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Obscure Sensei

You learned from a famous sensei. Congratulations. The sun still rises and sets.

You learned from an obscure sensei. Congratulations. The sun still rises and sets.

We all put our pants one one leg at a time. A cup of coffee still costs a dime... I mean $4.

Today, we think that a sensei is "high" if he has high rank. Particularly in Okinawa before World War II, titles and ranks were not that popular. It was a mainland Japanese convention. If you trace your lineage to a sensei who lacks high rank because of this, don't worry about it. Your sensei pre-dates ranks.

If your sensei's name is not included in the history books, he is not alone. I know many fine sensei here in Hawaii that no one (or almost no one) has heard of. Many of the well known sensei here trained at one time or another with these obscure sensei. The early Okinawan immigrants were especially likely to be relatively unknown. Actually, I know a sensei whose photograph appears in many old Goju-Ryu articles. He is usually identified as "unknown." You can't imagine how happy Sensei Morio Higaonna was when I arranged for him to meet this "unknown" sensei for lunch.

Who did the Karate greats learn from? Sometimes they learned from unknown Karate hermits. Who is greater, the well known master or the hermit who taught him?

Whoever your sensei is, however famous or obscure he may be, you should simply try to become the best Karate student and instructor that you can be. In the self-defense context, I am sure that an attacker doesn't care who your sensei was.

And even in the commercial context, connection to a famous sensei will only get you some attention. You have to be able to teach the students yourself. It all comes down to you. Name recognition has little or no relation to ability.

Somewhere I read that Chojun Miyagi said that a sensei should be able to give an 8 hour demonstration on Karate with no notice at all. Right there, on the spot, Miyagi Sensei could do this. Please don't hold me to the quote exactly, but the idea is right.

Can you give even a 1 hour demonstration and lecture on the art... right now?

Because of my research work with the Hawaii Karate Museum I know that I can. This is a true story.

From time to time I get visitors to my office who are spreading the word about one religion or another. You know how it is sometimes awkward when such people stop by. You want to be polite but you might not be interested in their particular religious views. I have heard of some people who hide when they see such people coming toward their house.

Anyway, one day a pair of nice people came to my office to speak to me about their views. I was very polite, but discovered that one of them was Okinawan. Of course, I steered the conversation to Karate and asked about her family tree, where her ancestors were from, etc. I spoke so much about Karate that after a while, they were the ones who were trying to figure out how to leave gracefully. And for some reason, they never came back.

If you have to give a demonstration, can you do any of the kata in your curriculum right now? Can you do all of the kata in your curriculum at demonstration speed, one after another? And then can you speak to the audience without gasping for air? Can you not only show the kata but the applications?

These may seem like rather far fetched questions, but I am serious.

Chojun Miyagi was not only famous because he was Kanryo Higashionna's student -- he was famous because he was a great sensei himself. I dare say that in some ways, it is because of Miyagi Sensei that we know about Higashionna Sensei.

If your sensei is obscure try your very best. Train hard. Teach your best. One day you too might make your sensei famous.


Charles C. Goodin