The Lingua Franca of Karate (Video of Asai Sensei Teaching in Russia)

Well, I’ve now been working from home for a month.  This is also the longest I’ve been away from the dojo in over thirty years.  Anyways, I pray that everyone is doing well, staying healthy and safe.  We’re all probably spending more time than ever on our televisions, iPhones, iPads, and computers, eh?  So here’s a short (12 minute) video of my karate idol, the late Tetsuhiko Asai.  If you take a few minutes to watch it, I suspect everyone will learn at least one new thing about the art and perhaps gain some appreciation for his amazing abilities and teaching personality.  In my last note, I mentioned that Mori Sensei always emphasized basics, basics, basics.  Asai Sensei’s teaching style would seamlessly demonstrate the different layers of meaning hidden in every basic move. We are so fortunate that both masters were the teachers of our sensei, Kenneth Funakoshi.

This video of Asai Sensei was taken in 1997 (he was around 62 then) of a seminar he gave in Russia.  In the first several exchanges, you get a chance to see how quick he was and the excellent timing and control he possessed.  Although the basis of his techniques came from a strong Shotokan background, it is evident that these are not just the power basics that we all practice early in our karate training.  He would often incorporate circular whipping techniques (even his controlled, glancing whips would produce welts on one’s body) and fast, Aikido-like leaping pivots (tai-sabaki) to move to the opponent’s weak side.  He was the Chief Instructor, world-wide of the JKA for a decade, yet his personal budo included knowledge of and expertise in a broad array of different martial arts. In particular, he practiced White Crane Kung Fu for over 30 years.

The bulk of this short video should be of interest to our color belts, as you can see excerpts of him teaching movements from Heian Shodan, Heian Nidan, and Heian Godan.  The kids and adults at this seminar (held in a gymnasium) seemed really inspired to try their best at performing these basic katas under his guidance (actually, we should always perform kata as if a master were watching us, haha).

A couple of things stood out for me:

-He’s teaching in Russia, speaking limited English interspersed with Japanese (the chief instructor of the JKA in Russia is interpreting), yet  the students can fully comprehend what he’s saying…not by his words, but by his masterful demonstration of techniques.  I always say that 80% of what you learn in class comes from what you see your sensei’s and sempai’s demonstrate versus what they say.

-If we turned off the sound, you can still follow everything that’s happening.  In fact, one of the aspects of karate training is that you could be in most any class in the world and still feel comfortable practicing. Sometimes described as “Zen in motion”, I believe that Karate-Do is truly a lingua franca (universal language) of movement throughout the world.

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