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!

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Keeping it simple....

Training in the original Shinseidokan, Perth, 1998
Simple is best, more direct, elegant even. Simple is small, quiet, unassuming. Simple is without trappings, without noise, without the extras that stand you out from the crowd. Simple is above all, personal.

Simple is your time in the dojo, the two minute training session in the kitchen while you wait for the kettle to boil. Simple is the smile that comes to your face when your inadequacy comes to mind. Simple is an attitude.

Simple has value, simple has meaning, simple is, as my late sensei always advised me....about just doing it! Simplicity is discovering the principle behind the movement, the mechanism by which many physical options become available. Simplicity gives you time to react.

What many are doing in the name of karate is anything but simple. It's complicated by an ever changing syllabus and ridged organizational structures. It's cluttered with chief instructors and other lesser gods. It's plagued by in-fighting and envy. It's degraded by the pursuit of rank and a desire for celebrity.

Simplicity isn't easy, so the majority of karateka live without it.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Asking Loaded Questions.....

As a psychologist John comes across a lot of loaded questions...but not from me!
Researching an article earlier this year, I became aware of the way karate instructors, at least those in love with YouTube, were conducting themselves. Rather than show a technique and allow the class to practice, great volumes of time was spent explaining everything in great detail, over and over again. All the instructors I watched were having a great time reinforcing everything they already believed in, but the poor schmucks who had paid to be in the room with them (and hopefully learn something) spent most of their time standing around watching the 'performance'.

Something that became clear as I watched the different 'sensei' was their use of certain words and phrases; it was as if they had all attended the same "How to sell your message" conference at some cheesy business school. One of the favorite things people were doing was asking 'loaded questions'. You know the kind, they're not really a question at all but an opportunity for them to gather confederates, and for you to A/ not look stupid by giving a 'wrong' answer, B/ ingratiate yourself with the instructor, and C/ establish (by your agreement/'correct' answer), that you're not like the idiots in the class who 'don't get it'!

All the instructors I watched seemed to understand the reality of what was happening, but the blank faces in the crowd told me that the same could not be said for many in the class. "Blah blah blah blah blah...does that make sense?" "Yes sensei" "Ouss!" "Hai"....the responses varied depending on the 'type' of karate being bastardized by the ego-maniac at the head of the class, but they all pointed to the same thing; the instructor was on a roll, the trainees were asleep, and karate was struggling for air as it slowly withered and died. Even so, from the comments posted it was clear that 'Great Training' was had by all.

As a teacher of karate, you're not there to impress folk with your physical dexterity, your seemingly endless depth of knowledge or your ability to attract a crowd. You're there to provide an example, and you do that by being an example of the things you're asking of others. Fat bellied smokers and heavy drinking womanizers need not apply for the post of karate instructor...and yet! Nor should the thin-skinned prima donna's who turn away from voices that don't agree with them and wrap themselves instead in Facebook 'likes' and 'agreeable' company, isolating themselves from the greater reality...that for all their industry they are still walking along a path to nowhere.

So, the next time you're in the company of an instructor who demonstrates their karate on a complaint assistant, talks endlessly about how they did it and then ends their little pantomime with..."Does that make sense?" (or something like it), try to be brave, hold your hand up and say: "No!" If you do, you may well find you learn something of real value...about you, and the guy who likes to ask loaded questions.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

In every good joke, there is a little truth.....

We've all seen him..."the karate/self defense" instructor who can do it all.

Here's a bit a fun that sadly points to a real problem out there, that of the karate guy who believes he knows how to fight.

Many years ago I challenged a karate instructor (in a nice way) when I saw his ad in the local paper proclaiming he could teach people to "walk the streets without fear". The guy was making way too much of his 'black belt yondan' ranking for my liking.

Enjoy the lesson, and remember boys and girls....don't try this at home.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Why Goju-ryu doesn't really exist...

Higashionna Kanryo never heard of Goju-ryu, let alone practiced it.
As you may know, I'm no fan of karate 'history', it's a mess, and as far as I can tell much of what is 'known' today regarding who learnt what from whom, is based more on opinion and hearsay, than recorded facts. Who is deemed important in the history of karate, and who isn't, largely depends on the story you're peddling and the history you are laying claim to in order to bolster your own standing today. It's all a bit shallow and pathetic...but there you have it.

Miyagi Chojun never learnt Goju-ryu from any of his teachers.
When you think of the fuss that some people today are making about Miyagi Chojun, you have to wonder... why? Apart from the ongoing issue of trying to claim authenticity by association I can't for the life of me understand why anyone alive today would want to practice their karate 'exactly' like Miyagi sensei...even if anyone alive today knew what that looked like. BTW, the name Goju was forced upon him at the insistence of the Japanese...hardly something to be proud of.

(photo courtesy of D. Martin)
Miyazato Eiichi seldom used the name 'Goju-ryu', but often mentioned 'Chojun sensei's karate'
Having met, talked with, and practiced under several of Miyagi Chojun sensei's students, I found Miyazato sensei was unusual in that he never laid claim to his teacher's karate, and if pressed, would only ever say that he was doing his best to make what he knew available so that others might discover karate for themselves. He balked at the idea of being his teacher's 'successor', telling me one day that everyone who pursued the kind of karate we did was Miyagi Chojun's successor.

Pages from: An introduction to Goju-Ryu Karatedo, by Teruo Chinen
Miyazato sensei's generation was I think the last not to be corrupted by sport and/or commerce, at least on the grand scale we see today. If you take the information (above) from my own collection as an example (click on the image to enlarge). The hand written notes on the page are Higaonna Morio sensei's. You'll note that he queries a number of English words he's not sure about; but he does not query who his teacher is. So, what does this mean...and is it important? That depends on your connection to Higaonna sensei I guess.

Kata training with a partner, (seipai in case you're interested)
I don't use the name Goju-ryu much, preferring instead (if I have to say anything at all) to say I practice Okinawan karate. In Okinawa, many Shorin-ryu sensei I've met call what I do, 'Chinese karate'. Rather than feeling connected to everyone pictured above, I feel separated from them; not only by age and time, skill and experience, but in how I think and feel, how I live and the world I live in. I'm disconnected from them by the way I practice the kata and the applications I continue to discover, as well as the amount of information available to me that they had no way of accessing.

The only thing I have been able to find that truly links our karate together in any meaningful way, is the opportunity karate practice created for all of us to glimpse who we truly are. In the end, perhaps this is the only worthwhile legacy karate makes available to anyone. If so, I consider that to be a gift infinitely more valuable than a name, a celebrity sensei to train under, or a bunch of hitherto unknown 'secret' techniques....

Happy training...whatever you call it!

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

For your convenience...

All kigu encourage you to face yourself
There is an element of karate training that is no longer available to the majority who practice it; I'm talking about the need to face yourself on a regular basis and see what you discover.  I have no doubt that many of you reading this think that's exactly what you have been doing, it's what your instructor has been demanding of you, it's what makes 'you' a budoka! Yes, well, okay...but look, I don't see much evidence of that stuff in the way karateka interact with each other, so maybe it only exists in your mind...and the advertising material you use to attract people your way.

Many dojo have mirrors, although not so many karateka who use them can see what is being reflected back...they're too busy looking; a bit like the guy at the gym who can't seem to lift anything unless he's watching himself do it in a mirror. you look like your dream image, but is that the point of the mirror, or just the way you're using it? Kigu are not there to ad 'spice' to your training. They are not there to give you the edge over the karate academy down the road that doesn't have them, they are there to help you learn about your true nature.

There's little about karate training, that is of any value, that's convenient; and yet the advertising I see would suggest otherwise. "Little Ninja's from 6 pm to 6.15 pm" - 'Junior Samurai from 6.20 pm to 6.45 pm'. 'Junior Adults class from 7 pm to 7.30 pm' And then the big one...the 'Senior Adults' class. As that runs for a whole hour, it's not as well attended as the others, but's not easy being a 'Black Belt'...right?

Thank goodness you're training at a 'real' dojo and not one of those other places. I suppose if you 'need' your customers/followers, or as you no doubt like to call them...your 'students', then you have to set things up to suit them, I get that. But look, once you 'need' followers/students you then begin to make things convenient for them, and that's the tail wagging the dog, so please don't tell me you're still teaching karate.

I'm so glad my teachers never made things easy, it was a lesson that has proven far more beneficial than any 'technique' they may have shown me......

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Terms & Conditions...

Who is setting the terms and conditions of your relationship with budo..?
You see the phrase "Terms and Conditions" a lot these days. Every time you sign an agreement or buy something, you are forced to acknowledge the 'terms and conditions' under which you accept the deal and move on...but who decides who these terms and conditions are good for...why, the guy selling you what you want of course! And to increase the odds that you'll accept their 'terms & conditions' they present you with thousands of them...far too many for the average person to bother scrutinizing.

Most of you reading this are lazy, there, I've said it. You accept all sorts of terms and conditions that are bad for you, and rather than 'miss out' you accept all manner of intrusive behavior. Okay, so if you're not lazy, then what are you? If you're not protecting yourself from people and situations that diminish your quality of life...what are you doing?

When students are accepted into the Shinseidokan the terms and conditions are set by me? You may think that as the teacher in your dojo you're the one setting these things too, but that's not always true. You may explain to a new student what is expected of them, but as time passes you can bet they will seek to make changes. When that time comes, then you'll learn whose terms and conditions are in play. No doubt many of you are in for a real shock!

From Miyazato Eiichi sensei I came to understand this....set your own terms and conditions, live by them. If they are any good, you'll find others are interested. If they're not, you''ll find you have to advertise!

Friday, 26 August 2016

Efficiency in a fight....dream on!

Teaching someone how to fight the karate way...not really (c1978)
The photo might appear to look like there's a fight going on, but there isn't, we're just 'sparring'. Play-fighting with no intention of hurting each other. Besides, the difference in fighting ability here is obvious, my kohai's attempt to move in and kick (mawashigeri) off of his leading leg, has been blocked with my shin, his outstretched hand has been covered, and my free hand has already landed a friendly tap on his chest to let him know his attempt to attack has failed...miserably!

There is a well entrenched misunderstanding within the karate world that learning lots of fighting techniques is equal to learning how to's not! You can learn any number of 'moves' you like, but let me tell you something, when the s#*t hits the fan for real, you had better be a mean son of a bitch if you expect to walk away from such a confrontation. Believing you can be 'efficient' is a dream peddled to folk who don't know what it is to fight. It's all a part of the macho martial arts BS that each generation of 'wanna-be's' fall for.

Real fights last for seconds, but this is seldom down to 'efficiency', it's down to good fortune, or one party being far more 'prepared' than the other. I once saw a big guy taken out by a little guy's girlfriend. She took her stiletto heel shoes off and buried one of them deep in the big guy's back. He never saw that coming! When he went down, the little guy kicked him in the mouth and relieved him of several teeth, before the two of them took off.

You can't teach efficiency in fighting unless you have a handle on every possible outcome following the 'kick-off'. Seriously, if you believe fighting can be conducted 'efficiently' or learnt 'quickly', you're dreaming. So at least be clear, in your own mind at any rate, what it is you're doing, teaching, charging money for! Because to do otherwise makes you appear foolish; and I suspect there are few things worse in life to the guy who see's himself as a serious 'martial artist' than to look stupid.

Knowing a particular technique is not the same as being more than happy to use it on someone, Paying attention to the consequences of your actions in a fight will always bring defeat. If ever you find yourself in a position where you have to physically fight, you have already lost a lot...even if you walk away the victor. Creating a macho image around violence is childish and puerile, and unbecoming those who believe themselves to be budoka.

The most efficient fights are stopped (by your attitude) before they begin........