Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Ma ai....creating distance

Ippon kimite practise with Kanazawa Hirokazu sensei
Ma ai....creating the appropriate distance between you and your opponent, is a skill every karateka needs. Like many other subtle skills in karate, there is an honesty to creating distance that leaves no room for error; get your distance wrong when you stand opposite a strong training partner, and you'll soon know about it.

Mindful living is very similar, in that the distance between two truths must never grow wider than the gap between two lies; get the distance wrong and you'll live to regret it. I'm ashamed that so few karateka these days seem to understand this simple equation.

In the rush to become somebody of importance in the karate world, the distance between two truths often becomes so wide that karateka loose sight of truth altogether; and without a moral compass, they have no way of finding their way back. The creation of Ma ai is not an option that you can simply take or leave; it's a skill that's necessary on both sides of the dojo door.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Oh what tangled webs we weave......

Harry Cook, the much admired karate master (?), and less admired serial paedophile
Looking at the stats for this blog the other day, I was surprised to see that my post about the above child sex offender is the second most read post of all time...amazing! Even though the video that accompanied the post has long since gone from YouTube, many people continue to read what I had to say. I wonder how many of those forum folk who jumped to Cook's defence (or were they just jumping on me?) at the time, now wish they had kept their comments to themselves?

Harry Cook was an exact fit for the profile of a serial child sex offender, and yet he managed to maintain his dirty little secret for decades. Like many paedophiles, Cook believed he was smarter than everyone else (but not you if you're a creep too!), and so hid his sickness in plan view. In prison we had a name for paedophiles, we called them "spiders", because of the way they would lure and then entrap their innocent victims: Harry Cook's email address was isn't it, how no one thought that was a strange email address for a middle aged would-be academic.

But there are many other, less destructive, ways to weave a web of deceit within the world of karate. The people who promote others who are clearly not good enough, the people who teach when they are clearly not qualified to do so, the people who play favourites in the dojo, and those who just straight out cheat and lie. There are also people who accept promotion when they have no way of living up to it, and assume authority when no such authority was ever bestowed upon them. All of these behaviours are methods of deception that permeate the world of karate today.

People who fail to speak out when they know something is wrong, must bear at least some of the responsibility for the wrong being perpetrated. The old adage about saying nothing being all it takes for evil to thrive may sound a little melodramatic, but it's often true none the less. The courage cultivated through authentic training in karate is not the kind you need to face a gang of tough guys in the street, for that's not a scenario the majority of karateka will ever face; the courage most karateka need is to confront the lier, the bully, the cheat, and the corrupt who you encounter in your daily life.

If you don't have that kind of courage, then perhaps your karate skills are not all that you imagine them to be.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Fighting...with one arm behind your back

Kyoda sensei, about to kick Miyagi sensei in the head...maybe?
I'm not sure this photo was taken to show how poor an application of karate this is by Miyagi sensei; he has both his hands occupied, while Kyoda sensei is in range to kick with his left leg, and has both hands free to follow through with any number of techniques.

I read a short article yesterday discussing the concept of a "fair fight", and had to smile at the naivety of the author; my own experience of violent interactions with others, all be it a long time ago, taught me that during exchanges of raw aggression there is no such thing as fairness when it comes to hurting another human being.

Even when the fight is not a physical one pain is no less present; words can hurt, especially when written. A strong body can withstand physical impact, and a strong mind can deal with the pain that follows; but what do you do when there are no blows to take...just lies to deal with? When you enter into a verbal conflict with only the truth at your disposal, your opponent has the advantage.

There is no honour in a victory achieved though deceit of course...but perhaps honour is unimportant when it's the victory alone that matters; as for fairness, well, that's a concept only ever pondered by the vanquished.

Friday, 18 July 2014

How good is your memory..?

As far as I can tell, this man has had more successors than he had students
One of the things I remember most about my sensei, Eiichi Miyazato, was that he never claimed to be the successor of his teacher, Chojun Miyagi. If asked, Miyazato sensei would only say that he was doing his best to pass on the karate he was taught, and leave it at that.

I was watching footage of a well known Okinawan sensei recently, and noticed a comment left by someone praising him as a true budoka..."my teacher", the comment read: hmm? It made me wonder about the claims some people make on the sensei they have trained with; how they claim status by association.

It's quite possible to have learnt karate from a great teacher, and yet, to have been the worst student that sensei ever had; but then, I don't suppose there are too many karate instructors honest enough to remember it that way.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Watch where you're going...

What's that guy doing..? 
Have you ever noticed how much time karateka spend wondering what everyone else is up to? It seems the bigger the organisation the more time people in them spend "watching" everyone else. Then, you have the different karate groups watching each other....especially if they practise the same kind of karate.

Is it any wonder so many karateka get lost these days, they're so busy looking left and right they pay scant attention to where they are going and then....BANG! They walk head on into a brick wall of confusion and disappointment they never saw coming.

Karate is awash with instructors these days, but bereft of sensei. To be a good teacher you first had to be a good student, and this is where so many who are instructing today fall short of what is required to pass karate on in any great depth.

Learning karate from an instructor in a club is a poor substitute for developing a relationship with a sensei in their dojo. If you can't see that, then perhaps your looking in the wrong direction!

Monday, 14 July 2014

I'm sorry...but no!

Shoshin - student first!
I've received a number of requests recently from karateka wishing to visit the Shinseidokan dojo, all of them have been polite and, I believe, sincere; nevertheless I have, just as politely, said no. I indicated some months ago that as I approach my 60th year I am also approaching a different phase of my life, and because of that, certain adjustments are being put in place so that I get to continue living the life I want, rather than the life I end up with: only children and idiots ignore the road ahead.

Mindful living is not beyond the majority of karateka, although you would hardly guess that given the way so many choose to experience their time on the planet. So, why is being mindful of how you live, while grasping the notion of 'Mugen', seemingly beyond the reach of many who today think themselves karateka. How has karate come to this, or, has it always been this way? I cannot say for sure one way or the other, perhaps karate has never lived up to the spiritual hype people invest in it, or maybe the majority of karateka have always been too weak to move much beyond the kicking and punching bit.

In his book, 'Zen and the Way of the Warrior: Essays on the true spirit of karate' The late Toguchi Seikichi sensei talks about 'Mochi-Bun', the ability to understand. Among the many truisms in the book, Toguchi sensei has this to say; "Knowledge of everything does not necessarily lead to the understanding of anything. The important thing is to develop your ability to understand in relation to your personal, everyday life."

This approach to understanding karate is a far cry from the karateka today who want to know every application for every posture and technique in every kata; or the karateka who want the ability to kick vertically while standing and fight like an octopus when on the ground: just in case. It also highlights the chasm that exists in the thinking of those karateka who see themselves as students, and those who believe themselves to be teachers.

Friday, 11 July 2014

When size really matters..?

Some of Okinawa's better known karateka - early 1960's ?
I really like this photo, because it shows a number of Miyagi Chojun sensei's students posing for the camera, even though they no longer trained together. I like it also, because the number of students is small, and because that's the way it always was before foreigners got their hands on karate and infected it with their own agenda.

As far as I know, karate on Okinawa has never been united; at least not in a formal sense. For the most part teacher's taught what they knew to the small number of students who came to their dojo seeking instruction; when the men in this photograph began training, I doubt there was anyone teaching karate in Okinawa who would have foreseen the huge gatherings that we see today.

In over 40 years of training, I have yet to encounter authentic karate being practised in huge numbers. Within some of the global karate corporations that exist today, there are small pockets of authenticity, I've seen them, but they exist in spite of the organisational structure and doctrine, and not because of it: it's an irony that is not lost on me.

Size matters in karate, the bigger the number of students the shallower the education, and the more diluted the system becomes. So...where did this idea of attracting as many students as possible come from? Why, from the businessmen of course; the folks who see in karate an opportunity to make money, and lots of it!

Size matters in karate....but perhaps not in the way that many of you might imagine.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

It takes a lifetime to live a life.....

This is Crap!....right?
Wow..! What's this, I've just called into question the words of one of the worlds most spiritual human beings; I've just suggested that his insight into human nature is meaningless rubbish. Okay, so it was more than a mere suggestion...but come on, you don't really believe there's is anything in what he's saying you?

Oh you do! You do recognise something in what's being said: that's amazing!  I say that, because I would suggest that the majority of karateka today are living exactly the kind of life that "surprises" the Dalai Lama. Lives full of contradiction and falsehood; lives laden with excess and heavy with short-sightedness; which is slightly depressing, because these same folk believe their life is somehow better because of their involvement with karate.

I'm guessing that a great many of you reading this feel you live in a world of karate, and indeed that may be the case, but I think a smaller number have karate living in you; for if that were so, money would play far less a role than it does, rank and status would be meaningless, and splashing yourself all over YouTube .....well, that would be appreciated for the absurdity that it is.

It takes a lifetime to live a life, and contentment to live it well.

Friday, 4 July 2014

The times...they are a changing.

Once again, Okinawa is undergoing huge changes
One of the things regular visitors to Okinawa never fail to notice is the pace of change; from one year to the next buildings rise and fall, new roads and bridges appear, while others are buried under a relentless tide of urban planning....but is Okinawa a better place because of all the changes?  I guess you would have to ask the people who live there, but as a regular visitor to the island over the past 30 years, I can say that my early visits provided a more enriching experience than they do these days.

A bunch of Japanese politicians met recently to push for karate to be included in the 2020 Olympics, and various leaders of the Okinawan karate community have met a couple of times in order to work out ways to establish and promote the Okinawan "Brand" of karate. Morio Higaonna sensei now heads up a new sports-karate organisation as well as his global karate empire. Again, I have to wonder, are these changes good for the future of karate?

Follow the money....that's what they say when you want to find the root of most things that happen in the karate world; follow the money and you'll discover not only the people pushing for the changes, but the vast amounts of money they stand to make once the rest of you shut up, fall into line, and continue to do as you're told just as you have always done.

I have to smile when I meet karateka who believe they are important, like the frog living at the bottom of the well, they have no idea of the enormity of the sky...

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Is Your Karate Honest... a gentle rant!

Naha - has always been a place of business
Over the past thirty-years I have been fortunate to visit a great many dojo in Okinawa through my magazine work, and as a result, have engaged many sensei in conversation who under normal circumstances I would never get to meet let alone sit down and talk with. I've enjoyed the experience of meeting all the sensei who have invited me into their dojo, and sometimes into their home.

The published interviews and articles that emerge from such meetings never contain the whole conversation however, I always keep things back; sometimes at the request of the interviewee, but mostly because I've never believed in giving away everything I work for. I've always been happy to share, even with people I don't know, but only to a point.

Right now people around the world are stealing my work, on file sharing sites where whole books of mine can be downloaded for free, to magazine articles and interviews posted on web sites without my permission, and individual photographs and artwork of mine being sold and handed around as if people had some god-given right to simply take and use what they want. It's so easy to take what you want these days isn't it?

The Internet provides thieves with the perfect environment to indulge their habit, and allows the lazy and the deluded within the karate world to create a place for themselves that they could never occupy in an authentic dojo. How sad a place this karate world of ours has become, where manufactured facts are held so dear, while truth is discarded with such ease; where image and forgery receive more investment in many an individuals mind than humility and honest endeavour.
I'm not sure it's possible to be a karateka and dishonest too....but I find it amusing that so many today seem to have no problem believing that it is!