Russia has always been famous for its individuals who like to live life to its limits. It therefor goes without saying that if it's a question of Karate, then it must be full-contact, without protective equipment or rules.
The Moscow "Sindo Ryu" school, spreading and advancing the Okinawa Te style, is led by Sensei Valeri Maystrovoy (7th Dan in Okinawa Te and Kobudo).
He is also President of the International Federation of Okinawa Karate in Russia, member of the Counsel of Directors of the World-wide Okinawa Te Federation and Head Instructor for the European region.
Valeri Maystrovoy,a legend in the world of karate, student of Meitoki Yagi (10th Dan), Takayoshi Nagamine, (10th Dan), Eihachi Ota, (9th Dan), Hanashiro Naito (6th Dan) is the only Russian to have been offered a seat on the Board of Directors of the Japanese Federation.He stubbornly avoids any contact with the karateka circle in Moscow and does absolutely no advertising whatsoever for his own school "Shorin Ryu".
Here below we publish the exclusive interview of Valeri Maystrovoy that appeared in the Russian magazine "Medved".
Valeri, how did you first get involved in karate?
It was at the beginning of the 1980's. The end of the epoch of late decline in Russia. Karate was strictly forbidden. We trained in sort-of clubs,in gym on the outskirts of the city, disguising ourselves as basketball or volleyball players and as God only knows what else. Naturally there were no exercises with weapons, no kimonos or belts. The sign of the karate master was black pants, and a black tee-shirt. At the door of the gym we placed two guys with a basketball, who in case of danger would give the signal. In addition to this I would work out a few hours a day at home. In those days I was one of the top ten karateka in Moscow.
Okinawa Te is a very tough, even violent form of karate, practically unknown , how were you introduced to it?
Thanks to our Army which was then called "the school of manhood". There was a lot of browbeating, you probably know yourself what I am referring to. I'm a quiet person by nature, but I can't stand being humiliated. From the first day on I rebelled, feeling that I could do something with my karate, and fought them off. I went against the system and soon there was a lot of pressure bearing down on me. I had to fight several times a day for seven months. The most unpleasant discovery for me was though I could fight off 4 or 5 of them at the same time, I couldn't neutralize them. However, surprisingly one day one of my blows, which didn't belong to the classical techniques of Moscow Karate, hit home. The adversary didn't get up again. A little later I connected with a few of the same blows. My opponents understood that they could not break me. But if the system can't break a man then it annihilates him. Another time I find myself facing 15 men armed with only one goal in mind -to make mincemeat out of me. But suddenly,unexpectedly I fell into a sort of state of trance consciousness, probably the months of sleeplessness and violent psychological and physical pressure and taken their toll. If before I had fought to defend my self-respect then at that moment I felt that I didn't give a damn whether I lived or died. My fear of death had completely disappeared.
You entered a state of "empty" consciousness?
Yes, but at that time I neither knew the term nor that only great karate masters with help of psychological training of the subconscious can declench a reflexive consciousness and go into a special trance like state of consciousness called Mu sin, "empty consciousness". On the whole, reaching "empty consciousness" is the main goal of the system of psycho-regulation in martial arts and can be defined with two terms: Tsiki-no - kokoro (spirit like the moon). having the color of the moon which equally illuminates everything, this consciousness enables you to perceive your opponent as a whole, and Midzu-no Kokoro (the spirit like water) - resembling the surface of water giving right reflections. This consciousness makes it possible for you, to forget about attack and
defense and to concentrate on the real intentions of your adversary, thus giving you a real advantage over him.
Attacking, fending off attacks, take place at the level of the subconscious. That is to say that "empty consciousness" - embodies - "the harmony of being". And that the assailant disturbs this harmony. The Karate master subconsciously restores this harmony.
And this consciousness can be attained through training sessions?
Yes, either through psychological training or as it was in my case,my self-defense system automatically switched the brain over into this mode. At that moment I felt that I had no past, no future. There was only the present.
So how did that fight turn out?
Nothing happened. They looked at me, then backed away throwing their stools. None of them dared attack. This fight in which I threw no blows, I consider my best victory.
And you never tried turning to the officers for help?
You are pulling my leg ,aren't you? This system is a system in which they all cover for each other. Anyway, I now feel that a man must resolve his own problems on his own.
Yes, but what if the price you have to pay to solve this problem is you life?
It doesn't matter, by oneself, otherwise life is not worth it. Anyway, each person must decide for themselves.
After serving in the Army, you returned to Moscow?
Yes I arrived in Moscow, went directly to my karate section and said: "Hey, guys, everything that we've been doing so far is real shit. In a real fight when you're risking your life, our karate is not effective, you can't defend yourself. It's all very beautiful but nothing more. But in response to this I encountered only misunderstanding.
And you didn't try other branches?, other schools?
Yes, I did. I went round to all the other gyms in Moscow, trying to make some sense out of it all. I took part in a lot of fights, showing off what I was now capable of. Everybody told me that this wasn't sport, that it was "pure and simple murder". But "their sport" Ihad already tested on my skin. I could no longer go back to no-contact or semi-contact karate, nor did I desire to do so. What's our world coming to anyway.? It's all the same effect spineless tendency - skimmed milk, cholesterol - dangerous for the health, only sex with condoms, A.I.D.S., no-contact or semi-contact karate or with a pile of protective equipment. Unfortunately a real man with his male passions - is becoming an extremely unpopular individual. A simple example, count how many magazines are presently being published in Moscow for women and for gays - at least 15, and for men only two. Men as a class are disappearing.
How did your relations with sportive karate end?
Advising them to reorientate themselves to checkers I decided to give up karate studies.
But you didn't give it up completely?
No, I left sportive karate. None of the "cultivated styles" of karate satisfied my needs. It was completely by chance that I heard from a guy, who had practically no connections with karate, but often traveled to Japan, about the existence of Ancient Okinawa Karate - one of the most secretive and violent styles of karate, bouts are full contact, protective equipment is not used, and there are neither fighting rules nor weight categories. The only blows forbidden are ones to the eyes. I understood immediately that it is was for me.
But as far as I know, they don't let outsiders come even anywhere near this supersecretive school. It is not Shaolin, in which it's now possible to take a two-week training course for fifty dollars and receive a diploma as almost a Shaolin monk.
It's, probably, the most difficult task that I have ever succeeded in accomplishing in my life, which I started working on twenty years ago when I first got into Karate. The man, who had told me about Okinawa Te knew Sensei Hanashiro Haito - the Head of the Ancient Okinawa Karate Sindoryu Sidjuitikay School. He introduced me to him. The main advantage of the training sessions is the esoteric knowledge of the school. This is their greatest secret. Knowing the methodology of the training courses - within one year you can work in full-contact without any risk of injuries.In other styles when they have tried full-contact fights there have been serious injuries.
So what are you trying to say is that Okinawa Te eliminates the risk of trauma?
Yes, in the last ten years there have been no incidents in my school. The reason is quite simple: development of the muscular structure, the ability to take a blow, increase in the thresholds of both endurance and pain. And the main method is the practice of Kata.
And what exactly is "Kata"?
It's the system of fighting movements, like notes and scales in music, which includes all the main actions and movements existing in the style. The person performing Kate leads a meditative fight against several adversaries, attacking at the same time, being of various sizes and styles, and having different techniques for the use of blows and weapons. Kata reconstitutes the conditions of a real fight, and makes you react subconsciously. As a result an automatism of movements and reflexes takes place.
And how did you succeed in becoming a student of Hanashiro Naito?
As I have already said ,I was recommended. He came to Moscow and saw how we worked in the Doju and stayed for a rather long period of time, passing on to me some of his knowledge and since then we have maintained rather close relations. Last year I went to Okinawa and passed the 4th Dan level exam. After the exam I was offered a seat on the board of Directors of the Worldwide Okinawa Te Federation.
As far as I know you are the only Russian to have been shown such an honor?
In classical Ancient Okinawa Karate yes, in other styles, I have no idea. Unfortunately even in Japan the understanding of Karate has been devaluated. Tens of lighter styles have been created. We do not maintain any relations whatsoever with these styles. On the Board of Directors I represent Sindo Ryu - the most violent style of Ancient Okinawa Karate.
So how did the exam go?
Four and a half hours non-stop of exercises, Kata, Kobudo.
Hasn't organized crime approached you with job offers?
Yes, they have, several times, but I never give any thought to such offers, for me they are unacceptable for moral reasons as well as for the soul in accordance with the philosophy of Okinawa Te. I have worked with our Secret Services and Special Forces, trained the instructors of hand-to-hand combat team of the G.R.U. (Russian C.I.A.). This summer I held seminars for analogous structures in Slovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria. I was offered a permanent job in Chuchkovo but I could never leave my own school in Moscow, my own students. All of my first students, both male and female, now have gone on to be instructors of Okinawa Te.
Sorry to interrupt you but are there women who train in your school?
On Okinawa it so happened that women had to protect themselves against Samurais, which is why Okinawa Te is a very interesting methodology for teaching them. From the very beginning Okinawa Te was created as a Karate style for both men and women, and women have always attained great success with Okinawa Te. One girl, who had trained under me for a year found herself in a very unpleasant situation this summer. In the entrance of her building a maniac with a knife twice her weight attacked her. She knocked the knife out of her assailant's hand, and when he threw himself on her for the second time she broke his arm - open fracture - and then called the police. When they arrived and saw this dainty little daisy of a girl and the marauder with a broken arm they just shook their heads in disbelief. It's all down in black and white in the police report. And the most important thing is that she still can't understand how she managed to do it. There you have it - one of the main task of Okinawa Te is to carry out movements subconsciously, like a reflex.
Valeri, but you are training people who can kill with one hand?
Not just with one hand, but also with one leg. I'm only kidding. In Okinawa Te there is a code of rules, one of which states:
"The karate disciple must never use his knowledge in martial arts in the street except in extremely dangerous situations". Anyway, you know, whenever I've bought kitchen-knives or an axe I've never once seen the directions: "Warning. Not to be used for killing or carving people up". But people kill each other, don't they? Anybody can use them in any way. It all depends upon their level of sanity. The teaching of martial arts is not the main goal of Okinawa Te, the main goal is self-understanding and the attainment of the highest law of existence, the perfection of the soul.
And where are the spiritual sources of Okinawa Te?
It's very difficult to answer this question. It all depends on how far we go back in history. But if we are to take something as the first principle of martial arts then it is undoubtedly "Sun Tsi".
In Russia if we consider ourselves to have come from Googol's "Greatcoat", then we can consider that martial arts originated with "Sun Tsi".
Please, go into details.
Sun Tsi was a famous warrior and philosopher who lived in the ancient China of the 6th century AD He wrote a treatise about martial arts. It is the most fundamental and most highly esteemed of the "Seven volumes" of war treatises. It became the Bible of Martial Arts of his generation. Besides a generalization of military strategy Sun Tsi also embodies the notion of the highest law, which everyone on this earth is subject to. It is the ancient conception "In-Yan". There are two cosmic forces; "In" - darkness, moon, night, and "Yan" - light, sun, day. The confrontation, embellishment and interaction of these two forces starts the creation of harmony. This conception is underlined in the famous "Book of Change". Sun Tsi demonstrated the effect of this general law "In - Yan" in the sphere of martial arts, that through an awareness of martial arts there is an awareness of the highest law of harmony.
Any real fight induces a return of harmony in a person's state of being. From here marital arts are the way to self-awareness and self-perfection, when you pass through the art of "Budo" - the way of the warrior. So it turns out that it's much easier to kill someone with a knife than to know oneself.
Please, let me change the subject. Do you take part in competitions?
No, I haven't been interested in this kind of thing for quite some time, to try to prove something to somebody, What's the point? It's much more interesting for me to practice Kata. But my students do participate in different international full-contact tournaments, in fights with no rules. Well, almost without any rules. Every school that runs their tournament thinks up some kind of limits. Don't finish off a man who is lying down, this is permitted, that is forbidden, etc. But if you say that the fight is without rules, then so be it. Everybody stepping onto the mats knows what do expect. You have seen the videocassette of one of our tournaments. I presented boys, who have been studying under me for 2-3 years, 6th Ku Orange Belt - student level. They faced Black Belts - all twice the size of my guys. In the second minute of the first fight my student broke the Black Belt's nose, in the third minute of the second fight another one of my students broke the jaw of his antagonist, also a Black Belt. In the third bout after losing a few teeth and taking a blow to the liver, the third Black Belt was forced to retire. And these students are only Orange Belts. Who do I need to prove anything to anymore? And what am I going to do with them on the mats anyway? I would like to add that in the last ten years of appearances in tournaments my students have never gone without taking prize - winning places.
So what are these "Black Belts" studying?
These guys don't practice real karate, but rather something which I call "military gymnastics". I'm not judging them. Gymnastics is a very beautiful sport, but in a real fight such skills are of little or no use. Unfortunately as for the Black Belt it has no real meaning anymore. The understanding of belts itself has been totally devaluated. There have been guys who studied under me for one to one and a half years, that went on to other schools, and then appeared six months later with their Black Belts. In my school a disciple can take only the 6th Ku Orange Belt test having studied with us for at least a year and a half. He has to master the essential quantity of know-how for his level, as for what goes on in other schools ,I do not presume to judge.
How effective is Okinawa Te in comparison with other styles of Karate or with other martial arts?
As far as effectiveness is concerned none of them can touch Okinawa Te
Which means a person who has mastered Okinawa Te is unbeatable?
Yes, the only thing that can stop Okinawa Te fighters having attained the master level is a bullet. And even with a bullet it is difficult to do away with them. Remember how in Bogomolov's "In August 1944" he described how officers of Smersh "swung the pendulum", to capture an adversary armed with a pistol, they zigzagged towards him taking the advantage of the fact that the sun was in his eyes.
A similar technique was developed on Okinawa over several ceturies. Samurais, in addition to swords with which they could inflict four blows in one second, also could be armed with muskets, and at a later date, with more modern fire-arms. A man had to go up against the Samurai with his bare hands. As a result this technique was developed to perfection. So you can see that the "swinging pendulum" technique was not invented in the twentieth century.
Have you and your students held fights with representatives of other martial arts?
Yes, as I've already said, time and time again in a lot of tournaments.
And what about under more informal conditions, without judges?
We ourselves don't go looking for matches, but during the school's 10 year existence, representatives of almost all branches of boxing and martial arts including so-called "street-fighters" have turned up in our Doju and tried to work out with us under the brutal rules of "Uri Kumi Go", but they soon stopped such experiments. The reason being that in a few cases the outcome of the bouts was so close to being fatal that the decision was taken to end such "brotherly meetings". Almost all of these fights were filmed and furthermore I have saved all the written declarations in which they state that being of sound mind, they know what to expect when they go out onto the mats, and that in case of serious trauma, no claims will be lodged against the club. My demands were met with snorts of contempt but later they found that it was no laughing matter.
You even demanded written declarations?
What did you expect? I know very well what kind of weapons my students master and what they can do with a person who has studied karate somewhat but has had no special training for full contact fights without rules or protective equipment. The person can end up an invalid.
Can't you stop these fights before they lead to knockouts with serious consequences?
First of all they didn't come to us looking for some friendly sparring and second of all in an Okinawa Te bout there are not a lot of blows. As a rule it takes only one or two and it's all over. As it is I asked my guys not use full force. But in a real fight this is very difficult to do especially when your adversary is trying to knock you out.
What kind of members does your school have?
There are wide range of them ,from boys to businessmen and secret service officers. It's nice to know that we are the only school in Moscow in which even Japanese people come to study under our instructors.
Do a lot of them have the guts to last for a long time?
The school is like a sieve. Losers don't hang on for long.
Do you charge money for your lessons?
I never refuse anyone lessons because of money. Those that can pay, pay well and those that can't, study for free, and it's up to each member to decide for themselves.
You are an altruistic person?
Knowledge mustn't be sold for money. This is my principle. But we have to rent gymnasiums, so those who can pay, pay. In general we only accept people after an interview.
And a test of their physical abilities?
Physical abilities are not everything and anyway we can easily develop them. The most important thing is that their views on life coincide with the main conditions of Okinawa Te. Unfortunately sometimes we make mistakes.
After what you went through in the Army didn't you come to hate people?
In Karate the notion of hate doesn't exist. You should never hate your opponent. In a fight you must be calm. Hate is an emotion that uses up a lot of energy. The opponent must either fear you or respect you, and you must be calm. There was one case when two great masters started a bout by standing for a few minutes staring each other down, then separated, agreeing to call it a draw. They were both calm, with an identical strength in their soul.
Is the attainment of a strong soul more important than techniques in Okinawa Te?
No, everything is interrelated. Technique is useless if the soul is weak and vice-versa. But first of all you must overcome yourself. Emotions don't conform with the notion of Okinawa Te. Nevertheless it's probably the soul that is primary. Look, here's a unique example. I've got a guy studying under me, who as the result of a serious injury in Afghanistan, lost a leg. You should see how he works out in the Doju. The strength of his soul is to be envied, and as a result he has a quite high technical level and he keeps improving. Overcoming oneself - is probably the most important aspect of Okinawa Te. Overcome oneself and the technique will come all by itself.
On seeing the videocassettes I would say that it's not a very pretty show in comparison with Hollywood martial arts - films.
You mustn't take karate for cinema. When I see how Van Dam does his famous uramawashi I start to laugh. In the time it takes him to do it any of my students could have taken him out several times. He's always leaving himself exposed. In general, in cinema they try to make karate look like figure skating. Beautiful, eye-catching but completely not effective. Real karate and especially Ancient Okinawa Karate is not a show. You know, the main principle is "to kill with one blow". A few imperceptible movements and the adversary falls. The effective blow we can hardly see, if the blow is visible then it's not effective. The fundamentals of Okinawa Te technique are:
an intense blow, at the correctly chosen moment in time, to the right point.
The essence of this is that everything must carried out by the subconscious. If you are have to think of how to hit and where, then you are dead. You spend time and in a real fight your opponent will not forgive such an error.
Valeri, what do you need to become a good Sensei?
What questions you have! Probably, I don't know how in Russia, as for Moscow you can't find a Sensei who has had to fight tens of men at the same time whose goal was to kill him. That's what you have to go through, and that's probably how you become a Sensei. On the whole I think that Russia is a "forge for Senseis". Our present mentality is like that on Okinawa three hundred years ago.
What are your goals in life?
As a Sensei, to pass my knowledge on to my disciples and to advance with them however closer to the understanding of the highest law of Dao. You see, our martial arts training room is called Doju - which can be translated by "place, where you look for the way".
And in two words, what is karate to you?
In two words - karate, trying not to sound banal, it's a life style, it's my "disease" in the good sense of this word.