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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Taika Oyata, Changes in RyuTe, and the "Pure Objective"

It was not too long ago that the man who may well have been the single most remarkable martial artist of the last sixty years passed from this world.  And, just as I feared, there has been some sniping from various quarters as to his legacy, some of the actions he took over the years, and so forth.  I expect that will continue, and really do question just how much can be done to stop it. Former students are going to continue to make claims and counter-claims and the history of similar situations in the past does not bode well for perfect resolution.

For instance, lately I have been looking into Wing Chun quite a lot.  Not that I am interested in taking Wing Chun lessons; it is simply that I have decided to build a wooden dummy of some sort (Taika had been known to use one, apparently, though I'm not familiar with exactly how he used it) and in looking at material on various ways to build a dummy, I ended up looking at the Wing Chun wooden dummy form, noting consistencies (and inconsistencies) with the way I am being taught RyuTe, and then I had to pick up Ip Man 2 at the little red box down the road, and then I started looking into the history of Wing Chun since Yip Man's death.

I had read, in the past, of at least two individuals that claimed to have been Yip Man's "closed-door" disciple, one of whom I was much more familiar with than the other--I thought--as he had made his reputation on very specific claims regarding special footwork and the use of pressure points.  Much to my surprise, I recently found a blog largely devoted to debunking this man's claims, and containing, among other things, a letter ostensibly signed by at least a dozen well-known students of Yip Man.  This letter claimed that the alleged "closed-door" disciple had, at the most, trained with Yip Man for three years before leaving for Australia, and that the use of pressure points was never an element in Yip Man's teaching (which explains a lot about what you see of Wing Chun on YouTube, if you think about it).  There was quite a lot of other argument and material in that letter and if, by the end of it, you weren't convinced that the "closed-door" disciple hadn't just moved to Australia and decided to pass himself off as a kung-fu teacher, making some extravagant claims in the process, I would be very much surprised.

Last I heard, though, the "closed-door" disciple hadn't backed off any of his claims.  Neither, as far as I know, has a certain well-known charlatan who has long been playing off Taika's name and reputation.

It seems to me that possibly the best thing would be for those in the RyuTe Renmei to simply, firmly, and consistently say that Taika Seiyu Oyata's fully matured art, RyuTe, is taught only within the RyuTe Renmei, and that if one wishes to find instruction, the thing to do is to go to the website and locate an authorized teacher.

I say "fully matured" because it is not exactly a secret that what Taika Oyata taught changed over the years.  Why this should surprise anyone is a mystery to me, given Taika's personal history, although I read, elsewhere in the blogosphere, one claim regarding the change in his technique that I could only regard as outlandish, and, perhaps, desperate (No, I'm not going to provide the link!).

I can only tell you what I've been told repeatedly by my own teacher: Taika did not learn a host of empty-hand kata from his original teachers.  He met them when they were very advanced in years, and one of the simple realities they faced was that they did not have time to do any such thing.  Instead, they taught him how to understand kata, how to extract usable techniques from them.  Taika then spent more than the next sixty years doing analysis, with now-famous results.

Now, to my mind, if you think about it, this had to lead to changes in technique over the years.  It is obvious, isn't it, that Taika would understand more about kata application after having done it one year than he did after having done it for one month?  And more after having done it five years than after having done it for one year?  And so on?  Given the man's remarkable intelligence and persistence, it seems completely inevitable that this should have been so.

Why, years after having parted ways with Taika, would anyone be surprised that what he taught at the end of his life differed in some respects from what he'd taught them?  I do not understand.  I can speculate, but that is all it would be: speculation.

What I can understand is why Taika's fully matured technique would be "softer" (a term I don't particularly like; "easier" or "more efficient" would both be better, in my opinion) than what he taught earlier in life, and it would have nothing to do with his physical strength or lack thereof.  Shortly after having read the aforementioned claim, a passage from Steven Pearlman's The Book of Martial Power came to my mind.  My emphasis is in bold:
...once we prefer fighting well to fighting poorly, we also must prefer fighting exceptionally well to fighting moderately well, and so forth. If followed to its end, such reasoning leads to an inescapable, two-part goal that I refer to as "The Pure Objective" because it speaks to such a simple, clean goal for martial combat:
1. Victory must be instantaneous.
2. Victory must be effortless
As in the case of Economical Motion, the easiest way to argue for this entails pointing out the futility of arguments to the contrary.  We find no way to advocate that martial arts should take a long time and involve a lot of work.
Exactly.  I have a very hard time believing that a man of Taika Seiyu Oyata's intellect and discipline would not, as he analyzed and developed his art, seek for the most effortless and effective ("softer") technique possible.  Why on earth would he seek less effective and more difficult technique?  Is it not obvious that his research and development would take him in one direction only?  Toward Pearlman's "Pure Objective?"  How could it be otherwise?

 Ah, well.  Just my two cents, worth about what you paid for it.  You did know I don't charge for my opinions, didn't you?

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