Author Archives: Columbus Dojo - Goshukan-Ryu USA Honbu
This is the entrance of the original Hamagawa Dojo in Sunabe, Chatan-Cho, Okinawa. This Dojo stood in this location until 2002, and was demolished to make way for the new dojo of Takamiyagi Hiroshi’s Goshukan-Ryu Karate Kobudo Honbu Dojo. While the building is newer with more modern amenities, the spirit of the old Hamagawa Dojo remains for those of us who were fortunate enough to train there. We left our sweat and blood in that old wooden floor, and we took with us memories that are still as vivid as the day they were made.
The Hamagawa Dojo is indeed a special place in the history of Okinawan Karate, for it was within those four walls that Goshukan-Ryu was conceived from the loins of old Shuri-Te and Wu Zhu Quan. Today there are only a few original first-generation students that remain actively training and teaching, and we have been charged with passing the torch of Goshukan-Ryu to the 3rd and 4th generation of students.
I have selected a few dozen photos from the Hamagawa Dojo that mean the most to me; some were taken by me, some by my dojo mates, and several were given to me by Takamiyagi Sensei from his private collection. These photos have been assembled into a limited edition calendar, and are being made available to the public for a very worthy cause.
As many of you know, I have been tasked with translating and publishing a bi-lingual edition of my teacher’s book “Five Ancestor Kenpo Volume 1” by next summer. This project is quite an undertaking and the historical significance is profound, as are the costs associated with publishing. While crowd-funding seems to be the popular vehicle to raise funds, I have always been taught to give something of value when asking for funds; so, instead of crowdfunding this project, I am launching a series of limited edition publications for the sole purpose of raising funds for this project. This idea was borrowed, as we also publish calendars to assist with fundraising for our IOGKA Karate organization, and it has been mildly successful. Please help support this historical effort by purchasing a copy or 2 of the Limited Edition 2016 Historical Hamagawa Dojo Calendar, and please share with all of your martial artists friends too.
Click on the link to find out more details, and to preview the calendar.
If you haven’t heard about the book project, please visit Five Ancestor Kenpo – Volume 1. Bilingual Edition on facebook.
Thank you for your continued support,
Every year in October, my dojo hosts the annual IOGKA Gasshuku in Georgia. This is a 3-day weekend full of training, learning, sharing, laughter, camaraderie, catching up with old friends, and making new friends too. Although this is our annual National Training Camp – our big event for the year – we open this gasshuku to all traditional Okinawan and Japanese martial arts practitioners, and every year, we grow a little more, and expose the old training methods to new attendees.
Many of our friends comes back year after year not only for the training, but for the ‘family reunion’. In fact, I would venture to say that our small group bonds closer with each passing year because of our family atmosphere during the entire weekend. That is, we are all friends on and off the training floor, there is no ego, no cliques, and no ‘kids table’ either. We all train together, and everyone is expected to participate and give 100% effort while training, no spectators, no judging, no critiquing, just training.
While we do have a fast paced training schedule with more than a dozen different training segments, our mission is for all that attend and train with us to be able to sufficiently retain at least a little of what is taught. The methods employed are quite simple; yes, we may learn new kata or even different versions of a familiar kata, but what really makes those lessons stick? Contact!
Repetitive and progressive contact in the form of bunkai, tuite, structural principles and constant partner drills. What comes with this type of training? Muscle memory, for most learners. Why? I’ll use myself for an example. I can practice with my teacher, learn kata with him standing beside me, and record step by step, detailed notes for everything that I learn. And all of this is useful, however, nothing sticks with me quite like contact.
- If I see it, I may recall it.
- If I do it, I’ll probably remember it – as long as I keep practicing consistently.
- If I FEEL it, then it’s all mine, and I’ll have it forever.
But that’s just me, I’m a physical learner, and physical learning often comes with growing pains; that is- bumps, bruises, the occasional bloodshed, joints and nerves on fire from being twisted and turned, etc. These ‘growing pains’ are the direct result of application based training, and this type of active contact training will teach us more than any theoretical practice can ever hope to achieve. We have all been to those gasshuku, seminars, camps, workshops, etc. where the featured instructor(s) will teach a kata or two, and then teach the bunkai to everyone via one uke (willing partner) as a demonstrator. It all looks great, (and somewhat choreographed) but in the back of your mind, you can’t help but wonder if it really works against an unwilling opponent. And it’s ok to be skeptical regarding personal protection and defense; in fact, I fully expect to be challenged when teaching something new or different to students, peers, or other instructors. This keeps everyone honest. My teacher has a great way to address those that are respectufully curious or skeptical; when asked a certain detail or question (the ‘what if’s’) Takamiyagi Sensei simply responds: “Come, you try”. This is followed immediately by a quick physical (and sometimes painful) lesson that leaves no further doubt or questions in the mind of the inquirer.
At our gasshuku, and all of our events throughout the year, the Instructors work with everyone in attendance regardless of rank; we rotate, and move around, and spend time working with each attendee to ensure they are understanding the content that is taught. As instructors, we have an obligation to be on the floor with those that we are teaching, and we have the obligation to lead by example.
Ordinarily, I don’t include photos with my articles, but this time will be an exception; I am including a photo gallery of our most recent gasshuku in Columbus, Georgia. Feel free to take a look at all the photos, and notice the intensity, the focus, the laughter, the friendship that comes with the joy and pain of learning through old-fashioned contact!
For more information on our Annual Gasshuku, click on the gasshuku tab on this website, or check out http://www.iogka.wordpress.com or check out the IOGKA facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/IOGKA-Kokusai-Okinawa-Goshukan-Karate-Renmei-1510085279267445/
Thank you to all who attended this year’s gasshuku in Columbus, Georgia! We enjoyed three days of beautiful weather as we trained in three different locations: Woodruff Riverfront Park on the Campus of Columbus State University on Friday, Lakeside at Cooper Creek Park on Saturday, and finishing up the weekend overlooking the whitewater rapids of the Chattahoochee River at Whitewater Island on Sunday!
I want to begin with recognition of all instructors;
Takamiyagi Hiroshi Hanshi – Okinawa Goshukan-Ryu Honbu Dojo Chatan Cho – Okinawa, Japan. IOGKA President.
Garry Parker Shihan – Okinawa Goshukan-Ryu USA Honbu Dojo
Columbus, GA. IOGKA Vice-President
Michael Mitchell Shihan – Kage Niwa Dojo. Davie, FL.
(IOGKA Florida State Director)
Paul Sabota Kyoshi – Imperial Crane Dojo. Crofton, MD.
To those that traveled from Maryland, South Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, and Georgia: Thank you all for your friendship and dedication to budo.
This year was packed with so much variety, there was something for everyone.
- Shuri Te’s Passai Sho tuidi and kyusho
- Shuri Te’s Naihanchi tuidi and bunkai
- Five Ancestor Fist/Wu Zhu Quan’s kata/bunkai – San Chien, Tiao Qie, Wu Fu Chien
- Goshukan-Ryu’s iron body principles, and trapping/catching drills
- Ryukyu Kobudo: Tenryu no Kun, Tokumine no Kun, Chatan Yara no Sai
- Mugai Ryu Iaido kata and kumitachi.
As usual, most of us ‘seasoned’ karate-ka will be remembering this weekend very vividly over the next few weeks as we ice our knees, shoulders, wear knee braces, and heal the bruises, bumps, busted lips and noses. What fun is a Karate gasshuku without a few souvenirs?
Another first this year was quite literally Karate History being made, and those in attendance were there to witness first hand.
Our first group of IOGKA Yudansha-Kai members were promoted to Shodan (black belt) on U.S. Soil by Takamiyagi Sensei! These members were already blackbelts in their core ryu/style, and have worked extremely hard over the past year at our quarterly workshops taught at the Goshukan-Ryu USA Honbu Dojo and Summer gasshuku.
It has been my pleasure to teach you and and guide you on your path in Goshukan-Ryu, and I am extremely proud to have my name and stamp next to Takamiyagi Sensei’s name on your menjo. What an honor it is, and I’m looking forward to many more years of training and growth with each one of you!
Thank you to Takamiyagi Sensei for openly sharing your knowledge and skill with us again this year, and for opening your heart and our eyes. We are extremely fortunate to have you as our leader in the IOGKA, and I am grateful beyond words to have you as my teacher.
Until next time,
Okinawa Goshukan-Ryu Karate.
Kaicho – USA Honbu Dojo.
By Garry Parker.
This morning I spoke to my Sensei on the phone; we usually have our weekly conversations on Sunday evening my time, Monday morning Okinawa time. This week, however, he wasn’t home when I called Sunday evening, so I waited until today. The first thing he said to me after ‘moshi moshi’ – “Did you hear about Uechi Sensei?” I told him that I had heard, and of course the karate community – Uechi-Ryu in particular – has lost yet another treasure. He mentioned that it was around this time last year when his cousin -Takamiyagi Shigeru – passed from this earth. In fact, Sensei was here at my dojo in Georgia teaching the first day of our IOGKA Gasshuku when his cousin passed away, and he got the news later that evening from his wife in Okinawa.
As we continued talking about details of his upcoming visit to the USA next month, he came back to Uechi Sensei again. “You know, he was young; at 74, he was only one year younger than me”. We were both silent for a moment as we both gave our thoughts to mortality and the shortness of life. “Yes, Sensei, but you are healthy, and you already told me you planned to train until 90 and live to be 100.” I tried to make light of the conversation to keep spirits up and help lead the conversation in a more positive direction.
Not a chance. What Takamiyagi Sensei said next slammed me to reality in a flash. “I enjoy talking to you so often, and I’m glad we get to have the conversations…but someday, Pa-ka san, we will have our last phone call; someday we will say goodbye for the last time.” I didn’t reply, I just sat silently thinking for a few moments until I heard Sensei’s voice. “Daijoubu Pa-ka?” Hai, daijyoubu Sensei. Of course I know that we are mortal; I don’t believe that he or I will live forever; we will all pass someday, but we honestly don’t like to think about it, much less discuss it.
I don’t know how much time is left with my Sensei, but I do cherish every single moment of the past 25 years with him; I may have 25 more, or not. What’s important is to use the allotted time wisely. Ask questions, train hard, sweat, tell stories, have fun, enjoy yourselves, and the time spent together, and always remember to treat each moment as the last opportunity to spend time with your teacher, because one day..it will be time for that last call.
The hardest steel is forged in the hottest fire.
The impurities that weaken the blade are quickly consumed.
When times are tough, and you are far away from your comfort zone, remember that no worthy weapon was made without first being heated and beaten into the pure steel that becomes the warrior’s blade. The process of forging by fire purges the impurities…it burns the weakness to ashes, revealing only the pure, hard steel.
In our lives and in our training, there are times when we struggle; we can take the easy way and give up, or we can press forward and learn how much stronger we have become. I am no different than you, in that I have struggles, challenges, and personal issues. This year has been particularly trying with a roller-coaster of highs and lows both personally and professionally. When faced with some of these challenges, the weak will give in, give up, and lose hope. The strong-willed will persevere, and ride out the storm, triumphantly emerging stronger than before.
As a dojo, we have experienced growing pains; these growing pains bring better and brighter opportunities, but they also have snatched many out of their comfort zones. The strong-willed have endured and grown even stronger in both spirit and skill. The weak have become a fading memory.
We would all love to rocket straight to the top of that proverbial mountain as we pursue our personal goals on the path of Budo with; we don’t like to be sidetracked, detoured, or disrupted. We aren’t particularly fond of dips, potholes, and roadblocks in our path. Yes, a straight, and wide path, would be wonderful..wonderfully uneventful, and wonderfully boring. How then can we, as karate practitioners ever expect to be truly strong without first enduring the hardships that shape and form our indomitable spirit.
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For more content like this, check our Garry Parker’s top-selling book: Chanpuru-Reflections and Lessons from the Dojo.
Q&A with Sensei Garry Parker
This interview was conducted by Tambuli Media Publisher- Dr. Mark Wiley. For more information on Tambuli Media, go to http://www.tambulimedia.com and for the complete posting http://www.tambulimedia.com/2015/07/30/qa-with-sensei-garry-parker/
Karate Sensei Garry Parker was born in Columbus, Georgia, and began training in Kodokan Judo in high school. After graduation, he enlisted in the United States Air Force, and was stationed at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa. Shortly after arrival in Okinawa, Parker enrolled in the Hamagawa Dojo, where he learned under the watchful eye of Takamiyagi Hiroshi, Hanshi. After separation from the Air Force, he was granted a visa and continued to live and train in Okinawa until 1996, when he moved back to Georgia. Parker received authorization to teach Goshukan-ryu in America, and opened the first branch Okinawa Goshukan-ryu Dojo outside of Okinawa in 1999.
Garry Parker is the author of the new book, Chanpuru: Reflections and Lessons from the Dojo (Tambuli Media 2015), in which he shares his experience, trials, and tribulations as an American abroad learning a foreign cultural art and making his way from outsider to trusted teacher. We caught up with Garry during his busy Summer schedule to conduct this informal Q&A.
Thinking back to the first day you stepped in Okinawa, and wanted to learn karate, what were your feelings?
Quite honestly, I was excited to be somewhere warm and tropical! I had just completed a 12 month assignment to Osan Air Base, Korea and was still shaking off the cold weather when I stepped into the Naha Airport. Having (primarily) practiced Judo prior to arriving on Okinawa, I was more interested in continuing Judo practice, and didn’t give very much thought to Karate. It wasn’t until I had watched a couple of demonstrations that I became intrigued by Okinawan Karate, and shortly after, I received an invitation to train at a Karate Dojo. My initial feelings when I finally stepped into the dojo for the first time were a mixture of excitement and nervous anticipation; I was ready to learn something new… ready to challenge myself, but the sight of karate men pounding the makiwara, kicking the heavy bag, and the tire, and beating their arms and legs on each other, was quite a shocking sight for a Judo student.
How did it feel, after having trained in a US dojo, to be invited into an Okinawan dojo?
As I mentioned, I had only experienced Judo, so naturally I searched for a place that taught Judo; I had little luck finding someone willing to teach me, and was soon invited to try Uechi-Ryu by Mr. Naka – one of the Okinawan civilians that worked in our squadron. One of the aspects that drew me to Okinawan Karate was the no frills method of training to which I was already accustomed. When I trained in America, our Judo dojo was an all-purpose room on the 3rd floor of the YMCA in Columbus, GA. This old building was hot in the summer, drafty in the winter, and we trained hard and sweated buckets no matter the weather. When I walked into the first Uechi-Ryu dojo, and later the Hamagawa Dojo of Takamiyagi Sensei, I got the same vibe; that is, everyone there was working hard, sweat was pooling on the hardwood floors, and not one single student showed the slightest ego or pretense.
I suppose that my experience is not the average experience, as I have met many people over the years that have described both of my training experiences as ‘old school’. To me, it was just normal. It was what I expected, and what I have come to associate with true training methods. The air conditioned modern schools and dojo’ are nice, and of course, they are comfortable for the parents, but the air conditioned viewing areas with flat screen televisions, juice bars, and pro shops, are superfluous, and have no direct impact on the training.
What are the main areas of difference between training in an American dojo and an Okinawan dojo?
In America, my Judo Sensei was German; he was strict and he taught with little patience for horseplay or fun in the dojo; No one under 12 was accepted, so there really wasn’t an issue of kids running around. The practice consisted of bowing in, ukemi (falling and rolling) practice, then we split into groups according to rank and age, and practiced accordingly. That was it. In Okinawa, we all bowed in, warmed up together, and practiced the first few kata together before beginning independent practice. Sensei would rotate and spend time with each student or group of students, while much of the instruction was conducted by the Senpai (senior black belt students). In Okinawa, we trained at our pace, according to our individual goals. Some wanted to practice kata, while others wanted to focus more on defense and personal protection.
Some of the kids were there because they had to choose between baseball, kendo, or karate, so it was just another activity for them. Those who showed sincerity in training, both children and adults, received additional instruction and extra attention from Sensei. Everyone can train, and everyone can gain something from consistent practice, but only those who sincerely dedicate themselves will be introduced to the finer details of the arts. There is an unspoken ‘inner circle’ in Okinawan Karate; the only entrance is by gaining the trust and respect of one’s Sensei, through dedication, loyalty, and humility.
How would you describe the character and teaching method of Takamiyagi sensei?
Takamiyagi Sensei has been my teacher now for 25 years; in that time, I have learned the proper way a martial artist should conduct himself, in and out of the dojo, simply by watching his example. His character in a nutshell is this: He is driven by the desire to be just a little better than yesterday, that is, he is constantly training, researching, and refining his methods to improve his art, not for himself, but for the next generation of Goshukan-Ryu practitioners and teachers. He expects a lot, but he gives even more. Sensei is unrelenting in his pursuit of ensuring that we, his disciples, are given all the information that we can handle, and then he ensures that we continue our pursuit to perfect the methods he has taught us. He is passionate about his art, his family, his students, and his life; He loves to have fun and share his native culture with anyone that is sincere and shows a genuine interest. I suppose his character and teaching methods blend together quite well, in that the same principles are used for both. Hard but fair. Honest, giving, and sharing. Honor is everything, dedication and loyalty are expected, and trust must be earned.
What are the core principles of the Goshukan-ryu?
The core principles defined by Takamiyagi Sensei, are to preserve, teach, and share the unchanged martial arts of both Dento (Classical) Shuri-Te Karate of Okinawa, and Go So Ken (Wuzhuquan) as he was taught. In a generation where Okinawan karate is beginning to gain popularity once again, it is paramount to maintain the old traditions of training for the sake of self-improvement, health, longevity, and practical and proven protection skills. While others embrace the newer model of Taiso (physical exercise) Karate and forget about the deeper esoteric meanings of the older methods passed down, we cannot fall victim to such an easy and shallow method of training. Karate practice is a life-long pursuit, and should be viewed as a means to constantly challenge and improve the body, mind, and character of the practitioner well into old age.
How did Takamiyagi sensei come to combine Wuzuquan (Ngo Cho Kun) and Shuri-Te into a new method?
I would not classify Goshukan-Ryu as a new method; instead, it can be more accurately described as the partnership of two very old and proven methods that are taught side by side under the umbrella of one name. Sensei has always been adamant about this; in fact, he constantly reminds me to keep the two art forms separate, keep the principles and the techniques separate, and to pass it on correctly to my own students in that manner.
As a tireless researcher, Takamiyagi Sensei has always been intrigued by the influence of Southern Chinese arts as the roots of Okinawan Karate; as this is a topic for his upcoming biography. I won’t go into detail, but will say that when he was given the opportunity to study Wuzuquan, he grasped that opportunity whole-heartedly, and was thoroughly impressed to such an extent, that he was inspired to bring these old methods to Okinawa. Although the methods of Wuzuquan more closely resemble the methods of Naha-Te systems, the differences in Wuzuquan and Shuri-Te are quite complimentary. One key point that must be mentioned is this: While other historical karate masters have blended the Fujian arts with Okinawa Te to create new styles and methods, Takamiyagi Sensei is adamant about teaching both Shuri-Te and Wuzuquan side by side, as separate and unblended styles.
I know from my own travel and training that there are some things that transpire—lessons or locations—that for some reason become more important or memorable than others. Can you tell us about the importance of the sea wall for you?
Ah, yes! What a wonderful memory; I love to share this, and am happy that you asked! The Sunabe sea wall was literally a stone’s throw from the front door of the Hamagawa Dojo; I often hung out there after class in the evenings to take in the evening breeze coming off the East China Sea, as I relaxed and watched the waves under the moonlight. I was never alone in this pursuit, as the Sunabe Sea Wall was, and is, an extremely popular spot for Okinawans and foreigners alike. For several years, I spent evenings there, winding down after class, and sometimes with friends on the weekends. After I separated from the U.S. Air Force, the Sea Wall became something entirely different for me. On Saturday afternoons, Takamiyagi Sensei and I would walk there from the dojo, and we would talk, sometimes for 10 minutes before having lunch at Hamaya Soba, sometimes for an hour or two. I learned different lessons sitting on that Sea Wall with Takamiyagi Sensei, but those lessons were just as valuable, and necessary for my complete development, as the physical lessons learned in the dojo. I learned history, I learned philosophy, and I listened to old tales, and advice about everyday life; most of all, I learned that I had earned the trust of my Sensei, and I learned how much he truly cared.
In your book Chanpuru, you have section called “Not your black belt,” about your testing for shodan. Can you tell us about the significance of 1) that test for you, personally, and 2) the deeper meaning of the black belt “not being yours”?
While we know that the Sho-dan (Black Belt) is really the beginning of serious learning, to me, it was unattainable; that is, I felt that I didn’t have what it takes to earn my own, and I was perfectly content with going to the dojo, practicing, learning, and making small increments of progress. You see, I was never particularly athletic or physically gifted as a teen or a young man; everything I accomplished, every small stride forward, took a tremendous amount of work. I trained every day for hours at a time, not because I was an enthusiastic, hard-core martial arts student, but because it literally took me twice as long as the average practitioner to grasp even some of the most basic concepts. When Takamiyagi Sensei informed me that I would be testing for black belt, I initially thought he was testing me psychologically, or even joking at my expense. He assured me that he was serious, and was quite offended when I politely declined to test (which I thought was the proper response, given my mistaken opinion of why he mentioned testing).
After the testing was over, and I was promoted, I felt proud, I felt accomplished, but I still felt extremely unqualified. My senpai (dojo Senior) congratulated me, and mentioned that Sensei was proud to have a new black belt student. The entire time I was testing, I didn’t think about Sensei or his gift to me… that is, sharing his knowledge. In fact, I was quite selfish, and look back on that aspect with shame. The black belt goes around the waist of the student, who then proudly wears it, and works even harder to assure Sensei that he made the right decision by allowing the student to test. In fact, the black belt is for the Sensei; it’s a reminder, a badge, a trophy, that Sensei was actually able to transmit his knowledge to the student, and in turn, gain a new ambassador for the dojo, and the style.
Tell us about your book, Chanpuru, and how it shares the art via three parts, or perspectives.
Honestly, it didn’t start out that way; the format changed several times over the 10 plus years (off and on) that I worked on the manuscript. It wasn’t until after Takamiyagi Sensei’s first visit to the United States in 2014, that I changed the format of the book to three parts. I realize that it’s an uncommon format, which is partial biography, part advice and insight, and part tribute. The first section, titled “Reflections,” is a collection of memories and personal experiences, mostly outside the dojo. I wanted to share with my readers the other side of Okinawa that is rarely experienced by foreigners living in Okinawa, unless they immerse themselves in the culture. Understanding the Okinawan culture and their way of life, gives deeper understanding to the underlying principles of practicing Okinawan Karate in Okinawa.
The second section, titled “Lessons,” is just that: Lessons that I’ve learned during my first three decades of martial arts practice. Much of the content is centered on proper character development, behavior, and attitude, sprinkled with life lessons, and the responsibility of a martial artist and a warrior. The third and final section is dedicated to my teacher, because no matter where we go or what we achieve in life, it is imperative that we always honor the ones that made it possible for us to get there.
You built your own dojo and created a program based on traditional karate and wuzuquan. Can you tell us about it, and what students focus on and how training is progressed with the walls?
When I was given authorization to teach and open a Goshukan-Ryu branch dojo in the USA in 1999, I was unsure about how to teach, so I simply mimicked the protocol and used the same curriculum that I had been taught by my teacher in Okinawa, which is Goshukan-Ryu. As is often the case, my personal goals as well as the needs of the students had a large impact on the initial direction of my personal teaching methods. Because the majority of my early students were law enforcement officers, federal agents, US Army Infantrymen, Rangers, and private security contractors, the emphasis of Shuri-Te’s Tuidi (joint manipulation / breaking / dislocation) and effective low kicks, along with wuzuquan’s evasive and redirecting techniques, as well as heavier concentration of Iron Shirt and Iron limb training methods were implemented more heavily in the daily training methods. As the years passed, I gained more experience as a teacher, and learned to compartmentalize more effectively with different groups of students and their corresponding individual goals; based on that experience, I was able to codify a separate tactics program from our traditional curriculum of Goshukan-Ryu.
One thing that I’ve learned as a teacher, is that I can’t assume anything about any student when they first walk in the door. Those that seem serious will drop out, and those that are timid will often shine and become the most dedicated student. There is no cookie-cutter approach to teaching for me. I have a curriculum and a syllabus to which each student must adhere; however, it is imperative to listen to each student’s individual training goals, and to help guide them in the right direction.
For more information, check out Garry Parker’s Columbus Dojo website.
By: Garry Parker
In centuries past, one did not gain entrance into a dojo without a formal introduction, via letter or personal reference, from someone trusted by the teacher. This protocol was applicable to the master’s potential disciples, and peers alike. Whether one was seeking to be accepted as a student, or simply seeking to meet a well known teacher with no intent of training together, the process was the same – an introduction had to be made.
Now, we have a karate dojo, or 10, in most cities, and most of them want your business. They conduct research and marketing campaigns, they are deeply involved in their communities, they advertise, and they bring in new and inexperienced students to ‘try karate’ in hopes that even a few of the hundreds of students that pass through the doors of the dojo will become serious students, and will become the next generation of leaders for Okinawan Karate. Some staunch traditionalists will scoff, dismiss, or turn up their collective noses at this type of ‘dojo business practice’ however, this is necessary to keep the public engaged and to keep our arts alive and growing..on a large scale. This is true in the USA, and in every country in the world, even the birthplace of Karate – Okinawa.
Gone are the days when a student would arrive at the genkan (outer gate) of the teacher’s home, day after day, until he was finally rewarded for his perseverance, and permitted to enter the gate as a nyumonsha.
Gone are the days when a student who had entered the gate, would work for years to prove himself worthy of instruction under the watchful eyes of the skilled master.
So what? Times change, and we have to change with the times, right? To an extent, yes. I am a firm believer in forward momentum, and embracing better or more efficient methods, as long as the old traditions are kept intact.
Okinawan karate is now widely known and practiced globally, and we the current teachers, are now the gatekeepers of Okinawa’s greatest cultural treasure. We all share an enormous responsibility to share and teach those that are worthy and dedicated. We use contacts, networking, email, social media, etc. to expand our collective footprint, and to bring us all closer together. We can meet someone that is well-known – a martial arts ‘celebrity’ (if that is even a valid term) – at a seminar or be accepted as a ‘friend’ on one of the many social media networks, and get a glimpse of their lives, at least as much of their personal life as they allow us to see. We join with other members on chat groups and it brings us all into the same room to discuss, learn, and grow. These technological advances have truly made our world a smaller place; now, more than ever before, we have an entire karate network, quite literally, at our fingertips. Even with these wonderful advances in technology, one tradition remains firmly in place.
Shotai: An Introduction.
Several groups have worked meticulously to organize seminars in Okinawa for those who are interested. Many karate practitioners are able to fulfill a life-long dream of training in Okinawa. Men like David Chambers of Classical Fighting Arts magazine, and Miguel De Luz of the the Okinawa Traditional Karate Liaison Bureau, have worked meticulously to coordinate introductions to top level Okinawan Karate and Kobudo master instructors to those practitioners that have no direct connection to a teacher/dojo in Okinawa, and may have otherwise not been able to gain access to some of the world’s most sought after Okinawan masters.
Others, including myself, have long-time teachers and direct connections in Okinawa; we work on a much smaller scale to make introductions to our teachers in an effort to spread the methods and culture of Okinawan Karate to those that we know and trust.
Still, some traditions do not change. To be accepted as a student, or even to visit a dojo in Okinawa, many teachers still require an introduction. My teacher of 25 years, still asks me on occasion about different people that visit, and inquire about visiting and training with him. We discuss their intentions, their lineage, their training methods, their current relationship with their current/previous teacher, and their reputation (real or perceived) within the Karate community. We discuss these visitors on a case by case basis; some receive a ‘shotai’ from me, others do not. Some have dropped in on him during classes at his dojo, only to be turned away, while others are welcomed with a smile.
Regardless of the visitor’s skill, rank, or position outside of Okinawa, protocol should always be followed. Humility and good manners are the minimum expected standards. When an introduction is secured, the visitor to the dojo should remember one cardinal rule: You are there to learn. Accept what the teacher has to offer, even if it’s only kihon. Often the teacher will start with kihon to gauge the skill level of the visitor, even at larger seminars this is quite normal. After the skill level is determined, the teacher will teach skill appropriate content to the visitors.
Recently, I arranged introductions and coordinated a meeting with my teacher, Takamiyagi Hiroshi, and two groups of visiting Karate practitioners from the USA; my Sensei chose to host them all as guests in his home in order to get to know them before determining if he wanted to issue a followup invitation to train. As the host, Sensei provided food, drink, and the unique entertainment of Okinawan culture, in the form of village taiko drummers, shamisen players, and Odori, and Sensei was treated with genuine respect by most that attended; some group members brought coffee, drinks, handmade gifts, and shared their native culture with the entire group, which Takamiyagi Sensei enjoyed immensely. Most of the group seemed to have a great time, while a few didn’t seem to enjoy themselves as much as one would expect; they may have been reserved due to the Okinawa summer heat, or they may have been suffering from jet-lag, or perhaps they weren’t sure how to properly interact with this new/different culture because it was their first time in Okinawa. It’s highly possible that there may have been a combination of the three.
From the moment of introduction, the visitor is being evaluated; behavior, body language, personal interaction, manners, and humility are all being mentally recorded by the teacher. This information is used to determine a visitor’s character, and to gauge their intentions. Remember the old mantra: ‘We never get a second chance to make a first impression.’ The initial meeting with a master in Okinawa will hopefully be the first of many for the visitor, followed by a long and mutually beneficial relationship between Seito and Sensei, or as Buyuu (Martial Friends).
Be mindful that the teachers in Okinawa can see through the facade that many foreigners bring to Okinawa, although extremely friendly and happy to share their art with all who are sincere, they know who is there to sincerely make a lasting friendship, who is there to network and expand the arts, and who is there for photo ops or other personal pursuits.
Once the introduction has been made, the rest is up to you.
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By Garry Parker
The house is dark and quiet, other than the muffled sound of the air conditioner and my son’s fish tank in the other room..It is hauntingly silent as I write this only an hour before dawn, and I’ve been awake since 0330. The past few days have come with joy and tragedy – the cycle of life. As some of my family members and friends are grieving and faced with the daunting task of burying their loved ones, I was celebrating an enormous milestone for my father with my family and extended family and friends. Although I was celebrating, my heart still weighed heavy for those family members that were missing from our celebration, as they were attending to the details of planning a funeral for a very sweet lady. What a paradox, yet a perfectly normal one, and simply a part of life that we all will face..or have already.
Life is a short cycle. Sure, some live long and full lives until their 80’s or 90’s, or even the rare Centenarian, but what’s a mere century in the grand scheme of life? Today as I write this, and later as you read it, we will have spent minutes of our lives that can never be replaced. Our time here is limited, so it is our duty to ensure that our time well-spent. We can spend our time however we like; we can even waste it..but we can’t save time, nor can we kill it.
As I was surrounded by family and friends this weekend, emotions ran the gamut from extreme joy, happiness, and pride, to sullen and solemn conversation, and heartbreak for those recently departed, and the ones left behind. I spent my time in good conversation with my family and some very old friends that I had lost contact with…we laughed, we smiled, we told stories, and we hugged… a lot. There was an overwhelming feeling of genuine love and appreciation for life, that I am really having a hard time expressing in simple words..but when you feel it, well..you know it, and that feeling is indescribable.
Later in the evening, I called my Sensei in Okinawa (as I do every other week on Sunday evening) and we discussed life and karate, as usual. Then, he casually mentioned something that kept my mind racing long after we ended the call. “Maybe teach five more years, Pa-ka san.” I asked for an explanation! Sensei, are you ok? Are you sick? What’s going on? Why do you say only five more years? Sensei chuckled, and reminded me that in five years, he would be 80 years old, and would ‘tabun’ (maybe) only teach me for five more years. This struck me as odd, because only 6 months ago Takamiyagi Sensei unveiled his ‘Ten Year Plan’ to me (involving him, me, and our organization), and he’s always maintained that he intends to live at least 100 years!
By American standards, taking a less active role at 80 years of age makes a lot of sense, but those who have met and trained with Takamiyagi Sensei recently can verify that he has the speed, endurance, and power. of someone 30 years younger! This is one of the many benefits of consistent traditional Okinawan Karate training – health and vigor deep into old age. We didn’t speak more about the subject, and moved on quickly to other topics, but I couldn’t -and still can’t – get FIVE YEARS out of my head.
What if…you knew that you only had five years left with your teacher? How would it change you? Would you train harder, practice more intently, be more dedicated and loyal? Yes? Then why wait?
What if…you knew that you only had five years left with your father, or mother, or spouse? What if you only had five years left with your children? What would you do differently? What if it were only five months? How about five days?
You may be thinking now as you read..’That’s ridiculous, no one can know how much time is left”.
Do the right thing, because five years, five months, or five days – we are not promised tomorrow.
Take advantage of every precious moment with those that mean the most to you; it will be time well spent.
In the (traditional) martial arts community, there seems to be a disturbing trend; that is, for some unexplained reason, a large segment of people actually believe that martial arts teachers that make a living by teaching martial arts, or break even, have ‘sold out’ or have been consumed by greed. In fact, the general consensus seems to be that it is expected that a traditional martial arts teacher must surely take a vow of poverty in order to be focused and passionate about training and teaching! I’m not sure exactly where this lie originated, but I have gut feeling that many folks that feel this way have probably had a free ride in their own martial arts journey. That is, they have been able to train without paying dojo fees because they ‘worked it out with Sensei’ or they were unable to afford classes, so Sensei had pity on them and taught them for free, or they are mooches with no concept of reality. Oh yeah, that last one stings a little, doesn’t it? My personal belief is: Those that have never sacrificed, will never appreciate or understand the sacrifice of others.
Before going any further, I want to be crystal clear. In my career as a karate teacher, I have taught students for free, I’ve discounted those who I felt needed it, and I’ve waived training fees entirely when the student(s) fell on hard times. Even now, I still give scholarships to those who I feel deserve it, both in my dojo, and in the training events that I host. My only condition is that the student(s) continue to train, and when they are able to begin paying for their classes, that they voluntarily do so. And guess what? I’ve been burned a few times; that is, they don’t always follow through with their end of the agreement, but it’s no surprise really, after all, people are people. The majority of people will do the right thing, but there are always a few that have a sense of entitlement that forms in them whether they admit it or not; that is, when someone receives something for nothing, they will begin to appreciate it less and expect it more.
Does that stop me from helping those who need it? Not at all. I will always help those who I feel deserve it; if they don’t show appreciation through commitment and dedication to me, the dojo, and our art.. or if they choose to not do the right thing by paying it forward, that is their character flaw, not mine. As a teacher, I can show my students the path, and I can even personally guide them, but I will not drag them down that path. The right attitude of obligation and gratefulness (giri) has to come from within and has to be genuinely manifested without coaxing.
So, what about the traditional karate teacher taking a vow of poverty? Isn’t that the mark of a true Sensei? NO! That is a misconception that has been propagated and passed down with no sense of origin. Why then do we have to pay training fees? Even when the teacher claims that he/she doesn’t teach for the money, but for the love of the art?
Ah-ha! the right question! We can never pay our teachers for the knowledge and experience that they impart to us; it is priceless! We pay training fees to support our dojo and our Sensei; that is it. The training fees go toward the dojo expenses such as rent/mortgage, utilities, insurance, and equipment. If anything is left over, the balance may go to further the training and martial education of your teacher through seminars, workshops, or even training trips. Your teacher has likely spent most of his/her life and 10’s of thousands of dollars honing his/her skills, especially if their teacher resides in Okinawa or Japan..those tickets can get pricey! You can’t buy favor or special instruction, or advanced training skills from a LEGITIMATE TEACHER, but you can do your part to lessen the burden and help to ensure that you will always have a place to train by supporting your dojo.
WARNING: If you are still reading, thank you; but be warned, this next part is full-contact; the gloves are off. If you are easily offended, I encourage you to stop reading right here.
Still here? Good.
If you are one of those students that feel that you deserve free instruction because you’ve ‘already paid your dues’ or because you ‘help Sensei out around the dojo’ then you are part of the problem, and should re-evaluate exactly why you think you are so very special that you feel it’s perfectly acceptable for others to carry your weight financially. If you are not one of those, fantastic! You know the type, and there is usually at least one in every dojo; Late on their training fees, or don’t attend training events unless someone else pays the fee, or they simply stop training to ‘save money’ at certain times during the year, such as summer vacation, or the winter holidays.
If you are the type of student that allows or even expects Sensei or your Senpai to pay your way or waive training fees for you to attend training events in order to expand your knowledge, then you are part of the problem.
Does this mean that everyone who accepts help, scholarships, or discounted fees are unappreciative cheapskates and moochers? Of course not! It only applies to those who develop a false sense of entitlement..those who feel they deserve a free ride.
Does this mean that everyone should always pay to train? That depends on the teacher. In fact, I know several highly skilled teachers that refuse to accept payment, and that is perfectly fine, because these teachers have extremely high standards, and they require their students to contribute in other ways. Whether you pay in cash, trade, barter, or sweat…you pay, I pay, everyone pays. There is no free ride in the dojo, and the sooner we all get the image of our dirt poor Sensei out of our collective heads, the better.
That’s it. Pay your dues, literally and figuratively. If you are one of those that are fortunate enough to receive recognition of your dedication through reduced or waived training fees, say thank you once in a while and let your teacher know that you don’t take him/her for granted; let your teacher know that you appreciate what they do, and above all..don’t forget that you still have dues to pay. If you aren’t sure how, then ask your Sensei, I’m sure they will guide you in the right direction, after all, that’s what we do.
Did you like this article? You’ll love the top-selling new book by Garry Parker!
Chanpuru: Reflections and Lessons from the Dojo.
Available Now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BAM, I&I Sports, Kontact Sports, and more.