The World Traditional Karate Organisation (WTKO)
International Instructors Programme
“My Experiences” – A view from the first WTKO ‘international’ graduate
by Kevin Thurlow
My journey on the W.T.K.O International Instructors Programme started back in 2001 when the association of which I am Deputy Chief Instructor, Seishinkai Shotokan Karate International joined the W.T.K.O. Since then I had trained with Richard Amos Sensei, 6th dan (WTKO Chief Instructor) at the Honbu Dojo and John Mullin Sensei, 7th dan (WTKO Executive Chairman) at his Staten Island Dojo on a number of occasions whilst over in the U.S.A. In addition I have trained with Sensei Richard whilst visiting the U.K. and was in total awe of his ability, skill, speed and knowledge combined with his unique humility and when entering his Dojo, it was as if you had been transported to Japan, with Sensei’s well known pedigree of JKA dan grade certificates all signed by Nakayama Sensei dominating the walls as well as his impressive JKA Instructors Class certificate. I knew at that time if I could be half the man Amos Sensei was, then I would be a very happy man indeed. Even as a 5th dan myself and what I like to think as a relatively accomplished and skilled Instructor – I would often leave training sessions with Amos Sensei and consider burning my Gi because it was clear that compared to Sensei, I knew very little about Shotokan Karate! With this playing on my mind I decided to do something about it, and enrol on the International Instructors Programme.
Richard Sensei and I met in London, early 2005 and over a nice cold beer, discussed the programme in detail – what it entailed, the standard needed to pass, the time commitment and the general ‘toughness’ of the programme. It was with my uncontained delight that Sensei considered me to be suitable to be enrolled on the programme and felt that I would gain a great deal as well as having a lot to offer the WTKO. Conversations with John Mullin Sensei also backed Richard Sensei’s thoughts and views. So it began.
Shortly after meeting with Richard Sensei in London, I was given my first two written assignments which were required to be prepared and then presented to Richard Sensei and John Mullin Sensei when I arrived to the Honbu Dojo later in the year for my first practical training sessions. These assignments were technical in nature and were on Shotokan tachikata (stances) and uke (blocks). Not only did I need to list all of them but needed to be able to describe how they were performed, how I would teach them, the common mistakes seen when these were performed, and finally where they would be used (where they featured in Shotokan kata).
Initially this seemed like an ‘easy’ request but when I researched the topic more (which actually meant me performing all the Shotokan kata and noting down every block and stance used) I discovered there was more to this than met the eye. For example some of the more elaborate blocks such as ryosho-kokobo-uke as seen in kata such as Enpi and Meikyo and koko-hiza-kuzushi-uke as used in Wankan kata. I certainly learned a huge amount from preparing these reports and even more when presenting them to Richard Sensei.
As you may be able to tell from this account. I am not the most accomplished of writers and this became very apparent when presenting my reports to Richard Sensei at my first official visit to the WTKO - Honbu Dojo as a ‘Kenshusei’. On numerous occasions, I was asked to demonstrate what I had written and it was clear that what I knew I wanted to say and what I demonstrated was not how I had written it and I had to be careful about the use of certain phraseology which had the potential to be misinterpreted. For example I had been used to, in the Dojo, using terms such as “… at completion, there should be total tension”. Richard Sensei pointed out that this was not possible and that with tension at one point on the body, came relaxation in another. So having these reports reviewed helped me understand not only the techniques themselves but also how to accurately explain these to a total novice with little or no knowledge on Karate or body dynamics.
Following the written report analysis and discussion, came the training which I can honestly say pushed me to my very limits of endurance and determination. The training consisted of attendance at all normal programmed training sessions at the Honbu Dojo, those being children’s classes, adult novice, intermediate and advanced classes. These were then interspersed with one-on-one sessions with Richard Sensei as well as sessions with small groups of other Kenshusei, residing in New York so generally I was training approximately 4 hours each day. This may not seem like much to some people, but I can assure you that with the pace and content of each of Richard Sensei’s lessons – 4 hours is enough for anyone.
The one-on-one and Kenshusei classes concentrated on the basics of Shotokan Karate, starting off looking at correct body positioning and body dynamics. Sensei concentrated a lot on the use of the hips and the ‘hara’ when moving rather that letting the limbs take over, and making the technique weak. Some of these lessons I personally found very challenging as they required me to ‘un-learn’ a lot of things I had learnt and taught up to that point. For example when moving into hanmi - the concept of my rear knee compressing downwards ensuring my knee continued to face forwards towards the direction of attack. Logical when you think about it!. The basic training moved on to look at use of the rotation of the hips from hanmi to shomen and the generation of power – this was explained with reference to muscle connections throughout the body and ‘conscious’ and ‘unconscious’ muscle actions.
This progressed onto the timing of the hands and feet with body rotation and body movement. Richard Sensei spent a great deal of time on this concept, carrying it though from kihon into kata and kumite with repeated technique after technique until my timing was spot on.
As with a number of elements of the course, I initially found this very difficult as Sensei could spot a ‘millisecond’ pause in either a hand or foot movement and obviously these had to be continually repeated until correct. Sensei spent a lot of time helping me get these moves perfect but I can honestly say without embarrassment that when I did get it right, the thrill of hearing Richard Sensei say “excellent”, “nice” and “well-done” was mind blowing – considering the standard he demands – and quite rightly so for this level of qualification and representing the WTKO.
Later on in my first visit, Richard Sensei started his one-on-one classes with me with sparring practice – an experience I will NEVER forget! I have always considered myself to be a strong fighter (not the best in competition) but generally a strong and solid fighter – this idea was proved by Richard Sensei, but for all the wrong reasons. My general kumite technique was too strong and during kumite, Richard Sensei knocked me all over the Dojo as if I was a ‘rag-doll’. As always with Sensei’s teaching – he fully explained why this happened and worked with me on how to improve things. In my case, my kumite was too solid (tight), making me move relatively slowly (compared to his body movement). In addition I was placing too much emphasis on the blocking and not reacting quickly enough with counter attacking. To see Sensei fight is wonderful. He stands there totally relaxed, looking as if he is not going to fight at all, but as he is so relaxed, his speed in amazing and his ability to spring from one technique to another is excellent – I cannot recall how many times he caught me on the chin with oizuki! and being on the receiving end of one of his chudan mawashigeri felt like being hit by a bus – but again the immaculate control was there, followed by the usual analysis of mistakes and work to correct them. I began to learn how best to use my body when sparring with Sensei, and I think that towards the end of my first visit, I actually managed to get a single gyakuzuki in on target (my one and only probably!).
The end of my first visit culminated in me refereeing and judging at the W.T.K.O North America Championships, which I felt I did very well as there were very few comments made by Richard Sensei, John Sensei and any other senior Sensei present. I also felt incredibly honoured when Richard and John Mullin Sensei asked me to present medals to the winners.
So came the end of my visit… Home to England, and get ready for the next round.
On my second visit, the training was much more intense with more one-on-one sessions between all of Richard Sensei’s main classes.
Again the visit started with presentation of my second series of written reports. This time looking at gyakuzuki and maegeri. Again I had to write about how these were performed, how they were taught, as well as common errors. Once again, whilst reading these reports, Sensei asked me to demonstrate a number of point to further explain what I had written. As with my first reports, there were a number of things that I needed to explain a little better, but generally Sensei was impressed with what I had written. This was very encouraging to hear.
The training starting while attending Richard Sensei’s main classes, classes that were geared towards grading techniques as students were taking their Kyu examinations later in the week. As with all of Richard Sensei’s classes the pace of the class was absolutely tiring but the amount you learned from it was immense. The one-on-one classes that followed were all geared around kata. Starting at Heian Shodan, Sensei worked on all of the Heian kata, moving on to Tekki shodan then Bassai dai – observing how I performed the kata on a move by move basis, then full speed and then looking at my understanding of the bunkai. Sensei then went on to correct me, mainly the timing of my body movement with my technique, especially during turning actions - demonstrating and explaining what he was looking for and how the kata were taught by senior Sensei at the JKA Honbu Dojo. It was very interesting for me to see how the execution of some kata had changed and the way some moves were actually intended to be interpreted and performed together with a number of superfluous moves that some Shotokan groups have added in, which have no real useful explanation or application whatsoever.
This kata training continued with a look at some advanced kata – starting with Nijushiho and moving on to a detailed look at Chinte. Both kata were ‘pulled apart’ by Sensei who concentrated not only on the moves and the timing but who also looked closely at the use of correct muscle connection and tension as common mistakes in the performance of some advanced kata were the use of one side of the body to execute a technique only and not utilising all necessary muscle groups to maximum effect.
After looking at these kata in detail, Sensei moved on to teaching me a ‘new’ kata called ‘Suishu’. I had never heard of this kata and Sensei explained that it was developed by Asai Sensei and was similar to Unsu, with ‘Suishu’ meaning ‘water hands’. As the name implied, this kata needed to be performed with flowing movements as opposed to strong powerful movements. As I had not seen this kata before, it took me a considerable time to pick it up, but once I had started to remember the kata, I found the execution of the flowing moves very beneficial to me especially as my Karate tended to be ‘strong’. I need to thank at this point, John Sensei for sending me a video of Suishu being performed as an ‘aide memoir’. The Gray Matter is not what it used to be!
After the one-on-one sessions towards the end of my second visit, Richard Sensei looked at my examination ability, asking me to sit in on two days worth of Kyu grading examinations for his students. The system used within Richard Sensei’s Dojo was very different from what I was used to however during the grading and at the post-grading discussions, it was clear that I have picked up on all of the same issues that Richard Sensei and the other seniors present had – and we had all agreed on the grades to be awarded.
So, after another intense week of training it was time once more to come home to England – but not before one last kata session three hours before my flight was due to leave. One and a half hours of Suishu practice then straight in a taxi and off to J.F.K.
Whilst visiting the Honbu Dojo, I managed to see some of the sights of New York but most of my spare time was spent in my hotel room, typing up page after page of notes on the laptop (whilst one Dogi was being soaked in the bath and one other hanging up drying), so that I had a permanent reference guide and record of everything I had done with Sensei. Right down to notes on his teaching style, exercises he used in the class that I had not see before and of course copious notes on the correct use of Japanese language in the Dojo and out of it.
I did mange on couple of occasions to have some nice meals out with Richard Sensei and other members of his Dojo – who I must say always, made me feel welcome and always seemed pleased to see me. The atmosphere in Sensei’s Dojo is really different from Dojo I have trained in, in England. The Dojo and obviously Sensei demands respect and deference, but there is a very warm family and calm feel in the Dojo. Everyone helps each other, no one tries to prove themselves and there really are no ego’s in sight! A very pleasant feeling.
So after each visit to the Honbu Dojo, I returned to England, slightly bruised, totally shattered but on an immense ‘high’ from everything I had learned and improved on. But it didn’t end there. Richard Sensei was visiting family in London during the middle part of this year and we arranged additional one-on-one sessions at my Dojo in London – during extended lunch breaks from my normal day job. These concentrated again on kata, with an in-depth look at Jion, Enpi, Jitte, Gankaku, Tekki nidan, Tekki sandan, Hangetsu and Meikyo – with all the vigour and pace as experience in the Honbu Dojo. After this training Richard Sensei said that he would look at what I had done since 2005, how well I had progressed and then decided on any award following discussions with John Sensei.
During the 2nd W.T.K.O UK Championships in England, hosted by our Dojo – Richard Sensei made the announcement that he felt I had exceeded the standard required for the first level of the Instructors Class and awarded me, in front of my Sensei, colleagues and family – the first ever W.T.K.O International Instructor, Examiner and Judge – Grade C qualification. As you can imagine, I was ecstatic and extremely proud – Not only to be awarded the qualification (which is not easy), but also to be the first one ever to receive it outside of the W.T.K.O in New York. So my hard work paid off and I am now getting geared up for the training for B-level which I plan to start very soon.
So, I have shared with you my experiences and feelings as a first stage graduate on the Instructors Programme and all I can say in summary is that it is the most amazing experience. Totally tiring, very demanding (mentally and physically) at times demoralising (as you realize what little you know, after 30 years of training), but always rewarding. I do not have to remind you of Richard Amos Sensei’s pedigree in Shotokan or remind you on how good he is, but I personally cannot sing his praises enough. I genuinely feel that I have learned more with Sensei in the last couple of years whilst being on the Instructors Class than I have since I started training in the late 1970’s and this has not gone unnoticed in my Association, with my mentor and Sensei, Malcolm Phipps commenting on the improved standard of my Karate as well as a significant increase in my confidence when training and teaching.
A fantastic experience all in all and one that has made me want more and more from my Shotokan Karate training.. Here’s to levels B and A!
Thank you for reading this account. All the very best of wishes in your training.