Spotlight: Malcolm Dorfman – One strike, one kill

An evangelist for Budo Karate, Malcolm Dorfman is known throughout the world of Karate for his technical excellence. He has been a leading light of South African Shotokan Karate development. He has trained with many of the top JKA Masters and was the first westerner to be promoted to the rank of 9th Dan, in a Japanese-based mainstream Shotokan organisation.

Malcolm Dorfman was born on 31 March 1947 in Johannesburg South Africa. A very bright child he attended King Edward VII high school, where he started and finished school a year earlier than his classmates. His intelligence marked him as a target for bullies. However, the young Dorfman would fight back.

In 1965 Dorfman enrolled at the University of Pretoria to study medicine. He soon realised that this was not what he wanted to do. A year later he enrolled at the University of Witwatersrand to study law.

Dorfman had previously studied Judo while at school. At the University of Pretoria, he was a member of the Judo Club. He was taught by Eddie Dorey, a top Judo competitor and an early pioneer of Shotokan Karate in South Africa. At the University of Witwatersrand Dorfman continued his Judo training and became Captain of the Witwatersrand Judo team.

In 1966 Dorfman started practising Karate, joining Stan Schmidt‘s JKA dojo. For the next six months, he trained in both Karate and Judo. He eventually realised that he was better at Karate and gave up  Judo. He immersed himself in his Karate, training three days a week. That year he reached the South African Open quarter-finals. He eventually gave up his studies to focus on his Karate training. This came as a blow to his parents.

Dorfman’s dedication to his Karate training saw him promoted to 1st Dan by Schmidt in 1968. Two years later he was promoted to 2nd Dan, again by Schmidt.

In 1970 Dorfman was selected for the first Springbok National Karate team to tour overseas. This was during the apartheid era and the team was the first South African international team to tour abroad. Schmidt, Norman Robinson and Dorfman had made many friends and contacts in the world of Karate. This meant they received invitations to compete in international tournaments that would not have normally been available to them, due to the restrictions imposed by the world in response to apartheid. The South African Karate team were still unable to compete in the official JKA World Championships or in the WUKO /WKF all styles tournaments.

Dorfman almost did not make the team for the tour to Italy. During the selection process, he lost to the experienced Shotokai practitioner Lionel Marinus in the preliminary rounds. This meant he was relegated to the loser’s pool. He made it through the pool reaching the last eight, where he faced Marinus again and this time one his bout.

In 1972 on Keinosuke Enoeda’s visit to South Africa Dorfman was promoted to 3rd Dan. A year later he opened his first dojo, the Malcolm Dorfman Karate Institute, in Parktown North, Johannesburg.

The mid-1970s saw Dorfman make regular visits to Japan to train at the ‘Hornets Nest’ of the JKA Hombu, located in Tokyo. Initially, he trained in the foreigner’s classes. However, he was given the rare privilege of being invited to train in the JKA Instructors Course as a guest. He considered this period some of the best training he ever did. It taught him about the Budo Spirit that is integral to Karate practice.

On his first trip to Japan Dorfman trained with Shotokan legend, Hirokazu Kanazawa, who at the time had returned from teaching abroad and was still a member of the JKA. Like many karate-ka before and after him, Dorfman ranks Kanazawa as the best instructor he ever trained with. His training was not only with Kanazawa. He trained with a who’s who of JKA Karate at the JKA Hombu. This included Masaaki Ueki, Takeshi Oishi, Masahiko Tanaka, Kazumi Tabata, Keigo Abe, Mikio Yahara, Toshihiro Mori, Hitoshi Kasuya, Fujikiyo Omura, Norihiko Iida, Takenori Imura and Masao Kagawa.

One man who became a mentor and a big influence on him was Masahiko Tanaka. He frequently trained at Tanaka’s Shokikan dojo and also trained at his Copenhagen dojo in the late 1970s. Tanaka was known for his tough approach in the dojo. Outside the dojo, he had a gentle, friendly manner. Dorfman frequently had private one-on-one sparring sessions with Tanaka. He learnt a lot, technically and strategically. Above all, he developed a strong fighting spirit. He had been introduced to Tanaka through his friend Yoshimasa Takahashi. They would eventually form a good friendship. Dorfman also represented Tanaka’s dojo at the All-Japan Championships.

Dorfman also had the opportunity to train at Shotokan legend, Masatoshi Nakayama’s Hoitsugan dojo. Nakayama promoted him to 4th Dan in 1976.

26 February 1975 saw the birth of Dorfman’s first child Shane, who would go on to become a multiple Karate World Champion.

Dorfman was chosen as the Springbok Karate team captain in 1978. He led the team against a strong German team that toured South Africa. In a kumite bout, he defeated Risto Krishkila, the European JKA champion. He also captained against a USA team featuring Billy Blanks and Tokey Hill.

1978 also saw Dorfman retire from the Springbok team. He still competed in selected tournaments. In the same year, he was awarded the Sports Merit Award. The award was given By the State President for Dorfman’s sporting achievement.

In 1980 Dorfman was promoted to 5th Dan by Masahiko Tanaka.

Dorfman’s son Shane began his Karate training in 1981, aged six. That same year Dorfman made his acting debut in the film “Kill and Kill Again” as the Truck driver alongside Stan Schmidt. He was also awarded a second Sports Merit Award. This time it was for his coaching achievements.

1982 saw the beginning of Dorfman’s 12-year refereeing career. He became the Chief Referee of South Africa and was also an international referee in several organisations.

1982 saw the beginning of Dorfman’s 12-year refereeing career. He became the Chief Referee of South Africa and was also an international referee in several organisations.

Dorfman had always wanted to learn another traditional Japanese martial art. On a visit to the JKA Hombu in 1983, he was introduced to the art of Kendo by Norihiko Iida. Iida an instructor at the JKA Hombu, was also a priest. He took Dorfman to a Kendo instructor who taught at a dojo which was a part of a Japanese temple.

The following year Dorfman returned to Japan and started taking Kendo lessons from Akira Kubo, renowned for teaching Westerners at his Kyumeikan dojo.

In 1986 Dorfman was awarded his 2nd Dan in Kendo by the All Japan Kendo Federation. That same year he introduced Kendo into South Africa. He started teaching Kendo classes at his Johannesburg dojo. The growth of Kendo led to the formation of the South African Kendo Federation. Due to his various commitments, he eventually handed the reins of the Federation and his classes to his two top students.

A week after being awarded his 2nd Dan in Kendo, Dorfman was promoted to his 6th Dan by Masatoshi Nakayama. This was the highest grade awarded to a non-Japanese karate-ka, by Nakayama.

In 1987 the JKA was thrown into a state of turmoil following the death of JKA Chief Instructor, Masatoshi Nakayama. By 1990 internal politics led to the formation of two opposing factions within the JKA. One faction was led by businessman Nobuyuki Nakahara and was mainly made up of older instructors. This faction included Motokuni Sugiura, Masaaki Ueki, and Yoshiharu Osaka. The other faction, led by Tetsuhiko Asai, was made up of mainly younger instructors. This faction included Mikio Yahara, Masao Kagawa, and Keigo Abe. Each faction referred to themselves as the JKA.

Dorfman was awarded his 7th Dan in 1994 by Tetsuhiko Asai. In the same year, he was awarded the rank of A-Class Instructor, A-Class Examiner and A-Class Judge.

In 1999 after a long and protracted court case, the Japanese High Court awarded the Nakahara fraction the sole use of the JKA name. Later that year the Asai Fraction split into several groups:

  • The Japan Karate Shotokai (JKS) led by Tetsuhiko Asai.
  • The Japan Shotokan Karate Association (JSK) led by Keigo Abe.
  • The Karatenomichi World Federation (KWF) led by Mikio Yahara. This was the group Dorfman joined.

The following year the KWF held its first World Championships in Cardiff, Wales. A grading was held the day before the Championships started. Dorfman graded in front of Yahara and was promoted to 8th Dan. At the time he was the youngest and only westerner to pass the examination at the first attempt.

There was more success for the Dorfman family in Cardiff. Dorfman’s oldest son Shane, a qualified medical doctor, became World Champion by winning the senior kata event. Dorfman’s youngest son, Saville, who was born in 1984, became a Junior World Champion. Both Shane and Saville Dorfman have won multiple titles at junior level. Shane has won multiple titles at senior level. In 2002 he became the Grand Champion at the KWF World Championships. He repeated the feat in 2004.

In 2000 Dorfman was appointed to the Saiko-Shihankai, the three-man Supreme Master Board of the KWF, alongside Yahara and Akihito Isaka. He was also re-awarded the ranks of A-Class Instructor, A-Class Examiner, and A-Class Judge.

On 30 November 1990, the World Shotokan Karate Association WSKA was formed.  As a non-political association made up of various organisations it’s aim is to promote traditional Shotokan competition. In 2001 Dorfman was appointed the Africa Continent Director for the WSKA. In 2005 he was appointed to the WSKA Referee Qualifications panel for the World Championships. In 2013 he was appointed to the five-man WSKA Referees Commission. Two years later he was appointed Asia Continent Director. He currently sits on the WSKA’s Technical Committee alongside Andy Sherry and Ted Hedlund.

Alongside his WSKA duties, Dorfman continues to play an active part in the KWF. From 2002 until 2015 he was a World Cup Supervisor at the KWF World Championships. In 2016 he became the sole KWF World vice-chief instructor Following the resignation of Akihito Isaka.

In 2012 Dorfman founded the Budo Karate International (BKI). A big promoter of Budo in the martial arts he wanted an organisation that preserved the Budo aspect of Karate. He wanted to see the evolution of Karate through the incorporation of correct, and safe modern exercise technology. He felt this would lead to the holistic development of karate-ka.

At the KWS World Congress held in Malta in 2017, Dorfman was awarded his 9th Dan by Mikio Yahara. In most organisations, this grade is given as a ceremonial award. However, Dorfman in keeping with the KWF’s philosophy of whatever is received must be earned, opted to take the physical examination to earn his grade. In receiving his grade he became the first westerner to be awarded a 9th Dan in a mainstream Japanese-based Shotokanl organisation.

Malcolm Dorfman epitomises the principles of Funakoshi’s Niji Kun. Watching him conduct one of his international seminars, one is struck by his passion and the depth of knowledge he brings to his teaching. With the current trend of Karate moving more towards sports practice, there is a need for teachers like Dorfman and Mikio Yahara to continue to promote their Budo aspect of Karate.

Author: Patrick Donkor

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