When Sensei Funakoshi came to Japan in 1923 he brought with him a large background of Okinawan karate. The mysterious reasons for which this man emigrated to Japan certainly had nothing to do with the noble task of propagating karate in Japan. He lived in poverty and sustained himself by doing cleaning jobs. This period of soberness gave Funakoshi the opportunity to observe the rich Budo-experience of Japan and to draw conclusions from this.
He was a teacher in Okinawa and in the period of 1923 to 1940 he brought about strong change in Okinawan karate.
His son Yoshitaka took over these changes and intensively practised them during the Second World War. In contrast to his father, Yoshitaka put karate at the service of the military government (since 1943). Anyway, karate knew an enormous evolution in that period, aimed at reality and efficiency.
In 1944, young Sensei Kase came into contact with this fundamental change in karate and he was so enthusiastic that even to this day he keeps on speaking about the influence this period had on him.
First phase of evolution
Funakoshi came to Japan and compared the Okinawan karate system with the Kendo-system from Japan. During the Tokugawa period there was approximately 300 years of peace in Japan. War was over and there was more time to improve techniques.
Large techniques were designed (O-WAZA) to develop power and speed. The aim is to evolve from O-WAZA to KO-WAZA
O-WAZA – (large techniques) stood for amplitude, power and speed
KO-WAZA – (short techniques) are too difficult at first and will lead to cramped techniques
Second phase of evolution
Some basic techniques were often used and in the correct way; others got less developed, such as the open hand techniques.
Sensei Kase decided to change this and he brought about a development in the use of the open hand, in defence and well as in attack. Defence was turned into attack in order to harm the opponent. Originally leg techniques were quite simple but Sensei Kase gave them another dimension, e.g. Ushiro Geri – formerly only practiced backwards and now rotating.
Third phase of evolution
SEI-TE WAZA developing into HEN-TE WAZA
SEI-TE – technique with arm or leg
HEN-TE – several techniques with an arm or leg
We have 2 arms and 2 legs.
Principle: 1 for defence, 1 for counter-attack. These techniques are done with 2 arms.
New evolution: 1 arm works as 2 arms 2 techniques (Nidan Waza) or 3 techniques (sandan waza) with one arm/leg. Instead of using 2 techniques, this adds up to 4 or 6 techniques.
Sensei Kase got this principle from Miyamoto Musashi’s thinking (Go-rin-no-sho); he always used 2 swords and not 1 sword with 2 hands, as tradition proscribed. e.g. defence jodan-chudan counter-attack jodan-chudan
Fourth phase of evolution
Timing of defence
Traditionally, a defence movement comes at the end of the attack. When Sensei Okuyama asked Sensei Kase to observe the rain, he knew not what to think of it. Kase sat for a long time, watching and not really knowing what he should observe. When he was about to stop, Okuyama asked him to hold on a bit longer. Kase gradually began to discern the raindrops and next he could also follow the trajectory of an individual drop. His eyes got used to seeing certain sub-parts, facets of movement.
We should view an attack in the same way: not watch the movement from start to end, but from the initiation movement in the spirit to the start; from the start throughout its trajectory and from its arrival to its penetration.
One must learn to observe the attack in different phases: The start, coupled to the initiative
- The 1st ¼ of the trajectory
- The 2nd ¼ of the trajectory
- The 3rd ¼ of the trajectory (= ideal defence movement)
- The arrival of the technique
Defence has to come at the ¾ timing movement and not at the end, where the power is 100% and in full force.
In the end the eyes have to do the work and finally the feeling
This brings one to dimensions such as “TO-ATE” and “DE-AI”. The DE-AI principle is usually trained as counter-attack with Kizami tsuki, but it can better be used as defence.
Fifth phase of evolution
Breathing is a vital and energetic part of technique and action. The use of abdominal breathing or vertical breathing is very important. The diaphragm and hence the hara-region are used more and more by the movement. By techniques such as ‘Sandan and Nidan Waza’ the hara region and the ensuing ki-flow gets enormously stimulated. This enables one to level up and to surpass techniques.
Shotokan karate knew a strong evolution from 1923 to 1946. Funakoshi Gishin and his son Yoshitaka developed karate in an enormous way.
The foundation of JKA in 1949 gave karate a fundamental structure in which basic techniques and a methodology were laid down.
In 1964 Sensei Kase left Japan
Between 1950 and 1964 all was standardised and thus retained conservatively.
Sensei Kase wanted to work with the ideas of 1946 without denying the set values of Sensei Nakayama.
The training principles of the JKA-system are very good up to a certain level. But one should not come to a standstill.
The act of searching, creativity and experimenting as challenge will lead to new discoveries and finally to valuable experiences.
The essence of KARATE is in “the empty hand”.