The one only Shotokan Ryu Kase Ha Academy in Kuwait
Our Academy follows the way of teaching of two top level Japanese Masters:
Sensei Taiji Kase 10th Dan and Sensei Hiroshi Shirai 10th Dan.
Articles about Karate
Actually, I had met Taiji Kase twenty years ago when I had the opportunity to talk to him about the development of Shotokan karate. It was a fascinating conversation for me, but unfortunately it only lasted twenty minutes or so, and since that time I had always wanted to meet him again, because Kase has pretty much seen it all ? Gichin Funakoshi and his talented son Yoshitaka, the old Shotokan dojo, the post war years and the competition with other styles, the founding of the JKA ? over 60 years of experience with karate and budo.
Well, it took a long time, and I thought Kase Sensei's recent heart attack might have prevented it, but when he gave a comeback course in Belgium in May 2000, I made arrangements to meet him and the following is a summary of our conversation.
Taiji Kase was born in 1929 and he started his martial arts training in judo at the age of six. But, then, when a young Marine Cadet of fifteen he saw Gichin Funakoshi's book Karate-do Kyohan and that generated an interest in karate which has never left him. He went along to the Meijiro section of Tokyo to enroll in Funakoshi's Shotokan dojo, and then, when he saw Yoshitaka Funakoshi practising kicking techniques - and here Kase gestured "Maegeri-Mawashigeri-Yokogeri - Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh! - he was amazed, and even more determined to learn such a strong fighting art.
At that time Gichin Funakoshi had retired from teaching and passed leadership of the Shotokan to Yoshitaka, his third son: Yoshitaka, apparently, was given a stamp, a seal, to recognise this authority. Master Gichin may have given a little instruction now and then, however, because Kase remembers one occasion when he was shown how to make a fist by the old master. This was in the form shown in Gichin Funakoshi's first books, but by then more or less obsolete, where the index finger is not curled up in the fist, but stretched out so that it rests on the palm at the base of the thumb. At the next training session Yoshitaka noticed this and asked Kase "who showed you how to make a fist that way?" Although a little hesitant the young Kase replied that it had been his father. "My father taught you that?" said Yoshitaka, before correcting Kase's fist and saying that that old method was "farmer's karate ? but when he said all that it was in a humorous, good natured way.
Yoshitaka was the Chief Instructor of the Shotokan but he was assisted by Seniors Genshin Hironishi (who had returned from the Chinese battlefront a couple of years before), Yoshiaki Hayashi (who was the model for Ten-no-kata in the 1943 Karate Nyumon), and Wado Uemura. Shingeru Egami, another of the leading lights in Shotokan karate, was back in Kyushu looking after the family business. Although this ran into difficulties after the war, during the war years it was a significant business employing a hundred people and Egami was a fairly rich man. At any rate, this kept Egami back in Kyushu, although Kase thought that he would come up to Tokyo now and then to train for short periods with Yoshitaka.
There is a well known series of photographs of Egami and Yoshitaka taken in the late 1930's. I showed Kase Sensei some of these and he commented that they were taken some time before he started at the Shotokan. When he knew Yoshitaka he had put on a little more weight and had a noticeable stomach. He wasn't big or muscular, but had a whole-body power, which made his karate very powerful. Yoshitaka style, said Kase was a "speed plus power" karate.
And yet, although Yoshitaka appeared healthy and strong on the surface, he had suffered from tuberculosis since he was a child. In fact, said Kase, "Yoshitaka had been told at seven years old that he would not live past twenty, and so when he reached twenty, then twenty one ? twenty two, he was surprised, and he may have attributed his survival, or part of it, to his karate training. Kase thought, however, that Yoshitaka may have had something of "a complex" about all this, since he knew that at any moment he might become seriously ill and die. Although Yoshitaka did teach at the Shotokan in those later years, Genshin Hironishi told Kase that he would have to sleep, or rest in bed all day, to conserve his strength for those evening training sessions.
Taiji Kase had heard some Yoshitaka stories. There was the famous Shito-ryu instructor who supposedly had a "special technique" which would always gain him victory. When he tried to apply this against Yoshitaka, however, he was countered and thrown back several yards across the dojo. Another well known teacher - it was Kanken Toyama, Kase said - was supposed to have a secret "tearing the flesh" technique. Yoshitaka told Toyama to try that technique on his thigh muscles. Toyama gripped Yoshitaka's thigh but nothing happened. Yoshitaka told him to try harder ? nothing. Kase chuckled as told these stories.
Was the training at the Shotokan hard at that time? Yes, because this was the war and the attitude to training was very serious. A lot of kumite was practised, gohon and sambon kumite, and jyu-ippon, and every effort was made to hit with the attack. There was a kind of sambon kumite done in a "rushing" style where you tried to catch your partner. Were people hurt or injured during practice? Oh yes. Sometimes university students would come to the dojo and since they were often more experienced, very fast and strong, you would be very apprehensive about facing them in kumite.
Well in 1945 the Shotokan was destroyed in a bombing raid, then Japan surrendered, and then Yoshitaka Funakoshi died, all within a few months. Karate practice stopped for a time, but then it slowly began to pick up. As early as 1947 in Life magazine there was a two page feature on karate practice in Japan, and when I showed this to Kase Sensei he immediately identified the two karate in the main photo as Hiroshi Kamata and Gojuru Harada. Karate was fortunate, in fact, in escaping the American Forces ban which affected judo and kendo at that time. Kase explained that this was because the karate groups described their art as of "Chinese origin" rather than Japanese, and the Americans left them alone.
After the war Taiji Kase enrolled at Senshu University where he continued his training and became the captain of the karate team. The Sensei there was Genshin Hironishi and his training was hard. Then Kase heard that Shigeru Egami was teaching at Chuo University, so he went over to Chuo to train with Egami too ("very sharp technique"). In fact, the young Kase was passionate about karate, and when I showed him a group photo taken in 1951 he pointed to someone in the front row (I didn't quite get the name) and said that the well known Tadao Okuyama used to lodge at his house. So Kase made contact with this person because he really wanted to learn from the enigmatic Okuyama.
There is a karate story here which is almost forgotten. When we were talking about the wartime Shotokan, Kase Sensei mentioned that Yoshitaka's group was involved in teaching secret agents. "The Nakano School?" I asked and Kase replied yes, and he stressed that the authorities had gone to Yoshitaka and asked him to teach there. But, he added, some of Yoshitaka's pupils advised him against direct involvement, so it was Tadao Okuyama who was actually sent. Yoshitaka Funakoshi was officially the instructor, and he may have gone there a few times, but it was Okuyama who did most of the teaching. "What did he teach?" I asked. "Killing technique!" Kase replied.
Anyway, Kase did study with Tadao Okuyama in that post war period and he told me that Okuyama had "very special technique". When I asked him about that, he simply shook his head and smiled. Okoyama was indeed special, and looking again at that old photo, with all the various Shotokan seniors, Kase said that he thought, of all that generation, Okuyama was "the highest". At one time he had gone away to the mountains to train, and then later he became involved with the Omotokyo sect of Shintoism, the same sect of Shintoism that influenced Morihei Uyeshiba, as a matter of fact. Okuyma became the bodyguard of the head of Omotokyo and lived in the group's headquarters, which made him somewhat difficult to contact.
Yoshitaka Funakoshi's idea was that karate should develop continuously, and Okuyama had taken this idea to its full potential - "Develop, develop, develop," said Kase. He didn't believe in hundreds of mechanical repetitions, but was always searching for the true technique, and Kase said that Okuyama had "a special kind of power, not from the muscles, not from kime, something else". As an interesting aside to all this, Kase thought that Shigeru Egami may have got some of his later ideas from Okuyama. "Not copied", he said, "but got idea".
In those post war years the different karate groups would sometimes get together for joint training (kokan geiko) and often these sessions would get very physical, especially when style rivalry was also involved. Kase Sensei remembered the time in 1949 when the Shotokan Universities of the East of Japan went down to Kyoto to meet the Universities of the West - Ritsumeikan, Doshisha, Kansoi and so on; mainly Goju groups, with maybe a couple of Shito-ryu. Kase recalls that, before the kumite sessions began, the Shotokan seniors told the students that this was to be "non-contact!" - but they wanted it clearly understood that when they said "non-contact!" they really meant "contact!" Since the Goju seniors gave a similar pep talk to their students, the kumite rapidly developed into something of a bloodbath, with many of the participants being knocked down or unconscious, or having their teeth punched out.
A meeting was called on whether the kumite should stop because of the injuries that were occurring, some people did want to call a halt but Taiji Kase said that as long as they could stand up they should continue. Anyway, it was agreed that the captains should fight, and Kase faced the captain of Ritsumeikan, who he succeeded in knocking down. Did he get injured himself? I asked. No, he was lucky, though he just managed to evade the Ritsumeikan man's haito, which flew past his head - Kase remembers it brushing through his hair.
The Goju people were rough, Kase recalled, although the Shotokan style, with its longer range yoko geri and mawashi geri attacks, worked well against them. Goju was more a close quarters style and at that time the Gojo karate didn't use those kicking techniques. It was only more or less from that time that these techniques began to spread into Goju.
Shotokan karate wasn't highly organised at that time, but the various groups or fractions - the university based groups of Keio, Hosei, Waseda, Takushoku, Chuo and Senshu - all managed to work together. When Kase passed his third dan grading in 1949 he did it before a panel composed of seniors from all the universities, and he passed along with Jotaro Tagaki of Chuo and Shimamura of Takushoku. Things seemed to be gong well enough, but of course there were technical differences between the groups, and also between those who had stayed in Japan during the 1930's and 1940's, and those who had been away serving in China, Manchuria, and other parts of the Japanese empire. Back in 1981, for example, Kase had told me that when Masatoshi Nakayama came back to Japan after the war he saw the younger students practising yoko geri, mawashi geri and so on, and said "That's not Shotokan karate!". In Belgium, Kase Sensei confirmed that story, explaining that Nakayama had said "Not accept, not accept". Of course, by that time those techniques were becoming well established, and not long after that Nakayama himself was including these techniques in his demonstrations.
In the 1950's the different Shotokan factions began to break away from each other, and Taiji Kase joined the JKA as one of its senior members. The way this happened ? Kase had left university and was living in a suburb of Tokyo, Hidetaka Nishiyama lived close by and would often try and persuade Kase to come in with the JKA group. Kase was in two minds about it, as he had come up with the Yoshitaka Funakoshi, Hironishi group, and he told me in fact that many of Hironishi's students tried to persuade him to have a permanent dojo where they could establish an association to train in and teach karate. But that never happened, and so Kase did join the JKA, and that gave him the life in karate that he wanted.
I remarked to Kase Sensei that the JKA of that time, the Yotsuya dojo set up, was predominantly run by Takushoku men, did that cause any difficulties for him, coming from Senshu? No, he said, and that was due mainly to Masatoshi Nakayama. Nakayama had a good heart and wanted everybody to work together, so there wasn't a problem. Actually, Taiji Kase was a very important member of the JKA. He was one of its directors, was involved in formulating its first contest rules, and was a senior instructor, which meant that he was responsible for teaching that first generation of international instructors. Names like Hirokazu Kanazawa, Keinosuke Enoeda and Hiroshi Shirai. Those three JKA champions in fact, made a world tour in 1965 along with Kase, giving demonstrations wherever they went. Terry O'Neill, ex-captain of the British Karate Team, saw one of those early demonstrations and he told me that Kase was clearly in charge, often telling one of the others to get up and work with him, and occasionally knocking them about a little. "So they deferred to Kase as the senior?" I asked Terry. "Oh yes", he replied. "Definitely".
The JKA began sending instructors abroad around 1960, and Kase himself joined that exodus a few years later. He taught in South Africa for a while, and then he settled with his wife and daughters in France, which has been his base for the last thirty years.
It was Henry Plée, the founder of French karate, who brought him, and there was an element of chance to it all. Plée had organised his summer course at St. Raphael and had booked Hiroshi Shirai to teach. But Shirai couldn't make it and he arranged for someone else to come instead, and when Plée saw that it was Kase ? well actually, he felt let down. Plée had never met Kase but he had seen photos of him in Karate, a pocket book in the old series Marabout Flash, and had not formed a good opinion of his technique. But, he resigned himself to the change of teacher and then, as the course got underway, his view quickly began to change. Kase had a good rapport with the students, and in terms of karate, "une technique formidable". At the end of the course it was agreed that Kase would come to teach at Henry Plée's famous dojo in the 5th Arrondissement of Paris ? and Plée wrote an article for his Budo Magazine Europe entitled "Dangers Sur Les Interpretations Des Photos De Karate", (Dangers in judging karate from photos).
In fact, Taiji Kase was strict in teaching kihon and kata, but in kumite his technique was much freer. The important thing here was timing, movement, and applying power at the right moment. Tommy Morris, the well known Scottish karateka, who trained at Plée's dojo, told me that in kumite, Kase "could really move". Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be much footage of him from this time. I have a short clip of him defending against two attackers in a demonstration at a British Championships - he appears to throw them about easily - and a performance of Meikyo kata in an IAKF Championships a few years later. In contrast to the kata we see today, Kase's Meikyo isn't exaggerated or theatrical; the technique is economical but strong, and the movement is smooth, both across the mat and in the transition from one technique to another; the kata of a mature karateka, you might say.
I've corresponded with Henry Plée for years, and when I was in Paris a couple of years ago we talked about the various Japanese Sensei he had brought over to teach at his dojo in the 1950's and 1960's - Hiroo Machizuki, Tetsuji Murakami, Tsutomu Ohshima, Mitsusuke Harada, Taiji Kase. Henry said that he would often test the strength of these instructors by sparring with them soon after they arrived. For instance he had hit Murakomi with a forefist punch, leaving a lump the size of a small egg on his forehead. Had he done kumite with Kase? Oh yes. Henry had many years of judo practice behind him and so after a few moments he moved in and tried a judo throw. But Kase didn't budge - "He was like a rock" - and then when Henry released his hold and tried to move back he was hit by a Kase side kick which double him up. "Okay", he said to Kase, "now I know who is the strongest!"
I asked Kase Sensei about this and he chuckled. Yes, that had happened. Plée had done judo, but then he was an experienced judoka too, and "Japanese judo level very high".
Plée told the French magazine Bushido: "Kase Sensei is only a small man but one who has mastered the sense of combat. His exceptional worth lies in his practice of two forms of karate. One based on combat, and the other on practice of the fundamentals. Another advantage that he possesses is a simple strategy: he adapts to his opponent. He sees that opening, and helped by his sense of timing, he moves in. What underpins his strength is his experience of real combat. Here is an example, several times I witnessed the special training sessions between him, Shirai and Enoeda, during which they worked on fighting. If the reach and speed of the other two enabled them to extend him, then immediately Kase Sensei would step up a gear. They would back off. These workouts, believe me, were something! They helped me understand what is combat in karate, and real combat, even if the rules are still respected. Morevover, it seems to me that his judo experience helps him. He has learned well the way bodyweight moves. He knows when the opponent can or cannot attack, that is to say, when the opponent is in the process of transferring his bodyweight then he cannot attack. That is the moment when Kase Sensei launches his famous deep attack. I think that judo is present in his method of fighting. I remember when he arrived in France, the French karatekas were influenced by Shukokai style, with a fighting posture where the weight was very much on the forward leg, and of course, it amused him to throw these unfortunates. But don't try to do the same with him. He can't be uprooted. Occasionally I would work out with the different experts who I brought to my dojo. Having some experience of judo, I sometimes surprised them and occasionally threw them. But I never succeeded in doing that with him. He's like concrete. For me, he is the best fighter I have met. He love's fighting and never refuses a match. Here's another story. I do not know if French karateka remember Baroux. [Note: Patrick Baroux was European karate champion in the 1960's.] I was fond of him and I was very moved by his death. Moreover, he was a great champion. He used to train with me. One day, returning from the European Championships, where he had won the title, he said to me. "You know, I think I can beat Kase Sensei. I'd like to try." I told Kase, who said to me quite simply. "No problem, whenever he wants." The session took place in the dojo, near to the entrance. He let Baroux do two or three techniques, then he stepped up the pace. He made a meal of him, as it were. Later, Baroux told me "I would never have believed it. What a man!"
After his contract with Henri Plée finished, Kase set up on his own, and gave courses throughout Europe. He was still with the JKA and remained with them till the political problems of the 1980's, when he left to set up his own organisation. As Henry Plée said, Taiji Kase was never a politician or an intrigue. He just wanted to do karate, and the break allowed him to do that in the way he wanted.
Kase has not had a permanent dojo for years, preferring to travel around Europe (or wherever) giving courses, mainly to black belts. Even at seventy years old he was still doing that most weekends until he suffered a heart attack last year. Of course, that was a bad set back, but then after nine months or so, he gave a comeback course in Paris in February, which was attended by 200 black belts. A couple of months later came the Hasselt course, where we met.
I first saw Kase Sensei teaching in London in 1981, on a course for the Karate Union of Great Britain. He was going through kata and it was interesting to see the way he took the form apart and showed such things as how to best position the body in relation to the opponent. In Hasselt the class went through some prearranged kumite techniques and attacking combinations, but mainly Kase concentrated on fundamentals - stance, breathing, defence and blocking techniques. He started his first session with practice on the opening movements of Sochin kata, working on kime and rooting yourself to the ground, and he explained that in such a position you should feel "as if you weigh two hundred kilograms". The class then went through a sequence of open handed (shuto) movements, first done slowly with coordinated breathing - this resembles Goju practice - and then quickly, with sharp kime. When he worked on blocking techniques, Kase had the class first practice the blocks with a full range movement and maximum power, but then the movement had to be reduced, firstly to a half-range movement, and then to just a few inches - while still retaining the power. In combat you wouldn't have time to do a full range blocking technique, but even with short range blocks you should be able to hurt the opponent's attacking limb, or knock the opponent away with the force of the block. Kase told the students that this was a "speed plus power karate", and he also explained that in kumite you should be able to go "from zero to one hundred percent" in an instant. Kase stressed to his followers that theirs was a "Budo karate", and when I talked to him later I was impressed at how he could talk with authority on the wide range of Japanese budo. He spoke about kendo, about judo, and about such famous judomen as Kyuzo Mifune and Masahiko Kimura, both of whom he had known personally; about Morihei Uyeshiba and Aikido, (which he summarised as "Daito-ryu plus Shintoism"); about such figures as Yukiyoshi Sagawa, the ninety-odd year old expert in Daito-ryu who died a couple of years back and who some thought was better than Uyeshiba, ("some said second to Takeda", Kase mentioned). When his senior student, Dirk Heene, mentioned a friend who was trained in Hakko-ryu Ju-jutsu, Kase was able to explain the origins of Hakko-ryu. Of course, he was fully aware of the other styles of Japanese karate, and knew many of the leading figures in the Japanese karate world; Mas Oyama, for example, who he had known way back in the post war years, when they had briefly trained together in judo.
While teaching, Kase Sensei was affable and patient. Understandably, he didn't exert himself too much, but when he did show a couple of techniques he was surprisingly sharp, especially for a seventy one year old recovering from a heart attack. The classes were for black belts only, with many of the participants having over twenty or thirty years karate experience behind them. Some had switched from other organisations, often after their competitive careers had ended and they became aware of a lack of depth or direction in their training. With Kase, some of them told me, they had found a fresh way forward.
I don't practice Shotokan karate, and I can't make any judgements on the various organisations which teach it, but the Kase group seemed very loyal, and Taiji Kase's influence benign. After all the training and gradings, and a long and busy day for Kase Sensei, there was a meal, and this was where I was able to talk to him for a couple of hours and ask all my questions. He was straightforward and amiable, jovial even. When the meal was finished Dirke Heene drove me, and Kase Sensei and his wife, back to our hotels. Shortly before we reached my hotel Kase asked me about the British karateka he had known from the 1960's ? Bob Poynton, Andy Sherry, Terry O'Neill, Frank Brennan. Were they still training? Yes, I replied they were. That was good, he said. They were separated now in different associations, but they were still all one Shotokan family, and everybody should keep their karate strong.
We had arrived at my hotel. And I can remember Kase Sensei's final words as I got out of the car and said my goodbyes. "Remember", he said, "If you see them - tell them to keep training!"
Graham Noble 2000
Shihan Taiji Kase is without doubt one of the few remaining living legends of the world of Karate. At the present time Shihan Kase an 9th Dan Shotokan, is head of World Karate Shotokan Akademy (WKSA). Kase Sensei is visiting various countries on a regular basis to conduct numerous Karate seminars. The experience of WW II and the different way of thinking and training at that special time, his enormous knowledge and experience and his long hard training have all gone towards making Kase Sensei a Karate Master with a special image, a master who is a living legend, a master who is the image itself of his pure and strong Karate.
At the Winter-Seminars in Freiburg and Müllheim Kase Sensei had many intresting things to tell me, which were only known by a few people in the world.
Sensei Kase, when and where were you born ?
I was born on 9th February 1929 in Tokio, Japan.
Did any one else in your family do any kind of martial arts ?
My father and my brother did Judo. Before WW II my father was already a 5. Dan in Judo. When I was six years old he pushed me to go to the Judo classes. In Middle School I was team captain. In 1944 I started Karate as well, in 1946 I stopped Judo because I thought, better do one good than two things bad. When I stopped Judo I had 3 Dan in Judo.
Sensei Kase, where did you first hear about Karate ?
In a book shop in February 1944. I saw the book 'Karate Do-Kyohan' from Gichin Funakoshi. In the photographs I saw things that I never saw before. I was very interested and since there was no address in the book, I called the publisher and they told me where the Dojo was. The first time I went to the Dojo, Sensei Yoshitaka Funakoshi was teaching the class.When I asked permision to practice karate he refused at first, because I was very young. They normally only accept students after University. But after I told Sensei Yoshitaka that I have been doing Judo for many years and after a long discussion about Budo, Sensei Yoshotaka realised that I was very serious about Karate and accepted me as a student in the Dojo. But Sensei Yoshitaka told me never use Karate outside the dojo.
Who was teaching February 1944 in the Honbu-Dojo at that time ?
Sensei Gichin Funakoshi, Yoshitaka, Genshin Hironishi, Hayashi, Uemura and some other people.
How was the teaching style at that time ?
The Dojo was small, but we trained in groups, beginners and advanced students were separated. But we had individual training as well. We did normally one step Kihon, like Ten No Kata. The emphasis was on long distance, speed and time. Kumite was very hard, we did reality Karate, touch and kill even with the block. Kata was like Kihon, no Bunkai. In the University we did only repetitions, 1000 mae-geris, 1000 tsukis (Sensei Kase was smiling) and 1000 punches on the makiwara everyday before training. A senior would normally stand behind the makiwara and he only counted, when the tsuki was really strong. Often, the skin on the knuckles was gone so I could see the white bone.
What do you remember of O-Sensei (Gichin Funakoshi) ?
As a team captain at University I had to pick up O-Sensei every Monday from his home and bring him to the Dojo. Sensei Funakoshi was already very old and he came to the dojo only in his Kimono, and watched the training session and gave comments like 'Karate Ni Sente Nashi'. Never use a first attack, somebody could get hurt. I remember, one day we did heian godan and O-Sensei came with the bo and hit my feet, because my jump was to low and he said do you understand. He was like a grandfather, he spoke always very softly, he was a very kind person.
Sensei Kase, when Sensei Gichin Funakoshi came to Japan in 1923 do you think he knew more than the 15 kata he taught?
I think he knew more kata than the kata he taught, because in that time you only taught your best student all you knew. In that time it was dangerous to show all to everybody, maybe somebody could finish you with that knowledge. But after my generation everything changed. Sensei Funakoshi always said he trained mainly with Sensei Azato and not with Sensei Itosu. So his first teacher is Azato and not Itosu. Azato and Funakoshi were the same generation. Azato had a very high social position in Okinawa at that time, he was something like a major of a town. Azato taught Funakoshi and afterwards Funakoshi had to teach Azato´s son. That's why Shotokan kata and Shitoryu kata are different. In Shotokan we do a lot of o-waza, big techniques. In Okinawa and in Shito-Ryu they all do ko-waza, small techniques. Matsumura Sokon was the bodyguard of the king of Okinawa. With him he traveled to Kyushu, Japan and there he got to see Kendo. He was very impressed of the style Jigenji-Ryu therefore he studied this martial art in Kyushu. In Jigenji-Ryu they do big techniques as well and this influenced Matsumuras Karate. He taught it to Azato Sensei and Azato Sensei taught it to Funakoshi Sensei. And another example is the Kata Sochin, only in Shotokan we do sochin. A few years back Sensei Shirai went to Okinawa to study some Goju-Ryu. The instructors asked him to show one of his favourite Kata, and Shirai showed sochin. The Okinawan instructors were very surprised, because they said this must be samurai sochin, they thought the kata was lost.
Sensei Kase I have heard a lot about Sensei Yoshitaka Funakoshi, how was his teaching like ?
Yoshitaka was the third son of Gichin Funakoshi. He started practising Karate in 1916, at the age of 11. I trained only a few times with Sensei Yoshitaka , but I remember when he showed me mae-geri, yoko-geri and mawashi-geri, first slowly and than fast. I will never forget his speed and his dynamic techniques. What a pity that I was a beginner at that time, I could not do everything, but I could observe how he taught the black belts and on what points he emphasised in his teaching. Yoshitaka Sensei always pointed out how important speed, time and explosion power is. But he was quite sick, so during the day he was in bed and in the evenings he went to the dojo to teach until he died in November 1945 in Tokyo. In 1938 Sensei Gichin Funakoshi gave the shotokan seal to his son Yoshitaka. So Yoshitaka Funakoshi was his inheritance as head of shotokan karate. So from 1938 to 1945 Yoshitaka and the group around him developed the shotokan karate to a different, a higher level. You see, the time we lived in was the time of war. There was a martial art spirit everywhere and karate had to be practised in the same way as katana training, "touch and kill. Reality. It was the time of Budo. And in that time Yoshitaka change the Karate of his father to a more dynamic and more stronger karate using kiba dachi and fudo dachi and doing ten no kata as well as taikyoku shodan to sandan to gain more spirit, more power and more energy. He also developed yoko-geri kekomi and keage as well as mawashi-geri. Sensei Gichin Funakoshi was already very old, so it was a pitty that Yoshitaka Sensei died November 7th 1945, because when the seniors (Nakajama) came back from war they said this is not shotokan what you are doing here. So the seniors started to teach the Karate in the Universities which they learned before WW II and most of what Yoshitaka sensei teached nearly dissapeared.
Who else was teaching after WW II ?
Sensei Hironishi, Uemura, Egami from Kyushu, Obata, Nogouchi he's 85 now and Okujama and some more. During my University years, the team captains gathered together sometimes in groups sometimes individually for training. With Sensei Okuyama I studied Karate than very deep. He always said it is important to repeat and repeat to get more power and speed to reach a higher level of Karate. Sensei Okuyama was always asking himself how can he improve the speed and power of techniques, how he would have to practice to get faster and stronger. How could he use mental energy, breathing and muscle tension. Man has to liberate himself from form. One has to ask, how can I get more energy than only muscle power. He said you have to go the budo way. You have to get harmony between "Ten - Chi - Shin", (heaven, earth, human). How can I get this in harmony, how can I get universal power. We sometimes practised at night in total darkness and he showed me how to recognise block attacks in the darkness. Once I had to sit outside the dojo and watch the rain. I had to try to follow with my eyes the rain drops. It was a reflex training for the eyes, how can I recognise movements. Another thing was, I had to estimate distance, to get a feeling for distance. We trained the whole day and in the beginning I could not wake up in the morning because I was too tired and Sensei Okujama used to pour water on my face to shape my senses. After a while I would wake up in the morning when he opened the door so he stopped waking me up by pouring water onto my face. I had to develop all six senses. (Note: In the book "Karate Master, The time and life of Mitsusuke Harada by Dr. Clive Layton", page 71 : Master Okuyama was the finest and most advanced Karate-Ka with whom Harada ever trained ... Okuyama had not been looked in the past, as many of his contemporaries had been, but was concerned with the future - how to evolve. ... man who broke with tradition and found something. Along time training partner of Yoshitaka, Sensei Egami admitted to Harada that Okuyama`s level was even higher than that of Yoshitaka. After WW II he went to the mountains to live their.)
When you entered Senchu University, who were your seniors at that time?
Sensei Hironishi 5. Dan. Yoshitaka, Egami, 5. Dan, Uemura 5. Dan, Kubota 4. Dan, Takami 3. Dan, Toratani Moshita, Mitzukami, etc. many seniors came back from war, they had no jobs, that's why the helped in the dojo. We trained every day for 8 hours.
Who were your training mates at that time?
Nishiyama, Tagaki - he was like my brother. Presently,Tagaki is Shotokai President and he is now after Hironishi holding the shotokan seal which coma from Gichi Funakoshi to Yoshitaka Funakoshi to Hironishi and than to Tagaki. Both of us are on the picture at the Karate-Do Nyomon from Gichin Funakoshi were I do the yokotobi-geri (page 42).
Were there major competitions at that period of time?
No, only Inter-Universities competitions, either in Tokyo or Kyoto. The different universities used different styles but were to compete with each other Sometimes we were about 120 people. So the Shotokan, Goju-Ryu and Shito-Ryu students came together and had to prove themselves. It was very dangerous every time . There were a lot of injuries, but never very big ones. This was during the American occupation. After we had a Japanese's government again we had to stop.
How was the development of Karate from 1923 when O-Sensei came to Japan to WW II?
When Sensei Funakoshi came in 1923 for a demonstration to Japan all the martial arts experts like Jigoro Kano of Judo, Nakayama of Kendo and the Sumo Champion were very interested in Karate from Okinawa. That's why Funakoshi got to know all the Budo experts from Japan. Gichin Funakoshi understood the level of Budo in Japan, so he wanted to bring up the Karate level to level of Budo.
I've heard that during WW II everybody in the hombu-dojo used fudo-dachi as the major stance and not zenkutsu-dachi ?
Before WW II the basic stance was kiba-dachi to develop stability and balance. We used zenkutsu-dachi to walk forward and kokuzu-dachi to walk backwards. But after black belt everybody used fudo-dachi to develop power. During WW II beginners learned immediately Ten No Kata in fudo-dachi to develop spirit and power.
Why do you prefer fudo-dachi to zenkutsu-dachi?
Because fudo-dachi is more flexible. In the endpoint of zenkutsu dachi, the back leg is straight, so you can't move anymore. In fudo-dachi your back leg is bend, so you have always reserve, and secondly it is better for the body because in fudo-dachi your muscles work like a suspension, therefore it is better for the joints and the spine.
I have heard that you taught the JKA instructor course as well, is that true ?
During my University time I knew I only wanted to do Karate. After the University in 1951 their was no JKA. My fathers friend was president of a company and he had problems with the union, so he needed a bodyguard. I took the job and went with him for meetings. Nakajama wanted to form JKA, so tagaki and I asked Sensei Hironishi to open a dojo, we would follow him and do only karate, no other job. But he was a journalist and he wanted to contioue his profession.
When the JKA opened 1956 Nishijama asked me to join JKA. I wantetd to do karate full time, therefore I asked Hironishi if I could join JKA so I could do only Karate. Hironishi agreed.I joined them and helped them teach. It was Nakajama, Nishijama, Okazaki and myself. The first instructor students were Mikami and Kanazawa. First Nakajama was very busy with travelling and than Nishijama as well, so I was teaching the instructor course 3 times a day. But officially Nakajama and Nishijama were responsible. So I teached many times the instructor course until I left to South Africa in 1964.
Many JKA instructors were sent to foreign countries to teach, when and where did you start ?
In 1964 I went alone to South Africa for 3 months and then in 1965 I went again for a 6 month period with Enoeda and Shirai. Kanazawa was in London at that time. After South Africa Enoeda, Shirai and I did a world tour including to Europe, Germany was included. We arrived in Frankfurt by plane, we did not know were Bad Godesberg was, so we took a taxi from Frankfurt to Bad Godesberg, a really long journey. Later on we travelled to Holland and Belgium as well.
Do you still remember some German karateka from that time?
I remember Jürgen Seydel and Fritz Wendland from my first visit to Germany.
You have been teaching for over 30 years in Europe, are you happy with the result you have achieved ?
For 32 years I have taught Karate in Europe, there are still many people whom started studying it with me, till this day practice with me. Some are over 60 years as well. It is nice to see us develop together. Till today I am still able to practice so that makes me happy. I have to carry on and see what kind of level I can reach. I always try to improve my level, to improve the level of karate I have learned, and I hope the next generation will do the same.
Sensei Kase, you and Sensei Shirai established WKSA, what was the aim of WKSA?
All life practise Karate. The idea is to develop Shotokan Karate and practices together until the end of life. No politics, just practice Karate-do.
What is in your opinion the most important dachi to study as a beginner and what as a advanced karateka?
I think people should start Karate in Hachichi-dachi and than in Hami-dachi and Zenkutsu-dachi that is the principle of WKSA (World Karate Shotokan Academy). The difference to traditional Shotokan Karate is that we use a lot of fudo-dachi instead of zenkutsu-dachi. Than we use a lot of open hand techniques, Haito and Shuto for blocks as well for attacks.To use the fist for attacing and blocking is the first level of Karate, to to open hands is the next level. With open hands you have a further reach for attacing and blocking, but to get kime open hand techniques is more difficult. That's why you have to use first the fists and than open hands. To move we use a lot of yori-achi, tsugi-ashi kae-ashi and 45 degree movements.
Nowadays many Karateka practice only Kata or only Kumite for competition. What do you think about this development?
It should have both for a total practise in Karate. Competition is only one part of Karate, the other is self-defence. Budo helps to develop the personality of people who practise Karate-Do. Budo Karate is so big that you can develop in many directions. Many people do competition, but people should keep it more traditional, otherwise it´s like boxing or something like this. If people only practice for competition, they are finished after the competition because, they don't know what else to practice. That's why it is important to keep the traditional idea of Budo Karate. In competition you learn mainly how to attack, in WKSA you learn how to block as well. So after competition you should do Budo Karate, like I do in the academy.
How should we practice Kata in your opinion?
Kata should be trained the Budo way. To practise kata the normal way is not enough, kata should be practised ura, go, in 4 directions as well, and bunkai of course. That's the way you study a kata deeply and understand it.
Sensei Kase, you are nearly 70 years old and you have been doing Karate for over 54 years. What makes you still enjoy Karate ?
Doing Karate is a pleasure for me. I can't live without Karate, it is like eating and drinking, it is natural part of me. For me it is not a pleasure to go to a cinema or something like this. Only Karate is important for me. It is the same like with an artists, dancers, painters writers, you just enjoy the art and I do.
Sensei Kase in books we can read that martial artists can develop their personality by practising martial arts. What is your opinion about this?
I think the development of a personality does not come only from martial arts, it comes as well from life experience, marriage and many more thinks. I think through Karate I got much more calm, more in control of myself. (Pause ..) Karate is like research for foreign energy. Through Karate I developed a different level which makes the insides of me very calm. It is like some sort of spiritual energy.
Sensei Kase, thank you very much for your time.
What has been the most memorable thing during your remarkable karate journey?
It is the love towards karate which has lasted almost six decades. I cannot name only one thing because so much has happened. Sometimes I ask myself - why do I continue training? I must continue because karate gives me so much - karate is my life. I have been training and teaching karate all over the world for over half a century.
What is the purpose of your training?
Main purpose is the continuous development. Even though I am 73 years old - I still feel that I am developing all the time. When I decide that I am standing after the fight - I will. This is the original budo spirit - the training should also be done this way. Budo - karate takes about 20-30 years of basic work. Only after this period one can start to understand karate more deeply and see things more clear. The development is a continuous process - continuous training gives basics for that.
Who were your teachers when you started to practice - could you tell their the main characteristics?
Gichin Funakoshi was my first teacher - he was the one who established Shotokan ryu school. His karate was more like Okinawan. Stances were short and kicking techniques were only few. The second teacher was his son Yoshitaka Funakoshi - who developed karate tremendously. He created more dynamic moving patterns - lower stances came along and kicking quantity and quality expanded. Karate as a whole became more versatile. Yoshitaka created fudo-dachi stance - which enabled one to move towards multiple directions more strongly and more naturally than old zenkutsu-dachi does. Fudo-dachi is the basic stance of the Shotokan ryu Kase ha. My third important teacher was Motonobu Hironishi who teached me during my six Senshu university years in Tokio. Hironishi sensei was a very important person in Shotokai school after he left shotokan.
Could you tell us some more about Motonobu Hironishi sensei?
He started to practice karate in 1931 when he was 19 years old. He was a student of Gichin and Yoshitaka Funakoshi and he teached karate in Japanese universities. Hironishi did not like competitions and he was always saying that karate should be trained as budo - not as a sport. He said that karate is not real in competition situation. As I told you before Hironishi changed to Shotokai and the main reason was that there is no competition element in Shotokai.
It has been said that Tadao Okuyama sensei reached higher level in karate that Yoshitaka Funakoshi did - is this true?
In my opinion Yoshitaka reached higher level than Okuyama. When Yoshitaka passed away in 1945 - Okuyama naturally continued his own development - but still he did not reached Yoshitakas skill level. To me Yoshitaka is always number one. In fact these two cannot even be compared because their karate was different. Yoshitaka was more physical karateka and Okuyama caught his energy from somewhere else - strange isn't it.
When was the last time that you met with sensei Okuyama?
We have not met in a few years. We call each other time to time. Usually we discuss about training and change opinions. He is over 80 years old and training and living in Japan. Our friendship has lasted from 1940`s - university years.
What is your opinion about training attitude nowadays compared the spirit during the Yoshitakas times - are there any problems?
Problems, not necessarily. The training of course was quite different during the war compared to nowadays. The difference is in controlling the technique. Atobaya was very common in wartime training - there was no control. Killing with one blow was the basis of the training. Nowadays some people are training for competition - why is that?
How do you see the future of karate - in which direction you would like it to develop?
Budo is not competition. Budo is fighting. Karate is protection / defence - yourself, other people, your and others property. The traditional karate does not include competition - if somebody claims otherwise then he is wrong. Believe it - I have seen the whole development of modern karate. The rules of competition were developed during 1950`s. There is no points for effective uke-waza. Budo is realistic fighting based on samurai tradition - this tradition also includes traditional karate. The realistic fighting is very far from competition karate. The rules and narrow technique selection does not give real picture of karate. The technique becomes unilateral and karate changes to point scoring sport as dancing - this is not the case with true budo.
Karate should be trained more seriously. Why do people practice kata only to learn the form? It is like dancing. The realistic kata bunkai training helps people to understand katas thru totally different way. A strong block(ukeuchi) hurts your opponent - there is no need for attack necessarily. There is no needless movements in karate. These are the things I wish to be remembered while training karate. Karate ni sente nashi - block always first.(There is no first attack in karate.)
Thank you sensei - arigato!!!
In this interview Sensei Kase also stressed out that Shotokan ryu Kase ha(SRKH) style is very different from JKA karate. Shotokai style is in its some features similar to SRKH. The SRKH training is very realistic and very versatile. It is the result of sixty years of continuous development.
Taiji Kase sensei has developed karate training continuously during his spectacular career. Even today he is adding some new ideas into training. The starting spark for this development was given by Yoshitaka Funakoshi in 1940`s.
"Why always wander the flat course, when there is the possibility to climb higher level and see more wide and more far!"
- Sensei Taiji Kase in Finland-