An Evening with Masao Kawasoe 2009
On Monday 6th April 2009, Emma and I, along with a few friends, travelled to Mark Kupsz’s dojo in Burleigh (Newport, South Wales, UK) to train with the legendary Masao Kawasoe.
The weekend before had been amazing. On the Saturday 4th and Sunday 5th April, Emma and I had been training with the legendary Dave Hazard in Bridgend (South Wales, UK). It was a thoroughly enjoyable weekend, with the kata Gojushiho Dai being given a thorough dismantling.
Consequently, my legs on the Monday were a little tender, you could say. But legs that were simply crying for a hot bath and the comfort of a bed did not get in the way of me travelling and training with Sensei Kawasoe.
I hate being late. I hate rushing about, worrying that I will be even a minute late, especially when I am attending a special event. In my opinion, an opportunity to train with Sensei Kawasoe is a special event, so I wanted to set off with plenty of time to spare.
When I am not working on TSW, I work in a School. This means that I have two weeks off during the Easter period, and it ideally fell on the Monday we were to train with Sensei Kawasoe. The training was to start at 6pm, and with a 35-minute drive to the venue (not including potential traffic time) I decided it would be a good idea to leave at 3pm. Call me crazy, but at the time, it made perfect sense...3 hours for a 35-minute journey. Needless to say, we arrived a little early.
The venue was not even open yet, so we sat in the car whilst I flicked eagerly through my ‘Best Karate – Kumite Volume 4’ by M. Nakayama, which featured Sensei Kawasoe.
Eventually, the doors were open, so I put my book in my bag, so that later in the evening I could get it signed, and proceeded to go in and get ready for training.
The venue was an old converted church, which now contained a cafe upstairs, a dance studio downstairs and a hall ideally suited for training.
We all warmed up, excited about training whilst watching the clock until he arrived, and then, he did. In he walked and immediately the chitter-chatter stopped. Dead silence, as we paused what we were doing and bowed to him as he entered. Full of smiles, he came in, bowed and went immediately to get dressed.
Following the warm up, Sensei started the class by helping us develop the correct feeling for punching. Achieving fast and strong hikite was high on his agenda and Sensei sought to get us to develop the fast-twitch pull back to the hip. We started out in Shizentai with both hands held out from the body. Then, whilst pushing down to the ground, we were to pull both hands to the hips. During his demonstration and explanation, he highlighted the need for a full body movement rather than just the hands coming back to the hip.
From there, he had us hold the hands out from the body and pull both hands back to the hip in time with a step forward into Zenkutsu-Dachi. Again, emphasis here was to not just pull the hands back to the hip, or even merely to time the hands with the step, but to achieve a fuller body action by pushing the weight down into the ground.
In the sessions I have had with Sensei Kawasoe, I always make a real effort to watch the way in which he uses his hips. His remarkable ability to make energy out of nothing is truly inspiring, and this session was no exception. He uses the ground so effectively and through using the push down of the centre to the ground, he generates a reaction force that makes impact with the whole body’s weight.
We then simply practiced Oi-zuki, with emphasis on using this pull-back hand to its full extent, and the push forward of the centre. Being emphatic about timing the hands with the movement, fully committing the centre forward and remaining completely relaxed until the very end of the technique; he demonstrated the movements with his pin-point accuracy, absolute fluency and beautiful form.
Very important was the emphasis on ‘Shime’. Now this was something that has been of great interest here on TSW; the misunderstanding, or potentially, the mistranslation of the terms kime and shime. Throughout the course of the session, Sensei advised us, at the end of each technique at the moment of impact, to lock the muscles and achieve Shime. When he wanted more, he would gently recite ‘A little bit more’ and we would all give it that extra bit of effort.
Throughout the session, Sensei took us through a variety of basic techniques – Oi-zuki, Gyaku-zuki, Soto-uke, Age-uke, Gedan-barai. Each technique he stressed the importance of using the centre, highlighting the need at appropriate times for rotation and vibration. I was fascinated in hearing him talk about using the architecture of the stance in order to generate power, and how the pressures of the stance can be used to achieve instantaneous power.
Of course, the highlights of the training were always his physical demonstrations, where he effortlessly delivered crisp, smooth and utterly efficient techniques. I looked around the room and eyes were fixated...they were all trying to watch the magic of Sensei Kawasoe in hope that they would be able to recreate what he demonstrated. I too attempted this, but came up short.
After the basic movements we were then run through the basic Kata, with Sensei Kawasoe’s watchful eye advising us on our mistakes and errors. He was very serious about achieving smooth transitions that yielded the body’s weight effectively and all of his demonstrations highlighted this.
At the very end of the session, after getting dressed, Sensei very kindly came back up to the room where a line of people awaited. I was cheeky, I lined up twice. Once to have my photograph taken with him, and a second time to have him sign my Best Karate Volume 4. As I stood in the line, I felt like hitting myself across the head. I had forgotten to bring Sensei Kawasoe’s biography by C. Layton. Never mind, I’ll get that one signed next time!
This was yet again another wonderful session with a true Shotokan Legend. I took away lots of ideas, food for thought and advice, but I also took away the intangible...inspiration.
It had truly been three days of magic. Saturday and Sunday with Sensei Hazard and a Monday session with Sensei Kawasoe...all within a 40-minute car drive. What more can you ask for?
Whilst the room was a little crowded, which sadly – I feel terrible to say – meant that I accidently hit a lady in the back during kihon and missed my friend Paul by an inch, it was still amazing. I cannot wait to train with him again very soon!