Updated: Jul 30, 2021
I’m rather a fan of chocolate. White chocolate, milk chocolate, don’t worry not mint chocolate I’m not a barbarian!
So a chocolate related koan for you.
“You get a tin of celebrations chocolates (You take out the bounty’s because no-one wants those) and a tin of Quality Street. You empty the quality street tin, by whichever method you fancy (chances are... you eat them), and into the now-empty quality street tin you place the celebrations and close the lid. Inside do you have the same chocolates?”
Even Romeo had opinions on the matter:
“What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”
I can honestly say that almost no question makes me die a little inside more than, what style do you do? It is like the most important thing about the sum of your training is which stances are most common in your kata.
The truth: there is only you and your training. There is only Karate. Two arms, Two legs, 1 head. You have trained and are prepared or you are not.
The very origins of style is paradoxical. For those who train to preserve a style “exactly” as it was taught by their teacher all they are really doing is allowing the art to stagnate and eventually decay. Consider Hironori Otsuka, the founder of Wado Ryu Karate. This was in fact the first “style” that I learnt, but I haven’t ever tried to preserve the Wado Ryu I learnt in the exact image of anyone else, in fact I’m just following the example Otsuka set, to train your own way. Otsuka didn’t try to preserve Karate in the way of his teacher. Otsuka studied Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jujitsu before ever beginning karate with Gichin Funakoshi. He then only studied with Funakoshi for a comparatively short period of time and the eventual split from the as-yet-unnamed Shotokan style was a direct result of Otsuka combining all that he knew. He valued the partner work and footwork from his Jujitsu and so it would be only natural to absorb this within his new skillset from Karate. The eventual result, what we now describe as Wado Ryu Karate.
This, therefore, leads me to conclude that to say I practice Wado Ryu is synonymous with saying I practice to imitate Otsuka. Unfortunately, it is a mathematical certainty that to merely imitate will lead to progressively poorer performance. Imagine that Otsuka’s most direct student learnt 99% perfectly what Otsuka knew and passed this on to his next student who again tried to imitate but again probably wont reach more than 99% imitation (of course 99% is a bold over estimate, however, works as best case scenario). This is now at best a 2% decrease, I think you get the idea where I’m going with this...
This cycle will inevitably lead to loss of knowledge and so it is essential to seek knowledge from numerous point sources. The simple truth is that there is no reason in training the same as Otsuka, because …
… wait for it…
… your not Otsuka! Nor should you want to be. Jigoro Kano is an example of someone who understood the journey well. He studied different schools of Jujitsu to form the essence of his Judo curriculum. He was innovator because where he identified weaknesses, such as the defeat of Tobari to Mataemon Tanabe of the Fusen ryu, utilising ne waza (groundfighting), Kano looked to absorb the ne waza of Tanabe into Kodokan Judo.
In my mind the highest Authority on such a matter was the great Miyamoto Musashi, who in his Book of Five Rings explicitly describes how upon the mastery of your own initial style you must look outward at others to evaluate your technique and ultimately grow. This was the one bit of advice that has been universal from my teachers…
“Listen and learn as much as you can, absorb what is good, discard what is bad” Although they all had different ways of articulating this truth, at its essence, it is the same. Keep all that is useful and that you find to be efficient.
It is important to initially stick to one methodology because of the nature of Shu Ha Ri. If you start to try and learn everything before you’ve learnt one thing, you wont be successful. Eventually, as you move through the stages of Shu Ha Ri, you will need to expand. In fact, the best teachers encourage it. Consider the journey of Motokatsu Inoue, who if you are not familiar with, was the Founder of the Ryukyu Kobujutsu Hozon Shinko Kai and taught Yui Shin Kai Karate. His first teacher was Seiko Fujita, who eventually after several years of training wanted Inoue to become adept at all martial arts so encouraged him to train with Yasuhiro Konishi who then subsequently introduced him to Shinken Taira.
All of these great teachers recognised the importance of putting the student at the heart of their own journey, teaching all that they could to those who trained with commitment and then encouraging them to grow more; both as martial artists and individuals. Often when teachers limit you to a style and don’t encourage you to look outside it, it is out of a sense of insecurity and is almost never in the interests of the student but rather in the interests of the teacher.
The issue of styles can be extended still further into even more infuriating “that’s not Karate, that’s Judo/that’s not Judo that’s Jujitsu/that’s not aikido it’s origami!” camp. (Perhaps a separate rant for a separate day ;) )
We come back to same chocolates, different box. So what style do I do? To me, whilst it is important to study many methodology’s, there is only one Bujutsu and it should lead to a style entirely your own.
"There are many paths of the top of the mountain but once there the view is always the same."