Interview with shihan Tom Piotrkowicz

The following is an interview conducted with Shihan Tom in 2007.
Editor: So tell me about your early involvement with martial arts.
Shihan Tom: I started martial arts training in 1970. That was jujutsu and judo. In 1972 I began to practice karate . In these days I was one of the first and the youngest karateka in Warsaw.

Editor: Tell us about the development of martial arts in Poland.
Shihan Tom: In these days martial arts practice was something difficult and very exotic in Poland. In communistic times we had no money and no possibilities to travel abroad. Politicalpolice were afraid of us and tried to control everything. There were no Japanese masters in Poland, and they visited our country once in ten years and we could only dream about visiting Japan. We learned mostly from foreign books, which were sent to us by our relatives which lived in the UK, Germany or in the USA. In Poland there were only a few books about judo and that’s all. Enough to say that book about karate cost in the USA about $30 which was equivalent to three or even four months salary in Poland. We learned also from Italian instructors. I started contacts with Shotokan karate master Hideo Ochi, 8th dan JKA, who lived in Germany.

Editor: How did you find Soke Kubota and the IKA?
Shihan Tom: For years I had trained Shotokan karate and I was one of the first and youngest officially recognized instructors. Shotokan lacked in my opinion hard elements and effectiveness in not only sport fighting but also in self defense. I grew up in quite dangerous areas of Warsaw so I knew what real fighting meant. Italian karate instructors informed us about master Kubota. When I saw photos and movies with him I was very impressed with his dynamics and power. I very much wanted to meet Soke Kubota in person. There was a great possibility to do that when in the 80s when Soke visited Italy. I was the president of the University Students Karate Federation in Poland and we had a very strong team. We wanted to go to Italy for seminars with Soke and tournament on the second day. Unfortunately martial law in Poland and its consequences ruined our efforts. I waited to meet with Soke for ten years and finally in 1992 also in Italy I met Soke. It was International tournament – Masters Cup organized by Shihan Giorgio Bortolin. I won a medal in kata at that memorable event and was chosen by Soke for demonstration. I hardly survived that demonstration and Soke swept the floor using me many times. I then realized that after 21 years of karate training and with the rank of sandan in Shotokan my true journey with karate had just begun. I couldn’t sleep all night because I was constantly thinking about unique yet simple and effective techniques Soke demonstrated on me. I met the Master.

Editor: How does Soke Kubota and the IKA differ from other instructors and schools you have seen?
Shihan Tom: Through my life I trained with many Japanese masters. Soke Kubota is a phenomenon unique in the whole world. He is the great inventor who seeks his own ways in martial arts and is open to any innovations. His style is original. It combines tradition with modern technique. I try to meet him at least once or twice a year. His great features of character impinge his students. We all live in an environment of his glory. Thanks to being a member of IKA I became acquainted with many great people, established many friendships, visited beautiful California and was fortunate to get acquainted with such Hollywood celebrities as James Caan. I would like to especially thank and greet Shihan Val Mijailovic and his family. I was his guest at my recent visit to IKA HQ. I spent many wonderful days with him in Warsaw and in LA.

Editor: I understand that you have a “Samurai” school. Tell us a little about it.
Shihan Tom: You all remember Last Samurai, the movie with Tom Cruise. Saigo Takamori, who was a historical figure and was portrayed in this movie as the leader of rebellion, also established a Samurai school to cultivate samurai traditions and to teach swordsmanship. I established the Samurai School long before this movie was in Poland. My fascination of samurai
swords I owe to Soke Kubota. In Samurai School I try to practice Soke’s kenjutsu school Toshin-ryu, kobudo which he taught me and also battodo which I learned in Japan. I think that my sons and I are one of the most advanced tameshigiri (test cutting of rice mats with sharp sword) practitioners in Europe. I posses godan in two separate Japanese fencing federations, but Soke still surprises me with his unique sword techniques.

Editor: What are your plans for the future?
Shihan Tom: To train, train and once again train. Now my sons, who have trained with me since childhood, inspire me. They are now university students and also martial arts instructors.

Editor: I understand that you teach martial arts full time for a living. This is becoming less common in this day and age. Tell us a little bit about how you are able to do this.
Shihan Tom: My hobby became my profession. I studied at two universities: molecular biology and human nutrition. But I am also karate and other Japanese martial arts instructor as well as a boxing instructor. In Poland there are special licenses issued by the Department of Sport. You must pass practical and theoretical exams to receive an instructors license. My hobby started to occupy nearly all of my free time so I decided to quit my job at the University and established the Warsaw Karate Centre years ago. I am the author of four books about martial arts, many articles, instructional movies and TV shows about martial arts. I teach self defense at a private secondary school and at the university. In the 90s I taught for one year the US
Marine Corps which guarded the US Embassy in Warszawa. Although it isn’t job which will bring millions to you, I do what I love. It’s worth more than money.

Editor: Is there anything else you would like to share with the IKA world?
Shihan Tom: I owe a lot to Soke Kubota. Let’s try to pass his wise words and great deeds to our students.

Editor’s Note: We thank Shihan Tom for his continuous support of the IKA. He has hosted numerous tournaments and seminars in Poland and has brought Soke and Shihan Kuratomi to Warsaw several times over the past decade. He has been instrumental in the growth of IKA throughout Europe.