Sunday, October 10, 2010

An Interview with Richard Berger (Part 2)

...this is continued from "An Interview with Richard Berger (Part 1)

-          Are there any experiences in particular at the Honbu-dojo that stand out to you during your time training there?  Experiences that were insightful, funny, embarrassing, or simply inspirational?
-          I remember one time during a class when we were asked to pair off with a partner to practice jiyu ippon-kumite. Everyone had found a partner except for me, so the instructor headed in my direction and I took a deep breath, trying to keep my rapidly accelerating heartbeat under control. The class that day was being taught by Ichihara-sensei, a decidedly old-school instructor, well-known for his gruff demeanor and very short temper. He decided that we would focus on ushiro-geri (back kicks) and we began practicing No. 2 of Kanazawa-kancho’s number system, in which the defender responds by lunging forward into a kiba-dachi (straddle-leg stance), scoops one arm under the attacker’s kicking leg and the other below his torso, then performs a leg sweep followed by a downward gyaku-zuki (reverse punch) counterattack. Ichihara-sensei repeatedly kicked with laser-beam precision and I, for some reason, never managed to get out of the path of his attack. Three times in a row he kicked, and three times in a row his foot landed—Thud!—right into my inner elbow. After the third time he looked at me with open disdain and barked, “Doesn’t that hurt!?” In keeping with proper dojo etiquette, I responded with a sharp “Hai (yes)!” At the time it didn’t strike me as particularly funny, nor did the angry bruise that I had over the next several days, but when I think back on the incident, I can’t help but laugh at how ridiculous the situation was.
There was also another incident that I’ll never forget. Kanazawa-kancho was teaching the class—it was about seven or eight years ago, so he was probably around 70 at the time—and we were practicing the kata Unsu. I recall that we had several overseas students in attendance and Kancho was giving detailed explanations for each technique. We got to the middle the kata, where you simultaneously drive the left hand downward and the right hand upward while stepping forward to deliver a downward lunge punch. Kancho was explaining that one application of the initial motion is a block, to create an opening for the subsequent downward punch. Since I happened to be nearest to him at the time, he decided to use me as his demonstration partner. He was speaking to the class as he demonstrated the move, which he performed quite casually and with no particular effort. In fact, I don’t even think he was looking at me when he did it. I knew exactly what he was going to do and anticipated it, but even so, when he raised his hand and deflected my outstretched arm, I was completely unprepared for the resulting impact. It was as if I had been struck by a sledgehammer; to this day, I have no idea how such an effortless motion could create such force.

-          There are many foreigners who are fascinated by Japan – I am one of them.  Often we go there with great ideas and unrealistic expectations and then the demon of “culture shock” strikes and we struggle for a while to find our place within our host country.  I can honestly say that I had a great time while in Japan but I know of others who were just miserable.  What were your encounters with culture shock and how did you deal with them?  Do you still experience culture shock after living in Japan for so long or is “reverse culture shock” now more of an issue when you visit the United States?
-          Well, Japan isn’t for everyone. I don’t think there’s any way to know if you’ll like it or not unless you actually go and find out for yourself. Of course individual experiences can have a major impact on one’s impression of the country. I know some people who fell in love with Japan because they met a lot of great people and had a number of wonderful encounters. But then again, I also know of people who had a string of bad experiences that negatively affected their opinion of the country.
One thing that I believe is important to keep in mind when visiting any foreign country is maintaining an open mind; that’s most likely what helped me to adjust to life in Japan and helped me to avoid any serious culture shock. Now, however, after having spent 20-plus years in Japan, I do suffer the occasional bout of reverse culture shock when I go back to the United States to visit family and friends. I’m reminded of the Japanese saying Sumeba miyako, which, essentially, means: If you live somewhere long enough, it becomes home.

-          You are the translator of several of Kanazawa-kancho’s most important and recent books, such as Karate Fighting Techniques: The Complete Kumite, Black Belt Karate: The Intensive Course, and the newly released book, Karate: The Complete Kata.  These books are incredibly valuable to the followers of SKIF, and also to the wider Shotokan community, so we thank you for helping to bring these projects of Kanazawa-kancho to fruition.  It can’t have been easy to make this happen.  Please tell us a little bit about what it takes to translate a book of this scope.
-          Well, I realize that translating may seem like a very glamorous line of work (laughs), but I can assure you it’s not. Since you are familiar with Japanese, you can appreciate how different it is from English. Because the two languages are structured so differently, rendering Japanese into natural-sounding English can often pose quite a challenge.
I view translation as a two-step process. First, you need to get the Japanese into some form of working English. Then you need to ignore the original Japanese and clean up the English so that it makes sense and flows naturally. It requires discipline and a discerning eye.

-          How long does it typically take to translate such a technical book?
-          Well, first of all, I have to confess that I’m a slow translator; I spend a lot of time mulling over each sentence, thinking of the best way to express it in English. In addition, I have a full-time job that keeps me busy from Monday to Friday, not to mention a family. So, I’m limited to weekday evenings and weekends, provided I have the time and energy. As such, completing the first draft can take around six to nine months.

-          What is the process that the book goes through from concept to translation to print?
-          All three of the books that I’ve been asked to translate had already been released in Japanese. I didn’t receive any special instructions from the publisher so, in each case, basically just used the original Japanese text as my guide and then submitted the translation manuscript. About six months later, the publisher sends me the page proofs for checking. I’ll look for typos and other text errors, and make sure that the text and photos are in agreement. I’ll also look for missing or incorrect photos, as well as photos appearing out of order. You’d be surprised at how many mistakes there can be at this stage of the layout process. If there are a lot of serious problems with the initial page proofs, then a second round of checks will usually be done before the book gets printed.

-          You are a long-time member of the Honbu-dojo and your Japanese language ability is as good as it gets.  It seems you are the natural choice to be Kanazawa-kancho’s translator in anything and everything he does.  When you were asked to be the translator of his books, how did you feel?  Was it a surprise, an honor, or a bit of a burden considering your work and family commitments?
-          I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t honored that Kancho thought I was up to the task of translating his books. I was also pleased to be entrusted with the project, knowing that whenever I do translation work, which I’ve been doing for over twenty years now, I always try to present the material as clearly and concisely as possible while making every effort to maintain the tone and feel of the original text. But, on the other hand, since I do have a full-time job and a family, I must admit that there was also a part of me that wasn’t looking forward to the amount work that I knew the job required.

-          I can imagine that being a translator of any book can be a bit of a thankless task, yet in many ways it is no less significant than being an author in your own right and this is one of the reasons I wanted to hold this interview to bring your own personal efforts to light.  Can you give us an idea of what it takes to be a translator and also of how much more you have learned about Shotokan karate by being a translator than you would have otherwise learned?
-          It may sound counterintuitive, but I think the single most important factor in being a good translator is being a good writer. If you give it some thought, though, it makes sense: if you have trouble understanding the source text, with a little effort, it’s possible to figure out the meaning, provided you get the right help. But the real challenge is translating that into the target language so the reader can understand the proper meaning, context and sentiment. No matter how good you may be at reading and understanding Japanese, for example, if you don’t have the skills to render the original text accurately, and efficiently, in English, then there’s no way that you can effectively do your job as a translator.
And to answer the second part of your question, I believe the translation process I just described has helped me to deepen my understanding of Shotokan karate. Karate training is, of course, a physical endeavor—we learn through training. But when you have to think about how to describe the physical nature of karate through words, you gain a new perspective, which often provides new insight and understanding. I believe instructors will be able to appreciate what I’m talking about, because they must give a lot of thought to explaining various aspects of karate when teaching their students.

-          Another main reason for holding this interview is to help to promote and publicize Kanazawa-kancho’s incredible contributions to the Shotokan world and to the wider Karate international community.  The man is truly a legend in his own right and has helped to change the lives of many thousands of people around the world through his own example of leadership, compassion, harmony and strong spirit.  What has it been like to work with someone of his stature and knowledge in a field in which he is without doubt one of the foremost exponents?
-          It has been a pleasure and an honor to know, train under, and work with Kanazawa-kancho. One of the things in particular that has so impressed me is his promotion of harmony, in all of its various forms: harmony of movement, harmony with others, and harmony with nature. It’s really quite straightforward, but until you really understand how these different kinds of harmony work and how to incorporate them, it’s difficult to fully appreciate their value. In karate, harmony influences breathing, the use of the various parts of the body, training with an opponent, and so much more. When we look at karate books, I think that many of us tend to head straight for the photos, looking for the “fun stuff,” but I would encourage those who have Kanazawa-kancho’s books to spend some time reading the forewords and other sections that offer his thoughts and advice on karate.

-          In closing, do you have any special message for the many fellow Shotokan practitioners around the world who are reading this interview?
-          As I touched on in my previous response, there’s much more to karate than simply the physical aspect. To anyone seeking to get more out of karate, I would highly recommend pursuing these other aspects, which can be incorporated into most every facet of one’s life. I’m not talking about anything of a spiritual or mystical nature, but—for lack of a better word—more of an “attitude,” or way of thinking. I believe this is one of the reasons why karate is often called karate-do, referring to the “way,” or “path” of karate.
And last of all, if you love karate, keep training. At the Honbu-dojo, we have men and women who began training in their 30s, their 40s, and even their 50s. We also have students who continue training well into their 60s and 70s. Just look at Kancho; he’s approaching 80 and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Richard, thank you very much for this opportunity to exchange ideas and to share your many experiences, it has truly been a pleasure to know you personally and I hope our friendship will continue for many years to come.