Who art thou?

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour.

(Auguries of Innocence, William Blake)

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Honestly, I haven’t trained enough times with any ‘Masters’ for them to make any great impact on my technical or philosophical understanding of karate. Most of their influence, or rather, inspiration have been from their books of other publications that I have read. We all have 1 person who have the greatest influence on our training. For some it it their instructors, others their seniors, or senpai. For me it had been my ‘former’ instructor, Vince Choo Sensei, 5th Dan Kissaki-Kai (former chief instructor of Kanazawa-Ryu Malaysia). In one of his recent correspondences to me, he wrote : “… I wish to distance myself from the local karate schools mostly its because they have nothing to offer that I want and have everything that I dislike…” Strong words. Why? Try having and organization that you formed and nurtured taken away from you, not because of your own incompetence or there is someone more qualified to lead, but because of petty club politics. Try having your ‘friends’ calling up your students, backstabbing you, injecting racists innuendos to your actions. Bitter words. Who is this man? That is a story for another day. Today I want to relate a story (everyone loves a good story) on my search for a club when I moved to Melaka.

Two years ago, when I decided to start practicing karate again after a long absence, I went ‘dojo shopping’. To me it is a practically valid decision to go and ask around a few dojos before deciding to join any. The following happened:

  1. After a lengthy phone interview with the chief instructor of X-ryu, he told me that though their organization does not have a dojo (I later found out that their state rep closed shop) in Melaka (a small state roughly the size of NYC but with 1/20 the population), he offered to promote me to 3rd Dan (lucky me!!), if I would undergo ‘intensive’ training under him for a month and he would appoint me the state rep for X-ryu (with all the benefits attached, a.k.a. more share of the profits :-)). I haven’t contacted him again, and he has since passed away (god bless his soul).
  2. Having little confidence on other local associations, I turned overseas. A sensei whom I once had the privilege of training with in a seminar offered to recognize me, on a trial basis, as his rep in Malaysia. But, be warned, he said, trying to organize a brand new association is hard enough, much more so, going at it alone.
  3. In following the said sensei’s advice, I continued to find a local organization that I could network with. I met with a chief instructors (there seems to be a lot of them here!) of an organization that fronts itself as a state body. But, he wasn’t giving me straight answers and several technical questions that I posed him. The chief instructor,a hachidan, went on about how they are a member of MAKAF, blah, blah, blah, on how other dojos are not recognized bu the state, blah, blah, blah….. but no concrete and clear cut answers to my basic questions.
  4. I also went on-line in my search. Being a shotokan practitioner, obviously I searched for a shotokan dojo, but failed to find any. 1 site that I did find interesting and peculiar (in a good sense) though. The author of this blog site narrated on his quest for knowledge and understanding of karate-do he found out some disturbing facts about his current dojo (refer above paragraph). After questioning his ‘seniors’ on the matter, instead of clarifying the issue, we went on to sabotage his training. His treatment, or rather mistreatment, at the hands of these so called karate ‘masters’ is unbecoming of a karate-ka, much more so if you claim to be an instructor. Downright appalling.

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Hitotsu, Jinkaku kansei ni tsutomuru koto. Seek perfection of character. The way I see it it does not require to have a perfect character, just that you strive to have one. Sabotaging another’s quest for knowledge and truth is not in spirit of the adage. Anyway, I emailed him, and he replied, inviting me to train with him. No political holier than thou sermon. When I did finally meet him about a couple of months later, I find that he is easygoing and open-minded to the questions I posed him.

After a 2 year quest to find an organization to join, I found it in the forthright and simplicity of this man. This is how I came to join Shorin-Ryu Seibukan. Part and parcel of learning is asking questions. If your teachers, ignores, or worse, threatens you for the questions you ask, then you really have to ask yourself another question, What is s/he hiding to warrant such a hostile response? Such attitude stifles the spirit of learning and demeans the art of karate. It brings disrepute to the art and the ones that lose the most are the ordinary students, especially those that hang on to every word of their Cicak-Ryu ‘senseis’, for they do not know better. And those that do know better, are boycotted. Is this the example a teacher shows to their students. Loyalty and blind loyalty are worlds apart. I understand, unfortunately, that to most Malaysian karate-ka, what Ryu-Ha they are practicing are of little if any importance, as long as they get to bring home the silverware. A lot of legitimate clubs have also warped in this direction. The ‘Do’ have degenerated into a sport. But to the picky few it does matter. It matters that what we are learning have some real merit and background. It matters that if we say we are learning/teaching Shorin-Ryu, then we are really learning/teaching Shorin-Ryu and not a Celup-Ryu. It Matters that our teachers/instructors/sensei/master/etc have not only the physical but also moral bearing of a teacher. A teacher that encourage and nurtures their students to be inquisitive and ask questions and not crush their spirit in retaliation.

Personally for me, it doesn’t really matter, if your organization has a HQ in Japan or Okinawa or that your ‘Kancho’ or ‘Surpreme Sensei’ is Japanese or not. Shoshin Nagamine Sensei once said : ‘We (Japanese & Okinawan) have as many frauds here as you do in the west”. What is important is that you are learning something real and functional. Vince Morris Sensei ha his Kissaki-Kai. Patrick McCarthy has his Koryu Uchinadi. Would you go up to them and call them frauds? Their lineage is real enough. They have evolved and came into their own. A lot of Japanese have done it, yet why are they are not treated like lepers like non-Japanese? Maybe, just maybe, and I’m spit-balling here, maybe it is because they have the courtesy and grace not to plagiarize someone else’s name, and give lame reasons like honouring your sensei by naming your organization like his’s (when what your teaching is nowhere close). A lot of them have impressive 7,8,9 dans, but really, how many of them are authentic? When the late Sheikh Nasir of Shito-Ryu put on his gi and obi, no one questions his credentials (even the Japanese sit a bit straighter in his presence), but other, some if not most, are victims of what I call ‘cicakification’ (for futher clarification on ‘cicakification : contact me) of this noble art. Most do not know (and if they do, they pretend otherwise) the history of the ‘Do’. This saddens me. And it does not bode well for the future of Malaysia Karate-Do.

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6 responses to “Who art thou?

  1. Greetings;

    I have read you comments about your struggles on finding a “real” dojo and I have heard so many stories like yours over the years. If you are affiliated with Mesara Sensei or his students you are in fine hands for learning traditional karate.

  2. I never learn karate before and i don’t know much about karate. What i know is that i love to learn karate. I also heard that the late Shihan Sheikh Nasir in one of the best Karate Sensei’s not only in Malaysia but also the world. I’ve read a lot of news and see your video. I think he is the only Sensei in Malaysia that practice the traditional style and teaching of karate do. Maybe if u have extra news about him, u can share it with me. He is my idol. Not to become Sensei but to success like him. TQ.

  3. Dear Eysan,

    I applaud you for your interest. But I want to ask you something, how can you love something you don’t know? I don’t mean to critisize you, but to say you love karate and not learn it is like saying you like pizza but never have tasted it. I agree that Sheikh Nasir Sensei is one of the few that held on to traditional karate. Even then I cannot comment that much, because i have never met the man. But from what I hear, even the japanese admire him. But to say that he is the only sensei that practice traditional karate is, IMHO, an overstatement. There is traditional karate and there is traditional okinawan karate. There are a lot of subtle differences between the two. Japanese Karate (Shito-Ryu , Shotokan, etc) are japanize versions of an older martial art, okinawan karate. Japanese karate are heavily influenced by the japanese code of Bushido (Warrior’s Code), whereas okinawan karate evolved from the farmers and fishermen who dwell the Ryukyun island of Okinawa. The story goes on a lot longer. Even in okinawa, japanese influence have evloved a lot of the traditional schools.

    I recommend that you pursue your self-professed love for karate by joining a local karate dojo. Where do you live? If I know a good instructor nearby I will recommend him/her to you, irregardless of his Ryu-Ha or association.

    Ganbatte Kudasai!

  4. Hi. I am also a shotokan practitioner. I trained in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah (haven’t been to the dojo for a couple months now). Soon i am going to study in a private institution of higher learning in Petaling Jaya. I thought that if i have time, it’ll be good if i could still practice karate there while pursuing a degree. I have for years asked and tried looking for a shotokan club in west Malaysia but have found none. Can you please help me out? Any recommendations would be helpful and appreciated. Thanks.

  5. Hi Jo,

    My ‘little black book’ on shotokan dojos in KL are a bit outdated. You can try can try to contact these two persons who are currently still active. Due to some nasty experience, I will not post their phone numbers here so instead I have posted their websites, so that you can find their contact info.

    1. David Yap (Independent Shotokan Dojo, PJ) Website : http://fudoshin.my.googlepages.com/
    2. Ridzuan Md. Zain (Kanazawa-Ryu KL) Website : http://www.shotoshinkai-malaysia.co.cc

    If you are looking for something more extreme you can also contact :

    1. Vince Choo (Bangsar) Website : http://www.kdta.com

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