Interview with Kancho Shokei Matsui on the 52nd All Japan Open Karate Championship & 2020 All Japan Women’s Karate Championship
Q: Please describe your impression of the All Japan Open.
Kancho: This championship was held under the Corona Virus pandemic and I am relieved that we could compete it safely. I thought it would be difficult to maintain safety protocols during the event because competitors must make contact with each other in the matches. We held the event without any spectators and live-streamed it through Kyokushin Online. The Coronavirus made us reliant on technology to communicate with each other, but I believe we can continue to make the most of these online tools after the pandemic is over.
Regarding the favorite competitors, it was a surprise that Ryunosuke Hoshi, who finished 6th place at the last years’ World Open, lost in the 3rd round, also that newcomer, Nana Uzawa took 2nd place in the Women’s Open. Nana’s performance was well deserved to the position.
Q: What do you think about the winner, Konstantin Kovalenko?
Kancho: Kovalenko was one step ahead of other competitors in this championship overall. He debuted at the World Open when he was very young, placed 5th at last year’s World Open, and now took the championship title at the All Japan. Nowadays, many competitors compete seriously as juniors before entering the open, so their experience makes them seasoned fighters well before they debut on the adult stage. For Kovalenko, it is very important how he will treat this accomplishment. If he is content with this result, his growth will stop. If he takes this as his stepping stone, he will be able to develop himself even further. His enthusiasm to grow has been so high that he has come to Tokyo many times in recent years to train at Honbu, compete in the All Japan, as well as in our semi contact division. He has recently moved to Tokyo, and is an instructor at Honbu, and has set his goal to win the World Open three years later. I am looking froward to seeing his improvement as IKO Honbu’s instructor.
Q: Does Kovalenko belong to Honbu Dojo?
Kancho: Honbu is the world headquarters for our entire organization, and at Honbu we take care of all IKO members worldwide, not just members at Honbu. However, Honbu should be the center force to lead the organization, so it would be good for an instructor at Honbu to win the All Japan Open. Competitors are a kind of symbolic figure for our activities, so I am very glad that one belonging to Honbu won the championship.
Q: Please comment about the Women’s Open winner, Nanami Sato.
Kancho: She advanced the final last year, as well as 2 years ago. I am impressed with her confidence and spirit. She always trains very hard to prepare. Her physique looks small and skinny, and I believe that is why she takes effort to be creative with her fighting style. She has strong punching blows and clever step work in accordance with her opponent. I believe her strongest asset is her strategic mind. She invented ingenious methods into her performance to win the Women’s Open. If the Men’s lightweight and middleweight competitors such as Takahiro Kaga and Kazutaka Watari could have performed like Sato, they would have been more successful. All competitors should study Sato’s approach for the next World Open.
Q: What do you think was lacking for the 2nd place finishers, Kaito Nishimura and Nana Uzawa?
Kancho: Nishimura has an excellent physique, developed as a student when he played Rugby. I advised him to go back to basics in terms of his techniques. The impact of his punches and kicks’ are not on par with his physique. He used his weight to apply pressure to his opponents, but with no damaging impact. His balance and stance are not firm enough to make effective combinations. He just ends up throwing single techniques sporadically. He must review his training method and mindset to improve.
Uzawa is only 17 years old and still in the process of developing her technique. She has great potential to grow further. One point I would like to advise is, that she has a bad habit of shaking her head as she throws a punch. Her coach, Atsushi Kadoi from Chiba Shimousa Branch, had the same habit when he was a competitor. I gave him the same advise, but he did not fix the habit until his retirement. I believe Uzawa has unconsciously copied her teacher’s movement since she’s been training under him since childhood. Kadoi did a great job to raise her up to this point, but it is his mistake not to fix that movement. In any martial art, shaking the head while executing technique is a critical mistake. Ideally the head remains stable without any movement, and all the impact is transferred directly to the opponent. If she continues to compete with this habit, I believe her development will stop. I hope Kadoi and Uzawa get this advice and she will develop further going forward.
All human beings have the same talents to attain a movement if they repeat it a thousand times. It is important to repeat correct movements with correct methods. Each competitor must find the best way but a coach must support and advise the competitor in the right direction. Of course, it is important to win championship, however I would give straight advice to even a world champion if his/her move is not correct. World champions and seasoned competitors are shining examples, but they too make mistakes, and have bad habits. Students often copy their movements, often without realizing there may be mistakes. Sosai Oyama used to say, “You, black belts, have a certain habit because you have practiced karate for many years, and you cannot fix it. The biggest problem is that your junior students have tendency to copy your bad habit.” No only Kadoi but many coaches do not realize mistakes and keep coaching incorrectly. Naturally, humans makes mistakes and errors. I myself thought some methods were correct, then years later, realized some things were wrong. The important point is, you should always question yourself to find the true path. Without self-reflection, you do not go forward. But how can you do it? My answer is that you should observe yourself from a third person’s point of view objectively to open your mind, instead of just sticking to your favorite method. You must do what you should do, instead of doing just what you like to do.
Getting back to Uzawa, she has a very strong physique like her coach Kadoi. She should remember that this strength might drag her down. I often mention at seminars that you need 2 creative thoughts when you practice karate: one is strategic imagination, to see clearly your movements and the movement of your opponents’, the other is vivid creativity, to develop your own style and fighting skill and technique. To create karate skills, you must first master basic kihon movements, and must go into depth to find the best stance, step work, body motion, how you punch, kick, block, etc. If you do not think through those aspects, your fighting skill is very rough and not fine-tuned.
Q: You adapted a new method for the top 8 finalists to do a raffle draw. Could you comment on it?
Kancho: Under the pandemic, we had limited number of competitors. The Championship Committee discussed to do back to the originals system at the 1st All Japan Open, but we made a decision to this top 8 raffle system. As a saying “facts are stranger than novels”, Mens’ Open ended up that 4 Tokyo Johoku Branch competitors in the one Block and 3 Tokyo Josai Branch & 1 Honbu competitors in the other Block. I believe those Tokyo Branches must be upset when they saw the draw, but I was very interested to see what would happen. When we decided the tournament draw, we made sure competitors from the same branch would not meet in the early rounds, but the raffle made it completely opposite. So I was amazed and interested in the outcome. In a championship, you must fight hard to win, even if your opponent is from the same dojo. In an early history of Oyama dojo before Sosai created IKO, Shihan Shigeru and Shihan Yasuhiko Oyama bothers were banned to do kumite together because they fought so hard, they would almost kill each other. In general, peers in the same dojo fight very hard with each other with humility as they help each other to develop their skills. So I wondered how those competitors from the same dojo would fight on the championship matt…I was satisfied that they fought very hard, with sincere respect.
Q: Do you plan to use the same raffle system next year on?
Kancho: We do not know yet. We will review the championships and input from objective observers and the Championship Committee. We do not know how the pandemic will develop next year, but I hope we will be able to hold the championship with many spectators, and competitors will be allowed to shake hands to respect each other’s performance after a match.
Q: Considering the pandemic, I believe you were concerned about the competitors’ lack of training, especially contact training in kumite. What do you think about this aspect?
Kancho: Ultimately I believe it depends on each individual competitor, but all the competitors were under the same condition due to the pandemic, so they cannot make excuses for their preparation. Whatever the circumstance or adversity, a competitor is responsible for their own training, and must find the best solution. If you look at the other side of the coin, now is a good time to discover things you may not realize under normal circumstances. It was very difficult to organize this All Japan Championship under the pandemic, especially after all the regional championships earlier this years were cancelled. But I believe we had too many championships scheduled recently, so this has been a good opportunity for all competitors to review, and then develop their skills for the long term. Many competitors were just entering championships frequently since their childhood, without adequate training periods in between. The fact that you train only for championships is like putting the cart before the horse. The real purpose of competing is to test your skills and improvement; to gain experience with various opponents and aid each other to improve. Just training to win championships is far from the real Budo spirit, and our organization’s goal to contribute to social health and well-being. Of course, you can gain a lot by competing in a championship, but you also can gain by not competing for a longer period of time. I hope all instructors and competitors remember the core essence of karate practice so as to lead students.
Q: Lastly, based on the results from the All Japan Open, could you tell us your prospects on the 13th World Open?
Kancho: I have a lot of expectations for the 13th World Open three years from now. As an organizer, I always try to make it the best World Open ever. The 13th World Open in the year of 2023 will be in commemoration of Sosai Masutatsu Oyama’s 100th birthday, so I would like to make my best effort to make this World Open successful. The current World Open Champion, Mikio Ueda will try to win again for the second time. As the president of IKO, I would like all World Open competitors to do great job regardless which countries they are from. But Ueda is the only one facing the challenge to win 2 consecutive times. In IKO history, only Makoto Nakamura accomplished this challenge. Ueda might attempt the 100 Man Kumite next year or the year after, and if he goes on to win the 13th World Open, he will write a chapter in the history of IKO Kyokushinkaikan, which no one has done before. We will continue to work hard to further develop our organization into the future.