Recently I was able to meet up with some former students of mine, Shotokan men and women who had trained with me as far back as 1967 during my KUGB days. Also, there were a couple of senior students of mine who now run a successful dojo in Greece – lots of warm memories shared. However, speaking of warm memories - on Sunday November 9th last, I was invited to the British Karate Association presentations, held in Burton upon Trent; this was ‘really’ an event to remember. The BKA was founded in 1964 and remains the popular choice for instructors of all styles; the absence of an overall chief instructor, whilst being able to offer high ranking ‘Senior Instructors’ in every style for guidance and help, makes the BKA unique, and I was honored to be included in the group. Many, many handshakes and many more warm recollections of the early days of British karate. – see attached photographs.
All these meetings called to mind something that Ken Smith once said to me (Ken was one of the first ever UK black belts to receive his rank from Enoeda sensie) – “Karate is like a brotherhood, regardless of style, it’s a unique bond.” The politics of karate have always been a minefield, and have sometimes caused anger or even bitterness between some groups and individuals, but that is the problem with politics. You may construe it as the weak point of karate if you wish but whichever way you view the matter one thing is clear, it certainly cannot be seen as its strong point.
When different styles or organizations compete against each other in kumite or kata, there is obviously the strong desire to win: however, as Funakoshi wrote, and is much quoted; ‘The Ultimate Aim of Karate lies not in victory or defeat…” etc. In the early days of karate, certainly in the UK, you might see a kumite round that was scary to watch; techniques that were potentially very dangerous with usually ‘some’ control, but even at the end of the match you would see the two fighters shake hands in good spirit, then limp off with their injuries. Well injuries were frequent and on occasion serious, but more often than not we all survived the encounter and lived to remember the fight and the other fighter. Now when you consider that these fighters were trying their best to win the fight with hard and dangerous techniques – consider this: if the fight had been against a real life attacker, the last thing the karate-ka would want to do is shake hands with their attacker! Obviously there’s a massive difference in that analogy, but none the less, during the length of that kumite match, friendship and your opponent’s wellbeing were not high in your agenda.
So, where are am I going with this? In my own 48 years of karate, there are colleagues and seniors, as well as former students of mine that I have disagreed with on various matters. However, because of the hierarchical structure of martial arts, I have sometimes had to acquiesce to things I really didn’t agree with – likewise, some of my own students had a similar difficulty complying with my instructions"
However, in all of these years, with all of my associates; seniors, colleagues and students; there has never been an incident that has caused me to withhold my respect or to openly criticize a fellow martial artist. There are quite a few who aren’t on my Christmas card list, but if they needed my help in everyday life situations, I would give that help with no hesitation or reservations. I’m pretty sure that a few might read the forgoing and smile at what they perceive as my naivety, but that’s up to them and possibly they’re right – for my part I don’t take such a cynical view.
At some point in our lives most of us (karate-ka) continue with our training, probably modified a little, but still able to enjoy all that Shotokan has given us – basic training; kata and that nice feeling that follows a good work out. Well, as I stated above, there’s also the enjoyment of meeting up with friends from decades ago; be they former instructors or students and peers from our time in the martial arts. Inevitably the conversation will turn to ‘how it was’ as opposed to ‘how it is now’ and we can all sit and criticize, or compliment, where our art is today, often with very contrasting views, however it’s the memories we can share that makes the conversation enjoyable. The ‘stories’ we repeat get more embellished with each re-telling, sometimes with shameless exaggerations that are readily accepted, even though we know they have had ‘bits added’.
I remember chatting with an American friend who recalled the fight between Enoeda and Frank Smith at Nishiyama’s dojo. My friend told me in graphic detail how Frank had taken it easy on Sensie Enoeda so that the JKA man wouldn’t lose face. Finally I asked him if the seminar (where the fight actually happened) was a good event – he replied that he wasn’t there but had heard about the fight from a friend. I smiled and made the usual small talk about the incident: what I didn’t say was that I had, many years ago; spoken to a very senior American karate-ka who was actually there as it happened. He’s version was totally different: he recalled Frank Smith being hospitalized. My point is that we all have our points of view on ‘how it was’ and ‘how it is now’ - and we can all embellish - but agree or disagree, we are all part of an art that transcends personal differences.
In conclusion, after I’ve just re-read this article, I have to smile as I realize that I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to ‘how it is now’…! I’ve posted a few times about how Shotokan (kumite) has lost its excitement – but as some of my friends have pointed out, that’s ‘my’ view, and have quoted Funakoshi to me, “We must cherish the old, but embrace the new.” I just have to add this quote from Aidan Trimble though: “Those of us that have been around for a while in this game can on occasions moan about travelling around not earning what we would have had we gone in a different direction, that’s life but every now and then somebody comes up to you and tells you that you changed their lives either by your example or some advice that you gave them, that you may not even remember. It’s not until someone outside the Martial arts sees this and reminds you how privileged we are as instructors to be in this position. How many bank managers get messages like that I wonder.”
Just my personal view of course, but thanks for taking the time to read it.
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