We all admire Karate Instructors. Their excellent technique, fighting spirit, and charisma give them a superhuman aura. But who are Karate Instructors? How much do they train? Do they have other jobs beside Karate? How does a regular day in the life of a Karate Instructor look like? The Shotokan Times had the chance to interview one of the most renowned and world-wide known JKA Instructors: Koichiro Okuma. We talked with him about his morning routine, the long days of traveling, and his most favorite hobby. Learn more about the life of a Karate Instructor.
Today, we would like to talk about your daily life as an JKA instructor, Okuma Sensei. May we start at the beginning: What do you do when you start your day?
I usually wake up at 5 am. In bed, I already begin with my preparation. I stretch and twist my body. I do little Mae Geris and relax my shoulders. After that, I go jogging.
How many kilometers do you run?
Not so many. My running starts more like walking into the park. That is not so hard. Then, I do intervals of 300 meters – fast, slow, fast, slow. I always speed up a little bit from interval to interval. In the end, that sums up to round about 3 kilometers. It is just a way for me to start the day, to wake up, and fix my body. It has no specific training purpose.
After that, I walk home. Back home, I have breakfast and drive to the JKA headquarter.
How long does it take you to go to the headquarter?
It is only 20 kilometers to the headquarter. We live a little bit outside of Tokyo. But you know, the heavy traffic in Japan. So, that is why it takes me one hour and a half by car. However, I do not want to take the subway (laughs). It is just too crowded with too many people.
Arriving at the JKA Headquarter
When do you arrive at the headquarter and what do you do then?
I arrive at 8:30 am. I open the headquarter because I am usually the first to arrive. Immediately after that, I start beating the Makiwara. Now, we have the hot season in Japan. Usually I beat the Makiwara 5.000 times every morning. 1.000 Ura-Ken, 3.000 Choku-Zuki in Kiba-Dachi, and 1.000 Gyaku-Zuki in Zenkutsu-Dachi. That is my Makiwara training.
You said, you do 5.000 punches in the summer. How many do you do in the winter?
More than 10.000 every day. Because in Japan, the summer season is very hot and wet with a high level of humidity. Even doing only 5.000 Zukis causes me to sweat a lot. I have also a big event every day, where I must attend: the instructor training. Therefore, I have to stay energetic and cannot exhaust myself.
But between punching the Makiwara I also do snap routines for Mae Geri. I do 200 to 300 repetitions. Of course, not continuously. I always do sets of ten and squeeze them between the Makiwara punches. Because I have a knee problem. When I stay to long in one stance during the Makiwara routine, for instance, Zenkutsu-Dachi, my knee becomes very stiff.
Right after the Makiwara training, I also punch the heavy bag and do some Kata training. Some days, I practice Tekki Shodan, Nidan, and Sandan. On other days, I do the 15 mandatory basic Katas. Or I practice all Katas with a Dai and a Sho version like Gojushiho Dai and Gojushiho Sho. I decide about the Katas on a daily basis. I do not have a fixed routine.
Finally, I do a Kata with a stick sometimes. My master, Sensei Tatsuya Naka, gave me some instructions about stick fighting. That is why I also practice the Kata Shushi No Kon. Sometimes I also add a little bit of Kumite movements into my routine.
In sum, my whole morning routine, including the Makiwara and everything, takes 90 minutes.
10 am: Office Begins
What do you do after that?
Office starts at 10 am. I start to beat the Makiwara at 8:30 am. Right after my workout, I have to be in the office. The instructor training starts at 11 am. Before the instructor training, I need to finish some work. Thus, I need to go downstairs to the office.
I am in charge for the Department of International Affairs of the JKA. That is why I need to check emails and give instructions to the staff members. I have to advise them how to solve problems and how to execute tasks.
Do you also have to take part in meetings etc.?
Yes, of course every now and then. If we hold a big event like a big tournament, I will take part in the planning. For instance, this year we are going to organize the Asia tournament. Therefore, I have to gather all the lists and we need to create a tournament program. We have to setup a schedule. But this goes not only for the tournaments. We have to come up with a schedule for the Gasshuku, too. So, we must create a system to execute these events. Of course, I cannot do all that by myself. That is why I give the orders to my employees in the department. One clerk and one young instructor support me with all that.
And at 11 am, the instructor training start, right?
Yes! It takes between one and one and half hours. If it is shorter, then it will be even more intensive.
Ueki Sensei teaches the class sometimes. Sometimes, Imamura Sensei, Kobayashi Sensei, or Taniyama Sensei do it. They become appointed by the Chief Instructor.
All the instructors, who are in Tokyo at that time, must take part in the training. The only reason for not joining the training is, if somebody is abroad. So, we train together every day. On average we are 15 to 20 people.
The training, by the way, is very hard. Very tough. Sometimes we only do Kihon, Kata or Kumite but it is always very tough.
Giving Karate Lessons
What do you do afterwards? It must be lunch time then, right?
After the instructor training, I take a shower, have lunch, and sometimes I take a nap. Then, I go back to the office.
At 3:30 pm I leave the headquarter to teach at Dokkyo University Karate Club, my alma mater, or at my own Dojo. My week goes like that: On Monday, I go to my University Dojo. On Tuesday, I teach in the headquarter. Wednesday, I teach at my Dojo in Tokyo. On Thursday, I am again in the University and on Friday I teach in my Dojo. Saturdays and Sundays are off. But sometimes I go to the University or I must judge at a tournament.
When do you get back home on a regular day?
May be around 10 pm after the instructions. After the University, I will be at home at 8:30 pm. If I give training at my Dojo in Tokyo, I will be at home at 10 pm. Then, I have dinner and chat with my wife. And at 5 am I wake up again.
But you also travel abroad a lot during the year, right? How many days do you travel?
Usually, more than 100 days per year. For instance, I was in Miami in January, in Greece in April, now Germany, right after that Morocco, Spain, and Belgium. Next month, I will be in Czech Republic. In August, the Asia tournament will take place in Thailand. From end of September to the beginning of October, I will be in South-Africa. In November, I will be on Mauritius and the Indian Ocean Islands. At the end of November, I will be in the Netherlands, too. After a short break in Japan, I will immediately fly to Mexico in November. That is the travel schedule for this year.
Do you have a golden frequent traveler card?
Maybe I will get it this year. But sometimes I get very cheap tickets. Thus, I cannot collect a lot of mileage. But this year, I will get the star alliance golden card! (smiles)
His Most Horrible Trip
As I can imagine the traveling is very exhaustive, right?
Yes! But I have a very funny story about my most horrible trip. 5 years ago, I had to travel around the globe. I had to travel to Norway first, then to Kenya and South Africa and finally Australia in one trip. So, I requested a world-tour ticket. Because they are cheaper than the single tickets. But the problem was that the ticket itinerary did not send me directly from Johannesburg to Australia. Instead, I was supposed to go first to John F. Kennedy Airport, New York. That took 15 hours from Johannesburg. Then, I had 3 hours transit until I had to catch a flight to Los Angeles. The flight was 6 hours from NYC to LA. But I had 11 transit in LA.
Look, my destination was Melbourne. Instead of going to Melbourne directly I also had a stop-over in Sydney. However, the flight from LA to Sydney was the most terrible one. I was seated in the last row. Left and right of me, were two very massive guys chatting and eating chips. I was squeezed between them. In order to survive this, I did the whole flight the beginning of Tekki Shodan. (laughs) That was my worst flight ever. In the end, it took me 2 days to go from South-Africa to Australia.
I can imagine that it is very difficult to maintain your daily schedule under such circumstances. What do you do in order to keep it at least a little bit?
Eventually, it is impossible. When I travel too much and start the Makiwara training again at home, my fists have become week in the meantime. Therefore, I cannot execute 5.000 punches at the Makiwara. Because of that I like to use a portable Makiwara. Either I punch the knuckles of both hands together or I use a stone. I have a small flat stone that I carry with me. I hold it in my palm while doing punches. Maybe I should get a Lava stone in the future! (laughs)
Fishing for Recreation
I guess that even an internationally renowned JKA instructor has spare time every now and then. What do you do then?
If I do not have any appointments, I will go fishing! (smile) My hobby is fishing. I am crazy about fishing. I have a small inflatable boot with a small engine. Of course, I will stay at the shore-line. I do not go very far out to the ocean. But I very enjoy to be on the ocean.
I haven caught many fish so far. However, not the big fishes. I focus on Aji (Japanese horse mackerel), as we call the fish in Japan. Aji means “taste” in Japanese and the fish tastes very good. The fish is not that big – maximum 30 centimeters. That is why I use a very sensitive line and fish with a rod. All fish, I catch, I put into a cooling box with ice and seawater. I do not touch it. I use special equipment and put it right into the box. So, then the fish stays very fresh.
Sometimes, I prepare the fish for myself and my family. I turn it into Sashimi. If I catch a lot, I give them to my mother in law or University friends.
We wish you to catch many more fish in the future. Thank you very much for the interview, Koichiro Okuma Sensei!