Friday, 27 February 2015

The Sound of One Hand Slapping..!

A keisaku in action
Oh boy...did I get folks excited with my recent post featuring a couple of emails and a dumb question. It seems like the Internet karate community are just waiting for something to become indignant about. I haven't witnessed such vitriol from "karateka" since I expressed my disgust at the behavior of the serial pedophile and karate historian, Harry Cook. Had he faced a keisaku a few times, perhaps he would have chosen a different path than the one he took.

Karate, at least the majority of the stuff you see today, seems to be pursued by thin-skinned tough guys; folk who get angry when they find something they don't agree with or can't understand. People who need their hands held and have to be told how to train, how to think, and what everything kindergarten kids! But don't mention that to them whatever you do...or they write emails and call you nasty names and threaten all kinds of retribution....from the other side of the planet!

To clarify the meaning of my email reply to the dumb question, it was a 'slap'; and a good slap is what every serious karateka should be getting from time to time. If you have never been on the receiving end of one, then I'm sorry your teacher isn't interested in you enough to teach you properly; perhaps they were never slapped, and so never learnt much  about karate beyond how to kick and punch. When you look at the caliber of the average karate instructor these days, that shouldn't come as a big surprise.

"Are you still here?"
I'm not talking about physical brutality here, the slaps I'm referring to have to do with confronting you at the very core of who you 'think' you are; of shaking your attachment to what you 'know for sure', and clearing some of that egotistical wax that blocks your ears, and stops you from listening to yourself when you're playing the role of a karate student or (heaven forbid) a sensei. In the learning of karatedo a good slap every now and then is not only should be welcomed.

Of course, if you've never been slapped you have no right at all to slap others...oh no! This level of training is not for the coward. The sound of one hand slapping should be as familiar to you as it becomes to the people you teach......

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Is there a difference..?

Kigu - my honest training partners!
Many karateka use words they don't mean, or if they do, then they know they're lying! Take the word 'training' for example. Exactly what does that word mean? I know of karateka who 'go training' but actually spend their time teaching; I know others who talk more in the dojo than practise, and still others, who only repeat the things they are already good at rather than face the things they are not!

I've posted before about the difference between being 'happy' and experiencing 'pleasure', and how karateka often confuse the two. It seems to me, that while it's entirely possible to be happy by very modest events, happiness is one of the first things you lose when you pursue pleasure...because 'pleasure' demands an ever-greater situation to be pleased with....pleasure and the constant desire for it, is a bit like being addicted to emotional crack-cocaine!

My partner after a few months training together.
A group of high-school kids was asked if they thought there was a difference between generosity and kindness? They believed there was a difference, noting that to be generous you usually had to have power over others, or at least something other people wanted or need. Kindness on the other hand, did not require you to have things (or money) to give away, that you could instead just choose be kind: helpful.

The kids summed-up their observations by rating generosity lower, or less desirable, than kindness. Equating the first with elements of showing off (look how generous I am giving this away to others who have less than me!), and the second, with a quieter, more dignified, way of interacting with others. I think these observations have some validity, and in a way, relate to how individuals approach their karate; with some people making a fuss about everything they do, while others just quietly go about their training.

Beyond the kicking and punching part of karate awaits the challenge of budo; focusing on the first will develop your body, addressing the second reveals your nature.....

Saturday, 21 February 2015

At home in the dojo...

The original Shinseidokan dojo, Perth, Western Australia
One of the things I noticed during my first visit to Okinawa was that karate sensei, almost exclusively, taught out of their homes; that is to say, their dojo formed a part of the house in which they lived. For many this is still the case today; and even when a sensei has a new house built, a dojo is very likely to be included in the plans.

I've often wondered why this idea is not so wide spread outside of Okinawa, even in Japan. Is it really just a matter of available space? On Okinawa space is at a premium, more so than in western countries, and yet few 'home dojo' exist compared to the thousands of 'shopping mall karate studios' and the hundreds of 'martial arts academies' found on Industrial estates.

Of course, a dojo is defined by what goes on inside of it, and not by it's location or appearance; that being the case, I'm not so sure you get from karate what you put in to it; I think it's more a question get from karate what you bring to it....

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Higaonna sensei update...

Higaonna sensei, c 1980
Following on from my recent post about Morio Higaonna sensei's hospitalisation, I'm very pleased to say that he is now back at home and recovering well. Although he is still some way from being completely recovered, I have no doubt he will return to good health, and his dojo, very soon.

While I have no formal connection to Higaonna sensei, or his world-wide organisation, he was my first teacher when I made the switch from Japanese karate to Goju-ryu over 30 years ago, and it was his dojo that I sought out when I travelled to Okinawa for the first time.

For his generosity and guidance at that time, I remain sincerely grateful.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

The Reluctant Sensei.....

And yet so many karate instructors believe there is a link....
After practice this morning, I began to think about my upcoming trip to England, and about the kind of karateka I would be spending time with. Not all of them are sensei, although even those who are not, possess the qualities I believe are necessary to fulfill that role.

When I thought about each of the sensei, something interesting came to mind; even though they have accepted the responsibility of teaching karate to others, they remain students of the art and are, like me, a reluctant sensei. Although it was the first time I had given any thought to this, I had to smile when I recognised the connection...

Thursday, 12 February 2015

What do you expect...?

Guaranteed to disappoint 
I received an email recently from a karateka who began writing to me some years ago; he would ask the occasional question and I would offer him my opinion. But last week I thought he asked a particularly dumb question, and I told him so. He took offence, yada, yada, know the drill. The exchange made me wonder about the nature of people who think themselves karateka, and in particular, the ease with which they are offended. So...what was the question that gave rise to my opinion, that in turn caused so much offence? Here's the email exchange:

Sensei Clarke, 

I hope all is well with you. I have a question that may seem rather trivial but it is of some interest to me.
In my Dojo some of the senior belts tie their belts in such a fashion that they cross over in the back. Upon inquiry, they told me that they did this because it was the way the late Nishiyama Sensei did it and they assumed it was the traditional way to tie the belt.
I am sure that the way you tie your belt isn’t the biggest Karate concern, but I am interested in tradition, and I am wondering if in all your writing, visits to Okinawa, etc., you have ever experienced this?

Thank you again. 

And my reply:

Hello ****, 

What a dumb question! 
Really....if you have spent more than a fraction of a second pondering the way a belt is need to rethink what the hell you're doing, because it isn't karate!!! 

Your friend in karatedo,

I'm not canvasing for agreement here, I'm merely offering some insight into the kind of emails I get. I think the writer is a good person, a family man, and a decent human being....but, I still think his question was dumb! The line in his email:  "In my dojo some of the senior belts tie their belts in such a fashion that they cross over in the back. Upon inquiry, they told me that they did this because that was the way the late Nishiyama sensei did it, and they assumed it was the traditional way to tie the belt." Immediately brought to mind that wonderful scene from the Monty Python movie, The Life of Brian.

A word of warning to all who would write to me seeking advice; I know next to nothing about the karate other people practise....I can't even remember everything I've learnt over the past 40 years. So, asking me questions will, inevitably, result in disappointment.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Do you talk too much?

A couple of students training in the Shinseidokan's backyard last month
Have you ever noticed how much time karate instructors spend talking when they're teaching?  One of the things I noticed recently, while on assignment in Melbourne covering the 50th anniversary of Aikido in Australia, was the different approach each sensei took to teaching. Some hardly said a word...they just demonstrated what they wanted a few times, and then let the students have the time to try and find it for themselves.

I was reminded of the way Miyazato Eiichi sensei taught, a few examples, and then.....nothing! Nothing that is only the time needed to discover the lesson  he was imparting. It was a great method, I thought; but one that left many becoming lost in their own ignorance. Miyazato sensei once told me that karate should be available for anyone to try, even though most who did, would fail to really understand it. "Anyone can learn to kick and punch", he would say "but that's not karate!"

So...what is it that lies beyond the physical techniques of karate that, according to my sensei, proves too difficult for the majority who begin training? I wouldn't like to say exactly, but I've seen the void left behind in a person's character when it's missing.....

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Learning to learn....

A posture from the kata - sanseiru
When I was in Canada last year, I was asked why I decided to learn karate? My answer, I said, is different now than it would have been ten, twenty, or even thirty years ago.

When I began to learn karate, it was to be a better fighter than I already was.

Ten years later, it was to find a method of training that suited me better.

Twenty-years later, it was to rid myself of the political ambitions of others.

Thirty-years after I started to learn karate, I was trying hard to absorb as much karate as I could from a sensei I realised I had discovered too late.

Now, looking back over forty-years, I can say that I continue to learn karate: in order to study it.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

It's never going to happen....

Ready to begin.....
The subject of this post is a little strange, but fascinating all the same; it's about attachment. Since I withdrew from the Jundokan dojo at the end of last year, I have received a steady stream of emails from around the world asking me if I intended to start my own karate organisation? Other emails have speculated on my return to the Jundokan (always supposing they would have me back if I asked?), and still other messages have extended invitations to me to join other groups.

None of the above is ever going to happen, but I find human nature fascinating; and in particular the need to be attached to something. I suppose one could argue that we humans have a fundamental need to be attached to others, and that may be so; but I would counter that view by highlighting the damage done when we choose to attach ourselves to something that proves harmful to us. The much cited 'Stockholm Syndrome' need not apply solely to kidnap victims or abused partners in a toxic relationship; but is equally relevant to religious, political, and social groups....all be it in a less dramatic way.

Belonging to 'something important', is a myth endorsed by all karate organisations
Karate organisations instill dependency in their members; how else could they continue to exist if they did not? Karate instructors instill dependency in their follows; how else could they make money if they did not? Sensei on the other hand, like the late Miyazato Eiichi, took a different view; he made it clear from day one that it was up to you, the student, to discover karate for yourself. He also taught according to an individuals ability to learn; so, when he spent time drilling a student up and down the dojo, it was because he felt that was all the student could grasp....the kicking and punching bit.

I won't be starting my own karate association, nor will I be joining another group or reapplying for membership of the Jundokan. The current Jundokan members who continue to write to me complaining about events that have happened since my withdrawal from the dojo, would be better off addressing their grievances to their seniors within the global organisation that has grown up around the Jundokan dojo since Miyazato sensei's passing; I no longer care what some people continue to do, or how they behave.

Of course, there is always the choice to do what I did, and withdraw; but from the tone of the complaints I get, I can see that that never going to happen!

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Aiki Kai Australia - 50 years on.....

Sugano Seiichi  Shihan (1939 - 2010)
Fifty-years ago, a young Japanese Aikidoka, Sugano Seiichi, arrived quietly in Australia; and from rather inauspicious beginnings developed the foundations of Aikido in his new home. Today, Aiki Kai Aikido has not only grown but is flourishing, and Aikido dojo can be found in every major city in every state and territory of Australia.

Morning training lead by Doshu
Aiki Kai Australia is held in such high esteem within the Aikido world these days, that over four hundred aikidoka from twenty different countries converged on Melbourne last week to celebrate their fiftieth anniversary. During the second half of the week-long gathering the training was lead each morning by the present Doshu, Ueshiba Moriteru, grandson of the arts founder, O-sensei Morihei Ueshiba.

This was my second meeting with Doshu
With six hours of training every day it was a gruelling week on the mat for the participants, many of whom were catching their first glimpse of Doshu and the other senior sensei who were there from around the world. I watched most of the training and witnessed a lot of familiar principles in play from my karate; timing, distance, sabaki....all were being employed in order to manipulate a person's energy and render it inert. 

Doshu offering his Aikido during the embu
As always when I interact with authentic budoka, I learn things I never previously knew; in this case it was the difference between a demonstration and an embu. Like most karateka, I thought them to be the same, separated only by the use of a word, one being a little more esoteric than the other....but I was mistaken. My eyes (and mind) once again opened, I received the gift from my friend Tony Smibert Shihan with gratitude.

Image from the embu in Melbourne's Federation Square
Seven days of training and socialising were brought to an end with a demonstration, and embu, in the wonderful setting of 'The Edge', in the very heart of downtown Melbourne. Entry was by ticket only, the tickets having been issued free to the first five-hundred people to claim them. Luckily, I had a reserved seat in the second row, and from it, for an hour and a half last Saturday night, my sense's were immersed in the silent whirlwind that appears whenever the 'Spirit of Aikido' is present.