Harada Sensei – MBE interview

Jonathan de’ Claire interviews Master Harada shortly after he received his MBE for services to karate.

JDC Harada Sensei, firstly, I wanted to congratulate you on being awarded the Member of the British Empire for Services to Karate.

MH Thank you very much. This is a great honour for me, it was also total surprise! My people kept it a secret that this had been applied for and the first I knew of it was when I received a very official looking envelope. It was a complete shock!

JDC How do you feel about being recognised for your services to Karate in the UK?

MH Well, firstly I am very proud. I never dreamed this would be possible. I think I am the first Japanese Martial Arts Master to be awarded the MBE. I am also very happy because I did it whilst following my own way. To think that I have been teaching Karate outside of Japan for over 50 years, I would never have believed it if I had been told that this was my future. I am truly very lucky I think. Through the medium of Karate I have travelled the world, met many people and experienced a whole variety of cultures that, otherwise, would not have been possible had I remained in banking I think. Most importantly, I have made many, many acquaintances some of whom are good and trusted friends who believe in me, this is why I am truly a lucky man!

JDC Harada Sensei, you decided to go your own very early on after arriving in the UK. Why did you decide to take this difficult path?

MH Very soon after arriving in Britain I left the British Budo Council to form the Karate-do Shotokai (KDS). In this way I could avoid any politics and not be influenced by the problems of others. I was free to just develop my practice and that of the KDS as I felt was necessary. So to evolve in this way and then be recognised as giving service to Karate has further confirmed to me, that my path was the right one to follow.

JDC Your people must be very proud of you receiving this great honour?

MH I am also very happy that through me being recognised with an MBE, my people are being recognised too. It is them who are the real recipients of this award and I am extremely grateful to them for what they have given me over the years. If it wasn’t for my groups loyalty and commitment to my beliefs this would not be possible at all. So once again, I would like to thank them for what they have helped me to achieve in my life.

I feel that my recognition is also a great honour for Karate generally. All of our paths are linked from the history past.

On the day I received the award, I was only permitted to take three guests with me. They were all from my 5th dan group and long term friends also, Marie Kellett and Bernard and Gladys Mathieu. I attired myself in a special suit for this auspicious occasion at Buckingham Palace. I really enjoyed the day and receiving my award from the Queen. It is a day that I won’t forget and am very proud to have been honoured in this way and there were good friends to share it with me also.

JDC Recently, you featured on the BBC, what could you tell the readers about this appearance?

MH As you know, I was approached when the BBC learnt of my receiving an MBE. I was featured in the Welsh newspapers alongside Ryan Giggs and others when the honours list was released. The BBC came to my house and interviewed me and some of my people also. They also took footage in my dojo and at the KDS Summer School in Canterbury this year.

It was very funny, they televised this on the Welsh news as a precursor to the Wales vs. Japan encounter at the recent Rugby World Cup. There I was pledging my support for Wales. I had to, it is my home and the Welsh have supported me and so it is natural that I must support them in return. This is human relationship, it should be a 50/50 interaction. I am an honorary Welshman!

Anyway, the interview and the footage were very well produced. I was very happy with this being put onto national television and being able to show Karate in a positive light.

JDC Harada Sensei, I’d like to take you back in time a little if I can?

MH Yes, of course.

JDC When you first arrived in the UK all those years ago, what were your plans for the future?

MH Well, I did not really have any firm plans put into place, I just knew that I wanted to teach Karate, that is all. Initially, when I came to Britain I joined to British Budo Council. Already, they had groups here in the UK for Judo and Kendo and later came Aikido also. I wanted to build and develop a Karate group here in Great Britain. This opportunity came at the Judo Dojo of the late Kenshiro Abbe in London. They had already arranged a summer camp and I joined them with my Karate group. That first time, in 1964, there were only maybe 23 or 24 people in that Karate group at our first summer school.

JDC Did you teach together at the camp Sensei?

MH No, no, we taught our groups individually. The camp was like an old prison or disused army camp, something of that nature. The conditions were very basic, but it was cheap!

By the next year things had improved and about 70 students attended the Karate camp. Then in 1966, Abbe Sensei went back to Japan and a different Judo Instructor replaced him from Japan. There were some problems then, he didn’t understand what we were trying to achieve. So the KDS has its first separate summer school in 1966, the year the organisation was first conceived.

JDC So, this the 2007 event is the 42nd consecutive summer school the KDS has organised?

MH Yes, yes, in 2006 we celebrated our 40th anniversary of when the KDS was initially formed in 1966. This was held at the University of Kent in Canterbury where we have been each summer for the past 15 years. We had a special dinner at the end of the week. A delegate from the Nippon Karate-do Shotokai, Mr.Takakusaki attended the camp and practised with us also. He spoke on behalf of Mr. Takagi the Chairman, at the dinner relaying his message to the organisation. He also reflected on what he had witnessed and experienced during the week. It was his opinion that my Karate has truly developed the way Master Egami has intended it to. I was very pleased that he thought in this way, as it was Mr. Egami who had inspired me and set the challenge to which I have devoted my life. If I had not met Mr. Egami and practiced with him at that particular stage of his life, I think my Karate would have been only a shadow of what it has become today!

JDC How did the KDS develop in these early years?

MH After those early days we looked around for better facilities at various universities. Eventually we held one at Keele. After this, numbers grew to around 150-200 maximum. Tourists from Europe would come to watch and soon we also began to develop an international organisation and this was reflected by the summer school attendance. We used other universities also, Warwick and of course Canterbury as I previously mentioned. But of all the 43 summer schools since my arrival in Great Britain, only one person has attended them all and that is me (Harada Sensei states with obvious pride)!

JDC Sensei, did you model your own summer schools on the ones you previously attended, such as on Sado Island, when practising with Waseda University in Tokyo?

MH This is a very good question. When I attended the Judo Summer School in 1964, it was not like those I had attended in Japan. Practise was easier and wives also came with the Judoka. I questioned Abbe Sensei about this. I asked him is our side ‘Is it Budo or not?’ He said smiling a little ‘Harada, we are not in Japan’. But anyway, I’m not so they were their wives at all! Therefore, I had my answer!

So I decided to try to create a separate summer school and build an atmosphere more conducive to the Budo way. I talked to my people, in particular my inside student Ken Waight, explaining that it would be just practice with no other distractions. If people did not want to attend under these circumstances then that was ok and I could return to Japan. But this was not necessary, my people accepted my ideas very readily and were most enthusiastic!

The main problem was how to control the group and especially the drinking culture of the British! So we had 3 or even 4 practices each day. The first at 5 or 6am and the last practice finished at night. Sometimes we even practiced at midnight! In this way there was only eating, sleeping and practice, there was little time or energy left for distractions to get in the way.

On occasion, there were only very, very dim security lights to practice under during night-time training, we could only make out just a white outline in the darkness. Sometimes you wouldn’t even know who you were practicing with! It was very interesting and heightened the senses!

JDC Sensei, did you have night practices whilst you were training in Japan?

MH Yes, yes. We would go to the seaside at midnight. Most of my programme was taken from my personal experiences in Japan. But I was really surprised how keen my students were at the British summer camps. There were also some from France and Belgium too. But I don’t think I could have created the same type of atmosphere in another place, I was very lucky! I was also lucky in having good experiences from Waseda to bring to my own summer camps. I still try to keep Yoshitaka Sensei’s philosophy of practice alive. Anywhere is ok, just practice!

JDC Did the KDS grow larger in an international sense?

MH O yes, but different ideas in the 1980’s led to the organisation spreading different ways and many international groups were lost. But, little by little those who were faithful and believed in me have carried and rebuilt the KDS and now we have a very good international following once more. Today’s summer school would consist of nationalities from many places. Besides Wales, Scotland and England there would be regular students from France, Belgium, Gibraltar, Spain, Finland, Estonia, Canada and the USA. Aside from these we often get visitors from other groups or interested karateka, even from as far as Australia.

JDC Harada Sensei, you took your group through a period of extreme conditioning at one point. Could you talk about your views on this process today.

MH Yes, we did for 4-5 years develop our practice around this conditioning method. The students would use methods such as bunny hops and did this for a considerable way around and around a dojo or even a football pitch for instance. In the end I questioned its relevance with Mr. Egami, I could not see its real relationship to Karate. To me it is a dangerous method to use, it was almost a form of hypnosis in the end. I struggled to understand it, but Mr. Egami would not explain its benefits to me. I think it was not developed by him, but Aoki who was not Shotokai but Shintaido or Sogo Budo and not Karate at all.

However, Mr. Egami and myself promised each other to look at many other martial arts in our development of Karate. So, we tried it, but there were many problems with damage to the knees and other joints. Besides, it was very easy for the instructors, just shouting at the students to keep going, I think this is why some wanted to continue with it. Some had the wrong motivation to continue this method I think! But personally, I’d had enough. So, I decided to return to developing the practice methods I had used before. This is when some decided to carry on in this vein and they left the organisation.

You found this yourself, when you came with me to Japan, that there is something very wrong with this type approach to Karate. But the Shotokai in Japan still believe this is Egami’s Karate. But this is not possible I think, Egami himself could not practice when this was developed, he was too ill. So it was others who influenced this approach. Even so, Mr Egami had some responsibility to state whether it was his way or not, but he sat on the fence instead! This disappointed me greatly. This is why I decided to go my own way at this point and I cut my ties with Japan. I had confidence in my own practice, so I began to research and develop in the direction that I personally believed was the correct way.

JDC Harada Sensei, as we are on our way to summer school at this point Sensei, I wanted to ask you how you feel prior to these major events. Do you get anxious or is it just a routine for you now?

MH Well, for me it is mostly a routine now. The organiser of summer school has the important job as you well know yourself from your past experience. If the week is well planned, then this allows for a good atmosphere. I think this is very important. Also, I have a very good instructor group. Technically they are very able, but it is not just their skill level that makes them good instructors, their personality is also very important. They work together well to plan and develop a program, they are a team. They are also receptive to not just my views but also the views of the students, this is also very important.

JDC Harada Sensei how do you feel Shotokan Karate has developed since its conception?

MH This is a very interesting question. Shotokan Karate, I believe, had 3 DISTINCT PERIODS.

Initially of course the FIRST PERIOD was when Funakoshi, Gichin arrived from Okinawa in 1922 and Karate in Japan began at this time. He encouraged this especially in the universities. O’Sensei began to develop his instructor group who also brought their own influences. Otsuka for instance mixed his experience of Juijitsu with Kata and Shimoda was influenced by Kendo. So their Karate development varied and it was natural for them to go their own way as a result. This period was referred to as the Karate Study Circle.

In 1935, the Shotokai was formed. This organisation gathered donations to build O’ Sensei’s own dojo. In 1938 this was completed and they called it the Shotokan. At this point the Greater Japan Karate-do Shotokan was formed. In the 1940’s the Japanese Martial Arts Association was formed and at this time Funaksohi’s Karate was known as simply Shotokan Karate.

The SECOND PERIOD was following the building of the Shotokan Dojo. This was when Yoshitaka, O’Sensei’s son, was approached to take the lead in technical development. We can truly say that it was then that the real time of Shotokan Karate development began and continued until around 1945.

There was a ‘dark age’ for Shotokan Karate which stretched from 1945 until 1948, for we lost the Shotokan dojo during a US Air Force raid. It was in 1949 that the Japan Karate Association was created, thus marking the beginning of the THIRD PERIOD.

I believe the SECOND PERIOD was, in fact, the most important and truly the most progressive period in the history of Shotokan Karate! It was the period when Funakoshi, Gichin’s son Yoshitaka, gave a real meaning to Shotokan Karate.

Initially, when approached in 1934 Yoshitaka declined suggestions for him to take a lead role in technical development. However, eventually, the next year he agreed to take on this considerable role. So, in the first instance he visited Okinawa in his search for a more realistic practice. But what exactly he experienced there nobody knows. My personal opinion is that he practised with the Baton (Bo) or maybe developed some ideas from the use of a spear. This is where Yoshitaka’s Karate originated from I think. His approach was markedly different from his fathers. Yoshitaka had Kumite as the basis for his development. He then used this experience to take this feeling back into Kata.

Under Yoshitaka’s influence Shotokan Karate began developing in a different direction. Hard, hard practices with Kumite in mind were to become commonplace. He also developed Kihon, Ten-no Kata, Tyikyoku no Kata, Bo-no Kata Matsukaze and Jiyu Ippon Kumite to aid this process.

All of these basic forms were linked to reality due to his influence. Shotokan Karate was therefore, absolutely transformed! So! We must say Shotokan Karate, as we know it, is the result of Yoshitaka Funakoshi’s great influence in a relatively short space of time. Maybe only 6 or 7years. It is truly incredible the difference he made during such a relatively short period of time!

Unfortunately, Yoshitaka’s period of prolific activity and development was mostly during the war years; so few people truly knew him and his Karate. After the war, several top members of the JKA simply ignored Yoshitaka’s developments and his existence. All of this explains why, today, most people are unaware of what Yoshitaka’s technique was like. Therefore, his influence has almost disappeared.

Personally, I was very extremely fortunate when I joined Waseda University during the ‘dark age’ of 1945-48, for it was then that I was taught by and began to practice with seniors who had, themselves, practiced with Yoshitaka Sensei. This is the reason why the Karate of the KDS, I believe, is the last surviving Karate that truly finds its meaning in Yoshitaka’s Karate and thus in this second inspirational period of Shotokan Karate.

JDC Sensei, as an instructor myself I often find that I lose practice time through teaching. However through teaching, my own understanding is improved, almost as soon I am searching for ways to pass on knowledge and experience to my students. How do you feel about teaching?

MH I personally feel that all teaching is practice! However, if there is too little opportunity to be physically involved in the practice then it is difficult to maintain or more importantly, improve my personal level. Therefore, I soon realised that I must create training partners who were almost my level to practice with, in order for me to keep improving. Then as I improved, so they improved also. In this case we are teaching each other also. This is how to study Karate and develop it together! This is the model that the KDS follow. Developing strong partners develops strong Karate!

Yoshitaka Sensei himself took a partnered approach. He was very selective who he practiced with at all times. One of these, was of course Mr. Egami and I was extremely fortunate to then be a practice partner of Mr. Egami and gain first-hand experience of this inspirational approach that changed the direction of my whole life.

JDC This is very interesting Sensei, as it leads me onto your style of teaching. I have been fortunate to witness you teaching for many years both here and in different countries. It has struck me that you take a very personal and open style of teaching that encourages personal interaction. This is often markedly different from many other senior Japanese instructors that I have witnessed. Did you adopt this approach from your own instructors such as Mr. Egami or Mr. Okuyama, etc.?

MH This is a very good question. Personally, I think I learnt my own approach to teaching from my father! As you know I grew up in Manchuria, as my father worked there for the South Manchurian Railway. My father (Yutaka was his name) was a very conscientious man and a very talented horseman. He had a great affinity with animals and also displayed great care and respect for his fellow man.

At this time the Japanese were an occupying nation in Manchuria. The kindness, interest and respect my fathers offered to all he interacted with resulted in him being well thought of by the local people. This could have saved his life later on, when the occupation ended. Many Japanese who thought of the Chinese as inferior and treated them as such, paid a high price when they were left unprotected by the withdrawing Japanese Army.

So, to answer your question, I realised early on that the Japanese hierarchical system was very limiting, as had my father. So, I took his example and applied it to my relationships and later to the way I taught Karate. This paid great dividends for me! In Brazil for example, I worked in the Bank of Soa Paulo and my Japanese seniors actively discouraged me from mixing with the locals. However, I did not heed their advice and I made many friends there. In doing so, some of my connections were to become very highly regarded in Brazilian society and the Japanese colleagues who had discouraged me interacting were now very jealous of me. So I am glad that I followed my father’s example.

Openness is very important for building human relationships. It is also important for developing Karate, with openness comes trust. Without these attributes how can an honest practice be developed? And without honest practice how can Karate development? It is impossible! So my father has helped me to develop Karate with his positive influence upon me. For that I must thank him.

JDC Finally Sensei. This year will be your 80th year. Do you plan to continue practicing and teaching Karate or will you be putting your feet up?

MH O, yes, yes, of course I will continue. As long as I can still physically practice I will try. There is no doubt! I practice every day. My calendar is not as hectic as it could be if I gave into to demand. I have purposely decreased my commitments so that I may conserve my energy. In this manner I can produce my best when I do attend the courses I have chosen on the KDS calendar, where I feel I can be of most benefit to my group.

Fortunately, I have my own dojo at the back of my house at Cwmbran in Wales. This has allowed me to train whenever I feel the need. I have a training partner there too. I share my house with one of my technical executive group, Marie Kellett. I sometimes call her my daughter, she takes good care of me. Therefore, in this way I have managed to continue my personal development. I believe, no matter what age you are, improvement should always be aspired to. Looking like a developmental spiral, always rising over time. This is my personal belief and the belief I instil into my people.

JDC Harada Sensei, thank you for giving your time and thoughts to be put into ink and once again congratulations on receiving a well-earned MBE for your lifetimes work developing the martial art of Karate.

MH Thank you very much, you are most welcome and thank you for listening also.