseis up to 8th dan. Over 100 attended. About halfway through the class, I realised that my old rival, Yano Sensei was right there, training as hard as he ever did way back in the early seventies

(SB)     Much of your time there was spent training with Nakayama Sensei am I correct? What are your memories of him, and would you please care to share one or two with us?

(SS)     Nakayama Sensei was an officer and a gentleman. He ran, and mainly taught in the Instructors Programme at the Honbu Dojo (Also Shoji Sensei). He, Nakayama, also had his own private dojo –The Hoitsugan- where I trained from time to time. He was a Master-technician, always demonstrating what he wanted us to do - very clearly.

 

Master Nakayama with Stan Schmidt's family in the early 70s. Left-Right: Caryn, Judy (Stan's wife), Nakayama Sensei, Tia, Debbie and StanHe did not display any form of arrogance in his dealings with others. He was a wonderful role- model for Karate-do. He would often invite myself and others up to his home where his lovely wife would feed us famished visitors. There is so much more to say about him, I would need a book to begin to do him and his many fruits justice. One example is the amazing set of instructional books and films he created.

 

(SB)     Did you train much with Shoji Sensei like as a karateka and a teacher?

 

(SS)     Shoji Sensei was a brilliant and innovative teacher with a modest attitude. I really enjoyed, and was challenged by his training, and the different types of classes he gave us at the “hornets nest”. One of the hardest classes I attended was (at Suidobashi dojo), when we were told by Shoji Sensei to form a circle, assume jiyu-kamai (fighting stance) and then execute three kicks to one count, namely; mae-geri, mawashi-geri and yoko geri kekomi, all to the front. There were over thirty of us instructors in that class. Each of us counted to ten. It was sheer murder even for the best kickers. I was three-quarter dead and ready to collapse, by the time the last kenchusei counted his ten; (It may well have been Yahara, Kasuya or Osaka). They were all in that class at that stage. “Phew, I gasped to myself- glad that’s over.” And then came the clanger from Shoji Sensei; “Hantei- mo itchi do”, or something like that, meaning;  now do it on the opposite side.” That day it was like sweating blood.

 

Shoji Sensei also brought “one-for-one” drills into our training with a partner.  Eg Face one another; the attacker executes a mawashi geri (jodan level) steppingStan Schmidt and Ochi Sensei at the 1966 All Japan Championships. (Sugiura Sensei current JKA Chief Instructor refereeing) forwards; the receiver steps backwards and then responds with the same technique stepping forwards and so on…and on…and on. This can be very tiring. Shoji Sensei insisted that every kick was ‘RIGHT ON TARGET’  i.e.  controlled two centre-meters from the head . Doing these drills improved my kicking immensely, and my stamina.

 

(SB)     Who were the other influential instructors teaching on the Instructors Programme during sessions in Japan?    

 

(SS)     Senseis Sugiura, Ueki, Tanaka and Asai and more recently Osaka Sensei.

Being in the line-up at the Honbu Dojo, over a 44-year span, I was privileged to interact with some of the greatest karate-ka the world has seen.

T
he line up of experts was a very long and illustrious one over the 44 years. I was fortunate to train alongside and do kumite and meet socially with almost all of the famous Sensei. My first ever kumite sparing at Yotsuya Dojo in 1963 was with the famous Shirai Sensei - a panther of a man - and still good today. For now the list is too long. Please give me a name and I will tell you if I have trained with and sparred with him or her. Two instructors who come to mind are Ochi Sensei and Oiishi Sensei.

 

Tanaka Sensei and Stan Schmidt Sparring outside Stan's house in Sandton, South AfricaOiishi I called, “Mister lightening.” In one All Japan Championships he scored two wazaris on me within less than five seconds, dropping under my kisami-zuki. The next year we met again in the quarterfinals. This time my tactic was to circle around him. There were plenty of ai-uchi’s, but he took me out in the final 5 seconds of the match. Nakayama Sensei said to us “that would have made a good final match”.

That was the last time I was permitted to compete in Japan due to the apartheid governments laws in South Africa, and international sanctions, which were placed upon all sporting teams from South Africa.

 

Then there was Ochi Sensei, who, in line with his friendly character, was a relaxed and flowing fighter who cleverly manoeuvred one into an ideal position to execute his selected waza. I sparred with him on a number occasions but his coup-de-grace against me was when our team visited Germany. He and I were sparring during one training session and I was feeling quite comfortable. Suddenly, from out of nowhere I was on my back on the ground - no pain, no injury. Ochi had just executed the most superb scissors throw. To be quite honest, it was a pleasant little journey. He smiled and we carried on sparring.

   

 The person I sparred with most, in latter years, was with Masahiko Tanaka Sensei, who in my experience, was one of the greatest kumite men on planet earth. Never were any two fights the same against him. He had a wide range of Tokui waza- special approaches and techniques. But there are many other great fighters I sparred with and even competed against on the few occasions I was permitted to enter The All Japan Championships. Because of South Africa’s Apartheid Regime I was banned, for a long time, from appearing on stage in any demos, tournaments or mass media, and this was at the peak of my career.

 

But, one good thing, I was allowed to train in the Instructors Class at JKA HQ. OSS!  And this I took advantage of in over 20 visits to Japan.

 

Stan Schmidt was invited a few years ago to teach the JKA HQ seminar for higher dans - Sugiura SHUSEKI-SHIHAN observes.  Stan is demonstrating with national squad member Okuma.  Right rear is champion Mori and just left of Stan is Yano with whom Stan had so many tough confrontations with in the past, now they are both friends and part of the JKA HQ Shihankai.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(SB)     Enoeda Sensei and Shirai Sensei famously competed against one another. In what ways do you think you developed from fighting such a standard of karateka?

 

(SS)     Shirai Sensei won the All Japan kumite title in 1962 and Enoeda Sensei met Shirai in the final of the 1963 Championship and captured the crown from him. They were great rivals and good friends. I was in Japan at the time and Nakayama Sensei invited me to do a demonstration for the largely Japanese audience - karate from a chair sitting position - with an American black belt, Tom Ryan.

 

Stan after winning team kata - all Japan championships (in those days that was the last time that only one representative did team kata, the year after this there were 3 person teams)Shirai Sensei was one of the first Japanese Senseis I ever fought against. It was 1963. I was a raw and wild 7th kyu in Japan at the time but I had an unusual Ushiro geri, which I managed to get in on him, despite the fact that he had landed numerous well-controlled punches and kicks on me. After the fight he called me aside and said this: “Mister Stan, you very good! You are a San-dan fighter, and 3rd kyu kihon level”. I had only just arrived in Japan a few weeks before this as a white belt. So you can imagine how this boosted and encouraged me.

 

Shirai Sensei is still one of my heroes. A superb fighter and a great man!

 

After seeing my loose-cannon-type fighting style, Enoeda Sensei took me under his wing and coached me privately (no charge) almost every day after class until I returned to South Africa a few months later. A day before I returned home I was summoned by Nakayama Sensei to do a grading test.Outside Stan's house dojo left to right Stan, T. Yamaguchi, M. Tanaka, N. Robinson, M. Dorfman

 

The tables were brought out and in the end I did all the kihon, kata and kumite  tests from 6th kyu up to 3rd kyu. The panel then asked me to do Bassai-Dai kata. I said I didn’t know it well enough. I nearly fell over when they presented me with a 3rd Kyu (Brown belt) grading certificate. Senseis Enoeda and Shirai must have put in some good words for me. Thank you Lord!

 

As to sparring with Enoeda Sensei, this we did mainly in South Africa as previously described. This was because he soon settled in England after his visit to South Africa.It was near the end of my stay in Japan in 1963 that I was invited by Nakayama Sensei to join in the instructors training. I was always allowed to train in that class from then on; a great honour but every single session was a painful experience, and forever challenging in one way or another. I have many treasured stories about all of this. 


(SB)     Who were some of the karateka training with you during your sessions in Japan?


(SS)     Nearly all of the top JKA Instructors you can name. If you name some I will tell you if I have trained and sparred with them. But some who I have NOT sparred with, but TRAINED with, are Senseis’ Nishiyama, Okazaki, Mikami, and Kanazawa. They had just gone to the USA when I first arrived, but I have trained under them and all I can say is…FANTASTIC!!

Top instructors at Masters Camp, Philadelphia 2000.  Left to right Okomoto, Takashina, Koyama, Mikami, Okazaki, Enoeda, Maynard Miner, James Field jnr, Frank Woonatai and Stan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(SB)     Did you fight Yahara Sensei? If so how was this experience?

 

Ueki Sensei together with Stan during a rest period at a JKA gasshuku(SS)     Yes. The first time I fought him was during his initiation (as a keshusei) into the the instructors class—in Suidobashi Dojo at the time. The new kenshusei had to fight every one in the class and then do their favourite kata. Yahara stood out as a spirited fighter.

 

In watching him fight the others and then me, he struck me as having the spirit of a Leopard. A leopard doesn’t just charge in one straight line. Yahara moved in all directions and he included throws and was even agile and strong on the ground. I seem to remember we both landed up on the ground once or twice, but to pin him down was almost impossible. On the ground he was like an eel. Our biggest confrontations over the years were, funnily enough, when he and I faced each other for Go-hon kumite, or Jiyu Ippon Kumite. Sometimes these prescribed drills ended up as full-on kumite until Nakayama or Shoji Senseis stopped us(with traces of a smile on their faces). With Yahara Sensei there were no half measures. If you weren’t alert you could get hurt. Yano Sensei and Abe Sensei were his seniors and all three of them were expert fighters despite them each having totally different styles of fighting.Stan with good friend Ray Joffe together with Enoeda Sensei at Okazaki's Philadelphia Masters Camp year 2000

 

If I remember correctly I think Osaka Sensei was also being inducted into the JKA kenshusei programme at the time. (Maybe one of your consultants or readers can confirm this). Sorry but I had so many experiences and interactions with the Japanese that sometimes one event seems to merge with another.  Osaka Sensei, since that time has sustained his training and teaching at JKA Honbu. He is of course one of the greatest technicians of the Art of The Empty Hand.

(SB)     Sensei Asai? Did you ever train under him or fight him?

 

(SS)     I trained under him but never fought him. 

 

A few days before going for 7th Dan I asked Asai Sensei if he would look at my kata. “I am busy now’ he said , but he told me to come to the Honbu dojo (in Ebisu, the big dojo): “Tomorrow morning—early!” He said.

 

1963 at Yotsuya Dojo in changeroom - left to right my new wife Judy, Senseis Enoeda, Asai, Y. Takahashi, Kiisaka and seated SasakiNext day I climbed up the stairs. It looked deserted. But the main door was unlocked. No one around, and then I saw one lone figure agilely and nimbly traversing the length and breadth of the large polished dojo floor. I changed into my do-gi and watched, for about 20 minutes, the most amazing variety of moves executed with finesse and what can only be described as smooth, unending kime - focus. He moved forwards, backwards sideways, jumped, dropped to the floor and he never stopped until after about 20 minutes. He had only a light sweat on his brow when he summoned me.

 

I said: “Wonderful, Sensei.” He said: ‘This my own kata.” And that was that.

 

I announced my kata, “Chinte!” and proceeded to do it.  Well he gave me a “hands on” lesson the likes of which I had never experienced before or since. After almost every move, he would say; “like this”, demonstrating the way he wanted me to do the moves. This was also non-stop with full power and adjustments for 20 minutes. ‘Chinte now better.” He said. “On Monday you try Nana-dan.”

 

“Sensei my plane ticket is booked for Sunday”. His reply: “Stan, you change ticket.” Well the rest is history. But that twenty minutes of Asai Sensei coaching me was an unforgettable treasure. May God bless his soul. 

 

Part 2 of this interview will follow in the New Year Edition of TSW…

 

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