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.