Sensei Kase’s influence on Shotokan Karate

Sensei Kase’s influence on Shotokan Karate since 1964
Written: July 2000 by Dirk Heene

When Sensei Funakoshi came to Japan in 1923 he brought with him a large background of Okinawan karate. The mysterious reasons for which this man emigrated to Japan certainly had nothing to do with the noble task of propagating karate in Japan.He lived in poverty and sustained himself by doing cleaning jobs. This period of soberness gave Funakoshi the opportunity to observe the rich budo-experience of Japan and to draw conclusions from this.

He was a teacher in Okinawa and in the period of 1923 to 1940 he brought about strong change in Okinawan karate.

His son Yoshitaka took over these changes and intensively practised them during the second world war. In contrast to his father, Yoshitaka put karate at the service of the military government (since 1943). Anyway, karate knew an enormous evolution in that period, aimed at reality and efficiency.

In 1944, young Sensei Kase came into contact with this fundamental change in karate and he was so enthusiastsic that even to this day he keeps on speaking about the influence this period had on him.

Sensei Yoshitaka died young, his father resumed the coaching of the instructions. At his death, Kase joined the instruction of the newly formed JKA (1949). From 1957 onward, Sensei Kase was strongly involved in the JKA instructor courses and he was of quite an importance in the training of, among others, Sensei Enoeda and Shirai.

When Sensei Kase decided in 1964 to go abroad to support instruction there, he as well decided to further study the evolution of Shotokan karate and to help develop it. He studied different pedagogic systems and also did a thorough study of existing Budo information. Kendo, Shintoism, Judo, Taoism and even astrology were studied by him in solitude, in order to find points of comparison with karate instruction.

On Wednesday, 26 July 2000, in the five-day course in Andorra and in the presence of about 70 experienced karate teachers, Sensei Kase gave a survey of his ideas concerning his evolution and instruction since 1964.

First phase of evolution

Funakoshi came to Japan and compared the Okinawan karate system with the Kendo-system from Japan. After the Tokugawa period there was approximately 300 years of piece in Japan. The war was over and there was more time to improve techniques. Large techniques were designed (O-WAZA) to develop power and speed.

O-WAZA (large techniques) stood for amplitude, power, speed
KO-WAZA (short technique) are too difficult at first and will lead to cramped techniques

The aim is to evolve from O-WAZA to KO-WAZA

Second phase of evolution

Some basic techniques were often used and in the correct way; others got less developed, such as the open hand techniques.

Sensei Kase decided to change this and he brought about a development I nthe use of the open hand, in defence and well as in attack. Defence was bent into attack in order to harm the opponent. Originally leg techniques were quite simple but Sensei Kase gave them another dimension, e.g. urishor geri – formerly only practiced backwards and now rotating.

Third phase of evolution

SEI-TE WAZA developing into HEN-TE WAZA

SEI-TE technique with arm or leg
HEN-TE several techniques with an arm or leg

We have 2 arms and 2 legs. Principle: 1 for defence 1 for counter-attack These techniques are done with 2 arms. New evolution: 1 arm works as 2 arms 2 techniques (nidan waza) or 3 techniques (sandan waza) with one arm/leg. Instead of using 2 techniques, this adds up to 4 or 6 techniques. Sensei Kase got this principle from Muramotu Musaishi’s thinking (Go rin no sho); he always uses 2 swords as well and not 1 sword with 2 hands, as tradition prescribed. e.g. defence jodan-chudan counter-attack jodan-chudan

Fourth phase of evolution

Timing of defence
Traditionally a defence movement comes at the end of the attack. When Okuyama asked Sensei Kase to observe the rain, he knew not what to think of it. Kase sat for a long time, watching and not really knowing what he should observe. When he was about to stop, Okuyama asked him to hold on a bit longer. Kase gradually began to discern the raindrops and next he could also follow the trajectory of an individual drop. His eyes got used to seeing certain subparts, facets of movement.

We shoud view an attack in the same way: not watch the movement from start to end, but from the initiation movement in the spirit to the start; from the start throughout its traject and from its arrival to its penetration.

One must learn to observe the attack in different phases:

♦ the start, coupled to the initiative
♦ the 1st ¼ of the trajectory
♦ the 2nd ¼ of the trajectory
♦ the 3rd ¼ of the trajectory (= ideal defence movement)
♦ the arrival of the technique

Defence has to come at the ¾ timing movement and not at the end, where the power is 100% and in full force.

In the end the eyes have to do the work and finally the feeling


This brings one to dimensions such as “TO-ATE” and “DE-AI”. The DE-AI principle is usually trained as counter-attack with kisame tsuki, but it had better be used as defence.

Fifth phase of evolution

Breathing is a vital and energetic part of technique and action. The use of abdominal breathing or vertical breathing is very important. The diaphragm and hence the hara-region are used more and more by the movement. By techniques such as ‘sandan and nidan waza’ the hara region and ensuing the ki-flow get enormously stimulated. This enables one to level up and to surpass techniques.


Shotokan karate knew a strong evolution from 1923 to 1946. Funakoshi Gishin and his son Yoshitaka developed karate in an enormous way.

The foundation of JKA in 1949 gave karate a fundamental structure in which basic techniques and a methodology were laid down.

In 1964 Sensei Kase left Japan

Between 1950 and 1964 all was standardised and thus retained conservatively.

Sensei Kase wanted to work with the ideas of 1946 without denying the set values of Sensei Nakayama.

The training principles of the JKA-system are very good up to a certain level. But one should not come to a standstill.

The act of searching, creativity and experimenting as challenge will lead to new discoveries and finally to valuab le experiences.

The essence of KARATE is in “the empty hand”.