Shihan Kousaku Yokota interview: Why Asai karate?
This interview was done by Sensei Leandre Rosa of Brazil. He gave me a lot of good questions and I want to thank him for this opportunity to introduce ASAI and Asai karate. This interview will be translated in Portuguese and will be posted later.
1. Let me ask you about yourself, Shihan Yokota. I am sorry to say this but I have heard from many people that you are not known in Brazil like Kanazawa and Yahara who are well known here by the senior karateka. No one had heard of you until recently. It seems that you appeared suddenly with the books (“Shotokan Myths” and “Shotokan Mysteries”) that you published and with your new organization, ASAI. It has been only recently the Brazilians began to hear your name and about Asai karate. It seems very strange so please tell us how did this happen.
(KY) Yes, what you said is true and I had no exposure until 2009. There are two main reasons why this was the case.
The first reason was that I had a full time job (non karate) to support my family with three sons. I simply did not have time to write an article (let alone a book) or to travel for a seminar. It finally changed in 2009 when I lost my job and got divorced at the same time. I took advantage of these fortunate events and decided to teach karate full time.
The second reason came from a very Japanese way of thinking. I had two senseis to whom I felt I owed my karate to. First sensei was Sugano, 9th dan JKA co-chairman who taught the basics of shotokan karate. The other is Asai, 10th dan Founder of JKS who taught me Asai style karate. While they were still alive I felt I must not go out myself so I declined all the invitations for an interview or give a seminar.
Sugano sensei passed away in 2002 and Asai sensei followed in 2006. After that period I felt those senseis would allow me to go out myself and share my knowledge. My full time karate activities started in 2009. Since that time, I resigned from the JKS and published my first book in 2010. I also began visiting different countries to teach Asai style karate which is a very unique Shotokan Karate. I plan to visit Brazil two times every year and hope to meet many dedicated karate practitioners in Brazil.
2. Before you followed Master Asai’s JKS, your karate training was under Master Sugano JKA, and later you became an assistant instructor of Master Okazaki, ISKF. I am sure you also met other famous masters but how did Master Asai inspire you so much that you decided to propagate his name and legacy?
(KY) It is true that I was lucky to have had different instruction from some famous instructors including Nakayama, Kanazawa, Okazaki, Yaguchi, Mikami, Tanaka and many others. They were all excellent karate senseis and I believe I learned a lot from all of them. Thanks to all of them they built a solid foundation of Shotokan karate in me. I will never discredit their influence in my karate.
I knew Master Asai since the 80s as he and I both belonged to the same organization, the JKA at that time. I saw his demonstrations at the All Japan Championship in Tokyo which I participated in 1981 and 1982 (I represented my state, Hyogo). I was very much impressed with his karate because he had those signature techniques of the whipping arms and legs. However, at that time I did not appreciate his circular and whip like techniques enough to follow him. In fact, I was fully into the JKA style strong kime techniques that are straight and linear.
When I hit 50 years of age I wanted to improve but could not find a way with the techniques of JKA. I felt very frustrated and in fact I quit karate for three years (1997 through 2000). I returned to Japan and entered a Ki training center in Tokyo. I learned how to relax deeply and the importance of using the backbone in relaxation exercises. In 2001 I happened to participate in an Asai seminar and saw his karate while in his mid 60s. He was still flexible and his techniques were still like a whip. At that moment, I immediately knew that his way was exactly how I wanted to be when I reach his age. In addition, I was impressed to have found that he spent two to three hours every morning. So he became my karate model.
3. You were a life time member of JKA then you switched to Asai’s organization, JKS in 2002. Then, you resigned from JKS in 2009 and you created your own organization, ASAI last year. What happened here?
(KY) You are correct that I was a life time member of JKA and I kept it for 40 years (my name is still listed in the JKA member list even today). It was a very difficult decision and it took me a year to switch my membership from JKA to JKS. As the multiple membership is not permitted in Japan, so I had to pick one. It was hard but I really wanted to follow Master Asai so I switched. I knew I was doing the right thing and I do not regret what I did. In fact I believe that was the best thing I did for my karate. Every time I visited Tokyo I visited Master Asai and learned a lot from him.
Unfortunately, he passed away in August of 2006 at the age of only 71. He had major surgery in the winter and he was supposed to rest but instead he visited the US and Mexico in July to do a seminar which definitely shortened his life. I wrote the details about his last seminar in my second book and the chapter’s title is “The Last Samurai”.
For three more years I stayed in JKS even after Master Asai’s passing. I wanted to promote Asai karate as a member of JKS. However, as time passed JKS shifted its attention to its new Chief Instructor, Sensei Kagawa. With due respect he is a great karate-ka too but his style is not Asai ryu. His style is the standard JKA shotokan. I understand the necessity of doing this for JKS but this change made me decide to resign. I belonged to another non Japanese organization for three years to promote Asai karate mainly in Europe. I had to resign from that organization too in 2013. After thinking it over for one month I decided to create a non political organization solely to promote Asai karate. The new organization’s name is ASAI (Asai Shotokan Association International) and there are no other organization in the world that is doing this.
4. I would like to ask you about your two books: “Shotokan Myths” and “Shotokan Mysteries”. Where did you get the references discussed in them? Did Master Asai or Sugano have anything to do with the information you provide to us in your books?
(KY) This is a good question, too. I have read hundreds if not thousands of books on all kinds of subjects including karate, other martial arts, sports medicine, kinesiology, philosophy, zen, etc. Some of the ideas and information came from Master Asai. However, most of the contents in those books are my own knowledge and the accumulation of the information that I received from those books. When I needed to quote something I always put the sources. For an example, in the teaching of Ueshiba’s San Go Ichi, I listed the name of the book I quoted from. As I have little knowledge about Aikido I had to refer to a book on this subject which I happen to own.
(KY) The translation has been completed and it is going through a proof reading process right now. Unfortunately, I do not have an exact date of publication but I hope it will be soon. The second book will follow suit if the first one is successful. I hope many people in Brazil will buy “Shotokan Myths” in Portuguese.
I am planning to publish my third book (in English) towards the end of this year or early next year. If you liked the first two, you will like the new book too. I will share one thing with the readers here. The title of the new book is “Shotokan Transcendence” and this book was written in a spirit of “going beyond”. I am very excited about it.
6. I was one of the participants of the seminar you gave in Campinas this year. I found your training excellent, at the same time I felt everything we did was very advanced. Was this expected? In other countries that you visit and teach, do the participants make the same comment?
(KY) I am pleased that you enjoyed the seminar in Campinas. I enjoyed it too, because I was very impressed with the participants as they were all very dedicated and enthusiastic.
Your impression that the syllabus was advanced was natural and expected. You felt that way only because you were not used to the Asai techniques. Many movements such as the Tenshin (rotation) were new to you. I purposely selected the techniques that are not familiar to the participants. When this happens to a black belt, one feels like they were back to being a white belt again. Naturally, they felt lost and very uncomfortable. When I experienced Asai karate for the first time, it happened to me too. It took me a few years to get used to the new ideas and techniques. Many new techniques are included in Asai kata, Junro Shodan through Godan. Once you master them, you can advance to Joko kata (1 – 5) that are designed for the black belts. Practicing those katas you will soon get used to most of the Asai techniques.
7. Do you think the sport Karate and Budo Karate can be practiced concurrently by a karateka?
(KY) Yes, it is possible but only if that person truly understands what Budo Karate is. For most people who claim they are practicing Budo Karate do not know what it is. They think it is Budo Karate only if they are not in a competition. Budo Karate and Sports Karate are two totally different things. I am not going to write about the difference here. I teach only Budo and Bujutsu Karate and my aim in my seminar is to pass on some Budo concepts as well as the Asai techniques so I hope many readers will be able to participate in my seminars.
8. I know you personally and I have you as my model. The last time we met, you mentioned that you live your life based on the precepts of the Dojo Kun. There are Senseis who recite the Dojo Kun daily and say they live by Budo but they do not conduct themselves with budo. What do you think of them?
(KY) It is very true that there are some instructors who do not live by Dojo Kun. However, I do not wish to criticize them or talk about them. Criticizing them will not make me or you any better. I only feel bad for the students who train under those teachers. I am planning to write an article about this. My advice to those students is if the students find their senseis are unethical, irresponsible, immoral, untruthful or in-dedicated, it is best to leave those instructors. Karate is not only the physical techniques. It comes with the philosophy and intangible teaching. It may be difficult to leave a teacher but it is better not to have any teacher than settling for a bad teacher.
9. Master Yokota, what do you think of training other martial arts? Do you think we should focus on only one style or is it beneficial to practice others?
(KY) Your question is a good one. I recommend all the practitioners to have an open mind and a desire to learn more. This includes not only the other karate styles but also other martial arts such as jujitsu and kung fu.
Having said that, I recommend that a practitioner focuses on one karate style for three to five years. By then, he/she will be Shodan or Nidan and will have a solid foundation in one style. If you train in two different karate styles one can get confused or mixed up as different styles tend to emphasize differently on the same subjects. It is ok, however, to mix with another martial art that is totally different from karate. A good example may be Aikido, Kendo, Kyudo or Kobudo (weapons). They will expand your physical ability. After securing your karate foundation on one style you can start learning other karate styles and martial arts.
However, I have one requirement. Cross training is advisable only for those who can train at least 2 or 3 hours every day. If you have the time only for two or three times per week then I suggest that you would focus on only one thing.
10. The youth nowadays is considered Generation Y, a generation with lower concentration and poor attention span. How do you see the relationship of karate and this generation?
(KY) Yes, I guarantee that Karate training is very beneficial to not only the Generation Y youths but also for both physically and mentally challenged people. In my last dojo I had two mentally challenged students. They are still training after I passed the dojo to another instructror. The attention and physical ability of those students increased significantly. The parents of these students (both students were young) were very grateful and they support their sons’ karate activities.
11. I often access the blog page of ASAI website (www.asaikarate.com/blog) and I find the interesting and well researched articles you wrote. I can tell that you have researched and studied well before you wrote them. Luckily some have been translated into Portuguese. I liked the articles on Ki, Breathing Method and Bushido. What are you planning to write about in the future?
(KY) The future articles are secret. That’s a joke. Seriously, I have many ideas and I plan to write about all of them eventually. It will probably take me a few years if not longer. I was focusing on the Shotokan matters when I started writing several years ago. I touched on the myths and mysteries of common things in Shotokan such as kiai, kime, kumite, bunkai and various katas such as Heian, Tekki, Hangetsu and Chinte. Lately I have expanded my subjects to other styles such as Goju-ryu and other martial arts such as Aikido and Wing Chun. In the future, I plan to cover even wider varieties of the topics including Japanese cultural things, philosophy and science. By the end of September I will post my next article on Tachikiri, a special training of Kendo, which I am sure all karatekas will enjoy learning this unique training method.
We are lucky that we have an excellent translator, Mr. Samir Berardo who is a member of ASAI and the first ASAI member to pass the online examination to Shodan. I want to thank him here for his dedicated work. I am confident his work will be a big contribution to the better understanding of Karate in Brazil.
Let me take this opportunity to ask the readers for their assistance. We are lucky to have Samir but he is only one person. He is also a busy person with his full time job and family obligations. We have so many more articles to be translated so additional translators would be a big help. If you are fluent in both English and Portuguese, please help us with the translation work. Most of the articles are not that long, about ten pages or less. Please contact me directly and your help will be greatly appreciated not only by me but by hundreds, possibly thousands of the readers in Brazil and other countries. My email address is <email@example.com>.
(KY) Asai ryu karate is unique but not too much different from the standard Shotokan. It was created by Master Asai who was the Technical Director of JKA in the 80’s. So, our karate has a solid foundation in Funakoshi/Nakayama JKA style. Master Asai was sent to Taiwan in the 60’s and the 70’s to teach karate there. During that time he learned the techniques of Hakutsuruken, White Crane Kung fu from a Chinese master. So, he combined the long distance fighting method of Shotokan and the short distance fighting method of Kung Fu. Thus, Asai karate is smooth with the circular motions of Kung fu and at the same time it is dynamic and powerful with the linear Shotokan techniques. We believe this is the next generation of bujutsu and budo karate. We can provide the advanced karate concepts and the techniques to the Shotokan practitioners. I hear the many frustrations of the many senior Shotokan practitioners that they feel they have reached a plateau with their skill level and they are unable to reach the next level. Asai karate can be the answer and they may be able to advance to the higher level of Shotokan karate by practicing its syllabus.
There are more than 50 Asai katas but only five of them are required for the Asai ryu practitioners. The required kata is Junro and there are five of them from Shodan to Godan. They complement the Heian katas. For instance, a 5th kyu student will learn both Heian Godan and Junro Shodan. A 4th kyu student will practice both Tekki Shodan and Junro Nidan, etc. We allow a new dojo member 2 to 3 years to learn Junro kata. The new members have an option to omit Junro from their kyu examination syllabus. We do not rush them to learn the new katas. They need to enjoy learning the new katas so we allow a lot of time for this important process.
13. What is your organization, ASAI all about? What are its purposes and goals?
(KY) Thank you for asking this. ASAI has two purposes. One is being a non political organization to promote Asai style karate around the world. We are open to all the practitioners from any style. We wish to provide a home for the practitioners who do not belong to any international organization so that they can get the world class training and also dan recognition. Some practitioners have strong ties or loyalty to a certain organization which is understandable and respected. We allow multiple organization memberships which means you can affiliate with ASAI while you can retain your membership with your current organization. This way they can belong to their organization and at the same time they can learn Asai ryu karate. The second purpose is to keep the name of Asai alive and remembered.
Our second goal is simple but challenging. We wish to reach out to all Shotokan practitioners and to have the members in every country in the world.
I have listed the benefits for the ASAI members on the website. www.asaikarate.com
If you are interested, please contact us. We welcome everyone into our karate family.
14. What is your idea to develop it in Brazil?
I am very confident about the karate we offer. Asai karate is a high quality system, which no one can dispute, but the people need to see and experience it. So, I will continue to visit different countries and show Asai karate to as many people as possible. My schedule is busy but I still plan to visit Brazil two times a year. I consider Brazil to be the key country in South America.
Even though we have members in more than 30 countries, we need to be heard more and be better known. So what we need is exposure and education. Thus, my second strategy is to write and publish more books. My articles have been published in many Karate magazines. However, the exposure here is limited. To supplement this, my books are being sold via Amazon. This helps us to receive much more attention and wider audience.
When they participate in my seminars they can see that I am in good shape and able to show them Asai karate techniques. With the articles and the books the readers will find that I have knowledge and an understanding of karate.
There is no quick way to expand an organization. I know it will take time as the process is slow. But I have the patience and time so I am confident that we will be able to find many practitioners who share the same value and interest.
I hope to meet all the practitioners in Brazil at my future seminars. Oss!