I recall a time when the Dojo I was in had 50 participants, and the seminars and competitions on the weekends (there was one somewhere in NL nearly every weekend) had hundreds of participants. I grew up in a very small rural town and yet there were a dozen young guys my age doing karate. It was the thing to do.
I can’t help but wonder – as traditional Karate people – have we held on to the old so dearly that we haven’t made room for anything new. Has the adage that karate must never change gotten boring? Has the fear of allowing karate to evolve under our watch cost us in the long run? How is it that something that is so good for us on a multidimensional level, young and old alike, faded so much in recent years? How is it that that karate practitioners with 10, 20 and 30 year’s experience no longer don the Gi or step foot in a dojo? Chibana Chosin, said to be the founder of Shorin-ryu, had this to say:
“Karate, as it is transmitted, changes every few years. This is a common phenomenon. It happens because a teacher must continue to learn and adds his personality to the teachings. There is an old Okinawan martial arts saying that states that Karate is much like a pond. In order for the pond to live, it must have infusions. It must have streams that feed the pond and replenish it. If this is not done then the pond becomes stagnant and dies. If the martial arts teacher does not receive infusion of new ideas and/or methods, then he, too, dies.”
The very mention of evolving or changing karate scares the daylights out of many traditional Shotokan Karateka, but should it? Can’t we improve on something that is already very good with subtle infusions of wisdom and experience from around the world? We can still separate the wheat from the chaff and teach karate principles that are solid. We better understand the biomechanics of human movement now, so how can we not evolve and make our karate even better – not to mention easier on the body!
As an example, something as simple as a slightly higher stance or lower stance can both be taught with the principle of balance at its core. Fundamentally, the two Sensei who teach these are no different, and both have valid reasons for their preference – we can learn from both. As we progress, I think we need the varying teaching styles and opinions and explanations of technique. Then we adopt and build what works for us – there is a certain appeal in this.
Basically, if you know any real karate, I don’t need to know your politics, I just want to know what you know.
In the end, we don’t need to tear down the old dojo – maybe we just need to open it up and let some fresh air in.