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Shorin, Goju, Etc

To me, Karate is Karate.

Before the advent of styles, the relevant thing was the teacher. Who was your teacher?

It is said that it became necessary for Karate to develop style names when registration was sought with the Dai Nippon Butokukai, the governing body for martial arts in Japan before World War II. However, most teachers at that time did not use style names. And the Butokukai no longer governs Karate, unless a dojo becomes a member.

Imagine meeting a famous opera singer. You would not ask them what style of opera they practice. His or her talent is what makes them famous.

Today, I think that some people want to be recognized or receive credit for belonging to a certain style. Names of famous Karate instructors are dropped to bring credit to the student.

But then, I think that the name Shorin-Ryu was name dropping too. In Okinawa, it looked good to be associated with Chinese martial arts. The kanji for Shorin is the same as Shaolin, however, there appears to be very little connection between the two.

Early Karate writers even traced the art back to Bodhidharma, who came from India. In Kenpo Karate, I remember hearing him referred to as the Great Prince Daruma Buddha the 28th. Wow, Karate goes back to India! How great! How noble!

Of course, this only matters if you are trying to sell something -- classes, rank, credibility, etc. Really now, how much of what you know came from Bodhidharma, the Shaolin Temple, Kusanku, Tode Sakugawa, Bushi Matsumura, Kosaku Matsumora, etc.? Most of what you learned came from your teachers and the people you trained with, as well as your own insight and creativity.

It is good to know your lineage so that when you meet another Karate student you can appreciate your connection (if any). A gentleman called me the other day and said that he practiced Shotokan, which, in his words, "came from Shorin-Ryu." I replied that early Shotokan was Shorin-Ryu, perhaps it still is. So, he and I were cousins in the art.

If you stand next to another Karate student or teacher who can move in an extraordinary way, would you ask what style he practices or how you could move like that too? Styles don't teach -- teachers do.


Charles C. Goodin