Saturday, May 28, 2016

Thoughts on Borges and the Circular Ruins

Karate has undergone so many different changes, at times the better we understand the past the more it may suggest what we are experiencing today. Time seems to be cyclical, abet different too.
When organizations were created for karate transmission, there were many things occurring in Japan as a result of those organizations. Individuals seeking higher rank, individuals breaking from older organizations and creating new ones, as examples.
When karate began the new wave of Diaspora from Okinawan origins, there were lessons to be learned from what already had been learned in Japan, but were not commonly shared, that might have been useful to others to understand what was to happen again.
But instead they were not shared, and the same lessons would occur again and again.
I often think about those older days. At a time Okinawa was permanently Japan, there was no longer an Okinawan king, there was no longer a stipend for the older ruling families of Okinawa. That which would be known as karate was simply a class thing, and if you were not a member of the class you had no access to what became karate. It was not military training for the battlefield. It was not for civilian defense. It became more and more a way to preserve some privileges for some members of that class. It was yet to become an idea as a way to prepare the young for military draft participation, or even a way to strengthen the Okinawan people.
We look very hard at the technical details of those practices. We look very hard at the few who remained karate practitioners and instructors for their lives. Those who shaped what the art became.
But everyone did not become an instructor. What was the impact on the lives of the others? How long did they train before other responsibilities entered their lives?
Karate training would lead toward making correct decisions against an attacker. Did the training also lend itself to making correct decisions about how to lead your life? How did one balance training against family or work decisions. At what pace did those who remained active train against those other requirements? Did they turn to those who trained them to make those decisions?
From what I know we know very little of the answer to so many of those questions, and others.
Of course it was not about money. And it was not about establishing your own school, though there were no rules about that. I have one clue that was given to me the one time I met Shimabukuro Zempo in 1984 in Central Pennsylvania. ( A date that now strikes as Ironic, suggesting Orwell’s book). He was explaining on Okinawa there were maybe 3 Isshinryu dojo, 50 Goju Ryo dojo and perhaps 100 Shorin Ryu dojo [Not that those numbers were more illustrative than fact. And he was likely making a statement about Isshinryu in the process.]  But the telling point he made was “On Okinawa nobody wanted to train with a Ni Dan in Karate, instead everyone wanted to train with someone with 50 or 60 years training.”
This probably had a great deal to today’s experiences, when long time students (say 15 +) years into their own training, suddenly decide to stop training.
There are differences between sorting through beginners to find those who value the training and stay a while to become students (as regards 5 years training) to gain enough control of themselves to get into the training. Then one day after skill has begun to develop they stop training, and never return explaining why. That is understandable for they feel embarrassed that they had to decide and it is too much to explain. Not that one needs explanations. Rather you now miss the presence of a friend. At the same time it is perhaps from your training them they were able to make such a decision. In that you did not fail as as instructor, for making decisions is at core what it is about.
So as you sift through beginners, you sift through the practitioners you create, and occasionally you find those that are into training for life. Then fewer still develop to become an instructor.
Contrast that to today. Where you have gone with change and operate a school for a profession. The basic needs of people have not changed, they operate with the same needs. Of course your karate is not so much for a special group of people. And karate is not a new thing on the block. In fact most people after TV, Books and the Movies are incapable of understanding what karate is or why your version is different from others. Newer ideas occupy minds, karate is seen as old school.
Against those realities a different sort of beginner is attracted. People have greater time restrictions on their lives. They work hard, and are tired too.
We can only wonder what the past might tell us, but I doubt such information is available.
Change is the constant, Worldwide change. And as karate is everywhere, at different ways each and every place.

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