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By Garry Parker
The Guyana tragedy. November 15, 1978. Cult leader and self-proclaimed prophet Jim Jones mesmerized his followers with tales of an unbelievably perfect afterlife, a paradise of perfection and happiness to all that would prove their faith by following him to the other side. He brainwashed his followers, confined them to his colony (Jonestown) and forbade anyone to leave. As his facade deteriorated during a visit to the colony by U.S. political leaders and members of the media, Jones lashed out against them, ordering their murder at the airstrip in Guyana. Later that day, he told his followers that they would be invaded, captured and tortured, and that the only solution was mass suicide. To prove their loyalty, 909 men, women, and children willingly and drank a beverage laced with cyanide, knowing that it would lead to their death.
The martial arts community is diseased with people like Jim Jones, that is, they teach that their methods are the only way, and everyone else is wrong. Their students/followers become brainwashed over time to believe that their teachers are indeed the ‘only true way’ in martial arts, and that everyone else is a fraud. How do these teachers continue to get away with their legacy of lies? In our generation of advanced electronic technology, one only needs to spend a few minutes of research online to find verifiable facts, history, and lineage on almost anyone. Yet, these cult-like martial arts ‘teachers’ still manage to attract a loyal base of followers. Again, how do they do it? Like any cult leader, they are charismatic, controlling, and secretive, with just enough charm to pull it off. Their followers are almost always isolated from the rest of the martial arts community for fear that they (the teachers) will be exposed for who they truly are.
You have probably met or heard of someone like this in your town, I know that I have. How do you identify them?
Here are a few ‘red flags’ that should get your attention, and lead you to research the teacher further (or run away!)
- Old in years – Young in experience.
These are the older generation of practitioners that have been quietly training or teaching the same way for decades; sometimes 30-40 years, or more. They may have spent a year or two training at a legitimate dojo, and perhaps they were even promoted to a legitimate dan ranking 30 years ago. I’ve met a couple of these. When a martial artist has a few years of legitimate training experience, and doesn’t continue to develop their skill, they are stagnate. That is, a 60 year old that was promoted to 2-dan thirty years ago, and hasn’t sought instruction since..is just a 2-dan that has stagnated. The growth has been stunted, and he/she has very little to offer his/her students after a few years. The most recent photo of the teacher and his/her Sensei is a old as the 2-dan certificate hanging on the wall. When asked why they didn’t continue to train with their teacher, the answers will vary, but the question will usually be dodged, and parried with a nod to their many years of experience.
- No verifiable proof of claims.
These types are disturbingly common. The instructor has dabbled in a few martial arts since childhood, and has ‘taken the best of everything, while discarding the unusable.’ Of course this explains why there are 4 different sho-dan certificates from 4 different styles next to the soke-ship certificate hanging on the wall behind this 30 year old ‘master’ and creator of a ‘new style’. These types will often claim lineage to a master of a secret art that ‘was only taught to me’ or the master has died, and the name is unrecognized because ‘he was very secretive.’
Three terms to remember: Shu. Ha. Ri. Too many people get their ‘SHU’ stuck, and attempt to hop right into ‘RI’. Fortunately, these types are exposed quickly enough when they are cornered by the average brown belt and asked to demonstrate real self-defense skill.
- Abnormal gaps in between promotions.
This can be from both ends of spectrum, that is, small gaps and large gaps. The small gaps are a flag especially when dan ranks/teaching titles are from several different teachers and organizations. You know the type, the rank chaser, paper tiger, kami-bushi, etc. These are the types that just can’t get enough paper on their wall or stripes on their belt, and they don’t care where they get it…as long as they get it. They have no loyalty to their teacher or to any one organization, yet they require/demand loyalty from their own students.
NOTE: This does not refer to promotion timelines; that is a separate topic altogether, and one that is best addressed between student and teacher.
- Cross-training is discouraged or forbidden.
This one is fairly simple. These types are hiding the truth, that is, they know that what they have to offer is limited, but they don’t want their students to find out for fear of losing them to more qualified teachers. The excuses will include: ‘Our style/school/association has all you need; if we don’t have it, you don’t need it.’ ‘You aren’t ready yet; when the time comes, I’ll let you know.’ ‘I don’t want you to get distracted/I don’t want your karate to be contaminated.’ The truth: Their skills are rudimentary at best. Basic kyu level kick-punch-block karate with a limited or non-existent understanding of bunkai, oyo, concepts such as gamaku, chinkuchi, kyusho, and tuite. What they lack in actual karate based knowledge, they tend to make up for with physical fitness centered classes, and not much more.
Over the years, I have invited scores of teachers and their students to train with me at our events, camps, and gasshuku, and I have been disappointed to find out many years later that former students of those invited to train were denied when they expressed interest in cross-training.
- The black belt is unattainable.
In Okinawa the black belt is no big deal. Yes, it is an accomplishment, and no-one can take away the feeling of earning that first black belt. In the grand scheme, sho-dan is simply the rank that comes between 1-kyu and 2-dan. That’s it. Sho=beginning. Congratulations, you’ve proven that you have a firm grasp on the basics, and now you’re ready to begin learning karate. There are no brutal, marathon, two day black belt tests, at least not in Okinawa – the birthplace of karate! There are no superfluous movements or actions that have nothing to do with your karate. Think 500 pushups, running 10 miles, fighting for 3 hours every person in the dojo from white belt to sensei. This is a western invention, and usually comes with bragadocious claims such as, “Hardly anyone passes their black belt exam on the first attempt” or “In our dojo, it takes at least TEN years to reach shodan” as if these claims serve to add legitimacy to their art/school. In reality, they are either suggesting that their students are extremely slow learners, or they are confirming that their teaching skills are severely lacking quality!
On the rare occasion that one ‘passes’ their black belt examination, they are celebrated as a rarity, and reminded that ‘unlike other karate schools, you will always know that you earned your black belt here.’ Ironically, these are the same schools that rarely have senior dan ranks (because it’s too tough for mere mortals). Often these teachers and students are arrogant, obnoxious, and unwilling to receive logical information. They will publicly question or condemn anyone with a high rank that is not Asian, simply because they (or their teacher) hasn’t attained a high rank, and of course, because their teacher told them so.
These ‘red flags’ are by no-means absolute. They are simply common indicators that invite the student to research more diligently their school and their teachers. As human nature will always be rife with those that are less than honest and sincere, these types of teachers will not go away, and we – the karate community – can help by educating the next generation of karate practitioners through open dialogue, constant research, self-improvement, and cross-training.
By Garry Parker
We all have them, those of us who train, have had conversations with our teachers. Like our relationships, these conversations cover a myriad of topics and they mature with our age. As a young man, and a fairly new karate student our conversations were driven by my thirst for new knowledge; My Sensei and I talked about karate techniques, history, training methods, differences and similarities found within other ryu (styles), but mostly, Sensei patiently answered my questions; in those first few years, there was an endless supply of questions too. As time passed, Takamiyagi Sensei continued to answer my questions, give me advice, and teach me the importance of the ‘do’ in karate-do. One topic that has recurred in our conversations over the past 25 years is courtesy and respect; these are common elements found in the character of each karate-practitioner, and these elements are timeless.
Last night as I was speaking to Takamiyagi Sensei on the phone, I was reminded again how ingrained courtesy and respect are in the daily lives of karate-ka; these concepts are woven into the fabric of our character, and grow more sincere with age and maturity. Sensei and I talk on the phone 2-3 times per month, and although I last called only a week ago, I called him again last night to discuss some visitors to Okinawa that were interested in meeting and training with him. With the combination of social media and the promotion of many seminars and groups that host karate training vacations for foreigners in Okinawa, the karate world has become more accessible to all. The familiarity has often caused foreigners/Westerners to forget or altogether ignore protocol when seeking to visit and train with a teacher in Okinawa. That is, you still need a letter of indroduction, or in modern times, a phone call or email will suffice. In any case, it is not acceptable to call an Okinawan teacher and attempt to set up a visit and training time simply because one has trained at a seminar and received a meishi (name card/business card). A formal introduction is still required by someone that the Okinawan teacher knows and trusts; this can be a current student, peer, or trusted business associate.
Our conversation began: Sensei asked how I was, and I asked the same. We have started every conversation this way for decades, not as a matter of formality, but as an act of courtesy. “Pa-ka- dou ne? Genki?” (Parker, How are you? Healthy?” And it goes on. We talk about our families, our students, the weather, food, etc. This goes on for several minutes as we catch up on recent news to stay current on happenings on the other side of the world. With my teacher, it is not simply a master-disciple relationship; we are family. Sensei has often said that I am his second son, and of course, he is like a second dad to me in many ways. As he doesn’t have grandchildren of his own, Sensei has taken my son Kenji under his wing as his ‘adopted grandson’. He showers him with attention and gifts, and Kenji still doesn’t know what to think of it at only 10 years of age.
Eventually, we talk about training, we talk about our students and which ones are doing well, and others that need more attention. We speak of organizational duties, upcoming training events, and seminar scheduling for Sensei’s next visit to the USA, and we speak about growth and expansion goals within our organization. Nothing out of the ordinary, just regular karate topics, right? Yes, sort of. Sensei asked me to verify some information regarding an upcoming visit from some of my karate friends and their associates in the near future. He asked me who the visiting karate practitioners teachers were, and if their teacher was in Okinawa. “Okinawa wa chisai shima Pa-ka- .. Chanto shi-nai tou dame” (Okinawa is a small island, It’s bad if [we] don’t do the right thing). Sensei did not want to offend the visitors Okinawan teacher(s) by agreeing to meet and train with them, without their teacher’s approval. After our conversation, the details were straightened out, and we moved on with our conversation. Sensei told me about a group of senior practitioners that he was meeting with to discuss preservation of old karate, and he mentioned seeing a senpai from long ago. I found this peculiar, as Sensei and this other master had not trained in the same dojo for 30 years, yet Takamiyagi Sensei – A 75 year old master – still referred to him as his senpai. Respect and Courtesy. Two tenets of character that we should always remember and practice. I was reminded of this once again last night as I shared another conversation with my Sensei.
Coming Summer 2015:
Hidden Treasures: Finding the Private Dojo (Volume 1) is the groundbreaking new guide to help those seeking the ‘old school’ karate dojo, by uncovering these hidden gems and by introducing those that teach and carry the torch of traditional karate for the next generation. Each dojo that is highlighted in this volume has been researched and verified for authenticity, and each dojo owner/teacher is interviewed to give the reader a clear understanding of what is offered, and why the teacher chooses to remain off the beaten path.
This is the 2nd book by Garry Parker – Author of Chanpuru: Reflections and Lessons from the Dojo.
For Updates, click here https://www.facebook.com/hiddentreasures.book
Available now, the long awaited, newly published memoir from Sensei Garry Parker: Available personally endorsed (ordered in person at the dojo) or globally at Amazon.com Please click the Link below to grab your copy!
In my new book, Chanpuru: Reflections and Lessons from the Dojo I’ll guide you on my journey, both in and out of the dojo, and introduce you to the experience through my eyes; the journey can be a little personal, and isn’t always about karate, but that is what makes a memorable life. All experiences on my path haven’t been glorious, but they all have helped to forge my will.
This book is divided into 3 sections:
Book One is autobiographical, in that this section details highlights and reflections of my personal journey in karate from the dojo floor to the crashing waves of the East China Sea, and all points between.
Book Two is filled with topics relevant to the study and practice of this art. This includes lessons that I’ve learned, essays, advice, personal thoughts and stories, and little nuggets of wisdom that I’ve been taught along the way, and am now passing on to you.
Book Three is dedicated to the legacy of my teacher, Takamiyagi Hiroshi, the founder of Goshukan-Ryu (the martial arts style comprised of Goso Kenpo, or Five Ancestor Fist, and Shuri-Te), and pioneer of Wu Zu Quan (aka Ngo Cho Kun or Chinese Five Ancestor Boxing) on Okinawa, Japan. An exclusive interview is included in this chapter, along with rare photos from his personal collection.
RECOMMENDATIONS AND REVIEWS.
“Since 1990 when Mr. Parker first came to Okinawa, I have had the privilege of being his teacher. I have watched him learn and grow beyond my expectations and am proud to see Parker become such a fine ambassador for Okinawan Karate.
—Takamiyagi Hiroshi, Okinawa Goshukan-ryu Karate-do
“The honesty that pervades from this book comes from the Parker’s total immersion in the Okinawan culture. His metamorphosis from American G.I. to Okinawan Karate Man gives readers a unique understanding of martial arts from the Ryukyu Kingdom.”
—Gary Gabelhouse, Novelist and Goju-ryu karate practitioner
“Fascinating and important lessons from a man who lived and trained in a place most people only every dream about. I highly recommend this book to all who study traditional Okinawan and Japanese martial arts.”
—Joe Swift, Tokyo Mushinkan Dojo – Japan
“There are lots of reasons to choose this read, but one in particular makes this book a rare find among the masses. Garry Parker’s Sensei, Takamiyagi Hiroshi, is a true master of Okinawan Karate. As a glimpse into the cultures, training, methods, and daily life from the perspective of “an American student in Okinawa” it’s a great opportunity to see how all the parts actually connect.”
—Wade Chroninger, Meibukan Okinawa Dojo – Okinawa
“In Chanpuru, Parker is kind enough to give those of us who have only dreamed of actually living in Okinawa and dedicating ourselves to our training, a chance to live it through his eyes, his sweat, and his relationships.”
—Russ Smith, Burinkan Dojo
By Garry Parker
In recent months, I’ve spent considerable time reflecting on my past 25 years since I first stepped onto Okinawa, and in the process, have found myself drifting into semi-lucid thoughts of what the next 25 years will hold. From a purely selfish perspective, there are lots of goals that I aspire to accomplish, and whether they are realistically achievable or not, seems to have no bearing on my thought process.
After a few years in Okinawa, I had intended to make it my home; everything that I had grown to love (with the exception of my American family, home-made buttermilk biscuits, and muscle cars) was right there on that tiny island in the Pacific. The tropical way of life, the friendly nature of the the native Uchinanchu, the fresh salt air, and abundant sunshine, complete with the total absence of winter, was a dream come true for me. After I got married and had a child in Okinawa, I was intent on become one of the many ‘expats’ living the dream in Okinawa. I had already received my honorable discharge from the USAF, been granted a visa, gained status as a ‘senpai’ both at work and at the dojo..and all this within six short years from the day I arrived.
As I mentioned, I was being selfish. I was there for me. Yes, it’s true that I was sent to Okinawa courtesy of Uncle Sam, but staying was my choice; being in Okinawa made me happy, and I really wasn’t concerned with how others felt about it, including my family back in America. My mother and father were having a difficult time understanding how I could just ‘abandon my home and culture’ as they called it, and live in Okinawa. I spoke to them a few times about it, and explained my feelings, but they didn’t share my excitement. Those who have been where I’ve been will understand the feelings of happiness, acceptance, and belonging that I experienced in Okinawa; although I was born in United States, Okinawa felt like home.
Growing up in Columbus, GA, my life was mediocre; of course I had a great family that loved me and a few good friends, but I was never a social butterfly, or the popular kid in school, nor did I excel in team sports. Sure, I played little league baseball, and played football and basketball pickup games with my brothers and friends too, but I was no athlete nor did I have aspirations to become one. I did enjoy art, reading and writing, and in my teen years I enjoyed the individual challenges of judo training. In the dojo, all of my results and improvement were a direct result of the effort that I put into my own training. There was no team to build up, no team-mates or coach to let down, no star players or stats to compare myself to… I suppose ‘loner’ and ‘dreamer’ are not the most desirable labels, but those are what I heard the most when people described me as I was growing up. Oddly, those terms didn’t negatively impact me at all; in fact, I felt pity for those that mindlessly followed the status quo, and had no autonomous thoughts or dreams to call their own.
To an extent, we all have to be at least a little selfish if we are going to be bold enough to follow our dreams, and I was, and I did…for a little while.
In the summer of 1996, with a newborn baby and lonely grandparents on the other side of the globe, I began to think and feel a little differently. Part of it was genuine homesickness, part of it was a guilt trip being laid on me heavily by family members back in America. You see, one of the undesirable traits of a ‘dreamer’ is the willingness to care less what other people think, including those that are the closest, and those that love us the most. I would suppose that this type of sociopathic behavior serves as an insulator from those that would detract and distract us from following our dreams. From the the time I was young, my father always called me a dreamer, and not always in a complimentary tone, yet he never discouraged me from dreaming, nor following my dreams. I suppose that most kids are dreamers to an extent; sadly, their dreams die an invisible death shortly after puberty, when the reality of life begins to be ingrained into their brains. Parents are notorious for encouraging their children to ‘get serious about your future…start thinking about college, career, real life, etc.’ Following your dreams is often left out of the new equation of adolescence and young adulthood. So, years after high school graduation, I was following my dreams; I lived a life that was far beyond ordinary, and one that no-one in my family ever suspected would happen. I was an American veteran turned expat, living in another country with my new wife and child; I was speaking another language, and I was happily living a life that fulfilled me and brought me joy every single day. Having recently earned my black belt in karate, life was good, and my wife and I were making plans for my future in Okinawa with my new family. Leaving Okinawa had never entered my mind until that summer; in fact, I was certain that I would live a long, happy life, and retire right there on that little island.
Now, having been back here in the United States for nearly twenty years, I find myself reminiscing about the island that became my adopted home and my second culture. Even now, I would still rather live there than here, but life has a way of changing our priorities. Here in the United States, we embrace the Okinawan way of life as much as we can; we speak both Japanese and Uchinaguchi at home, we maintain friendships with other Okinawan expats here, and of course we enjoy the cuisine and keep in touch with the culture. But I have also began accumulating an ‘Okinawa Bucket List’ of things that I want to do and see in my lifetime. I also realize that most of the items on my bucket list will require me to be either very close to a thriving Okinawan community, or living in Okinawa. Tucked away for the past couple of decades, the thought of retiring and living a happy life in Okinawa with my wife has began to re-emerge. Perhaps change is inevitable..it’s certainly at the top of my bucket list.
I learned lessons in Okinawa that have helped shape my life; Like so many others that adopted Okinawa as their home, I found it hard to resist the magnetic culture, and as I made my way back to my homeland, I realized that I left a piece of my heart on the island. Because I actually find myself homesick for Okinawa, it’s apparent that I also carry a piece of Okinawa with me now in my heart. So, as I look back on all of the wonderful memories and experiences of my last 25 years, I’m also looking forward to the next 25, and I’m excited to see what will unfold, and how many items I can mark off of that list.
The most mature rice stalk bows the lowest. There are a few variations of this old quote, but essentially, it defines the expectation of the humility that comes with maturity.
Is this still true today? Yes.
Is it common? Unfortunately, No.
Of course, I could be mistaken, but strictly from an observational viewpoint, far too many ‘mature stalks’ refuse to bow down. In fact, there seems to be those that expect the younger generation to bow down in in recognition of their skill, their years of experience, or their ‘pedigree’.
So, here is the paradox; while some of these senior instructors have been training longer, they don’t necessarily fit into the description of a ‘mature stalk’. You see, maturity isn’t automatically granted or claimed with a certain rank, number of years training, or a claim to fame, title, etc.
Some of the most humble people I have ever met are also the most highly skilled, and the most willing to share. In contrast, some of the most arrogant and obnoxious practitioners, are highly ranked with questionable skill. To the younger, newer generation, we (those of us with a little experience) have a responsibility and an obligation to ensure that we project the correct image of what we should be, and how we should behave, both on and off the training floor.
Kenkyo – Humility. This is a principle that has been taught and practiced by disciples of the Ryukyu Fighting Arts for centuries, but somewhere, there has been a disconnect. Have the virtues of Bushido been changed, altered, or simply dismissed as antiquated and unnecessary for today’s practitioners? I suspect the latter is true, and is largely driven by the ego, and in more extreme cases, a touch of narcissism as well. I have watched good and talented men (and a few women) fall prey to this; it all starts when they begin to receive praise, accolades, and compliments, that they weren’t previously accustomed to hearing. While accolades and compliments are fine when deserved, one must be careful not to allow these compliments to go to one’s head. When that happens, arrogance creeps in bit by bit, as the practitioner begins to convince him/herself that they deserve the praise, and then they begin to expect it.
Students and teachers alike; use caution when receiving compliments, and realize that when we do receive a compliment or an accolade (whether we deserve it or not) we have an enormous responsibility to receive it gracefully and humbly, and we have an obligation to fulfill those honors both in word and in deed.
Train diligently. Teach humbly. Bow deeply.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.