Farewell, Hirokazu Kanazawa

"Yoshiharu Osaka sensei was always the textbook of shotokan," one experienced karateka said."True," his colleague replied. "But Kanazawa sensei was always the book of its poetry."

Stories of Hirokazu Kanazawa are a soundtrack of post-training bull sessions. Kanazawa, who won the first All Japan Karate Championship in 1957 — with a broken wrist. (When his mother heard he was dropping out of the competition because of the injury, incurred only days before the event, she asked him why he couldn't win with the other hand and with his kicks, compelling him to stay in. Moms then, and Japanese moms in particular, were a little different.)


Kanazawa who, along with his roommate Takayuki Mikami, was one of the first graduates of the Japan Karate Association's instructor-training program, where his skills were polished by Masatoshi Nakayama, Hidetaka Nishiyama, Teruyuki Okazaki and other members of the JKA whose names are still spoken with reverence.

Kanazawa, who established the United Kingdom and Germany as centers of karate excellence in the West, who was forced to leave the JKA — or who voluntarily left, according to whom you believe — and who founded almost single-handedly an organization that remains among the strongest karate groups in the world.

Clearly, there are lots of stories, some of which are less well-known. Like Kanazawa's repeated sojourns to Okinawa for serious, long-term study of its karate — which flew in the face of a JKA that's always been arrogant and provincial in its refusal to consider such cross-training.

Like his embrace of tai chi, which he credited with improving everything about his budo and which doubtless did much for the synergy of his art, giving it the suppleness and flow that are missing in most iterations of JKA karate today — which explains the comment about his karate being the poetry of the art.

And there are lots of examples of his extraordinary character. One of the least-known is his inspiring humility, his genuine lack of pretension. He always insisted on demystifying the whole "master" nonsense.

Some years ago, Kanazawa visited the offices of Black Belt. He posed for hundreds of photos, performing over and over again the kata known as jion, which were to be used to illustrate an article about him. Over lunch, he answered the editors' questions graciously.

One editor asked, "What is your definition of a sensei?"

Kanazawa smiled. He turned toward one of the two students who had accompanied him, both Japanese, and he spoke in that language.

"Best thing that could happen for American karateka to do is to quit using 'sensei' at all and just start calling us kusobera-san." A visitor who was at the table laughed, prompting Kanazawa to ask, "Did you understand what I said?"

The visitor did. Instead of using paper, Japanese toilets in the feudal era had smooth sticks for cleaning oneself. Kusobera translated as "poop stick."

What Kanazawa meant, he went on to explain, was that students should forget about the "sensei/master" mystique and recognize that teachers are tools, humble tools, meant for improving the lives of their students. They should be treated with respect but not as objects of near-worshipful devotion.

Kanazawa died late last year. He was 88 years old. He was one of the last of the karateka who could consider Gichin Funakoshi to have been a direct teacher. He was one of the most influential martial artists of the last century, as well as one of karate's most inspiring champions, teachers and leaders.

Kanazawa's tens of thousands of students and readers — he wrote several texts on karate — might find it odd that a poop stick would figure in his obituary. Hirokazu Kanazawa, however, the man, the karate sensei, the subject of all those stories, might have found it satisfying.

Introducing Martial Arts School Listings on Black Belt Mag!
Sign Up Now To Be One Of The First School Listed In Our Database.
SUBSCRIBE TO BLACKBELT MAGAZINE TODAY!
Don't miss a single issue of the worlds largest magazine of martial arts.
Photo Courtesy: Dawson Holt via Instagram

The 2021 Diamond Nationals took place on October 8th and 9th, the first time the prestigious event has been hosted since 2019. World class competitors gathered in Minneapolis, Minnesota to test their skills in forms, weapons, point sparring, and more.

In the early 2010's, Ken Warner (otherwise known as ZenInc on YouTube) always shared his "Top Five" on Facebook after major sport karate events. Reflecting on these posts has inspired me to write a top five article of my own for the Diamond Nationals, and I plan to continue writing these articles after each tournament I attend. Special thanks to Ken Warner for his contributions to documenting sport karate history. Without further ado, here is Jackson's Five for the Diamond Nationals.

Keep Reading Show less
Asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases of the airways of the lungs. In developed countries it affects 7- 10 % of population, and it has got an increasing tendency. In 2014, around 300 million people globally had asthma, mostly in North America and Europe and with lowest rate in Africa.
Keep Reading Show less

Bruce Lee Birth Anniversary: Looking Back At 'Way of The Dragon', And Why It's the Most Underrated Movie Of This Martial Artist

Bruce Lee's Back Exercises for Explosive Punching Power and Speed

Did you ever wonder why Bruce Lee was so focused on training his back muscles?

The back is like the core. It stabilizes the spine and shoulders. It also connects the power of your hips and arms to push, pull, rotate, and punch.


The force of your punch relies on your body, not just your arm. The power of your punch is generated by moving the mass of your body. The tension your muscles can create will determine the force and speed they can produce. There are many factors involved in developing your punch. However, strengthening your back is a good place to start and you will see instant changes in speed, power and explosiveness of your punching technique.

Keep Reading Show less