28 February, 2013

Great Posts and Random Thoughts

Just wanted to provide a quick link to a great post at another blog, as well as a couple of thoughts I have read (can't claim them for my own, I am not that clever).

In addition to learning a new Japanese term, there is an interesting and good point over at The Classic Budoka.  Find it here:

In essence, the post details how and why teachers of traditional fighting arts would and did preserve their arts through deliberate deception.  This hit home, as it mentions an anecdote of a friend of his in karate whose experiences in Okinawa compared to Japan.  This makes me wonder to what degree my own training would benefit from visiting and perhaps becoming better acquainted with a teacher in Okinawa.  Who else to better provide me with the insight and serious training of the original soul of my chosen art?

This then got me thinking a bit again about something I have often pondered, and have referenced in my previous post if my memory serves.  This topic is what is the original purpose of karate?

Orthodox karate history (which like all orthodox history is popular but holds little enough fact to be frustrating to anyone who has researched) holds that karate was created out of a need for self protection against samurai.  This ignores the documented fact that karate development preceeds the Satsuma occupation.  So again, why not focus on stick weapons if blades were not allowed, akin to the development of Filipino martial arts?  I cannot imagine the use of the eku (oar) would be proscribed on a nation of islands and fisherpeoples.

I have read some articles that suggested karate was developed as a means for settling disputes or arguments between people or villages.  Somewhat like the ancestor of sumo was a more practical method than the sport it evolved into.  I should note that older karate is filled with a variety of grappling and throwing techniques, preserved largely in kata and through some lines.

Famous karateka like Sakugawa, Aragaki and Matsumura were bodyguards and involved with local police.  Perhaps the formative founders of these traditions had a particular focus along these lines, and did this influence what they studied and passed along to their students?

One might also note that a primary influence on karate was the continuous introduction of the Chinese martial arts.  Those arts were varied, but largely could be classified as fighting arts used by bodyguards and revolutionaries, as well as military and monastic orders.

So where does this leave karate?  I have my own suspicions based on what I have learned, but that is exactly the problem - what I have learned may not be "correct", or for that matter similar.  And in the end, does this matter?

If others would care to comment on what their own chosen martial art(s) mean to them, I would appreciate it.  As always, more food for thought in the quest to find the right question.

14 February, 2013

Your Own Budo...

I follow a variety of blogs and articles in the martial arts world.  There was a series of posts on Sensei Kim Taylor's blog that got my attention.  For those who haven't heard of him, google him.  He is a well known and respected teacher of iaido, jodo and a variety of koryu kenjutsu.  So when he weighs in on a subject, I think it worth considering.

Since it isn't a traditional blog that I can easily link to, I have provided the link to the page, as well as the title of each post and a relevant section from each to ease the searching.  Just use the Find feature of your browser.  Please visit the original to see the posts in their entirety.  He has a great sense of humour and I have had the privilege of training under him albeit briefly in the odd seminar.

Post: So How Long Before I Can Start My Own Budo?

Less than you might think actually. Less than ten years in the case of the "big 4" post-war Aikido folks, at least according to Stan Pranin who wrote an article here concerning the practice and views of Kisshomaru Ueshiba (7-8 years), Koichi Tohei (2-3 years), Gozo Shioda (9 years), and Kenji Tomiki (8-9 years). All four of these instructors headed important and influential lines of aikido practice.

In the koryu, offhand I can think of Takaji Shimizu in the Shindo Muso Ryu jodo lineage who received Menkyo in 7 or 8 years practice. He went on to establish the jodo line in Tokyo after moving from Fukuoka.
Sensei Kim goes on to discuss how those who don't go and teach and perhaps innovate (gasp) are being lazy or have some misunderstanding of what they are learning.  What have I gained from this line of thought?  Teaching is an important part of learning the art - there is no better way to learn something than to have to teach it.  Also, don't be afraid.  Go and show what you know.  Continue to train and develop yourself, your style, and your take on the lessons learned.  Who knows - you might be a "master" when history smiles upon you...

Post: How To Be Sensei

The most boring of all ways to be a sensei is to go through all the years of training and organizational hoops, not to mention payment of fees to your organization, and eventually be named a sensei. Takes a long time and seriously, way too much hassle.
My personal favourite, and the one I recommend to everyone who is serious about learning the martial art is to lose the tontine. You end up as sensei when everyone who practiced the art in front of you has died or quit. I say lose rather than win the tontine because to someone who is in this stream of sensei development, making it to the top is not a reward.

This was a humbling and sobering reminder - to be the best amongst your peers, you need only wait until they die.  Quite a shock when we all strive to improve ourselves and (perhaps) best others in combat.  I have always prided myself not on pushing to get through things quickly, but focusing on my training and letting the improvement handle itself.  I often think of this as the boring way, but perhaps I am not alone in thinking it is the best way.

Post: How Not To Be Sensei

While this is sort of like death and taxes, very hard to avoid if you hang around long enough, there are some things you can do to prevent being a sensei.
If the inevitable happens and your sensei quits (by getting frustrated, married, dead or bored) you do not necessarily have to step in. You can find another sensei, it's allowed and even encouraged in this case, especially if you're less than 70 years old (if you're older than that you might be told to "grow up" and start teaching whether you like it or not, but it's worth a try).
In your quest not to teach, you should not only consider those older and more highly ranked than you are. If there's some bright young thing who isn't too obnoxious and is more highly ranked than you are, give him a shot.
If you don't like the guy who is just behind you, and you're getting a bit long in the tooth yourself, you could do the junshi thing and retire when your sensei does. This will force your junior to step in as sensei thus saving you from the job and screwing him at the same time. Double bonus.

If you have tried all the above and you still can't avoid the job, take comfort in the probability that you won't have to do it for very long.

Again, the humour is obvious, but a hint of truth rings through to me.  I wonder sometimes if my idea to wait until godan to begin teaching at my own school is a bit foolish.  Perhaps it is selfish?

As always, the way is in the training.