According to the www.ashiharakarate.co.za, Ashihara Karate International (AKI) is a modern style, with a new and dynamic training approach. Although modern, it retains the positive aspects of traditional karate, such as Kata and Kihon and, of course, discipline. AKI is a separate and distinct system and organization started and developed by Kaicho Hoosain Narker, who has more than 40 years experience in karate. Find more about AKI, the characteristics, the global and development strategies, the relanshionship with NIKO and Romanian practitioners in an interview by AK MASTERS.
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AK MASTERS: – How does AKI differ from other similar organizations and what are the basic principles?
HOOSAIN NARKER: – First of all, we consider ourselves a service organization and as such, we try our utmost to deliver the best service to our members viz administration, technical, etc. One of the reasons I’d separated from the previous organization was that we’d sent money to Japan for certification and then either it took months to get or they just never sent it which was not good because students expected to get what they’d paid for. We pride ourselves on our effective communication and service delivery. We stay in touch with our members via social media (Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram). We have regular circulars being e-mailed and Whatsapped to our members in different countries. We have a range of manuals: student handbook and kata guide (actually, my kata guide was the first one out ever – prior to my syllabus and kata guide, Japan did not produce any). We also have an Operations Manual to teach our members how to operate their dojo in a more efficient and professional way. If the instructors do well financially, they can afford to honour their obligations to the organization and when they invite any senior instructor, it does not have to come out of their pocket. The core of our karate remains the one of Sendai Kancho Hideyuki Ashihara. Two kata we have made slight changes to, but other than that we practise the 15 kata that were done prior to Kancho’s illness. What we have added is the various ways of doing the kata in application. There are some technical differences to how we do things, but this has been added by my learning and interaction with other styles to understand better what we are doing, because of the exposure to sports science and the input of our seniors having backgrounds in other arts. All this is still in line with the Sabaki principles.
– The AKI organization includes members from several countries. How difficult is homogenization given the cultural characteristics of each?
– It has been a long and arduous road in getting member countries to the same desirable standards and we are still working on it. One of the most challenging countries where we also have a huge membership is India. Due to the size of the country and its number of members, it has taken regular visits to improve the overall standards. We are starting to win there. One of the benefits of doing Japanese karate is that we use the same terms indifferent of what country or language – this has helped the teachings. What has added the standardization process is the growth of the Internet viz YouTube, Whatsapp, etc. We can now exchange video clips or look at techniques and give feedback much better and easier than before when one had to physically be there. We have been running a ”distance program” where students learn Ashihara-Karate from DVDs and manuals – their progress has been exceptionally good.
– Why are so few AKI Branches in the Eastern Europe, a place where there are many karate practitioners?
– When I’ve separated from NIKO, some of the then members of NIKO, because I was helping them with informations (student handbook, grading syllabus, kata guide, etc.), chose to follow me. Others had met me on travels I made – like Shihan Tony Martinez in 1988 whilst training with then Shihan Jōkō Ninomiya, in the USA. In 1999, when I spent six months travelling through the USA, we met up again and he immediately chose to follow me. Shihan Harry Gorter I met at the European Summer Camps and he too chose to join us a few years later when he heard about the formation of the AKI. What helped them learn about me/us was the growth of the Internet. Later, others joined either from NIKO or from other styles on finding our website(-s). There were people writing to me from various countries in Eastern Europe about joining, but perhaps language, our membership criteria, etc. made them not continue. It is difficult to pinpoint… We do have a small group in Poland and I’ve visited some former USSR countries where I had taught. So I am sure that in future, there will be others that will become members. Often I tell people don’t join us, just associate for mutual benefit. In that way, they get to learn from us and us from them; if they are happy, they will stay, if not – no one loses anything. Some NIKO people in countries I visited are perhaps afraid of talking to me in fear of being ostracised. For many years, originating from Denmark, people were given negative impressions of me/us, so some were hesistant to even come and train. But probably the most important is that we have not aggressively been seeking membership (people join us because they want to, not because we are seeking them out). Thus far, we had no one leaving us for another organization after being a member. Our fee structure has been extremely low and reasonable. We do not charge exhorbitant rates. When people join, we just don’t issue them with membership or rank certificates; some abilities must first be demonstrated.
– How AKI global strategy is made and what is the influence of worldwide club presidents in decisions?
– Since its inception, we, at Ashihara-Karate, have viewed ourselves not only as a sporting organization, but rather primarily as an educational institution. Over the years we have developed into a community based organization actively stressing the importance of scholastic performance. Children and adults are not only taught, but in most cases are shown by the example of their instructor the true meaning of decency in personal conduct and respect for all life and property in all ways. Generally decisions are made by me in consultation with our senior members at our headquarter; there are seniors at our Honbu who have been training for 30 years. Because of that wealth of students that are still in the dojo, we have matured well. Last month we celebrated our 37th anniversary and we are still going strong. People that I consult on organizational matters other than our black belts at our Honbu include Harry Gorter (Holland), CA Tamboli (India), Harihar Mohanty (Fiji), Hilmi Asal (Turkey), Sunit Gupta (USA) and until his recent passing, also Shihan Tony Martinez (USA). We have grown because of the input of our members! Many have expertise in other areas and we bring that into our organization. Next year we will be having our second World Championships, in India. At that time, the structure of the AKI will be properly implemented including the World Sabaki Federation. Then there will be continental structures, etc.
– What is AKI’s global development strategy? How do you see the organization in the coming years?
– We have been fortunate to attract several seniors members with backgrounds in other arts. This wealth of knowledge has and continues to filter down to our members to improve their understanding of not only Ashihara-Karate, but Budo in general. Whilst the goal is still the mastery of our beloved art of karate, in our modern world it is a necessary educational requirement, especially at brown and black belt levels, to learn a little about anti-grappling techniques, clinch range techniques, reality based self-defence and similar topics. Our students also write theory tests for each belt which can only enhance their understanding of Ashihara-Karate. At our South African Honbu, students must bring copies of their school reports – we monitor that – if there is no improvement in their progress at school, they are not allowed to test for higher belts, no participations in tournaments, etc. However, we then provide assistance to those struggling at school as we have many parents who are teachers and they freely avail their services. This is being implemented in many of our branches around the world. It has been our mission to help each affiliated club grow and prosper in order to become true sources of information in their communities. We try to teach our members that they have an obligation not only to Ashihara -Karate, but also to their various communities to teach a good karate, therefore it is imperative that they improve their skills. The AKI as such has purpose and direction – our vision gives us a sense of the future whilst our mission gives us a purpose. As we are community driven our achievement is through people participation. We have grown one step at a time and continue to attract members from a broad spectrum of martial arts wishing to follow our way. There is no rush to have many members, but rather to service our existing members and then others who come by. We have inherited several members from NIKO days that were not totally clued up on Ashihara-Karate. Slowly we are winning and now most of the practice globally in our dojo resembles Ashihara-Karate as experienced by myself and other seniors under Kancho and Shihan Ninomiya. This standardization has been achieved (done) through constant regular trips abroad by myself or senior instructors, access to DVDs and other video materials so as to update our instructors. After our World Championships next year, we will be implementing a program where all countries will gather for the updating of technique. We had our last World Cup in 2010 – the next one will be in 2018, eight years later. The standards worldwide have improved considerably due to the aforementioned reasons and thereafter should improve much faster. Together with one of our senior black belts (Erik Petermann, author of three best-selling books), we have just completed the draft of a new technique book; by December we will start the picture taking and we intend launching it at our World Champ in October of next year.
– What is the relationship between AKI and the Japan NIKO organization?
– We have none! When I’d separated from NIKO prior to the passing of Sendai Kancho, I severed all ties with them. Our kanji states Ashihara Kokusai (Ashihara International) and our round logo (Ashihara Karate International) – so there is some difference in that. Our identity which we have been promoting since our establishment is that of the AKI.
– What do you know about Romania and Ashihara-Karate in Romania? Have you ever had any contacts with Romanian practitioners / senseis?
– Many years ago I was in contact with Mircea Cârloganu– probably from around 1989-1993. Due to your political system and lack of resources, etc. I had shared with him the Ashihara video material and also our kata guide / student handbook. Our interaction basically came to a stop after a visit I made to Japan in 1993. Than I did not write much to him. He did contact me years thereafter when he was involved with Tsu Shin Gen, but I do not know what happened to him since then. More than 35 years ago I was in touch with Nicolae Bialokur, the then Kyokushin rep, but after he moved to Switzerland, our communication decreased.
– Finally, a few words for our Ashihara-Karate public here in Romania.
– I have not visited Romania yet – one of the few countries of Eastern Europe that is on my wish list. So perhaps someday it will happen. Especially, Transylvania. At that time, hopefully I can do some training interaction with any dojo where I will be welcomed – it’s about mutual learning.