Interview with SWKKF Senate Member Sensei Brad Cosby
By: Sensei James Ryan
St. Catharines Wado Kai Karate
“Sensei Shintani never looked at karate as ‘that’s all there is, it’s a static art.’ It was always evolving, changing for the better.” – Sensei Brad Cosby (Hachidan)
Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with SWKKF Senate Member, Sensei Brad Cosby, where we talked about his teacher, friend and mentor, Shintani Sensei, the current state and evolution of the SWKKF, the potential impact of sport karate, as well as his thoughts and insights on various sparring strategies. Enjoy!
JR: Shintani Sensei started teaching back in the sixties and here we are now in 2018. Have we been evolving? Have we been improving? How would you rate today’s karateka to those who had the benefit of the direct teachings of Shintani Sensei? Are we on par? Are we better? Are we worse?
BC: I think we’ve evolved, yes. Things are better. What we do now is more explosive than what we used to do. It’s what he was always trying to aim for to get better karate. So, you look at when he started and when I was teaching, everything was like a statue. Even now when you have somebody say, “No, that’s not the way that Sensei did it” – you’re stuck on that step, and you’ve heard me say that before, you don’t wanna get stuck on a step. Even now when I look at a basic punch – look at that drill we did the other night, I was working against Sensei Don Anderson and he’s a big guy, so I changed things just a little bit to see what reaction I could get out of his body by just changing things a bit – changing my timing a bit – changing my posture a bit – dropping my stance a bit. And that was it, so you know, as long as people look at that, even in their own karate, they will keep evolving and getting better. When you say, “I already know that” – no you don’t. You don’t even know a basic punch. You don’t know a basic kick – I don’t. After fifty-some-odd years of doing this, I don’t, because I’m always working at changing and getting better. Shintani Sensei never expected us to quit evolving after he was gone. The way I’ve always looked at it is; what’s the next step? Because that’s the way he used to teach. So when people say, “Sensei didn’t do it that way,” well, he may not have gotten that far in where he was going.
JR: Is there ever the fear that maybe things have evolved too far away from Sensei’s teachings?
BC: Not the way we’re going. Not the way we’re teaching. Now, when you start deviating to sport karate – that way is not his way. You know, the way that they fight, that’s not what he would say was his karate. And that’s fine what they’re doing there – it’s the accepted way now, it’s just not the way that we would do it. So in terms of evolution, it’s okay, but those people also need to do what we’re doing because if they don’t, then we just become another cookie-cutter karate Canada club. As an organization, we’ll end up losing our identity, and that to me is the biggest worry about this whole thing – with regards to our identity, because people want to compete at that level. I understand that it gives them more opportunities to compete.
JR: When I think about the International competitions and what that means for our organization, on one hand it brings the Shintani organization to a whole new stage in terms of getting our style out there for people to see, but then when we’re getting to that stage, we’re performing just like the people who were already there, so we’ve elevated ourselves to compete at that level, but it doesn’t seem like we’re staying true to ourselves in terms of our katas or even the way that we’re performing our kumite. So my question is, is it about winning? Or is it about representing our style? What’s more important? It’s obviously hard to speculate on what Shintani Sensei would think, but what do you think? Do you think it’s better for us to be at a higher level of competition if it means that we have to potentially compromise our own style in order to get there?
BC: I think we have to compromise in order to compete in their tournaments, yes. But that isn’t gonna win in our tournaments – it’s just not. We should still continue to do things the way we do them. I understand that they have to change because when you go down and you compete with our katas and they say, “Well, that’s dirty Shotokan” or “that’s nothing,” it’s gotta get discouraging, and then why we would do it? So you change for that, but your background should stay alive.
JR: In terms of our own competitions, is it possible to stay competitive against a better athlete – someone who might be stronger or faster than you are?
BC: Definitely. You just need to reassess what you’re doing if it’s someone who you’ve fought before. You just have to look at what mistakes you may have made. Or did you ask anybody, “What can I do to change that?” You gotta look at it like, what can I do differently? What do I need to change? You can’t let your opponent draw you into his fight. And that’s the problem with fighting a younger person or a better athlete – you’re the one who has to take control. You’re the one who needs to control the distance – to control the timing – when you throw – when you can take a point. Don’t let them take control of the fight. Ultimately, you have to assess what you did before – what worked – what didn’t work, and then keep what works, throw out what didn’t work, and just do what you know already works for you.
JR: What are some of the sparring strategies that you teach at your seminars?
BC: On the first day, we’ll run through some drills like the five-man drill (blocking), the speed punch drill (reverse punch), and the cat and mouse drill (footwork). Then on the second day, we get into the randori part of it where you’ll repeatedly switch opponents and then we’ll look at what worked, what didn’t work, and who or what was the most difficult type of opponent that you had to face – what ones gave you the most problems? Then we’ll assess that, and then purposely pair people up based on their challenges. The most common ones are probably a smaller fighter facing a bigger fighter, or even learning how to go against a counter-fighter. Then we’ll go into full kumite. We’ll have the fighters go in and then we’ll have a team of coaches assess them in between. The coaches will tell them what to do, then they’ll go back into the ring and try it again, and we find out if the strategies worked or not. Then in the afternoon, we’ll bring in some kyu belts, so that all of the black belts get a chance to coach, so it takes a whole two days. I do believe that one-point matches like the circle drill (King of the Ring) matches, make better fighters than running full two-minute, three-point matches in the club.
JR: I’ve always believed in the importance of never showing your opponent the same thing over and over again. Back when you used to compete in kumite, did you ever switch-up your fighting style? Or did you pretty much stay the same throughout your fight?
BC: When I first started? Yes, I did, and then what happened was – it didn’t matter. Every tournament, my first match – Peter Ciolfi, Peter Ciolfi, Peter Ciolfi – it used to go back and forth – he’d win some, I’d win some, but eventually, people were getting on to the way that I fought, so I had to change and that was it. So now when we’re teaching the sparring strategies, what we’re trying to do is teach people by giving them the benefit of the experience that we’ve already gained, without them having to take all of these years to figure out what they’re doing wrong. It’s the short track to becoming a better fighter. So instead of taking ten years, in one or two days, you can start to make a change – and I’m not talking about changing your basis as a fighter. For me, all I changed was the angle that I came in at, because I used to be more straight, so I started moving to the side – I’d dance a little bit on the outside and then I’d take a slight angle, break my timing, and then Boom! And that would be it – I’d work my way around the ring a little bit. You watch so many fighters today – they’re just not using the ring at all. They’re not making the centre referee work hard enough.
JR: What’s a common mistake that most karateka make when just starting out?
BC: People get discouraged because they try to learn too much all at once. If you learn one new thing a night – that’s good, you tried… but people get discouraged, and then that’s it – they quit. Where if they just didn’t set their sights so high at the beginning, and instead looked at what they learned and not at what they didn’t learn, then they wouldn’t get as discouraged. You don’t have to learn everything all in one night.
For a more detailed biography of Sensei Brad Cosby, as well as some personal stories of his training with Shintani Sensei, please read the article in the July 2008 Harmonizer.