Saturday, April 6, 2013

One Tired Karateka

Not physically - but emotionally, which can be just as draining.

I've been training in the martial arts for a little over eight years now - which admittedly is not a long time. But in my study of USA Goju, I trained in sister schools who had their own way of doing things.  As a result, I can do almost every kata in my repertoire at least three different ways. Mind you, each head of each of those USA Goju schools descended from the same tree (as in all of them directly trained with/under or trained with instructors who learned directly from O'Sensei Peter Urban), but there are differences just the same. I've never understood that (because even when I asked I never got a satisfactory answer) - and I still don't understand it.

To add to the confusion, I recently began training in traditional Okinawan Goju Ryu, which is where Master Urban began. Yep, you guessed it - there are even more differences. But unlike USA Goju, my new school's association and all of its sister schools do things exactly the same way, which is the same as it is done in Okinawa.

In working with my Goju Ryu instructor (who trains every year in Okinawa for some period of time), it's clear that knowing so many versions of kata is kinda silly. Really, what it mostly does is lead to confusion - in that I have to remember where I am when I start presenting because that will dictate how the kata will be done - in everything from how it opens, to specific techniques in the dance, to whether I will step forward (USA Goju) or backward (Goju Ryu) when the kata concludes. Ridiculous, right?

My Goju Ryu instructor told me Tuesday that it might be time to let all the other ways - but the ONE way I want to always do the kata - go. And although I know he's right, it's a little more complicated than that because I still teach USA Goju. Understand that I really love USA Goju - but as what I know to date did not come in a very linear way (because of the school hopping), it feels like my adventures on the mat have been a constant exercise in re-learning a "better" way over and over again. Truthfully, much of what I gleaned early on was ineffective - which is why I had to make so many corrections - so to say I hate the fact that I'm now teaching stuff that is just as potentially ineffective is quite an understatement. Teaching is beginning to frustrate me to no end, and that ain't good - particularly because I have no real idea of how to fix it. The questions I keep coming back to is this: Can you teach something you don't totally believe in? Should you even try? I'm not sure...

Me thinks it's time for a teaching hiatus, perhaps...


  1. I feel your pain! I train in one school only, and yet, over time, sensei decides to make changes. Mind you, it's more like, 'We do this section like Toguchi, and this one like Higa, for these reasons XXX.' And then, the thinking will change, and the katas will go back and forth.

    Let me tell you...I am one confused person. I recently told my teacher, 'I don't know how you can keep these things straight...just give me one version and let me stick with it.'

    The REASON why this confuses me is because the changes mean for different bunkai. Different things going on, different timing/motion at times...and I simply have a terrible time changing.

    As for 'believing' in something making a difference. No, but I do have to think that the 'variation' that I'm learning has some veracity. I tell my student, 'This is how we do it, but I want you to know that everyone else does it XXX way.'

    Now, my limitations aside, I am not one to throw things out. So, while I tell my teacher to please pick ONE version, I like to mentally keep everything on a shelf. Never throw something out unless you KNOW it is never going to matter.

  2. I have the same conflicting feelings, Felicia. In my organization there is an old guard of senior black belts that are just letting things languish. Myself and some others are younger and really into research and fitness and finding methods outside our scope and trying to deepen the meaning of the practice, and simply put, the older guard feels intimidated. I'm looking to open a school in a couple of years and I don't think I can count on any of their support.

    I owe each of them a great debt. But quality karate depends on the few people in each class and each generation of karateka who want and expect more. I have the benefit of having studied in the hombu dojo of our organization, at the direct instruction of our Hanshi, so at least I have some relevance within our style. But its becoming clear to me that I'll have to draw a line in the sand. Open the doors to my place and recognize what I've been taught and repudiate the things that I don't think make any sense. And I'll lose a lot of colleagues when I do.

    If you're asking, I don't think you should teach something you don't believe in. If an opportunity presents itself to be true to what you believe, I think you should take it. It sounds like you are torn between a duty to your organization and a search for authenticity and effectiveness. You'd be surprised how many of us are in the same situation.

  3. I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free - Michelangelo

  4. Yes! I agree! I always feel like part of it is an instructors ego-drive desire to put his own stamp on a kata in order to "leave something when he's gone". But really all that matters are the techniques and the intent - the angle of your hand in shuto uke or the exact height of a maegeri doesn't really matter, especially since we will all have our own interpretation anyway.

    Maybe when your son's older you'll have the chance to go to Okinawa and train out there - it was one place in Japan I never made it to and I bet the karate would just be amazing :)

    1. He's out of the house already (!). I'll just have to wait until tuition is fully paid (two short years!) and I can again be allowed to save for selfish personal pursuits :-)

  5. Kamil put into words what I myself have felt at times. I think everyone does. There is something about the martial arts that tends to attract (or increase?) people's egos and hence introduces complications and politics and all of the things which genuine people wish to avoid.

    Keep in mind, in the old days, karate was not a business and as such teachers actually encouraged students to seek out other teachers and learn from them. I think humble and accepting your own limitations doesn't come easily in this modern day where instant gratification is the name of the game.

    You are not alone. Take heart in that!