Fragen an Shihan Koichi Sugimura

Wie es zu dem Interview kam

Zwei Zufälle führten zum Inter­view. Erstens gab Shi­han Sug­imu­ra vier Train­ings im Kim Dojo Zürich, weil das Dojo in Uster über­schwemmt wurde. Und Etsuko, unsere japanis­che Karate­ka, machte ger­ade dann Som­mer­fe­rien.
Wie ihr seht, war Shi­han Sug­imu­ra ein­ver­standen, uns auch Fra­gen jen­seits von Gyaku- vs. Oi-Tsu­ki zu beant­worten. Etsuko hat die Fra­gen auf Japanisch und die Antworten von Japanisch auf Englisch über­set­zt. Wir find­en die Antworten infor­ma­tiv und zum Nach­denken anre­gend. Aber lest selb­st.

Wir danken Shi­han Sug­imu­ra her­zlich für das Inter­view!

Das Beitrags­bild aus dem Eikan­do Park in Kyoto hat Etsuko beiges­teuert.

Questions about Karate in general

What do you say about Karate as a sport ver­sus tra­di­tion­al Karate? What is the impact con­sid­er­ing Karate  becom­ing an Olympic dis­ci­pline in 2020?

Like Amer­i­can Foot­ball and Fenc­ing, so called dan­ger­ous sports, Karate fol­lows strict rules and the ath­letes are wear­ing pro­tec­tors in order to avoid injuries.

WKF/SKF style Sun-Dome (stop a punch before it hits the opponent’s body deep­er than his/her skin to pre­vent injury, look here) Karate is elect­ed for the Olympic Games 2020. Actu­al­ly many dif­fer­ent groups do their Karate fol­low­ing own rules and reg­u­la­tions, and some are very par­tic­u­lar. I think from 2020 the Olympic rules will be the Kumite rules which will set the stan­dard of Karate and being part of the Olympic Games will increase the sta­tus of Karate.

As in ten­nis or soc­cer, sci­en­tif­ic accu­ra­cy in judg­ments using cam­eras and elec­tron­ic devices will make the expe­ri­ence for the audi­ence more enjoy­able.

Kata also is an Olympic Karate dis­ci­pline. As long as the judg­ment is sub­jec­tive­ly made, I sup­pose that the trend will go to more show in Kata com­pe­ti­tion, which I do not favor. Kata per­for­mance by dif­fer­ent groups as a show could demon­strate Karate to the world more attrac­tive, even though it goes off the prop­er Karate.

What where your sources of inspi­ra­tion? (Mas­ters, Books, inci­dents)

In my more than 60 years of Karate life I have met many great Sen­sei, Sen­pai and friends I trained togeth­er. Espe­cial­ly the encounter with Shin­ji MICHIHARA Sen­sei was my biggest luck in my career (he was the lec­tur­er of Nip­pon Sport uni­ver­si­ty, the Shi­han of Karate Club of Nip­pon Sport Uni­ver­si­ty, the  tech­nique Shi­han of Tokyo Pre­fec­tur­al Karate Asso­ci­a­tion). He was a won­der­ful Sen­sei for me and I trained by him till I left for Europe (Sep­tem­ber 1965).  If I had not met him, I would nev­er have kept on doing Karate for such a long time.

Since I came to Ger­many, I had Kanaza­wa Sen­sei, Nakaya­ma Sen­sei, Asai Sen­sei and oth­er Sen­seis as mas­ters in JKA and learned a lot of valu­able things from them. Ochi Sen­sei, as old as I am, as a great per­son had an impact on me. Many books I have read, but the actu­al exer­cise under the great peo­ple is much bet­ter than any words, I think.

What are your wish­es for the Swiss Karat­dô Ren­mei (SKR)?

The SKR was estab­lished in 1969 and it will be soon become 50. Most of the orig­i­nal foun­da­tion mem­bers have passed away, but some are still fine and doing Karate like Jür­gen Stut­terich (born in 1943, soon 75 years old), Rene Weber, Tom­ma­so Mini, Peter Buhofer are already vet­er­ans and train young peo­ple in their own Karate Dojo.

When I start­ed Karate (ca.1955), only young men did Karate, but nowa­days chil­dren, women and even elder peo­ple are doing Karate and I find that SKR has coped well with the times.

On the title of the memo­r­i­al book of the 40th anniver­sary of SKR, Seizo FUJIMURA Sen­sei wrote Friend­ship-Cul­ture linked with Tra­di­tion.

After 10 years his idea is tak­ing shape and I believe that next gen­er­a­tion will fol­low and take up the sprit from the active SKR mem­bers and me. I am sure, when they will give ratio­nal and seri­ous train­ing for all ages, the prospects for the future of SKR look very bright.

Questions about Karate as a philosophy

Is there a link between Karate and Zen?

Karate should be regard­ed like oth­er sports. By the for­tune of hav­ing the good Sen­sei, good train­ing places and con­di­tions, good col­leagues and the cor­rect, ratio­nal teach­ing, one can improve his Karate by him­self.  The young peo­ple should go active­ly for tour­na­ments. The efforts to win the fights can earn them the big progress in phys­i­cal strength and Karate tech­niques.

But despite their strong will and much efforts, there are the lim­its of phys­i­cal strength by aging. And when they can­not win the fight any­more, the impor­tance of Karate changes and the mind does not keep on with Karate. So regret­tably the excel­lent Karatekas who won many titles and earned splen­did results could not find inter­est in train­ing any­more and stopped.

In young age it is impor­tant to try to par­tic­i­pate in the fas­ci­nat­ing tour­na­ments, but lat­er, there are also a lot of inter­est­ing things when one keeps on train­ing. I find it of great val­ue to go in train­ing beyond the “out of lim­its” of the phys­i­cal strength imposed by aging, which is called “Karate for life”, so I wish as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble will not give up and con­tin­ue train­ing.

When one is young, the phys­i­cal results are impor­tant and the men­tal sprit is lit­tle. But when one gets old­er, you can iden­ti­fy your­self more with the men­tal con­di­tion.

In Gichin FUNAKOSHI’s book “Karate­do Ichi­ro” (Karate­do in Earnest) Sankei Shim­bun Co., Ltd. (1956), (chap­ter 6. 6), is writ­ten that keep­ing on Karate train­ing brings peo­ple to the belief (reli­gion) and  will bring them to the per­fec­tion as a human being.

Though I am actu­al­ly not inter­est­ed in the reli­gion so much, I real­ly real­ize the spir­it (mind) of great impor­tance, but I do not under­stand well how the reli­gion can devel­op it.  Once I have had an inter­est­ing stay togeth­er with the priests in the Bud­dhist tem­ple for 3 days, so that I rec­om­mend the Karatekas who have been train­ing seri­ous­ly to stay once in the for­mal Zen tem­ple sit­u­at­ed deep in the moun­tain and get up before dawn to try to join priests’ train­ing, that was a very impres­sive expe­ri­ence for me.

Does it help the Karate­ka to know about the Japan­ese Shin­tô (Way of the Gods) reli­gion and the Bushidô (Way of the war­rior) moral prin­ci­ples?

When one gets old­er and real­izes that there are lim­its to phys­i­cal strength, one starts to think of what does it mean to live one’s life.

The wish to keep strong health is not only for Karate­ka but for all peo­ple. I think, Karate­do (Do) means grow­ing togeth­er with body and spir­it.  When I was young I could not find val­ue and sense in spir­i­tu­al things. They should just help not los­ing a fight , not miss­ing a chance to win, and doing the best and reach­ing far in the tour­na­ments. That was all what spir­it meant for me.

I regard that the peo­ple who are keen on win­ning in the tour­na­ments have real­ized clear­er the impor­tance of the spir­it than oth­er peo­ple who have nev­er joined the tour­na­ments.

Nowa­days peo­ple look at sports only from the bio­log­i­cal side and fol­low the sci­en­tif­ic research about the body shape of ani­mal and humans. They train their body only under phys­i­cal aspects in order to feel com­fort­able and hap­py. But I am some­what out of this idea.

Though I have nev­er seri­ous­ly stud­ied about Zen, Shin­to, Ethics and etc., I am inter­est­ed in these things through Karate train­ing. Of course my per­son­al­i­ty has been made up by the stan­dards of Japan­ese soci­ety, e.g. what I had to do and what not.  Since my child­hood time, I mind­ed very much about the way of Samu­rai (Bushi­do), but after a long Karate life I still do not know exact­ly what it is — and I still have many things to do with my best efforts in aging, now, I just keep on doing.

It is dif­fi­cult to think of some­thing com­plete­ly new, so I think one should be inspired by Zen or Shin­to or Bushi­do etc. and work into ones own thoughts, stan­dard and ethics, that are only not allowed to be the self-right­eous. They should be uni­ver­sal and make sense for every­one.

Karate is very hier­ar­chic. How can mis­use of pow­er be pre­vent­ed?

I think, not only Budo, but also all fields push­ing their tech­nique out, can­not devel­op effi­cient­ly and ratio­nal with­out hier­ar­chic order.  If the per­son is self­ish and does not try to be the grand leader with the good nature, it could be harm­ful. But when he is the per­son who has been try­ing to progress in Karate tech­nique and mind, he should regard the neg­a­tive side of the hier­ar­chic order  “dis­grace (shame)”.  The most impor­tant is that both, train­ers and pupils, must have the clear con­scious­ness to learn togeth­er.

Questions about the life of Shihan Sugimura

Are you today more for­giv­ing or more strict when it comes to Karate?

Till 20 years ago, Karate was main­ly for young men and there were very few women, chil­dren and old peo­ple, so of course the train­ing was very hard and severe. And there are still some Dojos where only young peo­ple do fight­ing train­ing for the tour­na­ments and make good results. But in our times, I believe that Dojos which only con­cen­trate on com­pe­ti­tion and neglect the train­ings for oth­er groups will not exist any­more in 10 years. This is some­thing dif­fer­ent from what I want to sug­gest by the “Karate for life”.  Right­ly the fight­ing is also one essen­tial part of Karate­do, so one should try it hard­ly in young age. I hope to con­tin­ue Karate­do togeth­er with peo­ple who want to do their best by train­ing, not like the easy fit­ness.

Can you tell us some­thing about the nice and less nice moments in your Karate life?

My bad mem­o­ries in Karate are only injuries. I have a lot of good mem­o­ries and do not go into details now. My life was made up by Karate and was changed by Karate.

By grace of Karate, I have had my own way and how I have done it. It could have maybe dis­turbed many peo­ple, but exclud­ing it I have had the good career with­out any regrets. To Karate I am most grate­ful now because I have luck­i­ly met many great peo­ple through Karate — and I am real­ly hap­py about it.

Many Karatekas are inspired by your Karate. What do you think when you look back?

I seem to have giv­en some­how influ­ence to Karatekas.  But what I said were my views from my dog­mat­ic way of think­ing that could be entire­ly changed in the future because my recent aim of Karate­do is keep­ing on train­ing for the “life as life Karate”. So, when it hap­pens that I start to say com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent things, let’s exchange frankly ideas to dis­cuss and make progress togeth­er in Karate.

Question about Kim Dojo

You used to call Kim Dojo an “urban Dojo”. Now we are a “gen­tle­man Dojo”. We think that both labels not only  express praise. What points should we devel­op? What is impor­tant to main­tain good Karate spir­it?

 A long time ago, I have once told that Kim Dojo was some­how dif­fer­ent from oth­er Dojos as it is sit­u­at­ed in the biggest city in Switzer­land, that made the grown (adult) atmos­phere. There­fore I felt the social gen­tle­ness in the Dojo.  It is very impor­tant for humans and I hope your Dojo will go on with this spe­cial char­ac­ter­is­tic.

But Karate is the sport for fight­ing and defend­ing from the oppo­nent.  And when you do train­ing only as a sport and not as Budo (Karate­do), your pos­i­tive gen­tle­ness could affect neg­a­tive­ly in respect to knock the oppo­nent down.

Actu­al­ly I am afraid that you mis­un­der­stand my words, I do not say that you should do the bru­tal train­ing lack­ing the human nature. The reverse is what I wrote in about in  “Can you tell us some­thing about the nice and less nice moments in your Karate life?” It should be seri­ous and under ten­sion, not like the amus­ing freely chat­ter­ing fit­ness exer­cise dur­ing the Karate train­ing which I always hat­ed.  Of course it is not easy to deal with peo­ple, but they should be earnest.

Now in Kim Dojo there are some women who have been keen on train­ing to pass the Dan exam for the black belt.  I am sure, the train­ing, with one’s own con­crete goal, or the cer­tain goal showed by train­ers are help­ful for pupils to moti­vate for the earnest Karate train­ing. So I wish Kim Dojo that peo­ple will stay enjoy­able but seri­ous in the train­ing.