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Beyond Style 2 -- Who You Learned From

This is a follow up to my post, Beyond Style. In that post, I wrote:

Good Karate is good Karate, and the same is true about bad Karate. The style rarely makes much of a difference.
As I expected, some people agreed with this, while others disagreed.

Several years ago I was speaking to a senior Karate instructor who teaches here in the United States but was born and raised in Okinawa. He said (as best I can remember), "In Okinawa we do not ask about style or organization, we ask who your instructor is." I agree with this.

Who did you learn Karate from? At least in Okinawa (and here in Hawaii), as soon as you identify the instructor, you know a lot about the student. The lineage is well known.

Styles are a modern thing. When instructors taught only a few students in private, it was not important to define that teaching as a style. It was simply the Karate of that instructor.

When Karate became part of the Dai Nippon Butokukai (and other organizations), it became necessary to define the Karate of a member as a "style" so that it could be identified. That is, supposedly, why Chibana Sensei coined the term "Shorin-Ryu" and Miyagi Sensei called his art "Goju-Ryu." Before that, these styles might have been described as "Shuri-Te" and "Naha-Te". But in Okinawa, I'm pretty sure Chibana Sensei would have been known as the student of Anko Itosu and Miyagi Sensei would have been known as the student of Kanryo Higashionna.

To me, a style is an artificial thing -- who you learned from is real.

So why the emphasis on style? That is a good question!

I think that it has to do with our modern world and the commercialism of Karate. It is not enough to say that one practices Karate, a style is necessary. How will you classify and categorize a person's Karate unless you know the style?

But what happens when the head of style dies with 10 senior students? Usually, one will become the head of the style and many of the others with go off on their own and call their Karate a new style. The name of the style might be different, but you would think that the 10 senior students will have learned the same thing.

In fact, the successor of a style is often not the most senior student. A son or relative, for example, might become the successor, even if he is a junior. In that case, would the teaching of the most senior student or the son best represent the teaching of the original style?

I am just asking the question. There is no answer. My point is that what we call a "style" depends on more than who a person learned from and how much he learned. Political, commercial, and legal variables come into play.

I once told my Sensei that perhaps we should call our style: "Work in Progress." I was serious. What we practice is always a work in progress. We are not simply trying to remember or replicate what we have learned.

I have the greatest respect for my Sensei and try to teach the style we practice (Kishaba Juku Shorin-Ryu) to the very best of my ability. But if my Sensei told me that we now practice "Purple Dragonfly-Ryu," I would continue to train and teach exactly as I am doing. The name does not matter to me.

What matters is who I learned from and what I learned -- and what I do with what I learned.

I guess it is a little like being a "good Christian" -- does the system or sect of Christianity matter? But that is another matter.

Again, I will have much more to write about this subject.


Charles C. Goodin