Sunday, 23 October 2016

Ryouyaku kuchi ni nigashi......

This guy's silent, if you want to hear him, you'll have to add the Grrrrrr yourself
I was often scolded as a kid for being too noisy, too disruptive. I grew out of it eventual, but not before being on the receiving end of a number of harsh lessons. That's okay, because you learn by experience: right? And if all your experiences are nice, then you learn nothing about overcoming disappointment. The Chinese call it..."Eating bitter!" In karate you sometimes hear the term "Nin Tai" as a way of explaining the necessity to 'endure' in order to learn. When I was a kid complaining about something, my dad often told me to "Shut up and get on with it!" In later years, his ability to point directly to the nub of things made me wonder if he wasn't really a secret Zen master.

Not everyone who writes about karate and kobudo give too much thought to the things they are saying. I can tell this by reading the statements they make and vagaries they wrap their language up in. For example, I read recently that 99% of all goju-ryu students and teachers don't practice or use the fundamentals of their karate. It's an absurd statement to make given that no evidence was presented to back this statistic up. Perhaps it's just an opinion, in which case the writer should, if he wanted to be taken seriously, have made that clear. The statement also fails to clarify if the 99% refers to goju ryu people in the UK, in Europe, or in the world.

I'm less concerned with which side of this (imaginary) statistic I stand. I'm more interested in who the 1% are who are getting the fundamentals of goju ryu right? I could take a guess, (the writer and his gang?), but  doing that would place me in the same situation as the writer, i.e.....basing my karate knowledge on opinions that happen to suit. Although I took no umbrage at the implication inherent in the statement, that implication is crystal clear, 'if you're not practicing goju ryu the way we do it, then you're doing it all wrong!' From my perspective, statements like this stem from a breathtaking level of arrogance...or perhaps it's just ignorance? Making a point is fine, having an opinion is wonderful, but neither have much meaning if they are ill thought out or poorly conceived.

Reading this criticism you may think I'm being hostile; but that's only because many of you have invested so much of 'who you think you are' in a virtual (social media) world: a world calibrated for you in 'likes', 'shares', and collecting 'friends'. With little or no time standing before a teacher who only ever presents you with problems to solve, rather than giving you the answers you're paying him for, criticism has become a trigger to 'take offence'. The concept of 'Hihyo' (criticism) is no longer seen as a signal that your teacher is interested in your progress, unless  of course, you're infatuated by the person you have handed your 'self ' over to.

Time, and training, bring with them rewards that are lost when searching for short cuts. Having all the answers is a sign you have been asking the wrong questions, You can't gain height by pulling others down. You can't claim authenticity if you're worried what others think. You can't  apply karate if your head is full of techniques. You can't pretend to be a leader when you yourself are lost. You can't know the things you never struggled for long enough to learn. Short cuts lead to quick results, but none that last. Growing older is not the same as growing up!

It's impossible to go back in life and start again, but you can start again and end up somewhere else.....

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Getting more out of letting go....

The old, the new - it's just a matter of time.
Regular readers of this blog may remember the dojo at my previous home. You may also remember the various posts documenting the building of the present Shinseidokan, the one you see here. It was a big investment to make, both in time, money, effort, and materials.  When the dojo was established, in 2012, I expected to be training in it for at least ten to fifteen years...that was the plan. But life has a way of interfering with even the best laid plans.

I'll be moving soon, leaving the dojo and my home to their new owners. I doubt the building will be used again for the purpose it was built, but that's okay. For all the time it was in my life, it was the dojo I spent most mornings in, it was the place where I practiced together with friends, and welcomed visitors. It was the space that challenged me to stay each winter when the temperature fell below zero; and again each summer, when windows and doors pushed wide open, still refused to allow sufficient air to enter and give my bursting lungs something to work with.

From the age of 57 to 61, this incarnation of the Shinseidokan has been a wonderful home for my karate and kobudo, but I won't miss it. I won't hold on to its memory and burden myself with thoughts of having 'lost' something. For there is nothing to be gained from such thinking, and everything to loose. Once gone I will never get it back, so what purpose would be severed longing for something that won't happen? The next dojo, in my new home, is where my thoughts are already turning. If my mind remains attached to the building in the photo, how can I enjoy the new space I intend to create?

There is an energy in giving denied to those who only take, just as there is an emptiness in those who defend their status-quo, rather than remain open to change. As permanence doesn't exist anywhere in the universe, it seems like such a childish thing to hang on to every little thing that comes your way in life. I'm not sure emotional intelligence can be taught, and yet without it karate and kobudo remain little more than physical maneuvers, often choreographed to such a degree that in many cases, both have lost their connection to reality.

In all that industry you call your karate, can you identify anything you can do without?

Monday, 17 October 2016

What's your opinion....?

At 61 I'm still young, and I'm still training!
I have to hand it to some in karate, they have made a career out of very little and a virtue out of achieving nothing much. It's a funny thing about we humans....when you want something really badly you can, if you're not careful, convince yourself that you've found it....even when you haven't. Karate people do it all the time! It's a way of deflecting a sense of inadequacy.

But, that quiet, self-doubting, look in your eyes when you look in the mirror, tells you that you haven't been able to do what needed to be done, nor have you found the intestinal fortitude necessary to change and grow; all of which points to an internal struggle you have yet to win. Sure you know about more karate 'stuff ' than you once did, but what good is it doing you?

With age and the years of training, comes a responsibility to preserve and nurture the benefits you've gained from karate. Selling what you've gained to anybody willing to pay you is, in my view, a very poor response. Still, if you feel no such responsibility in the first place, perhaps a desire to sell what you know seems perfectly reasonable. That's the thing with notions like 'gimu' and 'giri' either feel them toward karate: or you don't.

Having a big opinion of yourself, only proves how small you really are....

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Changes afoot.....

Makiwara training at the Higaonna dojo in Kiyose, Japan, 1986
I've always considered balance to be an essential part of healthy living; have a drink but don't become a drunk, eat well but don't become obese, exercise but don't get hooked on owning 'the body beautiful'. Extremes of anything are seldom healthy for you, so having a sense of balance is important. When I was a young man I, like a great many others, found it difficult to grasp the notion of balance, and even harder to apply it in my daily life...for that there was a heavy price to pay: and I payed it!

Some of you who write to me believe I'm a kind of  'karate hero', the guy who tells it like it is and stands up for the 'traditional values' of karate. Others (and there are a lot of you) write to tell me I'm a f**king jerk who knows nothing. I've received a number of threatening emails over the years, all promising to give me a good kicking should the writer ever get to meet me. One 'fan' promised to post my beating at his hands on Facebook..."for all the world to see." Not bad coming from a guy who fancies himself a karateka and teaches children. I have to say, neither view of me is correct, I'm neither a champion of all that's right and good with karate, nor am I unknowing or unskilled.

One enterprising 'karateka' has turned this image into a poster and sells them...apparently, my permission and  a fee are not a part of his business plan!
The internet has become a great leveler, with idiotic words and behavior now standing shoulder to shoulder with words of  real wisdom and examples of great inspiration. The avalanche of choice for those who spend time on the net has not delivered on it's promise of greater access to knowledge. Human beings are not sufficiently evolved (emotionally mature enough) to filter the good from the bad, the supportive from the corrosive, the truth from the lies. Couple this with an inbuilt desire to 'belong' and the scene is set. People strive to be 'liked', and take endless 'selfies' to 'share' with their internet 'friends'. I sounds like the bleating of an old guy feeling crusty with the world, but that's not the case at all.

You've heard me say it many times over the life of this blog..."I can't change the world, but I can change my world." Well, I'm about to make a number of changes to 'my' world, and one of them is to withdraw from the public side of karate. I've been published somewhere in the world every month for over 30 years, in languages as diverse as Dutch, Flemish, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Japanese, and well as my poor English. My books have attracted a dozen or so awards, and my magazine articles are received as well now by editors and readers, as they were in 1985 when I submitted my first piece to Fighting Arts International in the UK.

Outside practise at the Shinseidokan
I will continue to practice my karate and kobudo at home as always, and I will continue to help and work with the karateka who look to me for the little guidance I am able to provide. With a number of projects in the pipeline I will continue to write, I just won't be writing about karate. The magazine editors I work with know and understand why I'm making this change, they have articles of mine on file that will continue to appear well into 2017, so my 'disappearance' from the 'karatesphere' will be more like a gradual withdrawal. Soon, this blog will go private. It will become more of a newsletter for the karateka associated with the Shinseidokan. They are spread across the entire continent of Australia, from Broom in the northwest, to Launceston in the southeast, from Perth to Canberra, and from Adelaide to Melbourne.

I have a few things I'd like to talk about before the blog goes private, one of them being the change that happens when something (or someone) becomes popular. Although change is one of the few certainties in life (along with dying); popularity alters the speed with which change occurs. Not only that, but 'popular change' corrupts the very thing that people are attracted to. Anyone who has spent time training karate in Okinawa prior to 1990 will know what I'm talking about here. While some will no doubt hold the view that things are better now, more open and advanced...others will look back on times past and sigh at the amount of loss that has occurred in the rush to popularisation.

It was ever thus of course...because things 'change!'

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Try not to trip over yourself....

Me and my former Shito-ryu teacher, Keiji Tomiyama sensei
I stopped practicing Tani-ha Shito-ryu over 30 years ago, but I've never stopped referring to the man I'm standing next to in this photo as sensei. Whenever we meet, whenever I have spoken to him, and whenever I speak of him to others....I always refer to him as sensei. Almost 40 years ago, as we traveled through France together, he said..."You can call me Keiji, it's okay" I replied, "Thank you sensei."

When people join the Shinseidokan dojo I let them know that from then on they should refer to me as 'sensei', Not because I want to establish a level of superiority over them, and not because I feel I need a title; I ask this because I want them to come to know the freedom to be found in humility. I want them to discover that giving of themselves, even in this small way, is far more beneficial to living well than taking everything they can get.

Recently, I have been helping a stranger connect with a small group of karateka who I respect. The first email I received addressed me like so..."Dear Michael Clarke sensei", the next  "Dear Clarke sensei", and then a couple of  "Dear sensei" followed after that. This week, the stranger has been invited to meet with one of the group to discuss if he is suitable to join them.  I know this because I received an email from him thanking me for my help. I smiled when I read it, because the email began..."Dear Mike".

I don't have a problem with this, it is my name after all; and besides, I've said the same thing to various people over the years that Tomiyama sensei said to it's not the end of the world! But things like this should not be taken lightly in the context of your karate education. The matter here is not that I want something (in this case, to be addressed as sensei), but that others who want something from me are not prepared to give a little something back (humility). Only stupid people take and give nothing in return.

Having read this, I hope the stranger I've helped doesn't get the urge to write and explain himself, it's just not necessary. I've moved on, and now that the matter has been aired I'll forget about it very quickly. But there's a lesson in this that everyone can learn from. The way you behave reflects the way you think. The way you think is governed by the things you want. What you want stems from how you see yourself in relation to everyone else. Karate training can help you with all this stuff, or make things worse: that's up to you.

As you walk the path, try not to trip over yourself along the way......

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Specifically Vague...

The Shinseidokan dojo, sitting gently upon the earth
There is nothing vague about sincerity, nothing uncertain about authenticity; you either are or you're not. You can argue semantics if you like, prattle on endlessly about what it is to be either, or both, but that would just highlight you're reluctance to admit (to your self) that you're neither. You simply can't be mostly sincere or nearly matter how hard you try to convince yourself otherwise.

Something you notice about karate folk with a desire to be 'someone', is their use of vague statements; here's a few of my favourites:

When I was training in Japan/Okinawa...

When I was training with...

I've met many of the big names in...

My research has revealed...

When I compare...

Without specific follow-up information, such statements are meaningless. How long was the stay in Japan/Okinawa? How frequently did you practice while you were there? Who did you train under?
When you trained with 'someone', was that in a small group or a room with 200 others? Name the big names you've trained with, and the circumstance under which the training took place. Cite the sources of your research, and provide evidence to validate your comparisons.

When it comes to the use of vagaries, karate wannabes are often more skilled with words than they are in karate. Still, no matter, a vague grasp of things is all that many karateka require these days. You get the heroes and teachers you deserve. The people you give your attention to are a reflection of your own nature. It's a continuous loop of re-enforcement between those who wish to lead, and those who are only too happy to follow.

If you make a statement, then back it up with facts, names, dates, places. Don't claim to have done something based on a half truth. Don't claim to know something based on little or no experience. Because when you do this kind of thing you reveal your true nature, you expose your true self, and you invalidate the better aspects of your character. In short, you loose the sincerity you claim to aspire to, and make redundant the authenticity you say you live by.

Be specific in the things you say, it may not win you many friends, but, as someone more grounded than me once said...."It's better to be disliked for who you are, than liked for who you're not."

Friday, 30 September 2016

Impatience and impostors...

Kigu made (and used) by Jon in South Australia
A few years ago, I wrote a book called 'The Art of Hojo-Undo'. It was, and continues to be, received well by karateka the world over, and has even been translated and published in Italian. Success you might say, fame, fortune even! Well the first of these may be true, the book is successful, but the other two: what of them? What role does the notion of fame & fortune play in your connection with karate? For some, like me, it plays no role at all; but, the rise in self-publishing, YouTube, and Facebook, has fed a desire in many to become a 'somebody'....a karate Kardashian!

It used to be that karate took time to learn, and even longer to understand, it used to be that manuscripts were turned down more often than they were accepted, it used to be that you had to be good at something to be famous for it...but not now. Now all you need is access to the internet, an over inflated opinion of your ability, and an ego as big a Texas. Within the karate world, these are not rare commodities today, in fact, they are so common I'll bet you know a couple of folk yourself who fit the bill perfectly....not you though, right?

The impatience that karate is wrapped up in today is fertile ground for impostors to establish themselves. They quickly grow a following, but it's a transient one, for the people training with the master this year are not the same people who were training with him this time last year, or five years ago. Karate club membership is now right up there with Gym memberships, and just about as useful. And who is responsible for this deplorable situation's not you, right?

I read recently that kigu-undo is no longer much good. It's inefficient, it's somehow lacking and takes too long to get results. Apparently, taiso-daruma exercises are far better, more efficient, produce quicker and stronger results....I'm amazed! Not by the claims, for there's always another "next big thing" coming down the commercial pipeline, I'm surprised by the gullibility of those making the claims, and those who listen to them. People who want to be 'somebody' are never shy about building new bandwagons for the ignorant and lazy to jump on.

Karate is not precise, it's not exact, it's not even the most efficient way to kill someone or knock the s#*t out of them. The more people bleat endlessly on about how devastating a fighting art they are involved in, the more I know a house-brick on the head, from the back, followed by a relentless stomping of the genitals and face while they lay unconscious, is the way to go. You see, karate has no kata to defend against such a mentality. It has no techniques to stop the mindless, the vile, the psychopath....but dream on if it makes you feel better.

Karate training offers you a chance to be real, to make the adjustments to your character that provide a balanced way of life. It's too bad that so many refuse to accept the gift on offer, and choose instead to cling to the fantasy of becoming a scholarly warrior....

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Little Gods in the Church of Karate

The Brisbane mob !
I had an email from a friend of mine in Brisbane this week, Alan (far right). Alan is a scientist, and so he knows a thing or two about looking at things objectively, of seeing what the evidence reveals rather than focusing on the statements being made by interested parties. It caused me to think of the many claims and 'facts' you come across when reading about karate. Because the spread of karate has always been an undisciplined process, opinions, rather than facts, have become the currency by which followers are bought and 'styles' are sold.

Within the world of karate there exists an overwhelming urge to convert others to a particular way of doing things...'their' way. Groups define themselves not so much by what and how they practice, but instead, by how poor, bad, or wrong, everybody else is. Each group is lead by a little god, and followers are encouraged to spew his message across every delivery platform they can find. With Evangelistic zeal, they make their message clear...."You need what we've got!" If only I had a $ for every time I've heard that one!

The problem is, that unlike my friend Alan, proof is never provided to substantiate the 'truth' groups lay claim to, just anecdotes, hearsay, and stories based on a system of self-supporting talk and ritual. Half truths are readily taken as whole truths, fiction is routinely mistaken for fact; and all the time the 'faith' each member of the group has in their leader grows ever deeper and interdependent. The followers need their god, their god, his followers; each orbits the other in a binary dance that, from the inside at least, takes on the appearance of meaningful progress. But it's hardly that, just a tired shuffle to old music being played on contemporary instruments.

With each 'church' expounding it's own truth, some gods play a sneaky game (the long con, tricksters call it)...they pretend they don't want you, and allow just enough hope to believe you might...just might, enter the temple. Then, one day (actually, without trying too hard) you do: you're in! From that point on you're so grateful to be a part of the church you happily empty your cup (and your head), and drink heartily from the fountain of 'secret' 'special' and 'hitherto unknown' knowledge. Relieved at last to be on the right track, you hit the social media pages with a've seen the light, and the rest of us need to listen.

Your conversion is complete, your relationship with karate is now grounded in the words of your little god (not his actions though, because they often contradict what he's saying), his truth is your truth, it's 'the' truth, and you only have to look at every other group around you for the proof you need. The superiority of his karate is self-evident, the depth of his knowledge so great, the righteousness of his discourse so compelling; he's right because everyone else is so clearly wrong!  After 42 years of karate practice, this is what I know about the little gods of karate...

"When they tell you you are mistaken, they say that not for your benefit, but to hear, just one more time, how right they are."

Friday, 23 September 2016

Self-defense against a knife demo...

1970's England saw social violence reach new highs (lows)...and I was in the thick of it! 
Who is in the most trouble here? It's hard to tell. It could be the guy on the ground, or, it might be the the guy on top of him taking a kicking?

I think the real danger will come from the guy in white (center) as he's the guy who is armed. Kicks and punches cause blunt trauma, but sharp objects have the potential to do much more serious damage.

You didn't see the weapon? So much for last night's self defense class!!!

Monday, 19 September 2016

Correct conduct.....

Shureimon, Okinawa's enduring symbol of correct conduct, c1890
Dressing up in a  keikogi and wrapping a belt around your hips, you might be forgiven for thinking you are following a long tradition, that of 'the way of karate'; but that wouldn't be exactly true. You see long before the images we associate with karate these days were put in place, karate had very little symbolism attached to it; no belts, no uniform, no ranks, and definitely no 'champions'. Importance was placed on absorbing information, turning that knowledge into usable skill, and then, conducting yourself in such a way that you never had to use what you knew.

Shureimon before the war and its destruction in April 1945.
Look a little closer at this image of the Shureimon and you'll notice's in a state of neglect. Propped up by support beams, the top layer looks like it's close to collapse. Considering the fuss made of the present day replica that stands where this one once stood, it seems there was little enthusiasm to preserve the original while it was standing. This got me thinking, what is it about we humans that will quite happily watch something wither and die, only to invest so much of ourselves later on in preserving the memory of the very thing we let disappear?

(Photo courtesy of Andreas Quast)
 Captured beneath the modern day replica back in 2008
More than once I've come across karateka posing for photographs in front of the gate wearing their keikogi. They always seemed oblivious to the crowd around them, as well as their own childish behaviour. I'm never sure why people feel the need to behave this way, to conduct themselves like children on a school outing, but it seems to be a part of  "doing karate in Okinawa" these days. With so many karate instructors today only too happy to tell you how to perform a kata properly, it's a pity so few take the time to pass on how to behave correctly.

(Photo courtesy of Andreas Quast)
The sign may proclaim Ryukyu to be the "Land of Propriety"....but how many are listening?
I think a number of contemporary Okinawan karate/kobudo teachers have lost sight of their cultural heritage, blinded as they are by the lure of fame and the possibility of a fortune. Magazine deals in the U.S.and a willingness to prostitute themselves, has left them with a great deal to answer for in my opinion. If, after a thousand years of evolution, the best karate can do is hunger for Olympic glory and prostrate its self before the god of commerce, then perhaps it would have been better if it had died out long least we could have remembered it kindly.

In truth, I think karate based on 'correct conduct' is now all but extinct!