MARK MINARIK Sensei, the interview! by Sylvain Jouan Sensei.

Quiero compartir con todos uds, la entrevista realizada por mi amigo y colega francés Sylvain Jouan Sensei a Mark Minarik Sensei.

Minarik Sensei es un masajista licenciado con experiencia en evaluación osteopática y tratamiento de disfunción muscular/esquelética, con muchos años de práctica en Karate-do continuando la línea de entrenamiento de Nishiyama Hidetaka Sensei.

Comparte con nosotros su historia de vida, nos brinda diferentes conceptos y anécdotas que hacen que la entrevista sea muy interesante e importante para comprender nuestro entrenamiento diario.

Quiero felicitar a Sylvain por el excelente trabajo y a Mark por su disponibilidad y amabilidad en compartir su experiencia con todos nosotros.

Para leer y disfrutar!

Q: Could you introduce yourself in a few words.

My name is Mark Minarik, I am a Registered Massage Therapist that has a base in Osteopathic assessment and treatment in Muscular/Skeletal dysfunctions.

I have been training and studying Traditional Karate since 1978 and I now teach daily in my dojo in Saskatoon Saskatchewan, Canada.

Q: I am rather well informed about the history of Karate in my country, the first French Karate-ka in the development of the discipline over the years, I am completely unaware of how Karate was established in Canada, could you enlighten me on this subject?

It was a Japanese instructor by the name of Masami Tsuroka who studied and taught Chito Ryu Karate in eastern Canada as early as 1957. He too came to know of Nishiyama Sensei and his Karate was later on influenced by Nishiyama Sensei’s teachings. Sensei Jerry Marr from Winnipeg Manitoba was one of the first traditional karate instructors to teach Nishiyama Sensei’s Karate in Canada. I believe it was in 1964 when he met Robert Fusaro Sensei of Minneapolis Minnesota and Marr Sensei became a student of Fusaro sensei at that time. Fusaro sensei was a direct student of Nishiyama sensei. It was Marr Sensei who initially delivered NIshiyamas Traditional Karate to Canada.

Q: how did you start Karate and who were your first instructors?

I was in high school when I got into an altercation one day and a previous friend of mine broke up the altercation and prevented anything serious from happening. Later, on that day, we were in a class together and he came up to me and apologized for being rough with us when he stop the altercation. Then I asked him How he got so strong, and if he was lifting weights or something, he replied to me that he is studying Shotokan Karate and he then invited me to my first Karate class. My very first instructor (Brian Kraft) was an orange belt and we were taught by a brown belt (Wilf Miller) once a month, who was under Marr Sensei who would visit Wilf Miller’s dojo for seminars and examinations. Another instructor from the original JKA instructor training program was Yutaka Katsumata Sensei, he really inspired me with his explosive karate and his calm demeanour. He too connected with Nishiyama Sensei attending Summer camp in San Diego California.

Q: what is your background and how did you meet Nishiyama Sensei?

I grew up in a small mining town, named Esterhazy Saskatchewan, population at that time of approximately 3200 people. My grandfather was originally from Czechoslovakia, and my other grandfather was from Hungary. Both of my parents were born in Canada. I started training in the fall of 1978, and in 1983 I moved to Saskatoon Saskatchewan to train more often and help out with a newly formed dojo. In 1985 and moved to Regina Saskatchewan to continue to develop my karate. The instructor that ran that dojo in Regina was Rick Jorgensen and I trained and taught there for the next 9 1/2 years where I developed as a National and International athlete. I first met Nishiyama Sensei in 1982 at a training seminar hosted by Marr Sensei in Winnipeg Manitoba, I was very much in awe when training with Nishiyama Sensei and always trained and pushed myself to my limits when attending his training sessions hoping that I would get that nod of his approval.

Q: I saw on the Internet that you won many championships in Kumite and Katia … can you tell us about your background and achievements?

I started competing as a green belt in 1979 or 1980 and I won the Kumite event and Bronze in Kata. One instructor mentioned that those who do well in Kumite may not necessarily become good Karate-ka and may just be more natural at fighting, so I started to work on Kata to balance my Karate. For many years I did well in both Kata and Kumite in my province and regional competitions, My first Canadian National Championship was in 1984 as a Black Belt and my first International championship was in 1986 in Australia.

From 1986 and to 2004 I was fortunate to have been selected to the Canadian Team, where my first event as an international athlete was Team Kata, which continued to do well until 1998 when I no longer competed in that event. We were very successful in Enbu as well when Sensei introduced that event and I also focused on Individual Kata and Kumite.

Canada did not have many high calibre athletes so i almost always competed competed in Kata,Team Kata, Kumite, Team Kumite, Fukugo and Enbu at the international level. I was also selected for the Nishiyama Cup that was held in Moscow, but unfortunately could not attend. I was named as and athlete in the Saskatoon Hall of fame.

I received my Godan from Nishiyama Sensei in 2006 and Rokudan from WTKF in 2013.

Q: how often did you as a Canadian citizen attend seminars and trainings with Nishiyama sensei? Did any other instructors have an importance in your training?

In the mid 80s and early 90s I was able to attend training seminars with Nishiyama sensei proximately 2 to 3 times per year with him coming to Canada and when he went to Minneapolis to Fusaro Sensei’s dojo.

In 1991 I started travelling to San Diego summer camps to train with Nishiyama Sensei, and some of his top instructors that attended the camp as well. I would also travel to sensei’s dojo in Los Angeles and stay there and train for two and sometimes three weeks at a time.

Other instructors That had an importance in my training were Jerry Marr and Rick Jorgensen in my early years as a Black Belt. Also, Yutaka katsumata inspired me whenever I got to train with him. Shirai Sensei was also very motivational to me. Also Nishiyama Sensei’s assistant, Aiko San was very helpful to my deep understanding of Sensei’s teachings, whenever I went to Los Angeles or saw her at any international event.

Q: what impressed you most about Sensei and do you have any anecdotes about him that you would like to share?

I think the biggest thing that impress me most about Nishiyama Sensei was that he practised what he preached 24 hours a day seven days a week and there was always this sense of urgency and need to instruct you and develop you to year very best. It was very hard to catch him in Kyo as he was always aware and ready at all times.

When I first went to train with Sensei in his dojo in Los Angeles, I remember walking in the dojo and he came to greet me. As I bowed to him, he extended his hand to shake my hand, so I stood straight to extend my hand in return, and as I did that, he bowed to me, so I retracted my hand and went to bow to him and as I went to bow, he once again extended his hand to shake mine, I was totally caught in Kyo by Sensei and he quickly told me so and laughed. And after any tournament that he got to watch us compete, he was quick to pull me aside, and show me how to do my Kata more correctly (small details) and teach me the finer details of my Kumite with Shikake Waza (set up) especially timing. Again, his sense of urgency to teach us, as he always said “Time is Short”

At a seminar, I had to take Nishiyama Sensei for coffee while the other instructors had meetings. While we we’re having a quite conversation about the footwork that he was teaching and that it was like Kendo footwork and I mentioned to him that I was thinking of doing Kendo so i could learn the footwork better… then WHAM, he slapped the table a and said NO… (I think most of the people in the coffee shop jumped and I spilled my coffee) only study other types of training from the outside, life is too short to go deeply into more than one discipline!

Q: tradition in the transmission from teacher to student, there is always a possibility of discrepancy as to what this teacher says or thinks, and what the student understands or thinks they understand, did you ever notice this phenomenon during your training years with Nishiyama Sensei? In your opinion, how can we avoid this misunderstanding?

When Nishiyama Sensei taught his lessons, he would always tell you that he was doing them with an exaggeration of movement, or as he said “over motion”, and maybe with Sensei’s thick accent, people may not have understood what he was saying or doing with his techniques, especially when it came to his teachings about posture and body dynamics.

Sensei’s teachings about body dynamics and techniques we’re always taught from the centre of the body or the different axis’ of the body. What you saw on the outside of the body when sensei demonstrated was an over motion or exaggeration of what he was doing on the axis in the centre of the body.

An example is the body dynamic of hip rotation. If you think of the rotation occurring from the left and right side of the pelvis. You are going to create a very exaggerated movement that could take you off your centre axis and have more of a pushing or reaching action in your punch or block. The body dynamic of rotation occurs in the centre or Y axis of the body and the hips switch forward and backward directly to the target. This is just a simple example.

To avoid this misunderstanding, one needs to train with someone who has gotten beyond just the physical movement of the techniques and has internalized their karate and moves from their centre or their intention. Try to be on the dojo floor training daily and grasp the subtleties of techniques. Karate is about letting go of what you feel is strong and powerful, unlearn your habits of incorrect movement, be strong and connected on the inside by using your breath and be soft and aligned on the outside. Be sure to ask the instructor questions to confirm and clarify their teachings and techniques, they should be more than happy to confirm and even expand on their teachings.***

Q: how in your opinion can we continue to have a spirit of curiosity of improvement deepening of Karate?

For myself, I really try to make Karate much more effective in all situations.

Initially, when we start training in Karate, everything is new and exciting and there’s so many things that are to be learned and that can be learned. Therefore, we are excited to train and develop our Karate. Over the years as we continue to learn, we realize that techniques and the physical aspect of karate is limited not only in the number of techniques we can learn, but that our bodies become slower and weaker than what they have been, when we were Young.

If we continue with Karate in our lives, we have to shave off all the excessive movements that we may have developed in our techniques meaning that we internalize our Karate, move from our centre and using our intention and our breath to deliver our techniques. This makes our Karate more relaxed, allows us to be in tune with our environment and our opponent. Not only doing karate, but being present, and in the moment in our training and every day environments that we are in.


Going beyond Physical Technique

If one really wishes to be master of an art, technical knowledge is not enough. One has to transcend technique so that the art grows out of the unconscious…you must let the unconscious come forward. In such cases, you cease to be your own conscious master but become an instrument in the hands of the unknown. The unknown has no ego-consciousness and consequently no thought of winning the contest….It is for this reason that the sword moves where it ought to move and makes the contest end victoriously. This is the practical application of the Lao-tzu doctrine of doing by not doing. (Suzuki, 1993,94,96)

Q: how do you approach the digital tool (video, zoom, etc) and have you used or do you use video for courses? Do you have any plans for this?

To be perfectly honest, I am not a very technologically savvy person when it comes to the use of digital tools. We have made some videos for the use of basic teachings for Kata and some drills in Kumite, mostly for social media purposes and for advertisement. When the pandemic hit, we went onto Zoom and kept our community in contact with one another by having all her classes online. This did help immensely and keeping our spirits up while we were waiting to get back into the dojo. I believe it was good for the philosophy of Karate, and the technical details of Karate but as far as correcting individuals, it is difficult. I also did a seminar online for students in south in North America during Covid times, which was good, especially for connecting with other Karate-ka in other areas of the world.

In the near future, I hope to develop my own video channel to get across my thoughts and understanding of Kata and its enormity of application.

Q: outside your organization do you organize any seminars?

I personally only organize seminars for my own region. I also go teach seminars in Canada and whenever I am asked to teach in other countries I will do that as well.

Q: do you have plans to come to Europe?

No plans as of yet, but always willing and ready to go when the opportunity arises. Definitely will be going to attend competitions in the future with our Canadian athletes.

Q: if I am not mistaken, you are a masseur or physiotherapist? How do you integrate? Traditional Karate go into your professional practice? How do you integrate your professional training into your traditional Karate do?

Yes, I am a registered massage therapist with education in osteopathic-based assessment and treatment of musculoskeletal disorders.

I use the understanding of body, alignment, muscle contraction to the direction of my techniques being applied in my treatments, as well as my intention with my treatment. Breathing is used to direct my intention and techniques as well. And, of course, grounding myself physically and mentally and emotionally prior to giving treatment. Basic understanding of body movement that we are taught in Karate immediately helped me with my understanding of the human body, I would not be a therapist that I am today if I did not have my Karate training.

My massage education has helped me immensely in the understanding of which muscles create which movement in the body, and of course postural alignment, how the breath works in karate movements with the diaphragm, how the spine is the suspension system of the body and the breath is the connection and grounding of the body.

Both disciplines have complimented each other from the first day they interacted.

Q: I saw that you offer self-defence classes, can you elaborate on how you came up with the idea? For which public are these classes intended? Can you tell us more about it? At the time of Nishiyama and Sensei were their dedicated classes?

I offer self defence classes mainly for women and will be soon offering them to children to prevent bullying in todays society. Students of Karate learn self-defence from the Katas as I believe this is what Kata was designed for. When I started training in Karate, I wanted to learn how to defend myself, so that I could handle myself in an average situation that may occur in the street. I decided to do this to help out individuals who would be more exposed to being assaulted with their jobs or coming and going from their job. I also saw this as a steppingstone for them to start studying karate. These individuals would learn environmental awareness, spatial, awareness, and how do use your voice to initially determine an attacker. They then learn defence against a standing attack, such as chokes, punches and kicks, then ground defence if they fell to the ground while defending themselves, and finally against different weapons, such as knife, gun or a club. I have never had any or heard of any classes of self defense specifically that Nishiyama Sensei taught but, Nishiyama Sensei always taught Karate with the intention of defending one’s life.

Q: let’s talk about Midwest Karate, Movement, Arts Centre. How many students do you have? Men women children? What are the main points you were trying to develop for yourself and your students today?

We have a proximately 160 karate students about 95 youth from ages 4 to 12 years of age and approximately 20 teenagers with male and female, equally represented, and the rest adults with most of them being men approximately 15 women.

I am always trying to develop our fundamentals (Kihon), body dynamics, distance and timing, and the use of kata applications against Karate, grappling and weapons etc. For myself I try to go deeper into why I study Karate and again go beyond physical techniques and allow myself to do my own karate using the principles and concepts that were taught by Nishiyama Sensei.

Q: do you train athletes? Do you compete nationally and internationally? What do you expect from your students and do you encourage them to do personal work outside of school hours? Endurance? Strength training? Personal research?

I do train athletes for competition, but that is not a main focus of mine, even though I competed for many years. I try to teach Karate so that when the students go to competitions, their understanding of karate will carryover and do them well in the competitions.

I started competing in 1979 provincially and regionally and then in 1984 I started competing nationally and in 1986 I started competing internationally. I continued to compete to 2004 and they started to have hip injuries to the point where I needed that I needed both hips replaced in 2006 and 2007.

All I ask from my students is to be consistent with their Karate training and keep Karate their main focus. I agree with them if they wish to cross train with things, such as kettlebell, fitness, weight training, core stability, and look after their bodies with some type of therapy.

I will also encourage them to teach Karate in community centres and welcome their ideas to improve the students and the dojo.

Q: what advice would you like to give to young Karate kas who are starting their journey on the Martial path? What areas of improvement would you like to see the more senior students focus on? After these years of Covid, is there still an attraction forTraditional Karate? Are young people still attracted to this discipline in Canada?

I would like young students to understand that Karate will help them with all aspects of their life, and to not become impatient with the teachings of Karate, or any worthwhile martial art. In order to study Martial Art and become very proficient or skilled at it you have to study it deeply and daily and not only look deeply into the techniques but, into the philosophy and the purpose of the art. It does not matter what we study, if we study it for our whole life it will translate and teach us about everything in life.

With the senior students I would like to see them focus on keeping themselves in shape and let go of having to “FEEL STRONG” in there technique and internalize their karate, focus on quality of movement and their intention of the technique.

I think Traditional Karate will always have an attraction to those who are really interested in helping themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually. In such time does Covid and or any hardship Traditional Karate is an attraction, as it helps us with self-discipline, distracts us from the daily stresses of life and the anxiety of those dresses as well as it gives us a peace of mind and put us in a peaceful place, mentally and emotionally. When we feel physically mentally and emotionally at peace, it affects those around us in a positive way.

Yes, I believe young people are still attracted to Traditional karate but, the challenge is to keep them interested and motivated in Karate.

Q: with the arrival of many different types of Karate’s, whether it is sport, combat, karate or mixed martial art, for an uninformed public. Karate (or even more so if we talk about Traditional Karate do) it seems boring… What do you think? What do you think the future holds for our discipline?

Yes, I think about this often, that Karate may seem boring or not applicable in a street situation, and that something like a grappling art or a contact martial art may be much more exciting to train in and more effective in the street earlier on in their training. What needs to be understood is that Karate is not designed to beat someone up in the street or in a cage but, designed to defend one’s life and that requires serious study and commitment. I would liken kicking and punching sport to playing paintball and winning the game and being able to have another chance to win tomorrow, and Traditional Karate to going to war with a loaded gun with real bullets and knowing that you may live to fight another day! Therefore I think Traditional Karate May never be as popular or have the amount of participants as other sport karate’s or MMA gyms which give you a tough workout but, we have a responsibility to teach a quality of Martial Art with proper ethics and values that will hopefully produce quality human beings.

The future is never certain and up to those who continue the teachings of Traditional Karate. Hopefully our persistence thus far will pay off and our passion for the art infects others who want to learn Traditional Karate!

Q: what would be your wishes for the future of Karate do in the years to come, if the genie of Aladdin’s lamp, granted you several wishes?

This is a tough question! As far as the styles of traditional karate go, it is my hope that they will flourish and grow, and be respected by one another and learn from one another, as they all have valuable concepts that can help us to deepen the study of our own style of training. Nishiyama Sensei said to study other martial arts that you liked from the outside, not actually train in them but, observe and take what was useful to you to help you with your karate.

It would be great if all the different Traditional Karate sport organizations would one day work together and become one cohesive world sport organization that gave an opportunity for all traditional styles to compete with one another but, this will need a lot of work and dedication of many individuals to accomplish with Traditional Karate being their focus.

I’d like to sincerely thank sensei mark MINARIK for his kindness in answering my questions. I hope this interview has inspired and enlightened you!

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Author: Sylvain Jouan Sensei

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