I know that you are well known amongst Russian karatekas because you have a lot of followers from our country in social networks. Everyone knows you as a well rounded karateka, but lets talk about Scott who many years ago just decided to start martial arts training. What was the reason you went to dojo?
I began training when I was 5 years old. My best friend had decided to start jiu jutsu and was too shy to go by himself. His parents asked mine if I would go along, so I accompanied him. He quit after several weeks, but I still remember the first time I went there. It was a full-time dojo, unusual to find such a place in the UK in the late 1970’s, and I still remember the smell and feel of the place. I felt at home there and trained regularly for several years until my family moved away from my hometown of Liverpool.
After living in a few different towns and trying a few different martial arts, we moved to York in the 1980’s and I started karate in 1985. I began my training with Howard Milson, who was a 5th Dan back then, quite senior for the time. He was one of the top students of Kato Sadishige Sensei, who headed up his own international group – Kodakai. I remained part of that group, which later became the Asai Sensei fraction of the JKA, until moving to Japan in 1997.
When did you realise that karate is your way of life?
As I started martial arts at such an early age, I can’t remember ever making the decision that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life – it just simply was what I did. During my school and early university years I played a few other sports, mostly swimming and hockey. I did both to a national level, however, karate was always there and if there was ever a conflict of schedules with training, then there was no decision ever to be made, karate was always the priority. At the end of my first year at university I was chosen to represent Great Britain as part of Kato Sensei’s JKA GB national Team. At that point I gave up all other sporting interests and have only done karate ever since.
Who was your role model amongst japanese instructors? And who affected your karate most?
Kato Sensei was a huge influence on me. He wasn’t a man without personal idiosyncrasies, however, his karate was amazing. A natural athlete who had an analytic mind that could produce the most ingenious lessons and training seminars. For me, I always model my teaching style on him.
I have also taken great inspiration from Kagawa Masao Sensei. Without a doubt, he is physically the most impressive karate-ka I have had the pleasure of training with. For two and a half years I trained daily beside him on the JKS instructors’ course and learnt what it took to gain such a high level of karate.
Tell us please about instructors courses in Japan. What it was like?
The instructors’ course is relentless, hard, physical training where you attempt to keep up with sempai and sensei, who have been through the same gruelling process many years before, whilst trying not to break under the constant physical and mental pressure. The training is monotonous and without variation. Very little is taught and you are expected to hone your techniques not through analysis but through hard graft, sweat and blood until an efficient and effect technique is produced. I think many karate-ka outside Japan had a romanticised view of what the course entails, however, there are no secrets to becoming good at karate – it just takes an endless amount of hard work.
You were long time JKS member, but now you moved to WTKO. There is only rumors, but some says that it’s because of your book “Karate Stupid”. Can you tell us what happened in real so we don’t need to guess anymore?
Actually I wrote a sequel to Karate Stupid and published it last year – it is called Karate Clever and in it I try to explain why exactly I left the JKS in 2014… well at least explain my version of why I left.
I think by the end of 2013 the JKS GB and Ireland had become exceptionally big. I headed a group with over 120 dojos and over 8,000 members. We were bigger than JKS Japan. I was also teaching throughout the world and was arguably the busiest instructors within the JKS, including members of the Hombu Dojo in Japan. This produced certain resentment amongst individuals within the group. When I wrote the book, the chance was taken to curtail the perceived power I had within the JKS and it was used as an excuse to remove me as head of the JKS GB and Ireland and prevent me from teaching karate throughout the world. At that point I was forced into a position where I could no longer earn a living from Karate, so I had to resign from the group. At that point I joined the WTKO and many groups throughout the world followed me.
However, a small correction – in March 2017, a little over three years after joining the WTKO, I was expelled from the group. Richard Amos accused me of “professional misconduct” and was I summarily expelled. At that time, I was forced to form my own group, the HDKI. In the last six months I have once again worked hard to build a new group. So far we have nearly a dozen countries who had joined and I am once again travelling the world doing what I love best
Your book “Karate Supid” is for english speaking readers, and we are making this interview for russian speaking community, and probably only few of them will buy your book… Please tell us about your book, what it is about, and why did you choose that title for the book?
Karate Stupid is the story of the five years I spent in Japan. It chronicles how I moved to Tokyo, naïve and uninitiated in the ways of the East but with a secret plan to enter the instructors’ course. It tells how I was invited to try the entrance exam for the course, how I was excepted on the course and the many highs and lows that I experienced as I fought my way through to eventually graduate as a JKS Hombu Dojo Instructor… And the reason for the name; in Japan they have a saying “Karate Baka”. It literally means Karate Stupid, however, it translates to someone who is fanatical about karate, someone who will do anything for karate, someone like me!
Everyone says that they train in traditional karate, but all they do is preparing themselves for tournaments. Does sport affect karate in good way or in a bad way?
I think the preparation for tournament is a good thing during a certain period in the life of a karate-ka. Ultimately, to have that short term, highly intensive period of your life where competition is paramount in one’s training helps to physically build one’s body and help fulfil one’s potential.
However, if this focus in one’s training to held too long, then it distracts from what karate can develop into. A competitor must be selfish (they want to be the best at the cost of all others) and they must be superficial (they are trying to project their ability for others to judge, whether in kumite or kata). So, long-term I feel competition training is counter-productive for a karate-ka’s development. However, short-term I think it is very difficult to reproduce the benefits in any other way.
What do you think about karate becoming an olympic sport? Is it good for traditional karate?
I truly believe that the Olympics will have very little impact on traditional karate that the WKF hasn’t already had. The way they allowed karate to be a demonstration sport means that there are only eight categories, with only ten competitors per event. This means that it will be a very small event with the likelihood of having any of one’s country’s national team competing being very small. I think the competition will have limited exposure beyond the karate world and so won’t really affect existing dojos. And as the WKF have already made drastic changes to competition rules in order to get into the Olympics, the “damage” has already been done and I don’t think we will see that steady watering down of our martial art due to the Olympics like what happened with Tae Kwon Do and Judo. Furthermore, unlike the aforementioned two Olympic martial arts, karate isn’t as unified. There will always be dissent and disunity within karate, so changed made for the Olympics will have limited effect on schools and styles that have little connection to the WKF.
However, I do believe that in many ways the WKF (and Olympics) have been positive for karate. The high level of athleticism that has come from the professional nature of WKF tournaments has helped to further develop the physical aspects of karate. The use of plyometrics, for example, in competition training has inspired me and many others to explore how we can get the most from our karate training and I think keeping an open mind to what the WKF are doing can only help to reinforce the physical aspects of traditional karate.
What is modern karate? Is it still effective sefdefence system or it’s a way to look inside yourself?
I think modern karate is a superior, developed, evolved version of the karate that Funakoshi Sensei was doing. Everyone looks back nostalgically. People look at vintage cars and think the Silver Shadow Rolls Royce from the 1920’s was the pinnacle of car production, when in reality the modern-day production car will out-perform in terms speed, fuel efficiency, safety, and comfort any of the vintage greats. Karate is the same, what is being taught now in dojos throughout the world is the vanguard of our martial system.
Is it an effective self-defense? If you train hard, become strong and competent, absolutely. And by training hard, inevitably you must look within to push oneself to the extremes.
Do you think it is necessary for karateka to practice Zen and meditation?
No, I don’t think it is necessary. I think the spectrum of what karate is, is wide and varied. Some people may find the conclusion of their karate journey leads to zen meditation, others will find other conclusions.
Personally, as I develop and get older I find my training becoming more mindful, considered and far less physical. However, I think that it is personal, therefore who is anyone to tell anyone else how they should practise. Karate is for everyone, so there will always be an infinite amount of interpretations of what that training should be.
We all know that Japanese way of living and their philosophy is very different from our western way. Do you think the way they teach us karate suits western people? Is there something you would like to change?
I think that the way Japanese conceptualize and learn karate is very different from how we in the west would naturally learn something. Japanese people seem to be able to follow and mimic instructors far more that in the west. Their learning system, whether it be the endless repetition of writing out Kanji (Chinese characters) or the way they learn English in a parrot-fashion manner, they are used to copying. They seem to learn karate physically first and this may lead to a conceptual understanding of the art.
In the west, we go the opposite way. We want to know the technicalities first. We want to have a clear concept of what we should be doing and then translate this into physical form. So, teaching westerners in a Japanese way may sometimes be frustrating to the students, although, arguably, it may be more beneficial if they can stick it out.
Another issue is that Japanese people naturally understand the movements because of the language that is used. For westerners a gyaku zuki is translated to a reverse punch. It becomes a noun, a thing, a shape to emulate. This leads to stiffness and holding of form beyond any functionality. In Japan karate-ka naturally understand that gyaku zuki means to be punching in the reverse. It isn’t a noun, but a verb. It is a dynamic, forever changing movement which stiffness is exceptionally counter-productive. Furthermore, Kime in the west means focus, power, the locking in of one’s body and technique. In Japan it is simply a verb meaning “to be decisive”. It is the decisive part of the technique and this decisive part is simply when contact with one’s opponent is made or when the limb reaching the apex of the movement. Therefore, there is no stiffness, not locking out of joints and no tension – just movement.
However, although Japanese karate-ka may have a natural head-start to learning karate, it doesn’t take long for westerners to conceptualize these ideas and catch up with their eastern counterparts.
There is a lot of tools to protect yourself: guns, gas sprays etc… Why people still studying martial arts? It is a long and hard way…
I think simply because karate makes the rest of life easier. I don’t train so I can protect myself from aggression, that is merely a side-effect. I train because it makes me physically and mentally stronger. In the modern world where us lucky ones have comfortable lives, free from danger, karate challenges us in ways that builds confidence, character and inner strength. It also helps produce balance, making aggressive people controlled and timid people determined. For these reasons, I believe karate can play a significant role in anyone’s life.
Thank you for your time, sensei! We wish you good luck! Oss!