Kancho Interview – Thoughts from Kancho

Sydney Smith wrote, “Great men hallow a whole people, and lift up all who live in their time.??? This quote certainly applies to Kanazawa Hirokazu Kancho, whose greatness surpasses many of the martial arts masters of today. For 49 years he has devoted his life to teaching karate-do in over 100 countries, an accomplishment that staggers the imagination. Now in his twilight years as he approaches the age of 80, he has chosen his son, Nobuaki, to share his arduous travel schedule and pursue his passion to teach the art a little closer to home.

I am honored again to have been granted the opportunity for a personal interview with this great man – one who has affected my life in so many ways – whose tireless efforts’ to become the salt of the Earth for the sake of karate’ has left a lasting impression on the minds of karateka around the globe.

We talked for awhile about his vision for the SKIF organization in terms of world-wide influence. His comments caused me to reflect back to the time when Master Gichin Funakoshi chose his best students to venture out to any continent that expressed an interest in learning the art of Shotokan.

“SKIF is an international family, and I refer you to a verse I remember while I was attending Takudai [Takushoku University] which says, ‘For all the colors, regions, and boundaries of humanity, let there be no discrimination.’ My aspiration in teaching overseas has been to foster courtesy, respect, and an appreciation for one another. I have tried to improve relations among people by showing them the budo of karate. And it is encouraging to see results – teaching the karate-do can strengthen friendships and open up new channels of communication. Each time we host a world championship tournament the goal is always the same: Seek peace and goodwill to all who cross your path and you will have followed my example.???

This was no easy task, I thought to myself, as cultural differences have incited some he met to challenge him to fight. Still, for a man to have traveled the world as many times as Kancho, I find his life philosophy to be refreshing and remarkable.

I then asked him to explain what he would do if someone were to approach in a hostile or threatening manner. What kind of response would change their behavior? He took a slow, deep breath, and answered by saying we should always respect our opponent, even if their intent is for selfish reasons or to do us harm. He went on to say:

“In life, nothing can be gained from being angry. Anger will lead to defeat. This negative emotion is stored in the body and will impact your health. The example I can give you is this: If you practice hara (tanden) breathing regularly, you will be able to withstand their negative energy by taking it in the gut. Since this is the power center of the body, the gut can take it. If your hara is conditioned properly, you can convert this negative energy into love energy and send it back from the heart. This has a way of stopping them in their tracks. Try this the next time you find yourself in an argument with someone and watch their reaction. I assure you this is not easy to do, but with regular practice you can transform anger and hate into love energy.???

He credits the novelist C.W. Nicol for teaching him this bit of advice: “The stronger one becomes, the kinder one becomes.??? Kindness, bravery, and strength are the three sides of a triangle. Softness (gentleness), dignity (courtesy, grace) and wisdom form another triangle which is overlapped to form a 6-pointed star representing the human ideal. Your ki (energy) should be both gentle and strong.

I was curious to know, with his demanding travel schedule, how he always manages to look so strong. He replied with a smile:

“There are three types of strength: Suji-ryoku (muscular), naizo-ryoku (internal organ), and ki-ryoku (spiritual vigor). Each of these can compensate for the other when one is declining, or they can enhance the others, making you stronger overall.???

“When I was in my 20’s, muscular strength was the main driving force, with internal organ strength and spiritual vigor playing a supporting role. When I reached my 30’s, internal strength and spiritual vigor became dominant. When I transitioned from my 40’s to my 50’s, internal strength was first, supported by vigorous ki and muscular strength. Entering my 60’s, internal organ strength was surpassed by vigorous ki, and the other two took the supporting part.???

“This strength transition has enabled me to use my body to its fullest potential. Most people use only a small percentage of the body’s capability. Learning to combine all three strengths, we can break new barriers of ability regardless of our age. It wasn’t until my 50’s that I attained my ideal body composition.???

With this in mind I prodded him to share his secrets of how we can best maintain suppleness and flexibility as we age. This is what he had to share:

“Keeping the body supple requires a holistic approach to health. I have used image training with great success. This is a type of self-hypnosis which involves concentrating on a particular organ or body part and visualizing it growing stronger, or not hurting, or healing with total recovery. In some ways you can relate image training to zazen. For example, during the inhale phase you imagine golden particles (energy, health, healing) entering the body through the tanden, and when you exhale, picture black (disease, pain, illness) leaving the body from the mouth.???

“I use the term holistic to include other ways of healthy living: proper diet and exercise, stretching, hara breathing, keeping hydrated with pure water, and eliminating bad habits like smoking. All of these positive factors – together with image training – can enhance your well-being and lead you on a path to longevity. Our bodies are made to last 120 years if we care for them the way we should, so stop thinking that at 75 you are headed downhill. Why limit yourself this way when you can embrace life and contribute your skills, talents, and knowledge to better humanity????

I mentioned that SKIF seems to be unique for its openness to other styles of martial arts and for incorporating non-Shotokan kata and kobudo into the curriculum. He agreed, and pointed out that Master Gichin Funakoshi emphasized there are no styles in karate.

 “We must respect and learn from all martial arts in order to see our own shortcomings, strengths, and weaknesses. We must be open to learning new things and use zentaishi (look at the whole picture) in our thinking.???

As Kancho is always generous with his time, I found myself amazed with his ability to impart so much wisdom on any topic. An hour had passed, but I wanted to stay with him; being in his company kept me relaxed and eager to learn more. It was appropriate that my final question relate to the next generation of karateka and what he wants to be remembered by. He sat back in his chair, folded his hands together and said:

“In my dealings with many leaders and those with positions of authority, I want to stress the importance of conflict resolution and teaching with the spirit of humility. I would like humankind to think of me as someone who’s life has followed the five maxims of the Dojo Kun, which are: Seek perfection of character, be faithful, endeavor, respect others, and refrain from violent behavior. I am a gentle man who practices karate-do. I enjoy giving back to others – more than what they would expect; being a mentor and offering support to those less fortunate; respecting nature and the gifts that our planet has to offer; and taking the time to listen – really listen – to what someone has to say. These, I feel, are qualities that are appreciated as we age. I hope the fruits of my labor can be made known to those who are in their youth, and that they may strive to make a difference.???

Kancho and his devotion to the art bring to mind the words of Friedrich Nietzshe: “It is not the strength, but the duration, of great sentiments that makes great men.??? His legacy will extend well beyond his lifetime.

The author wishes to thank Nobuaki Sensei for his assistance in translating parts of this interview. Without his help this interview would not have been possible.