The Way We Were

Back in the last decade of the last century, before the dawn of “You Tube” and other internet based platforms, we were essentially beholden to the knowledge of our sensei. Yes, there were books and the odd seminar to corroborate technique, but those were not as readily accessible as the tools that we have at our fingertips today. I can clearly recall my own unscientific methods of keeping technical integrity… I would accept only techniques which overlapped between my current sensei and previous sensei. Any novel concept was viewed with much suspicion, and really was adopted only after much reflection and research…on “You Tube”!

If memory serves me correctly, You Tube came about somewhere in the middle of the first decade of the new millennium…shortly after I met sensei Johnston. I recall struggling with sensei’s concept of the direct hip rotation, when performing forward moving shuto uke in kokutsudachi…as we do in the kata Bassai Dai. It was novel. I had never heard of it, and stubborn me refused to adopt it. Sensei was so patient with me, I am guessing because he knew that I had a need to really believe before I could sincerely accept. For my part, I would quietly practice his move outside of the dojo. I’d think, and play with the concept, and play back his reasonings for doing the move unlike anyone I had ever met before. Then one day, as I was browsing through old black and white footage of Funakoshi sensei on You Tube, I saw it. There it was! The “novel” concept of direct rotation being performed before my eyes, by none other than the father and founder of shotokan karate! The very next day, I accepted and adopted the technique, and have since incorporated it in my own teaching and application to kata.

What followed from that discovery, was a frenzied desire to discover more and more. I’d constantly approach sensei with new found discoveries on a slew of techniques, most of which he’d patiently listen to and rebut with his two favorite lines…”Hessam, you think too much”, and “Hessam, don’t try to reinvent the wheel”. And he was absolutely correct.

Herein lies the double edged sword of technology. While there’s access to information that can lead to deeper knowledge, there’s also too much information that can inundate the integrity of one’s pursuits. What was once the bread butter of technique…simple, broad, efficient and generally effective, becomes the artisan version technical snobbery…complex, convoluted, and only effective in certain minority conditions. It becomes, really a pursuit of knowledge for knowledge’s sake or worse yet, for ego’s sake. It takes karate-do practice away from its intended purpose, to entertainment…in this case intellectual entertainment. As sensei would often say… “you can’t learn karate from a book”, and as I say to my students, “you can’t learn karate from You Tube”. At some point one has to put the pontification aside, and one has to simply “do it”. Don’t think too much, don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Just do, and just be.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s