Thursday, June 18, 2009

Truth and Consequences

Since the part of the dojo that meets in the dance studio of a local college closes down during the summer months, my son, my training partners and I usually hit the road at least once a week to train with fellow karateka at area sister schools when the weather heats up. The good thing about traveling is the different flavors we get to sample and enjoy. The bad thing about traveling is all the different flavors we get to sample and enjoy...

Inevitably, wherever we go, at least one class focuses on kata - as in how the form is actually done as well as bunkai - and inevitably, there is a kata or two done by our hosts that's presented a little differently than how we do it. Would make sense I guess if we were from different lineages, but that isn't the case. Each school in the circle seems to add a little somethin'-somethin' to the mix or take a bit away, it seems.

This morning, I popped in to see one of my training partners for a quick visit. He was doing some work on a room in his home with a relative (who is also a student of Goju at a school in NYC). Right in the middle of cutting sheetrock, my training partner asked his help mate to show us how he's progressed with Saifa. I was warned before-hand that although the stances and techniques were basically the same, the version of Saifa that I was about to see had a few subtle differences from how I was used to doing it, namely the direction in which the practitioner looks (forward instead of backwards) and a step back instead of forward at one of the transitions. The head direction made sense to me, but before long, we were all in my training partner's garage trying to figure out the effectiveness of the step back. Once I did it a few times and compared it to the way I'd learned it, I saw that the "other" way was much more practical as it made the front snap kick that comes after easier to throw. Hmmm...

So which way is the "right" way? Which way is the more "traditional" way? If the sensei who taught me the kata and the sensei who taught my training partner's cousin learned from the same master, how did the differences sneak in?

I remember my sensei once comparing the passing down of karate knowledge from one person to another to a game of telephone. Passed through so many folks, the message is bound to change a bit by the time it gets to the end of the line. Any sensei I've ever had the honor of training with has pretty much said the same thing about that: Do it the way your sensei wants you to do it, understand that there are different ways to skin a cat and use what truth works for you when presenting the kata or when faced with a real situation where you may actually have to put the theory into action. But which truth is the truth anyway?

Just my two cents. What's yours?

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