The following interview is taken from the fall, 2009 SKIF USA Newsletter which can be found here.
Kancho Hirokazu Kanazawa Interview
By Glenn M. Stoddard
SKIF-USA General Secretary
June 24, 2009
Introduction: Kancho, I’d like to ask you about the Shotokan Karate-do International Federation (SKIF) “system” or “syllabus” you
have developed. I’d also like to ask you about the additional kata you have included in the SKIF system, and also about other aspects of karate training in the SKIF system.
Question: First, currently how large is SKIF as an organization?
Answer: In SKIF we now have affiliated member groups in about 120 countries. This means SKIF is the largest Shotokan style karate organization internationally. But in Japan the Japan Karate Association (JKA) is still larger than SKIF.
Question: Kancho, in the SKIF system you teach specific ways of breaking down the kihon, and you have a detailed system of teaching kumite. In addition, you have some specific ways of doing the kata. When did you develop the SKIF system?
Answer: I started to develop it before I left the JKA, when I was teaching in England.
Question: What was your purpose in developing the SKIF system as it exists today?
Answer: For teaching kihon it was to make it precise, like teaching kata, and for discipline. For the kumite system it was for the same reasons but also to develop a number system for the different types of kumite, so when the student would hear the number, for example “kihon ippon kumite number one,” the student would automatically remember the movements and be able to do them with his or her partner. So it is also to train the mind for memory and the body for response. In addition, the kumite system is for training the body and spirit together.
Question: How many different types of defenses are there in the SKIF system for each type of prearranged (yakusoku) kumite?
Answer: For each type there are actually eight different defenses. However, I only have five in my books, because that is enough for most people to learn. Also, number 6 is more difficult and performing numbers seven and eight can be dangerous. But I have developed the higher ones for myself as part of the philosophy of the SKIF system.
Question: When you say they are part of the philosophy of the system what do you mean?
Answer: In the system I have eight defenses and I also use eight different angles of defense. This is because eight is an important
number in the philosophy of Budo historically. Also, using rotation on eight angles (tenshin) we can evade many different attacks using stepping and shifting (tai sabaki). This makes it possible for a smaller, weaker person to be able to defend against a larger, stronger person by using the different movements, techniques and angles.
Question: Is there more to the philosophy behind the SKIF kumite system?
Answer: Yes, a major idea behind the kumite system is the philosophy that karate-do and kumite training is for everyone, not just competitors. It is to develop body, mind and spirit. Thus, it helps develop inner harmony and harmony with your training partner. If there are 100 people training, all 100 can improve their karate, including their timing, distance, and techniques by training in the kumite system. Also, it is important to be able to train for life. Free sparring (jyu kumite) is not so safe or good for older people but prearranged (yakusoku) kumite can be done like kata and kihon for a person’s whole life. This is consistent with Funakoshi Sensei’s precept number fourteen that “karate is for your whole life.”
Question: Do you think the SKIF system will change over time, as the younger instructors do more teaching?
Answer: Even if I retire, the SKIF system will not need to change because it is a good system and the SKIF instructors all over the world have learned it and are teaching it. But it is fine for any higher level instructor to add on to the system with his or her own ideas or techniques.
Question: Kancho, now I’d like to ask you about kata. I know there are some minor differences in the way we practice some of the Shotokan kata in the SKIF from the way the JKA generally practices the kata today. Why are there differences between the schools?
Answer: Actually, most of the SKIF kata are taught and practiced the original way, as they were taught by Funakoshi Sensei when the JKA was first organized. However, since then the JKA has made many changes. In SKIF I have made only some very small changes to some kata in order to make the application work correctly or for another reason. Kata is not just self-defense. It is also art and, therefore, each kata has its own meaning or philosophy behind it, so it is important for the movements in the kata to reflect the kata’s own philosophy or meaning.
Question: In addition to the 26 Shotokan kata, you have included four more kata in the SKIF system, including Seienchin, Seipai,
Gankaku-sho, and Nijuhachiho. Why did you decide to include these four kata in the SKIF system?
Answer: I added the four kata to give SKIF more history, and for technical reasons. For example, Seienchin is from Shito-ryu and Seipai is from Goju-ryu. These two kata include the shiko-dachi (square stance), which we don’t have in our 26 Shotokan kata. In the Shotokan kata we have kiba-dachi but not shiko-dachi. But both stances are very important and complement each other. Kiba-dachi is very strong but rigid. It is like a house make of bricks and cement. Shiko-dachi is also strong but a little more flexible. It is like a house made of wood. It is also the stance used by Sumo wrestlers. For older people, who have knee problems, shiko-dachi can be easier and better for them. Kiba-dachi is very good for younger people and people with strong knees. These kata have different timing and a different meaning or philosophy from our other Shotokan kata, so this helps Shotokan people learn more and have a broader understanding of karate-do.
Question: Why did you include Gankaku-sho and Nijuhachiho in the SKIF system, Kancho?
Answer: Both Gankaku-sho and Nijuhachiho are very old kata, so I included them in the SKIF system partly for history and partly for their techniques. For example, Gankaku-sho is the old version of our Shotokan Gankaku kata. So it gives us this history. But it also includes many different stances, and it is very good for stance training and for changing from one stance to another. This is very important for more advanced students. Likewise, Nijuhachiho is a very original kata. It gives us history and also many different techniques that we do not have in our 26 Shotokan kata.
Question: Do you know and practice other kata, and do you have any plans to add more kata to the SKIF system?
Answer: I do know and practice other kata but I do not teach them and I do not plan to add any more to the SKIF system, because we have enough now and it is hard for people to learn so many kata.
Question: What is the origin of the Gankaku-sho and Nijuhachiho, Kancho?
Answer: Both are from the crane style, which was mostly practiced in the village of Tomari in Okinawa. So they are sometimes called Tomarite kata. The Shito-ryu style largely originated from there. Whereas, the Goju-ryu style largely originated from the village of Naha in Okinawa. Shotokan, however, is mostly from Shorin-ryu.
Question: Where did you first learn the Nijuhachiho kata, Kancho?
Answer: I learned this kata and Gankaku-sho from Master Inoue (“Inoway”) who lived in the countryside of Japan near Gifu. He did not teach other people but he practiced a very original style of karate-do and I had a friend who knew him. He just wanted to keep his karate for his own practice. But through my friend I asked him if he would teach me. At first he said no but when my friend said my name he agreed. But he said he would only teach me the kata three times. If I did not learn it by then he would not teach anymore. Fortunately, I learned the kata. I also learned Gankaku-sho from him. After he taught me, I found out that he had not even taught Nijuhachiho to his own son, so I felt very lucky. I think his son became upset and maybe later he taught the kata to his
son. I have not seen him in several years and I am not sure if he is still alive.
Question: Kancho, in your classes you have sometimes taught about the different types of kiai (“yell” or "shout”) in the kata. Would you explain this further?
Answer: In each kata there is usually a positive kiai and a negative kiai. A positive kiai usually sounds like “yah.” With a positive kiai the feeling of the technique is to send the power outward to the opponent. Therefore, for punching, striking and kicking we do a positive kiai. But a negative kiai is different. A negative kiai usually sounds like “eh.” With a negative kiai the feeling of the technique is more to bring energy in to yourself. Therefore, when we do blocking or jumping we do a negative kiai.
Question: Is there any other type of kiai, Kancho?
Answer: Actually, Funakoshi Sensei used to do a kiai that sound like “tooh.” This was a little different and I think it was more like a middle type of kiai. This is the kind of kiai we sometimes do when we do two techniques at the same time, like a block and a counter punch at the same time.
Question: Kancho, I now want to ask you about the way you teach basics (kihon). In SKIF we have certain ways in which we break down the techniques, for example doing punches in two or sometimes three counts. Also doing blocks and kicks, and strikes in the same manner. Why do you teach the kihon this way?
Answer: For kihon and for all of karate form is very important. This is not only for the art but for balance and power in the techniques. In particular, moving from the center of gravity, using correct breathing, and having the right spirit is all very important and good form helps to achieve these things. It is especially important to concentrate on the Hara (center of abdomen) and breathe from there when doing karate techniques, and especially in kihon training. This helps improve mental concentration, as well as circulation and the health of the internal organs like the lungs and heart. This is good especially for juniors (children) because it helps them learn to concentrate their minds. The other thing about training from the Hara is that it is good for safety because it improves balance. So it is very important in all kihon training for the instructor to check to make sure the students are doing the techniques from their Hara. Actually, kumite and kata should be trained in the same way.
Question: Kancho, how would you describe the different purposes of kihon, kata and kumite training in karate-do?
Answer: Kihon training is for yourself, to develop harmony with yourself.
Kata training is for developing harmony with nature and, therefore, the image in your own mind of what you are doing and of your feeling is very important. Kumite training is to develop harmony between you and your opponent. This means it is not to beat your opponent but, instead, to find harmony with your opponent and to show each other mutual respect. It is important to move at the same time as your opponent and to have the same breathing pattern. This way you do not become frightened. Also, in kihon-ippon-kumite (basic one step sparring), for example, it is important to always see your opponent’s eyes. This is true for other types of kumite also.
Question: Kancho, during training, and especially after doing a series of kihon techniques or a kata, you practice and teach your students to do a special breathing exercise with their arms. How did you develop this breathing exercise and what is its purpose?
Answer: I developed this exercise after studying Tai Chi Chuan. The purpose is to develop and invigorate the brain, the chest, and the Hara. First, you breathe in and have the feeling of the air coming to your head and brain. This improves intelligence. Second, you push the air out and down and contract the Hara and lower abdominal muscles. This develops your power and fighting spirit. Finally, you straighten up and let your chest come back to a natural and relaxed position with good posture. This develops good character and a feeling of kindness toward others. The words for this are “ten,” “chi,” “jin,” meaning head, Hara, chest or
“sky,” “ground,” “human.”
Question: Kancho, are there any other issues you would like to discuss today?
Answer: Yes. I think it is important to respect sports but it is very important to remember that competition is only a small part of karate-do.
Thank you very much Kancho