Friday 21 March 2008

Shotokan Karate-Do: The narrow river

Shotokan is too narrow of a river to have major technical errors within its kihon. There are no excuses for such mistakes, only incompetent instructors, and the commercialization of Japanese Shotokan karate organizations (at the expense of maintaining the most ‘minimal standards'). When the fundamental 'engines' of Shotokan karate are not included, or seriously flawed, one merely has a thin shell. Sadly this thin shell, in exchange for cash, is now given affiliations and Dan ranks from Japan. Clearly this situation is a result of Japanese karate organizations competing for foreign money.


A technical example of incorrect tuition/execution of the ‘core basics’:
In an attempt to supposedly 'look impressive' many Shotokan students make their stances too long disabling their hips to work fully (properly), and also at the expense of their rear leg/foot. This is a very quick way to see if the practitioner has been taught properly and/or physically understands even 'green belt level karate'. This is not a technical point which varies (a stylistic variation) between individuals/clubs/organizations... It is either RIGHT OR WRONG! In many cases people having shodan, nidan, sandan, yondan, and even higher black belt grades teach and do these 'essentials' incorrectly!


Without going into other areas such as weight distribution, posture and so forth, I can sadly say that "too many Shotokan instructors, and those with high dan in the West (certainly back in New Zealand), cannot teach/execute Shotokan to save themselves". Bottom line, they don't know what the hell they are doing and are teaching rubbish. The funniest thing to see is ‘authorized posed photos' in magazines and on the internet of senior instructors with hips/legs not even in a proper shomen position. Or, the incorrect positioning of their feet, knees, thighs etc... How is this possible when Shotokan is such a narrow field of study? Well, that is easy to answer, there are too many people running clubs who don't really understand Shotokan as they never learned the fundamentals correctly... They just want to run a club (be the boss, and 'karate master') in their local community and call themselves the 'chief instructor'. Such clubs in New Zealand would access my tuition (I was flown across the country to teach courses) and completely misquote me in their local newspapers for self-promotion. Everything based on brand labels and image (attaching themselves to real karateka, the name 'Shotokan', and paying organizations), with no technical depth (or desire to learn & perfect real karate/'technical depth') whatsoever.

Shotokan karate is such narrow and deep river, so without depth, it really has nothing. It reminds me of a saying I’ve heard several times here in Japan; “there is no worse karate than bad Shotokan”. Clearly this is because of Shotokan’s simplicity, and therefore, requirement of extreme technical exactness.

The amount of people advertising ‘Shotokan’ and Japanese organizational brand labels no longer guarantees proper training anymore, let alone ‘quality’ training. This issue has increased massively as in recent years 'anyone' can just pay a Japanese Shotokan organisation, and call themselves 'traditional'. The best way is to visit and watch the chief instructor of a particular dojo teach, and watch the way 'they move'. Better still, ask them to demonstrate some basic techniques and a kata. If they are keen to do this, and blow you away with their skill (and obvious ability to utilize their skills effectively in a real situation; The 'I'd hate to meet you a dark alley' impression), you pretty much know you have the 'real deal'.

Always remember: 'Shotokan Karate-Do is a narrow and DEEP RIVER'. Without its depth, it has nothing.

OSU, André
© André Bertel, Japan 2008

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