Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Karate, their life.

Recently I had the chance to read both Tatsuo Suzuki (WIKF Wado founder) and Hirokazu Kanazawa's (SKIF Shotokan founder) autobiographies. For all their similarities (both had studied under their respective style's founder, both played a role in the global spread of karate, and there is even a subtle reference to each other in both books), these personal stories are very different.

Suzuki Sensei's book reads more like a conversation with him at a coffee shop. It starts rather autobiographically with some details of when and where he was born and about his family, but within 10 pages, he's reached the age of 19 and delves head first into a discussion of karate, including an anecdote of how Ohtsuka Sensei had once forgotten Superimpei.

The book continues as such, following a rough and occasionally chronologically challenged progression of Suzuki Sensei's life. It is also rather short, at just over 150 pages of text and photos, so the action builds rapidly; indeed, exciting run-ins with the yakuza, arrests, and fights at a young age abound before even the first half of the book is over.

But it is also an intriguing look into the life of someone who has experienced Wado-Ryu almost since its inception. His years of international Wado experience also means that anyone within the style will likely be able to tie themselves in with one aspect or another that Suzuki Sensei discusses. Though at times a little difficult to follow, for instance when he is discussing his life in England and then switches to another thought that occurred to him or even when events are only given vague dates, it is still interesting to follow Wado's expansion.

In stark contrast, Kanazawa Sensei's book is a properly structured biography. He accounts very linearly (and with great detail) his life from the earliest point he can remember and spends as much time discussing his childhood experiences as he does his adult life. He relates stories and memories that have shaped his outlook on life and I really began to see how Kanazawa Sensei approached everything he does.

The book is funny too, with many incidents of hilarity. Such as when Kanazawa was given a package of lotus roots as a present and, upon seeing them filled with holes, threw them all out not knowing they are naturally as such. His friend never let him near another lotus flower afterwards without bringing that up. Or his quest for vengeance against an evil "sumo geezer".

Of course, since it has more pages, Kanazawa Sensei also manages to talk more about his training, from the people he met to the hours or techniques he practiced, there is simple more to read about. One difference I noticed was that Suzuki Sensei, though he discusses his training, often seemed to train alone or with one or two students in tow. Kanazawa Sensei, on the other hand, had rather more social training recollections.

It is easy to greatly respect both gentlemen for dedicating their lives to karate and for also having been trained somewhat by their style's founder. Both talk freely about their joys and hardships (such as Suzuki Sensei's one-time damaged reputation or Kanazawa Sensei's expulsion from the JKA Shotokan), and how they faced helping promote karate around the world. Although, in the end, I found Kanazawa Sensei's longer, more linear book to provide more depth.

Suzuki's Book: Fullness of Life in Karate (website states out of stock)

My Life, Hirokazu Kanazawa


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