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Karate "Accents"

I live in Hawaii, where we have our own accent, or pidgin. I also lived in Florida, Chicago, Maine and New Jersey, where they too have their own regional accents. A person from Hawaii and person from Florida have a noticeable accent (at least many people do).

There are also Karate accents. The way we move reflects where and from whom we learned. I experienced this first hand, when I went to Toronto, Canada, for a seminar. During one training session, a senior instructor from Okinawa asked me to perform the Gojushiho kata. About three other Sensei from Okinawa were watching.

At one point (the side to side stepping sequence that we tend to do in a somewhat drunken manner), one of the Sensei pointed to me and said "Heshiki".

He was referring to Sensei Zenko Heshiki, who lives here in Hawaii. I never trained with Heshiki Sensei, but at the time was training under Sensei William Rabacal, who was good friends with Heshiki Sensei. I learned the Gojushiho kata from one of Rabacal Sensei's students, and I suspect that he had learned the kata or been tutored on it by Heshiki Sensei.

Before the nukite strikes, I "scooped" with my other hand before placing it on my hip. This was apparently something that Heshiki Sensei did.

Again, I did not learn from Heshiki Sensei, but his particular technique gave my movement an "accent" that a Sensei from Okinawa could recognize.

As the time, I thought this was surprising, but now I can often recognize ways of moving that indicate where and from whom a student learned.

There is a joke that some students learn every mistake that their teacher ever made. What I mean is this -- a sensei might generally have terrific technique, but also have a quirk or slight defect. Maybe the sensei always tilts his head to the side, or blinks when he punches, or raises his shoulders too much. Rather than learning the good techniques, the student picks up the quirks. Sometimes a student picks up the quirks of other teachers too. Soon he is a walking billboard of mistakes.

We should be aware of our own "accent." Have we picked up our Sensei's best techniques and way of moving, or have we only learned his quirks. If we have particular techniques, such as the Gojushiho scoop, do we understand why we are practicing them? Do they belong in our kata, or are they a variation that might better be practiced in bunkai?

I always ask my Sensei to please correct any errors that I may be making -- and to not hold back. See Enryo Suru. I explain that I am only moving the best that I can, and that my desire is to move like my Sensei -- not to hold onto quirks or errors I may have picked up over the years. If I do have an accent, I want it to be same dialect as my Sensei.


Charles C. Goodin