Did the masters get it right?

Discussion in 'Karate' started by Telsun, Mar 24, 2016.

  1. Telsun

    Telsun Valued Member

    About 8 years ago I was heavily into the Martial Arts. For a number of reasons my training stopped but after a rather long break I have finally started back up again. At the time I was a Goju practitioner and I wrote a bit for a magazine or two. Looking back through my files I found a few articles which I'd like to share. So I thought this would be a good place to put them.

    I hope you enjoy them and that they give you some food for thought....

    Did the masters get it right?

    So what do you think? Did the master of your style “get it right”?

    To answer that question completely we need to determine two things; what is “it” and what is “right”?

    What is “right” obviously depends on what we are looking for. If we want to become a World Karate Champion, then practicing classical kung fu would not be “right” and we could, quite wrongly of course, surmise that the Kung Fu master did not get it right. Thus we must ensure that our goals and our chosen disciplines ethos correspond.

    What is “it”? I think that it is fair to say that the “it” the masters were seeking was an effective combat system, well maybe, perhaps the early masters were looking for the ultimate Moving Zen system, but that's for another time (and author!). So before an analysis even begins we realise that we cannot determine whether the masters got it right if we don't know what they were trying to achieve.

    I cannot answer what is “right” and what is “it” for you, not here, not now, not ever! Your own research will reveal what you believe the masters were truly seeking and your own goals will determine whether the master was right. So we'll take a look at what we do know:

    If the arts did start as a system of health then there is absolutely no doubt that they have evolved into systems that include (or are exclusively) combat. But are these combat arts, developed hundreds, even thousands of years ago, effective? Did the masters develop the ultimate fighting systems?

    I have trained with schools that stick religiously to what they believe were the masters original way, not wavering a millimeter from the teaching. Are they right to do this? No one has the right to say whether it is the right or wrong way to train, the proof is in the pudding and there is absolutely no doubt that some of these guys are absolutely phenomenal! This implies that the masters did develop a usable, effective combat system.

    So how about the guys that change what they have been taught to be original teachings? There's three reasons people change what they have been taught. The first reason is that they don't understand the original teaching so they give it their own meaning, secondly, they believe that despite a thorough understanding of the “original” teachings they can improve upon it (sometimes effectively), finally, simply for cosmetic reasons or for the sake of change.

    Needless to say that those that make a change simply for cosmetic reasons are the bane of all martial artists!! Or at least they should be. Nothing could express a shallower understanding of an art. Unfortunately this practice is very common and in my opinion has been for longer than people would care to admit. It is very likely that we have lost a lot of information due to these changes and yet these cosmetic changes receive further cosmetic changes, needless to say eventually we end up practicing something far removed from the original teachings of the master and hence often miss the point.

    Those that make practical changes to their teachings either do so as they do not understand what the message being conveyed is due to poor instruction or a plain lack of understanding, or due to a different emphasis or interpretation of the teachings. This is a bit of a grey area. If the changes that have been made are practical and effective then is there any harm in making those changes? In my humble opinion I don't believe there is. Indeed the pure teachings of the master will be lost, but then who can truly confess to having the pure teaching of a master? Of course we should, as best as possible, retain the masters teachings as the essence of what we do remains with them, but I personally believe that it is better to practice something that is effective, that achieves ones goals, than to practice a mysterious kata dance that is far removed from the masters original form anyway.

    If I use the example of Goju-ryu Karate (my chosen discipline) we see a broad varience between different ryu despite all apparently having the same heritage. Why the variance? Perhaps Miyagi taught everyone differently so they now all have something different to offer. Perhaps it is because karate is an abstract art and each of Miyagi's student's interpreted Miyagi's teachings differently. Or perhaps they added their own touches “improving” upon what Miyagi had taught them.

    This comparison begs the question of how long has the question “did the masters get it right?” been asked? In my opinion, it would appear a rather long time, indeed this was possibly the mindset of the masters. We know for example that Chojun Miyagi made changes to kata Sanchin; was this because he thought that he knew better or because he did not understand his masters teachings?

    The thing we find when we look at the masters is that they were free thinkers constantly seeking, evolving not remaining static but making what they knew more effective and taking on new ideas, incorporating them into their system. On Miyagi's deathbed I am extremely doubtful that he told those around him “I have completed the Goju system do not change anything!” If Miyagi lived longer the art would have evolved further.

    In my humble opinion the masters got it wrong in naming their arts. Bruce Lee realised this after naming his martial philosophy Jeet Kune Do (JKD), far from the formlessness that JKD aspires to be, people now teach a JKD system. This is true of (almost) all systems, we are guilty of locking ourselves into a restricted syllabus, controlled by the concept of right and wrong, shutting of the outside world and all the glory it has to offer. I agree that we should have a firm foundation within our chosen style but as we progress we should remain open to the teachings of others outside of our system. This is especially relevant to instructors, it is too easy to become unwilling to leave our comfort zone and remain where we will not look amateurish and clumsy in front of our students.

    On the other hand what I believe the masters did get right was their open minded and receptive approach to ideas from other arts. The well known saying “we should not be trying to do what they did, but seek what they sought” seems relevant to the message that I am trying to convey. I think that it is hard to learn everything within the restrictions of your chosen style and it makes sense to explore and take on board what is effective from other sources.

    The creator of your (any) style only took what he wanted from what he knew and he did not know everything........

    (No disrespect to any Masters, Styles, etc Just some food for thought)
  2. jimglue

    jimglue New Member

    I always have always tried to find the right consistency of keeping traditional and evolving, in today's world i believe your ability to evolve and adapt win tip the fight to whether you win or lose. I like to keep my training traditional in that i bow before and after the class and to my partner before and after a spar etc. but i dont think that only using traditional techniques is not a good idea in a martial artist that wants to be able to defend themselves. Only my point of view hopefully provides an interesting read and a bit of food for thought. - Jim
    Old bloke likes this.
  3. Emanon

    Emanon New Member

    Good article. I sometimes find it odd how the 'great masters' were able to make changes but do that today and you're a heretic. I agree with "styles" being a mistake because once you create a style you put yourself in a box with boundaries and style constraints. One change and people scream...hey that's not ____! I think the masters got it right and the self defense system they created works if you understand it. People look at "techniques" and misinterpret them. The kata and techniques are better understood as "principles" and this gives karate the ability to remain the same while adapting to the changing fight scene as far as common acts of violence is concerned. Styles arrive when you teach me something but due to physical differences I apply the "principles" a bit differently to accommodate my body type and preferences. Then it becomes the Emanon style of Telson karate. You can teach me to build a house and when I finally build my own it will have your teachings and flavor (philosophy) to it but will be built to suit my needs...not yours. And then the cycle continues.
  4. Avenger

    Avenger Banned Banned

    I think most styles are just shadows of the orginal creator, the image looks the same but the essence is missing, the part missing is usually lost.,....because a lot of styles are copying the outside or image with forms and techniques which is still just the outside. , if copying the outside is all a system is, then it is not an art, but more along the lines of physical gymnastics.
  5. Simon

    Simon Moved on Admin Supporter MAP 2017 Koyo Award

    I think you're completely wrong and would ask what styles you think are missing something from there origins.

    I think the arts are thriving with travel easier than its ever been and easy access to cross training, which encourages growth.
  6. Avenger

    Avenger Banned Banned

    I don't want to name any styles, people can decide themselves if style is missing something, sometimes it is just the teacher who is missing something.

    Yes I agree that arts are growing, and cross training is good, especially with jujitsu adding a much needed dimension.
  7. Simon

    Simon Moved on Admin Supporter MAP 2017 Koyo Award

    You don't want to name any styles, yet you made the claim most are shadows of the original.

    One teacher missing something is hardly indicative of most styles suffering.

    What experience do you have in these styles to make such a claim.
  8. philosoraptor

    philosoraptor carnivore in a top hat Supporter

    More popular = more competitors.

    More competitors = more talent.

    More talent = more innovation.

    More innovation = more evolution.

    The only exceptions I could see being to this is weapons arts that don't offer an accurate simulation of their weapons.
  9. Rebel Wado

    Rebel Wado Valued Member

    The tip of the iceberg

    While I don't agree with your use of the term "outside" because it implies a point of view based on the knowledge of the system. As if there is some secret hidden in movements that is being missed.

    I can relate to a part of a martial art system that is visible and for the most part unchanging. My first karate instructor, Chinen Sensei, told me that the visible part of Goju Ryu Karate was not supposed to change. The visible part was mostly the forms (kata), the core fundamentals, and the core techniques. I'm pretty sure he would also include the guiding principles, although principles are universal, and the way they are interpreted can change based on the context.

    Anyway, he told me that the secret was in the supplemental training. The supplemental training is everything that is done in addition to the visible parts of the martial art. It includes sparring, real world experience, fighting experience, conditioning, strength training, cross-training, bag/pad training, specialized training, and just about anything else. The supplemental training evolves and could be in a state of constant change based on goals, needs, available resources, and situation. The supplemental training is where technique is perfected and practical application is built. It includes a better understanding of the principles and fundamentals of not just the martial system, but of all martial systems.

    It is like an iceberg. The part that is above the waterline is the visible part (e.g., kata) and the part below the waterline is the part hidden from view (e.g., supplemental training).

    When someone is a beginner, maybe 90% of their time is spent in the visible part of a martial art. That is forms/kata, preset drills and techniques, etc. And only 10% of the time is spent in supplemental training. As they progress to intermediate levels, the time is more balanced at 50% visible part and 50% supplemental training.

    The above is pretty true with Goju Ryu Karate. I believe MMA is more progressive and in a sooner amount of time the training time is 50% visible and 50% supplemental.

    So one issue is that many never progress past the 50%/50% levels.

    An iceberg is 10% visible above the waterline and 90% hidden below the waterline. Going by Chinen Sensei's words, when reaching advanced levels (many years of experience), the training in the system should be about 10% of the time spent on the visible (unchanging) parts of the system and 90% of the training time spent on supplemental training, which includes cross training, sparring, etc.

    There is so much to supplemental training that it is easily different from one individual to another. To quote another one of my instructors, "use your time wisely."
  10. BrendanCassidy

    BrendanCassidy Valued Member

    I believe when you resolve all styles to simple points...then you can be come aware of all Katas and all forms..such is the discipline of the West...when we ask eastern style praying mantis for a hand..all we get is a pincer...which would be good and all..but the reflection of style is an all knowing concept...can you perform a kata and feel good about it...or can we all reflect on simple forms..which would be akin to saying I am making this choice to commit to forms..but as well I see that cause and effect has already set me up in a particular course...whether it be sparing grappling or just posing in forms for art and self discipline..and training etc... So I see sparing as an ability one has to defeat an opponent..the only question is,, When are you the opponent to your self?

    So the moral question is to ask honestly..why these forms and styles are still continuing today...maybe it might be the lack of creativity on the part of the student...so picking up any form or style..might therefore be useful..even if its ancient..most people could sort through all the martial arts styles and find something useful for them specifically..
  11. yorukage

    yorukage Valued Member

    "If things don't evolve, they die" is what a master in Japan told me my first year visiting Japan for training. The old, original, martial arts styles can be amazing or ineffective depending on if the transmission from the past is allowed to adapt for modern times while also preserving the heritage of the past. Too many of the oldest styles do not adapt and just train their kata without learning to be adaptive. However, I also think there are too many modern "masters" who think they know who to create their own system and that it is the best thing ever, but there is very little connection to a source. The best systems are going to be the ones where the lineage has been passed down for generations and also evolution takes place within the art guided by the master of the art.
  12. Old bloke

    Old bloke Active Member

    The question is art or evolution, if your objective is purely self defense then evolution is paramount up to a point, how do you defend yourself if someone throws a glass of acid at you?
    Art is another dimension, for the love of, preservation of the form. The history, the philosophy, a way of being,
    18th century jiu jutsu is it relevant today? In parts, but not as relevant as bjj.
    If you feel, 2/3 off what you learn is pointless, then find another self defense system, if you enjoy everything about your art then make it a way of life, one of a few that carry on the tradition, then embrace the whole thing, give yourself to it, just my opinion
    Monkey_Magic likes this.

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