We martial artists in the West sometimes gaze East with a sense of gratitude and wonder in our hearts. While we struggle with cultural differences and strive for legitimacy, we are also tempted to assume that the birth countries of China, Japan, and Okinawa are somehow above these problems. We suspect that while some modernization is occurring, by-and-large the classical arts are still alive and thriving.
Alive…yes. Thriving, perhaps not as much as we would hope. Globalization is a juggernaut and while some westerners choose to look into the deep past of Eastern countries, more and more Asian youth look toward our western way of life. They, like us, have tasted the convenience of technology, the pleasure of quick rewards, and the lure of fame and recognition.
Modernization is fairly evident on a national scale, but to understand how it is affecting the martial arts I would point you to the studies of a few notable artists who have been there and seen it.
Recently Mario McKenna posted a link to a very well produced documentary regarding Kung Fu (the ancient martial pursuit of China). The movie is entitled Needle Through Brick: The Vanishing Art of Traditional Kung Fu. It follows the path of a handful of Kung Fu experts, exploring how they came to learn their art and what they are doing to spread it. The film also examines the life of young, modern artists and how they perceive martial arts in the world they live in.
Watch more free documentariesIt’s very interesting to hear the younger Kung Fu players discuss the difference between traditional kung fu and sport kung fu, and how they actively choose sport. The older generation struggles to find ways in which to preserve their heritage while keeping new generations interested.
It seems that in China most of the more antiquated quanfa arts are pushed into the background and seen as twilight-year pursuits. Instead they are replaced by high flying acrobatics and stunts like those performed by Shaolin troupes. The athleticism and dedication is impressive, but quite devoid of the original martial applications.
Okinawa As Well
In an article entitled “The Okinawan Karate Myth“, Jesse of KaratebyJesse describes some of his findings during trips to Okinawa, and shares stories of the younger practicing generation there.
In the article Jesse introduces us to a youthful competitor referred to as Ushi Kun. Ushi Kun does very well at tournaments and attends a well respected karate school. His dedication to the art is unquestionable. However, he and his dojo-mates revolve their entire study around winning competitions. Things that are classical (like kobudo) or foreign (like boxing) are seen as uncool and even slightly embarrassing for anyone participating in them.
When Jesse attempts to interact with the students, bringing his traditional and diverse background, he is mildly mocked and tolerated as someone who “doesn’t quite get it”.
The main issue, as Jesse explains, is that Ushi Kun and his fellow karateka are not peculiar in their mindset. In fact they represent a healthy portion of their generation.
Not All But A Lot
Youth in Japan, Okinawa, China, and Western Countries are all beginning to look more and more alike. The sight of a 15-year-old absorbed into their cell phone, texting away is now a near global one (in the developed world).
Of course, this is not to say that no true classical arts can be found in their countries of origin. There will always be something uniquely authentic about the far East when it comes to budo pursuits. However, propagation of classical arts is now more about the individuals passing it on rather than the country of study. If a lineage is preserved well it will retain it’s value, even if it happens to cross the ocean and arrive in the hands of an occidental. If a lineage is not preserved well, it will be a sham in the hands of any proponent.
It may sound like I am opining about days lost and the misguidedness of youth, but that’s not my intention. Instead my goal is to reveal a more accurate understanding of how martial arts fit into current society. New generations face the same kind of obstacles as generations previous, and as technology increases so does the sheer volume of things to occupy people’s time.
Quick rewards will always be tempting, and exciting sport will always attract more people than tradition.
Ultimately it is up to each of us to decide where we would like to take our arts, regardless of our place of origin.
Read More / Comment
Sad news out of Okinawa – Nakazato Joen Sensei has passed away. This information was revealed through the apt reporting of Mario McKenna who also provided a link back to the original Okinawan article.
Nakazato Sensei was Hanshi Judan of Ryukyu Shorinji Ryu Karatedo. He was also one of the most prominent students of the renowned karate exponent Kyan Chotoku. Nakazato Sensei was a strong resource for traditional methods and was known to place great emphasis on passing kata they way they were handed down to him from Kyan Sensei.
Nakazato Sensei had many notable achievements in his lifetime, as reported by the article in Okinawa Times:
“In 1960 he became vice-president and head of the All Japan Karatedo Federation, Okinawa Division, in 1965 he was appointed vice-chairman of the Okinawa Karatedo League, and in 1983 he served as the president of the Okinawa Karatedo Federation. In 2000 he was designated an Intangible Cultural Asset, and in 2007 a Cultural Merit holder. He authored one book on Karatedo, “Karatedo no Jidaiteki Soan”. He was the former mayor of Chinen, elected in 1982 and served two eight-year terms.”
Seen below is Nakazato Sensei performing the kata Tokumine No Kun:
Nakazato Sensei referred to his style as Shorinji Ryu to reflect his ties with Kyan Sensei’s karate, which was strongly influenced by Chinese elements. The word Shorinji itself is a variation of the word Shaolin, meaning “young forest”.
Here is a glimpse inside Nakazato Sensei’s dojo, provided by the Isshinryu Preservation Society Tour:
Nakazato Sensei’s influence will be missed by Shorinji Ryu practitioners and traditional artists worldwide. May this inspire us to learn as much as we can from the valuable teachers still with us!
Read More / Comment
That’s it! The contest has ended. The winner, after multiple grueling rounds, is Enter the Dragon.
To peruse the full breakdown of how the tournament played out, check out the bracket here.
This result should not be particularly shocking to anyone as Enter the Dragon is one of the most famous martial arts movies of all time. Now some of you Indie crowd out there might have been hoping for a less high profile winner, but let’s face it – Enter the Dragon deserves what it got.
It was good to see Seven Samurai making it as far as it did. That movie is by no means a quick, mile-a-minute watch, so I think it says a lot about the voter’s commitment to quality.
Thanks to everyone who participated, and be sure to let me know if you enjoyed this whole tournament experience.
And now, taking it’s victory lap, Enter the Dragon:
Read More / Comment