Shotokan Karate Magazine Issue 53

Featuring  Shotokan has 'NOT' changed

November 1997

Shotokan Karate Magazine Issue 53

November 1997

Shotokan Karate Magazine Issue 150

December 2021

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DIRK HEENE 'European Traditionalist'. Interview By Mike Fedyk.

Letters to the Editor.

Shotokan has 'NOT' changed. By John Cheetham.

Improve your close quarter skills (Part Three). By Simon Oliver.

A thesis for yondan. 'KARATE NI SENTE NASHI'. By James Hartman.

MAKIWARA 'Training Theory'. By Timothy Hanlon M.D.

W.S.I. Summer Camp. Report By C. Harrop, C. Worth and J. Cheetham.

ELWYN HALL 'The Shotokan Dynamo'. Interview By Craig Raye.

Fighting from the ground. By Graham Palmer.

EDITORIAL By John Cheetham.

Virtually all the most senior Western, European and indeed non-Japanese karate instructors would agree that 'Technically' the Japanese senseis are still the 'masters' of their own unique art. We read this constantly. So, this being the case, then what is the main strength of non-Japanese karateka? I think the answer is very simple and one word describes it....EFFECTIVE.

What's lacking in technical expertise is made up for with the ability to effectively apply the techniques of karate. European and American karateka for instance, are generally very strong physically and this no doubt plays a vital role in this effectiveness of technique. I remember reading something by a Japanese master who said that they (the Japanese) were shocked when they first taught outside Japan because generally, the western students were physically much bigger and much stronger than the Japanese students they had been used to teaching.

Traditional karate competition is a perfect example of how non-Japanese can apply their effectiveness, and also kata application. Some of the most imaginative, creative, realistic and effective kata applications (both the classical bunkai and the more freer oyo) are taught by non-Japanese instructors, which is an interesting point. Most Western nations have a natural affinity with fighting art forms and usually opt for the most simple and effective methods available. However, surely one of the main points of studying a Traditional Martial Art is to try and 'perfect' the techniques of that particular art and not just solely rely on brute force and physical strength. Anyone can do that, you don't need good technique. Also remember that karate is said to be 80% technique, 20% physical strength, whereas Sumo is 20% technique, 80% strength and Judo is 40% technique 60% strength. We, as traditional karateka must try and perform the techniques and movements how they are supposed to be done, with the use of both proper body dynamics and economy of movement being vital factors. This is part of studying this particular martial 'art'.

Shotokan is basically a simple system, based on dynamic body movements to generate power in techniques. It is now also proving to be an excellent health and fitness training regime for one's whole life. We are now witnessing people still training who are 60 years plus, who are in remarkable physical condition for their age, showing the speed, power and agility usually associated with 30 year old athletes. This has to be proof that Shotokan is a 'complete' system in every sense. From a simple, effective fighting art, to a health and fitness programme to rank alongside any modern sport. We should be proud of that fact and get from our training whatever we, as individuals wish for. If it's great technique you want, then look no further than the Japanese way of...repetition - repetition - repetition. If effective fighting ability is your main aim, that's possible too. Everything is possible. We are all different, and want different things from our training. Just 'keep training' and remember the old saying about life..."You're only hear once, so enjoy it, it's not a rehearsal."

Good training, Editor.

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After watching and studying carefully a 1924 black & white movie film, where Shotokan founder, Master Gichin Funakoshi is seen demonstrating the three Tekki Kata and Meikyo (Rohai), I personally think that the karate history books should be re-written! Everything we have read so far from the karate historians says that Funakoshi used very 'short' - 'high' stances and the stances we use today in Shotokan bear no resemblance to Funakoshi's original? As if to suggest that Shotokan has fundamentally changed? Not So!

On this movie film from 1924 (two years after Funakoshi arrived in Japan) I can unequivocally inform all Shotokan practitioners that Master Funakoshi's stances are as long and deep as any present day Japanese Master.

Shotokan has 'NOT' changed!

Probably as he got older and started having hip problems, his stances became a lot shorter and higher (as seen in most photographs of Master Funakoshi) but this unarguable, concrete physical evidence of Funakoshi's karate from his first years in Japan proves beyond a shadow of doubt that Shotokan stances have always been deeper and longer than most other styles, as they are today. The reasons for this could be numerous but two simple theories are that: (1) deep stances have a profound effect on the training and strengthening of the leg/hip muscles and: (2) having a low centre of gravity when delivering upper body techniques greatly increases the power in the blows and stability on impact.

It would be fair to say that judging by this movie film, that you can see how the Japan Karate Association (JKA) later refined and developed Funakoshi's karate but certainly did not 'change' it. This development and progress was largely due to their (JKA's) research and study of 'body dynamics' and a more scientific, biomechanical development. This can be seen in the classic Shotokan books, 'Karate the Art of Empty Hand Fighting' by Nishiyama (1960) and 'Dynamic Karate' by Nakayama (1966). Again I say that the three basic stances (zenkutsu dachi - kiba dachi - kokutsu dachi) are no different in these books from the stances used by Funakoshi in this early film.

Shotokan has 'NOT' changed!

I think that this point about the depth and length of the three basic stances in Shotokan is of vital 'historical' importance, because it means that we have not fundamentally 'changed' Shotokan from the way the founder (Funakoshi) used to perform his karate, when he first moved to Japan in 1922. This physical evidence was filmed at Keio university in Tokyo, at what was probably the first ever summer training camp in karate's history.

Many (if not all) Shotokan people will be pleased with this new information, but there will be a few 'red faces' amongst the karate historians! It does sometimes cause concern and confusion when students think that the stances in Shotokan were originally very high and short. This film proves this 'totally' incorrect. In fact Master Funakoshi's back stance in kata - Meikyo is particularly long and deep and his forward stance and kiba dachi are no different from the norm, or those demonstrated in the Nakayama or Nishiyama books. (Look at the photographs from Nakayama's 'Best Karate' Vol.1 below, Gichin Funakoshi's stances were as long and deep as this on the old film). The old movie film is not good quality but this 'is' Master Funakoshi. This has been certified by Master Hidetaka Nishiyama 9th Dan, a living, direct student of Gichin Funakoshi.

Shotokan has 'NOT' changed!

All three of Master Funakoshi's Tekki kata look very strong and particularly his stance (kiba dachi) remains rock solid throughout all three Tekki kata. There is great use of body dynamics, utilising rotational movement from the hips and waist to really turn and twist the torso in the elbow strikes, blocks and punches. There are some 'slight' variations in the kata. For instance some of the blocks which are nowadays performed slowly, are done fast on this film and there was no 'bow' (rei) before, or at the end of the kata. That must have been introduced at a later date? Maybe when Funakoshi observed the Japanese culture. The nami ashi which appears in Tekki shodan is more like a very high knee lift and fumikomi (stamping kick). The older version of Tekki sandan is demonstrated (the same version as performed by Nakayama sensei on the 1960 kata films. SKM Video club Tape 3) and in Tekki Nidan there is no knee lift on the second movement, but generally there are no great differences in these three Tekki kata from today. The biggest differences are in the timing of some of the movements in the various kata but this still occurs today from one master to another. It's a matter of personal interpretation, as with classical music and other arts. For instance present day masters like Kanazawa sensei use different timing in certain kata from Enoeda sensei or Shirai sensei and so on. The techniques and embusen line are 'exactly' the same, but there are variations in the timing of the movements. This will always be the case. This is 'Art'.

Funakoshi's original basic stances were no different from Nakayama's 'Best Karate' Vol 1. Comprehensive. Demonstrated by Y. Osaka (above).

On the 1924 film in Funakoshi's Meikyo kata, again the timing is slightly different from most of today's versions but the techniques used and direction (embusen line) are identical. For instance the gedan barai on the third movement is done quite slowly but the double gedan barai later in the kata (which is usually performed slowly nowadays) is done at fast, application speed. This is a point worth thinking about because obviously blocks would be applied (by necessity) at speed in application. However, in many kata we perform slow blocking movements. Maybe this was introduced for practice of body control, breathing and to understand contraction and expansion of the muscles? It would be very interesting to hear what the senior Japanese sensei's explanations would be for the reasons behind 'slow' blocks in kata?

Also on the film a senior student of Master Funakoshi (it could be a very young Egami sensei) demonstrates kata - Enpi and his basic stances (zenkutsu, kokutsu and kiba dachi) are particularly long and deep even by today's standards.

Shotokan has 'NOT' changed!

I don't know how the historians will explain this away. Hopefully they will concede that they made a 'mistake' by solely relying on photographic evidence? They will probably come up with some excuse for sure! That will be worth hearing!?

Bearing in mind that this is a very old movie film, you can get a fair idea of what Funakoshi's karate was actually like. Compared to today, (with the very greatest respect, of course), it appears a little 'wooden' but the Master shows good agility in the jump in Meikyo and his Tekki kata are very good and very powerful looking techniques and terrific stance.
He must have been about fifty four years old at the time. Funakoshi's (Shotokan) karate has fundamentally not changed, it's just progressed, been refined and developed. We have heard this said by all the most senior Japanese instructors, people who are old enough to have actually trained with Master Funakoshi, people like Nishiyama sensei, Sugiura sensei and Okazaki sensei to name but three living examples.

Shotokan has 'NOT' changed!

I showed this film to Sensei Frank Cope 6th Dan, one of the longest practicing karateka in Europe and he was amazed by Master Funakoshi's stances and particularly his Kiba dachi during the three Tekki kata. Frank was really impressed by the solidness of his kiba dachi when performing the upper body techniques from the three Tekki kata and how good his hip and torso movement was without his stance even flinching or buckling one inch.

This film was obtained through the dedicated, tireless work of American karate historian, Shotokan karate-ka and Kendo-ka, Mr.David Palumbo, from Rhode Island, New York.
Most people have so far credited Funakoshi's son, Yoshitaka as introducing lower, deeper stances into Shotokan. Yet this film totally proves that Master Gichin originally used low stances before his hip problems. Yoshitaka pioneered the use of Fudo-dachi as used in Sochin kata.
The film has been made available on Video by Don Warrener (Masterline Video Production Inc. 5 Columbia Drive, Niagara Falls, New York 14305). I can't in all honesty put my 'hand on heart' and say rush out and buy this half hour tape because apart from a couple of priceless historic minutes featuring Master Gichin Funakoshi on film, (you can't see his face too well) the rest of the film shows university students at a summer camp and some other karateka of very average standard doing a few sections from various kata. There is some later footage from around 1932 of Shotokan students training on a beach and again, interestingly, although these people are not of a very good standard technically, their stances are certainly as long and deep as any seen, generally, in Shotokan Karate throughout the world today!

Shotokan has 'NOT' changed!

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The magazine has been published since November 1984. Because it is a very specialised and Traditional magazine we only publish each quarter (March - June - September - December) . We do pride ourselves on featuring the most senior and famous Shotokan Senseis in the world in the magazine and it is totally non-political, we feature everyone from all the various organisations.