San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Supreme Karate Instructor Teaches Harmony

IF there is an ounce of truth in kung fumovies then Costa Rica did have an armylast week, if only of one man, during the visitof supreme karate instructor and 10th degreeblack belt Hirokazu Kanazawa. He met withstudents and instructors in his schools herefor five days while making the rounds of hisCentral American outposts of a revival ofphilosophy in karate.In 2002, Kanazawa attained the highestkarate ranking possible, making him the onlyperson in his federation of schools and one ofan extreme few in the world with such a title.Nearly 30 years ago, Kanazawa left theJapan Karate Association (JKA) and formeda network of schools called ShotokanKarate-do International Federation (SKIF).His mission was to re-instill a focus on thephilosophy of karate – something that hethought had been ignored in JKA.“Harmony and respect are okay,” he said,meaning those are desirable. “JKA meansonly fighting.”ONE of the men who were instrumentalin bringing Costa Rican schools into the federation,Francisco Estevez, elaborated:“There was a time when JKA only createdfighters. Sensei’s (Kanazawa’s) philosophyis oriented to developing the person.”Kanazawa, 73, said his and JKA’s methodsare two ways to achieve the same goal.Now, his schools span the globe in 120countries. Eight are in Costa Rica.An element of the philosophy he is tryingto rescue from the combat is the concept ofthe Hara, a point on the body four inchesbelow the navel that is considered the body’scenter of gravity.“Many kinds of training develop Hara,”he said. “Movements, intention, breathing,all must be in harmony.”AFTER judging Costa Rican karate studentsfor their capacity to advance levels, hesaid he was surprised with their ability,which he ascribes to the instructors.“Most of them have very good physicalsense, good timing, good movement, stance,hips, abdomen,” he said. “Good hip work ishard to achieve without work on the Hara.”When asked, he doesn’t mention the abilityto leave whole biker gangs curled up andgroaning on the floor as one of karate’sattractions. Rather, he said he devoted hislife to the sport and its instruction for altruisticreasons.“I would like everybody to becomehealthy and happy,” he said. “Strong spiritand body, then they can do for society, countryand world.”He believes karate is a path to worldpeace – there is a respect involved even inthe language of the sport that teaches peopleto respect different cultures. The commandsand names of movements in karate are allspoken in Japanese, regardless of what languagethe students and instructors speak.IN Japan, he said, “when we play baseball,we use English. In karate, we useJapanese. It’s respect.” He said that kind ofrespect promotes world peace.Two years ago, he began training Israelisand Palestinians and last year he offered thefirst international championship between thecountries. It took place on the Palestinianside in a building that was surrounded witharmed guards to prevent violence. Whereasbefore they would not speak to each other, hesaid, some of them left that championship asfriends.The eight schools affiliated with SKIF inCosta Rica teach those principles to morethan 200 students. Estevez and Alex Vargas,both 4th degree black belts, brought the firstschool into the fold in 1998.Estevez said the difference betweenSKIF schools and others is that the SKIFinstructors are counseled by qualifiedJapanese instructors, which is not always thecase in other schools.VARGAS said the benefits of training inthe SKIF model are not limited to the sportyaspect of it, but also the traditional aspect.“We think about how to win over ourselves,”he said, “not over others.”For a month of lessons, three times perweek, the going rate in SKIF schools is¢9,000 ($20.60).For more info, call Vargas at 261-1022,or e-mail him at

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