Training trip to Japan

I have been dreaming of karate trip to Japan relatively long time. During this summer this dream came true. I had a great opportunity to train with sensei Kenjiro Kawanabe 10. dan  79-years old. Everything begun in Janurary 2009 when I asked a permission from his american student who sent the enquiry to sensei Kawanabe. Sensei Kawanabe has dedicated his life to karate. His dojo is in Atsugi city which is situated 70 kilometers southwest from Tokio. I was the first European karate student at his dojo which was a huge surprise to me. In America sensei Kawanabe has students and he has been regularly visiting there for over 50 years. Sensei Kawanabe´s teachers have been Gichin Funakoshi, Tadao Okuyama and Yoichiro Inoue. After the death of G. Funakoshi in 1957 Kawanabe established his own dojo in Atsugi city. This list of sensei Kawanabe teachers clarifies that he is one of the few treasures left who has been training with these masters. He has been marked under sensei Egami in Shotokai family tree so his karate level is clearly high. Sensei Kawanabe´s personality is utmost friendly, humble, modest and open. He has had always the dojo only in Japan so from that viewpoint he surprisingly is the teacher who gives lot of contents to training if one is ready to understand. Everything we trained is usable and worth of training. Three main themes in the training were: utilization of

  1. whole body, 
  2. ki-energy 
  3. breathing in karate techniques.

We trained two times per day for 5  days. One session lasting for two hours. I had a great opportunity to be under his private guidance in the mornings between 10-12. At evening there were normal dojo trainings between 19-21. After this training week sensei Kawanabe gave me a warm wish to return to train to his dojo. I held Kase Ha flag high by being in all trainings in time and train as good as I possibly can. Sensei Kawanabe told me that he respects the decisive and whole hearted training attitude. I wrote all the training contents down in detail. It will be published here.

Kyo tsukete – take care of yourself!!!

In Espoo 15. of September 2010.

Jarmo Niiranen 4. dan.

Kase Ha Finland



Kawanabe Karate-Do Budokan, Atsugi city, Iiyama perfecture, Japan.

     1. Training session.

Warming up was done with shizentai tsuki/geri waza. Oizuki, gyagu tsuki, maegeri, mawashigeri. Everybody in  training was counting to ten for few rounds. Sensei Kawanabe emphasized strong use of legs in all technique. Hands and upper body can be quite relaxed as long as legs, waist and spine are acting right and supporting the technique. We trained  variations of ageuke/tatetzuki and teishouke/yokotzuki hente waza. Movement of the body does not have to been big in order to be strong. Body is opened and closed with small movement starting from angles, knees and waist. Big movements sensei called old fashioned karate. Power for the techniques in this training was developed through relaxed movements and very short kime.

     2. Training session.

 Firstly we trained the release of the center of gravity by just dropping down from yoi stance. In this we used the second movement of Enpi kata – kneeling gedanbarai. Sensei Kawanabe favours round technique instead of techniques with angles. Training was merely jutsu waza with round block +  hente waza counterattack from short distance. Footwork and hara control are very important according sensei Kawanabe. Tsuki waza must not be focused only one point. This is why we trained tzuki waza to  rising and landing directions. The same idea is used also with uke waza. This is the basic idea of Hachiriki techniques. All the hand technique is done with hente waza. Single tsuki continues further with shoulder extension as sort of double tzuki. Training was done from natural long shizentai position. Sensei Kawanabe said that long stances are for basic level training and natural ones for teachers of karate. Sensei pointed out that right use of waist and hara use together forms the basis for strong waza. Right timing with moving the center of gravity and expansion/contraction of hara requires lots of training hours among all karatekas. We trained the short power – ko waza. Here sensei emphasized the utilization of whole body power with hara contraction. He pictured hara as an air pump which controls the ki energy. Strong ki should be in whole technique – not jus in the end of it. Continuous ki/kime can be achieved by relaxation and right breathing. In hara one should always maintain some reserve energy/oxygen  for continuos waza. The main theme of this training session was to search for natural moving lines for technique. Kawanabe sensei has developed this Hachiriki training method which allows totally free technique to eight directions. So technique and timing are free. These are done according toris attacks. Hachiriki system can be utilized endlessly for example in bunkai training. Sensei said that oizuki is exellent basic training for this. Hachiriki is very practical in all technique. Basis for hachiriki is in kenjutsu. Natural shizentai stance comes also from kenjutsu.

    3. Training session.

 In order to form relaxed/fast/strong waza,  ki should be flowing freely. Hachiriki means moving and doing techniques in eight different directions. In this training we focused utilizing angles/knees/pelvis in the beginning/during/end of the movement. Everything should be flowing naturally. Katekas ofter punch only with their arm. This is very common, no matter which style of karate is presented. Sensei said that cat or tiger originates their power from whole body even when they are walking. This is a good picture of the issue. Long stances are for muscle power training  and balance/co-ordination exercises. The natural power can be originated better from more shorter stance. In this long “shizentai” stance knees are naturally bent and angles are very flexible and smooth in order to take power/energy from the ground. Arms should be very relaxed – if arms are tensed and locked from the joints – flow of ki is stopped by this. Good method for training this was hente waza: uchihaitouchi – shutouchi jodan. This can be effectively utilized to all eight directions.

 Moving is very smooth and flexible. Defence can be also done by avoiding the attack with taisabaki. Sen-senno-sen type of counter attack was trained today.Change the angle and attack simultaneously. Strong attack – strong block etc. is a saho type of training. It is not measured who is stronger but everyone is measuring the bunkai opportunities of individual technique. We also trained hentewaza after own oizuki which makes it pointless to use all energy to one oizuki blow. Oizuki attack is easiest to do “empty” with small okuriashi and counter attack. Eventhough it is important to repeat tsuki+block combinations endlessly in basic level to strengthen the spirit and techniques. Sensei repeated many times that in instructor level the bunkai possibilities are endless. This is why sometimes advanced trainers have sometimes difficulties to train long prearranged kumite. The mind follows all the possibilities. Sensei said that my next steps in training  of getting to higher level should be ko-waza and breathing exercises. Sensei also said that relaxed power and energy control are the continuous challenges of all budokas – also himself. 

     4. Training session.

We trained 2 hours with wooden sword. One 4. dan kendoka had travelled for 300 kilometers to train with sensei. He drives back after training and does this every week. Hachiriki training with sword – when you are a master it works. That is what I saw. I also felt some support to my shuto/haito waza.

    5. Training session.

The main theme of training was irimi. Hachiriki is implemented in uke, tsuki, geri and ashi waza. The flexibility of angles and balance of moving are the keys to effective irimi. We trained irimi to 45 degrees backwards, 90 degrees sideways and 135 degrees side up-forward. Ashi waza should be relaxed  and natural. We also trained oizuki and gyagu tzuki in shorter stance in order to utilize the waist power to technique. Kawanabe sensei said that everone has power enough – challence is to get it out from the body in natural way. Sensei said that everyone can multiply their power by training waist control with hachiriki method. In this training we focused on small movements(ko waza) with shuto/uchi/sotouke+hente waza. Relaxed hand is effective and works natural way in these techniques. Sensei also showed how ageuke actually is straight mawashi tsuki jodan. This works when you stay close enough to your opponent. This idea also comes from kenjutsu. After the training sensei told me some memories from years around 1940-50. He considered sensei Okuyama as a genious and as a creator of hachiken training method, Kawanabe himself developed hachiken further to hachiriki. Sensei Okuyama was not living in the mountains whole year with the monks. He was teaching at Kawanabe dojo every year until his dead in 2006. Okuyama belonged to omotokyo Shinto clan and lived most of the year in the mountains. He was mainly training with wooden sword but budo in his opinion does not make a difference either it is trained with bare hands of with weapons. This is what Kawanabe sensei also told me. Okuyama was also a master in budo without weapons. Everything in budo is based eventually to kenjutsu. Sensei Kawanabe was the captain of Waseda university karate team after Ohshima sensei. He did not have chance to train with sensei Kase but they met many times at university happenings. He remembered Kase sensei as friendly and warm person outside of dojo. Sensei Kawanabe established his own dojo to Atsugi in 1958 and still continues daily training and teaching of hachiriki with karate and wooden sword. The katas are chosen to be most important 15 of them according to G. Funakoshi. These are 7 advanced katas: Bassai, Kanku, Jion, Jitte, Hangetsu, Empi and Gankaku, 3 Tekki katas and 5 basic Heian katas.

    6. Training session

 Otoshiuke-empiuchi-taisabaki 135 degrees-gyaku teisho chudan-kizami teisho jodan-kizami hizageri chudan. This was the main combination for training in this session. Idea was to stay quite close to opponent all the time. Sensei Kawanabe stated that only oikomi oizuki is effective in practical self defence situation. We also trained shutouke kokutsu dachi. In this it is very important to twist the power to fore legs hip joint first when moving the balance forward –not just jump over the pelvis. Fluent movement maintains the ki and is more faster.

    7. Training session

Kizami maegeri training with moving at the same time and kicking after moving freely. Everything is  based on right waist control. In tsuki waza it was emphasized that arm and waist should be connected. Power should not stay in waist – waist should be relaxed when trajectory starts – arm is just an extension to this power. According to Kawanabe many karate students maintain their power in waist and are not able to utilize it for the technique. This comes merely from too wide stance when waist is “locked”. This does not mean that waist should be totally “free”  but it means the right control of hara. Fudodachi is used also in Kawanabes dojo but is should be immovable only in the end of the techigues. Otherwise angles, knees and hips are flexible used. Power is focused to wanted direction in all techniques. During the ashi waza feet should be like floating – heavy ashi waza does not bring any extra power. 

    8. Training session 

Example of whole body utilization was trained in combination: ageuke-otoshiuke-yokotsuki. Arm is moving together with whole body movement – angles, knees and waist are producing the power. Power is generated from ground with very light and relaxed starting moment. We also trained very slowly and exactly with breathing in order to develop the timing and correctness of the technique. This method of training is very demanding according to Sensei Kawanabe. I asked about fudodachi and he said that it is very good stance as long as it allows also “light” ashi waza. Kawanabe sensei has been training also three years with budo(aikido/karate) sensei Yoichiro Inoue who is the nephew for Morihei Ueshiba. This is why light moving is also trained. In uke waza one should make maximal fast circle to the direction of  block – this allows us to do effective hente waza. Sensei also said that many persons are training karate for egoistic reasons and with hurry to learn everything in relatively short time. This is also the case with many teachers – they start to teach too early. Training should be unegoistic with beginners mind. Only with this attitude one can really develop deeply.

     9. Training session

Gyagu tate tsuki-hente jodan tsuki-gyagu uchiuke-hente tsuki jodan. Body support for techique was the main theme of this training. The target for tsukiwaza is not just small area but for example in jodantsuki-tatetsuki hente waza – tatetsuki goes downwards and forward as the blade of sword after jodan tsuki. Power goes first up and then forward-down so body should not be stiff in any part of the technique but power should flow freely. All ki energy flow in the body circular – this is why fist is e.g. turned in tsuki or uke and waist/hara is controlled in circular way. Gyagu jodan uke-hente shuto uchi jodan- hente tate tsuki chudan. Breathing is natural in kamae phase inhale and in uchi phase exhale. E.g. Inoue sensei inhaled through nose and exhaled through mouth. Kawanabe breathes continuoustly through nose. We trained also kamae training in which with relaxation and hara expansion should lead to maximal strong gedan area of the body. In this way ki is flowing freely. In the end moment of technique the area of back leg waist should be the maximal strongest part of the body. When you stand in shizentai and hit gyakutsuki with most relaxed arm – where do you feel the power?

     10. Training session

Main theme was the strong use of waistline in the technique. We trained oizuki-guagutsuki in kumite like going thru opponents body. With control ofcourse. Mind should go thru opponent in order to continue the techniques. Uke continues as tsuki and kick continues as tsuki etc.. The angular technique should be changed to more circular flowing natural way of techniques. Sensei Kawanabe said that single technique is easy to avoid by moving away so power should be devided to flowing combination techiques. 



Sensei Kawanabes karate is a combination of G. Funakoshis karate, T. Okuyamas training methods and Y. Inoues aikido methods. This forms Kawanabe karate do which includes hachiriki training method. According to my short visit in trainings I can say that system is an effective self-defence system which suits to persons of all ages. The mentality is following O-sensei Gichin Funakoshi and also which Sensei Kase many times said: Karate ni sente nashi.

Personally my back round is in Kase-Ha karate. I will bring some supporting elements from this trip to my clubs trainings. I think principles are the same and this experience enriches my view to karate and hopefully also benefits my students at our club here in Espoo.