Friday, 22 August 2014

Asking the right questions.....

Karate is a series of small steps forward...
I received an email last week from someone in the U.K. asking what kind of karate I "did". The writer was confused because he had been reading my articles in Shotokan Karate Magazine for some years now, and yet, as he said, "I thought you were doing Goju-ryu!"

I wasn't sure how to reply because I thought it was a poor question, it displayed a lack of understanding on the writers part of what karate is, reducing it to a mere physical activity wrapped up in 'styles' and 'associations'. I was reminded of a quote attributed to Michelangelo:

"The problem with man is not that he aims too high and misses, but that he aims too low and hits..."

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Every now and Zen...

Why the long face..?
Every now and then, and sometimes more often than that, people get upset with me....I know, it's hard to believe, but it's true. So anyway, many year ago, if people got upset with me I always got upset with them. These days however I'm really particular about who I get upset with, and just as I don't teach karate to people I don't like, I wont get upset with people I don't like either.

Here's a little story from the Zen tradition that explains what I mean.......

The Zen master, Hakuin, was admired by all who knew him for his sincerity; the villagers who lived close by often praised him for living a pure life. But one day all that changed when a beautiful, unmarried, local girl was discovered to be pregnant. Her parents became angry and demanded to know who the father was. The girl was terrified that her boyfriend would be hurt, and so after much emotion and shouting, she named Hakuin as the father.

"I knew it!" the father said, and before long the whole village was up in arms over the affair. The parents lead a group of villagers to confront Hakuin; "You made my daughter pregnant" the angry father said in a fit of rage, to which Hakuin replied, "Is that so?"

When the child was born the parents took the baby to Hakuin and said, "Here, this is your child, I demand that you look after it, the child is your responsibility." To which Hakuin replied, "Is that so?"

After a year, the girl could stand it no longer, and confessed to her parents that she had lied about who the father was,that it was in fact one of the young men from the village. The parents realised they had been wrong to treat Hakuin as they had, and went to him to apologise, and to ask for the return of the child.

"We now know you are not the father, and we would appreciate it if you would let us have the baby back." Hakuin, having listened to the parents replied, "Is that so?" The child was then returned to its mother without fuss.

There is a strong message for karateka in this story, a massage of accepting that others will behave as they will, but what really matters is how you behave. It highlights the power of the truth, and how lies have to tell an ever evolving story to prove a point, while the truth has nothing to tell...it just quietly is!

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Okinawan Karate...at least part of the story anyway.

Thanks to Andreas Quast for use of the photo
This week N.H.K. television in Japan transmitted the program below, looking at karate on Okinawa today. The presenter is an Aikido sensei, and his approach to martial arts comes through in the questions he puts to the various sensei he meets.

The film presents a very nice picture of karate, and it's followers, a picture that in truth is only found in very small pockets within the karate world. These days many teachers and students of karate pay lip service to the ethics being discussed in this film, unfortunately, the reality of karate in the world today is nowhere near as wholesome.


Regardless, enjoy the show.......................

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

A fantastic new resource...

The new ibook from Garry Lever sensei
I'll be honest with you here, I haven't got a clue what the hec an "ibook" is, but I've just had a look at the short promotional video for this book over on the Shinsokai web page, and it looks terrific to me!

I don't own an ipad so I doubt I'll ever get to see this and the other books in the series, but I'll be going one better than that when I visit with Garry next year.

You can watch the teaser here.....


Pointing you in the right direction...

Thanks to Lyn Jehu for his help acquiring the kun in Japanese
Walk into any dojo in Okinawa, and you'll see a dojo kun hanging on the wall. Walk into a dojo in the West, and that won't always be the case...why is that I wonder? Compare the activity new students in Okinawa think they are getting involved in, with the activity most westerners are looking for when they answer your advertising, and you'll have your answer.

I've posted before on the the dojo kun, but it does no harm to raise the subject again, for as much as karate is all about the training, that is only half the story. When I was first told I had to do karate with my 'whole' body, I took that to mean using all my muscles and mental concentration to kick and punch as fast and hard as I could...I know better now.

It took a while, but I now understand that the essence of karate remains forever beyond the grasp of people who fail to employ their intellect as well as their muscles. Given the sorry state of karate these days, it's clear to see just how many karateka are intimidated by intelligence. Rather than strive for personal improvement, they cling to small ideas.

A thoughtful dojo kun won't improve your grasp of karate, but it will point you in the right direction.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Morality...it's important!

Ju Gi - Morality: written by Miyazato Eiichi sensei
"Anyone can learn to kick and punch", that's what Miyazato sensei would tell me whenever I was struggling with doing the right thing. His advice and moral guidance was often so clear, so direct, that it's true depth often took years to reveal itself.

"Just do it", was another of his favourite things to say when asked a question; either that or, "What do you think?" These simplistic comments were in fact anything but, not that you would ever appreciate that if all you wanted from karate was to indulge your fantasy of becoming a master.

"Be hard on yourself and easy on others." is among the most difficult pieces of advice my sensei ever gave me; for while I have no trouble motivating myself, I still find it difficult to suffer fools, and sadly, there are a great many masquerading as karateka.

It is entirely possible to achieve all the external trappings associated with making progress in karate, rank, title, etc....and still remain immoral. It shouldn't be possible of course, but with the globalisation of karate, authentic karateka have become an endangered species.

Without morality, there is nothing to contain the physical, to make sense of why learning how to damage another person is a worthy pursuit for intelligent individuals. It's too bad that the karate world is awash with karateka without morals...the question is, are you one of them?

Thursday, 7 August 2014

The Bigger Picture...

Don't fall down yet...I'm not ready!
What you're looking at here is a 'back stage' view of a photo that appears in my book Shin Gi Tai, I took the shot before the camera and lights were set up properly, while Jesse and Mitch were having a bit of a rehearsal. In case you're wondering, it's not easy to display karate one frame at a time.

More interesting, for me anyway, is the notion that this image is a truthful representation of what was actually going on, whereas in the book, the series of photos this image appears in creates an altogether different impression for the reader. It's ironic isn't it...how the act of presenting karate to a larger audience changes the very essence of what it is you are trying to convey.

When you watch karate on a D.V.D., or look at a series of photos in a book or magazine, you have to remind yourself that what you're looking at is not real, it's contrived, planned, rehearsed, and if the production values are any good, will have been filmed or photographed many times over to capture the image your eyes eventually fall upon. But authentic karate is not like that...not at all.

Authentic karate is instant, none-repeatable. Yes there is repetitive practise, but each time you perform a technique or kata, it's unique. Karate, just like time, and just like life, moves in one direction only: forward. Developing a 'bigger picture' view of things allows for better management of time, less complicated training, and a clearer understanding of life.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Rough around the edges.....

At the Shimbukan dojo, Tomigusuku, Okinawa c2013
For those of you who may not know, I grew up in an inner-city area of Manchester, in the heart of England's industrial north. In a house across the street, a prostitute practised her trade, and on weekends it was not unusual to witness street battles between drunken itinerant Irish workers, and gentlemen from the African and West-Indian community.

My neighbourhood consisted of street after street of terraced houses; built in the 1850's to house the factory workers who flocked to the city in search of employment in the dark, satanic, mills, made famous by William Blake, and the house I shared with my parents and five siblings was already old when Dickens was writing his stories about life in the Victorian slums of England.

Fast forward a little over a century later and there I was walking the same streets. Apart from the decay, nothing much had changed from the world described by Dickens; the streets were still full of larger than life characters, shopkeepers struggling to sell their wares, villains looking for victims, and ladies-of-the-night busy making a living. I sometimes wonder about the impact such surroundings had on the formation of my character.

I've always been a bit rough around the edges, I know that; but consider this, I am who I am....true to my nature: how about you?

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 seijinkanspider@aol.com...interesting 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.