An Interview with Teruyuki Okazaki Part 2

02/11/2009 02:28




An Interview with Sensei Okazaki Part 2


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 training 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 – he 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 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 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


Sensei T. Okazaki with Sensei Y. Yaguchi




Part 2



(LL)     It has been implied that by putting a more scientific emphasis on the training, this has taken away from the spiritual or philosophical elements of karate. Do you think this is a fair implication and do you think Shotokan’s wide popularity would have happened had it not been for this development?


(TO)     Different people learn in different ways. The young people are used to getting information very quickly now with computers, etc. Don’t forget, the monks were also very scientific as well as Master Funakoshi. He understood the human body and what karate-do could do for it. But he also had a great understanding of the human mind. He knew in the future that with modernization could bring with it many problems. Master Funakoshi could see that it could hinder the principles and goals of what Budo and martial arts are. This was why he gave us the Dojo Kun and Niju Kun as constant reminders of those principles. It is ok if some people find it easier to learn analyzing and through scientific means, however, it is up to all of the Sempai and instructors to remind our students of the true purpose and to teach the Dojo Kun and Niju Kun. This was my main purpose for writing the book Perfection of Character – to try to explain what Master Funakoshi wanted all of us to understand through the Dojo Kun and Niju Kun.


(LL)     You taught the very first batch of instructors on the Instructor Program including Hirokazu Kanazawa, Takayuki Mikami and Eiji Takaura. What do you remember of the successes and weaknesses of the course in its first year, and were there any revisions to the program for the 2nd batch of students on the Kenshusei?


(TO)     The first batch were sort of a test case. As I said, I stayed in the dormitory with them and every morning we had running and training and I would push them harder to teach them and I would report to Master Nakayama how they were doing. After the training they had to study and write a report every week. And Master Nakayama would ask them questions on why they wrote this or said that. After that when they had the knowledge and ability we would give them a written and physical test and they would become official instructors. After that we planned to send them overseas. Mr. Mikami was being sent to the Philippines and Mr. Kanazawa went to Hawaii to teach. After Mr. Takaura finished the program he got a business so he could not be a full time instructor. So those two got some experience outside of Japan and when they came back they gave a report.  After that, the second group was Mr. Yaguchi, Mr. Asai, Mr. Yamaguchi and Mr. Shirai and they did it exactly the same.


Sensei Okazaki and Sensei Yaguchi at the ISKF Championships


(LL)     Prior to coming to the States, whilst you taught on the Program, it generated some outstanding teachers such as the above mentioned names, Yutaka Yaguchi, Keinosuke Enoeda, and Masaaki Ueki to name but a few. At the time, when you were looking at these karateka coming through the program, could you tell they were going to be something special?


(TO)     I knew Mr. Enoeda and he was here in Philadelphia for about a year. Mr. Ueki began when I was already in the US so I did not know him. Mr. Enoeda yes, was at the same university. With each instructor, the Shotokan principle does not make a difference. Each instructor technically may be a little different, for instance, maybe Mr. Yaguchi is hand techniques, or Mr. Enoeda is kicking techniques but they have to have some balance, it cannot be just one way. So all of those instructors technically and physically teach exactly the same. So there was no specialty.


(LL)     Did the course contain philosophical as well as the physical elements?


(TO)     Yes, as I said everything was balanced.


Sensei Okazaki demonstrating the Kata NIJUSHIHO in Guyana in 1972


(LL)     In 1961, you were sent to the US to teach. Was this always going to be a permanent move, or was this a choice you later made to stay?


(TO)     No, it was supposed to be temporary. When Master Nakayama asked me to come to the US it was supposed to be for just six months. Then after six months, I asked him if I could go back to Japan, that the club was established in Philadelphia. He said, no, just stay for another three months. This went back and forth for about two years then I just stayed. The East Coast seemed like a good place to have the US Headquarters because it is easily accessible to all other regions. But I was very lucky to have Master Nakayama come to Master Camp to visit me as much as he could.


(LL)     Can you remember first arriving in the US? What were your impressions of it?


(TO)     Before I came to the US or go to some other country, I would study the history. History wise, the US has a very short history after it became independent. I would read all about it to help me to understand the US and I thought it was a very interesting country. 


In about 1952 at that time karate was beginning to get popular but most people did not know what real karate was. That is why even in Japan I was travelling around doing demonstrations and giving interviews. The Americans were thinking that martial arts were one of the best fighting techniques. So they sent their best athletic service men to Japan. There were about 30 people who came to Japan and we put on a demonstration for them. They already knew about Judo but they did not know a lot about Aikido or Karate so we put on a demonstration for them to introduce karate-do to the American soldiers. Master Nakayama, Master Funakoshi and myself went there and put on the demonstration, kicking, punching, striking – that kind of thing. At that time Mr. Ueshiba was the founder of Aikido and also gave a demonstration. All of the American soldiers began talking and we could not understand what they were saying so I asked the interpreter what they were talking about. He smiled and said “Well the Americans are saying - look at that Grand Master, her is an old man, how can he fight against us?” We had a rule in martial arts a long time ago, if the master is challenged then the senior student defends the master. If he gets knocked down, then the next higher student defends, so on and so on up the rank, then finally if they all get knocked down then the master defends. That is the rule of the martial arts, so I told Master Nakayama that they were challenging Master Funakoshi and they cannot do that so I will go first. Then if they knock me down then Master Nakayama will go. I said no problem because they do not know anything about karate. He started laughing, he knew what I was thinking but he said you have to get permission from Master Funakoshi first. Of course, Master Nakayama knew what Master Funakoshi would say. He said, “I do not want to hurt anybody, and I don’t want you to get hurt. You cannot do anything like that and that is why I will take care of it.” I said ok. I did not know what he would do because at that time I did not have a lot of experience with Master Funakoshi, Master Nakayama had more experience with him because he always went with him. So Master Nakayama said anyone who thinks they can come up and knock Master Funakoshi down can come up and do it. The Americans were surprised and were saying “He is an old man; no way he can defend himself”. Then Master Funakoshi said in Japanese “Is everyone scared?” The translator translated it in English for him. 




Some American young guy came up and said, “Ok I am going to knock him down”, and he came up and he didn’t throw a punch or try to knock him down because he was an old man. He thought Master Funakoshi would be scared, but Master Funakoshi stood there and laughed. Then the American started to get upset and tried harder because each time, Master Funakoshi did not move, he couldn’t knock him down. Each time, the American got more upset. Then he tried to punch but before the American completed the punch he was down on the floor. He thought he just slipped so he tried again and again he was on the floor. Why? But Master Nakayama and Master Funakoshi new that you do not have to hit back to knock them down. 


Back then Grand Masters knew that it defies medical science, that it is a mystery, how they could knock someone down without touching them. They trained up in the mountains, etc. and they developed something different. If someone attacked, they observed the opponents power and gave it back to them. They could do that. I do not know if it is mental or physical. The Americans started saying it was a miracle. Then I did not know what they were talking about but they began to say that martial arts are a different type of sport from boxing or wrestling. Then they started training and I was the assistant instructor. I could not speak English but I would just hit them in the butt or try to show them how to stand. They listened and never complained. And I thought wow; there is something different about Americans. I was impressed. They would invite me to dinner or go places with them. I said yes, I like Americans they are very fair. Then those Americans invited me to do another demonstration for the American army. I could not go at that time, so Mr. Nishiyama and another two senior instructors went to give the demonstrations. Then they wanted to invite other instructors but we did not have enough instructors to go. 




Finally, I came to Philadelphia, and Mr. Nishiyama went to Los Angeles and we made an organization in the US. When I came to the US, I really studied the cultures between Japan and the US. That is martial arts, you have to respect everything. So I did not have a problem with anything and I understood that in another country you have to respect their culture. But when you come to the dojo, I always say, now you are in Japan and have to respect the Japanese culture. WE have to exchange ideas and cultures to make a better way of life. I compared the Japanese culture with the American culture and if I am staying in the US I would follow the American culture 100%. Then I had to introduce what the martial arts and if they accept it maybe they would get some happiness from it. It could give them a good life but if they do not want to accept it they do not have to. I have been teaching at Temple University for over 40 years now in the Physical Education Department, and when I first started there, they split the women and the men in two different classes. The university thought it was a sport and said the men and woman must be separate. At first I did not understand why they wanted that, and thought maybe they did not understand what the martial arts are. Then I explained to the director of the department that martial arts are a little different, I would like to combine the men and women into one class, it doesn’t make any difference. I said if someone attacks a woman they cannot say, you cannot attack me, I am a woman. That is the martial arts way. I asked them to try it, and they did. It has been combined ever since. When I teach at the university we do the same as in the dojo. We do seiza, mokuso, the Dojo Kun, all of that because it means I am introducing the Japanese culture and real martial arts. If they like it or not, they have to study all of that. It doesn’t make any difference. Now they understand that they are studying a martial art. At first, the director came to watch and saw that we not only teach the physical techniques, but also seiza, mokuso, after we finish we say the dojo kun. The director was surprised and said yes, this is different from other physical education sports, I teach them some of the Japanese culture. But American people’s minds are very fair, and they are very interested and like to study all of it 100%. When we come to the gymnasium, I tell them this is a dojo. Every dojo has a photo of the founder, we step into the dojo we bow, and before you leave you have to bow. That is good manners for a martial artist. That is why I never quit teaching at the university. After about three or four months, their attitude changed. They are very interested. And they get the idea that martial arts are very different. The US has many different nationalities combined, that is why it is a very good balance, it is not one way. Everything the US does effects the rest of the world, and that is why we have to show a good example of a human being. That is why I have stayed.


(LL)     Culturally, Japan and the US are very different. How did you adapt to these new circumstances, and did you ever experience any problems? Could you share your thoughts?


(TO)     Of course at first I had a lot of problems with communication because of the language. And there were little differences for instance instead of bowing when you greet someone, you shake hands. Japan’s culture is mostly a martial art type of culture. After the war, Japan became westernized. I said, nothing is wrong with that, if it is a good attribute, take it. The same thing in the US, with all of the different nationalities, everyone can have good attributes from many different cultures and exchange all of those cultures to make a good balance of all the combinations. That is why I really respect how things are in the US, but nobody is perfect. I am happy I am here. Before I came here, Russia came to Japan because they knew karate was the best form of defense. We put on a demonstration for them and they invited an instructor to go there to teach the Russian soldiers. Master Nakayama said, “Ok, Mr. Okazaki you are going to go to Russia to teach”. I could not refuse anything he said, I just said “Yes sir”. Then I went to the Japanese Government Foreign Department and said I need a passport and they asked me where I was going. I said Russia, I have been invited there to teach. At that time Russia and Japan did not have a peace agreement, they said “No. You cannot go”. The government can go for business but the public cannot go. So I could not get a passport for Russia and I went and told Mr. Nakayama I could not get the passport and could not go and I was sorry. So then I came to the US.


Sensei Okazaki with lifelong student Frank Woon A TaiSensei Okazaki with lifelong student Robin Rielly


(LL)     You were appointed to the East Coast and Nishiyama Sensei was sent to the West Coast. Did you both collaborate to develop karate in the States as one unit?


(TO)     He is a long time very close friend of mine. We practiced together under Master Funakoshi and we discussed many things technically. But organization wise, we disagreed on some points which is why we split. But personally we always communicated to discuss for the future. He understood why we split and we talked about possibly getting together in the future to continuously develop. When I was in Canada for a tournament we got together and had a meeting and talked about those things. And about once a month we talked on the telephone. Then I felt so bad because he was such a close friend and he passed away on November 7th, 2008. 


(LL)     The US has been very effectively and strategically covered and managed for almost 50 years now. Can you please explain how you, Nishiyama Sensei and the other JKA Instructors (When they were sent over) at the time set up karate in America to achieve such wonderful success?


(TO)     I would say ask an American. (He laughs).


 (LL)     How different were the American students from the Japanese students you had taught whilst in Japan? Did the Western Culture hinder the art at all do you think?


(TO)     Of course culturally we are all different. But our principles must be exactly the same and I’ve tried my best to explain to all of our students around the world that when we practice Shotokan Karate, we are practicing a Japanese martial art, which means we must follow the Japanese culture in training. This is one of the reasons why it was so important to me 43 years ago to begin our ISKF Master Camp and International Goodwill Tournament. It is a place for all Shotokan karate-ka from all over the world to get together once a year to train together and share ideas. I try to get the best Shotokan instructors to come to teach regardless of affiliation. However most importantly, besides learning punching and kicking, we get to understand different cultures and accept each other. Then maybe after a week of great training and camaraderie these people go back to their countries, not just physically stronger, but also they go back with a better understanding and acceptance of other cultures, which can contribute to bring peace to the world. This is the main objective of our Master Camp.


Sensei Okazaki teaching at lifelong student Robin Rielly's dojo


(LL)     ISKF has its own Trainee Program of course, which has been a huge success. How close to the original Kenshusei format in Japan have you based it and what (if any) are the differences?


(TO)     Everything is the same as Master Nakayama made and I assisted. We are following that exactly the same. 


(LL)     What are your main objectives when developing future instructors to sustain ISKF karate for another 50 years?


(TO)     As I constantly try to share Master Funakoshi’s principles, it is my profound hope that all Shotokan instructors do the same. That they never forget that being a true martial artist and human being is the most important technique they can teach their students. And also to accept one another regardless of ethnicity or culture and work together to bring peace to the world.


 (LL)     You have built up such a wonderful foundation of students – a list too long to make here. What do you attribute your success to?


(TO)     I have been very fortunate to have been able to teach wonderful people from all over the world. Whatever success I have achieved is their success.


(LL)     You are now no longer a part of the JKA. From here on out, what are your primary objectives for ISKF?


(TO)     I’ve done several interviews regarding the ISKF leaving the JKA, and as I have tried my best to explain in the interview I did in Masters Magazine, the main purpose for leaving the JKA was because we must do things democratically. Every country is different and we must respect different cultures. However, my objectives are the same as they were when I first came to the US from Japan. And that is to continue to try to pass on Master Funakoshi’s philosophy, which is to teach how to be a good martial artist first, meaning to be a good human being. That is the goal; to try to be the best human being you can, practice that through following the Dojo Kun and Niju Kun along with the physical training of Karate-Do. I will never change these objectives.


(LL)     Can you please tell us about the significance of the Seika Tanden in Budo?


(TO)     From the time a beginner starts taking classes I tell them that all power is generated in the seika tanden, which is the area just below the navel. For centuries, many martial arts instructors believed that there was a spiritual power originating in that area. All techniques originate from the seika tanden and then flow through to the punch or kick. If the body’s center or seika tanden is strong then the technique will be strong also. This would be ki because there is a direct connection between the body’s core to the extremities. When energy flows through the center that is ki.


Sensei Okazaki training with Robin Rielly


(LL)     The Samurai was a man who served, who had no ego and was always loyal. This is the way of the warrior or Bushido am I correct? There are of course principles celebrated the world over. Do you therefore think that the Bushido is not necessarily solely related to Japan but is in fact a universally recognisable set of principles to live by?


(TO)     I know this is a universal mindset; it’s just not called Bushido in countries outside of Japan. 99% of all people feel a loyalty to their government, to their countries and even to their families. This is the same as Bushido. Not all will go to extremes, but most will do what they have to protect what they believe in whether it is their country’s principles or their family’s safety.


(LL)     You are renown for your awe-inspiring kicking ability. Were you a natural kicker, or did you have to work hard to develop them? If so, can you please explain how you did so?


(TO)     As I said, I am always following Master Funakoshi’s principle. He said in daily life, you do not use the legs much, just for walking. The hands, yes, they are already coordinated. He said that is why you have to practice leg techniques 50% more than hand techniques, if you do punching 10 times then you should do 15 – 20 kicking techniques. That is what I followed and it makes a good balance. Yes, kicking techniques can have more power than hand techniques and we studied how much different they are. Kicking techniques are stronger and that is why I followed Master Funakoshi’s advice and practiced kicking techniques more and that is to help them to develop. As he said, make a good balance. Of course, it depends on the distance when you are defending yourself. Maybe kicking would be more effective, or punching would be more effective. He said it doesn’t make any difference, but you have to practice kicking techniques more because of coordination wise. That is what he said and that is why I did it. Of course each individual has something they are better at, maybe someone is better at kata or another person may have stronger punching techniques. But I practiced kicking more than anyone else and that is why. Everything must be balanced.


Sensei Okazaki in London 2009


(LL)     The more you advance, looking back to the arts you practiced in your earlier years – Aikido, Judo and Kendo – do you see the overlapping principles within all Martial Arts? Or do you think they are all separate entities entirely?


(TO)     All Martial Arts principles are exactly the same. I have experience with this, I started Kendo in grammar school, and in high school I did a little Judo, and Aikido before karate. The techniques are a little different of course, just like boxing and wrestling are different but all of those masters taught the same principal. Budo means never to fight. The philosophy is also exactly the same. One movement to defend yourself. Why I stayed in karate is because I checked all of those body movements and karate was the best for me. I am lucky; I studied Aikido from Mr. Ueshiba, he was the founder of Aikido and Kendo has many different masters because it was the oldest martial art in Japan. And Judo had many different instructors. But the way they taught was exactly the same. It has changed now that it has been accepted in the Olympic games. That is why in Japan a lot of people are not practicing Judo anymore because it is not a real martial art now that it is in the Olympics. You can see in the universities not many of them have a Judo club because the students want to study a real martial art. It is like wrestling. 


(LL)     What is your favourite kata and why?


(TO)     Heian Shodan! I always say “back to the beginning”.


Shaun BanfieldA photograph I took of Sensei Okazaki in London, in 2009


(LL)     What are the most important skills a good ‘Teacher’ must have do you think? What advice would you give to the karate instructors around the world reading this?


(TO)     Make sure, as I said earlier, that they follow Master Funakoshi’s principles. Be sure they do not get a big head, and nothing is wrong with competition. It is good experience and just another training. But we are not doing sport karate, we are studying martial arts. This is the most important thing they can teach their students.


(LL)     Sensei, finally…you have been practicing karate since 1947 so for sixty-two years. What is required of a person to dedicate a lifetime to this Martial Art? Can you give any advice?


(TO)     It’s very simple, just keep training and never lose the objective of a true martial artist, which is as I said to be a good human being.


(LL)     Have there been any points that I have neglected to ask you about that you would like to mention?


(TO)     No.


(LL)     Can we please say a huge thank you for giving us this interview, and may we wish you and all of ISKF around the world all the best of luck for the future.


(TO)     Thank you.


Sensei Okazaki signing a book for me


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