False claims and the Art of Bending the Truth.
“I met a guy who trained with ‘Mr. Miyagi’ you know- the real one from back in the old days, it’s true because I saw a couple of pictures on the the wall of his dojo.” We’ve all met ‘that guy’. Braggadocios claims without a single ounce of proof to back it up. They are full of …something, and they know it, but they persist in spreading the lie, and naive students continue to take the bait, and buy into the ruse. After a seminar or two, or perhaps just a chance meeting with a well-known master, the ‘truth-bender’ breaks out the photos and maybe even employs his photoshop skills to enhance the validity of his claim. This is nothing new, in fact, this practice of embellishing one’s lineage and riding the coat-tails of someone else’s hard work and skill has been around for centuries. The fact that it still exists in the 21st century, however, is quite surprising, as we have the means to investigate frauds and fraudulent claims, literally at our fingertips.
Regarding verification and clarification of those who claim to have trained with well known karate masters and pioneers, it is vitally important to have documentation and a clear understanding of exactly what level of training was shared between the student and teacher. Someone can rightly claimed to have trained with any given master even if it was for a few hours at a seminar, workshop, or clinic. Being a student, a direct student, or an authorized and licensed representative for said master, are entirely different qualifications. When someone tells you that they have trained with a certain teacher, it is our responsibility to ask follow-up questions that will give us all the answers we need to make an informed decision to follow or not.
Even now, well over a century after the fact, there are claims and disputes regarding training lineage, skill, etc.
The primary disputes lie within major discrepancies of functionality and structural practices between the masters and those who claimed to have trained with them.
We now are in a technologically advanced age which allows us to utilize various methods of proof, including, photo and video evidence, along with the old standard of paper certification for qualified students.
In order to keep this article on topic, I will use myself and my teacher for the example, as I do not wish to stray off course by ruffling the feathers of those in other ryu.
My teacher for the past 26 years is Takamiyagi Hiroshi Sensei. To say that I have trained with him would be a gross understatement. As my long-time teacher, Takamiyagi Sensei is much more than a teacher to me. In addition to the lessons in and out of the dojo, I have been to his home in Okinawa, eaten dinner with his family, celebrated birthdays, holidays, etc. He has done the same with me here in the United States. I have sat on testing boards at the Honbu Dojo in Okinawa, and he has trusted my judgement for promoting my own students and association members to the Yudansha ranks here in the United States.
As a result of me bringing him to the USA, many people have trained with Takamiyagi Sensei, and they have the photos to prove it. In fact, a half-dozen of our association members have also been promoted to black belt with his name and hanko on the certificate, along with mine. The only verification needed by Takamiyagi Sensei, was for me to recommend them for promotion after all promotion requirements were met.
Some of these new shodan are still training and refining what they have learned, some are not.
What then, prevents anyone from waiting 20, 30, or 40 years (when Takamiyagi Sensei and me are no longer around) to make a claim of having trained with the founder of our ryu, and fooling the public into thinking that they have found the long lost original, first generation student of Takamiyagi Hiroshi?
In our case, the answer is simple: it is a system of certification, verification, checks and balances that provides absolute proof.
This is not a secret code, in fact, I am happy to share the methods in hopes that others may find something beneficial to use.
1. Personal (first generation) students are promoted by Takamiyagi Sensei personally, and issued menjo from the honbu dojo in Okinawa.
2. Teaching licenses are issued in the same manner as item one.
3. Second generation students/organization members are promoted through our IOGKA organization; the menjo includes both Takamiyagi Sensei’s hanko, as well as my own. Neither of us use our honbu dojo hanko; both are organizational.
4. Organizational teaching licenses are issued in the same manner as promotion from item three.
5. Paper documentation is kept at the honbu dojo in Okinawa, with a duplicate record kept at the USA honbu dojo.
This is part of the method of checks and balances used by my teacher, likely many others today as well.
Just because someone has a menjo with a famous master’s name, and/or a photo with that teacher, does not mean that they are a direct student. When in doubt, ask the teacher, or the senior students of that teacher. Even before that, check the technique, the structure, the power generation abilities and the overall ability to deliver the principles of the ryu/style when executing kata. While some personal interpretation is to be expected at higher levels, the blueprint and the core principles should remain consistent from teacher to students. With regard to our system – Goshukan-Ryu – the rules are quite simple, and this helps set the standard for all members; without a teaching license, no-one is permitted to teach. That’s it, plain and simple. This has worked well so far to ensure that even the most junior teachers have enough experience and skill to disseminate the information to students, and to keep consistent standards among all licensed instructors and teachers worldwide as we continue to grow.