Derek Ridgway


Sensei Derek Ridgway 8th Dan is the founder of the now worldwide association Kazoku Kai International. As well as teaching in his Hombu dojo, Sensei Ridgway travels across the globe to teach Karate to an ever growing family of Karate-Ka. Here is an interview he did some time ago, i hope you find it interesting.
John Walsh: When did you start training in Martial Arts?
Derek Ridgway: It was almost 30 years ago now when I started at my local comprehensive school in a small town called Penkridge in Staffordshire. The style taught was Shotokan; although I didn’t really understand this at the time, I just wanted to learn karate. It was at the time when the Bruce Lee films were being shown at the cinema, and the kung fu series was on TV. Everyone wanted to do a martial art at that time and I was no exception, so when I heard that a club had started at my school, I went down and joined. I had to lie about my age to get in, but I was tall for my age, so I got away with it! Shortly before the karate club started at my school I went to try to join a king fu club in Wolverhampton, but the queue was all the way down the street, and I was told it would be expensive, so I never bothered to sign up.

JW: So why did you begin training, what was it that attracted you?

DR: Well to be honest, when I started I was only 12 years old, and I had seen some of the martial arts films and programs on TV, which really impressed me at the time. I wanted to be like the heroes in those films, and I thought that after a few weeks I would be doing martial arts like them! I couldn’t have been more wrong, and quickly realised that my romantic vision of martial arts was nothing like reality, it was bloody hard work and it hurt like hell!!

JW: You said you started in Shotokan, I thought you always did Wado-Ryu?

DR: Most people do think that, but I originally started in a Shotokan dojo, where I trained for around 18 months.

JW: What made you change to Wado-Ryu?

DC: It was actually due to necessity rather than an in depth study of the styles (I was only 13/14 at the time!). The Shotokan club always closed during school holidays, which during the summer was a long period of time. My cousin trained at a club in Willenhall, nr Wolverhampton, who had a black belt instructor called Fred Smith. He taught a strange style called something like Gire-Ryu, which apparently originated from India. The training at this club was very intense and involved lots of breaking and hitting things. I can remember an Indian instructor called Binda coming to teach. He would break lumps of coal as his party piece. I only trained at this club when my original club was closed. My cousin, Dave, would drive me, and it kept me training when the school club was closed. Soon after, the club at my school folded. We were never given a reason why, just told that the karate had finished. I called my cousin and said I wanted to train with him more regularly. He told me of many changes within the Willenhall club, including the change to a new style Wado-Ryu. Two Green belt students John Gutterige and Eddie Hinde, now taught the club. The reason for this change, as I later discovered, was because they had tried to join the (then) BKCC who were the controlling body for Karate in the UK, but were turned down as they didn’t recognise the Gire-Ryu style. The chairman of the BKCC, Len Palmer, put them in touch with Roy Partridge, who was one of the very few Black Belts at that time. Roy ran a big club in West Bromwich, and agreed to take in our club; conduct proper gradings; and teach us Wado-Ryu. Roy would visit us once a week and John Gutterige and Eddie Hinde conducted the rest of the training.

JW: So you came to Wado quite by accident?

DR: Yes that’s true, I think the style chose me rather than vice versa. It could have been any of the major styles at that time Shotokan and Shukokai were big in the area, but Len Palmer recommended Roy Partridge, so our club became Wado.

JW: So which other well-known instructors did you train with at that time.

DR: Well as regards Wado my main senior instructors were Toru Takamizawa and Peter Spanton. They were regular visitors to our dojo and I did a lot of training with them. Also Roy would have other people visit the dojo such as John Smith of Bujinkai fame, Ticky Donovan, Danny Connor. I remember Valera doing a course there in the early 70’s. There were loads of people training; it was a great day for Roy. Also we had Harada visit to teach, and Chu-Chu Soot from Malaysia, who was touring Britain at the time. So you see we were never limited just to Wado at the West Bromwich club. Although that was our style Roy Partridge would always have an open mind and look at what other styles had to offer.

JW: What aspects of Karate appealed to you and kept you interested?

DR: I always found Karate a challenge, and still do! I was never a natural, and had to work hard to make progress. I enjoyed that challenge. Lots of people over the years have told me how stubborn I am. Many times in my Karate career I have taken on challenges which were certainly not the easiest route to take, but I have stuck at what I decided upon and that is what has made me a better Karate-ka, and more importantly a stronger person.

JW: Can you tell us something about your time in competition?

DR: It’s been a long time now since I had any involvement in competition, either national or international. I came to competition quite early. From about green belt onwards you were expected to compete if you did Wado. I won several local and area competitions and was eventually invited to join the national squad, which is where I met Steve Cattle, with whom I was to become good friends. I was only a teenager then, and he helped me a lot and brought my Karate on loads. I was just on the verge of the senior team, when the whole of the Karate scene went into political turmoil in GB, and there was a big split. It never seemed the same after that. After the BKCC split our club joined the HKK (Higashi) where I continued fighting in their national squad, which was a very strong team. I won or took part in winning many memorable events with the squad. Reflecting on these years now I still feel they were important. External factors such as Karate politics, and work pressure I was studying for my electrical engineering degree at the time – prevented me from reaching my true potential, but I had some good times (and some bad ones!!)

JW: What are your thoughts on competition now?

DR: At the moment competition is of no importance in my Karate career, but I still encourage others to compete when they are young and keen. Most young people want to fight or perform their kata to an audience, and who am I to prevent them? One of my young students, Keenan Pedley, was picked for the England Wado squad, and travelled to Japan to represent his country in the world championships in Tokyo. But, and I think it is a big but, I always remind them that competition is only a step on the way in Karate, and there is a whole flight of steps before them. I want students to do karate for life, not retire from competition and be lost for a direction, or just grow fat and lazy and award themselves grades, losing the way of what true karate is about. I want them to continue the traditional values and methods in their karate. After all you do study Karate for life, of which only a very small, and not very important, part is competition. Remember Karate is for all ages and sizes, only a very few will become national or world champions, but everyone can challenge and improve themselves along the Karate path. It may take less gifted students many long years to reach their black belt, but they will have climbed their own mountain, which is just as important as the superb athletes who represent us in the various championships around the world.

JW: While we are on this theme, what do you think of Karate in the Olympics?

D.R: Well it depends on what you think karate is and what you want from it. If you do sport karate and live for competition then it will be a great thing and would give you the chance to represent your country and ultimately to win any athlete’s goal of a gold medal. If however you are a traditionalist like me I see it as another step along the slippery slope towards karate which is of no practical use and purely sport, this sadly is what most of Joe public already think. I think that very soon there will be a distinct split between sport karate and traditional karate. It is, in my opinion, very difficult to mix the two, particularly nowadays.

JW: Explain what you mean by a split.

D.R: I think sport karate will become exactly that, a sport. It will have no particular style or root. The kata that it uses will be borrowed from traditional karate then adapted to suit a competition format where appearance is the prime objective and combat effectiveness is not even considered. We could end up with, in the worse scenario, kata which are no more than gymnastic dancing! As regards Kumite, I think that to try to gain a bigger audience, especially if the Olympics are our goal, sport karate will go down the Taekwon-do path with loads of high kicking and flamboyant techniques to get extra points. This, I believe, will be very sad because in the public eye that will be “Karate” and that will be a great shame. Years ago when I was fighting or if I am fighting now in the dojo if someone starts dancing on one leg I sweep his bloody legs from under him and hope he learns his lesson. If you start doing that flashy sort of stuff in the street; on a door; or in any real situation you are going to get a rude awakening! So that is what I mean by a split, sport karate and traditional karate are growing ever more apart.

JW: How did your interest in Shito-Ryu develop?

DR: When I trained with Roy Partridge, he taught us Kata which were not in the Wado syllabus. I think the first were Sienchin and Saifa, which he probably learnt from Peter Spanton or John Smith, both of whom knew various kata from other styles. These kata were a lot different from what we learnt in Wado, so I was determined to find out more. It was about this time (early 1980’s) that there was a course put on by Terry Pottage, at which Sensei Ishimi taught. Sensei Ishimi was a high grade Shito-Ryu instructor from Spain. He taught us Seipai kata, which had hardly been seen in this country. Seipai was so different from Wado kata that I struggled with it at first, but this was what made me determined to learn more about Shito-Ryu. By this time I had graded to Sandan, and as so many people kept asking me to, I started my own club (this was the beginning of Kazoku Kai association, which is now world wide). I was still very interested in Shito-Ryu, so I set about finding some instructors who could teach me the style properly. Shito-Ryu was, and still is, quite small in this country, but I found an article with Sensei Tomiyama who was 5th Dan Shito-Ryu at that time. I contacted him and he agreed to teach at my dojo. He came down and blew my mind. He taught the basic principles of Shito-Ryu and the kata Shissochin. From then on I wanted to learn Shito-Ryu Karate, and so began a long relationship with Sensei Tomiyama and Kazoku Kai, which still continues. He is a regular visitor to our Dojos and over the years we have followed him all over Gt. Britain and into Europe.

JW: So does this mean you stopped doing Wado-Ryu Karate?

DR: Oh no, I still continued my Wado training, I had done it for such a long time and enjoyed doing it. I talked to my good friend and mentor Steve Cattle, who said that there was no reason that I couldn’t do both with some hard work and determination, and that it would be of great benefit to me in the end. This advice still rings in my ears now, and how true it was!

JW: How did you go about training in two different styles? Your training schedule must have been pretty hectic!

DR: Well, at that time I had just been made redundant, so I decided to go professional. With help from my students and my redundancy payment I built my own Dojo, so that I could train as much as I wanted whenever I wanted. The Dojo has mirrors all along one wall, and all the equipment I need to train Karate. This Dojo enabled me to progress much quicker in my studies of Shito-Ryu. What I learnt off Sensei Tomiyama I could put into practice every day. I would practice the principles over and over, coupled with lots of Sanchin and Naifhanchin training. Also having my own Dojo meant I could have more private lessons with Sensei Tomiyama, like I did with Sensei Takamizawa and Sensei Spanton in my early Wado days. In private I could learn some of the more obscure kata from Shito-Ryu which are not taught in public, and of course perfect and improve the basic principles of Shito-Ryu Karate. Basically it was get the information from Sensei Tomiyama, make sure I understood, then work on it in my own time. With regard to my Wado training, apart from the people I have already mentioned, I also trained with Sensei Jiro Ohtsuka, Sensei M Shiomitsu, and recently Sensei Toru Arakawa. Also I must mention Sensei K Sakagami who is a regular visitor to my dojo and lives close to me. He is a real gentleman and a good Wado instructor. Earlier this year I was lucky enough to train with and meet Master Arakawa, who Sensei Sakagami had brought over from Japan to teach. I have also trained several times with Shingo Ohgami from Sweden, who like me studies both Wado & Shito-Ryu karate. As you can see I still train hard in Wado as well as Shito-Ryu. I am very busy teaching and training, and although I teach the two styles, I do not mix them, but keep them as pure as I can, the way I was taught them. Only in Kumite and Bunkai can the styles mix, as the situation requires. Ultimately the principles of all proper martial arts are the same; it is only the peripherals that change. As Steve Cattle often said there are only two styles of Karate, good and bad, and I agree with him.

JW: Have you done any other styles?

DR: Well, as I said, I started in Shotokan, and my mate Steve Cattle would come and teach at my dojo right up until his untimely death in 1995. He obviously taught Shotokan, but in his own unmistakable way. That’s about it really, apart from Wado and Shito-Ryu, which are my main styles. In my bunkai, all my influences come through, which is what you would expect after 30 years of training.

JW: Have you ever done any Chinese systems?

DR: Not really, I have done some Tai Chi, which I really enjoyed. I am a bit of a social realist when it comes to some of the amazing claims that are often made by Chinese systems. If a small frail person can push a big man across the room, I believe it has nothing to do with magic, just many years of proper training and good Sanchin. I am not saying such things don’t happen, but that usually it is not mystical at all, and there is a perfectly scientific reason. I say nothing replaces good hard sweat and training, that’s the only way to develop real Martial arts skill and ultimately you may be able to knock someone flying with little effort, but that’s the result of a lifetime of proper training, not a mysterious power.

JW: Earlier you mentioned Sanchin. Why do you think Sanchin is important?

DR: Sanchin is probably the most important Kata you will ever learn. It contains all the principles you need to master Karate. Its roots lie in the Southern styles from China, all of which use a version of Sanchin as the core of their system. Okinawan karate is no exception, all styles who teach Naha-Te type Karate, such as Goju-Ryu; Uechi-Ryu; and Shito-Ryu use Sanchin as their core Kata to teach all the principles and fundamentals of the style. Sensei Tomiyama said to me “Sanchin, everything is Sanchin”. If you do Naha based karate, you must do Sanchin. A few years ago I was at the national championships at the NCI in Birmingham, with Steve Cattle and we were watching the Kata performances. One of the competitors did Seienchin, and afterwards asked me what I thought. I replied that it was not bad, but he needed to practice Sanchin more. His reply was “What is Sanchin?” He was performing a Kata from a system of which he did not even begin to understand the principles! It is like watching someone trying to swim in an empty swimming pool, and being asked what you think of their swimming, replying it would be better with water, and being asked what is water! Sanchin is of prime importance. I practise it every day. On the surface it is one of the simplest Kata, but in reality it is the most difficult! I am nowhere near mastering it, but I am making steady progress, and I won’t let it beat me!

JW: What about Shuri based systems, don’t they have Sanchin?

DR: No, but they do have Naifhanchin (Tekki) which has all the same elements as Sanchin, although subtly different, the principles are the same. Some of the newer styles that do mostly competition Karate have neither Sanchin nor Naifhanchin, which from a traditional point of view is fundamentally flawed. When you see these people you can see their lack of real core principles everything is for show to please the judges, and win a point or two. This may win competitions and trophies, but it may never defend you should a situation arise where you need to apply your karate. The first time I trained with Sensei Tomiyama, he told me “Kata is not a dance, it is a self defence” this is very true.

JW: What do you think of Kata and Bunkai?

DR: That is a huge question and a very important one. Kata in my opinion is the most important aspect of Traditional Karate. It contains all the techniques and strategies needed to defend yourself against armed and unarmed opponents. They contain knowledge passed down through generations; lessons that were learned in actual combat in life or death situations. When I first started training, I thought Kata was just something you learnt to pass a grading, and had nothing to do with fighting. All I wanted to do in those days was fight, but nowadays I understand Kata a lot better, and can easily see that Kata is full of fighting techniques including locks; throws; takedowns; attacking vital spots; it’s all there, you just have to know how to look. Kata was never designed to work on modern Karate-Ka in a dojo; it was designed to work on the thug or mugger in the street. They are designed to despatch people very effectively and often very ruthlessly with the attacker ending up seriously injured, or worse.

JW: So you obviously believe that Kata can be used for self-defence?

DR:Yes, definitely. Sport is very good for young people, but sport Karate has rules it must have to be safe, but any fighting system that has rules will not be as effective in a real situation where your life is threatened. If all you ever do is fight with rules, in a crisis you will respond automatically within those rules, which may not be enough, if you have a nutter trying to pull your face off. You have to learn to be ruthless and train that way to be able to respond appropriately in a situation without thinking.

JW: Some people may not see the connection with what you are saying and their Kata.

DR: Let me quote a simple example which most people will be able to relate to. Take the first three moves in Pinan Shodan (Heian Nidan). With a little thought they be used to defend against a front punch or jab; a hook punch; a grab with either hand; a lapel grab; a knife slash etc…. and that is only the first three moves of a very basic kata. Imagine what is within the more advanced Kata. You must practise as often as possible, repeat the Kata over and over again until it becomes part of your body, so you respond without thinking what is necessary. This type of response takes a lot of training both on your own and applying the techniques with a partner. I remember when I interviewed Master Tatsuo Suzuki the world famous Wado Master, and he said you must practise Kata so that it becomes your body. Now I understand what he was telling me. Another important point is that when you practise your kata many times over it should end up looking very good, although you must remember this is not the point of training, but one of the results. The main purpose of training this way is to train your body to react instinctively without hesitation, which is often forgotten by many Karate-Ka who endlessly repeat their Kata. The real reason for this is to gain instinctive response & not necessarily a perfect external performance.

JW: Tell us more about Bunkai

DR: Well, Kata without Bunkai is like driving a car with no engine, the heart of it is gone and it ceases to serve the purpose it was designed for, and ultimately is of little value. There are still a lot of Karate-Ka out there who do not practice Bunkai, or just pay lip service to it in that they have several attackers gathered around the same person, who performs the Kata exactly true to form with the attacks chosen to suit the Kata moves. This has some value for basic training, but in regards to self-defence, it is nonsense. Kata is far deeper than that, it is a collective sequence of self-defence techniques that can be practices and adapted to suit. The techniques are not in any particular order, you could work on Bunkai from the beginning of the kata, then finish off with a takedown or lock from near the end. It doesn’t matter, you pull the techniques out to suit the purpose at hand, all that matters is whether it would work or not. The true purpose of Kata is not to make you look good or to win a point, but purely as self-defence.

JW: Some instructors say there is only one correct Bunkai for each Kata

DR: Rubbish, utter rubbish. Almost every move in every Kata, and I teach a lot of Kata, has more than one application, often many. I look at the working out of Bunkai like a crossword puzzle, where you have the clues, but not the answers. It’s up to you to solve these. Some people never do crosswords, some prefer just a coffee time quickie, I like to do the cryptic and dig deep into the Kata, that is the real challenge.

JW: Do you have a favourite Kata?

DR: No, not really. I have probably half a dozen, which I practice really often, and really dig deep. Kata such as Suparinpai; Aragaki Sochin; Higoanna Seisan from Naha type and old style; Bassai (Passai) Kiyan or Tamari Chinto; and Useishi (both types) from Shuri system. Of course I practice Sanchin and Tensho a lot and sometimes I will cool down with Hafa or Papuren from the white crane system. In all I know over 100 Kata, and I practice them all regularly after all they are our cultural inheritance from past masters, and we owe it to future generations to pass them on properly and intact.

JW: Moving on to Makawara and similar devices do you use them in your training?

DR: Yes, I am a firm believer in hitting things. You must learn how to hit hard and how to be hit hard. Both are the opposites of the same coin. In a real fight you need both. At the moment I don’t have a Makawara in my Dojo, I use real solid impact pads, which can be held by your opponent. We also use bags of differing weight and height, which are good to hit and develop speed and power in both arms and legs.

JW: Is strength training important?

DR: Of course, all Karate-Ka need strength. What sort of strength depends on the system in which you train and what points it enforces. I prefer to use small weights, with loads of reps to keep my mobility and be light on my feet. Perhaps a large person who is not so mobile would go for heavy weights and rely more on sheer strength than mobility. It really depends on your build as to how you develop and use your strength. But strength is very important as we all need it and very few people have natural strength, so we need to train to develop it.

JW: What about pressure points?

DR: It is well proven that some pressure points do exist, but hitting them in real fighting would be hard. In a fight there are three main targets to go for The eyes; the throat and the groin anywhere else is a bonus. If you can hit pressure points then fine, but don’t rely on them, just hit hard and keep hitting. It is my opinion that many people who profess to be hitting one point to trigger another then another to get the desired results have never been in a real fight where someone is trying to take you apart. For me a simple good right hook is better than trying to hit 2 exact points. I’m not really convinced there are probably about half a dozen you could train to hit in a crisis, but the rest leave them to acupuncture.

JW: Who were the biggest influences in your training?

DR: As mentioned earlier, I have trained with many great Karate-ka who have all influenced me to a greater or lesser degree. Some of the ones I haven’t mentioned are Sensei Tani of Tani-ha Shito-Ryu. Also Sensei Fujimoto who Tomiyama brought over from Japan I have trained several times with him he left a real impression on me, I know he has influenced Sensei Tomiyama a lot I could see why. Another person I have trained with several times is your old instructor in Goju; Sensei Higoanna, he too impressed me a great deal. But the ones who have influenced me most are Sensei Roy Partridge; Sensei Peter Spanton; Sensei Toru Takamizawa; Sensei Steve Cattle and Sensei Keiji Tomiyama. Firstly there was Roy Partridge, who was my first Black Belt instructor and my first grading examiner. Roy was an excellent instructor with very exacting standards. He set me off on the right path and spent many patient hours coaching and guiding me in Wado Karate. Then there was Peter Spanton. I would often train at Forest Gate where Peter Spanton taught. His training was very hard, and this put off a lot of people, but I enjoyed training with him and still invite him to teach at my clubs from time to time. I have a great respect for him, as he made a man of me and taught me never to give up even when your back is against a wall. Our club was a member of Peter Spanton’s Higashi Association for some time during the 1970’s to 1980’s and he used to visit our dojo in Willenhall regularly. Peter Spanton has for many years held courses in the mountains of Wales, and at this time I was a regular attendee. The courses were very tough, and there were some students who couldn’t complete the weeks training. We were up at 5:30am and training until 5pm each day with only a couple of breaks. At times your body ached so much it was difficult to continue, but by the end of the week you got through the pain and felt like you could take on anyone! The courses helped me tremendously, and were a great influence with the development of me as a karate-ka and as a person in the coming years. Thus Peter Spanton was a great influence in my Wado training. Another was Toru Takamizawa, whose training was very technical. Roy Partridge would book private lessons with Toru, and I would book one straight after. The one on one instruction was invaluable to my training, I was very lucky to have such an opportunity, and learnt loads about Wado in those lessons. I would also visit Sensei Toru in his Dojo called the Temple, in Birmingham. This was a really good Kumite club with many famous competition fighters in the 1970’s. It was a shame for me when Sensei Toru moved to Kent as I lost contact, and the training at the Temple dropped off. He still came to teach occasionally at his clubs in the Midlands, when I would go and train with him, but it was never the same as having him permanently in Birmingham

Then, obviously there was Steve Cattle. He gave me great guidance when he was on the squad and I was struggling to get on it as a junior. He always had time to help if you needed it. Later on we became great friends and travelled around the country teaching courses together and having a great time. Of all the things Steve gave me, his inspiration was the greatest. He was so full of enthusiasm for Karate that it just spilled over when you trained with him. It was Steve who gave me the confidence to run my own affairs, and to go into a dojo anywhere in the world and teach regardless of style or nationality. For that I am eternally grateful.

Last, but certainly not least, of the instructors to have an influence on my career is Sensei Tomiyama. He still never fails to inspire me. He recently taught at a Kazoku Kai club in Lowestoft run by local instructor Tony Bergin, and he was excellent. He taught us the Kata Heiku from the Ryuei-Ryu system. He just seems to get better and better as he gets older. Most Karate-Ka reach a peak, then slowly deteriorate, but Sensei Tomiyama keeps on getting better. Perhaps that is a result of a lifetime of proper Karate principles and correct training.
Sadly in recent years we have lost Sensei Toru Takamizawa, Sensei Steve Cattle and Sensei Roy Partridge they were some of my greatest influences all are greatly missed.

JW: How does karate now, compare with when you started?

D.R: There have been lots of changes, some for the better some for the worst. We have definitely improved vastly technically; our knowledge now far surpasses anything that was around when I started. I can remember when I took my black belt I knew what I needed to know for my grade and that was it. I had no in depth knowledge about what I was doing or why. Sure I could kick and punch, do my kata and fighting quite competently but it was all surface knowledge, I would expect any of my people taking black belt nowadays to have a much better understanding of what they are doing and why they are doing it. As regards standards on the whole I believe they are better now than they were when I took my Dan grade mainly because of what I just said and the amount of good instruction available now to people coming into traditional karate. We all know of clubs which are to be honest awful, every town has them they throw sand in the face of people such as ourselves who work really hard to teach karate properly and to keep standards high in this country. But without a major overhaul of the political scene, which would outlaw such instructors I can see very little we can do about it at the moment. The main thing is for good instructors to keep passing on karate properly, adding what we have learnt from the past to the improvements we are learning now. Ultimately a good instructor will be honest to themselves, their students and to karate. This I believe is the best way forward.

JW: Do you think the people coming to karate have changed over the years.

D.R: Well society has changed over the last 30 years, people’s needs have changed, we have become a throw away society and sadly that is true of a lot of people coming to karate nowadays. I am talking about commitment and spirit. It is very rare today to find a club where all the students are dedicated and train regularly several times a week like we did. Peoples lives are just too involved now with trivial things like doing the shopping or watching television. Things where they don’t have to think or apply themselves. If these type of people can find a nice easy club where they can do perhaps an hour a week training, take regular gradings at extortionate prices then, that is fine by them, that is as deep as they want to take it. The trouble is they are deluding themselves because they are wasting their time and money. Karate is not a hobby it is a way of life and if you really want to get the best from it you must treat it as such, a way of life. If you are not prepared to make that commitment you may as well stick with aerobics because traditional karate is not for you. There are still the hard core of people out there who do train hard, show lots of spirit and are very committed. Although they are now the exception rather than the rule. Years ago it was the other way round; lots of people training very hard with spirit, you would not have survived in a dojo without that. Some would say it’s better for karate not to be so hard, but I think you must do that type of training and get through it. In the long run you will be a stronger person and a better karate-ka. Most senior instructors who were around at the time and are still involved in karate would I think agree.

JW: You mentioned bogus clubs and black belts. What can be done about them?

D.R: Well that really is a can of worms to open, I know for a fact that karate is losing a lot of talent to these people who are just teaching karate solely for money and no other reason. Once a person has gone to them and been ripped off they usually don’t try anywhere else, but tar us all with the same brush. They think that is karate and that’s it! This does really get my back up, people who often were not even born when I passed my black belt, advertising as such and such a Dan, and master of whatever they proclaim to do. It needs sorting out but as I said earlier it’s a political task and at the moment the problem is getting worse. The problem creates an ever-deepening spiral where poor instructors teach badly, and this obviously produces poor students who eventually end up teaching and they produce even poorer students. That is why all good honest instructors must maintain their standards. You may lose some people to the cash for sash brigade, but the ones you have and who stick by you, teach them properly and in the end when the charlatans are weeded out, which they will be, all the hard work and sacrifice will be worthwhile

JW: what are your opinions on children in Karate?
D.R: Well nearly every dojo has a kid’s class they need it to survive nowadays. I have children’s classes and enjoy running them, its good to see youngsters enjoying their training. I believe it develops their character and gives them confidence. I do not mix adult and junior training, as I think children are children and not small adults and their sessions should be tailored to their needs. In Kazoku Kai we have a different syllabus for children, it is designed with their needs as a priority and it works well. Competition Karate is ideal for young people as long as it is kept in perspective and not too much pressure is placed upon them. After all kids have to cope with loads as they grow up and an over keen parent or coach can turn a child off Karate so it no longer becomes enjoyment just another pressure to cope with.

JW: Do you award black belts to children?

D.R: Yes I do, but they are awarded junior black belts and it states that on their diploma. When they reach 16 years in Kazoku Kai, they are allowed to be re-assessed as a senior Dan grade. If they pass the assessment they then become the full Shodan grade and get the diploma to suit.

Sensei Derek Ridgway

Sensei Derek Ridgway 6th Dan is the founder of the now worldwide association Kazoku Kai International. As well as teaching in his Hombu dojo, Sensei Ridgway travels across the globe to teach Karate to an ever growing family of Karate-Ka

John Walsh: When did you start training in Martial Arts?
Derek Ridgway: It was almost 30 years ago now when I started at my local comprehensive school in a small town called Penkridge in Staffordshire. The style taught was Shotokan; although I didn’t really understand this at the time, I just wanted to learn karate. It was at the time when the Bruce Lee films were being shown at the cinema, and the kung fu series was on TV. Everyone wanted to do a martial art at that time and I was no exception, so when I heard that a club had started at my school, I went down and joined. I had to lie about my age to get in, but I was tall for my age, so I got away with it! Shortly before the karate club started at my school I went to try to join a king fu club in Wolverhampton, but the queue was all the way down the street, and I was told it would be expensive, so I never bothered to sign up.

JW: So why did you begin training, what was it that attracted you?

DR: Well to be honest, when I started I was only 12 years old, and I had seen some of the martial arts films and programs on TV, which really impressed me at the time. I wanted to be like the heroes in those films, and I thought that after a few weeks I would be doing martial arts like them! I couldn’t have been more wrong, and quickly realised that my romantic vision of martial arts was nothing like reality, it was bloody hard work and it hurt like hell!!

JW: You said you started in Shotokan, I thought you always did Wado-Ryu?

DR: Most people do think that, but I originally started in a Shotokan dojo, where I trained for around 18 months.

JW: What made you change to Wado-Ryu?

DC: It was actually due to necessity rather than an in depth study of the styles (I was only 13/14 at the time!). The Shotokan club always closed during school holidays, which during the summer was a long period of time. My cousin trained at a club in Willenhall, nr Wolverhampton, who had a black belt instructor called Fred Smith. He taught a strange style called something like Gire-Ryu, which apparently originated from India. The training at this club was very intense and involved lots of breaking and hitting things. I can remember an Indian instructor called Binda coming to teach. He would break lumps of coal as his party piece. I only trained at this club when my original club was closed. My cousin, Dave, would drive me, and it kept me training when the school club was closed. Soon after, the club at my school folded. We were never given a reason why, just told that the karate had finished. I called my cousin and said I wanted to train with him more regularly. He told me of many changes within the Willenhall club, including the change to a new style Wado-Ryu. Two Green belt students John Gutterige and Eddie Hinde, now taught the club. The reason for this change, as I later discovered, was because they had tried to join the (then) BKCC who were the controlling body for Karate in the UK, but were turned down as they didn’t recognise the Gire-Ryu style. The chairman of the BKCC, Len Palmer, put them in touch with Roy Partridge, who was one of the very few Black Belts at that time. Roy ran a big club in West Bromwich, and agreed to take in our club; conduct proper gradings; and teach us Wado-Ryu. Roy would visit us once a week and John Gutterige and Eddie Hinde conducted the rest of the training.

JW: So you came to Wado quite by accident?

DR: Yes that’s true, I think the style chose me rather than vice versa. It could have been any of the major styles at that time Shotokan and Shukokai were big in the area, but Len Palmer recommended Roy Partridge, so our club became Wado.

JW: So which other well-known instructors did you train with at that time.

DR: Well as regards Wado my main senior instructors were Toru Takamizawa and Peter Spanton. They were regular visitors to our dojo and I did a lot of training with them. Also Roy would have other people visit the dojo such as John Smith of Bujinkai fame, Ticky Donovan, Danny Connor. I remember Valera doing a course there in the early 70’s. There were loads of people training; it was a great day for Roy. Also we had Harada visit to teach, and Chu-Chu Soot from Malaysia, who was touring Britain at the time. So you see we were never limited just to Wado at the West Bromwich club. Although that was our style Roy Partridge would always have an open mind and look at what other styles had to offer.

JW: What aspects of Karate appealed to you and kept you interested?

DR: I always found Karate a challenge, and still do! I was never a natural, and had to work hard to make progress. I enjoyed that challenge. Lots of people over the years have told me how stubborn I am. Many times in my Karate career I have taken on challenges which were certainly not the easiest route to take, but I have stuck at what I decided upon and that is what has made me a better Karate-ka, and more importantly a stronger person.

JW: Can you tell us something about your time in competition?

DR: It’s been a long time now since I had any involvement in competition, either national or international. I came to competition quite early. From about green belt onwards you were expected to compete if you did Wado. I won several local and area competitions and was eventually invited to join the national squad, which is where I met Steve Cattle, with whom I was to become good friends. I was only a teenager then, and he helped me a lot and brought my Karate on loads. I was just on the verge of the senior team, when the whole of the Karate scene went into political turmoil in GB, and there was a big split. It never seemed the same after that. After the BKCC split our club joined the HKK (Higashi) where I continued fighting in their national squad, which was a very strong team. I won or took part in winning many memorable events with the squad. Reflecting on these years now I still feel they were important. External factors such as Karate politics, and work pressure I was studying for my electrical engineering degree at the time – prevented me from reaching my true potential, but I had some good times (and some bad ones!!)

JW: What are your thoughts on competition now?

DR: At the moment competition is of no importance in my Karate career, but I still encourage others to compete when they are young and keen. Most young people want to fight or perform their kata to an audience, and who am I to prevent them? One of my young students, Keenan Pedley, was picked for the England Wado squad, and travelled to Japan to represent his country in the world championships in Tokyo. But, and I think it is a big but, I always remind them that competition is only a step on the way in Karate, and there is a whole flight of steps before them. I want students to do karate for life, not retire from competition and be lost for a direction, or just grow fat and lazy and award themselves grades, losing the way of what true karate is about. I want them to continue the traditional values and methods in their karate. After all you do study Karate for life, of which only a very small, and not very important, part is competition. Remember Karate is for all ages and sizes, only a very few will become national or world champions, but everyone can challenge and improve themselves along the Karate path. It may take less gifted students many long years to reach their black belt, but they will have climbed their own mountain, which is just as important as the superb athletes who represent us in the various championships around the world.

JW: While we are on this theme, what do you think of Karate in the Olympics?

D.R: Well it depends on what you think karate is and what you want from it. If you do sport karate and live for competition then it will be a great thing and would give you the chance to represent your country and ultimately to win any athlete’s goal of a gold medal. If however you are a traditionalist like me I see it as another step along the slippery slope towards karate which is of no practical use and purely sport, this sadly is what most of Joe public already think. I think that very soon there will be a distinct split between sport karate and traditional karate. It is, in my opinion, very difficult to mix the two, particularly nowadays.

JW: Explain what you mean by a split.

D.R: I think sport karate will become exactly that, a sport. It will have no particular style or root. The kata that it uses will be borrowed from traditional karate then adapted to suit a competition format where appearance is the prime objective and combat effectiveness is not even considered. We could end up with, in the worse scenario, kata which are no more than gymnastic dancing! As regards Kumite, I think that to try to gain a bigger audience, especially if the Olympics are our goal, sport karate will go down the Taekwon-do path with loads of high kicking and flamboyant techniques to get extra points. This, I believe, will be very sad because in the public eye that will be “Karate” and that will be a great shame. Years ago when I was fighting or if I am fighting now in the dojo if someone starts dancing on one leg I sweep his bloody legs from under him and hope he learns his lesson. If you start doing that flashy sort of stuff in the street; on a door; or in any real situation you are going to get a rude awakening! So that is what I mean by a split, sport karate and traditional karate are growing ever more apart.

JW: How did your interest in Shito-Ryu develop?

DR: When I trained with Roy Partridge, he taught us Kata which were not in the Wado syllabus. I think the first were Sienchin and Saifa, which he probably learnt from Peter Spanton or John Smith, both of whom knew various kata from other styles. These kata were a lot different from what we learnt in Wado, so I was determined to find out more. It was about this time (early 1980’s) that there was a course put on by Terry Pottage, at which Sensei Ishimi taught. Sensei Ishimi was a high grade Shito-Ryu instructor from Spain. He taught us Seipai kata, which had hardly been seen in this country. Seipai was so different from Wado kata that I struggled with it at first, but this was what made me determined to learn more about Shito-Ryu. By this time I had graded to Sandan, and as so many people kept asking me to, I started my own club (this was the beginning of Kazoku Kai association, which is now world wide). I was still very interested in Shito-Ryu, so I set about finding some instructors who could teach me the style properly. Shito-Ryu was, and still is, quite small in this country, but I found an article with Sensei Tomiyama who was 5th Dan Shito-Ryu at that time. I contacted him and he agreed to teach at my dojo. He came down and blew my mind. He taught the basic principles of Shito-Ryu and the kata Shissochin. From then on I wanted to learn Shito-Ryu Karate, and so began a long relationship with Sensei Tomiyama and Kazoku Kai, which still continues. He is a regular visitor to our Dojos and over the years we have followed him all over Gt. Britain and into Europe.

JW: So does this mean you stopped doing Wado-Ryu Karate?

DR: Oh no, I still continued my Wado training, I had done it for such a long time and enjoyed doing it. I talked to my good friend and mentor Steve Cattle, who said that there was no reason that I couldn’t do both with some hard work and determination, and that it would be of great benefit to me in the end. This advice still rings in my ears now, and how true it was!

JW: How did you go about training in two different styles? Your training schedule must have been pretty hectic!

DR: Well, at that time I had just been made redundant, so I decided to go professional. With help from my students and my redundancy payment I built my own Dojo, so that I could train as much as I wanted whenever I wanted. The Dojo has mirrors all along one wall, and all the equipment I need to train Karate. This Dojo enabled me to progress much quicker in my studies of Shito-Ryu. What I learnt off Sensei Tomiyama I could put into practice every day. I would practice the principles over and over, coupled with lots of Sanchin and Naifhanchin training. Also having my own Dojo meant I could have more private lessons with Sensei Tomiyama, like I did with Sensei Takamizawa and Sensei Spanton in my early Wado days. In private I could learn some of the more obscure kata from Shito-Ryu which are not taught in public, and of course perfect and improve the basic principles of Shito-Ryu Karate. Basically it was get the information from Sensei Tomiyama, make sure I understood, then work on it in my own time. With regard to my Wado training, apart from the people I have already mentioned, I also trained with Sensei Jiro Ohtsuka, Sensei M Shiomitsu, and recently Sensei Toru Arakawa. Also I must mention Sensei K Sakagami who is a regular visitor to my dojo and lives close to me. He is a real gentleman and a good Wado instructor. Earlier this year I was lucky enough to train with and meet Master Arakawa, who Sensei Sakagami had brought over from Japan to teach. I have also trained several times with Shingo Ohgami from Sweden, who like me studies both Wado & Shito-Ryu karate. As you can see I still train hard in Wado as well as Shito-Ryu. I am very busy teaching and training, and although I teach the two styles, I do not mix them, but keep them as pure as I can, the way I was taught them. Only in Kumite and Bunkai can the styles mix, as the situation requires. Ultimately the principles of all proper martial arts are the same; it is only the peripherals that change. As Steve Cattle often said there are only two styles of Karate, good and bad, and I agree with him.

JW: Have you done any other styles?

DR: Well, as I said, I started in Shotokan, and my mate Steve Cattle would come and teach at my dojo right up until his untimely death in 1995. He obviously taught Shotokan, but in his own unmistakable way. That’s about it really, apart from Wado and Shito-Ryu, which are my main styles. In my bunkai, all my influences come through, which is what you would expect after 30 years of training.

JW: Have you ever done any Chinese systems?

DR: Not really, I have done some Tai Chi, which I really enjoyed. I am a bit of a social realist when it comes to some of the amazing claims that are often made by Chinese systems. If a small frail person can push a big man across the room, I believe it has nothing to do with magic, just many years of proper training and good Sanchin. I am not saying such things don’t happen, but that usually it is not mystical at all, and there is a perfectly scientific reason. I say nothing replaces good hard sweat and training, that’s the only way to develop real Martial arts skill and ultimately you may be able to knock someone flying with little effort, but that’s the result of a lifetime of proper training, not a mysterious power.

JW: Earlier you mentioned Sanchin. Why do you think Sanchin is important?

DR: Sanchin is probably the most important Kata you will ever learn. It contains all the principles you need to master Karate. Its roots lie in the Southern styles from China, all of which use a version of Sanchin as the core of their system. Okinawan karate is no exception, all styles who teach Naha-Te type Karate, such as Goju-Ryu; Uechi-Ryu; and Shito-Ryu use Sanchin as their core Kata to teach all the principles and fundamentals of the style. Sensei Tomiyama said to me “Sanchin, everything is Sanchin”. If you do Naha based karate, you must do Sanchin. A few years ago I was at the national championships at the NCI in Birmingham, with Steve Cattle and we were watching the Kata performances. One of the competitors did Seienchin, and afterwards asked me what I thought. I replied that it was not bad, but he needed to practice Sanchin more. His reply was “What is Sanchin?” He was performing a Kata from a system of which he did not even begin to understand the principles! It is like watching someone trying to swim in an empty swimming pool, and being asked what you think of their swimming, replying it would be better with water, and being asked what is water! Sanchin is of prime importance. I practise it every day. On the surface it is one of the simplest Kata, but in reality it is the most difficult! I am nowhere near mastering it, but I am making steady progress, and I won’t let it beat me!

JW: What about Shuri based systems, don’t they have Sanchin?

DR: No, but they do have Naifhanchin (Tekki) which has all the same elements as Sanchin, although subtly different, the principles are the same. Some of the newer styles that do mostly competition Karate have neither Sanchin nor Naifhanchin, which from a traditional point of view is fundamentally flawed. When you see these people you can see their lack of real core principles everything is for show to please the judges, and win a point or two. This may win competitions and trophies, but it may never defend you should a situation arise where you need to apply your karate. The first time I trained with Sensei Tomiyama, he told me “Kata is not a dance, it is a self defence” this is very true.

JW: What do you think of Kata and Bunkai?

DR: That is a huge question and a very important one. Kata in my opinion is the most important aspect of Traditional Karate. It contains all the techniques and strategies needed to defend yourself against armed and unarmed opponents. They contain knowledge passed down through generations; lessons that were learned in actual combat in life or death situations. When I first started training, I thought Kata was just something you learnt to pass a grading, and had nothing to do with fighting. All I wanted to do in those days was fight, but nowadays I understand Kata a lot better, and can easily see that Kata is full of fighting techniques including locks; throws; takedowns; attacking vital spots; it’s all there, you just have to know how to look. Kata was never designed to work on modern Karate-Ka in a dojo; it was designed to work on the thug or mugger in the street. They are designed to despatch people very effectively and often very ruthlessly with the attacker ending up seriously injured, or worse.

JW: So you obviously believe that Kata can be used for self-defence?

DR:Yes, definitely. Sport is very good for young people, but sport Karate has rules it must have to be safe, but any fighting system that has rules will not be as effective in a real situation where your life is threatened. If all you ever do is fight with rules, in a crisis you will respond automatically within those rules, which may not be enough, if you have a nutter trying to pull your face off. You have to learn to be ruthless and train that way to be able to respond appropriately in a situation without thinking.

JW: Some people may not see the connection with what you are saying and their Kata.

DR: Let me quote a simple example which most people will be able to relate to. Take the first three moves in Pinan Shodan (Heian Nidan). With a little thought they be used to defend against a front punch or jab; a hook punch; a grab with either hand; a lapel grab; a knife slash etc…. and that is only the first three moves of a very basic kata. Imagine what is within the more advanced Kata. You must practise as often as possible, repeat the Kata over and over again until it becomes part of your body, so you respond without thinking what is necessary. This type of response takes a lot of training both on your own and applying the techniques with a partner. I remember when I interviewed Master Tatsuo Suzuki the world famous Wado Master, and he said you must practise Kata so that it becomes your body. Now I understand what he was telling me. Another important point is that when you practise your kata many times over it should end up looking very good, although you must remember this is not the point of training, but one of the results. The main purpose of training this way is to train your body to react instinctively without hesitation, which is often forgotten by many Karate-Ka who endlessly repeat their Kata. The real reason for this is to gain instinctive response & not necessarily a perfect external performance.

JW: Tell us more about Bunkai

DR: Well, Kata without Bunkai is like driving a car with no engine, the heart of it is gone and it ceases to serve the purpose it was designed for, and ultimately is of little value. There are still a lot of Karate-Ka out there who do not practice Bunkai, or just pay lip service to it in that they have several attackers gathered around the same person, who performs the Kata exactly true to form with the attacks chosen to suit the Kata moves. This has some value for basic training, but in regards to self-defence, it is nonsense. Kata is far deeper than that, it is a collective sequence of self-defence techniques that can be practices and adapted to suit. The techniques are not in any particular order, you could work on Bunkai from the beginning of the kata, then finish off with a takedown or lock from near the end. It doesn’t matter, you pull the techniques out to suit the purpose at hand, all that matters is whether it would work or not. The true purpose of Kata is not to make you look good or to win a point, but purely as self-defence.

JW: Some instructors say there is only one correct Bunkai for each Kata

DR: Rubbish, utter rubbish. Almost every move in every Kata, and I teach a lot of Kata, has more than one application, often many. I look at the working out of Bunkai like a crossword puzzle, where you have the clues, but not the answers. It’s up to you to solve these. Some people never do crosswords, some prefer just a coffee time quickie, I like to do the cryptic and dig deep into the Kata, that is the real challenge.

JW: Do you have a favourite Kata?

DR: No, not really. I have probably half a dozen, which I practice really often, and really dig deep. Kata such as Suparinpai; Aragaki Sochin; Higoanna Seisan from Naha type and old style; Bassai (Passai) Kiyan or Tamari Chinto; and Useishi (both types) from Shuri system. Of course I practice Sanchin and Tensho a lot and sometimes I will cool down with Hafa or Papuren from the white crane system. In all I know over 100 Kata, and I practice them all regularly after all they are our cultural inheritance from past masters, and we owe it to future generations to pass them on properly and intact.

JW: Moving on to Makawara and similar devices do you use them in your training?

DR: Yes, I am a firm believer in hitting things. You must learn how to hit hard and how to be hit hard. Both are the opposites of the same coin. In a real fight you need both. At the moment I don’t have a Makawara in my Dojo, I use real solid impact pads, which can be held by your opponent. We also use bags of differing weight and height, which are good to hit and develop speed and power in both arms and legs.

JW: Is strength training important?

DR: Of course, all Karate-Ka need strength. What sort of strength depends on the system in which you train and what points it enforces. I prefer to use small weights, with loads of reps to keep my mobility and be light on my feet. Perhaps a large person who is not so mobile would go for heavy weights and rely more on sheer strength than mobility. It really depends on your build as to how you develop and use your strength. But strength is very important as we all need it and very few people have natural strength, so we need to train to develop it.

JW: What about pressure points?

DR: It is well proven that some pressure points do exist, but hitting them in real fighting would be hard. In a fight there are three main targets to go for The eyes; the throat and the groin anywhere else is a bonus. If you can hit pressure points then fine, but don’t rely on them, just hit hard and keep hitting. It is my opinion that many people who profess to be hitting one point to trigger another then another to get the desired results have never been in a real fight where someone is trying to take you apart. For me a simple good right hook is better than trying to hit 2 exact points. I’m not really convinced there are probably about half a dozen you could train to hit in a crisis, but the rest leave them to acupuncture.

JW: Who were the biggest influences in your training?

DR: As mentioned earlier, I have trained with many great Karate-ka who have all influenced me to a greater or lesser degree. Some of the ones I haven’t mentioned are Sensei Tani of Tani-ha Shito-Ryu. Also Sensei Fujimoto who Tomiyama brought over from Japan I have trained several times with him he left a real impression on me, I know he has influenced Sensei Tomiyama a lot I could see why. Another person I have trained with several times is your old instructor in Goju; Sensei Higoanna, he too impressed me a great deal. But the ones who have influenced me most are Sensei Roy Partridge; Sensei Peter Spanton; Sensei Toru Takamizawa; Sensei Steve Cattle and Sensei Keiji Tomiyama. Firstly there was Roy Partridge, who was my first Black Belt instructor and my first grading examiner. Roy was an excellent instructor with very exacting standards. He set me off on the right path and spent many patient hours coaching and guiding me in Wado Karate. Then there was Peter Spanton. I would often train at Forest Gate where Peter Spanton taught. His training was very hard, and this put off a lot of people, but I enjoyed training with him and still invite him to teach at my clubs from time to time. I have a great respect for him, as he made a man of me and taught me never to give up even when your back is against a wall. Our club was a member of Peter Spanton’s Higashi Association for some time during the 1970’s to 1980’s and he used to visit our dojo in Willenhall regularly. Peter Spanton has for many years held courses in the mountains of Wales, and at this time I was a regular attendee. The courses were very tough, and there were some students who couldn’t complete the weeks training. We were up at 5:30am and training until 5pm each day with only a couple of breaks. At times your body ached so much it was difficult to continue, but by the end of the week you got through the pain and felt like you could take on anyone! The courses helped me tremendously, and were a great influence with the development of me as a karate-ka and as a person in the coming years. Thus Peter Spanton was a great influence in my Wado training. Another was Toru Takamizawa, whose training was very technical. Roy Partridge would book private lessons with Toru, and I would book one straight after. The one on one instruction was invaluable to my training, I was very lucky to have such an opportunity, and learnt loads about Wado in those lessons. I would also visit Sensei Toru in his Dojo called the Temple, in Birmingham. This was a really good Kumite club with many famous competition fighters in the 1970’s. It was a shame for me when Sensei Toru moved to Kent as I lost contact, and the training at the Temple dropped off. He still came to teach occasionally at his clubs in the Midlands, when I would go and train with him, but it was never the same as having him permanently in Birmingham

 
Then, obviously there was Steve Cattle. He gave me great guidance when he was on the squad and I was struggling to get on it as a junior. He always had time to help if you needed it. Later on we became great friends and travelled around the country teaching courses together and having a great time. Of all the things Steve gave me, his inspiration was the greatest. He was so full of enthusiasm for Karate that it just spilled over when you trained with him. It was Steve who gave me the confidence to run my own affairs, and to go into a dojo anywhere in the world and teach regardless of style or nationality. For that I am eternally grateful.

Last, but certainly not least, of the instructors to have an influence on my career is Sensei Tomiyama. He still never fails to inspire me. He recently taught at a Kazoku Kai club in Lowestoft run by local instructor Tony Bergin, and he was excellent. He taught us the Kata Heiku from the Ryuei-Ryu system. He just seems to get better and better as he gets older. Most Karate-Ka reach a peak, then slowly deteriorate, but Sensei Tomiyama keeps on getting better. Perhaps that is a result of a lifetime of proper Karate principles and correct training.
Sadly in recent years we have lost Sensei Toru Takamizawa, Sensei Steve Cattle and Sensei Roy Partridge they were some of my greatest influences all are greatly missed.

JW: How does karate now, compare with when you started?

D.R: There have been lots of changes, some for the better some for the worst. We have definitely improved vastly technically; our knowledge now far surpasses anything that was around when I started. I can remember when I took my black belt I knew what I needed to know for my grade and that was it. I had no in depth knowledge about what I was doing or why. Sure I could kick and punch, do my kata and fighting quite competently but it was all surface knowledge, I would expect any of my people taking black belt nowadays to have a much better understanding of what they are doing and why they are doing it. As regards standards on the whole I believe they are better now than they were when I took my Dan grade mainly because of what I just said and the amount of good instruction available now to people coming into traditional karate. We all know of clubs which are to be honest awful, every town has them they throw sand in the face of people such as ourselves who work really hard to teach karate properly and to keep standards high in this country. But without a major overhaul of the political scene, which would outlaw such instructors I can see very little we can do about it at the moment. The main thing is for good instructors to keep passing on karate properly, adding what we have learnt from the past to the improvements we are learning now. Ultimately a good instructor will be honest to themselves, their students and to karate. This I believe is the best way forward.

JW: Do you think the people coming to karate have changed over the years.

D.R: Well society has changed over the last 30 years, people’s needs have changed, we have become a throw away society and sadly that is true of a lot of people coming to karate nowadays. I am talking about commitment and spirit. It is very rare today to find a club where all the students are dedicated and train regularly several times a week like we did. Peoples lives are just too involved now with trivial things like doing the shopping or watching television. Things where they don’t have to think or apply themselves. If these type of people can find a nice easy club where they can do perhaps an hour a week training, take regular gradings at extortionate prices then, that is fine by them, that is as deep as they want to take it. The trouble is they are deluding themselves because they are wasting their time and money. Karate is not a hobby it is a way of life and if you really want to get the best from it you must treat it as such, a way of life. If you are not prepared to make that commitment you may as well stick with aerobics because traditional karate is not for you. There are still the hard core of people out there who do train hard, show lots of spirit and are very committed. Although they are now the exception rather than the rule. Years ago it was the other way round; lots of people training very hard with spirit, you would not have survived in a dojo without that. Some would say it’s better for karate not to be so hard, but I think you must do that type of training and get through it. In the long run you will be a stronger person and a better karate-ka. Most senior instructors who were around at the time and are still involved in karate would I think agree.

JW: You mentioned bogus clubs and black belts. What can be done about them?

D.R: Well that really is a can of worms to open, I know for a fact that karate is losing a lot of talent to these people who are just teaching karate solely for money and no other reason. Once a person has gone to them and been ripped off they usually don’t try anywhere else, but tar us all with the same brush. They think that is karate and that’s it! This does really get my back up, people who often were not even born when I passed my black belt, advertising as such and such a Dan, and master of whatever they proclaim to do. It needs sorting out but as I said earlier it’s a political task and at the moment the problem is getting worse. The problem creates an ever-deepening spiral where poor instructors teach badly, and this obviously produces poor students who eventually end up teaching and they produce even poorer students. That is why all good honest instructors must maintain their standards. You may lose some people to the cash for sash brigade, but the ones you have and who stick by you, teach them properly and in the end when the charlatans are weeded out, which they will be, all the hard work and sacrifice will be worthwhile

 

JW: what are your opinions on children in Karate?
D.R: Well nearly every dojo has a kid’s class they need it to survive nowadays. I have children’s classes and enjoy running them, its good to see youngsters enjoying their training. I believe it develops their character and gives them confidence. I do not mix adult and junior training, as I think children are children and not small adults and their sessions should be tailored to their needs. In Kazoku Kai we have a different syllabus for children, it is designed with their needs as a priority and it works well. Competition Karate is ideal for young people as long as it is kept in perspective and not too much pressure is placed upon them. After all kids have to cope with loads as they grow up and an over keen parent or coach can turn a child off Karate so it no longer becomes enjoyment just another pressure to cope with.

JW: Do you award black belts to children?

D.R: Yes I do, but they are awarded junior black belts and it states that on their diploma. When they reach 16 years in Kazoku Kai, they are allowed to be re-assessed as a senior Dan grade. If they pass the assessment they then become the full Shodan grade and get the diploma to suit.

 

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JW: Tell us about Kazoku Kai
DR: Kazoku Kai is the name of my association. It was originally started as just one club in 1984, and has grown to be a world wide organisation, with members in Europe, North America, India and beyond. A team of our instructors is visiting India for the second time in January, which we are really looking forward to. Everyone makes us really welcome. There are also trips planned to Germany, Ireland, Cyprus, and I am at present in contact with Sensei Mick Scales in Canada about doing a course over there. In Great Britain Kazoku Kai is quite large, with clubs from Scotland to the South Coast

JW: What does “Kazoku” mean?

DR: I wanted to give all my members the feeling of being in a big family, no matter how far from the dojo they are, so I asked Sensei Tomiyama, and he suggested “Kazoku”, which broadly translates as family.

JW: Looking at your association badge, I notice that it has a green circle in it, which is unusual for karate. What is the significance of it?
DR: It is a little unusual. I developed the badge to reflect the philosophy I wanted to develop in Kazoku Kai. The green circle represents harmony with nature and ourselves. I believe martial artists must ultimately strive for peace within themselves, with nature, and with others. The green circle also links with my Wado roots as “Wa” in Wado represents harmony. The black lines that pass through the circle represent the fact that peace sometimes has to be fought for, and when we do fight it can be very forcefully indeed. Finally the Kanji, or Japanese writing. This simply says Kazoku. Being a traditional Karate Association, this shows our respect for past Karate Masters, and that we want to carry on the tradition they started, and keep intact the things they taught

JW: In your opinion, what is Karate for?

DR: For me, Karate is a way of life. There is not a single day goes past where Karate is not involved in some way. I believe Karate should primarily be a system of self-defence both against the enemy without, and less obviously against the enemy within e.g. illness, disease etc. I believe that proper Karate training does all this. If you look at how long most of the Okinawan Masters lived, such as Matumura and Itosu; they lived far longer than you would expect in a peasant environment such as Okinawa was. This was obviously due to karate training. Other than self-defence and health, karate provides friendship, and breaks down barriers when everyone lines up in their pyjamas we’re all the same. Karate is for me very deep and on many levels both physically and mentally. Ultimately it is a path to your true self, then it becomes very personal, just you and Karate this I believe is the ultimate goal.

JW: Do you think learning the history of Karate is important?

DR: For me, definitely. I am in the process of writing a book on the history of the classical Kata of Tomari. Without history you have no roots, and don’t know why you are doing what you are doing. It would be like going to school and never doing history and so being unaware of the renaissance and the industrial revolution or the two world wars. If you are interested and enjoy your karate, you should know a little of where it came from. You should know about the giants whose shoulders we now stand on, they made great sacrifices and it is up to us to make sure their efforts were not wasted or forgotten.

JW: What are your future plans?

DR: From a personal point of view I want to keep training and keep improving as I get older. I believe your Karate should evolve as you get older. When you are 40 your Karate should be subtly different from when you were 20. It should be less dynamic, more skilful, using the same power, but with less effort. This is what I am working for. Ultimately I want my Karate to become softer, to get power from softness rather than hardness. I am a long way off this ideal, but that’s what I want to achieve in the future. As regards Kazoku Kai, I would like to see it grow steadily all around the world, but keeping the high standards and above all the friendly “kazoku” mentality throughout the association no matter how far from Wolverhampton! Big Ego’s and bad politics have no place in Kazoku Kai.

JW: What advice would you give to a young Blackbelt who has to train without any easy access to a senior grade?

DR: My advice would be to try to attend as many courses as possible. Listen, observe and take in as much information as possible. Don’t be afraid to ask other seniors on the courses for information and help. Ask them to check your techniques bad habits are more difficult to correct the later you discover them. When training at home have a schedule and try to stick to it. It is hard, but it is what I have done and it works well. Mirrors are invaluable as you can spot mistakes and rectify them. If you are really stuck there are lots of videos you can use, but make sure you choose good ones relative to your style. There is no replacement for a good instructor, even if you have to travel miles. Make the most of the training when you are there, then act upon what you have learnt. Above all train as often as you can and you will improve.

JW: Thanks for a very informative interview.

DR: Thanks

Interview with K Sakagami.

T.B Q.1 What was your first experience of the martial arts?

I started in 1959 when I was 15 years old. At that time Judo And Kendo were very popular in Japan. There were no martial arts in sport and surprisingly karate was relatively unknown to the general public. When I first started karate I had absolutely no idea what it was about. My initial interest was in boxing. I was fasinated by the world champions. At that time Rocky Marciano was my boxing idol. Although he was American and we had no television I would listen to the radio and read newspaper articles of him being a world champion. That was in 1955. I started looking around for a local boxing gym, but there was none around in my local town. The nearest was 40 miles away, which in those days was an awfully long way. I was looking for an alternative to boxing and somebody said Sakagami have you heard there is a karate dojo just 6 miles away, so I decided to join this instead. That was my first experience of the martial arts.

T.B Q.2 Who has influenced your karate career the most?

It is difficult for me to pick just one, there are several. Obviously Mr Suzuki, he was my first karate instructor then possibly Mr Sugura who is the current chairman of the Wado karate in Japan and was my team coach. It was Mr Suzuki who started me off on my karate teaching career by recommending me to go to West Germany in 1967 after I had finished university.

T.B Q.3 Was it difficult to get established in West Germany?

No because I took over from a person called Mr Toryama who had been in West Germany for two years, I took his post and he went to Italy.

T.B Q.4 What events lead you to come to England?

I came to England by sort of accident. In 1970 I was a little bit feed up in West Germany and wanted to move to a different country. Mr Suzuki suggested Portugal, I said Portugal fine new adventure new horizons. Mr Suzuki negotiated with the portuguese people for over two months, but things were very slow and eventually it all fell through. Mr Suzuki then said why not come to England and join us. This is how I came to England in 1970.

T.B Q.5 How big is your organization?

My own organization is called Wado Kai England. Its main head office is based in the west midlands but I have clubs spread all over the country.

T.B Q.6 How has martial arts changed since you started and have these changes been for the better ?

Old timers may disagree with me but I feel that technically it has improved.For example the old fighting style was very ridgid now it is more relaxed, smooth and fluid.
Martial arts have probably been influenced by other fighting sports over the years. Such as boxing and also modern ways of developing their bodies skills ie nutrition ,weight training. These things we did not think about years ago, what to eat and how to develop the body. We have also learnt from other modern sports such as athletics,
Swimming this of course is my own opinion and there will be others who will disagree with me.

T.B Q.7 Do you prefer competition karate or traditional style?

I can not choose between them, both of them are important .Competition is needed to motivate people and for the people who have got a competitive spirit.
Karate is a very unique thing compared to other sports where there is just competition.
Karate is unique in that there is competition as well as the traditional side of martial arts.In other sports when a person competitive career is over they tend to finish and stop training i.e footballers,athletes retire and no longer participate in the sport anymore. Karate is different in that people can start at any age and participate for as long as they want to, even up until they die.

T.B Q.8 After many years of training are you still as enthusiastic about karate now as you were when you first started training?

I would like to think so, yes. Things were of course different in my younger days, I would just train, train, train and maybe win competitions. In my university days my aim was to train and win the competition. It is a different type of training I do now, I do a lot of gym work, about 4 times a week. Stretching is probably half of my training, I like to keep my suppleness. So yes I am still enthusiastic.

T.B Q.9 What advise would you give to somebody studying Wado Ryu opposed to another style of karate?

I would say basically karate is the same. However I feel Wado takes a more scientific approach. It is technically more rational, we try not to waste energy, for example by counter punching, using your opponents energy to your advantage. Probably the most unique technique in wado compared to other styles is the counter technique.

T.B Q.10 Do you think the current dan grade system achieves its purpose?

Unfortunately in martial arts we haven?t got a clear measure as with other sports, tennis, snooker, darts if they don?t score then they are not of a good standard. Martial arts are more difficult to judge whether to pass 1st dan or 2nd dan. There are other aspects to take into consideration such as age, sex, possibly physical disabilities. Also peoples flexibility varies you wouldn?t fail somebody because they couldn?t kick a jodan. It is very difficult to set standards between the dan grades it has to be your own judgement.

T.B Q.11 Do you think it is harder to pass dan grades now or in your day?

It depends on the organization you are in but certainly in Japan it was harder to pass in the old days. Today there are millions of black belts and even kids. In the 1960?s absolutely nobody in Japan would have a black belt before the age of 15.

T.B : I know of locally a club where dan grades have been achieved within a couple of years and at a very young age, I do not feel this can be of a high standard.

I absolutely agree, they would not be able to defend themselves on the street.

T.B Q.12 Do you ever see all the Wado Ryu groups coming together under one organization?

Idealy in my dreams I would like to see that happen, but in reality it would be difficult to achieve, so no I do not think it will ever happen.

This interview was conducted by myself sensei T Bergin. On behalf of Kazoku Kai I would like to thank sensei Sakagami for his time.
Last Updated ( Saturday, 22 January 2005 )


 

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