The 31 flavors of Bask….Shotokan Karate

My three boys will often coyly approach me, invariably in the presence of their rival siblings, and ask who the favorite is….

My answer has always been, “You three are like my favorite three flavors of ice cream…sometimes I’m in the mood for vanilla and sometimes it’s chocolate or strawberry, but those three flavors will always be my top best picks!”

Many people ask me what I like best about karate, or they ask me to define what I mean when I say we teach traditional shotokan karate-do. This is a simple yet complex question, with equally varied and opaque answers…and the questions and answers  can similarly be reduced to ideas within karate…for example what is “fighting spirit”? To me, fighting spirit is the voice that tells me to get up in the morning and fix my bed. To others, that may be a joke and it may mean something entirely more physical or macho.

So what is traditional karate? Does the fact that we, at Shoshin,  have eliminated competition and tournaments from our curriculum make us more traditional…or conversely those who participate in tournament karate, less traditional? What is it exactly that makes shotokan karate traditional, especially when shotokan itself is a mishmash of shurite, nahate, tomarite….of Okinawan sensibilities mixed with mainland Japanese values?

I know I might sound like a used car salesman when I give different answers to the same question, but in all honesty those answers are not to placate the questioner…they genuinely reflect my sentiments at the time. Maybe an example would help.

Sometimes I go into the dojo and just feel like hitting the bag…violently. I use my elbows, knees, I slap it and have even head butted it. I don’t care if it looks pretty or if its precise. I just hit. Its ugly, but you should see how the bag looks!

At other times I go to the dojo and fixate, and obsessively repeat the minutiae of a movement requiring fine motor skills…knowing full well that in a “real” situation all fine motor skills (hell even control of my bowel movements) will be lost, and therefore utterly useless. And yet, I’m there man, deriving manic pleasure like a man with ecsema and his pumice stone!

And then there are those unicorn and rainbow days…The dojo is all mine, I shut the shades, and off I go to la la land with my katas. I am zen. Broke? Pfft…Divorced? Pfft…Permanently looking the exact opposite of Brad Pitt? Pfft…(come on sing the tune, you know it) ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no valley low enough…you get the picture…

So what’s my point with all this silliness? Karate needs to be relevant to the practitioner, and that relevance can change from time to time. On days that I want zen and peace, I may not want to head butt anything. A good karate school will harness those few flavors within the framework of honesty, hard work, and mutual respect. The fact that shotokan karate can extract relevance is what makes it traditional to the practitioner, and assures its viability for the needs of the next generation.

Now ask me next week, and I may be lactose intolerant and give you a completely different answer!




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