Saturday, 16 February 2013

Setting the Bar

Mind your head - this bar is set really low
I spotted this advertisement in my local newspaper this week, and, as there was a mention of Okinawa in the ad, I thought I'd give the instructor a call. As expected, he didn't know anything about Okinawa, or Okinawan karate, and as far as I could gather, he knew little about karate in general; and he is, fully affiliated to a recognized group and teaching karate (?) to the public. As I put the phone down  I thought, "Is it any wonder karate struggles to gain respect in the public eye."

So, how did I know this advert would reveal an instructor who understood little about the subject matter he is passing on to others? Well first of all the ad isn't's trying to appeal to as many people as possible; all the usual catch phrases are there, "Free Lessons", "Self Defense", "Martial Art", "Traditional"....and just for good measure, "International", to give the impression you're looking at something bigger than the local rivals. Of course, in this particular ad there is the addition of the word "Okinawan", as this too serves to separate the club from the plethora of Japanese style karate clubs in town.

The training times offer very little, just an hour and a half a week if you're a child, three hours a week if you're older; I'm guessing no adult (regardless of the word being used in the ad) would expect to learn anything of value from such a low investment of time and effort. Although the school of karate being advertised is (Okinawan) Goju-ryu, the picture shows a typically Japanese image of karate, Shotokan or Kyokushin perhaps? "It's close enough to what we do here.", I was told by the instructor when we spoke about the image on the phone. When I asked him why he was using the term "Okinawan karate" in his ad, I was told, "What we do is traditional, so its the same......"  Oh really!

This ad is not unique, far from it in fact, I think it represents the standard advert for karate that you'll find in newspapers and magazines throughout the world these days. For me, it also represents just how far the bar has been lowered. It is now possible to open a karate club...just because you feel like it. And why not? In a world where you can be famous just for being famous, it doesn't seem too out of place. I blame this guys teacher for the low standard on display, and his teacher's teacher, and the guy who taught him. For this local "sensei" to get where he is today somebody dropped the ball a long time ago, and no one who has come afterwards has had the self-discipline, or moral courage, to pick it back up.

I know the linage this local instructor comes from, that is to say, I am aware of a list of names; but it is clear to me that the karate handed down to him from one generation to the next, is now extremely diluted. As long as there are people out there who think ads like this are ok, that they are an accurate reflection of the activity they are involved in, then karatedo is destined to remain a pastime for the (very) few.