Is Hirokazu Kanazawa (10th Dan Hanshi IMAF) the greatest exponent of Shotokan Karate. For me, yes. And here’s why…
“Enoeda was the powerhouse, Shirai was the leader, Kanazawa was the technician” were the words Hanshi Terry Wingrove used when I asked him his first impressions of the Shotokan masters when they arrived in England in the early 1960s.
And to me, Kanazawa was indeed the technician. I can normally watch a Shotokan Karateka and tell if their Karate comes from Kanazawa or Enoeda. The latter stomp where the former glide.
This post is not a biography of Kanazawa Sensei. There are plenty of those on the internet already. It is a look at some of the aspects that, for me, make him the greatest of the Shotokan Karateka.
He trained with Funakoshi
Kanazawa Sensei was one of the “university generation” of Shotokan students. He was not of the first generation of students like Makoto Gima (Shoto Ryu) or Hironori Ohtsuka (Wado Ryu) he was one of the youngsters who, led by masters like Masatoshi Nakayama studied the art in the Tokyo universities. Kanazawa however was training at a time when master Funakoshi was still overseeing classes. We cannot underestimate how rare and how precious it is in 2014 for a living Shotokan master to have trained under Master Funakoshi, who let’s remember trained with Sokon Matsumura who was born in 1798 – that is a strong lineage going back a long way.
He never gave in
In the 1950s Kanazawa was fighting in the first ever Japanese Karate championships and broke his hand. With a bandaged broken hand he went into the finals and won, using just his kicks and his other hand.
Later when he came to England, a Wado Ryu instructor failed to break a board on national TV. Kanazawa was called in to save face for Karate. Despite the board being extremely thick and hard Kanazawa Sensei broke it “because he had to”
He researched the origins of Shotokan by training in Shorin Ryu in Okinawa
One of the styles most closely related to Shotokan’s origins is Shorin Ryu (Kobayashi Ryu) established by Itosu’s student Chosin Chibana. Kanazawa and Enoeda went to Okinawa to study the style with Yuchoku Higa but only Kanazawa was accepted to train. This training gave Kanazawa a new dimension and saw him creating new forms based on older kata like his Koryu Gankaku.
He studied Chinese internal martial arts
Kanazawa Hanshi began training in Tai Chi many years ago and practices the Yang style 24 form, the same form as is taught in Bushinkai. He is a strong advocate of Tai Chi in his Karate training.
He integrated Kobudo into Karate
Many Shotokan instructors do not teach weapons, but Kanazawa Hanshi taught Kobudo weapons, chiefly the Nunchaku a great deal.
He cross trained in Goju Ryu
Kanazawa teaches a number of Goju Ryu forms including Suparimpei. He seems to be close friends with Goju Ryu master Morio Higaonna and it may be that the two have trained together.
He was a magnificent physical specimen
Kanazawa had a physique that rivalled that of Bruce Lee. In fact in the 1970s, Kanazawa with his ripped physique and Nunchaku forms pretty much was the Bruce Lee of Karate. However Kanazawa was more proven as a fighter and enjoyed far greater longevity as a teacher. And yes, he did do some acting.
He taught many of the pioneers of British Karate
As the first chairman of the Karate Union Great Britain, Kanazawa Sensei taaught many of the pioneers of British Karate. After Vernon Bell teaching Yoseikan Karate for around eight years, Kanazawa Sensei introduced the more technical brand of Shotokan. Among his students were Bushinkai’s mentor Shihan Handyside who graded blackbelt under Kanazawa in the 1970s.
He performed Kata beautifully
Fortunately Hirokazu Kanazawa was captured on video performing all of the Shotokan Kata. In performing all 27 kata flawlessly his skills shine through. A Goju Ryu or Wado Ryu practitioner may not like the deep stances, but nobody can deny, at his chosen style, Kanazawa Sensei is perfection.
Even today he is going strong and teaching the next generation
Kanazawa Sensei runs his own organisation SKIF and he is also director of Kokusai Budoin IMAF’s Shotokan Karate division.
He is the consumate teacher
After some 60 years of teaching Karate around the world Hirokazu Kanazawa Hanshi is now considered a Soke, the grandmaster of his own branch of Shotokan, with his sons set to succeed him.
Not Shotokan master since master Funakoshi died in 1956 has done as much to spread the art as Kanazawa Hanshi, in my opinion. Arguments can be made for masters Nakayama and Nishiyama, but for me, Kanazawa is THE master
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