Monthly Archives: May 2013

May 31, 2013

What are Bushido武士道, Budo武道 and Bujutsu武術? Part 2

       Budo: 武道

Maegeri with dojo kun

The term of Budo can be confusing as there are at least 4 different definitions for this word.

1. In 18th and 19th centuries it was commonly used referring to bushido. Even now a days some people even in Japan use those words interchangeably.

2. It refers to all Japanese martial arts and bujutsu 武術 (explained later).

3. Sometimes it is refers to kobudo 古武道 (explained below).

4. It refers to the modern day martial arts such as Judo, Kendo and Karatedo, or the martial arts that were developed from the kobudo after Meiji Restoration. The main difference is the modern day budo added the concept of “do” or the way which is to seek out the way to perfect one’s character through the training of the martial arts.

Jigoro Kano portrait

One thing we must remember is the strong influence that was left by Gigoro Kano (嘉納治五郎1860 – 1938), the founder of Judo 柔道. He was a very influential person not only in the martial arts but also in all education systems in Japan in late 19th century and early 20th century when modern day martial arts were developing. As a result of his work Judo and Kendo were inducted into high school curriculum starting in 1898. I described the details of the relationship between Funakoshi and Kano in my book, Shotokan Mysteries. Without the support Funakoshi received from Kano, Okinawa-te could never have become popular as we see in Japan and eventually around the world.


After the World War II, budo training was banned by GHQ (Allied Occupation Forces). For a few years karate training was also banned but the letter that was sent from GHQ to the Japanese Ministry of Education did not mention karate. For the technicality karate was allowed to start its activities (training) sooner than judo and kendo.  Judo had to wait till 1950 for it to be included in as a selective subject in high school curriculum.  Kendo needed two more years before it was included in high school curriculum. In 2012 Budo and dancing became the required courses of high school in Japan. Budo entails for Judo, Kendo and Sumo.  Most high schools picked Judo as their required course but a few schools offer other courses. Unfortunately, as of now karate has not been able to gain a regular position in high school education.


 Kobudo: 古武道

This word means literally "old martial way" as it is compared to the modern day martial art such as Kendo, Judo and Karatedo.

There are two categories for the term of kobudo:

1. Koryu budo: A type of Japanese martial art which has kept its ancient mode of training and has been preserved and handed down from generation to generation, originating prior to Meiji Restoration of 1886. This includes kenjutsu (sword), jujutsu, sojutsu (spear), kyujutsu (archery), hojutsu (gun), etc as well as swimming and horse riding.

4 samurai with full weapons









2. Okinawa kobudo: the martial arts weaponry systems originating on the island of Okinawa.

Okinawa nunchaku







Bujutsu: 武術

This term also have several definitions.

  • It refers to Japanese old martial arts including kenjutsu (sword), sojutsu (spear), kyujutsu (archery), naginata (halberd), hojutsu (gun/canon), bajutsu (horse riding), suijutsu (swimming).
  • Okinawa karate or martial arts, kobudo
  • Any fighting arts described under Martial arts that aim to retain the fighting methods and techniques that were banned in modern day budo and in competitions.
  • Chinese martial arts or Wushu




The short description of those three terms are as follow;

Bushido: It mainly means the code of samurai or the way of samurai (bushi) that were built on five main concepts of Jin, Gi, Rei, Chi and Shin.

Budo: Old time and modern day martial arts including kobudo that have an emphasis on “do” or the way. The main aim of practicing a certain budo is to develop the practitioner’s character through the physical training. Most of budo has competitions and rules which ban the dangerous techniques.

Bujutsu: Fighting arts or martial arts that preserve and practice the techniques and methods that are effective in the actual (not tournament) fights or combats.

The last question is “Can something be budo and bujutsu at the same time?” My answer is yes.  One can practice bujutsu karate by including the dangerous techniques in kumite and bunkai practice.  At the same time, it can be budo if the practitioner seeks the way or to improve his character through the training of karate.


May 29, 2013

What are Bushido 武士道, Budo 武道 and Bujutsu 武術?

What are Bushido, Budo and Bujutsu?

How are they different? These are commonly used by the karate practitioners but I am not sure how many people have a clear understanding of these terms.  I notice even among the Japanese people some confusion with these terms.

As the explanation of Bushido is pretty complex I will break my article into two parts. I will dedicate Part 1 to this interesting subject of Bushido and try to cover some important part of history and its cultural background.

Bushido武士道:          Part 1

The definition of this term changed as time and era changed. For that reason we will start with some history of this term.  The first time the term, “Bushido” was used in a written document in Japan was in Koyo Gunkan 甲陽軍鑑, a record Koyo Gunkanof the military exploits of the famous Takeda family, compiled by the Takeda vassal Takanobu Takasaka between 1575 and 1586. I will not go deeply into the stories written in this book as our focus is the term of Bushido.  If you are interested in the details of this book, you can check Wikipedia and there is a page dedicated to this book (only three paragraphs, however).  Unfortunately, there is no translated version of this book in English, as far as I know. 

By the way, my ancestor, Takatoshi Yokota is listed in this book as one of the main vassals of Shingen Takeda. Here is the Wiki page about Takatoshi Yokota:

The main theme of this book is the importance of the techniques and the skills of an individual samurai to survive through the battles so that his fame as a warrior would be recognized and most importantly his fame as a brave warrior will be recognized and most importantly his family name will be respected. This idea is typified in a statement by a famous war lord, Takatora Todo, “A true bushi (samurai) must change his lord at least 7 times before hMusashi 2e can claim himself as a true samurai.” He even encouraged a samurai to go unemployed or become a ronin (master less samurai) in order to look for a promising war lord.  Before the 17th century especially in the war era of the 16th century, the main thing for a samurai was to win and survive by using all tactics possible including the tricks, lies and deceive. This is well documented when you read about the tactics used by famous Musashi Miyamoto 宮本武蔵, the author of Gorin no sho 五輪書 (The book of Five Rings). He was frequently very late when he came to the fighting site (many hours in fact when he fought another famous samurai, Kojiro Sasaki). He also used other deceitful tactics such as hiding before a surprise attack. Though he was not too respected he was not criticized or condemned either for his actions. Winning in a fight was the ultimate goal during those centuries and indeed the result justified the means.  I am afraid these facts probably disappoint many western readers who have the romantic feelings or affection to the honorable samurai who were glorified in many Kurosawa samurai movies.  However, the values and the attitude of samurai will change as time goes by so keep on reading.

After the century of wars ended in and around 1600, the peaceful era of Edo started by Shogun Tokugawa. The introduction of the concepts of Gi , Rei , Yu , Chu , Ko   , Shin , Makoto , etc. came from the Confucianism with some influence from Shintoism and Buddhism. I probably do not need to go into the meaning of these words but these concepts were encouraged by the management of Tokugawa Shogun for the purpose of governing and controlling of the samurai and the war lords. Samurai was encouraged to be brave and fearless fighters during the war era but their characters and the values became unnecessary. In fact, it even became a serious problem for the Shogun government if they were not obedient as the Shogun wanted a stable government and no more wars.  Thus, they needed a different set of code and principles for the samurai.  What came into play was Confucianism which brought the five principle or the virtues:

·        Jin (, Humaneness)Bushido with other kanji

·         (, Righteousness or Justice)

·        Rei (, Propriety or Etiquette)

·        Chì (, Knowledge)

·        Shìn (, Integrity).

 The other concepts were included later; Meiyo (名誉 Fame), Chu (忠 Loyal), Yu (勇 Bravery).

The peaceful era lasted more than 200 years under Tokugawa Shogun reign and the values of the samurai steadily changed from individual bravery or honor to more blind loyalty or total obedience to their war lords and ultimately to Shogun. Many samurai felt their work was becoming too bureaucratic and feared that they were losing the bushido spirit. Hagakure book coverThis frustration lead to the publication of a wellknown book, Hagakure 葉隠. In fact, Tsuramoto Tashiro compiled the commentaries from his conversations with Tsunetomo Yamamoto from 1709 to 1716. In it Yamamoto criticized of a blind obedience and duty. However, he is best known for one very short sentence he left in the book; “Bushido means to die (for the honor)”.  Harakiri (seppuku) was praised as the symbol of the samurai spirit.  Unfortunately, this book was banned by the government of his war lord and it was not read widely during his time.  I have mentioned about this book when I explained the origination of a word, “Oss” so some readers may remember about this book.  This is an interesting and not so complex book to read to understand the thinking pattern and beliefs of samurai. I recommend it if you have not read it yet.

After Meiji restoration in 1886 which ended feudal age of Japan that lasted for many centuries, the concept of blind obedience was picked up by the Meiji government.  Samurai used to be loyal to their war lords and now the citizens were taught to offer their loyalty to Meiji Emperor.  The nationalists in the early 20th century tried to make bushido the national doctrine of Japan. Some educated Japanese philosophers became Christian in that period and received higher education in the USA.  One of them was Inazo NitobBushido book covere who wrote an excellent book in English called “Bushido: The Soul of Japan” (1900) which was read by Theodor Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.  Interestingly, due to the popularity of this book in the USA it was translated into Japanese and published its Japanese version in Japan in 1908. This book would be a good one to understand the philosophy and the values of the samurai that were handed down to 20th century and commonly found among the average Japanese in early 20th century. I believe some of the samurai values survived to this day in Japan. This is one of the reasons why Japan remains to be the safest country in the world as our culture is based on mutual respect and honesty.

 (This will continue to Part 2: Budo, Kobudo and Bujutsu. Hopefully I will post it before the weekend. Send me your comments here at Karate Coaching blog.)

What are ritsurei 立礼 and zarei座礼? Part 2

Zarei 座礼 Part 2

(The explanation of Ritsurei is in Part 1)Line up and bowing

Zarei requires more complicated leg moves thus it is more challenging for the westerners. You need to kneel down from the standing position first then you need to stand up in a certain way after rei.  During the process of sitting down and standing up you must hold your upper body as erect as possible and not to bend over which can be challenging for some beginners.  It can be very challenging even for the senior practitioners to perform a smooth and graceful zarei in the ritual.  Let’s take a look at how this bowing need to be performed.

To do zarei correctly there are three groups of movements; sitting down, bowing itself and standing up. Let’s look at each group.
Sitting down from standing position:

1. Start from musubi dachi (heels touching and toes open) stance
2. The next move is somewhat difficult but you need to squat down slowly and bring your left knee down (your knee will fall forward as your feet do not move (shown in illustration).
3. Pivot your right foot and bring down your right knee and when both knees touch the floor you will assume temporarily tsumasaki dachi position (photo below). Extend your feet and cross slightly before you sit in seiza. The hands are kept at your side then place them gently on the laps as you assume seiza.
How to do seiza and zarei
Bowing itself:

4. Place left hand in front of the left knee, then place your right hand in front of the right knee. When the both hands are placed on the floor, your upper body inclines naturally forward.
5. Bow by bending at the hips until the upper body inclines 45 to 60 degrees but be sure to keep you back straight.
After 1 to 3 seconds of bowing retrieve your right hand back first then follow with your left hand and return to seiza position (position #3) with your back erect and eye sight straight forward. At this time,
tsumasaki tachi
Standing up from seiza:
It is slightly different so let’s take a look.
1. From seiza position
2. Bring your toes up and assume tsumasaki dachi position first.
3. Bring up your right knee up stepping up with your right foot forward and assume left leg kneeling position.
4. Stand up and step your right foot back to meet left foot to make musubi achi stance.

What to avoid:
• When you kneel down do not put your hand or hands on the floor. You must keep your s all through the process. This is an excellent leg strength exercise too.
• During the entire process you must keep your upper body erect. Do not haunch down or look down except when you are bowing.

Do not over bend yourself too deeply as shown in the illustration (below). Zarei too low
Your eye sight should be slightly in front of your hands. In fact, the three points of the tips of your hands and the spot where your eye sight falls will make a triangle. The head in the illustration is held too low and he is looking at the space between his hands. Thus his neck is bent too much. If your face is almost touching your hands then you are bowing too deep. There is no measurement requirement but I suppose your face should be about 10 inches or one foot away from the floor.

• Do not lift up your behind as you bow (photo below). The buttocks must stay on top the heels all through the bowing process. The Japanese instructor shown here, maybe, needs to lose some weight to do a proper bowing ritual. The western student behind him is doing better.
Bad bowing by Japanese sensei

What are ritsurei 立礼 and zarei座礼?


Bowing, rei is a very important ritual and etiquette in our dojo but do you know the proper way of doing rei? I hear that in many dojo a correct way does not get taught properly. I also find the incorrect way of bowing is exercised in some of the dojo I visit. I will explain the correct way here so you can use this as your reference. I must clarify that what I describe here is the common etiquette exercised in the standard Shotokan dojo in Japan.

Many of the other styles and martial arts do their rei differently. I was a member of Kyokushinkai for one year and they do it differently. When I joined Kyokushinkai I was already sandan in Shotokan. I wanted to experience the full contact karate as I was struggling with the idea of non contact kumite. When I joined kyokushinkai, ignorantly I expected the rei method to be identical. I remember clearly how surprised I was when I found it was quite different. I will not go into their method as this article is written specifically for the Shotokan practitioners. If you practice aikido, kendo, i-aido, etc. you most likely have experienced different rituals.

In a Shotokan dojo, there are two situations for bowing. One is ritsurei from standing position and the other zarei from sitting or seiza. Let me explain both situations and start with Ritsurei as it is simpler.

Part 1   Ritsurei立礼

From shizentai stance (natural stance with the feet in shoulder length apart) with your arms and open hands extended on the sides of your body. I will explain using the illustration below (front view).

Ritsurei 4 photos

1) Bring right foot inward (hands and arms do not move). There is another method which is not as polite as the method above but it can be done as follow; bring left foot half way in first then bring right foot in to complete.

2) Make musubi dachi

3) Bow by bending from the hips with the upper body straight. Your eye sight goes down to the floor in front of you. Bend down about 30 to 45 degrees. In Japan there are many rules and the degrees of the bowing change depending on the situations. In dojo situation approximately 30 to 45 degrees is proper. It does not need to be any deeper than 45 degrees. An extreme deep bowing (close to 90 degrees) is very rarely done and it is used only in an unique and unusual situations such as apologizing in Japan. This is not necessary in dojo situation.  At the same time, the bowing must not be less than 30 degree as it will appear as disrespecting and impolite. (see the side view below)

4) After returning to the erect position, you will bring your right foot outward to make shizentai stance, at the same time you willcross your arms in front of you with your hands now closed. Ritsurei side view

5) Bring the fists to your front with a shoulder width apart as you assume shizentai stance.


Standing bow is not too difficult for the westerners and most practitioners perform well with this bowing ritual.

OnRitsurei with hands fronte common question I hear is the position of the hands.  Some people said “When I visited Japan most of the people put their hands in front of their thighs rather than the side (photo). It is true that this method is very common especially among the merchants and women.  I do not have a photo here but I remember seeing a photo of Funakoshi sensei bowing this way.  So, I do not think this is an incorrect way but I can say it is not very common among the karate practitioners.



I need to bring your attention to two common mistakes I see in the western world:

  •   Sticking your chin up and look up when you bow (photo right).

The child in the photo here is showing a common incorrect bowing that I see in many dojos. One western sensei told me that he teaches the stWrong ritsureiudents to keep looking at their opponents as it is dangerous to look down and lose the sight of the opponents. It sounds almost convincing but this concept does not bode well with the Japanese budo concept. I even saw a movie where a Japanese sensei was beaten up by a western karateka who attacked him in the middle of a rei. I laughed at the scene when I saw it. If this Japanese sensei was a real master then he could have seen the unexpected move of the opponent’s feet and detected an attack. To me it was not realistic and obviously the director was non-Japanese who obviously did not understand budo or Japanese martial arts. I hope all sensei of Shotokan will teach their students that rei is a ritual to show a mutual respect before a fight. This means the head will go down as you bow to show the respect.


  • Slapping your hands on the legs before bowing

I see this action frequently done by the competitors in the tournaments. Maybe some people believe this would show some spirit but this action is considered impolite and we consider it silly. This behavior should not be taught nor permitted.


I will explain Zarei, seiza bowing in Part 2 which will be out in a day or two.

What is “Oss”?  「押忍」ってどんな意味?

What is “Oss”?  「押忍」ってどんな意味?

Here is another Japanese culture lesson today.  We will take the same process of understanding the base meaning of the kanji that is used for this popular dojo word.  Then I will add the interesting cultural aspect of this unique word.

This word is prounced and written in a few different ways.  Many write “Osu” or “Oss”, some pronounce it “Ous” and I write “Ossu”.  They are just different pronunciations and all of them are“correct”.

O from “oss” is written like this,押 and it means to push or surpress.  The part of “ss” or “su” is written in kanji as 忍 which means to endure or persevere.  Therefore, these two kanji together, 押忍 symbolizes the attitude of suppressing your own emotions and endure the hard training or tiring toil or duty.  This word is commonly used by the budo practitioners such as karate, judo and kendo.  But it is also used by the athletes of the sports that are typically considered aggressive or macho such as baseball, football, etc.

It is also typically used by the male practitioners or athletes in Japan.  This is because “osu” is also written as 牡 which means “male”, therefore many Japanese female feel uncomfortable saying “Osu”.  In many dojo they are allowed or even recommended not to use “Osu” and use the normal greeting words and also yes and no when they answer back to their sensei , senpai and colleagues.  As Judo and karate became so popular around the world, so did the word Oss/Osu.  The cultural part of the word being very male oriented, however, did not spread so many western female practitioners and athletes use this word.

Let’s look at the history.  Surprisingly, the origin is not clear and there are a few theories. I share two of them.

One theory is that this word was invented only in mid-20th century in the imperial Navy of Japan which supposed to have nurtured the spirit of samurai.  The way it happened was like this.  The Japanese for Good morning is Ohayo gozai masu. The soldiers were trained to do things in a hurry all the time in the navy including the greetings and responses.  Thus, supposedly, the greetings of Ohayo gozai masu was cut down to only “O” and “su” and became “O-su”.  The greetings for the afternoon and evening are different, of course, but “Osu” began to be used for all occasions including the answers whether

Yamamoto Tsunetomoit is yes or no.


Another theory says it was invented by the samurai of Saga clan (佐賀

藩 in Kyushu island). Famous author of Hagakure(葉隠), Yamamoto Tsunetomo (山本常朝 1659 – 1719) w

as born in this clan and bushido was very strong and strictly exercised there.  Sup

posedly the young samurai of Saga clan in 18th and 19th centuries used “Osu” for their morning greetings.


If you are interested in Yamamoto Tsunetomo, see Wikipedia about his biography:

Hagakure was considered by many samurai as the spiritual guide to true bushido.  If you do not know about this famous book, Hagakure read the simple explanation in Wikipedia:

Many people asked me why there is only one “Osu” for both yes and no answers.  To be able to understand this you need to understand the culture of bushido or Japanese martial arts. The backbone of bushido is total obedience.  Read Hagakure and you will have a better understanding whether you agree or disagree with the fundamental concept of total obedience. Here in the western world, when a sensei says “jump” the students may ask “why” or say “no”. Of course, some of them may ask “How high?”  In a Japanese dojo, all the students without an exception would answer “Osu” and jump.  So, there is no need for a“no” answer in a dojo in Japan. I am sure many Western people would probably consider this act “stupid” or brain washed and unwise.  I want to emphasize that the purpose of the comparison of the cultures of the two different worlds is not to judge which is better or right, but rather to show merely the differences so that the readers will have a better understanding.

I hope you now have a better idea of what “Oss” stands for and where it came from.  I also hope that you will appreciate this word better and be more conscientious when you say "Oss!".


Special thanks to Colin Watkin who provided the picture. You can find great articles on his website:

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



What is Sensei 先生? Who can be a Sensei?

We all know Sensei is translated as an instructor or a teacher. The translation is correct so there is no problem there.  I receive some questions concerning the qualifications that make a person a Sensei. There seems to be some unspoken or unexplained area that brings some mystery in karate training. I do not like a mystery so I will share my understanding of what I know about “Sensei”. I hope this will be helpful in your evaluation of an instructor or search for one.

Seiza formal without background

First, let’s look at the kanji for Sensei; 先生 which may guide us to a better understanding of this term. You may remember that we examined先from Senpai.  So, 先means advance, ahead, first, early, etc. How about生? It means birth or life. Therefore, it literally means someone who was born earlier. In other words, it means a person who is older than you. It does not say anything about his age or his ability.  Interesting, isn’t it? So, the Japanese concept is that you learn from those who are older than you as they supposedly have more experience thus they are wiser from which you can learn. This must not be a surprising concept if you remember the Japanese belief of the time seniority, whether you agree or disagree.

Then, you say “OK, I am 50 years old and the instructor is only 25, only a half of my age.  Can he be my sensei?” To answer this, we have to adjust the time-table to karate time. Suppose he started his karate 10 years ago and you only 5 years ago. He is your senpai in karate.  If he is teaching a class regularly in your dojo then he is your sensei. In a dojo, the age difference does not count and the time seniority comes from when one started karate training.  If this sensei is mature enough to be respectable and able to give you a life guidance is totally another matter.

Another person asked, “My sensei is only Nidan. I thought a real sensei must be Yondan and above. How should I consider him?” My answer is “He is your sensei.” Anyone who is in front of a class and teaching is a sensei regardless of his/her dan rank. Whether he is qualified to teach (if he has a teaching certificate) or not is another matter. Besides, having a teaching license does not automatically make him a good sensei. I know a Nidan who has been that rank for over 30 years. His training and teaching experiences probably exceed those by a younger Yondan. I have seen poorly planned instruction by many senior (7 dan and 8 dan) instructors. The key is if the instructor is enthused enough to share the knowledge and the skills he own.  If you can learn something from him or her then he/she is your sensei.  If you are not learning little from him or her, you can always quit the dojo and find another dojo or sensei.

We expect our sensei to be more than someone who teaches how to punch and kick.  This is true because karate-do is more than just punching and kicking.  You are lucky if your sensei can teach you more.  Can we expect this from a sensei of 25 or 30? Some may be very matured and have many years of karate training but most of them may be too young and lack those qualities.  So do not have a wrong expectation from a young sensei. His minimum obligation as an instructor is to be able to teach the karate techniques.  This means he can explain and demonstrate those techniques.  On the other hand, not all senior or old sensei have the qualities and qualifications either.  Maturity and wisdom do not necessarily come with the age. Many of them get out of shape. If an instructor is too overweight and out of shape to demonstrate the techniques, I do not consider him as a responsible instructor.

I like what Musashi said some hundreds of years ago. He said everyone other than himself was a teacher to him. I follow his concept. My original sensei (Sugano and Asai) may be dead and gone. I believe my current sensei is everyone who comes through my life whether he is in martial arts or not. I want to learn something (good or bad) from everyone and all experiences in my life. That is my philosophy and I am not expecting the readers to agree or accept it.


How you select a sensei is totally up to you.  Each of us has different expectations and objectives from our training. I hope you have a sensei who you are happy with.  If you do not, I hope you will find one you will be happy with and can learn a lot from.

If you are a sensei in your dojo, The minimum obligation you have is to teach the correct karate techniques.  This means you need to be in shape so that you can not only explain but also demonstrate those techniques you teach. In addition, I hope you try to provide more than the karate techniques.  Many of your students are expecting this.

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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