Harada Sensei – interview

Master Mitsusuke Harada, Principal Instructor of the KDS and former personal pupil of Gichin Funakoshi and Shigeru Egami.

Interview by Jonathan de’ Claire with the valued assistance of Marie Kellet.

J.de’C – Sensei, you have trained uninterrupted since you began Karate at the Shotokan in 1943. It must have made quite an impression on you. Can you recollect what those impressions were, all those years ago?

M.H. –There were two things that made an initial impression upon me, whilst training at the Shotokan. One was Yoshitaka Sensei and the other was the kata Kanku Sho.

Training at the Shotokan was usually in the evenings. While we were training Yoshitaka Sensei would call over a blackbelt to practise with him. The blackbelt would then attack, but as Yoshitaka touched him on the body the blackbelt would fall over and with each different attack the same result would happen, with the blackbelt falling over. This impressed me greatly and has stayed with me to this day! Seeing Yoshitaka achieve this created my personal search of what is now called HAKKEI.

I first saw the kata Kanku Sho at a local display and it was the jumping kick that impressed me. But, unfortunately at the Shotokan dojo I had no opportunity to study it. When I joined Waseda University in 1948, in the first year I didn’t know all the kata but by the second year we had practised all of the designated Shotokan katas. But we never did Kanku Sho. So, I asked some seniors about this kata and although I did not know the name at the time, I remembered the jumping kick, which I described to the seniors. They then told me it was “Kanku Sho”. But, unfortunately I didn’t have any opportunity at that time to learn it. Then, in 1967 when I returned to Japan from Great Britain, I had the chance to learn Kanku Sho with the university (Waseda) group.

J.de’C – Sensei, you run your group the KDS, according to the philosophies or teachings of your teacher Gichin Funakoshi. What are your memories of O’Sensei and his Karate?

M.H. –Funakoshi O’Sensei’s idea of Karate was mainly gymnastics not fighting. His philosophy was – by training in Karate, it would enhance or develop one’s character. He came to Waseda on Saturdays where he showed a few things, but not so much as he was at that time, in his mid – eighties. But in my opinion, O’Sensei was an educator of Karate rather than a coach. But, his personality and especially his faith to Karate, is what greatly impressed me!

J.de’C – O’Sensei’s son Yoshitaka, was extremely highly thought of both in Japan and Okinawa. Yet his Karate was markedly different to his fathers. What differed in Yoshitaka’s Karate when compared to his fathers?

M.H. –As I mentioned earlier O’ Sensei’s Karate was more like gymnastics. His main emphasis being on kata with occasionally some self-defence or kumite, but mostly his idea was just kata. However, his son Yoshitaka wanted a different kind of Karate, what the Japanese categorise as a Budo type of Karate!

Most people didn’t know Yoshitaka Sensei’s practise; they didn’t know his final level. I was lucky because I saw Yoshitaka Sensei’s practise and I was fortunate enough to be able to experience this kind of technical influence through my personal practise with Egami, who was a training partner of Yoshitaka. So for me personally, this kind of practise was completely different to Funakoshi O’Sensei’s Karate!

J.de’C – Yoshitaka was responsible for many innovative changes in Shotokan Karate. His tragic death at such a young age must have had a profound effect on the potential developments that would have continued, had he not died. How do you think Shotokan karate would look today if Yoshitaka had remained to an older age?

M.H. –If Yoshitaka would have lived on, then things would certainly be very different today! Yoshitaka would, certainly have ignored the original members of the JKA. He would have concentrated on his group such as Miyata and Morihana from Takushoku University and Okuyama, Muramatsu and Egami from Waseda University. This group would, after the university course, go to the Shotokan dojo and practise with Yoshitaka. Having seen Yoshitaka and what he was capable of in the 1940’s and also through what I experienced as a result of practising with Egami, I believe that the technical level today would certainly be very different and of a higher level had Yoshitaka lived on.

J.de’C – How is Yoshitaka remembered today in Japan?

M.H. –Unfortunately, no one remembers him and only know his name.

J.de’C – What are your memories of Egami’s Karate?

M.H. – Mr. Egami had a different approach to most instructors in as much as he believed in accepting ones attack with his body at the right time; without smashing and while the attack was at its peak. This was in contrast to others who would either, shove or smash ones attack when the attack was finished or static.

This kind of physical contact from Egami would only be possible if one had reached a certain level, not a novice. When I practised with Egami it was always – oizuku, gyakuzuki and mae-geri that’s all and each time he would accept my attacks. This kind of practise I had never experienced before!

Through his training with Yoshitaka and also practise at the Nakano School (equivalent to MI6 or Special Forces) Egami managed to develop his own method. I was very lucky and fortunate to practise with Egami at this stage.

J.de’C – During your association with Egami you encountered Tadoa Okuyama. Can you describe him?

M.H. – When I was at Waseda, Okuyama practised everyday. But, it was difficult to understand his Karate as he did not show much but kept emphasising feeling, but what kind of feeling? Each time he taught he was very keen on this feeling, but it was very difficult to understand or get anything from him at this point in time. However, after I met Mr. Egami, he said to me – “…well Harada, now Okuyama’s technical level is now over Waka Sensei’s (Yoshitaka Funakoshi)” that’s what he told me! Okuyama believed that karate must change or it would never improve. 

For instance if a building has only 5 floors then we can only go higher by building more floors. So, what is important in the development of Karate? It is not creating more blocks, kicks or combinations. It would be like saying to a runner to gain more speed – run faster, but that is not enough! We must look at the whole training regime in order to develop the runner’s body, so that greater speed is then achievable. This is also true of Karate. To improve Karate, we must research how to physically change our bodies; this is what is needed to change Karate.

J.de’C – Do you know what became of Okuyama?

M.H. – He is living in Kyoto. I am not sure if he is still practising, but I hope to go and see him when I visit Japan.

J.de’C – When you first pioneered the Shotokan Organisation in South America, you didn’t affiliate to Japan, why was this?

M.H. – Well originally, I called my group Karate-do Shotokan Brazil meaning Japan Shotokan Branch. I wrote a letter to O’Sensei asking his permission for me to form a branch of Japan Shotokan Karate. But he said no! He wanted me to create Brazil Karate like O’Sensei did, when he brought Karate to Japan from Okinawa. So I called us the Karate-do Brazilero meaning Brazil Shotokan. Each Karate nation should be independent and it is not necessary to be a branch of Japan. Of course we recognise each other, but that is enough.

J.de’C – When you heard from Egami about the death of Gichin Funakoshi and the ensuing disagreements about his funeral arrangements, what were your feelings on this?

M.H. – Well, such disagreements were not a surprise, as most people wanted to use Funakoshi O’Sensei, use his Karate for their own personal advantage. As human beings we all look for our own personal advantage, but there must be a 50/50 balance. Unfortunately in Karate’s case the balance was one sided – 90% for one’s own advantage and this was the cause of the trouble around Funakoshi’s death.

I think what happened was a great pity, because, as I mentioned earlier, Funakoshi’s philosophy was to create a better person through practising Karate. As a result of certain people’s actions surrounding O’Sensei’s funeral, they showed their disrespect to him.

J.de’C – You are in fact, good friends with Master Chiba the famous Aikido Master. How did you come to meet him?

M.H. – I met Mr. Chiba at a British Budo Council in the UK. Then about one or two years later we met in London. At this time I was due to go back to Japan so I offered him my flat where he could stay and also use the dojo I was using in the Kings Cross. Our friendship developed from there.

J.de’C – Are there any other Japanese Martial Arts teachers you are associated with?

M.H. – I am not really associated with other Japanese martial arts teachers but I am friendly with Mr. Kase. We meet up from time to time if our schedules are not too busy. Mr Tamara the Aikidoka is a good friend. Also, I am friendly with Mr. Kanazawa and Mr. Shiomitsu. In general the Shotokan and Shotokai resist meeting me, so I am a bit of an outsider, which is a great pity.

J.de’C – Sensei, you take a very active hands-on approach when you teach, have you always taught in this manner?

M.H. – As I mentioned before, Egami used this kind of approach and I learnt that from practising with him. To improve ones Karate then, it is only possible with this kind of approach.

J.de’C – The Karate you teach at the KDS is constantly evolving. Does this reflect your personal philosophy of how a martial art should be?

M.H. – My Karate is constantly evolving because there is always something to learn and as I mentioned earlier – Karate must improve! I give people methods so that this is achievable but I cannot give technique, this is down to the individual. The method may be how to defend which sometimes works and sometimes not, but the technique is the individuals and others may recognise the fact that the person has changed or something different of their practise; strong or not that is another question.

J.de’C – Sensei, how much emphasis do you place on Kata in the KDS.

M.H. – Kata is important, as it is good for developing strong muscle training and flexible movement. It is important to practise kata slowly, then gradually build up speed. This is based on personal experience, as, when I was younger we had no interest in kata, only kumite. But, I criticise O’Sensei for this, as his idea of Karate was like gymnastics not a martial art. So, when we asked questions he would answer on the spot, just coming up with his own ideas; so students started making mistakes and kata was unreliable for real kumite. As a result, we lost interest in the value of kata.

If we had practised kata correctly as I have previously described, then, if a real situation occurs one can immediately use it!

J.de’C – Recently, you took a group of your KDS students to Japan, to display at a high profile and internationally attended event at the Shotokan dojo. What was the reaction to this display in Japan?

M.H. – (Master Harada immediately broke into a broad smile) Everybody was surprised!!! They said it was unique and I have confidence in that, as I do believe I am a unique person because of my practises with Egami. But it was important that not only I could show but also my people could. They did that in Tokyo and I do believe my group, is the best Shotokai group in the world.

J.de’C – Sensei, do you ever have any other styles attending your courses?

M.H.– Yes they come along and of course, there are differences, but the important thing is to accept that and if they can accept an attack and can manage, there is no need for change. For example, there may be a difference in a defence such as age uke, from the way we practise and someone from another style training with us. But, if they can accept a jodan attack from one of my students and can successfully block, then there is no need to change what they are doing. It is like a car, is the model of the car more important or the real running performance the important factor? But most of Karate’s people are more concerned with what style they do (relating to the model of the car as opposed to the performance of it), this is absolutely nonsense!

J.de’C – Hypothetically speaking, if a Shotokan group approached you to do a course would you consider it?

M.H. – Oh yes, yes, why not! If my schedule was not too busy then it may be possible. But an important thing is that, they would have to say what they wanted to practise with me. If this is clear, then I can prepare a programme and practise with them.

Q. by John Cheetham – In Shotokan the physical aspect of ‘kime’ is basically total muscular contraction of the whole body, for one split second of time, upon impact, to deliver ‘shock’ through the target. We hear that in Shotokai there is no muscular ‘contraction’ but ‘relaxation’. How would you describe the Shotokai difference in physical terms?

M.H. – You mention that it is said there is no muscular contraction in Shotokai, only relaxation, but this is incorrect. We have contraction and expansion of the muscles but the joints must be relaxed! This relaxation of the joints allows free movement at the moment when the greatest effort is exerted by the muscles. As a result, a smooth, continuous but much more explosive action can be achieved from those muscles.

As for Kime itself, this is very difficult to explain. The first time I heard the word Kime was in the first year I joined Waseda University. We had to do 5 attacks – Gohon Kumite; on the 5th attack we had to defend and counter attack. The word “Kime -te” was repeated, it meant to finish or conclude on the 5th attack.

After returning from my first Summer School I started my second term at university. At this time I heard the word “kime” again. Mr. Okuyama used the word Kime with us, but his idea was completely different to the previous explanation I had heard. Okuyama’s idea of Kime was more about “feeling”, but at this time we could not understand what he meant.

Then, in 1949 the JKA Kyokai was created and all the universities began to grade together on a twice-yearly basis. The word “Kime” was used more and more, but each time, its interpretation varied depending on who was doing the examining that day. There was far too much ideology around the word “Kime”.

Later, when I began to practise with Egami, I asked him about Kime. Egami said that “we cannot see it as it is invisible to the eye, therefore it is all based on ideology”. To really know Kime one must hit another. I tried to hit Egami using the type of Kime I had previously been taught, but as I touched him I fell over. So, I tried again totally abandoning the concept of concept of Kime I had been given; this time it was completely different! So, I believe Kime is completely nonsense, it is ideology and not realistic!

In the past I have broken wood using Uraken. This was done once more, with total abandonment of the kime concept. Instead, just concentrating on how to throw my arm and fist at the wood to break it.

You say in Shotokan the physical aspect of Kime is total muscular contraction, but this is not Shotokan, it is Nakayama’s idea – JKA Kime! So, the problem of clarifying Kime is almost impossible because of it is ideology and this varies greatly from person to person.

As a result of my personal experiences, I want to completely forget about the idea of Kime.

J.de’C – Sensei, have you achieved all of your goals or ambitions, or do you still have a mountain or two to climb from a martial arts point of view?

M.H. – Well this is a difficult question as really I have no end point to my goal, just how to go one step better, never staying in one place. So it looks like an upward spiral where it seems in the same place but when you look back you have gone up. This is my life!

J.de’C – Finally Sensei, you are putting the finishing touches to your new technical book ”The Search for Hakkei”. Is it possible for you to briefly describe what is Hakkei?

M.H. – Well, Hakkei itself is a word I recently found. It of course, comes from Chinese, probably linked with Tai Chi. One time I watched Ueshiba Sensei’s Aikido, his real result was throwing someone without touching, so I doubted it but at the same time I was surprised. When I asked Mr.Egami about this, he said what I saw was very real. So I asked Egami – “If someone attacked me with full power and I came in at the right time with oizuki; would it possible for me to make them fall over without physically touching them?” Egami replied, that he thought it was possible and agitated me to practise and research until I could successfully achieve such a result. His words got me thinking and I remembered what in Yoshitaka’s case, he did, when blackbelts attacked him. This was the starting point of my approaching a result such as Hakkei. This has been for me my life’s quest and maybe it will continue in the next generation of my group. I must keep this kind of dream, it looks like Shangri-la. This is my motivation to continue in life

J.de’C – Once again Sensei, thank-you very much for agreeing to do this interview tonight.

M.H. –That’s ok, thank-you very much!

Since the SKM (issue 64) published a feature article on Master Harada, there has been a huge wave of interest from the readers of the magazine. Indeed, many have visited and practised with the KDS since. Therefore, I was only too pleased when Sensei agreed to do this rare and official interview with me. Harada Sensei, as ever, answered all my questions in a thoughtful and sincere manner, even though some were difficult to approach. I have no doubt, this interview will generate many more questions from you. In the future, I will endeavour to interview Sensei again, maybe I will ask some of your questions!