Feb 26, 2024

1. What is IJKA and how does it differ to other forms of martial arts?

The International Japan Karate-Do Association (IJKA) is a Japanese martial art with its Headquarters in Yokohama, Japan. IJKA karate is based on the ancient Japanese tradition of bushido (the way of the samurai). IJKA karate is not a game of points, weight classes or showy demonstrations. It is a martial art and a way of life that trains the practitioner to be peaceful; but if conflict is unavoidable, true karate (by performing techniques with strength, speed, and focus), dictates taking down an opponent with a single blow. IJKA karate differs from other martial arts insofar as it prides itself on the respect (often parallel to a military form of respect) it demonstrates and demands from its practitioners. The resultant of true budo karate (the way of true karate) is therefore natural, effortless actions performed with confidence and humility thus perfecting unity of mind and body.

2. How has IJKA grown since it was established in South Africa?

The South African affiliate of IJKA (IJKA SA) was established in 2021. IJKA SA has grown since then with a membership in the country as well as in 5 African countries with a total number of students exceeding 3,000 . IJKA SA is well represented across South Africa’s provinces with its headquarters in Johannesburg, Gauteng.

3. Why would people consider practicing IJKA karate? Would, for example, adults be able to pick it up now, even if they are not young anymore? And how difficult would it be for a person to take up IJKA karate at a mature age?

IJKA is for everyone, irrespective of age, ability or status. Many practitioners have taken up IJKA karate as a child, only to have stopped, but have since successfully taken up IJKA karate again later in life. One is never too old to start or resume karate training. In fact, IJKA has a large number of novice (beginner) karate practitioners over the age of 40. IJKA karate develops and improves concentration, coordination and discipline which aid adults in their professions as well as in other interests. Apart from the obvious health and fitness benefits IJKA karate possesses, it also helps adults in their relationships with others, coping with stress and to deal with conflict resolution. IJKA karate is very much a personal journey so practitioners advance at their own pace and level through the various ranks.

4. For someone who can’t dedicate many hours practicing IJKA karate, how would they be able to still reap the benefits?

It is obviously not necessary for someone to dedicate a huge amount of time to their training as in my case as a full-time practitioner – purely because it is my chosen profession. Adults usually train anything between 2-5 hours per week and this is more than adequate in order to advance through the system at a reasonable pace. The journey to becoming a black belt (1st Dan) requires on average about 5 years of dedicated training for an adult. Through systematic and consistent training, IJKA karate will develop and strengthen the practitioner’s mental and physical state, producing a highly aware mind and body, and as such, adult practitioners start to reap the benefits of these almost immediately. IJKA karate also requires muscles to be used not usually used by adults in their day to day life such as kicking and the use of hip rotation in movements. Adult practitioners often comment on how alert and focused they feel after a karate class, apart of course from the physical exertion which is pretty unique after a very tough IJKA karate class.

5. For people who don’t want to compete in tournaments necessarily, how would practicing IJKA benefit them mentally and physically?

Competing in tournaments is not compulsory in IJKA karate, in the words of the founder of karate “The ultimate aim of the art of karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants” – Funakoshi Gichin (10th Dan and founder of modern day karate). The beauty of IJKA karate is such that practitioners do it for various reasons and benefits. Some do IJKA karate for the mental aspect (alertness, focus and concentration it provides), whilst others do it for its sheer fitness and flexibility benefits. Some men (and women of course) even do it purely for its self defence benefits. IJKA karate consists of kihon (basics), kata (predetermined forms or movements against an imaginary opponent) and kumite (sparring) – all of which is challenging in itself with its associated mental and physical benefits.

6. Why would you suggest people take up karate instead of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or MMA?

This question I would like to answer with caution because no martial art in my opinion is necessarily “better” than another. I have done karate since the age of 4 (and could therefore be perceived to be biased towards karate as I have never done any other martial art), however, I have obviously seen how devastatingly effective other martial arts can be (including BJJ and MMA). Each particular martial art has its own benefit and could potentially be lethal in its own way as done by a skilled practitioner. Having said that, I have yet to come across another martial art that has the same level of respect (on and off the floor) and discipline as what karate possesses between its practitioners. This, in my opinion, sets karate apart from other martial arts and is very much unique to our organisation.

7. What does a typical training session at IJKA SA look like?

I will for purposes of this explain a typical training session at the headquarters of IJKA SA. Apart from practitioners training in dojos all over the country, training is conducted on a weekly basis at the honbu dojo in Johannesburg. It is, for example, nothing unusual to have 35 black belts on the dojo floor on any given morning (winter through to summer irrespective of weather). IJKA karate prides itself on hard, uncompromising and dedicated training with strong roots and an ethos entrenched in its 5 maxims (character, sincerity, effort, etiquette and self control). It is therefore not uncommon to find 70 year old’s training with 16 year old’s in the dojo. In fact, most IJKA SA karate practitioners look 10 years younger than their peers. Training will consist of a warm up whereafter a combination of basics, kata and kumite are usually done. Training is done with no rest periods in between with a high intensity kept throughout, resulting in near exhaustion after a class. The instructor will usually demonstrate techniques, which are to be performed with vigor, speed and as close to perfection as possible. The only words uttered by practitioners are “OSS” (meaning I understand, I will etc. or nearly every time a response is required in the dojo) or as the Japanese describes it as the word of all words for karate practitioners. Fitness and body conditioning exercises form a large part of most training sessions. Respect and discipline between practitioners remains present throughout and at the end of a class the five maxims are recited followed by the traditional bow.

8. You’ve been practicing karate since you were four, how has it changed your life?

Now at age 49, I am still able to do the splits fully and train everyday with persons much younger than me – all as a result of a continuous and dedicated IJKA karate way of life. My training in the gym, apart from my karate training, includes a rigorous training programme with a combination of plyometrics and often unconventional training to fire fast twitch muscle fibers, all done with a karate mindset. I will for example do planks for 10 minutes as a warm up as a strong core is vital for a solid karate base. I also follow a very strict daily eating plan, which includes a zero alcohol and sugar intake. My motto in life is to always maintain a disciplined and focused outlook in the ultimate quest to get fitter, faster, better, stronger and leaner than the year before. This is only achievable if one remains focus, dedicated and true to oneself.

9. Have you used the skills that you have learnt in a real life situation?

Once have I had to defend myself in a real life situation, but luckily for me (or perhaps the attacker), it didn’t escalate any further. All it took was a well executed kick to the head of the attacker which rendered him instantly incapacitated – a win win situation for both of us as he kept his knife and I kept my smart phone. On one or two other occasions I have merely assessed a situation and knew when it was time to just walk away. I am always of the opinion that to avoid conflict is the better option in most cases unless conflict becomes unavoidable or if your life is in danger.

10. You follow a strict eating plan (no sugar and no alcohol). How necessary is this for people practicing IJKA karate?

I do follow a strict eating plan (no sugar and no alcohol) yes, however this is not necessary for people practicing IJKA karate as these are merely my own personal goals and aspirations to live a healthy lifestyle. I was born with a liver condition so my alcohol intake has always been something I have had to watch by only consuming one light beer a week. After a while I even cut out the one light beer a week completely as it made me feel sick and bloated (a bonus for a low body fat percentage in any event). I have over the years found that my body reacts best to a low body fat percentage when competing especially when taking into account speed and movement and from a healthy lifestyle perspective.

11. Do you remember how you felt when you first walked into a dojo?

I remember it like it was yesterday. My mom made the necessary enquiries by phoning the local karate sensei as she thought I was way too busy for a normal 4 year old and needed something to channel all that energy into rather than taking it out on my sister. My first class didn’t go all that well as I was so scared of all of these karate people in the dojo and desperately needed to go to the toilet, but was too scared to ask for permission, which ended up in me wetting myself on the floor. My mom (like any mom would) luckily came to my aid and we both left the dojo a little embarrassed after the cleanup and apologies. Two days later I was back in my new karate suit, which I refused to take off after class, and slept in that night. Sadly, my first sensei from that time passed away at the age of 83. He was like a father to me and I owe so much to him, little knowing of course at the time when I first walked into that dojo, that karate would become a career choice later on in life.

12. Why did you decide to pursue karate as a career?

I studied to become a lawyer and after finishing my articles decided that sitting behind a desk and wearing a suit all day was just not for me, although and ironically today, I am wearing a suit all day albeit a white one. In 2009, I decided to pursue karate as a career choice by becoming a dojo head and full time karate instructor, the best decision I have ever made. I now teach IJKA karate full time to almost 300 students in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg, including some previously disadvantage kids as part of my social responsibilities to uplift the local community. I have qualified myself as an international karate instructor, examiner and judge with IJKA, so I am fortunate to travel the world on behalf of IJKA SA. I have been to Japan 8 times to train under the Japanese, safe to say, it of course being my favourite destination. I love what I do and wouldn’t change it for anything. I find it incredibly rewarding to teach karate to students and to see them grow and love karate like I do and to pass on my knowledge.

13. You speak about the grading. Please clarify how that works, if a black belt is 1st Dan, what is 5th Dan, and 10th Dan?

A black belt in essence is the commencement of a Dan (level). In IJKA we don’t usually refer to a practitioner as a First, Second or Third Dan but rather in the Japanese way of speaking such as shodan, nidan or sandan and so on. The minimum waiting period between Dan grading is prescribed by IJKA with the age and aptitude of the practitioner taken into account. I myself only graded for my shodan at age 17 and I am currently ranked rokudan (6th Dan). Funakoshi Gichin sensei (10th Dan and founder of modern day karate and Kato Sadashige sensei (10th Dan) both had a huge involvement in the development of karate worldwide.

How has your relationship with karate changed since you first started? So what was your reason for participating when you were 4? And how does that reason differ to why you’re doing it now as a career?

My relationship with karate has changed quite a bit from those beginner days. In the early days, and as a young coloured belt and novice, it was merely a case of copying and emulating your seniors, whereas today I have to be that role model for so many students who look up to me. So what initially started off as keeping a busy 4 year occupied and learning how to defend himself from the school bully later turned into competitions and today being the Chief Instructor of IJKA SA in the country. We start off learning karate as white belts and once we become black belts we continue to learn and never stop learning, so as for your black belt to become white again from all the wearing, blood, sweat and tears over the years, thus for the circle to be completed by becoming a “white belt” again – as humble and eager to learn as you once were when you were a white belt.

14. How uncommon is it for someone over 40 to still be competing in tournaments?

In general, I would say it is not that common, however in IJKA we do not let age define us as we have a veterans and senior veterans division at both our provincial and national championships for both novice and elite competitors. The opportunity therefore exists for IJKA karate practitioners to test themselves against others on a provincial and national platform in kata and/or kumite. The age bracket in IJKA karate for adults is set at 21-39, 40-50, 50+ and even 60+. There is no weight limit for IJKA tournaments and anyone can therefore enter to compete obviously taking into account that they are on the required standard to represent their dojo, province or country.