An Interview with Teruyuki Okazaki Part 1‏

01/11/2009 17:11




An Interview with Sensei Teruyuki Okazaki 10th Dan Part 1


In April 2009, Emma and I travelled to London to train with Sensei Teruyuki Okazaki - Chief Instructor of the International Shotokan Karate Federation (ISKF) at the 'ISKF UK' branch.


For Emma and I, this was an amazing opportunity to train with one of Karate's most prominent and important figures. He is, after all, one of the last remaining links to the past – bridging the gulf between the karate of Shotokan's founder - Gichin Funakoshi - and the karate of today in 2009. Sensei Okazaki's place in karate history is firmly set, but not solely for his length of time training. The impact he has had on Traditional Karate cannot be stressed enough, and he has played a pivotal role most obviously with his involvement in karate in the United States, but also in the development of the art and its spread throughout the world.


Sensei Okazaki, born on June 22nd 1931 in Fukuoka, Japan, had an early set of experiences within the Martial Arts prior to his involvement in karate. He practiced Kendo – which he spoke about during our training with him – and took part in Judo and also Aikido. He then found karate, studying under Master Gichin Funakoshi and Master Masatoshi Nakayama.


He attended the infamous Takushoku University, where he would later come to teach, along with several other Japanese Universities. In 1955, he helped Master Nakayama form the JKA Instructor Program and became one of its first instructors – teaching the likes of Hirokazu Kanazawa and Takayuki Mikami to name only a few.


In 1961, he was sent by Master Nakayama to the United States...and the rest is history. He is now Chief Instructor of the International Shotokan Karate Federation, and holds the grade of 10th Dan.


To describe him as the ‘teacher of teachers’ would possibly be a sinful understatement. The ISKF has been responsible for producing some of the most important Western Karateka, and the work of Sensei Okazaki and the ISKF continues today.


What I saw in London that weekend, was a man with a real sparkle in his eyes, a zest for life and a passion for karate and its development. An “Eternal Student” would be an apt description, a “Karate Treasure” for the Shotokan Community around the world he is undoubtedly regarded, and an opportunity to train with him was a truly magical event.


This Interview had been completed with Sensei Okazaki by Lois Luzi 6th Dan just a fortnight prior to us training with Sensei Okazaki, so I had a particular eagerness to train with him after reading his answers to our questions, and from my conversations with Lois. I would like to point out how wonderful it was collaborating with Lois here, as she undoubtedly brought something special to this interview. She was so efficient, and supportive – and so obviously passionate about Sensei Okazaki’s karate.


This interview has some real gems, and is an interview Emma and I truly treasure. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Lois for all of her hard work and support. I would also like to say thank you to Sensei Okazaki for this wonderful interview. Hope you all enjoy! – Shaun Banfield


Many thanks to:  Frank Woon A Tai, Hiroyoshi Okazaki, Robin Rielly, William E. Berg, Dennis Hanwright and Catherine Pinch for use of photography.


Questions by The Shotokan Way


Teruyuki Okazaki at the ISKF Master Camp 


Part 1


(Lois Luzi)     Sensei Okazaki, it is quite literally an honour to be able to put these questions to you, so thank you so much for being so willing.


(Teruyuki Okazaki)     It is my pleasure.


(LL)     Prior to studying karate, you practiced Aikido, Judo and Kendo. Why did you never follow these as Martial Arts, and why did Karate become your chosen long-term commitment?


(TO)     I began training in Karate when I was a student at Takushoku University. There was something about it that I knew it was for me. It was very challenging and I knew it would take my entire lifetime to learn it. Of course being a young person there were times when I may have been impatient, but my teachers Master Funakoshi and Master Nakayama guided me and after some time I began to help teach. I gave them my word that I would continue to practice and teach Shotokan Karate always following Master Funakoshi’s guidelines in the Niju Kun and Dojo Kun.


(LL)     In comparison to karate back then, how well organised and structured were these other Martial Arts in Japan?


(TO)     In Japan in those days, all children had some form of Martial Arts in school so it was well organized and very structured. Martial Arts were a way of life, not a sport. And I always try to emphasize this to all Shotokan practitioners. Never forget that we are practicing Martial Arts which is a Budo first and foremost. This is a concept that was easy for Japanese children to understand but has to be learned by non-Japanese karate-ka. 


(Editor’s note: Interestingly, when Emma and I trained with Sensei Okazaki in London, he asked everyone to line up. A few children were slow to their mark and he encouraged them to run to their mark. He said to them ‘Never forget you are a Martial Artist’. He wanted to impress upon them that being a Martial Artist did not just come down to the techniques of karate, but all activities. They all ran to their line the next time!)


(LL)     In 1947, you joined the JKA, where you trained under Master Funakoshi and Nakayama. Firstly, can we please speak about Sensei Funakoshi? What are your memories of him looking back now?


(TO)     When I first started training there was no JKA. We trained at Takushoku University. Master Funakoshi came there once a week to teach, assisted by Master Nakayama who also taught there. The first time I saw him I was so nervous because he was a real Grand Master. But I was so surprised because of his attitude, just like a regular person, he was really nice. But I could not talk to him unless I got permission from Master Nakayama first. Also, Master Funakoshi was a very quiet person.


Master Masatoshi Nakayama, Master Gichin Funakoshi, Sensei Teruyuki Okazaki


(LL)     From speaking to students of yours, I have been told that you have a wonderful sense of humour…was there an incident with Sensei Funakoshi’s Cat? Could you please tell us about that?


(TO)     I had many years of experience, but after ten years of practice under Master Funakoshi, I was assigned a special job. I was scheduled to visit his house once a month to meet with him, exchange papers or information and bring back his written responses. Because he was a very famous calligrapher, the senior instructors would ask me to take him papers to write something for them. Master Funakoshi would always agree and a month later I would pick up the papers, with beautiful calligraphy and his signature.


Then one day, he invited me to have lunch at his home. I told the senior instructors about this invitation but they didn’t believe me. They thought it was a joke. However, Master Funakoshi was used to my visits and knew me as one of his faithful students. As wise as he was, he could read my character and ambitions. As a member of the younger generation, he knew I was most interested in making more speed, more focus, and getting a black belt.  He was right, that was my mindset. He had been teaching us that the dojo kun was the real goal. But no, I wanted to make more speed and more focus. Master Funakoshi knew these thoughts were in my mind. He told me to spend more time ‘thinking’ about the training. And I said, ‘Yes sir, yes sir’ but on the inside, I thought, ‘more speed, more focus’. Upon my next visit, I had this experience…


Master Funakoshi’s cat attacked me! Yes, he bit and scratched me, and I was unable to protect myself. That cat was a very smart animal. Whenever Master Funakoshi would come into the room, the cat would curl around behind him. I don’t like cats, so when Master Funakoshi left the room he’d try to come over to me but I would just smack it and the cat would jump and escape. On this occasion, as soon as Master Funakoshi left the room the cat jumped into my lap. As I reached out to smack it, it bit and scratched me in one motion. I was trying to hide the blood and scratches from Master Funakoshi when he re-entered the room by saying, “Oh, you have such a nice cat.” He knew right away what I really thought, and that I was trying to hide the truth. He said, “What is the problem? You cannot defend yourself against my pussycat? Your mind is wrong!” You know, I still have the scar from that incident. It is a constant reminder of my impetuous youth and Master Funakoshi’s wisdom and guiding principles.


(LL)     Sensei Funakoshi would have been approximately 78 years of age when you first trained with him am I correct? How was his ability at that age, and what was his guidance to the younger karateka who would have been tempted to copy his style of movement as an older man?


(TO)     Yes, he was in his late 70’s but at that time I didn’t know how old he was and I didn’t think about his age. It was in the 1940’s and usually 70 is an old man but he did not look like an old man. He trained every day so he looked young. He would say, “Don’t copy me” which means - he knew himself. He would stand a little higher because of his age. He would explain what the stance should be, for instance zenkutsu-dachi, one shoulder width wide and two shoulder widths length – the basics. He would say “Don’t copy me, I am old man. Individuals have their own body type.” He had an open mind.  I never thought of him as an old man, he looked young. 


Sensei Okazaki kicking Sensei Hirokazau Kanazawa


(LL)     And what was the training like with Sensei Funakoshi? Looking back was it more significant from a philosophical perspective rather than a physical one? What lasting impact did this have on your karate?


(TO)     He always said, “What is real karate-do? (It) means a real martial art.” He would explain that we should not only develop speed and focus, it is different. He always said you have to try the best you can physically and your mind should always think about what a good martial artist is, then you are training. He did not say too much, technically of course he would explain do this or do that depending on the ranking of the person. But every time he came, he taught us the most important principles technically and philosophically. And if we did something wrong, he would say “You are not doing it the right way”. I am very pleased to have studied under him.


(LL)     You attended Takushoku University, studying Political Economics. What was the karate club like at the time, and was it Sensei Funakoshi that taught there?


(TO)     Yes, that was my major. Master Nakayama taught there 3-4 times a week. Master Funakoshi came and taught once a week and of course Master Nakayama followed his direction on how to teach. It was about 1947 when I started at Takushoku University and everyone was young and it was no different then. We all thought “Oh, I want to make speed and focus”. All of those masters knew what we were thinking, and we agreed 100% what they were teaching, but our minds were different when we first started. We just wanted to make speed and focus, not much philosophy, we did not think about that too much. 


(LL)     You also became Takushoku team coach. Who was on your team at the time, and can you please tell us about your experiences with this team?


(TO)     When I was the coach, Mr. Hideo Ochi was the captain of the team (Editor’s Note - Sensei Hideo Ochi often teaches at the ISKF Master Camp and holds an impeccable competitive record and is a highly popular instructor). Mr. Masaru Miura was a member of the team also. At that time when we started competing, they always won. I was surprised and proud of them. Now, Mr. Ochi comes to our Master Camp and we talk about that time when I was the coach and he was the captain of the team. Mr. Miura also comes to our Master Camp now.


Hiroshi Shirai, Hirokazu Kanazawa, Taiji Kase, Keinosuke Enoeda, Teruyuki Okazaki


(LL)     Did you compete much in your younger years? If so, what were your most memorable bouts or opponents?


(TO)     When I was in college we did not have any tournaments, not until about 1957. I started training in 1947 so for 10 years, we did not have any tournaments because we needed permission from Master Funakoshi to have a tournament. At that time I was assisting Master Nakayama and we travelled around to give demonstrations to introduce what karate-do was all about. Then Master Nakayama began to think that if we had a tournament we could invite all of the public to show them what karate-do is, which is one of the reasons he asked Master Funakoshi if we could have a tournament but Master Funakoshi said no, that karate is not 100% sport. Master Nakayama explained to him that we would bring Master Funakoshi with us and we could also put on a demonstration and if we call it a tournament the public would become very interested and come to see it. So Master Funakoshi said ‘If that is the reason then yes, you can try it, but make sure that everyone follows real martial arts rules and regulations to make tournament rules’. After that, for about two years, Master Nakayama studied other Martial Arts tournament rules such as Kendo, Judo, Sumo, Aikido. Judo and Kendo already had tournaments. Even Sumo wrestling had tournament rules, which is the oldest one. He checked all of those rules and regulations for two years and then he made some rules, but first I had to try it out, especially for sparring. Kata was no problem because we had a point system but sparring had to be analyzed, as to what was the best way for a tournament rule, such as for one point. I did it many times to study which was the best way for tournament. Now our ring is 25 square feet but at that time we made it round like in Sumo but it didn’t work because the judge moves around so then we changed it to be a square like a boxing ring. We made the rules and gave them to Master Funakoshi, and he briefly read it and said ‘try it’. ‘It’s not bad but try it and if does not work out well then change it’. 


So in 1957 we had our first tournament. I wanted to participate because at that time I was assisting Master Nakayama in the Instructor Trainee Program. At that time, the first instructor trainees were Masters Kanazawa and Mikami and I was teaching full time, six days a week. They were developing good technique and for the first national tournament we thought maybe they would win. Since I was teaching them I knew each individual and if they had a special technique, such as punching or kicking. So I wanted to compete because I knew their technique and thought I could win but Master Nakayama said no, I could not compete and we need a judge to help. So I had to be a judge. I was really disappointed. But I had to do what he said. So I never could participate as a competitor in a tournament because once you become a judge that is it. 


(LL)     You later taught at Takushoku University and several other Universities. While Teaching at Takushoku University, do you remember the karateka you taught there?


(TO)     As I said, Mr. Ochi who was a member of the team. And at that time Mr. Kanazawa was a student there also and Mr. Habu. Then Mr. Shirai began the trainee program and when I came to the US in 1961, Mr. Enoeda began the Instructor Trainee Program. When I was helping to teach, Mr. Yaguchi, Mr. Mikami, Mr. Asai was there and I had a close relationship with them. Before we began the Instructor Trainee Program, Master Nakayama instructed me on what to do technically and he had me try different things, then he made the Instructor Trainee booklet and I was the test case. At that time a full time instructor trainee practiced just like we do at our Master Camp. Everyone stayed in a dormitory and we woke up at six am and start training then assist for teaching.


Sensei Okazaki teaching - by Bill BergSensei Okazaki teaching - by William Berg


(LL)     Can you please share some memories of the training you experienced during these years of your life?


(TO)     As I said, we were as we are now, following Master Funakoshi’s principle. We had to train every day one way or another, whether you wanted to or not. When I was at the Takushoku University, they had a special martial arts dormitory and I had to stay there with everyone and we had to get up at six am,  to start training at 6:30 am, then assist with teaching. At five pm we had to train again before dinner and the senior students would come and help us. We had to train a minimum of 3-4 times every day continuously. Full time instructor trainees had to do that and they did not get a salary but they got room and board until they finished the course and became a full time instructor. 


I was coaching Mr. Kanazawa and Mr. Ochi at that time, and staying in the dormitory and in the mornings everyone had to run.   Everyone at that time was young, they were graduate students and were about 21-22 years of age and they had a lot of energy. They practiced hard and in the evenings they had to go to bed at ten pm. Then of course, they were young and wanted to have some fun, have a drink, talk and get to know one another. They stayed on the second floor and the coach (me) stayed on the first floor.


You know what they did? They knew if they went down the stairs I would see them, so they went out the window. I didn’t know, but something did not seem right, then I realized they were going out, so I followed them. They went to the bar and had a couple of drinks and were having fun. That was against the rules but I did not say anything at all. Then, the morning after that they woke up and I said “Ok, run”. Usually they had to run every morning maybe one or two laps then back to the dojo to train. It was a warm up. Then this particular morning, after two laps, they were going back to the dojo but I said “One more”. Then I would say “One more, and one more and one more”, etc. They realized I must have found out. I could not say anything to Master Nakayama because he would have kicked them out, so I gave them this sort of punishment. Then they stopped doing that. They got the message. 


(LL)     Prior to the 1st Instructor Program, Master Nakayama used you as a test subject for the program am I correct? Can you please tell us about this?


(TO)     Yes, as I said previously, Master Nakayama made the instructor trainee program and we are still following that program exactly, written reports and everything. I did all of that myself and passed and became an instructor and assisted Master Nakayama. 


 (LL)     In 1955, alongside Master Nakayama, you helped develop the Instructor Program. Thinking back, do you remember what the primary goals were in developing this program?


(TO)     Master Nakayama followed Master Funakoshi’s principles, technically and philosophically and everything. He taught us that when we taught, to think about our members and what is the most important philosophy. Of course when Master Nakayama was developing the Instructor Trainee Program he changed a couple of things to make them better and now in the ISKF, our Instructor Trainee Program is exactly the same as the one Master Nakayama developed.


Sensei Okazaki in a demonstration with his hands tied against Sensei KisakaMaster Masatoshi Nakayama, Master Gichin Funakoshi, Sensei Teruyuki Okazaki


(LL)     Technically speaking, what were the most important skills that you wanted to give the graduating instructors to prepare them for teaching abroad, and how did the course develop these skills?


(TO)     Every time I teach, I say that even technically, Shotokan karate is a martial art and a real martial art means never to fight – Master Funakoshi said karate is never to attack first. That is the most important principle. Of course if someone is trying to kill you, you must defend yourself. That is what karate’s techniques are for - to defend yourself, but never attack first. Or maybe some crazy person tries to attack someone else, you have to help them. It is not only karate, but all martial arts. It is not to fight, martial arts are to stop the fight or stop the conflict. It is a way of life that is the real martial art. 


When you analyze the kata, they give us very important principles technically and philosophically. When you analyze all of the kata movements, all of those masters studied these kata and told us it is a lifetime of training and they gave us this message that this is karate’s techniques and philosophies. So I always say, when you analyze the kata and even techniques, 60% of techniques are blocking techniques. Why blocking? If someone attacks you have to hit but why block? They say, it is to stop the fight. Those are the things they are teaching us. That is why everyone has to understand that blocking techniques must be strong because they are also striking techniques. You must stop the fight and you do not have to knock them down. That is why kata is a very important principle to karate’s techniques. 


(LL)     Shotokan experienced a very professional and effective systematic spreading of the art internationally and the impact of the Instructor Program undoubtedly had an impact on this. Was it more important to develop the teaching ability, the technical development of those on the program, or to prepare them for travelling overseas?


(TO)     As I said, Master Nakayama developed the Instructor Trainee Program and we are still following that the same way. We have a Technical Committee which discusses many things not only technically but also philosophies. We discuss what is the real martial art and that is what we have to introduce throughout the world. To develop all of the members into true martial artists, to create a nice society to help bring peace throughout the world. Real karate is not only tournament, but to develop good martial artists, that is the real martial art and that is what Master Funakoshi taught us and wanted us to pass on to our students.




(LL)     Could you please share some memories or stories that you may have from the time in your life where you were developing the program?


(TO)     I am a really lucky guy to have studied under Master Funakoshi and Master Nakayama, to observe their ideas and their philosophies. My experience was, that when you are young, after we started tournaments, everyone would like to be a champion. Nothing is wrong with that, it makes everyone train harder to develop their technique physically, but mentally they have to think about why they are training. 


After the tournament, the instructors’ minds also change. They think they would like to make their student a champion. The teaching method changes, how to get a point especially for sparring. Then Master Nakayama got upset.  He came every year to our Master Camp until he passed away. We would have a meeting and he would say, we have to change some rules and how to teach because look at how their attitudes are changing. It is not a real martial art. So those are some of the things we would discuss, how to change some rules, etc. Even how to bow, if their attitude is bad they should lose right away. Tournaments can help by motivating people to train harder; they will get a lot of benefit. But it is the instructor’s responsibility to remind their students why they are training. 


After tournaments they stop training. The same thing happens with ranking. When they are working towards the black belt they train harder, when they pass they stop training. That is why we have a rule here at honbu dojo, we wait one year before they get their certificate. If they do not train they do not get a certificate. They must practice continuously. Then they understand why they are training. I always say, tournaments are the same as dojo training. It is a special type of dojo training. That is Master Funakoshi and Master Nakayama’s important principle – everything is dojo training. That’s it.


Sensei Okazaki teaching whilst in London, 2009


(LL)     Were you aware at this point that in the future you too would be travelling abroad?


(TO)     No. When I first came to this country I had a problem with English. It was hard to communicate, but gradually it got easier. Before, when I first started training, there was no ranking system, that was Master Funakoshi’s idea. But times changed. The young mind, science and the medical system. And he was concerned that if there was no ranking system, students would become disinterested and they would stop training. Master Kano was a very famous Judo master and he was very close friends with Master Funakoshi and he suggested that times were changing and if you have ranking system, students would train harder to give them more benefit. So Master Funakoshi agreed and he started the ranking system. From the 19th century to the 20th century many things changed, but the principle is exactly the same and we still keep it. But the training method is different. In our time, for one month we may have done only punching, one month only kick, those kind of things. Then medical science analyzed things, how the best way to develop the body was, if you train this way or that way you can make more speed and focus. But a long time ago it was more mental development when practising the techniques. But now we have to have a balance of both mental and physical. That is why we have a tournament now to develop both of those things. But sometimes some people only think one way, to develop for a tournament or ranking system. This is wrong; Master Funakoshi would say that is not training. 


(LL)     You shared a very close relationship with Master Nakayama. How would you describe your relationship with him?


(TO)     As I said, he would come to the college 3-4 times a week and I had the same experience with him as with Master Funakoshi. They could read my mind, that I was thinking only about how to make speed and focus.   Master Nakayama always followed Master Funakoshi’s direction. After I graduated, Master Nakayama picked me to coach the team, and every time he went somewhere I would ask him if I could go with him. One time he went to Thailand and I went with him. He invited the Thai Government to come and watch because Thai boxing was a little different from karate and he wanted them to see this. We put on a demonstration and they said “Oh that is a little different”. Thai boxing did not have techniques like karate, kicking boxing techniques. They wanted to have a competition with a Thai boxer and me. So I went every day to watch how they boxed. After observing them, I knew which kind of techniques they did not have so I thought “Oh, I can knock them down”. Then I spoke to Master Nakayama and I told them “yes, I can accept and I can fight”. He said you cannot do that, that would not be fair. There has to be some kind of rules. Then they came and said “you can’t do this or you can’t do that.” Master Nakayama said we have to be able to use all of karate’s techniques. Then they said ok we could make a rule - you can use this technique or that technique. Then Master Nakayama said ok. We put on a karate demonstration - Master Nakayama and I, and they sent the champion of Thai boxing. The Thai boxer put on a demonstration of their techniques and the newspaper came and took pictures and then they wrote a story about it. I could not read it, but I found out that they wrote that a karate master came over from Japan to challenge the Thai boxer. Then one day, Master Nakayama and I were walking down the street and a young kid came up and was saying “Oh you are the karate master” and he kicked at Master Nakayama’s head, and the next thing I knew the kid was laying in the street. Master Nakayama said “Do not say anything; let’s go right away”. This was just like Master Funakoshi, no one could touch them. I didn’t say anything, but now he is upstairs so I can say it. Almost any place he went I went with him to practice, demonstrations, etc. He was like an older brother or father to me. I used to stay at his house and Mrs. Nakayama would take care of me. That is why he came to our Master Camp every year.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 


(LL)     Being very close to Sensei Nakayama, do you think his ambition and determination to spread karate around the world is the reason karate is still so internationally popular today? And had there been a more gradual spread of the art, do you think it would have had such an impact and popularity?


(TO)     Master Nakayama travelled around the world and he understood different cultures. He knew we had to keep our principles while at the same time respecting other people’s cultures and differences. I think that is one of the main reasons he was so well accepted around the world and was able to spread karate-do to these other countries. Even now, I know from travelling around the world myself that other countries appreciate that we accept their differences and at the same time they do their best to maintain the Japanese tradition within Shotokan Karate.


Shaun Banfield, Sensei Okazaki, Emma Robins in London, 2009



(LL)     This period of time was one of great development for the art. It was made more scientific, it was more structured and there was a sturdy syllabus in place. How was this received by the wider karate community at the time do you think, as it was a radical change from how karate had been taught previously?


(TO)     When I started karate, all of the martial arts were the same, to develop physically and mentally to develop as a martial artist. But at the present time medical science is more advanced and we have to respect that and accept that to make better development for the future. But the mental development is the same as when martial arts first started. Just as I always say, kata training teaches us a good balance to respect these things. When I started karate compared to the present time, techniques have become much more advance because we have accepted the advice of medical science on how to develop technically. But mental development and what martial arts are, never changes. The principle never changes. That is why I wrote the book the Textbook of Modern Karate, it was written with a physician for sports medicine so we analyzed many things. It was 90% how to develop for more speed and focus and to develop technically. There is nothing wrong with learning the best way to develop. But everyone has to understand what the real Shotokan karate is. That is why I then wrote the book Perfection of Character to make a good balance, to understand both. 


Part 2 in the next edition


Shaun Banfield with Sensei Teruyuki Okazaki 10th Dan 


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