“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Isaac Newton, 1676.
Karateka across the world owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the Okinawan and Japanese instructors who, in the first half of the Twentieth Century, laid the foundations for a little known minority martial art to become one of the most practised in the world today. This important role has naturally resulted in those that founded styles in that era, or who pioneered the teaching of karate outside of Japan, becoming highly revered. They are quite rightly seen as the giants on whose shoulders we stand.
We should be careful however not to be led astray. It is right to respect these karateka, we owe them a great debt of gratitude, but their words or approaches should not be blindly followed. In fact I believe that to do so is to squander their legacy. I will occasionally quote an ‘old master’, but I only do so if what they say has been borne out by my research or that of other people whose research methods and experience I can quantify and thus value.
Matsumura, Itosu, Funakoshi, Motobu, Kyan, Miyagi, Mabuni, Ohtsuka to name but a few… these names ring loudly in training halls across the world. Their thoughts on karate are still read and studied. But these men are not giants by today’s standards, in fact in the modern world they are pygmies compared to many of the teachers with whom you could study.
How can I say such a thing?
There are trainers teaching today who have
- Had far greater experience of genuinely life threatening violence or who (through research) have collated a wealth of data from people (whether civilian, law enforcement or military) who have had experience and thus been able to draw important and reliable conclusions on optimum approaches to physical and mental training.
- Have a far better understanding of human physiology and biomechanics (backed by decades of research that is available to all).
- Have had more hands-on experience with other martial artists and have studied under greater numbers of experienced and competent teachers.
- Have had access to, and instruction in, a greater number of non-karate styles (again from high quality instructors) to broaden their perspective and increase their depth of understanding in their own arts.
Whether you are looking for a trainer that specialises in Karate for self defence, Karate as a form of Physical fitness, Karate (kata) as a form of moving meditation or dance, or Karate as a competitive fighting sport, or combinations of those mediums, there are large numbers of trainers all round the world who quite simply out-class those ‘giants’ of the past. It would actually be a poor reflection on both karate and those early pioneers if that were not the case.
We should respect those that have gone before us. But do not put them on pedestals or treat everything they said or did as gospel truth. Many of them had less experience and knowledge than either you or the person you train with. Honour their memory by carrying karate forward as they did and pay them the courtesy of respecting the reality of their humanity and fallibility.