Stephane Castrique, Chief-Instructor of SKIF-Belgium, sent us a detailed answer about the analysis our managing director and chief editor, Dr. Christian Tribowski, published on Monday. You can find Christian´s analysis here: Quo Vadis, SKIF? Strategy Desperately Needed. Following we have published Stephane´s full answer. Feel free to engage in the discussion in the comments.
Dear Christian, dear readers of The Shotokan Times, this is my reaction to the article “Quo Vadis, SKIF? Strategy Desperately needed”, The Shotokan Times published last Monday. It is important that this is my personal view and not in any way the official point of view of the SKIF HQ.
In the following answer I am going to address some of your questions, clarify some issues you have raised, and show where your arguments become misleading. Again, I only express my own and private opinion and knowledge.
Clarification of some Facts about SKIF
In your article you posted the following statement, in which you referred to the SKIF website:
“according to SKIF, 130 country organisations are affiliated combining several million members”
SKIF is indeed represented in 130 different countries. However not every branch has the same size. Like in any worldwide karate organization, some branches are big and have a big following and some branches are very small, representing just a few dojo or members.
So I agree that SKIF has the biggest worldwide representation compared to any other “single style organization” but does this automatically mean that the total combining members results in several million members? I don’t think so.
We all know that all karate organizations like to boast about their total membership (and so does SKIF), but I don’t think there is any “single style organization” that has several million members.
The WKF is not a style organization; it is a sporting organization that brings together many national federations. This is maybe (and I emphasize “maybe”) the only organization that can claim several million members through national federations in many countries around the world.
Hierarchy in the JKA
You also referred to the JKA and stressed:
“today, the JKA has a much flatter hierarchy, integrates more characters, and does not focus solely on one supreme leader.”
Yes, indeed JKA integrates more characters, because the number of HQ instructors is much bigger. This is because JKA is domestically (JKA japan) bigger than SKIF. Why? Well the reason is because JKA has longer history than SKIF, therefore it is much better represented in the many high school karate clubs, university karate clubs, and has more local branches. Anybody who knows the Japanese karate world is aware of this. So, while JKA is still big in Japan it has become smaller over the years due to the big split in the 1990’s.
Obviously I’m not a JKA member but from my info, it is not correct to say that JKA in its management has a flatter hierarchy. I think like most karate organizations it is organized with a strong vertical hierarchy.
SKIF succession secured
“A dispute of succession, would lead to a collapse of the federation and seems very unlikely”.
This statement is very true; a dispute seems very unlikely. Nobody can say that the current leadership is against Kanazawa Soke’s will. It is this new generation that has the responsibility to keep SKIF going.
The field of Shotokan and why we need a strong SKIF
“The loss of the figurehead has damaged the aura of SKIF. Many members came for Hirokazu Kanazawa. But will they stay for Nobuaki Kanazawa and Manabu Murakami?”
My feeling is that almost everybody will stay. Because in any karate organization the number of members that practice karate as a lifelong discipline is not usually a large number.
I use SKIF-Belgium as an example. While still many of our dojo leaders have had frequent exposure to Kanazawa Soke, many of our most motivated young members, dojo leaders and national team members have had much more exposure and actual training time with Murakami Shuseki Shihan and other SKIF HQ instructors. So their loyalty is much more towards this generation.
When dojos or members leave SKIF (or any other organization) the reasons are seldom because there is a problem at World leadership level. When people leave it is mostly because they have issues with domestic policy.
Do we need a strong SKIF? As representative of SKIF in Belgium I think it is important. When there are strong and big SKIF groups in other countries it gives more credibility to my own group and what we do. It also gives more opportunities for international exchange (courses, competitions, etc.).
You, however, derive at the following conclusion:
“However, SKIF has now considerably been weakened”
I don’t think so. Anybody who has attended the last SKIF World Championship in the Czech Republic will testify that the opposite is true. After April 5, 2014, the date of the succession of Kanazawa Soke, the size nor the activities of the federation have changed.
An international technical seminar has been created and held yearly in Tokyo since 2014. This year’s seminar and Kanazawa Soke’s memorial have been cancelled because of the Coronavirus outbreak, but over 500 representatives from many different countries had already registered.
The five challenges for SKIF
Changing global Karate environment and need for strategy
“Budo and values play a minor role in the WKF system”
Like I said before, WKF is a sporting organization. Their purpose is to create a platform to allow karate athletes to compete under a certain set of rules. For some the side effects of this “sportification” is indeed public recognition and fame, as well as income and a career. But still more people make an income or extra money by “teaching” karate than “competing.” There will always be people interested in learning “karate-do.” WKF can do nothing for these people, but organizations like SKIF (and others) are still relevant for this big majority.
“attentive observers have already noticed that some national SKIF teams already compete at WKF events”
I don’t see the problem. First of all, each country has organized karate in its own specific way. In some countries SKIF is a part of the national style federation/governing body. In some countries like my own, SKIF is totally outside of the national governing body. In some countries SKIF representatives hold important positions within the national governing body.
Let’s not forget that Nobuaki Kanazawa Kancho was himself a member of the JKF national team in the past. (JKF= governing body for karate in Japan). All I can say that all competitors in a major SKIF tournaments must register with their SKIF dan diploma number. This has been done so that a major SKIF tournament is really a 100% SKIF event.
“We wrote an e-mail to Nobuaki Kanazawa Kancho and Manabu Murakami about the official strategy of the organization in October 2019. We never received and answer.”
First, it is up to them to answer to your request or not. But if they answer they should find the time to formulate an answer together, since the questions were asked to both of them. As it happens I can confirm that at that specific time both were not together in Japan for several weeks. Soke was hospitalized from mid-November and passed away on December 8. I think they had a lot on their mind at the moment so it is a little difficult to sit together and discuss a common answer to your question. Once more if they felt it was important to answer you.
With my limited knowledge of Japanese culture, all I can say that after the passing away of the figurehead of the organization it is custom in Japan to have a one year of silence. For example, there were no big changes in the management and/or positions of the JKS, after Asai sensei’s passing for over one year. And the same can be seen in many organizations that have their HQ in Japan.
From my conversations with Murakami Shuseki Shihan, Nobuaki Kancho and several other HQ instructors there will be changes in the future. But now it is too early, out of respect for the huge work Kanazawa Soke has done over the years.
My guess is that there will be changes in the future (i.e. examination program, organizational structure, instructor accreditation, etc.). But it will always be centered around Kanazawa Soke’s specific brand of karate and the syllabus he designed.
“The Takudai seminars”
From my understanding, these seminars were organized by the impulse of Nagai Shihan, SKIF representative in Germany. Many Takudai Karate club old boys have a big pride in the fact that they were members of this great Uni karate club. The incredible amount of karate masters and leaders that came via this lineage is recognized by everybody in the Shotokan Karate world. Some people even go as far to say that Shotokan Karate as we know it is “Takudai karate.” All I can see is that there was a lot of JKA activity in Germany the week before the last Takudai seminar and even on the same weekend. So if this initiative has stopped maybe we should look more towards the JKA than SKIF.
“But the problem is: Nobuaki Kanazawa Kancho did not attend Takushoku University”
That Nobuaki Kanazawa Kancho has not attended Takushoku University is not a problem in my view. Anyway, when he reached the age of going to university, the Takudai karate club was closed, so it was impossible for him to join. Kancho joined the Taisho University Karate club. As an old boy from this also famous karate club he now has his own connections within the Karate world. Many famous karate instructors graduated from Taisho: Iida Norihiko, Sawada Kazuhiro, Ogura Yasunori, Hanzaki, Koh Iwamoto, and also some very good female karateka like Baba and Takahashi Yuko.
Founding instructors of SKIF about to retire
“The loss of the founding fathers of SKIF will considerably weaken the federation overseas”
First of all, I think that SKIF is a strong federation overseas. It is 100% true that Asano Shihan, Nagai Shihan, Miura Shihan, Koga Shihan and Kawasoe Shihan (deceased) have built SKIF in Europe. They are a special generation of pioneers that have faced many adversities when they first arrived in Europe. It takes a special kind of man come to Europe, without knowing the language, the customs and survive here just by teaching karate. When they faced problems within the JKA, Kanazawa Soke stood up for them. This got him into trouble in Japan, and the rest is history as they say.
For about eight years now there is also a board of directors of SKIF in Europe. The founding instructors of SKIF have their voice in this board trough their senior students that are part of this board. So slowly but gently some changes have taken place.
Let us not forget that in their own countries a lot of students became members of SKIF because of their charisma and karate skill. The loyalty towards SKIF and Kanazawa Soke was thought to these students by following the example of their Japanese instructors.
But we must also face the truth. As I said before, it takes a special kind of man to come to Europe, without knowing the language, the customs and survive here just by teaching karate. The founding fathers were successful because of their hard character. With all respect, but I would not describe them as “normal” Japanese men. This has also over the years created some fall out. There are also people who have left SKIF with pain in their hearts. But cooperating with founding fathers became impossible for them. Therefore, a generation change might well be a window of opportunity for future growth and old members returning to SKIF.
The need for an instructors Program
We cannot compare JKA to SKIF too much. It is a fact that JKA employs 25 instructors at their HQ in Tokyo. But as I said before the domestic workload inside Japan is bigger for them. JKA is a government recognized institution. Therefore, I would not be surprised that there is also some government funding for the JKA. SKIF is a non-profit organization. The structure is very different.
JKA has a constant influx of university graduates because a lot of university karate clubs are JKA style and use JKA instructors. The pool of young people that are crazy enough to pursue a career in karate is much bigger. Same for JKS, because Kagawa Shihan is the main shihan at Teikyo University. To my knowledge only two or three university karate clubs have a connection to SKIF. Also, these Karate clubs are part of universities with a higher academic status. The members of these clubs practice karate mostly as a hobby and these clubs do not attract young Japanese karateka that look for a hard training environment to improve their karate and of course their tournament skills.
I am almost sure that SKIF management is aware that it should have an influx of new young instructors but the pool to find them is smaller. A career as a SKIF HQ instructor is not all roses. For many young Japanese people a job as a karate instructor is not attractive, neither financially nor status wise. Even Murakami Shuseki Shihan’s own mother asked him until 2006 when he would quit and get a “real” job.
There is an instructor’s program also at SKIF HQ. At this very moment, my own student, Mr. Huglo Paul, will probably graduate from this course beginning of April. Hiyori Kanazawa will probably also graduate, but I’m not sure whether she will be a “full” instructor or a “junior” instructor as their training program and training volume was not the same. From my conversations with Murakami Shihan and Kanazawa Kancho the course is basically 2 years. Until now it was modeled after the JKA course. Of course, I cannot speak for SKIF HQ, but my thinking is that they will try to make a different system or way to get this accreditation more in harmony with the reality of today’s world. I don’t know about specific details at this moment.
Media visibility and presence
I agree with the analysis made in this article. But we must not forget that the instructors have to be first of all: “karate professionals”.
Meaning that their core activity is teaching karate. Like a skilled craftsman, who is also able to teach his craft. On top of this they need to do administration and sometimes even do politics. That is already 3 skills for one and the same person. To ask them to also be an internet influencer or a Youtuber is maybe asking a little too much.
Let’s not forget that the Kuroobi World Media is Mr. Nishi’s fulltime job. He’s not a karate instructor. Of course, JKA has the beneficial effects of being in the public spotlight via Naka Shihan and Kuroobi World. But Kuroobi World is not an official communication channel of the JKA.
It is a fact that SKIF has to make a bigger effort when it comes to internet visibility and social media.
What distinguishes SKIF?
I think this question would best be answered in a completely different article. If I find the time in the future I will try to give an answer.
Just two important points:
- As far as technical matters are concerned it is characterized by Kanazawa Soke’s “unique” development and ideas of the Shotokan style. But this does not mean that everything is rigid. Future generation of SKIF instructors and various members will naturally influence the art.
- Organizationally, I think the name sums it all up: “JAPAN” karate association vs. Shotokan Karate-Do “INTERNATIONAL” Federation.
These are my personal comments on the article “Quo Vadis SKIF?” It is important that readers understand that my comment on the article should not in any way be interpreted as the “official SKIF HQ” reaction.
Stephane Castrique Chief-Instructor of SKIF-Belgium