Interview with Sensei Ernie Molyneux
Interview by: Sensei David Lambert as featured in three parts in IOGKF Magazine
For those who don’t really know or understand Higaonna Sensei’s achievements, what can you tell us.
Well for starters Higaonna Sensei has been recognised as a living cultural treasure for his contributions towards martial arts or Karate basically. If you are talking rank wise, Sensei has graded from white belt to 3rd Dan when he was 19 after many of training. As for when the IOGKF started, I believe Sensei was a 7th Dan. He was this rank when he first came to England for EGKA in 1977 and Chinen Sensei was 6th Dan.
This was the first time I’d seen and trained with Higaonna Sensei, but we in England has been training with Chinen Sensei since 1972. But Higaonna Sensei had actually been to England in 1973. He was with Terry O’Neil and Gary Spires, and I can’t quite remember, but Bakkies Sensei might have also been with them. Either way, they stopped into Liverpool on their way to the world Karate championships in Paris.
As for the IOGKF itself it was formed in Poole in England in 1979, but as for the countries affiliated with Higaonna Sensei prior to this South Africa had been following him since 1969 and England was from around 1977. But people from our Dojo’s in England were going over to England to train with Higaonna Sensei at the Yoyogi Dojo even before that. English guys like Graham Ravey and Steve Bellamay were there for extended periods.
So pushing grades aside, being at such a high level and in such high demand for so long is a true testament to Higaonna Sensei.
Now, some 35 plus years later, Higaonna Sensei has stepped back from the role of World Chief Instructor and promoted Sensei Tetsuji Nakamura as his replacement. Can you explain the significance of this move.
I think it was a really wise move, personally. If look at a lot of the other really big Karate associations, across a variety of styles too, once the figure head either passes away or retires completely there tends to be suddenly be too many chiefs and everyone wants to be in charge. So basically what Higaonna Sensei had done has had a look at where he is in life and has decided to appoint Nakamura Sensei, obviously for his youth and technical abilities. Higaonna Sensei has then asked seniors like Bakkies Sensei, Terauchi Sensei, Sensei Henrik and I to support Nakamura Sensei in his journey to become the world chief instructor.
Even though his current title is World Chief Instructor, he knows himself he still has some way to go. And Nakamura Sensei is actually very, very open minded in that respect and he will take on board advice from the other seniors and I. Our next step is to try and push him more to the forefront now. For example, we really want to see him out the front with Higaonna Sensei at the big Gasshuku’s. When Higaonna Sensei kneels down, we think Nakamura Sensei should be out the front there with him.
When Higaonna Sensei formed the IOGKF, he still had possibly up to ten seniors to him in Okinawa. Master such as Kina Sensei and even Miyazato Sensei at the time, and of course Anichi Miyagi Sensei and Shuichi Aragaki Sensei were all his seniors and were listed as such, but Higaonna Sensei was the chief instructor because he was obviously the most active out of everyone
This is exactly the same with us currently seniors and Nakamura Sensei.
Where do you see the IOGKF heading in this new era? Is it a new direction or the same focus?
I think it’s our job as chief instructors and more so us as executive committee members and seniors of IOGKF to basically continue to steer the Federation on its current path. We have many, many good senior instructors in many, many countries and I think what we need to do is make sure that we are all heading in the same direction.
Personally I think we need to have tournaments of one form or another, because otherwise we’re going to lose too many youngsters. I think we need to have some kind of Iri Kumi competition or something along those lines, and then we get together and have a World tournaments every set amount of years. The countries themselves would have to push the tournaments, not necessarily to have fighters travel to different countries or in open tournaments, but just so it gives the youth a want to compete. If they want to compete in point sparring competitions or other comps, that’s fine. In England we have members who want to do both, but unfortunately because we do practice traditional Karate and we have some much to cover like Kata, Kakies, Bunkai, etc, Kumite is not really the main objective. So unless you get someone who is very, very talented you won’t get someone who will win these open competitions.
So I think that’s another step to strengthen IOGKF in the junior ranks.
Do you think because of what you just explained IOGKF needs its own set of tournament rules?
I don’t think it is so much the rules. In the past we’ve had lots of seniors who are high level referees in their own country and they’ve actually helped us in formulating sets of rules. But it’s not so much the rules themselves, it’s getting the referees to all be on the same page and use the rules in exactly the same way. Generally what happens is what one referee deems as too much contact, another referee will think that’s ok. What one referee will accept as contact, another referee won’t and that’s basically what it is like in different parts of the world.
We have some countries where they like to have a higher level of contact and other countries that think there shouldn’t be any contact at all. What we actually need to do is try and even it out a little bit and find a happy medium between the two, because when we have a world tournament, we’re going to have good fighters disqualified, not through any fault of their own, but because they’ve just been used to making heavier contact or they get hurt because they’re not used to having any contact. The bottom line is if you haven’t got an even playing field, you can’t really have a fair tournament.
As for teaching, say you have a students who come into the Dojo young and is quite tournament orientated and trains like that for years and then suddenly becomes to get board, how do you steer them towards traditional Karate?
Well if they do start to become board with the tournament side of things, you really should have make sure that they actually have a real love for training itself. You know they really have to have a thirst for knowledge and you create this by not feeding them too much too early. I am not saying you should keep people in the dark by not showing them your Kata and things like that, I think that would also be the wrong approach. But you can only fill a glass so far before its starts dripping over the side and losing things, so you need to find a good balance and only give them so much at a time.
However, if you do have someone like that who is very talented and board of tournament Karate, you can ask them to start helping with teaching. Because sometimes instructing can also give you a greater insight into Kata, different combinations and techniques and it will help to give you a better understanding and depth of knowledge of the actual style itself. So each situation is different.
Now IOGKF International is such a big organisation and there are so many talented senior instructors amongst its ranks, do you think member countries should bring a variety of guest to their shores, or just try and stick with one visiting instructor?
I think if you are looking at Kata, each country needs to look to Higaonna Sensei and then of course to Nakamura Sensei, because obviously Nakamura Sensei has modelled himself on Higaonna Sensei’s technique. So I think if they want to learn the Kata’s they really need to go to Okinawa.
We have such a variety of instructors with such a wide range of abilities that I think it is good to do a rotation of guest instructors. In England and also Denmark for example, we always rotate the guest instructors.
For lower grades its a big deal if one instructor teaches the Kata with their hand here and another with their hand there. But for seniors its different attitude, they take into account peoples body shapes. Like I’m not six foot six inches tall and because they’re really tall they might not be able to do a good Shiko Dachi or vice versa. I think though as you get a little more mature its important just to accept little things like that and get on with it and don’t make a big deal about something if it is slightly different.
The truth is, none of us are like Higaonna Sensei or even like how Higaonna Sensei was when we first started training, but all we can do is strive to reach the goal of the level of perfection he has in his technique.
With training, how do you get the most improvement? Is it attending big Gasshuku’s or training in Okinawa or just Dojo training?
For me personally, on most big Gasshuku’s I’m usually teaching, but there is generally training in the mornings with Higaonna Sensei for black belts before the Gasshuku starts. Whether we’re covering Sanchin or senior Kata, whatever it is, I always find I pick something up. Even if it is only one thing in one Kata I always make a note of it and when I go back home I think to myself I need to sort that out.
Obviously I get more if I personally go to Japan and train with Sensei, because it’s me on the floor putting that many more hours of my own training in. But I do also really enjoy training with my own students. I train with them every day and some of them are very, very dedicated. Whether we’re doing fitness training, bag work, fighting, Kata, Bunkai, Kakie and other different aspects I enjoy that side of training too. In the day time, I train for me and at night I try to teach and those who join me during the day, they basically have to just go along with me.
Well speaking of your own time during the day, are you training then and do you have a certain routine?
Yes I do. Generally I try and work it so say on a Monday morning I would just go to like a regular gym and do some cardio training and some weight training and maybe do some bag work of Kata afterwards. Then Monday night I would teach at the Dojo, which is a senior class, but depending on what we are doing, I’ll try and get involved with the training too. On Tuesday mornings its the same thing again and some of my students might come and train with me and I’ll just do my general fitness routine for between 40 minutes to an hour and then do Karate based training for an hour or even longer if I have something coming up like a big Gasshuku or I’m off to teach somewhere.
It’s basically the same routine day to day it’s just the training that varies. But I try to keep it so that my level doesn’t drop, so I never have to struggle to get back to fitness, unless I have an injury. I always try to keep myself at a reasonable fitness level.
Then on Tuesday nights I teach a beginners class. There are some black belts there, but they are generally the ones how are back after having some time off and are getting geared up to return to the senior classes
On Wednesday morning, sometimes I go to a boxing gym and I’ll do basically pad work, bag work, sparring, etc for a couple of hours. Thursday mornings I train again and I basically follow the same day to day routine again and again. As for the weekends, if I’m not teaching somewhere, I’ll train again on Saturday and Sunday. This is usually once, sometimes twice just depends on family commitments. If there’s nothing going on or my wife is away, I’ll go a couple of times.
You were talking about black belts who have had time off coming back to training. World wide there seems to be a lot of people who used to train coming back into the organisation. Do you think chasing up the people who have stopped for a while due to family or other commitments is something member countries should be doing?
Yes I do. What generally happens is when someone has a week of the instructor tends to notice and if it becomes a fortnight you think ‘I wonder where they’ve gone’? If it gets to a month and you don’t contact them, you can actually lose them. What you should do as an instructor, after a fortnight or so is get in contact with them and just ask how they are, say I haven’t seen you for a while, hope to see you soon, I hope everything is ok. You don’t have to be pushy and say where are you, it’s certainly not that type of thing. A lot of people do martial arts or Karate as a hobby and they don’t what to be pushed. If you ring up saying, ‘where are you? Why aren’t you at the Dojo?’ then it becomes like they feel like they have to turn up. You should never make it like that.
But having said that it is a two way street. If you have people showing up every blue moon, they can’t expect to be graded. It’s a bit like a double edged sword if you will.
With people who are going to have a bit of a lay off or a break because they’re getting married or they’re off to university, whatever it is, if they do decide to come back, you should provide for them to train. I know that in the past, even in my own Dojo, people have come back after a long layoff and a lot of the other black belts think that is open season on them. This is no good, because they won’t go back. It can also lead to an animosity feeling in the Dojo or almost like there are two groups which isn’t how it should be. You can try to avoid it, but unfortunately it’s not always that easy, all you can do is try and make it friendly for everybody.
Having a traditional martial art with such a broad range of aspects, how do you cover everything with students who only attend classes a few hours a week, without having classes that jump around and don’t provide any real training?
You can’t really. The IOGKF Syllabus is so wide ranged that you think to yourself after a month, ‘I haven’t done this or I haven’t done that’. In Higaonna Sensei’s Dojo, even though the classes are scheduled from 8pm-10pm, they aren’t really. They go to 11pm or later most times. That three hour block Sensei works off was the same time frame for classes when I first started. So if you were training three nights per week, you were still getting nine hours training, even if you didn’t do any other types of training. On top of this, we used to do running, weights, train at other Dojo’s. Most people today train twice a week and the lessons are only an hour and a half in most Dojo’s. In some Dojo’s they are only an hour, so those people are only training like a third of what we used to train, or a third of what they would get in Higaonna Sensei’s Dojo.
I believe on average most people at Higaonna Sensei’s dojo train about three times per week. So they are basically going to cover three times as much as most westerns will cover in a week.
So with that in mind, how do we as traditional karate compete when a gym that can offer something like an express 45 minute work out?
It really depends on what you are doing it for. If people just want to do Karate for just fitness, I think they’ve picked the wrong activity. For people who just want to come in, do a 45 minute workout, sweat and go home, then aerobics classes or a cross fit session will be more suited to them.
I think you should make your warms ups hard with push ups, sit ups, squats, different calisthenics and more. If you do have people who are less able then you, you should say to them just try your best. Having said that, you shouldn’t make it too easy and have a set amount of reps for everything, like no more then ten press ups, so that they are left saying I want more. It shouldn’t be like that. You want them to increase and increase and increase so they get better, otherwise eventually they will reach a plateau and they’ll think this is too easy and they leave anyway.
In IOGKF International, there are over 55 different countries. Within that we have very strong member countries like England, Denmark and Canada. What do you think the smaller countries should be doing to increase their success?
It really depends on their idea of success is; whether it is having a successful organisation or just a successful Dojo. For instance, a successful Dojo might be one with 100 students and it’s a financially viable business and if you like you could make a good living out of it. You may be able to teach and train and produce good students out it.
Or you might be focused on creating champions or really elite athletes. Those type of people wouldn’t have a hundred students I wouldn’t imagine, unless they had it really worked out and organised well. Because people who have full time Dojo’s need to make a living from their classes, their Dojo’s can often become too expensive to train at so right from the start they aren’t going to get a certain degree of people there.
With some of the smaller countries though, I think they just need to do the same as the larger ones. But one thing all around is that you can’t train less than an hour and a half, that’s too little. By the time you do your traditional Junbi Undo and even at a rush, that’s 15-20 minutes and even then that only leaves you with a bit over an hour for actual Karate training. Then of course you have your supplementary training on top of that. I think you should be explaining to people how to use a chishi and show them how to hit a Makiwara and use pads and then they should be doing that kind of thing extra to what they are doing in the Dojo.
Common scenario. The Dojo can only afford to hire a hall for an hour and a half. You have a group of various grades. How do you teach so it’s not so basic that you lose the black belts, but not so advanced that it goes over the white belts head and you lose them?
If you do have Black Belts, you have to have extra training for them. If you are in that situation, you are going to have to pay extra rent and stay back half an hour to teach the seniors. You have to cover senior Kata, you have to cover heavier sparring.
Or the alternative is to have separate black belt classes. You can also have beginner classes, which might be white to yellow belt. There can be intermediate classes also, where you might have some black belts in with higher Kyu grades.
Another option if you have time in your Dojo is to have people up in groups. Like for example, have the lower Kyu grades sit down and watch the seniors grades do their Kata and then say this is how I want it done. And this works quite well because the intermediate students aspire to this and it also pushes the senior grades to be better.
But just on a different note, I think where we tend to miss out is that the instructors themselves should have their own students pushing them. Your objective as an instructor is to push your students to a higher level, that’s even better than you are. But you shouldn’t be complacent and think ‘I don’t have to train’. You should make provision for your own training as well. Don’t make the mistake of thinking training and teaching is the same thing, because it isn’t. I think even from Brown belt level you should be doing your own self training at least once a week.
For anyone who is really serious, even with beginners, I think back to when I first started and I was just so amazed at all the different things there were to learn. I was reading books, going to other Dojo’s and training with guys from other styles and without getting outside of your comfort zone it’s quite easy to become almost tunnel vision like. Eventually you end up being like a big fish in a little pond.
In a black belt only group. Some countries like England for instance have a large number of 6th Dan and say at the other end of the room you have a large number of Shodans, do you have trouble covering the senior curriculum without losing the lower Black Belts to other things.
Not necessarily, No. Because most of the seniors usually don’t mind. See with Shodan’s and Nidan’s you can still cover all the various forms of Kumite, contact training, pad work, Hojo Undo. The only thing you probably couldn’t cover is Kata’s above Seipai. You only have Kururunfa, Sesan & Suparimpei left after that and that’s only three Kata’s. Nidan’s and even Shodan’s should be fine to practice Tensho, not to mention Sanchin and turning Sanchin.
But if you look at most courses or seminars, it is usually split into grades sessions, so you’re really not teaching the whole group at once anyway. If you have a large amount of seniors you can organise more groups.
Another scenario. You have a new student walk into your Dojo. How do you gear training to get them to stick with it, without making it too hard for them that they can’t keep up or too easy that its boring? What is the happy medium?
I think the most successful way if you are going to do stuff like that is to have a beginners class. When you get a white belt come into a class, that’s a regular ongoing one and you’ve got coloured Kyu grade belts and some black belts in it, unless they are very naturally talented, they are never going to be able to take to that class and they are never going to learn the basics properly.
At Higaonna Sensei’s Dojo, he will always cut someone out to teach the beginners, even if it is a brown belt. I was even taught my basics by a brown belt, because there was a lack of black belts everywhere back in those days. I can only think of four black belts back then, they all had four black belts between them. So generally at any one time there were only one or two black belts in each class. Even some green belts taught basics. But it’s not all bad, like I said before, sometimes teaching gives people a greater understanding.
At what level do you think is the right time to start easing people into starting to teach?
I think at least at brown belt level. At that point they should be able to show beginners some basic techniques. But you need to actually show them exactly what you want them to teach and also give them a couple of tips on teaching. I remember doing a coaching course under sports England once and the instructor was a guy called Frank Dick and he was Davy Thompson’s coach, the famous Decathlon athlete who won consecutive gold at two Olympic games. So obviously with the decathlon you’ve got ten different events you need to be able to coach for. You have to be able to have your athlete run long distance, jump really high, jump long and throw with different techniques and all the other various things you have to do in the decathlon. So basically Frank Dick was giving us lots of tips on coaching different things, but one useful thing he said that has always stuck with me is that when you are teaching class, that you have to think in your head that half of the students are deaf and that half the students are blind. So you have to demonstrate everything for the deaf people, because they can’t hear you. So if you can’t demonstrate they’ll never get it and sometimes you need to choose a student who can do it, maybe if its a Jodan Mawashi Geri and you can’t kick high, pick as student who can to demonstrate. Then you would say this is what I want, this is how I want it done. Then for the people who are blind, you have to explain things as well, for example ‘we’re going to do a jodan Mawashi Geri, which is a round house kick to the head. So take your right leg behind and we’re going to bring our leg up and around so the knee is in line the line of vision, then extend our leg out to kick with the top of the foot to the side of the face’. That sort of thing.
People do have different ways of learning. Some will see something and do it straight away and some people need a little more coaching, even if its physically moving their leg in a mawashi geri style for them.
Over 50 years age groups have started to pick up world wide. Do you think this is something we should be setting a side class for or what is the best way to attract this age group?
Well a lot of people over 50 years old are still usually in pretty good nick, so they can most times just work in with the general class most of the time. But I know that Sensei Henrik Larsen in Denmark has very successfully implemented a class for a senior age group and I also noticed Kuramoto Sensei has started doing the same in Okinawa at Higaonna Sensei’s Dojo. There are lots of people out there in that age group who would want to train, but our expectation for them isn’t that of what we’d expect of a 25 year old who is in really good shape. But you still teach them everything and I see more and more over 50’s on every Gasshuku now and really a good portion of our Black Belt students are in that age group and that’s Internationally.
Looking at the other end of the scale now. In regards to kids, how young is too young?
I don’t actually teach kids anymore, I used to, but many of the other instructors in England teach kids and some of them have really successful kids classes. Some of them teach kids from the age of four years old. But I would really suggest teaching them any younger than that, although people do. Some people run three to four year old classes that go for 30 minutes and basically they just learn how to line up, how to punch, and maybe play a few games, not a whole lot of Karate. But it is good in getting them into that mindset of being disciplined.
One of our instructors in England, he starts the kids from five years old and until the age of seven, he just does a badge system and puts tags on their belts. So they don’t actually enter the grading system until they’re seven. They don’t even learn the first Kata, it’s just how to punch, how to kick, how to block, etc and for each of these things they get a badge or a tip.
Do you think for kids, systems like these are the way to go?
I think for juniors they are. The only thing I don’t like is the look of a kids gi with badges plastered all down them. I think it would be better if they had some sort of sweat shirt or something instead or a book or something similar. But I think that merit system idea, which has obviously worked for the boy scouts for years.
But when they move into the actual grading system, you can try what we do in England and that’s use Mon grades or sub-gradings. So you can really divide each grade into four if you so wish. So if the kids are getting board, you can split the grades up and still have gradings for the kids. Each Mon you can add something like a San Dan Gi set, Half a Kata then the other half of a Kata for each tip, something like that. This way they are always progressing regularly. There are also so many different types of belt out there today too, that you mix it up while slowing them down. You can go from white belt to a white belt with a yellow stripe and then a yellow belt, then a yellow belt with a white stripe in it, then full yellow belt. So there’s four grades there before they even get to yellow belt.
Juniors need goals, but I still strongly think that tournaments are also the way forward for them. Even if you do a Kata tournament or San Dan Gi tournament or even a kumite tournament, you should encourage it if they want to do it.
For average member countries of say a few hundred members, how many tournaments per year do you think they should be having?
It really depends on the Dojo’s. You can have Dojo’s doing little Dojo tournaments themselves and maybe do one tournament per year. What we do in England is try to do it in three regions. We run a competition in the London region, Southern region and Northern region and then we’ll finish with a National one. So they have four tournaments they can always go into. So with that they have the potential to do four or five tournaments a year without having to actually go out and participate in all styles competitions.
With young kids and teens, there is now a lot of almost over the top positive reinforcement in Dojo’s, even if things aren’t up to standard. What do you think about this?
I don’t really agree with it to be honest. I’m probably a bit old fashioned. I see it with a lot of instructors now actually. My wife works in a school and some of the things they have to say and do just seem a bit wrong. For instance they can’t tell kids off if they are swearing. I think you should have some old fashioned values. If someone is doing something wrong, just say something to then like ‘not quite like that, it should be done like this’. Having said that, if you do give a kid a telling to like that, it is also good to try and give them something positive later on like ‘yes, that’s how I want it done’. Or ‘that was a really good kick, now I want it done like that all the time’.
I don’t think you should be saying ‘Oh, yeah, that was great!’ when you fully know that it wasn’t. You shouldn’t clap someone for a really good Kata if it isn’t. Otherwise you’re not preparing them for the real world. For example if they go to school, if they fail an exam, they fail an exam. If they take a driving test and they park it in a bus stop they don’t get their drivers licence. And then instructors start moving the goal posts closer to make everything nice and easy for them.
You say ‘you’re times up and you’re ready for black belt’, but then they can’t kick, can’t punch and they aren’t going to be good enough. What instructors are better off doing is saying, ‘I think you should wait another year, or maybe next time’. You don’t get your driver’s licence if you can’t drive.
There are many popular martial arts around at the moment as a result of the mixed martial arts era. What do you think traditional Okinawan Goju-ryu can offer compared to systems like MMA, Kickboxing or Taekwondo?
Well I wouldn’t compare something like Taekwondo to Goju-ryu. I think Taekwondo has become more of a sport now than a martial art, but I do think there would be some Koreans that wouldn’t agree with you on that. But it is more geared towards the Olympics, especially in England. And I can understand people wanting to win an Olympic gold medal and that’s fine. But two or three years before the London 2012 Olympics, the British Taekwondo Association actually advertised in martial arts papers for any Black Belts that had fought in tournaments to switch to Taekwondo with the hope of getting into the Olympics. So they were looking for guys from other martial arts to try and gain medals.
As for MMA and Kickboxing, I remember when I first started teaching years ago, there was no MMA at all and there was very little kick boxing. If people wanted to fight, they either did straight out boxing or went to a Karate class. So you had the market for those 18-30 year olds from all different walks of life, school teachers to brick layers. But nowadays you don’t really get the people who want to fight, they see Kata and think I’ll go do Kickboxing or MMA. Unless you’re providing a service for them, where they know they will actually get some fighting as part of a class, I think you’re going to lose out on getting those type of people.
However, if you can promote in a way that they know they are going to get hard training, they are going to learn how to defend themselves and fight effectively, learn self defence techniques, but also that they will do traditional Karate training. You shouldn’t shy away from that and just advertise it as if you do grappling, fighting and nothing else, although we do, do those aspects, they have to know they have to walk the line of our traditional discipline
I think if people knew more of what Goju-ryu is all about, I think we’d all have a lot more students. But I know if England right now, Karate hasn’t got such a good name. There are a number of not so good Karate instructors, who just hide behind a grade and their standard can be pretty poor.
So say you are looking for a Dojo, whether it is for yourself or your child, male or female, what should you do to try and find a good Dojo?
Well, in the past when I have had students move away and they contact me and say there is no Goju-ryu in this area, I say to them to just have a look at the local martial art clubs and go along and ask them if you can watch a lesson. If people have nothing to hide, they say sure, sure not a problem.
But if you have never done martial arts before, it is difficult to advise people because they have never seen it before. It then becomes more of a question of what they want out of it. If they say they are just after something where they do grappling or fighting or heavy contact sparring, again I would just go along and visit different martial arts clubs, like kickboxing, MMA, or a contact style of Karate. If they are looking for something a little more gentle, then something like Aikido would be better suited.
If it was a case a student moving away and looking for another Dojo, I would be looking more at the instructor and not the style. Go and have a look at them and at their students and you will more or less see straight away whether or not it’s a reasonably good standard across the Dojo. Work out if the students being bullied into training or if they whole club is really soft and finally see how they are when you approach them about joining them.
With IOGKF International, we have an executive committee. What is its purpose?
The IOGKF has always had an executive committee, but it has always been much bigger and basically it was in place to generally run the Federation and it had someone as treasurer, someone as secretary, etc. And obviously Higaonna Sensei’s wife used to help him a lot with that, because it is a huge job administration wise. But overall if was more for policy making and reviewing certain events in certain countries. Along with contacting countries who haven’t paid their affiliation fees and working out what to do there.
Even though it was big, there were probably a lot of people on it who didn’t need to be. So what we have done now is cut it right down to three. We have Nakamura Sensei who is obviously to World Chief Instructor and then we have Sensei Henrik Larsen from Denmark and I as Vice-Chief Instructors. However if we do need advice, we can contact our seniors like Bakkies Sensei, Terauchi Sensei and of course Higaonna Sensei. However Higaonna Sensei does have the power of veto, but if we do make a decision and consult him he is usually very open minded in that respect. With so many countries on board there is obviously going to be power struggles, etc and it’s our job as executive committee members to find a reasonable solutions that benefits both parties and still benefits IOGKF.
Nakamura Sensei is obviously a fantastic leader and one day will be the soul head of IOGKF International someday. How do feel about being a senior to the man who will lead IOGKF into tomorrow?
The IOGKF was formed out of James Rosseau’s brain child. He designed the logo, spoke to Higaonna Sensei, organised the Gasshuku in Poole and invited all the countries from around the world that were training with Higaonna Sensei. He then helped Higaonna Sensei form the IOGKF. But Higaonna Sensei had all of these senior instructors in Okinawa assisting him, but they weren’t the world chief instructor. At the time there was Anichi Miyagi Sensei, Eiichi Miyazato Sensei, Aragaki Sensei, Kina Sensei and without going back and looking at it, I believe there was about 10 senior masters who were all senior to Higaonna Sensei and most of them had trained with Goju-ryu founder, Chojun Miyagi Sensei.
They were all happy for Higaonna Sensei to take the mantle, one because of his personality and abilities, but also they saw it as a way forward into the future to preserve the art of Okinawan Goju-ryu.
That’s how I see it with Nakamura Sensei’s appointment. I think if people are too full of their own high importance they’ll be thinking he shouldn’t be in the position he is because he’s not as high a grade as me, but I think they need to look at the big picture. A lot of the people who are senior to Nakamura Sensei are older as well. If we can help him, advise him and assist him we will, but we do have to accept him as World Chief Instructor. You can’t have it so he’s like a paper tiger with no teeth. He if
wants something done a certain way, we have to accept it and support him. If it is Higaonna Sensei’s wish then we need to get behind it and accept it.
There are many Goju-ryu organisations around the world that may have one key instructor that attracts members or there may be smaller groups. Do you think there is a cause to try and mould all of these groups into the IOGKF or as one federation?
It was Higaonna Sensei’s dream at one time to try and amalgamate all the different branches of Goju-ryu under one umbrella. Even Goju-kai. There are lots of different Goju styles with lots of different names, but they obviously all stem from Chojun Miyagi Sensei and his teachings.
I don’t think you could ever do it. I think it’s just a nice dream really. They’ve all got different aspirations and ambitions and again, in all associations you get power struggles within them. I don’t think they would all accept one particular head of the style. If you set IOGKF as the standard and said everything has got to be done like that, you would have people who wouldn’t agree and not do it. If Goju Kai turned around to us and said we have to do the Kata’s like this, IOGKF would say no. So I don’t think you would get a compromise where all the Goju styles would come together. People have also started branching off in different areas now also.
Big question. There is a push for Karate to be in the 2020 Olympic games. Do you think Karate should be an Olympic sport?
I think for youngsters it would be a really good thing. Only because they put so much effort and time into hard training, it’s a shame they don’t get the opportunity to perform on the world stage in the Olympics against all the other sport. And now you have Taekwondo, Wrestling, Judo, boxing and all these other martial arts, I personally think Karate probably should be there. But I don’t think Goju-ryu would be in it unfortunately, because training like an Olympic athlete is a different training to traditional Goju-ryu training. You would have to commit yourself to doing only sports Karate and maybe once you finish try and come back to traditional Karate.
Looking at those sports martial artist who focus solely on competition in an almost ‘tag your it’ style, do you think they would be effective fighters in the street?
Some and some, I would think. With street fighting its almost an individual thing. You often hear of people who are excellent tournament fighters, but they’ve been dropped in the pub. But you also hear of people who are good street fighters, who never get through the first round of a tournament.
It’s a different kettle of fish when a real situation happens, whether it is in a pub, out in the street, outside your front door, wherever, it’s a totally different feeling from being in a tournament. However tournaments can be a good exercise for controlling your aggression. It also does take some courage to get in there too. Whether its point sparring, semi-contact or full contact fighting it does take guts to get in there and do it.
The only thing is when you get into the ring you know that you have to fight the other person. In a pub it’s totally different and usually over very, very quickly, unless it becomes a long protracted fight with a lot of people. When it’s one on one, I’ve never really seem them last too long, whether I’ve been involved or I’ve seen two others.
Talking more on street fighting, do you think the basics we practice, numerous repetitions of punching, etc sometime even without moving, do you think these skills are enough to save you in the street?
Yes, I think it is. If you are sensible enough to use it in that realistic situation, whether it’s a straight punch or an elbow strike, even if it is something simple like lifting one hand up like Jodan Age Uke if someone is going to attack you from the side. Obviously, you aren’t going stand in perfect Zenkutsu Dachi with you other hand back in chamber in perfect form, but the skill and technique is still there. Your hand will just come up in a natural way if someone takes a swing at you.
It is after that when you have to retaliate that you really have to become quite animalistic. You cannot afford to hit them and move away and say c’mon try that again. You don’t know if there is going to be more than one person and you have to retaliate. There’s no volume control on hitting people. If someone does attack you in the street, there’s nothing you can do, you have to hit them and in vital spots to basically take them out. After that, the threat level is lowered and then you can assess the situation. If they are injured you can sort it out, put them in the recovery position if need be, call an ambulance, whatever the situation requires.
If it is more than one person you may have some on your back. And people have all these different maxims, like I’d rather be tried by twelve than carried by six. You know I think the best way is to try and avoid conflict, but sometimes it is unavoidable.
It’s not the same as Dojo sparring either. You can have a really hard sparring session where you can hitting to the face, the ribs and getting really cut up, but it’s nowhere near what it is actually like in the street.
Having said that, is sparring training still beneficial?
Yes it is, but you’ve got to do various types of sparring. You’ve got to glove up occasionally and go for it. Other times you don’t have gloves and go nice light to improve co-ordination, etc. But I feel, especially amongst seniors, there should always be a degree of contact. For example, say someone has their guard open, you should be able to kick them hard enough to wind them. Not this touchy feely stuff, if they’re open you should be able to hit them. I think with the face you shouldn’t be breaking noses or knocking teeth out or anything, it should be reasonably controlled when striking to the head, but I think you should be hitting the body, so people know if their guard is open. Or if their leg is open, low kick them. And don’t just touch it, kick them. So when they see a small bruise on their leg the next day they think, I’ll move that next time.
We now have Iri Kumi 1, almost slow motion fighting, and Iri Kumi 2, like normal free fighting. Do you think Black belts should be heading more towards Iri Kumi 1 to improve technique or just Iri Kumi 2?
With Iri Kumi 1 or the slow version, we used to call it Kata Kumite. It was almost like you said, slow motion sparring. Then we would step it up a little faster like regular Dojo sparring and then we would go really fast, more for seniors, but going as fast as you can. There obviously has to still be a degree of control, but you can still catch your opponent around the body and you really should be hitting them. They may get winded. With kicking it can be quite difficult to control the higher kicks, but especially to the body and the leg, I think you should be almost going full out.
And finally to finish, when did you first meet Nakamura Sensei and notice his abilities and personal attributes to Higaonna Sensei and IOGKF?
I first met him when he had gone over to California to train with Higaonna Sensei, because he was actually Aragaki Sensei’s student to start with. And at the time he was just another student basically, around Shodan or Nidan I believe. I think I may have been a Yondan. And obviously he kept training with Higaonna Sensei and followed him to Okinawa. He left his job to pursue Karate full time and he had a very good university degree, which much to the disappointment of his parents at the time he didn’t use and instead followed Karate.
I think he should be rewarded for his efforts in that respect. And obviously Higaonna Sensei has seen that and sensed his loyalty and respect and chosen him as the next head for that and his personal attributes and abilities and I think he’s made the right choice.