Friday, 18 October 2013

Is History Repeating Itself..?

Funakoshi Gichin sensei, not long after his arrival in Japan
I've always liked this image of Funakoshi sensei, he's still relativity young, and his karate has yet to be altered by his foreign students. The weapons of Ryukyu kobudo and the kigu of Okinawan karate, are clearly visible in this photo, suggesting (to me at least) that Funakoshi sensei's Shuri-te had not yet morphed into Shotokan.

With the clarity of hindsight it's easy to see that the Japanese took control of Okinawan karate, just as they had taken control of Okinawa centuries earlier. The proliferation of karate began not in Shuri or Naha, where the art developed, but from Tokyo and Osaka where it was customised and packaged into a form that could be sold to the rest of the world.

At that time, the early 1920's, Okinawa lost control of karate's destiny and has struggled ever since to regain it. Within the last decade Okinawa has once again started to assert its self as the home of karate...only to drop the ball for a second time! For foreigners are once again poised ready to take control of karate's destiny; not the Japanese this time, but the Americans and Europeans.

While many of today's Okinawan karate teachers busy themselves cultivating a following beyond their island home, they are already losing control of their martial art to enterprising Westerners with a flare for business. From where I stand, the future direction of Okinawan karate is in as much danger of being hijacked by foreigners today as it was ninety-years ago.

Okinawa has already become a "karate-holiday" destination, a place to visit in much the same way as people visit Las Vegas or Disney World; frankly, if this situation continues for much longer I believe karate in Okinawa will lose it's integrity and become unnecessary and irrelevant to those who wish to pursue authentic karatedo: the 'way' of karate. If that happens, I'm not sure the island will get a third chance to hold on to its heritage.