Monthly Archives: May 2013

Interview with Shihan Yokota

Can we please start by asking you how you first started you karate training and why?

(Kousaku Yokota)     My father was a Kodokan judo blackbelt, so he encouraged me to take up judo when I was in junior high school.  There was no judo club in my school so I went to the ward police station headquarters where the policemen were teaching martial arts (only judo and kendo).  I took up judo when I was 13 and practiced for 3 years.  I earned a junior black belt and won a high school championship.

One day a short boy joined the judo club.  I clearly remember him to be quite strange because every time I threw him down on the mat he would spring up and gets in a strange stance (I think it was a cat stance now that I think of it).  Normally a new student would not jump up from the mat after being thrown down like he did.  I had never seen this unusual move.  After a few weeks I got to know him better so I asked him why he did this.  He said he practiced karate and he was taking up judo to learn how it was to be thrown so he could fight a judo man.  Up to that time I really believed that judo was invincible and greatest martial art so I said to him “So, you learned karate cannot beat judo, right?’  To my surprise he said, “Judo is great when some body grabs you but a judo guy cannot beat a karate guy if he is more than 3 feet away.”  I did not understand what he meant as I did not know the techniques of karate.  He explained and demonstrated what karate could do and I was very fascinated.  When I went into senior high school, although the Judo club tried very hard to recruit me, my mind was set.  I wanted to start karate.  Again, there was no karate club in my school so I joined a karate club at the main YMCA in my hometown, Kobe.  That dojo happened to be the headquarters of JKA (Japan Karate Association) of Hyogo prefecture taught by late Master Sugano (9th dan).


(SB)     Can you please tell us a little about Sugano Sensei, and your early experiences with him and karate?

(KY)     Sugano Sensei was a big guy especially a man of his generation.  He must have been 180cm tall and weighed about 90 – 100kg.  When I first joined the club in 60’s, I was one of the lowly students so I did not have any interactions with him.  One thing I can say is that he flunked me when I took my first kyu test.  It is unbelievable that I could not even pass my first kyu test.  It is a long story so I will not explain how it happened.

Sugano Sensei was independently wealthy.  He owned a bar and a tobacco shop that were very profitable.  After the evening trainings, he used to take us to his bar.  We did not drink any alcohol but we enjoyed the informal gathering with the other instructors.  At those get together, we could ask him some personal and karate related questions which we could not do at our dojo (it’s a Japanese tradition that the students never ask questions).  He told us that we should never pick up karate as a profession to earn living.  This is because by doing so, your students become the “customers”.  You would be afraid to lose the customers and your training methods would change thus the quality of your instructions would be compromised.  He had a big impact as I was thinking of becoming a full time instructor and living on this profession.  Actually, none of the instructors under Sugano Sensei’s command were full time instructors.  They all had some kind of jobs to support their families.

As far as the karate is concerned I remember he had a very “heavy” punch.  His fist was like a hammer and when he hits you (in a demonstration) I did feel like a sledgehammer had hit me.  The impact went through my whole body.  He had a very scary face as well.  I don’t know the translation but his face looked like a Japanese “oni”, like a goblin or a devil.  He told me that the local yakuza (Japanese mafia) were afraid of him and I believe it.  Here is a not so scary looking picture of Sugano sensei.

Unfortunately, he liked to smoke and drink.  After having some drinks he told us some interesting stories and some crazy things he did when he was young.  I would not go into this but I really enjoyed listening to his stories.  He had heart attack when he was in his 60’s so the doctor told him that he should not drink or smoke.  I remember him saying; “I would not like to live long if I cannot enjoy my life with my favourite vices”.  He passed away in 2002 at the age of 74.  Like Asai sensei he was not scared of dying.  He went like a samurai but in a different way.

I want to add something here.  As I lost my original sensei in 2002, I was free to resign from JKA.  This is why I could transfer to JKS in 2002.


(SB)     You enjoyed a very successful competitive career am I right? Could you please tell us about some of the most vivid memories you have from your competitive years.

(KY)     Though I did enjoyed the competitions when I was active in that aspect of karate, to be honest, I was not very active in the tournaments when I was training in Philadelphia during the 70’s.  I have treated karate as a martial art since then so my motivation was always beyond tournaments.  I competed in the US only a couple of years and got some good experiences. There were many good competitors in East Coast region so I enjoyed competing against them.

As I was not getting enough training at Philadelphia dojo, I decided to go back to Japan to complete my Kenshusei training there.  I went back in ’81 and stayed in Hyogo prefecture for two years.

Upon returning to Hyogo, I went back to Sugano sensei’s dojo and continued my serious training.  Even though my purpose of the training was not tournaments, I will mention about them as you are asking about my competition experiences.

I entered the prefecture championship, which was elimination round for the national championship, a few months after my return.  Luckily I placed first so got a ticket to JKA All Japan Championship in Tokyo.  That is probably the most memorable experience out of my competition days.  I competed with the best competitors of the world in that era such as Osaka sensei and Yahara sensei.  They are my age group and they were in their prime time.  Also, this is the first time I witnessed, with my own eyes, Master Asai’s techniques in his demo.  I was truly impressed by his techniques as they were very unique and unlike JKA karate.  His arms are like whips and flew around so fast.  It was unbelievable and he left a tremendous impression on me.

In 1981 I also represented my prefecture in Kokutai (All Japan Athletic Fair), which was held in Shiga prefecture.  It is like a miniature Olympics and karate was one of the new events.  Also, it should be noted that JKA joined WUKO hosted tournament for the first time.  It was memorable as I saw and competed against, for the first time, the top-notch karate practitioners of other styles such as Shito Ryu, Goju Ryu and Wado Ryu.  I was also exposed to the protective gears like Menho (face protector) and large fist pad.  I believe in not using any protective gears including groin cups so I did not like them.   These equipments allowed the techniques that were way short in distance (as you are not supposed to touch the face mask to win a point).  That was also the first time I saw a fighting style with a lot of hopping.  This kind of kumite may be popular in Shotokan now a days.  In 70’s and early 80’s our stance was low and pretty much stationary.  We moved our steps carefully and never hopped.  We believed in Ippon shobu and our moves are very similar to two samurai in a sword fight.

I represented Hyogo prefecture in All Japan Championship in ’82 and that was my last event in my competition life.  I was 35 years old and many coaches were younger than me.  I returned to the US (California) in ’83 and never competed again.


(SB)     You mentioned you competed with the likes of Osaka and Yahara. Did you ever get the chance to fight either of these?

(KY)     At the national championship, (read more...)


Shihan Yokota has published numerous articles and books:

+Marcus Hinschberger

How to reach peak cardio-vascular conditioning as a competitor

A modern approach on how to improve conditioning for the Karate competition.

© Marcus Hinschberger Athletic Performance Coach & Personal Trainer

How to reach peak Cardio-Vascular Condition as an elite Kata competitor

In this article I will share my experience as a personal trainer coaching athletes on the use of interval training to reach peak performance. Although my discussion will focus on one model and will restrict its application to kata competition only, a similar approach would be used for kumite. However, due to the differences between the two events, a suggestion of interval training for kumite is better saved for its own article.

Conditioning for karate competition is frequently not purpose driven and confused with strength training or endurance training, both of which are very different from the demands of karate competition.

In most martial arts, conditioning is done through endless repetitions. Although this is a great way to strengthen muscles, tendons, ligaments and (the only way) to create a strong will and determination, it eventually exhausts itself. The risk of injuries will eventually raise and the time needed to execute more and more kihon techniques will eventually consume all training time without leaving any time to train specifically for the competition.

Therefore conditioning training has to be efficient, absolutely purpose driven and aimed towards one objective – the competition. A competitor needs to perform at his peak in one place and one place only – the tournament.  He does not need to be able to do 500 front kicks in a row.

Coach and athlete need to recognize the phase of training they are in and focus on the specific goal of each phase. The first phase - high and endless repetitions - is the beginning phase, and is needed to build character and muscle (endurance). The second phase – development of strength, power and explosiveness – is a key component of dojo training, but it should also be pursued in a gym, which will be covered in a later and different article. The final phase, achieving peak performance and supplementing the dojo training with cardio-vascular training needed to get there, is the focus of this article.

Cardio-vascular endurance training is done by many athletes by simply running for a certain amount of time on a treadmill with the same speed/intensity. As I will explain, while this type of training has its benefits, it will not achieve the goal we are interested in, namely, preparing to enter a competition at the peak of our performance level. The human body has a great way of adapting to almost any stress and load we place on it (law of adaptation) and very quickly this simplistic way of running will not increase our fitness level any longer – we have adapted. This is a problem we face in our regular karate training as well. Therefore it is important to not only switch up the training but to also focus it towards the goal – in this case the competition.

Here is my approach:

The first step is always to break down the actual event and determine its specific requirements. This is known as the demand-profile.

For the kata competition I would break it down as follows:

  1. Take the time the athlete needs to perform his kata. In my example I will go with 1 minute 30 seconds,  which is the approximate time one needs to perform a Shotokan kata like Kanku Dai, Gojushiho Sho or Gojushiho Dai.
  2. Take the amount of rounds – let’s say there are 3 qualifying rounds and one final round, for a total of 4 rounds.
  3. Take the downtime or pause in between the rounds the athlete has until he performs the next Kata in the next round. In my example I assume that the athlete has 5 minutes to rest between rounds.

Put together:

The athlete performs 4x 1:30 minutes of Kata = 6 minutes of high intensity

The athlete has 4x 5 Minutes waiting time = 20 minutes of low intensity

We are looking at a total of 26 minutes of time and effort, and it is very clear that this time and effort is totally not comparable with running on a treadmill for “x” amount of minutes.

Having developed our demand profile, we can now develop a solution to meet it. In this article I will use a treadmill, but I will put some other solutions up on my website such as using a step box and medicine ball. The next step is to calculate the athlete’s maximum heart beat. There are many formulas out there to calculate the maximum heart rate. I have decided to use the most common one even though I don’t think it is the most accurate method since it does not necessarily consider the individual fitness level of the person. However, it is the easiest and most common method and meets the needs of my model.

The formula is 220 – age = max heart rate.

For example, I am 35 years old, my max heart rate is 220 – 35 = 185.

185 is my max heart rate and considered as 100% (the highest intensity).


  • High intensity training is considered between 85% - 95% of max heart rate and what I will call Phase 3
  • Medium intensity is considered between 75% - 85% = Phase 2
  • Low intensity is between 65%-75% = Phase 1


Now let’s go back to our demand profile:

I have to push the athlete 4 times (4 rounds) for the length of the kata 1:30 min into high intensity (Phase 3) while giving the athlete 5 minutes recovery time in between each round.

The type of training needed to meet this demand profile is called interval training.

The down time in between the rounds has to serve the athlete as recovery time to get the heart rate back to normal as quickly as possible in order to start recovery as quickly as possible. Therefore we not only have to monitor the maximum heart rate but also the time it takes the athlete to recover. We have to train the athlete in two ways. The first way is focused on enabling the athlete to perform for the needed time (1:30 minutes) at high intensity and the second way is focused on enabling the athlete to recover as quickly as possible in the 5 minutes in between the rounds.

Interval training can be done in many ways and there is no limit to your creativity. However, as mentioned earlier in my model I will use a treadmill.

The treadmill is probably the best way for the athlete to focus just on the cardio-vascular endurance and performance.  My approach using the medicine ball and step box is more challenging since it demands not only cardio-vascular endurance but also muscle endurance and coordination. However, this second approach might be better suited for the more advanced athlete.

Let’s go over the approach using a treadmill:

Before we can start with the program we need to determine the 3 different intensity phases for the individual according to their maximum heart rate derived from using the formula: 220-age= max heart rate

Once this has been done we need to determine how fast the treadmill has to run to push the athlete into the different heart rate zones.

For this I take a heart rate monitor and measure the heart rate of the athlete at different speeds. (You could also measure the pulse by hand, but this might be very difficult while you are running).

For example, at a speed of 7 to 9 mph on a treadmill I push myself into zone 3.

At a speed of 5 to 6.5 mph my heart rate drops into zone 2.

Speeds below 4.5- 5 mph make my heart rate drop into zone 1.


Of course these numbers will change along with the level of your fitness and you should consistently keep track of them as your training progresses. Nutrition, sleep, hydration and any injuries have to be considered as well.

We start now the program:

Phase 1 (low intensity) is considered the warm up phase. I will let my athlete walk on the treadmill for 2 minutes and slowly increase the speed every minute until he goes from a walk to a jog and from there into a light run. The heart rate should now be in phase 2, and the athlete should start to break a light sweat. I hold that speed for another 2 minutes to ensure the athlete is really warmed up and ready (mentally and physically) to switch to the next level of intensity – Phase 3. I have to push the athlete now as fast as possible into phase 3 by immediately increasing the previously determined treadmill speed, and the athlete has to stay in this phase for 1:30 minutes (the length of the Kata). This is then followed by a 5 minute recovery period in Phase 2 where I reduce the speed of the treadmill again.

One can argue that the athlete will actually sit down after the kata performance and not move any longer for the next 5 minutes so there is no need to keep him run on the treadmill. However, my reason to keep the athlete on the treadmill is 1) in a competition situation the athlete will have to fight nervousness and pressure which most likely will keep him at an elevated heart rate; and 2) if the competition is more than 4 weeks away I would still try to increase the overall fitness and endurance of my athlete by continuing the run and therefore prefer to just lower the speed on the treadmill rather than taking him off.

However, if the competition is just 3 to 2 weeks out I would prefer taking the athlete off the treadmill to not only simulate the competition scenario better but to focus more on pushing him higher and higher within phase 3 (from a heart beat at 85% closer to the max of 95%).

This is because I believe that if the athlete has followed the designated fitness program up to this point the 5 minutes downtime in between the rounds should be more than enough time to recover.

I also want to ensure that my athlete is not getting over trained right before the competition.

It is Important that the athlete is able to maintain the high intensity of Phase 3 in all 4 rounds. Especially important are rounds 3 & 4. Nobody has conditioning problems in the first rounds (at least they shouldn't) but they are more likely to in the last, and most important, rounds.

In order to be well prepared for the competition, I want to have my athlete in the closest range of 95% of max heart rate possible around 10 - 8 days (international competition with flight time of over 8h and 1-2 day travel and settle in time) and 6-4 days (domestic competition for travel time less than 4h) before the competition. I will push the athlete from 85% of max heart rate to 95% of max heart rate towards the end of the preparation time for the tournament.

My model can (and must) be adjusted if the kata(s) performed are shorter or longer, and we must also take into consideration that the number of rounds at the particular tournament may vary. The possibility of a draw has to be considered as well. In case of a draw the down time of 5 minutes might decrease dramatically and the athlete may only have 1 or 2 minutes for recovery. A draw can now be put into the model after round 1, 2, 3 or even 4. If you really want to plan for the worst-case scenario you might even consider two draws - be creative  your athlete will thank you, at least later on.

My graphic shows what a possible interval-training program for an athlete would look like.

The first line on top is the time line and shows how over the period of a little over 30 minutes a kata competition can be simulated (as mentioned depending on the length of the kata and rounds).

The second line is the time period the athlete must stays in the intensity zone

The graphic shows yellow, green and red phases with the treadmill speeds

(yellow =Phase 1, green=Phase 2, red=Phase 3).

In my model the first green phase is only 2 minutes long These 2 minutes are just an add on to the warm up phase since I want to make sure the athlete is physically and mentally able and focused enough to handle the increased speed. Therefore these 2 minutes do not show up in my demand profile but do show in the graphic.

The treadmill speed depends on the maximum heart rate of the athlete that was measured and determined prior. The speeds shown in my model are my

own personal numbers I calculated when I made my test run to write this model. (1:30 Minutes sprinting at a speed of 9 mph do push my heart rate into phase 3 (95% of

my max heart rate).

Kata Conditioning mph

All these numbers have to be customized to the individual. The numbers will change depending on the fitness level and therefore have to be constantly adjusted during the preparation (I suggest a re-evaluation every 1-2 weeks).

Another great way to increase the intensity without increasing the speed is to incline the treadmill. Most modern treadmills offer an incline option. Increasing the speed might increase the risk of injury and this risk can partially be avoided by using incline. An even greater benefit is that running on an incline very quickly makes your legs heavy – something every competitor fears. Increased speed however, makes you out of breath before heavy legs set in. Therefore using incline to simulate heavy legs is a great conditioning tool to prepare an athlete for the realities of competition. At the maximum speeds of 6 to 7 mph for a woman and 8-10 mph for a man I would prefer to use an incline rather than speed for my simulation. As a coach you need to get a feeling for when speed should no longer be increased and incline should be used instead.

Last but not least I want to mention that my model is based on the fact that an athlete must previously be conditioned in running and must be capable of running for at least 30 minutes in phase 2 prior to beginning this kind of program. If this is not the case then the athlete has to be brought up to that level of fitness first. (Consult with a physician or health care provider prior beginning any exercise program).

I hope that my model and suggestion inspires instructors, coaches and athletes, to not only give it a try but also to make changes in their approach to conditioning for competition.

Many other great ideas and approaches can be found on my website I will also offer a solution for kumite very soon that I will explain in detail with video instruction on my website.

I am more than happy to discuss any suggestions or questions you may have. Feel free to email me at:

Enjoy and all the best


Marcus Hinschberger

Personal Trainer certified with the National Academy of Sports Medicine

Certified Biomechanics Specialist with the National Exercise & Trainer Association

Athletes Performance Mentorship 1

FMS Certified

Founder & President of



The Shotokan Tiger

The Shotokan Tiger

Sports competition, although spectacular and with great appeal for spectators, represents only a small aspect of Karate, because it is not the competition with its victories and defeats that is at the forefront of our efforts, but the intense and consistent training, the analysis of the intricate and complex movements in Karate with the goal not only to command mind and body, but also to bring them in harmony. Time and again, the great old karate masters, and not only the Japanese, focus on the educational value of our martial art when insisting on having Karate taught as “Do” (path).
The term “Do” means something like “path through life” or “path to shaping one’s life” and includes the path to self-perfection.
Thus, Karate is closely associated with the spirit of Zen and influenced by the Bushido - the code of honor of the Samurai warrior.
The goal of all martial arts of the Samurai is to incapacitate the enemy with lightning speed and preferably in one move (Ikken Hissatsu). Even today, this objective is still at the basis of Karate.
First of all, this is an inhumane and destructive objective which demands without fail a commitment to the moral value system of a mature personality.
Thus, Karate instruction has the great task and challenge to teach the student to recognize and understand his responsibility and to teach him to always keep one’s emotions under control.
Strength and superiority should manifest themselves in assertiveness and confidence. To avoid hubris and arrogance, the karate student must learn respect, courteousness, modesty, yes, even humility: as a sign of absolute respect towards others and as proof of his self-control.
The tiger crest – the Shotokan Karate emblem we all know – illustrates very well the goals and intentions of Karate-do. We see a tiger depicted within a circle. (Design by the Japanese artist Hoan Kosugi, a friend and student of Funakoshi Gichin).

Shotokan Tiger 1

Both elements of the image – the tiger and the circle – are of particular importance.

For that matter, the tiger represents the animalism, ferocity, courage, unrestrained combativeness, primal power and absolute determination.
To fight successfully requires learning to fight like the tiger.
However, the tiger is not depicted unrestricted, but shown in a circle and thus constrained. In turn, the circle represents reason and the human spirit.
To fight victoriously and honorably requires control of one’s emotions and calmness.
The circle (i. e. the mind) encloses the tiger thereby taming it.
Reason and the human spirit prevail over the animalistic powers, rule and control them, in order to harness them if needed.
In my opinion, the nature and the objectives of Karate-do can hardly be more clearly illustrated than with the example of this small emblem.
However, it also becomes transparent, how closely very genuine karate instruction remains tied to the spirit and the atmosphere at the dojo. These, in turn, are determined and decisively shaped by the paragon and the example of the karate instructor teaching there.

Bernd Hinschberger
Karate instructor


translated from German into English by Sabine Becker

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World Karate Federation’s Continuous Efforts & Poker

World Karate Federation’s Continuous Efforts

The World Karate Federation has been steadfast in not just promoting Karate as a sport but also an essential tool for the development and increased performance of many individuals. In a recent report in, “For the first time, a German Sports Federation (the German Karate Federation), will sign an agreement to cooperate with 16 000 youth fire-brigade bases in Germany.” It is also ongoing in its efforts to include Karate as a competition sport for the 2020 Olympics. “At the next IOC Executive meeting in late May in St. Petersburg, our martial art is given the opportunity to reapply with the rings as well as other applicants sports squash, baseball / softball, rock climbing, roller sports, wakeboard and wushu. A final decision on which sport is the future at the Olympics, then falls during the vote at the 125th IOC Session in Buenos Aires in September,” reports, the official website for the German Karate Association.

Sports is already something inculcated in humanity, and the more we develop, the more different sports get re-evaluated, reinvented, and even recurring in the popularity spotlight. The International Olympic Committee has been having both commendations and criticisms for their recent decisions regarding many sports as can be seen in the report by the German Karate Association and other Karate-themed news sites. Along with Karate aiming to be part of the next Olympic line-up of events, already well-respected sports like baseball and squash are in competing bids to join the world’s biggest competition of brawn and skills. On another side, aspiring sports like poker, which have been gaining vast momentum in European countries like Germany, France, and the UK, have been gaining ground being recently recognized by the International Mind Sports Association which is highly regarded by the IOC. “I am delighted to welcome the International Federation of Poker into membership of IMSA,” said IMSA President Jose Damiani in a report by “Poker’s participation alongside bridge, chess and other mind sports in the annual IMSA events will demonstrate to the world that poker is indeed a mind sport of strategic skill.” Efforts by many community sites like are certainly paying off, since it’s them who mostly provide easier yet safer access to poker competitions online and conducting internationally recognized tournaments in Berlin, Paris, Cannes, and almost all parts of the world.

In more recent positive developments, Tom Degun of reports, “The World Karate Federation (WKF) campaign to join the 2020 Olympics programme has received a boost after the national teams of Turkey, Japan and Spain, the three countries bidding to host the 2020 Games, pledged their support.” Germany, through it’s Karate Association website, is also asking for support so to help Karate’s bid to be considered as an Olympic sport. If that’s not active enough for karate in Germany, WKF reports, “With the slogan ‘Fit for fire - through Karate’, the Coaches of the German Karate Federation will instruct the 260 000 members of the youth fire fighters and will prepare them for tasks in the future as fire fighters.”