An Evening with Sensei Masao Kawasoe
On the 10th March, Emma and I, along with a collection of karateka from the Welsh Karate Union, travelled to Newport to train with Sensei Kawasoe who was teaching a pre-grading course, followed by a kyu grading for the Burleigh Club who were kind enough to allow us to train.
Sensei Kawasoe is an Internationally renown and respected teacher, regarded by many as the best example of ‘pure’ shotokan karate. He was a student of Sensei Tsuyama, and graduate of the JKA Instructor Course…so you can imagine our joy to be able to train with him in such a personal setting.
The course took place in the Burleigh Academy, a converted church. Our training hall, which had a stage – perfect for Sensei to demonstrate – also contained a British, Welsh and Japanese flag and a picture of Master Funakoshi. We were awed by this beautiful building, but relaxed by the very kind and accommodating hosts of the course, which was good as we were all a little anxious about the training.
When Sensei walked into the room, just prior to the class, the atmosphere changed.
There’s a funny scenario, which occurs, with most, if not all karate courses. When the teacher enters the room and starts their own warm up, everyone in the room wants to look over in the direction of the teacher, but are possibly too shy to do so. Instead, awkward and shifty glances and quickly shot around, and I myself have to admit to this too. Completely unaware, Sensei Kawasoe just warmed up alone.
After a good warm up, Sensei took to the stage, so his demonstrations were clear and in view to all. Simply in a natural position, he had us place our hands out before us and pulling them back to the hips as quickly as possible, stressing the importance of keeping the elbows tight to the body.
We then went into zenkustu-dachi in hanmi and pulled the hand back to the hip again, timing the action with the rotation of the hips. Sensei was quick to highlight the importance of maintaining the internal tension here and avoiding the shaky front knee.
The natural next step of course was to add the gyaku-tsuki. Here Sensei made a particular point of highlighting that we are not simply rotating the hips, but actually pushing the centre forward. One very important point, which clearly seems to be high on Senseis agenda, was the downward push as well as the forward push. Sensei said that the increased pressure into the ground creates a reaction force, which influences the amount of power into the technique. This was a point Sensei stressed throughout the rest of the class and with all of the techniques we performed.
Throughout the class, Sensei gave clear demonstrations as to what he was looking for. Watching him perform these techniques and control his body left me completely in awe. His movements were instantaneous and the speed incredible.
Sensei had us then perform soto-uke. Here Sensei asked us not to execute such a fixed preparation position, which can commonly be seen. Instead he asked us to make the preparation a part of the movement rather than a fixed position. Then Sensei asked us to add uchi-uke, telling us to not bring the blocking arm across the body, but to take the blocking arm forward as if punching and then executing the block.
Throughout the session, Sensei had us repeatedly take a few moments to stretch the body. Then, propped on one leg, Sensei had us practice some hip strengthening exercises for mae-geri. Using both hands to hold the raised knee, we rocked the hips, moving them like a pendulum. Sensei told the class that many people simply kick using the leg, but he demonstrated so excellently the importance of using the hips correctly, which we also then practiced.
Following a few small sequences, aimed at working the hips and the concepts he wanted to get across, we practiced kata. This was a physically demanding class and the kata towards the end was exhausting. Throughout Kihon kata, Heian Shodan and Heian Nidan we all tried to apply the fundamental principles Sensei had been teaching.
This class, which was relatively small in numbers, was a real treat for all in attendance. Such a dojo class size rather than a Seminar size class made the tuition all the more personal, and such a wonderful opportunity, and there was no doubt with anyone that were in the presence of a living legend.
I would like to say a big thank you to all at Burleigh for being so accommodating, Paul Watson for driving so excellently and James Watson for taking the photographs.