I had the second part of this article written out the same time as part 1, but never got time to refine and finally get down to typing it. Here goes……
All the founders of various Ryu-Ha were innovators and free thinkers. If Funakoshi Sensei or Kyan Sensei were alive today, you can bet his karate would have changed and evolved with them. Not one of these Masters have ever sat down for afternoon tea and said, ‘That’s it. I’ve finally done it. It is complete. Finished.’ Any teacher worth his salt would have continued to research and develop his art to the betterment of himself and his students, and I for one, believe that we owe it to their memory which we so cherish to do the very same, to continue to research and develop and refine our ‘Do’.
Though we all have background in different training styles /Ryu-Ha what links us is the common heritage, common attitudes and the common principles on which we train. Gavin Mulholland Sensei, of Daigaku Karate Kai (Okinawan Goju-Ryu) once commented : that you are in kiba-dachi while I am in shiko-dachi, is of no, or at least minor importance, if we are both training 7 days a week and can demonstrate the fighting applications of that technique. That you turn your front foot while I turn my back foot pales into minute obscurity if we both understand the body mechanics, muscular-skeletal alignment, stretch/myotatic reflex and power generation.
However if when we say ‘Traditional’ we are implying that our karate is best and exactly the same as some long deceased Japanese (if your art is Japanese) master whom we never met or trained with, then we are at least delusional, and at worst displaying an ignorance of the wider goals and purposes of the Martial Arts that we could do well do without. Today many ‘traditionalist’ claims that cross-training waters down a Style and made us into mongrels. Little do they realize or remember that, that was what their teachers, and teacher’s teacher were doing all those years. Did Funakoshi Sensei not learn from Anko Azato, Yasutsune Itosu, Higaonna, Kiyuna Peichin and Sokon Matsumura, to name a few. Did Tatsuo Shimabuku Sensei not learn from Chotoku Kyan, Taira Shinken, Chogun Miyagi and Yabiku Moden.
I am not saying that I am in the same league as these Masters. What I am saying is that the choice of whether to train of your own Ryu should be yours alone (you may chose to consult from your sensei or senpai, but ultimately, you make your own mind). What I am saying is that if your sensei, whether outright deny you that right or thru innuendos and insinuations, then you should begin wondering, WHY? (As a general rule one might consider cross-training only after their shodan, if that were to be taken as a yardstick of their capability). All teachers, no matter under what guise or name, should encourage learning. to do otherwise is to display close-mindedness, ego, and worse ignorance. There is a malay saying : Bodoh Sombong. Literally translated : Egoistically Stupid (Ignorant)!!! Teachers have an obligation not only to teach, but to nurture and guide, and above all, encourage the thirst for knowledge. Martial arts students (no matter what level, beginner or master) should above all acknowledge their roots, and in the same breath, acknowledge that there are other sources of knowledge out there. As the saying goes : Seek, and ye shall find.
Our differences should unite us, not fragment and weaken us.
A couple of months ago while attending an out of state tournament ( a first in many, many, many years), I met up with some long lost friends. One, who I rightly call my senpai, both in age and ‘grade’, casually asks me if I’m still with my old dojo and sensei. When I told him that I have moved to another town and am currently with a different dojo, he went on to congratulate me on choosing the ‘right’ karate group, since, if I got the gist of his conversation right, true karate can only be developed/advanced thru tournaments (my former sensei doesn’t quite favor sport karate). While personally I have no objections towards competitive @ sports karate, I have always held the believe that karate-do can be truly developed in the dojo, thru countless hours of practice and drills. The understanding of kata, the practice of ne-waza, the perfection of kihon, among others, all contribute to shaping the karate-ka. The tournament court serves as a platform to test your knowledge and skill in a wider platform against others who have also put in the hours and sweat in practice as you do. The real test, to me however, is inside us, against ourselves. Not for some faux silverware.
But then again, I might be wrong. maybe I have missed out on the secret recipe to karate mastership. I digress. it is not for me to say whether my honourable senpai is true in his belief or not. After all, I am but a student of the Arts, and my journey is still long ahead of me. But this I find to be true ; in the Dojo I have seen the disjointed, uncoordinated student practicing the same kata, repetitiously for 2 hours, without regret, in hope that he might get at least one part right for that night. This I hold to be true, a small girl sparring with an opponent twice her size, hold back her tears of pain and frustration and go back onto the mat, to face her opponent with a stronger spirit and resolution while a trained fighter or should I say a martial athlete, roll on the mat to fake an ‘excessive contact’ in hope that her opponent be penalized and she be rewarded a point. Both are at the extreme end of the spectrum, but it gives an idea of what lies in between. I have seen perseverance overcome shortcomings, and seen talent wasted.
My next piece that I am working on is on the Japanization of Okinawan Karate and why most modern ‘Okinawan’ Karate are actually a flavour of Japanese Karate. I welcome all thoughts and comments.