Exclusive Interview: Yukimitsu Hasegawa – 7x World Karate Champion

7 times world champion.hasegawa

That sounds like something a fake “McDojo” grandmaster would put on his business card.

But…

In the case of Yukimitsu Hasegawa, it’s as real as it gets.

Born and raised in the cradle of modern Karate, sensei Hasegawa has long been known as the front man of the dynamic trio of The Hasegawa Brothers, winning WKF world titles for many years in both individual and team kata, back in the days.

He actually popularized many of the kata we compete with today.

After a career like this, most people would probably quit Karate, right?

Not Hasegawa sensei.

In fact, when he’s not busy coaching, traveling or teaching – he still competes at local tournaments or secretly joins classes in other dojos!

(Trust me, I trained with him under Sakumoto Tsuguo in Okinawa this summer. Imagine my surprise when I’m suddenly practicing kata next to the legendary Hasegawa Yukimitsu!)

He’s also a brilliant salsa dancer, but that’s another story. ; -)

Now, thanks to my friends at Sportivart, I managed to hook up and steal 30 minutes of time for this exclusive interview with him.

Are you ready?

Check it out…

jesse_hasegawa

J (Jesse): First question! When and why did you begin Karate?

YH (Yukimitsu Hasegawa): “I started when I was 15 years old, simply because I saw my older brother practicing Karate. It looked fun.”

J: Did you win tournaments directly from the start?

YH: “Oh no [laughs]. I was really bad at first! But after training diligently, I eventually got my first medal in three or four years of practice.”

J: Has Karate changed since you started? Was it very different back in the days?

YH: “The basics have not changed. Kihon is still kihon. But speed and power are definitely more important today, especially in tournaments. It’s more athleticism. Even regular training has changed, as training methods progress.”

J: So why did you choose to specialize in kata, and not kumite?

YH: “First of all, in my dojo we never separated kata and kumite. They went hand in hand. My sensei always said: “Only kata, no no. Only kumite, no no.” True Karate has both elements. However, as I became better, I could be selected for the Japanese national team if I specialized in one category.

Since both me and my two brothers enjoyed kata, we decided to form a kata team, “The Three Brothers”. We got selected as the national kata team of Japan.

But don’t misunderstand this, I have always trained both kata and kumite in the dojo. I still do. That’s Karate. It’s just for tournaments they have been separated.”

J: Right. But you’re not only a former champion, but also a great coach. What are some “secrets” to become good at kata?

YH: “There’s only one secret. Practice [laughs]! And always practice correctly.”

J: What do you mean by correctly?

YH: “That’s the difficult part. I cannot answer it for you. It depends on the individual. Everyone needs different practice. You must ask yourself: “What is the right practice for me?” Think deeply about your own training.

This mindset is very important, because you can also achieve a very high level by practicing badly!”

J: Really?

YH: “Yes, if you practice incorrectly for many years, you’ll become very good at performing bad Karate.”

J: Haha, that’s so true!

YH: “And many people can’t see the difference.”

J: So, generally speaking, what are some common mistakes you see when people try to practice “correctly”?

YH: “There are many. I will only mention the ones I see commonly in the West. For example, some Karate practitioners, especially kata competitors, seem to think that movements must always be performed in a hard way. It looks very stiff. No feeling of flow in the movements.

This is a very basic level of waza (technique), but despite training for many years they never develop it to the next level.

Also, I see a lot of artificial breathing. It’s clear to me that the purpose is not to breathe. It’s to make loud sounds, to seem more impressive. It’s the same with excessively slapping one’s gi.”

J: Indeed. How else would you say Western and Japanese Karate differs?DSC07222 (501x640)

YH: “Well, my experience with the West comes mostly from Europe, and I see a lot of Shotokan here. Very much. This is different from Japan, where the four major styles are equally popular. Shito, Shoto, Wado and Goju-ryu. Everyone are really good at their respective styles in Japan!”

J: Is Shotokan similar in Europe and Japan?

YH: “No, very different…”

J: How?

YH: “Many aspects. In Europe, people have superb speed and power. They are very strong physically. But they have little idea about the meaning of the movements, the bunkai. This is something we think about a lot in Japan. What do the movements mean? How are they used in self-defense?

If you don’t know this, you are not practicing a martial art. The techniques become more sophisticated when you know the meaning of the movements, because then you can show the correct feeling.”

J: I totally agree! Nevertheless, when I teach bunkai to people who compete, they start rolling their eyes.

YH: “That’s a mistake. Because even if you only use kata for competing, a good referee will award you higher points if you are not only doing the physical movements correctly, but also expressing the real meaning of each kata, which you can only understand by practicing bunkai.”

J: Couldn’t have said it better. Now, here’s something that’s been bugging me: When you look at modern kumite and kata, it seems very disconnected. How can people bridge this gap?

YH: “By understanding basics. Kihon connects everything, always.”

J: Please explain!

DSC01953 (640x372)

YH: “On the surface, kata and kumite look very different. But the mindset must be the same in both. You’re always fighting. And the basics of fighting; strength, relaxation, timing, visualization, power and speed are all practiced in kihon. The basic movements, and especially the mindset, of a world champion in kata and a world champion in kumite are exactly the same.”

J: Being a world champion yourself, I have no doubts that you’re right. Can you describe your favorite experience or memory from competing around the world?

YH: “Yes. 1992. World championships in Spain, me and my brothers. 6th gold medal. Good memory. This was the last world championship we won before they introduced the new flag rules.”

J: Good times! Lastly, what’s your hope for the future of Karate?

YH: “Seishin.”

[Note: When I heard this word, I almost did a tripple backflip out of my chair! Seishin is the *exact* same name I chose for my newly launched Karate uniform (the world’s first crowdfunded and crowdsourced Karate gi). I mean, how big are the chances?! Universe was definitely trying to tell me something here.]

J: Uh, what? Seishin? (In a calm voice, trying not to freak out.)

YH: “Yes, in English this is ‘Spirit’. I hope that the future of Karate will not just be about having fast techniques, or being strong. I want people to understand the spirit of Karate. Make more friends, help the weak, learn from each other and live a meaningful life through Karate. This is ‘Seishin’.”

J: Awesome! And if you could give one final advice to people who want to achieve greatness in Karate, what would it be?

YH: “It’s impossible to give just one… Stay motivated. Set personal goals. Think hard about your training. Why are you training Karate? To learn more techniques? To become a champion? To protect a lady? Find your motivation by asking “Why”. Then find the best ways to improve. And never give up!”

J: Very good. Any last words?

YH: “Love and peace [laughs]!”

27 Comments

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you, Jesse-san, for sharing this interview with us. Especially the part on Bunkai seems to speak directly from my soul! I always find it hard to convince people to think about and train Bunkai and sometimes I started to doubt being right about worshipping it so much, but this gave me a new boost to go on preaching about Bunkai, especially for those who want to become someone in competing. Again, thank you! It was just great to read that such a renowned master of Kata thinks the same way, I do. ~ Sören
    • @Soren: Please keep training people to think of bunkai. You might get a dyslexic person in your class someday. I am dyslexic, so bunkai is absolutely vital to my kata. It helps me a lot to think in terms of "the opponent is coming at me from over there so I've got to turn towards him and move my arm that's on the same side as my leading leg in order to block his kick." Notice I don't think left or right - only what the opponent is doing and what I must do in response, and I link crucial movements to each other. I have more tips on dealing with dyslexia in karate: http://abeginnersjourney.bloggersonline.com/?p=61
    • Dod
      Very good to hear a competition kata performer emphasize the importance of bunkai, as kata is nothing without the practical side. But the bunkai has to be realistic. In decades past it has to be said that even (or some would say especially) the bunkai from famous Japanese masters could have been a lot more practical. We have all seen the choreographed displays of three attackers patiently waiting their turn at distances to time an unrealistic attack with an unrealistic block. Fortunately this seems to be changing everywhere due to internet information exchanges, books, and seminars etc. by some well-known practical bunkai specialists
      • @Dod - I agree about bunkai being practical. I'm fairly certain I got this idea from our good host Jesse: why limit bunkai to what a karate-ka would do to you? Why would a fellow karate-ka attack you in the street? Also, I think my daughter and Jesse both told me this at different times - imagine different types of opponents. My daughter and I come up with some pretty hilarious scenarios when practicing in our garage. Evil clowns, hairy bikers, a big, bald, tattooed guy who hates getting a spear-hand strike to his nuts... It works - we remember our katas just fine. I don't think we've ever imagined fellow karate-ka.We've been pretty daring in what we come up with for bunkai. One time in the big weekend gap between classes, my daughter and I had to remember a particular movement *some* way, so we came up with a hilarious bunkai of our own - namely, you brace yourself for some drunkard who's going to blunder into the fist you just used to deck his buddy. It worked as a stop-gap until we could ask Sensei for a more conventional bunkai.
        • Dod
          Sounds fun. Even though it sounds like some of these techniques are not serious and more for helping remember the kata, you have already done more than most by exploring bunkai possibilities with a partner. With experience and experimentation you can replace them with more practical techniques.
          • @Dod "sounds fun"It is fun, and sometimes the best fun is to see how far "off" we were from more conventional bunkai. Then we adjust our scenarios accordingly.That reminds me, we think one series of movements might be to defend against someone with a short bladed weapon. Gotta remember to ask Sensei next class...
      • @Dod - I agree about bunkai needing to be practical. I'm fairly certain I got this idea from our good host Jesse: why limit bunkai to what a karate-ka would do to you? Why would a fellow karate-ka attack you in the street? Also, I think my daughter and Jesse both told me this at different times - imagine different types of opponents. My daughter and I come up with some pretty hilarious scenarios when practicing in our garage. Evil clowns (OK, I admit that's not realistic), hairy bikers, a big, bald, tattooed guy who hates getting a spear-hand strike to his nuts... It works - we remember our katas just fine. I don't think we've ever imagined fellow karate-ka.We've been pretty daring in what we come up with for bunkai. One time in the big weekend gap between classes, my daughter and I had to remember a particular movement *some* way, so we came up with a hilarious bunkai of our own - namely, you brace yourself for some drunkard who's going to blunder into the fist you just used to deck his buddy. Not all that practical, but it was the best us lowly beginners could come up with. It worked as a stop-gap until we could ask Sensei for a more conventional bunkai.
  • jerome
    Seishin! So meaningful! I can't think properly to why i practice karate (except that "karate is in everything". I just have a feeling a little spirit is always behind me telling me to do the karate. And once in a while i feel it inside of me, which becomes a strong moment of truth. Unfortunately, it never comes inside when i want to!
  • Nicole Siaw
    Awesome!
    • Thanks guys, I appreciate it! :-) It's hard to interview Japanese masters, as they rarely reveal their true feelings/thoughts/emotions... This is a common Japanese cultural phenomenon known as "honne/tatemae" (read more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honne_and_tatemae). But in the case of Hasegawa sensei, I think it turned out well! :-)
      • Mike
        And it kinda sucks when people do not know how to converse when an interpreter is there. Hint: don't look at the interpreter. Look at each other. >slapping head for the millionth time<In the photo, I notice that instead of looking at you, Jesse, he seems to be looking at the interpreter. This may not bother a lot of people, but it has become a pet peeve of mine. After a while it can start to feel like the person is having the conversation with the interpreter rather than with the other main party to the conversation/interview. Or maybe I'm the only one who cares about this. (?)
        • And sometimes you are better at Japanese than the interpreter is *facepalm* :P
  • Carissa
    Jesse san this is a great interview!! The part on bunkai is great. I totally agree with him. Think outside the box. Just with natural block, you can get out of many many different grabs.
  • "Everyone needs different practice."That's what makes it an art. Excellent interview, sir!
  • Good morning everyone!Everything in this interview is amazing. Thank you sooo much, Jesse, for delivering good stuff like that. It's a great way to start my day :)Seishin, expresses exactly what i feel about karate.Why do I do karate? Simply beacause it makes me feel strong, passionate and happy.Btw, Jesse-san, you're becoming quite a legend yourself, man! Your website gives me a lot of inspiration :)
  • Ossu! [bow]Excellent and helpful advice in this interview - thanks for sharing!!!I recently learned a little bit about the kata/kumite connection last week. I admit to a preference for kata and I'm making very good progress on working to enjoy kumite. Last week, Sensei had us in groups of three (yes, even us lower ranks) doing two-against-one kumite. This was my first time ever doing that. I really enjoyed sparring against two opponents at the same time because it was a lot like performing kata.[bow]
  • Ian
    J: Good times! Lastly, what’s your hope for the future of Karate?YH: “Seishin.”J: "Oh, golly, would you like a free Gi?"Haha.You missed a golden opportunity for a little publicity for your new Gi, Jesse-san.
    • Dude, I'm totally bringing him a gi next time we meet! :-) He actually saw me wearing it, and really liked it.
  • Cara
    Was doing exactly this in lesson on Thurs! ! My instructor has us practice katana this way often!
  • Richard
    Very interesting interview, thanks. also this web site. Outstanding. I am 54 and train in Karate 3-4 times a week and I too love kata, it builds on everything I need to live a healthy and happy life. Ous!
  • Kyle Calore
    Oss Jess-sanI love your site and from a fellow karate-ka to another, I look up to you and the knowledge that you have as you've met so many great instructor's.Out of all the instructors you've had the honour of training with, who was the most memorable and why?Also, I can't seam to find this anywhere, but who's the current Japanese karate national coach?Your words of wisdom would be greatly appreciate.Kyle Calore
  • Dave
    I really enjoyed this interview, Jesse. Was it done in Japanese? If so, you don't have a Japanese version of it you could post, do you? I live in Japan and do karate here; I'd really like my dojo friends --especially the younger ones-- to hear what Mr Hasegawa has to say.
  • great interview easy to followI will know totally take on board the paragraphYH: “That’s a mistake. Because even if you only use kata for competing, a good referee will award you higher points if you are not only doing the physical movements correctly, but also expressing the real meaning of each kata, which you can only understand by practicing bunkai.”keep up the great work JesseHarrison
  • Dear Sir.Oss. I the under signed Karate instructor Sk.Amir Sk.Ibrahim,[Karate instructor-Shito-Ryu Stylist ]from India,and Iwant to know about Great Japanese Karate Instructor Shihan Yukimitsu Hasegawa from Japan .Because i want to take Affiliation of Shihan Yukimitsu Hasegawa therefore i request you send me the complete detail's with E-mail address of Shihan Yukimitsu Hasegawa of Japan.My name and E-mail address is given below.Sir i am waiting for your positives reply and cooperation. Thanking you.
  • Hi Jesse,Thank you for sharing this interview and your experiences with sensei yukimitsu I would like to go and train with him one day, can you tell me where his Dojo is and/or how to get in contact with him please?A thousand thank yous in advance mate..
  • Rahul Yadav
    This is really mitivational , good job jesse !! Heartily oss from India
  • Jose
    If he's a good salsa dancer he must have heard or danced to the tunes of "Orquesta Dr La Luz" a very famous Japanese salsa band that was selling out venues and getting Latin Billboard nominations left and right. Nora was/is lead vocals. I've heard that some of the band members held Dan ranking. They broke barriers and gained International acceptance with the Latin cultures. They actually performed a 30 minute salsa set before a karate/Martial Arts show in New York City back in the 90's.

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