How Much Do You Have to Hate Someone Not to Proselytize?

Francis Schaeffer on the Origins of Relativism in the Church

One of My Favorite Songs

An Inspiring Song


Saturday, December 19, 2009

But It's Not All That Linear...

As a preliminary remark, I don't pretend to be an expert. I am a student, an almost unnoticeable member of the RyuTe Renmei, which is Taika Seiyu Oyata's organization. I do not speak on behalf of him or the organization, so take this for what it's worth.
I picked up, at my local library, Dave Lowry's The Karate Way. In the introduction, he told this story:
Please consider the case of a martial artist of my acquaintance, a man who lived for more than two decades in Japan and trained in a classical combat art there. He is thoroughly conversant in Japanese culture and language; he eventually was given latitude in teaching authority that, in a conservative art such as his, is quite rare. After going back to his home country, teaching, and gaining several students, he returned to Japan and, almost by accident, he came to the dojo of another teacher of the same art who is senior to him. The sensei looked at the man's technique as he performed some of the most difficult and advanced parts of the art's curriculum. The man was hoping for some fine-tuning, some polishing of detail. Instead, the sensei looked him squarely in the eye and said, "You don't know how to hold a sword."

This is a watershed moment in the life of anyone devoted to something like a martial art, someone who has spent painstaking effort and decades in training and teaching. The ego goes into full-power drive. And it is not just the ego; there is a natural skepticism: "Look, I didn't just stumble into a dojo last month. I've been at this a long time. I have credentials, a license to teach. I am highly respected in the community of martial arts practitioners who are expert in these old systems. You don't reach that level without some skill if you are a complete idiot or entirely incompetent."

My acquaintance was at a crucial moment. It was a moment where you laugh in the face of the sensei, confident he is wrong, and go on about your business, or you nod politely, say "thank you," and make a graceful exit before going on about your business. Or you take a third choice. It is this third choice that is intitially most painful. It is the choice that, as an experienced climber, you suspect may be difficult and challenging but which, in this case at least, is the right one to take. You take a breath and say, "OK, show me how to hold it."

The man did just that. He has not regretted the decision.
This reminded me of something I've been thinking about for a few days. Every so often, I'll read a post about how "linear" and "power-oriented" karate is (or, to use the good Mr. D. Rat's phrase, "crash and bash") and anymore, I just want to cringe.

You see, before I started with RyuTe, I had studied Taekwon-do with teachers various and sundry around Tulsa and Stillwater, Oklahoma. Back when I studied it, you could scarcely tell the difference between Taekwon-do and Shotokan, so similar did they appear, except, of course, that TKD placed considerably more emphasis on kicks. Things have changed, but this is what it was like back then.

I was almost up to shodan--first-degree black belt--when I visited a "Ryukyu Kempo" class (that being the name Taika's art went under at that point in time)--and promptly threw TKD under the bus. Why? Because, basically, it was as though they looked me in the eye and said, "You don't know how to throw a punch." I mean, I thought I knew how to throw a punch. I had a brown belt in one TKD association, and a red belt w/black stripe in another. I was, like, six months or less from black belt. But instead of saying (figuratively), "I do too know how to throw a punch!" I chose to listen and learn. It was as though the mother of all light bulbs had turned on over my head. Here was the fearsome combat art that I had read about, had thought "karate" was, but that never seemed quite as fearsome wherever I studied. I could see--heck, anyone could see--how this stuff could put an attacker on the ground in a second or two. This was karate, the karate of legend, the stuff people talked about in hushed tones, back in the old days.

If you don't know Taika's story, here it is, in a nutshell: He'd been a member of the Japanese military in his teens, was slated to serve as a kaiten pilot (his death certificate had already been mailed to his parents) when World War II ended. Shortly after the war, whilst working for the Americans delivering food to isolated people, he ran into an old man wearing the old bushi topknot. I will not go into detail--you can easily find the story in more detail elsewhere--but the upshot is that this old man was one of the last living people to have practiced the old Okinawan martial arts before the Meiji Restoration. He was not a teacher, and neither was his best friend, who also, because of Taika's family background, took him on as a student.

Taika had them all to himself for the last several years of their lives.

Some people seem a little incredulous at Taika's story. It seems too much of a coincidence, too fantastic a story that the preservation of the real, old-time Okinawan martial arts should come down to such a very small handful of people (I am not trying to rule out people like Uehara Seikichi here), that most of the "karate" you see in the world these days just isn't that much like the old stuff. But I don't think you'll have many doubts if you ever get to experience a RyuTe class. Like I say, it's intuitively obvious that this is the right way, the way the technique is supposed to be performed. It's simple, it's relaxed, it's effective, it's--well, it's not at all like "karate," but exactly what you hoped and dreamed karate would be like.

Here, take a look at these clips again. Certainly, they are not all there is to RyuTe, but there is enough there that you can see that while there are linear techniques and powerful strikes, linear crash and bash just isn't all there is to it. Anymore, it just makes my skin crawl to hear karate described in such terms, because that's not what it's supposed to be like.
I originally wrote that Taika had been trained as a kamikaze pilot, but I was graciously corrected by a more senior member of the RyuTe Renmei. I linked to the Wikipedia entry on kaiten because I was pretty sure that most people would be quite unfamiliar with them.

No comments:

Post a Comment