Sunday, January 17, 2010

Interview with Mike Connnolly sensei

Michael Connolly sensei 5th dan JKA shotokan karate-do karateka

Michael Connolly sensei is a gentlemen a warrior and one of Australian karate's true hard men, he has been training in karate-do since 1966, in the early years karate training was very hard and tough their were no beg your pardons in those days and to top it all of he was also Shunsuke Takahashi sensei's sparring partner.

Connolly sensei is also the founder of JKA Australia, in the late 1960's Connolly sensei wrote to the JKA in Japan about getting experienced karate-do intsructors in Australia, eventually in the early 1970's the JKA sent Takahashi sensei to Australia and sensei Connolly's dojo, this was the begining of JKA in Australia.

Connolly sensei has been an outstanding Australian national champion, competitor, coach and instructor in the art of karate-do, these days he runs two dojos in Queensland Australia and is still a member of the JKA, he has coached and trained many karateka and has produced a number of great champions.

Connolly sensei's dojo JKA - Australian East Coast website here,

Many thanks to Connolly sensei for allowing me to reprint his interview.

Below is an interview Connolly sensei did in 2005,

Michael Connolly sensei – October 2005
Conducted by and for the JKAA Victoria website.

JKA 5th Dan Michael Connolly was Takahashi Sensei's first student in this country and is the longest standing member of the Japan Karate Association of Australia.

Sensei Mike has done everything there is to do in a Martial Arts organisation. He has been a student, a teacher who has produced some outstanding Karateka, a competitor with significant honours to his name, an official, a Dojo Manager, a State Representative and a National Representative. On top of that he has been a member of the JKAA national executive for decades.

Mike also held the prestigious position of Queensland State President of the Australian Karate Federation (AKF), the largest multi-styles organisation in the country. Remarkably he has managed to do all of this without material reward while at the same time working and raising a family in the suburbs of Queensland's capital city, Brisbane.

Mike's all-round experience in Karate is second to none in Australia. He has held high office but he remains first and foremost a student of Karate and despite his "collar and tie" responsibilities, he is at his most comfortable in the Dojo. He is a gentleman and a great source of knowledge, which he never fails to share generously with anyone who seeks it. Sensei Mike has agreed to take some of our questions.

Sensei Mike, thanks for allowing us to ask some questions for the JKA Victoria website. Firstly, where were you born and raised?

I was born and raised in Brisbane Queensland.

Were you a particularly active kid at school?

Having suffered severe childhood asthma my parents tried to prevent me from participating in strenuous activities but I still managed to play many sports at school.

What sports did you play?

Rugby league and athletics. I represented my primary and high schools in both these sports.

Do you come from a sporting family?

My father had success in athletics and boxing, he also played club cricket.

How and when did you first become aware there was such a thing as Karate?

In the early sixties I became aware of the martial art of Karate through some magazine articles but was unable to locate a suitable dojo to train in.

When did you get started in Karate?

In 1966 I joined my first Karate club in Ipswich, west of Brisbane.

Who was your first instructor?

There were two instructors at the club and both were brown belts, to see black belts in those days was very rare. Their names were Graham Johnson of Kyokushin and Doug Lee of Shotokan. Because the instructors were of different styles, you could understand there was conflict between the two and so they separated. Doug Lee established a club in Brisbane to which myself and other Brisbane students moved with him.

Are any of your early training partners still around?

Sensei Steve Andrews who joined Doug Lees club sometime after we moved to Brisbane. (Sensei Steve is still very active, he is one of a handful of practicing JKA 5th dans in Australia - Ed)

When did you first meet Takahashi Sensei?

When he arrived in Australia in August 1973. We celebrate 1972 as being the Anniversary of Sensei arriving in Australia, but the truth is that 1972 was when the Australian Shotokan Karate Association was accepted for membership of the JKA in Japan and the name was later changed to JKA Australia. I was the Vice President of this Association at that time. I later became the President.

When and where did you start training with him?

Being the co-ordinator of Queensland, Sensei came directly to Brisbane, living in my home and teaching at my dojo. I had the opportunity to train both at home and at my dojo with Sensei in 1973. My home was his residence for over the first year of his time in Australia until he got his Australian citizenship for which I was his sponsor.

What did you expect training to be like?

Having never trained with a Japanese instructor I was apprehensive that I would not be able to withstand the rigor of Japanese training. However my first instructor was a very hard trainer and he had equipped me well for this challenge. I found Sensei’s training very technical which I needed, and kumite was his favourite part - I was the number one candidate for this part of the training.

Do you remember your very first session?

Yes I do remember, I feel like it only happened yesterday. Sensei was fresh from the Japanese team, his fighting ability was awesome and he enjoyed demonstrating his abilities for us. The session was a lot of basics and kumite but not a lot of kata.

We hear a lot of stories, but can you take us through those very early days. How did you adjust to training with a man who had who had recently completed Nakayama's Sensei's JKA Instructor course?

Training was a lot more intense without breaks. Sensei demanded perfection in technique and would repeat a single technique (blocks or punches) until he was satisfied it was right. You were expected to train in every session with no exception to ensure your commitment. Sensei would always say to me that a true karate-ka should take advantage of every opportunity to train. It was common for Sensei to expel students who didn’t train regularly. As previously mentioned, Sensei loved kumite and he would fight us at every session. Because I was the most experienced and I was always at training, he was a lot harder on me. I suffered many injuries in the first few month as dojo sparring was full on. You were forced to fight as if your life depended on it - sometimes I felt I really was fighting for my life. We did a lot of makiwara and kick-bag training every night. Each session was a minimum of two hours sometimes longer depending on his mood. Within the first year, training had increased to six days a week and Sensei expected you to be there.

The formative years must leave enduring memories, is there any particular memory from your early days with Sensei that stands out?

The last fighting session that I had with Sensei was prior to being tested for my Shodan. In this particular training session we fought for over half an hour prior to the general training session. The intensity of his fighting was the highest I had experienced and the most relentless. Every blow delivered by Sensei not blocked, made contact. The only relief from his onslaught was when I would attack him back as vigorously. The result of this match left me with fractured ribs, black eyes, split lips and many other cuts and abrasions. But the experience gave a whole new outlook to my karate. Some students observing this were so shocked at the intensity and brutality of this fighting, and not understanding the concept behind it, left the club never to return.

(Readers should understand that Mike was being prepared to be the first home-grown black belt in JKA Australia. Seen in that context, this harsh treatment literally hammered home to him the serious nature of Budo Karate).

Where do you train now?

I still teach three dojos of my own. Brisbane South (Yeronga), Acacia Ridge and Inala, which is one of my original dojos.

What is your normal training routine?

My routine used to consist of basics, kata and kumite and special mobility training with lots of reaction training but over the last 5 years due to ill health, I have had to reduce my training. I now only teach.

How long have you been teaching?

I’ve been teaching karate for over 36 years and at present I still teach at least 4 sessions a week. Teaching still gives me enjoyment.

Do any other family members train in JKA Karate?

Yes, my wife Nga (nidan) who is known in JKA and AKF circles. My two sons Sean 12yrs (Shodan) and Grant (1st kyu). The two boys have been exposed to karate training since they were new born.

Compared to when you started with JKA, what would you say are the big differences with today's training?

The training concept of JKA has not changed, however scientific study is slowly being introduced as our instructors become better educated. Examples of education include Coaching Accreditations where we have seen improved ideas of getting the best from the body and minimizing the injury and the wear and tear. These changes are more frequent, water breaks to prevent dehydration, modified stretching to avoid joint and muscle injuries and a better understanding of human movements and the how and why of doing the things we do.

Have you been involved in any other sports or Martial Arts?

Yes, I studied another style of karate and reached the rank of 2nd kyu in Uechi Ryu which is an Okinawan style, including training in Okinawa weaponry.

Over the years, who are the Karate people that have influenced you and why?

My first instructor Doug Lee of Shotokan. He inspired me into the regime of hard training to achieve my goals in karate. Daryl Goldsworthy for his wealth of knowledge of karate and its history. He also gave me an understanding and respect for all martial arts. Sensei Takahashi was my first direct involvement with Japanese Culture and the training attitude of JKA for the development of my own fighting and technical ability. Finally Nakayama Sensei, he inspired me by his incredible ability and understanding of karate. He was also incredibly humble and respectful to all around him including myself. This I felt was the measure of a true master.

Is there any one person more than most that you have tried to emulate?

Nakayama Sensei because of his vast knowledge, his humble manner and the innovative way that he built JKA. (Master Masatoshi Nakayama who passed away in 1987 is responsible for JKA Karate as we know it. Click here to read a tribute to Nakayama Sensei).

Did you enjoy competing in your earlier years?

Yes, particularly in kumite. I didn’t really like kata.

Who were your major rivals in Australia at that time?

As I was the highest rank in JKA there was no one at my level for me to compete against. All my competition was mostly against other stylist within the Federation of Australian Karate Organisations or FAKO, as it was known then. The only strong fighter in JKA Australia was George Karasterious from Greece who trained and ran a dojo in Melbourne. He and I had many a hard battle.

What was your most memorable Kumite match?

Most memorable match was fighting in the FAKO national titles in 1974. It was the team event and I was fighting for QLD, we fought for about five rounds to get to the semi finals. I won every one of my fights in two of which I beat both NSW and VIC champions. They were both third dans and I was only first kyu at that time. I guess it was fortunate I did not know who they were until after the events.

What is your favourite Kata and why?

My favorite kata is So-chin because of the maturity needed to perform this kata, such as the ability to move in the fudo-dachi stance.

JKAA lost a great man recently in Jeff Green. You worked closely with Sensei Jeff Green on the executive, what are your memories of him?

I met Jeff back in about 1971 or 2, he was an 8th kyu at the time and a very active member of the Bundaberg club. I was in Bundaberg promoting the formulation of JKA in Australia and besides my own dojos, Bundaberg was the first club to come on board. Jeff and I forged a friendship, which lasted until his death. I found Jeff very diligent in his endeavours to promote the growth of JKA in Australia and I think we shared a common love of our organisation.

Sensei Mike, you are a highly qualified official in both JKA and AKF (the Australian Karate Federation formerly FAKO). What can JKA learn from the multi-styles people and vice-versa?

I have always believed, as Takahashi Sensei does, the more competition experience that one can gain is invaluable and participating in AKF tournaments becomes another window of opportunity for our competitors to gain experience and the chance to represent Australia in International events. By competing in AKF the benefits for JKA people are to experience other styles, and because of the rules, (multi point system) new fighting strategies can be learned. The benefit for AKF by our participation in their tournaments is our high level of technical skill and our strong spirit of competition, which is legendary in karate circles around the world and displayed by JKA competitors in all countries.

Everybody has things their body is well-suited for in Karate and vice-versa, what have you found particularly hard in general training and is there anything you find not so hard?

Not being flexible around my hip area I have always found high kicking difficult, consequently I don’t do much of it. Because my body has a high level of fast twitch muscle, I was able to develop the speed of my hands (punches etc.) to a high level. I also find I can move extremely fast on my feet which more then compensates for my lack of high kicking ability.

What do you want to do in the future in Karate?

Because of age, my own physical ability is waning, however I would like to devote my time to developing the young upcoming people to ensure the true spirit of karate is learnt, in this way the future of JKAA is assured.

Did you ever teach Karate for a living?

No, the thought was always there, however I felt to make it economically viable I would have to compromise too much on our JKA standards.

What do you think JKA Karate can offer people looking for a new sport or activity?

My experience is that people are attracted to karate for various reasons, these include fitness, self defence, social, cultural (traditional), competition and self-development. I believe that marketed the right way JKA can offer all the above benefits at a high level and be very successful because JKA karate is the only single karate style that is available in almost every country of the world. This gives participants continuity no matter where they train. To realise the true potential of this unique feature we need to analyse our class structures to attract the masses.

The Australian lifestyle offers a great choice of sporting activities to the public. Martial Arts is not an area of real growth like it was for example in the 70's. How do you think JKA Karate can be made more attractive to younger people?

As in the previous question we have to exploit all the benefits from karate and promote the fact that it is one activity that everybody can practice - men, women and children gain a benefit from it. I believe that karate is one of the few activities that the whole family can train together. We should also try to fit the good perceived attitude of karate that is portrayed by the media and the entertainment industries.

In "selling" JKA, would you focus on actual training methods, the health aspect, the overall benefits or?

I would focus on all the benefits as I stated earlier. People join karate for various reasons and we need to cater for all these needs.

If the subject of Karate comes up in general conversation, do you like to talk to people and explain what you do?

Yes I do because I fully believe in the benefits of the true study of karate. I try to call on my own life experience and the positive benefits that karate has had on me.

Have you ever needed to use Karate to protect yourself?

Yes I have. Because I am not an aggressive person by nature I have not had to resort to physical self-defence on too may occasions, but on those occasions I have found my training skills to be very effective.

What does the Dojo Kun and general Karate etiquette mean to you?

I believe that the dojo Kun and the etiquette of karate can be applied to ones own life code of conduct.

Do you think Karate training can be modified to offer something to everyone?

Yes, I believe that people are attracted to karate for many different reasons, these include fitness, social, self-defence, self-development and many other obscure reasons and we as instructors must try to accommodate these needs if we want to see JKA karate grow.

You've trained in Japan, what did you learn from your visits there?

The training in Japan is the same as we do in Australia with perhaps more emphasis on basics. What I did notice is that the Japanese students seemed to be more focused and dedicated.

Were you able to pass any new or improved techniques to your students and did your own Karate improve after visiting Japan?

The training was very similar to Australia with nothing really new to bring back, however with the atmosphere of the training I felt my own karate seemed better. I last visited Japan 20 years ago in 1985.

Have you ever trained seriously with another Karate group or style?

Until recently I have been heavily involved with the Australian Karate Federation. For over 30 years I have been a competitor, referee/ judge, state coach in kata and kumite and an administration officer, with these experiences I have had the good fortune to have trained with many world champions (WKF) and world renowned coaches. I have also many friends from other styles and we have trained together.

Aside from Karate, have you tried any other Martial Arts?

I studied Aikido for a couple of years I have also studied some traditional weapons.

Is there any other Style or Art you are interested in?

No, I believe JKA fulfils all my needs these days.

Do you ever get bored with Karate?

Yes like most people do, but I think this is where focused training is needed to maintain your interest.

Have you ever varied your personal training methods radically? eg used music or special equipment?

No I’m too set in my ways and I believe traditional training is still the best method.

How do you think your Karate will develop in the future?

As age and health have become issues for me, it will take a lot just to maintain a standard. I hope I can overcome my arthritis. (Sensei Mike has struggled with this for some time. Despite this drawback he is still very active and he still attends every JKAA State and National Championships. JKA Victoria wishes him all the best on the road to recovery)

In your opinion, what are the important things for JKAA going forward?

To maintain our traditional values but remove all blinkers and become fluid in our thinking is the only road to perfection.

What do you think the future holds for the group?

The group holds the future for JKA. It is how we conduct ourselves that will determine the future.

What do you do in your spare time? Any other big interests outside of the Dojo?

Not much really for myself, I now enjoy family time and watching my boys Sean and Grant develop in their lives.

What do you think is the one most important thing about Karate training?

There are many things in karate that are important, but to me the most important is to be true and honest with yourself.

Sensei Michael, thanks very much for taking the time to answer our questions. Finally, what has JKA Karate training given you?

Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to express my thoughts. JKA karate has given me many aspects that I believe have enhanced my life, but most of all the many friendships and acquaintances I have developed over the years. Once again thank you. OSS……

Michael Connolly sensei a Profile:

5th Dan Black Belt JKA shotokan karate-do

Founder of JKA Australia

Over 40 years experience in:


Sensei Mike is an accredited Level 2 Sports Coach - recognised under the National Coaching Accreditation Scheme (NACS) administered by the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) . He holds a current Blue Card from the QLD Government Commission for Children and Young People and Child Guardian. He is also holds the following JKA International Accreditations:

C - Class Instructor
C - Class Judge
D - Class Examiner

Takahashi sensei and Connolly sensei in the early years