Saturday, 17 November 2012

Is Okinawa becoming a Disneyworld attraction?

Okinawa - Land of the Empty Hand...or Karate Theme Park?
I've been thinking about the present karate situation in Okinawa since I returned home earlier this year; I've even drafted an article on the subject, but in the end I figured 2500+ words was perhaps giving the matter a little too much currency. Still...I'm going to throw some of my thoughts out there anyway: see what you think.....

I've been travelling to Okinawa regularly since February 1984, and although the total amount of time I've spent on the island amounts to little more than a year (a far shorter time than a great many other people), I've been going there over a long enough time span to notice some significant changes; perhaps the most obvious being the ease with which the island can now be reached, and the kind of people who choose to go there.

However, simply arriving at Naha airport does not guarantee a visit worth the financial outlay: at least not in my book. The modern "Package Holiday" method of experiencing Okinawan karate is to my mind typical of a society that wants everything made easy. Flights, accommodation, and even the training, all neatly packaged and spoon fed to those too lazy, or scared, to get off their collective butt and make things happen. 

Example: Earlier this year I was walking along Kokusaidori and found myself behind a bunch of visiting 'karateka'. How did I know they were karateka? They were still wearing their gi pants, some had tee-shirts with dragons and the word 'karate' written on them, and a number of them had their gi jackets half stuffed (like dirty laundry) into their backpacks. As we passed by McDonald's one of them declared loudly, and with some relief..."At last, somewhere to eat!"

Example: People turning up to a bar in their gi.

Example: Foreigners coming to the dojo asking for instruction, being invited back the following evening, then not turning up.

I could go on, but I suspect a great number who call themselves karateka these days would see little wrong in the examples I've given here. I left Okinawa this year feeling concern for the future of karate. Oh don't get me wrong, Okinawa is still the home of many truly great karateka, both teachers and students alike; but it seems to me the island is in danger of pandering, more than it should, to the whims of visitors who want to take what they want from karate and kobudo, and give very little back in return.

I hope this little guy is doing his job properly
Visiting Okinawan for training is no holiday, at least that has been my experience over the past three decades. And yet, I'm beginning to see signs of the island becoming a kind of karate theme park. A place to go on a package tour with fifty of your closest friends. Is this really what people want....High school excursions? Time to grow up I think!

If you need a middle-man to make all your arrangements for you, or you need your hand held before you're prepared to take a step forward, then what does that say about your strength of (or lack of) character. How on earth do you expect to learn anything worthwhile about karate, or your self, if you can't find it within you to take control of your own life?