The Genius of the Late Toru Takamizawa…

Written by Steve Rowe. Posted in Articles By Steve Rowe

I’d like to talk a bit about the genius of the late Toru Takamizawa (1942 – 1998).  Toru, (as he preferred to be called) was an integral part of the Karate scene in the UK and Europe for many years before his untimely death in his 50’s from cancer.

He broke away from the other Japanese Wado Ryu Sensei to found and run the highly successful Temple Karate Centre in Birmingham and headed one the first ground breaking large multi style Karate groups in the UK called “Tera Karate Kai”.  Many of our top Karate Sensei and organisations today, including myself, emanate from those roots and owe much of their training and success to the late Takamizawa Sensei.

He went on to form the Takamizawa Institute of Karate (of which I was the first Chairman) to teach his unique concepts of movement in the Martial Arts, and relocated himself locally to me in the Medway area of Kent.  When the other splits of the Japanese Sensei came about in Wado he realigned himself to his original Sensei Jiro Ohtsuka and was able to get back to his roots before he died.

Toru was the youngest of seven children born to a Samurai family in Nagano Prefecture Japan, who he claimed were disgusted at him taking up the “foreign” Okinawan art of Karate at university which he told me was regarded as a “blue collar activity” and practised by the Yakuza. He graduated from university with a degree in Russian and came straight over to the UK to assist Tatsuo Suzuki to teach Wado Ryu Karate.

In my view Toru was the fastest, most fluid, most powerful and without a doubt the most technical Japanese Wado Karateka that I have ever seen – and I have seen just about all of them, past and present.  He was also the most informal, personable and humorous Japanese Karateka that I have ever met.

In 1985 we published “Concepts of Karate” through TAKRO (Takamizawa and Rowe) in two parts “The structure of Tsuki and Keri” and “The structure of Uke and Dachi”.  We produced them on an old Amstrad computer and printed them on an old Gestetner machine in a friend’s garage, but these books were Martial Arts goldmines and I’m sure that those who purchased them in the ‘80’s treasure them now.

I would love to get them republished for their Martial Arts value, but wouldn’t dream of it without his family’s consent.

What I can do is to explain in my own words, what I think it was that made him a unique genius back in the ‘80’s and what merit his ideas still have in the timeless art of Karatedo.  Although my Karate bears little resemblance to what was his personal style nowadays, if you look under the surface, I still follow and teach his formula of movement unchanged, from all those years ago.

In the forward for “Concepts of Karate” part one “The structure of Tsuki and Keri” I wrote:

“When Karate-do was first introduced to Britain, a lot of its essence was lost in the translation.  The Japanese culture was so different from the British, there was no adequate translation for so many Japanese words, they found it difficult to understand our heritage and us theirs.

The practice of Karate-do could be described as the struggle to see our own true nature, by identifying our weak points, we can learn to overcome them and become stronger.  It is helpful for a teacher to be able to understand the composite parts of the students character, his national heritage, his family upbringing, his schooling and his own individual personality traits to enable him to get the best response. 

Toru Takamizawa brought the “way” of Karate over from Japan to England in 1966, he subsequently married an English girl and made many friends over here.  He settled in the Midlands area opening the famous “Temple Karate Centre” that has produced so many of our champions and quality instructors around Britain today.

Toru is an accomplished linguist and has therefore produced the most capable translations to date, his informal attitude and knowledge of the British mind has helped him become one of our foremost Instructors.  He is unique in being able to utilise his genius in his approach to movement and technique in an entirely fresh and effective manner.  His insight into the practical use of physics, his methods of using the mind to control movement and emotions puts him above any other instructor I have ever known.

We had to get this knowledge documented, and I am only too pleased to be able to assist Toru in putting this series of books together as I know their contents can do much to improve the standard of Karate-do in Britain today.” 

And they did.  He used the books as a reference to all of his teaching for many years and fifteen years later, I still refer to them when researching technique and translation.

He was often accused of teaching “Karate by numbers” but had, in fact not only managed to codify the necessary factors to producing a good Martial Arts technique, but had managed to do it in a way that programmed the students brain to perform it successfully.  In other words he hadn’t just codified it academically but also practically from a coaching point of view.

Two major factors on Toru’s Karate were SPEED and SAFETY and much of his teaching was oriented towards these ends.  His own remarkable speed had to be timed to be appreciated, it seemed that he hit you powerfully with apparent ease – he didn’t look fast because he moved naturally.

He would stress the difference between natural movement and moving naturally.  Karate was not natural movements but practised, skilful techniques done in a natural manner – a big difference!  He would not allow us to use the term “relax” because of its connotations with laziness, but would insist on the term “without tension” to be more correct.

He would also not allow us to use the term “kick” for “keri”.  As he would say “kick” is what an Englishman does to a football or a tin can in the road and is a swing of the leg pivoting from the hip, whereas “keri” is any motion of the legs and therefore includes “kick” but is not limited to it.

Instead of aggression or anger he would talk about inbuilt spirit or energy “Toh Shi” or “Toh Kon” (as in Shi Kon).  Although it was Okimitsu Fuji my Iaido Sensei who later named our association “Shi Kon” from the Budo concepts.

All of his techniques were designed for joint safety and to prevent repetitive strain injuries from long-term training.  The calm attitude and tension free movements allowed for greater control in pairs work.

When I was reading books on Zen, Buddhism and Taoism he would chide me and encourage me to read science, physics and how the brain functions.  He would stay awake all hours watching Open University and applying the science taught to his concepts of movement.

All of his ideas sequenced the programming of the brain, if we made a mistake by stepping too long or wide, we had to correct it by moving the foot that we had moved to the wrong position to correct the correct (notice I said “correct” and not “right” another of his linguistic corrections) side and part of the brain! 

I can remember him collecting endless English sayings to translate for visiting Japanese, his confusion when a student told him that he was looking harassed because he had been “running around like a blue arsed fly!”  And on another occasion when a student told him that he had been “burning the candle at both ends!”

Words like “dear” confused him as it could mean expensive, emotionally attached, or confused with “deer”.  The different pronunciations of words like invalid would sometimes have us in fits of laughter!

But Toru loved language and it’s use and this really helped him to find ways of coaching his ingenious training methods and he was a character that will be sadly missed by many in the Martial Arts world. But like many great Martial Artists, they live on through their teachings and I feel it’s good that when you are taught by a certain method it’s good to know where it came from.

Part 2

Takamizawa Sensei was way ahead of his time in regard to effective technique with regard to long-term joint safety for the practitioner.  When computers started to be more widely used in the early eighties he likened programming the human brain to that of a computer.  He devised a system of letters and numbers that related to the essential knowledge required to deliver an effective technique safely.  He claimed that it was an adaptation of the computer ‘hook’ technique where by pressing a key on a computer you could produce a whole screen full of information, his ‘keys’ meant that our mind could raise a mass of information by simply remembering these essential key letters and numbers.

He would teach the information, ‘tag’ it with these codes so that it was easier to remember and easier to teach and these ‘numbers’ would gradually disappear as our bodies absorbed the information.  The codes were also an excellent way to check our own technique and grade the students. 

Takamizawa was often accused of teaching ‘Karate by numbers’ but his detractors only saw a small part of the method and were unable to understand the full genius of his system.

Let’s have a look at his boxing mobility footwork system:

Takamizawa studied Newtonís Laws of Motion, Kendo and Boxing with regard to the problems that most Karateka encountered and came up with the following guide:

TN1, 2 & 3 (T for Tobikommizuki, N for Nagashizuki).

TN1 Projection of bodyweight forward with the back leg (and foot).

TN2  Take (or move) the back leg (and foot) forward very quickly without dragging (TN2d) or hanging it behind (TN2h).

TN3  TN1 plus TN2 backwards.  (TN1 and TN2 is to project you forwards and you reverse it to move backwards)

He understood that in punching the fist is simply the part of your body that made contact with the opponent and that it was essential to utilise and mobilise all of your bodyweight effectively to gain power.  This system moved it in the most effective way and also meant that you were not left vulnerable as you always kept your feet under you and was able to attack in a continuous fashion (as in Kendo).

He timed the punch as follows:

As the ball of the lead foot touches the floor begin the punch, as the heel touches complete the punch.  This meant that the force created by the movement of the body flowed continuously into the punch and as speed is distance divided by time you gained maximum distance in the shortest possible time giving the maximum speed.

Takamizawa looked at the kicking techniques and came to the following conclusions:

Standing on one leg in a combative situation is dangerous; the technique therefore requires speed and needs to be effective.

Many Karateka were causing injury to themselves by bad technique and aggravating the injury through ignorance.

He categorised them into two major groups, those that were ìswing’ motion (front and round kick) and those that were ‘thrust’ motion (side and back kick).

He coded the kicking motion with the letter ‘K’ (for ‘Keri’) as follows:

K1f   Take the ball of the foot off the floor.  (This avoids delay, preventing the energy from going down into the floor and then coming back again.  It also prevents ‘telegraphing’ the movement.)

K1r  Keep raising it.  (This prevents collision injury and ensures the force does not go straight to the opponent.)

K2b  Raise the knee as high as you can before snapping or thrusting.  (Without doing so the swing will go up rather than straight or there will be no thrust motion.)

K2a  Return to the K2b position after snapping or thrusting.  (Doing so the force will go straight and you are ready to attack again.)

K3  Snap or thrust without extending the leg fully.  (To protect the knee joint, increase speed and make you less vulnerable.)

K4m  Must move the supporting foot between K1 and K2b.  (For maximum speed and joint protection for the supporting leg).

K4n  Must NOT move the supporting foot during K2b, K3, K2a.  (Stability and speed.)

K4c  Keep bending the supporting leg as much as possible even during K4m, K4n, thus during K1, K2b, K3, K2a respectively.  (To prevent damage to supporting knee, improve quality of technique, maintain balance and assist TN1 to spring forward after technique.)

Most students just couldn’t give the learning process enough time to understand the genius contained within this system and those looking from the outside couldn’t possibly understand.  Nowadays there are many ‘progressive’ Sensei in the Martial Arts who study technique this deeply, but in the early eighties Takamizawa Sensei was years ahead of his time.

For Ushiro Geri (back kick) he added another four code numbers:

UK1  Choose the correct supporting foot position when you turn relating to the opponent.  (Distance and direction.)

UK2  Turn to the correct direction pointing out the opponent with the heel of the supporting foot.  (To aim the kick.)

UK3  One foot touches the floor at a time whilst turning.  (For speed)

UK4  The inside line to be put on a line when you turn, without putting both feet on the floor (see UK3) at the same time.

Bearing in mind that he turned inwards to perform the kick and never looked backward whilst kicking so as to not twist the spine.  He would also complete the kick and return the leg before turning to continue forward as he used it defensively only.  I remember one Summer Course where he performed this kick at blinding speed proving that it could be done as fast as a front kick and then ran out of the leisure centre doors and disappeared for some minutes..  returning with an impish grin to explain that after the kick one would run away and not try to turn and fight!  This was typical of his cosmopolitan sense of humour.

It is almost impossible to put these principles and the many others he introduced into print as you had to see his dynamic demonstrations to understand.  But I had to try to give credit to the source of so much inspiration and instruction that takes place in English Karatedo today.

I think that everyone is always in the right place at the right time, Takamizawa was gifted and cursed with being one of the first of the ‘new breed’ of thinking, inspired individuals who seem to litter the Martial Arts nowadays.  His other gift and curse was that he was a Japanese whose mind was capable of improving traditional methods

in a way that we westerners could understand.  At different times of his all too short life he was alienated and respected by both his adopted and natural nationalities.

May he rest in peace safe in the knowledge that he inspired so many people in the Martial Arts including myself to study much deeper than we otherwise would have.  His personable character, enthusiasm for study and remarkable sense of humour will be missed by many.

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