Why the Truth about Karate-do is Important

 

     Karate can be a confusing and complicated proposition for the new student as well as an enjoyable, social activity that nurtures personal growth and development.  Different cultures, traditions and histories place the student at a very new position and in the dojo the student finds himself in a completely unknown environment.  A good program recognises this and teaches the new student with understanding and patience.  But the new student is representative of the general public and knows about Karate only from what he has seen on television and in the movies.  And we all know that television and movies accurately portray everything, right?

 

     Those of us who know the tenets of Karate-do, know that the art is about protecting yourself and others, while exercising restraint and controlling the amount of violence to that which is needed only.  We also know that Karate has a "Moral Imperitive" that stresses avoidance over conflict whenever possible, self discipline, responsibility, self motivation, spiritual growth, personal development, and much more.  Most people in this country don't understand this, those that have heard such things rarely have need to actually consider the implications of such tenets.  Those that have, do so from a strictly American perspective, ignorant of the Okinawa history, culture, and methodology.

 

     Karate in America is on an evolutionary path and is approaching a crossroads, so to speak.  With each passing generation American Karate practitioners are further and further removed from the teachings and methods of the original founders of the art.  The culture, traditions, history, methodology, and tenets are being stressed less and less.  Each generation looses a little bit until eventually all that remains will be "fighting" from the American "Legal" perspective.  Due to ignorance, there will be no regard for the tennents and "Moral Imperitive".  We already generally use the term Karate in favor of the seldom used term Karate-do.

 

     This can be observed in the increasingly popular Ultimate Fighting and Mixed Martial Arts fighting.  Dojos that emphasize "Sport Competition" almost exclusively with a "win at all cost attitude", and the "He who has the most trophies is the best" mindset.  Commercial concerns have required programs to compromise in favor of what the "Market" expects over the what Karate-do really is.  This has resulted in competitions focusing on dynamic and acrobatic kata containing techniques that are ineffectual and resemble Karate-do in no way whatsoever.  When Funikoshi Gichin Sensei and Nakamura Shigeru Sensei took steps to popularize Karate-do, resulting in a competitive sport aspect being added, they never imagined it would evolve into what we see today in America, nor did they intend that "sport" replace the true meaning of Karate-do.

 

     Back in the days of the introduction of Karate-do to America, it isn't surprising that it wasn't accurately understood.  It came home with American GIs, who were stationed on Okinawa and had trained for relatively short periods of time.  Few returned with more than a working knowledge of the basic skills of a 1st Degree Black Belt.  They were young men, full of youthful enthusiasims, and began teaching the art.  However, the cultural differences prevented the "do" of Karate, or it's "Moral Imperitive" from completely traversing the vast expance of the Pacific.  The concept of "Kick Ass Karate" was born.

 

     In the 1960s and early 1970s, it was not uncommon to hear of an instructor, (the word "sensei" doesn't quite apply), to enter the school of another and issue a "Challange".  Ego, of course, prevented a decline to the challange and when the "Challanger" won the fight, he would leave with the other's students.  The students were only interested in learning from the "Toughest" guy.  This was not the Karate-do of today, but neither was it Karate-do of Okinawa.  It was a bastardization of stories these guys had heard.

 

     Fortunately, some early instructors had a better comprehension of Karate-do, they returned to Okinawa regularly, continued training and went on to comprehend the "Moral Imperitive" more accurately.  The result is that the knowledge of "True Karate" eventually made it accross the Pacific and a more accurate Karate-do could be found and studied.  But the damage had been done and true Karate-do never completely displaced "American Kick Ass Karate."  Each would influence the other over the years but with the cultural differences and public misconceptions the trend tended to be toward the Americanization of the art.

 

     Early misapplications, media misrepresentations, inaccurate public perseptions, traditional, cultural, historical, and philisophical differences have all influenced Karate-do in it's evolution to what it is today in America.  Much of it is problematic and every "true" practitioner of Karate-do should feel obligated to take every oppertunity to proactively address these concerns through education, both to students and the public about the "do" or "Moral Imperitive" of Karate-do.

 

     The problems of which I speak have recently manifested themselves in a dojo in North Carolina.  What happened is an example of every thing that Karate-do is and isn't.  I have not heard of such a thing since the early 1970s but it appears that we are moving backwards.

 

     On March 13th, 20012 Anthony Higgins Sensei reported on a Social Media Group for Okinawa Kenpo Karate practitioners having met a 36 year old 8th degree Black Belt by the name I'll reference only as James.  James references himself as a Kyoshi in "American Okinawa Kenpo", a style that has "Americanized" by loosing all Okinawan protocol and renaming everything in English such as "Attack Forms 1,2,3, ect."  James had with him a 14 year old student who was purported to be a 5th degree Black Belt.

 

     On March 16th, 2012, Higgens Sensei reported on the same Media Group that James had issued a "Challange" to him which he had declined, but anticipating another, he sought input from the Group.  I was proud to see the group universally acknowledged the inappropriateness of James's actions and restraint was advised.  In private I encouraged Higgins Sensei to politely advise James that this isn't the Karate way and decline his offer.  I later learned that another "Challange" had in fact been issued and Higgins Sensei had responded as I advised.

 

     On Friday, March 30th, 2012 at approximately 1:30 PM, in the dojo of Anthony Higgins Sensei, in Charlotte North Carolina, Anthony Higgins Sensei was teaching a Karate class with his back to the door.  There were 16 students on the floor and 18 parents observing from the side.  Someone entered the dojo and following protocol the Senior Student, bowed out to greet the visitors.  Higgins Sensei then heard, in a loud voice, "I came here to see your, so called, teacher."  Higgins Sensei turned to see James and the 14 year old Go-dan.  The Senior Student was instructed to return to the floor and James was advised they would be bowed in shortly.  As Higgins Sensei turned to address the class James loudly stated "I came to teach you."  As Higgins Sensei turned back towards James, James walked onto the floor.  The Brown Belts in the class stepped between James and Higgins Sensei.  James then said "Oh, I have to go through them to get to you?"  Higgins Sensei instructed the class to clear the floor and the Senior Student was instructed to call the Police.  James approached Higgins Sensei and advised that Higgins Sensei should be bowing to him, following which a short conversation regarding protocol was abruptly ended when James told Higgins sensei to "shut up."  Higgins Sensei instructed James to leave the dojo at which time James attacked Higgins Sensei with a left punch or back fist that Higgins blocked successfully.  This was followed by a right punch by James which was blocked and trapped by Higgins Sensei.  It was learned that the arm broke in two places.  Higgins followed the trap with a side kick to James's knee while executing a right punch to his ribbs.  James went down with an obvious broken knee and it was learned that two ribs were broken as well.  As James went down, the 14 year old Go dan attacked Higgins Sensei with a right hand punch, it was blocked by Higgins who countered with a kick to the mouth.  Higgins Sensei immediately called for a first aid kit and administered first aid untill the arrival of Police.

 

     James was charged with Criminal Trespass with no charges against the 14 year old Go-dan.  A lawsuit filed by the parents of the 14 year old were dropped against Higgins Sensei after the parents watched the video of the incident that was recorded by the security camera.  Other litigation may be pending against the county recreation center where Higgins Sensei has his dojo.  The son of the "Founder" of "American Okinawa Kenpo" called Higgins Sensei after the fact and threatened him over the phone, in an eerily similar manner as James.  He also subsequently visited Higgins Sensei, also interupting a class and was upset, apparantly under the perseption that James was attacked by multiple people simultaneously.  This encounter ended with no violence but hard feelings remained.  Based on statements made by the "Founder's" son, issueing "Challanges" such as this are expected of higher ranked practitioners of "American Okinawa Kenpo" in the interest of learning and furthering the art of all involved.

 

     The differences in the philosophies of these two programs couldn't be farther apart.  Higgins Sensei tried to avoid the conflict with courtesy and respect where none was due.  He placed the safety of his students above that of his own and he responded responsibly by contacting the Police as soon as was practical.  The injured were attended to immediatly and no more force was used than was apparantly needed.  James, however, did everything wrong.  He was motivated by his ego, went looking for a confrontation, was rude and antagonistic and endangered the 14 year old student in his charge.  I am frankly surprised there are no child endangerment issues being brought against him.  It appears that he also misrepresented the events of the incident to his up-line.

 

     After this incident, Higgins Sensei lost 6 of his students.  However, in a meeting called to clarify the events to the parents, unexpected support from the Police Department, the Mayor's Office of the City of Charlotte, the Boy Scouts of America, and the Girl Scouts, facilitated the return of the lost 6 students and the addition of 4 more joining the program.  The aftermath of this incident continues and is being handled by an attorney but the disposition looks promising.

 

     Two weeks after the incident in the dojo, James called Higgins Sensei, asked for and was given forgiveness for the whole ordeal.  During the conversation James told Higgins Sensei that the founder of American Okinawa Kenpo, Anthony Maynard, was a student of Ed Parker's American Kenpo but couldn't pass the Black Belt Test.  The supposed reason was the teacher didn't like him.  So Anthony Maynard created his own style from video tapes of other styles and workout tapes.  He originally called this style American Freestyle Karate but Later changed it to American Okinawa Kenpo.  Major influences were George Dillman, Billy Blanks, and Mike Swain.  Also much was gleened from How To books on Karate.  Now that Anthony Maynard is deceased, his son Terry is James' teacher.  James further explained that the whole idea for this whole debacle originated with Terry Maynard when he observed Higgins Sensei at at tournement.  Maynard said to James, "you can beat his black ass, he is slow and fat...."  So the two of them started stalking Higgens Sensei and video taped him at tournemnts until one in Lancaster South Carolina.  There James entered the competition and was beat by Higgins Sensei in both weapons and kata divisions.  In the kumite division Higgins Sensei took 1st and James took last.  After the tournement James located Higgins Sensei by way of the internet, apparantly the chance meetings in Higgins Sensei's condominium complex were orchestrated by James.  It is not known at what point it was decided that an appearance at Higgins Sensei's dojo was neccessary, nor why the presence of the 14 year old Go-dan student was needed.  It can be surmised that James needed a witness to his planned victory over Higgins Sensei, but that is speculation only.

 

     James told Higgins Sensei that he was wrong, and sorry for what he did.  He wished Higgins Sensei "the best in life" and told him "goodbye Sensei", which was quite a change in attitude from two weeks earlier.

 

     It has been pointed out to me that this whole ordeal is reminiscent of the old "B" Chinese Kung Fu movies that were dubbed into English and popular in the 1960s and 1970's on television.  All that is needed is for James to ask Higgins Sensei to take him as a student.  This, of course, reinforces my original premise that those early misrepresentations and misconception about martial arts have contributed to the lack of quality in martial arts in general and Karate-do specifically in this country.

 

     Nakamura Shigeru Sensei, with the help and endorsement of several well respected practitioners of Karate-do, created the Okinawa Kenpo Karate Renmei where every different Ryu, or style of Karate-do, on Okinawa could recieve the respect due to their lineage while simultaneously furthering the art of Okinawa Karate as a whole.  This was done with a philosophy of "inclusion" and acceptance of the differences, learning from each other and expanding the bodies of knowledge and respect for the art of Karate-do as a whole.  This is also the philosophy of the Okinawa Kenpo Karate Renmei of America, so that we may learn from each other and teach the correct "Way", which is common to all legitimate programs, regardless of lineage.