Each month we will be running an interview with black belts from many styles and many countries. Some will be well-known to you while others will not. If you would like to be considered for an interview please email Roy Stanton by clicking the email logo below.
This month we take a look at: HOOSAIN NARKER
Hoosain Narker was born in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1963. He has been continuously training since the age of 11 and has trained with many styles and with many notable Karateka - the late Sosai Masutatsu Oyama among them.
Director of Ashihara Karate International, Hoosain Narker has shown himself to be a skilled Internet promoter and web designer as well as being a multi-talented martial artist.
A.M.A.D. - Welcome to the Australian Martial Arts Directory and thank you for your time.
H.N. - It's my sincere pleasure and thank you for honouring me.
A.M.A.D. - According to your "bio" you started martial arts training in Shotokan Karate at age 11. What was your motivation to begin training and what made you pick Shotokan ?
H.N. - Well, I was singularly impressed
with Bruce Lee and the early flood of Kung-fu movies and that was the major
reason for starting me on the "Way".
What probably pushed me even more was that I was very short and plump and I used to be ridiculed and bullied. I used to go to the movies thrice a week to watch the same film.
Coming out of the cinema, I was one of those boys trying to imitate Bruce Lee and all the flying and jumping kicks which featured predominantly in movies of that era. Bruce Lee's outstanding physique had me envious and I spent hours in training trying to gain a similar looking body. Today I'm still looking for that elusive "body". I started with Shotokan, as the dojo opened down the road from where I lived. It could have been any other style - but it was convenience, little knowing that years later I would open my own dojo in that same hall.
A.M.A.D. - Cape Town would have been a difficult place to grow up in in the 70's. Could you tell us what role (if any) Apartheid played in your decision to pursue a career in the fighting arts ?
H.N. - I wouldn't really attribute my decision to make the Martial Way my career to "Apartheid". Cape Town, more than any other City in the country, was less rigid with its adherence of the application of Apartheid Policies. In the initial years it was OK in training. Fortunately I trained with "Non White" (as people were classified then) instructors, so we were not directly exposed to Apartheid in training that much. My instructor and other "Non Whites" could only train on Fridays and Sundays at the "White" owned dojo's as the laws did not allow mixing of races. Around the time when I started, teams were still selected from the various colour groups - rather than one national side. When I started training at the Kyokushin Headquarters, Multi Racial training was then allowed under a blanket permit which allowed other races to train openly at "white" owned dojo's. Training was good, but I can distinctively remember the few Non whites being excused after normal class ended, the curtains drawn and the "whites" only received extra training where they were taught kata, etc. Because we did not know the advanced kata which was not taught in normal classes, we could not progress.
My former Dohai (Training Partner) -William Quantoi, was a brown belt for more than six years, he started training in 1969 and only obtained Shodan in 1981. In fact, for example, he was already a brown belt when Kenny Uytenbogaardt (now 6th Dan) was still a blue belt, but because of racial differences, Kenny Uytenbogaardt received his 4th Dan in 1981.......... now tell me, does that not sound like blatant racism ? Even when I went to University, I had to get a permit, as I was classified "Indian", and as the University was technically for "Coloureds" only. It is obstacles like that and many others that forged my character. I am thankful for being exposed to some of those disadvantages. But coming to why I decided to make karate my career. In 1980, I became a member of Robert Trias's U. S. K. A. As part of my resume, I listed three goals. They were : 1. To have my own dojo; 2. To be the editor of my own magazine and lastly 3. To be an International Instructor. Looking back, I have achieved all those aims. Whilst not the editor of my newsletter/magazine anymore (my students are doing that now), I'm still involved in helping with the layout, etc. Here I must mention that computers are absolutely amazing, I remember doing my first couple of newsletters with Lettraset - what a tedious project that was..... Due to enjoying karate more than anything else, I decided that was what I wanted to do all my life (God Willing naturally). After a brief spell in the education profession, I quit as a school teacher and went full time into karate. I have never regretted that move, although there has been lean times, generally I have been relatively successful at earning a decent living.
Hoosain performing a textbook Tobi Yoko Geri. Impressive considering the unstable sand surface and the height generated by a man who is 5ft. 6
A.M.A.D. - You would have been around 15 years old when you started with Kyokushin Karate. Could you tell us a little of what the training was like then ?
H.N. - The training was very hard. Lots of physical training - push ups, sit ups, body conditioning, etc. After having started with Kyokushin, I didn't want to do anything else. The rugged training really appeased me. Training at the Kyokushin H.Q. was hard and intense. The standard was very high, more so with the calibre of today's instructors who were the seniors then. I was regularly being beaten up for venturing into the seniors class. I am thankful for that hard training - I think that is what has developed my "Spirit of Perseverance - Osu no Seishin." Nigel Jackson, a Shotokan instructor told me that Kyokushin wasn't for me, he said, "It is for the mean and big blokes" I was very small and probably soft. A few years back, I ran across him at a National All Styles Championships, and he was both amazed and impressed that I was still in the game and for the position that I occupied.
A.M.A.D. - Meeting Sosai Masutatsu Oyama must have been an awesome experience. What are your memories of the man ?
H.N. - It was an awesome experience meeting this person who was such an enigma to me and millions of others. Before meeting him I was in awe - The great "bull killer" and not only was I going to meet him in person but I would also be training under him for a solid week. I have a 1958 edition of "What is Karate" and his earlier exploits are reviewed in there including many pictures of him in his prime. When he arrived at the airport he was met by a couple of hundred karate ka, if I did not know who he was he would just have been another short stocky Japanese, but I knew so well who he was. His presence had that aura which was dominating. Not only that, at seventeen I also had his books "What is Karate(1958 & 1973 editions), This is Karate, Advanced Karate and some others", so I knew that he placed great emphasis on TENSHO, gyakute and basics. Now what I have been doing was learning the kata from books and polishing it at the dojo by peeking under the curtains when kata was busy being done. So when Sosai Oyama arrived, I had a fairly good understanding of the kata. The first opportunity that I had, I cornered him and I performed TENSHO, I think he was somewhat amazed and he said something like it was a "Big kata with small movements or a small kata with big movements." A small group of onlookers had gathered to see me enjoy the spotlight when it was noticed by the powers that be, they whisked him away, saying that I was not supposed to be doing that kata......What was fun was for that brief moment I had his undivided attention.
What probably readily attributed to him giving me the time was that soon after his arrival I had him autographing all the books that I had of him. That also gave me an edge because it made my face familiar and he always gave me a sort of nod when he saw me. Training was nothing special. Basics and more basics. This I had read up in the Kyokushin magazines so I knew what the format of training would be. Kancho Oyama (as he was known then), was not impressed with many of the Dan grades. He moved them to the back and the colour belts were moved forward. This meant that I was placed near to the front. That was great because then I was under the scrutiny of his two assistants. Many people have trained with him, some for long periods of time. What probably is different - was that I came from a background of oppression, and here I had the opportunity to train with a Legend. Years later, because of the Sanctions and U.N. Embargo against this country, those having a S.A. Passport could not go to Japan. The dream that I had to train again with that great man never materialised. That made me cherish so much more the brief time that I spent with him.
A.M.A.D. - It seems you are fairly well known in South Africa as "that crazy guy who lets cars run him over". Was Sosai Oyama the inspiration for this event and why do you keep doing it ?
H.N. - Looking back now, I have to agree......"Crazy", that is what I was. Those years I was glued to the TV watching "The Strongest Karate" and "The God Hand", the videos of the 1st & 2nd world championships. Indirectly Sosai was the inspiration. I even tried his bottle breaks - dangerous stuff that. The vehicle stunt I saw in "The God Hand" when Ferhat Ozsert of Turkey allowed a vehicle to ride over him. As I was training very hard, it was in my mind to try that too. What I first did was to have wooden battens broken over my stomach (saw something similar in the Strongest Karate). Just prior to my eighteenth birthday I felt I could do it. At that time I could do one thousand sit ups, no sweat (now fifty kills me). (Infact, at High School, I did 1001 for a Physical Education test and was awarded a certificate of merit) After doing the first stunt, it was relatively easy.
The last time I did it was in October 1996 intheSeychelles. My Representative there - Egbert Moustache, mentioned to the newspapers I had done that in the past. Before I knew it, I was cornered into another time. Now this you must know, I have not been training as hard as I used to in the past.........subsequently I have grown more softer- it's all this teaching and the growth of the organisation that keeps me away from training as much as I'd like to. I must tell you that I was worried......, knowing I am not in my prime, coupled with leading a "softer" kind of life had me doubting my ability. A few days prior to the stunt we had a training camp and I had the opportunity of working overtime, (thanks to Kyokushin for allowing me to develop the spirit of OSU!). I had the students jumping on my stomach, standing on it whilst I was relaxing and lots of sit ups. Looking back I was probably crazy with worry.... could I still do it or not? When the day arrived we had to travel by boat to the main island which took three hours. The sea was choppy and that did not help. Finally the moment arrived, t v cameras, photographers, spectators, and butterflies (in my stomach). This was the thirteenth time- I'm not a believer of no. 13 being unlucky, but then you never know. I was told by Egbert that the expression on my face looked quite normal - a plus, as I always try to have an inscrutable face.
Wow I did it - in retrospect it wasn't so bad - but that was the last - now I must leave it to the young guys. Enough of the rambling - why did I do it again and again?......to me it was a way of proving "mind over matter". Even though I'm not big, I'm only 5"6' (166 cm) and not a particularly gifted Karate ka.........I could show that if you trained hard enough and if you believed in what you did anything was possible. Let me quote " anything that you dream, by the very nature that you dream, makes it possible." What makes me feel great is that when I was 9 years old, I lost the sight of one eye. I had to really adapt and work harder with that disability.
A.M.A.D. - You were quite young when you opened your first dojo. What advice would you give to young Karateka looking to run their own dojos ?
H.N. - Firstly get in as much training as you can. To do as much, to compete, travel, do things.......etc. Once you have a responsibility it starts taking away from your quality time. The more your dojo develops the less time you have for yourself. Therefore rather open a dojo after you have done what you wanted to do. Naturally if you don't want to do any of these things I mentioned .........then go for it. The satisfaction gained from sharing your knowledge is simply amazing, knowing that you are contributing to some one else's development is a fantastic feeling.
A.M.A.D. - What inspired you train under Kancho Hideyuki Ashihara and was his Kyokushin background a deciding factor ?
H.N. - Joko Ninomiya (now the Kancho of Enshin ) was my boyhood hero. I liked his style of fighting and knew that he was no longer with Kyokushin. I have also seen Ashihara Kancho performing Sabaki principles on both the Strongest Karate and the God Hand and I also had a number of Japanese magazines featuring him. I therefore knew quite a lot about him and knew too that Ninomiya was his student. When the opportunity arose to follow them we (Myself and William) grabbed it with open hands. We were of the first group of foreigners to get involved with Ashihara Kaikan. At that time, Ashihara Karate was not as formulated as it is today as Kancho was still busy developing the system. We were fortunate to grow with the system as the style developed. The fact that his Karate was full contact with the same ruggedness as Kyokushin was a plus, the deciding factor was his insights and philosophy. Later as we learnt more about Sabaki and evasive techniques we knew this was the style for us.
A.M.A.D. - How many dojos are you currently running and what is your estimate of the number of students studying Ashiharakai in South Africa ?
H.N. - Well, currently my organisation is represented in fifteen countries. In South Africa we have two full time dojo and a number of sub branches in gyms, schools, church halls, etc. Conservatively I would say that in S.A., we have approximately 1500 + members. My biggest membership is in India where Shihan Bulsara has about 30 000 members.
A.M.A.D. - Do you believe that martial arts training is "too soft" these days especially when compared to some of the training techniques employed by some of Karate's "legends" ?
H.N. - Definitely, I only have to compare how I trained to the training I am giving now. However, whilst it is not so hard , it is definitely more scientific. Better training principles, i.e. exercise physiology, usage of training equipment such as pads, mitts, etc., coupled with a different approach to training. In our dojo more time is spent on technique than on conditioning or fitness. It is expected of the student to see to those in their free time. You come to the dojo to learn karate, improve technique...... not fitness. You must remember that in the old days, (my time) instructor's were more concerned with producing champions or tough fighters as it was more about the instructor's or dojo's reputation, rather than about maintaining students. Those days too people in general were far more tougher. Today's youth are exposed to a better life, tv, video, Internet, etc., and no longer want to endure hardships. Today's instructors, especially if they are full time must consider student retention, since no students - no money. Therefore better methods, motivation, psychology, etc. is the name of the game.
A.M.A.D. - Pressure point fighting, grappling and Jujitsu styles have flourished in the 90's, often raking in big money for dubious instructors. What are your feelings on these styles and do you think the business end of martial arts is detracting from the spirit of the art ?
H.N. - There is a market for all styles of Martial Arts. Each one has its merits and offers to the students what they are seeking for. Grappling and pressure point fighting has awakened teachers to the shortcomings in their repertoire. That is good. Cross training in other styles and methods can only enhance your own abilities which should be to the betterment. The more people getting involved in training Martial Arts regardless of style can only aid in it growing. The popularity means that we have an audience to whom we can teach traditional values such as respect and discipline and attributes such as co ordination, balance, agility, etc. Unscrupulous instructors and/or dubious instructors will always exist. Where ever money can be made you will always find them popping up. Commercial instructors teach to make money and might not necessarily be qualified. Since they are only in it for the money, commercial instructors, or those with dubious qualifications will close up shop if their schools don't quickly generate a profit. Generally they are the ones who advocate contracts and belt guarantees, etc. This should be treated with reservation.
Due to the fragmentation of the Martial Arts some sort of control is virtually impossible. What we must do, and hopefully your directory will be one such medium is to educate the public into the realities. This way we can make it difficult for those guys to get away that easily. Another approach is for the "authentic" guys to get their act in gear and become more professional and improve their marketability. Being dependent on teaching karate as a profession, naturally I would advocate a business approach. However, I do believe that it is important to understand that we are in a service oriented profession, therefore we need to deliver a service of greatly needed and highly valuable benefits to offer the very best to our students. Should we do this, then only can we justify the business aspect. I feel that many professional instructors teach because they love what they are doing and intrinsic rewards such as seeing the many positive changes they produce in their student's lives or ensuring that their arts are imparted to the next generation also serves as other forms of payment.
A.M.A.D. - Many people are now beginning their martial arts training relatively late in life (30's and 40's). What encouragement would you give to those whose fitness and flexibility isn't what it could be at 16 or 17 ?
H.N. - First of all, one has to determine why they are starting training - the following is quoted from my site " for some Martial Arts is a means to learn how to defend ones self against an attacker. For some it is a way to strengthen the body. Others may be attracted by the inner discipline and development one finds through training." Once you know the reason why they are training then you can motivate and teach accordingly. Coming back to your question- I usually advise beginners to take it easy, to only do as much as they themselves are able. Here I cheat a little, I don't have beginner classes and anyone joining has to fall in with a normal class. Once they are in training they are subtly motivated to push themselves, even though I said that they should go easy on themselves. Since they are training with others who are in the dojo perhaps a little longer than they are, I found that they constantly pushed themselves because their partner were a little better in repetitions than they were. It is a fact that as we get older we tend to lose flexibility and strength, etc. Therefore it is important for any beginner to have realistic expectations. Once "older" beginners understand that they won't be able do as the younger beginner then half the battle is won and their mind set is adjusted. It is important to motivate them constantly, many times external influences affect their training regime e.g work, family, etc.
A.M.A.D. - One of the big challenges for any martial arts instructor is how to keep interest in their very young pupils. What do you do and what mistakes have you made ?
H.N. - The first thing I advocate is that training for kids should be fun. I place emphasis on the development of self discipline, agility, balance, co ordination, self confidence and some basic self defence skills. If children don't enjoy it, they won't learn it, they won't come back to training. I was fortunate in that I taught physical training at a primary school in 1984. Having learnt about learning modalities whilst doing psychology coupled with learning the didactics of teaching certainly gave me a better understanding of how to deal with children at a primary school level. Subsequent Exercise Teachers Courses gave me the opportunity to learn even more. Teaching Physical Education to hundreds of primary school children was the perfect opportunity to put it into practice.
There are many books specifically written for the teaching of Young Martial Artists and many magazines carry articles on various topics which is of great value in the teaching of kids classes. Asking me what mistakes I've made is a heavy job. Having worked constantly with kids and having read up on various sources all the time as well as my time in the teaching profession coupled with the courses that I did - I can say that the mistakes I did never remained mistakes for long. Due to constantly learning "new" methods, I could constantly come out with different ideas and ways to make the learning interesting. I would recommend those teaching children's classes to do likewise. Read up and you will have new ideas to implement - that way too, your classes will never be boring.
A.M.A.D. - What would you consider to be the highlight of your martial arts career to date ?
H.N. - That is indeed tricky. As I grew older - what I considered as the highlight of my martial arts career changed. The most vivid of these many highlights was meeting and training with Mas Oyama. Another was that on the eighth anniversary of our dojo we promoted our first group of students to black belt. Other important highlights was my participation in the U.S. Open Championships, but what touched me the most, and will always remain strongly in my mind, was when after deciding to quit the Japanese Ashihara Organisation, I was followed by all my students and later by many others.
A.M.A.D. - What do you consider the most important aspect of training in the martial arts ?
H.N. - The development of the human self, ie. creating a well adjusted human being.
A.M.A.D. - Thank you for the interview and we would like to extend a warm greeting to all your students, uchi-deshi and associates.
H.N. - My pleasure. [END]
Hoosain Narker's site Take a look at this site to find out more about the man and his style, Ashihara Karate International.
Be sure to look in on our interview with SHAHARIN YUSSOF next month