(This is a fictional story with fabricated characters and events. Resemblance to real life individuals or incidences is purely coincidental.)
Coby’s black belt was beginning to show the first signs of frayed, white strands around the edges. He was by no means a master, but had become a regular at Yahara Sensei’s dojo. He fell in love with karate at a young age and never found a reason to stop. That is, until his work moved him hours away from his old home. He faced a choice – quit training, or find a new teacher for the first time since he started his martial arts journey.
Luck was with Coby as he was browsing schools online. Konishi Tsuyoshi, a nearby instructor, taught the same style as Yahara Sensei. Coby visited the Konishi school and was asked to sit and watch a class. Coby observed Konishi Sensei take command of the room, gliding across the floor in a stern and disciplined manner. Konishi lead the students through a brief etiquette ceremony, and then began the class. The training was hard and heavy. Konishi expected focus and effort from the students; anything less was met with a disapproving glare.
Coby shifted in his seat nervously, feeling a combination of fear and admiration for the Sensei. When it came time to sign up for class, Coby agreed. It was such a sharp contrast from his days with Yahara Sensei. He recalled his old teacher fondly; certainly Yahara made his students work and sweat, but he always had a grin on his face and music to his step. This would be a change of pace for certain.
* * * * * * * * * *
Coby trained diligently with Konishi Sensei. At first he found the dojo challenging, but soon came to welcome the rigorous workouts. It wasn’t until a full year had passed that Coby actually sat down with his teacher in a more informal setting, chatting and getting to know the man as more than just a Sensei.
While relaxing with Konishi Sensei at lunch Coby pulled out a small laptop. “Look Sensei,” Coby said. “I found an interesting video online. This appears to be some form of Jujitsu. They spend a lot of time closing distance and going to the ground. What do you think?”
Konishi Sensei eyed the video, then shook his head disapprovingly. “Too much time on the ground,” he said. “That’s exactly where you don’t want to be in a fight. While you’re down there, that close, you can get kicked by other people or stabbed if the opponent has a hidden knife. We always train to prevent going to the ground.” Coby nodded his head, accepting the obvious wisdom of the statement.
Later that week Coby returned to his hometown to visit family. While there, he stopped in to see Yahara Sensei. They sipped tea together and Coby recalled the Jujitsu video. “Yahara Sensei, there is a video online I would like you to watch.” “Ohh?” Yahara remarked, “Ok.” Coby showed the clip of Jujitsu practitioners throwing and grappling. Yahara Sensei stroked his short beard and eventually said, “I had a friend once who was tackled from behind while walking down the street at night. I bet he could have used some of these techniques to recover from the disadvantage, or, at least, escape the ground more easily.”
Coby hadn’t considered that possibility.
* * * * * * * * * *
Two weeks later Coby found himself enjoying more down time with Konishi. “Sensei,” he said.”I’ve got another video for you. This time it’s karate.” Coby showed a clip of two practitioners in flamboyant uniforms performing jumps, kicks, and rolls throughout their kata. Konishi Sensei shook his head in dismay. “How can this pass for karate?” he asked. “This resembles nothing of the art from my homeland. We work so hard to preserve the culture, kata, and art of karate. Yet here we have people propagating something completely wrong.” Konishi’s disappointment was palpable, and Coby wondered how the practitioners in the video could excuse their wayward performance.
Remembering his previous experience with Yahara Sensei, Coby decided to show the video to his old Sensei the next time he visited home. Yahara watched the video thoughtfully. After the performance concluded, Coby remarked, “What do you think Sensei? Certainly this doesn’t resemble the karate we do.”
“True,” Yahara Sensei said. “But you can see the passion with which they perform. We should appreciate their commitment to a craft.”
Coby found himself less-than-convinced. What if people continued to post videos of fake, watered down karate? It could increase in popularity and the real art could be lost forever.
* * * * * * * * * *
Coby continued to train diligently. He focused less on the internet and more on the dojo, until one day he stumbled upon a video of the very same style of karate he studied. Surprised and excited to see someone who’s kata and techniques resembled that of his instructors, he decided to approach Konishi once again. “Sensei,” he said. “I know our style isn’t the most widespread in the world, but I found someone else performing our art online. Take a look!” Konishi Sensei viewed the video, then pressed his lips thinly together while shaking his head. “This is not good Coby-san. I know the man in the video. He lacks our understanding of kata and application. You can see it all the way down to his foundation and his stances. Of all people to post videos online, it should not be him. This speaks to his arrogance.”
Coby understood Konishi Sensei’s point. It was definitely audacious of the man in the video to think he was the best representative for the style.
When last Coby and Yahara Sensei spoke, Yahara provided thin answers to Coby’s concerns. Nevertheless, Coby still respected the man’s opinion. He visited home a few weeks later and arranged to speak to Yahara once again. “Sensei,” he said. “I found a video of our style online. Would you take a look?” Coby showed the video to Yahara, waiting tensely and attempting to read the old man’s face as he watched. After the video concluded, Yahara nodded and scratched the small hairs of his beard.
“What do you think Sensei? Should this be posted online?” Yahara Sensei looked up in surprise. “That is not for me to say Coby! I do not control the actions of others. However, if it raises awareness of our style’s history and methods, I don’t see the harm in it.”
“But Sensei,” Coby replied. “Don’t you think this man is lacking foundation? Doesn’t he seem arrogant in his own knowledge, despite how much he lacks?” Yahara Sensei sighed, then said, “If we are all overly humble and choose not to share, the art will die with our humility. Even if this gentleman is not the best, perhaps it will inspire students to seek out the more senior teachers of the style.”
Coby considered the matter closed, but Yahara Sensei continued, “Coby-san, your critiques have merit. But be careful. The spirit of karate is not one of judgment, but of acceptance. One of support and protection, not of aggression. When watching others we may not see what we think karate should be, but our aim is to help them, not to steal their passion from them.”
“Sensei,” Coby replied. “isn’t it our job to protect our art and see it preserved properly? Aren’t we doing a disservice to others by not correcting videos like these?”
“I admire your sense of duty,” Yahara said. “But if you wish to make others richer, do not begin by stealing what they already have. Find what is valuable in what they do, and do your best to build on it. If they truly aim to achieve their best, they will likewise find the wisdom in your teaching and correct their path. I don’t dismiss the faults you observed in your videos…but I hope you see the importance of the mindset in which you judge.”
Coby thanked his instructor, and bid him farewell…until the next meeting for tea.
Whenever people ask me for martial art book recommendations I put “My Journey with the Grandmaster” in my top three. If they are a karate person specifically I yell at them for not owning it already, then order them to acquire it. Sometimes, sadly, the book is out of print and the only way to acquire a copy is through grossly overpriced used versions on Amazon. I know for a fact that Bill Hayes Sensei hates to see that happen, so he has decided to run a new printing of the book. This is a key opportunity for anyone who has been meaning to pick the book up but couldn’t get a copy thus far.
I’d like to tell you a little about what the book is and how to reserve a copy for yourself.
What is “My Journey with the Grandmaster”?
During the Vietnam Era Bill Hayes Sensei had the opportunity to spend multiple tours on Okinawa. While there he studied under one of the true great luminaries of karate, Shimabukuro Eizo Sensei. Shimabukuro Sensei was/is a Shorin Ryu practitioner of unique skill, carrying on the traditions of not only Kyan Chotoku but also Miyagi Chojun, Motobu Choki, Itosu Anko, and more. Through dedication and talent Bill Hayes Sensei was able to become one of Shimabukuro Sensei’s most senior students.
To capture some of his experiences for the benefit of his own students, Hayes Sensei decided to chronicle his thoughts and philosophies in “My Journey with the Grandmaster”. For a little more detail I’ll let Hayes Sensei explain it himself!
Limited Run – Reserve a Copy!
Hayes Sensei only produces a printing of the book every couple of years, so if you miss a chance to secure a copy you might be left waiting for awhile.
At this time Hayes Sensei isn’t accepting live payments as the book has not been printed yet. However, he is accepting reservations so as to get a better idea of how many to print. To make your reservation, print out the pdf featured in the link below and send it to Hayes Sensei’s physical address (included in the pdf). Conversely, use the online order form I have attached to this blog post. Your reservation information will go directly to Hayes Sensei.
Fill out the form below:
I don’t always create posts about training events I attend, but sometimes I feel they are big enough in scope that other martial artists would enjoy hearing about them. This year’s event held by the International Karate Kobudo Federation definitely qualifies. Senior instructors from multiple styles got together and shared with students in a spirit of open learning.
2014 marked the 30th Anniversary of the IKKF Annual Training. Since its inception, the gathering has operated in the spirit of Old Okinawa. Many folks believe that the modern mindset of karate mirrors that of generations past, but that is not the case. Going back just 2-3 generations Okinawa was home to much sharing and mutual testing of karate technique. The development of “ryu” is a fairly modern invention, and the idea that one ryu should never mingle with another is an even more recent phenomenon.
Observe the pictures below:
|1964 Gathering on Okinawa||2014 IKKF Gathering in Pennsylvania|
|Featured in this photo:||Featured in this photo:|
Ann Marie Heilman
If you compare the old photo with the new you will notice a lot of direct Teacher->Student connections. Individuals like Nick Adler, Bill Hayes, Jody Paul, Larry Isaac, etc. are carrying on the traditions handed down to them. There used to be an Okinawa mindset of preserving the core fundamentals of a style while enhancing aspects of the art through exposure to teachers of particularly high skill in one area or another. It was a mindset built on developing effective life protection and is as important a tradition to preserve as any technique or kata.
The weekend’s event was broken up into a series of training time slots with multiple sessions going on during each time slot. Sometimes the sessions were formally established in terms of content while at other times small groups broke in and out of each other, generating a sort of training soup. In the end students were exposed to ideas they didn’t know they needed as well as content they specifically came to find.
The following are some moments caught in action:
A number of other topics were covered throughout the three day event, including Brazilian Jujitsu, weapon disarms, empty hand kata, and more.
On Friday evening I had the opportunity to demonstrate some weapons and empty hand kata and concepts for the group. The following video is a small collection of moments from that demonstration, including Bo kata, Eiku Kata, Kama Kata, and Kama Bunkai.
Despite the carpets that were a little past their design prime, the Inn at Reading proved to be an ample host for the weekend’s event. The floor space allowed for any and all weapons while the banquet setup (also on-site) provided an elegant atmosphere. All-in-all it was a memorable event and I hope we can build on it next year. Perhaps some of you reading can join us in the festivities!
To see more pictures visit the IKKF Facebook Page.