Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Reflections on Karate and Wado Ryu

Completely off of my usual topics.

Modern karate began with Funakoshi Gichin (or Gichin Funakoshi in the west) whose greatest skill was his impeccable sense of manners and his complete lack of self promotion.

He taught a style of punching and kicking (and other strikes) with high stances that operated from the balls of the foot. Most of the students he taught were Judoka -- people with a great deal of training, experience and competition titles in Judo.

He had two heir apparents. Hironori
Ōtsuka and Funakoshi's son. Ōtsuka was not part of the university and Judo groups and was eventually alienated and founded Wado-Ryu. Funakoshi's son Gigō (Yoshitaka) Funakoshi died early of tuberculosis .

As a result,
Nakayama Masatoshi (M. Nakayama in the west) became the dominant force in Japanese karate, not just Shotokan by virtue of incredible political skills. A PhD who was the director of physical education at Takushoku University, he had sophisticated and developed teaching and planning skills, which he devoted to unifying the teaching of karate as a system. He also had his background in Kendo, not Judo. He also cooperated with Hidetaka Nishiyama.

Under Nakayama the transition to lower stances and driving from the heel (much like an Olympic powerlifter drives from the heel) matured and completed (though it started with
Gigō Funakoshi who is credited with originating the concepts), with a transforming ripple that affected all of the techniques, kata and applications.

As an aside, many of the conflicts between karate instructors can be better understood in terms of the University caste system vs. the old fashioned birth caste system (e.g. many early karate-ka had university credentials and gained status as graduates of the Japanese equivalents of the American Ivy League schools in a Japan where that status was very important -- these are the same people who refereed matches in suits and ties). The older birth caste system (which ranked people's status by the nobility of their parents -- Samurai caste and various degrees in that caste, for example) was fading and being supplanted at the time. Many in that caste had martial arts traditions in their families, but due to the social shifts were unable to finish university educations.

As to Wado and Shotokan, which is better and which is the better way to begin martial arts instruction? I'm not qualified to decide. Shotokan can have tai sabaki (when our club in Wichita Falls trained under Nic http://nikchapapas.typepad.com/ every work out included a fair amount of tai sabaki drills as a part of the warm-up), Wado can have a great deal of power. I had Judo training before Karate. I admire people in both styles, I just could not continue in Shotokan after Robin died. Wado is something I can do right now, and I was able to keep my dad's death from derailing me.

But, I had not seen the thoughts I'm expressing here expressed anywhere else, so I wrote this post and edited the Wiki a little. I train because it has been part of my life since I was a teenager, and I'm glad to find a place I can train that is not overwritten by emotional issues or too far to drive from my house.

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