Are the Japanese sensei gods? 日本人の空手の先生は神様か？
(Warning: the subject is controversial)
I am writing this essay because I found the following posting on Facebook that was written by Mr. Adrian Linton on July 28. I received his permission to quote it here.
Please stop asking me if I’m alright I just a karateka that can’t handle bullshit especially from karateka that can’t aply karate in the street I really love honest martial artists that are open minded I hate the ones who think the Japanese karateka are gods most of them wouldn’t win a fight in a children’s playground never mind the street I was looking at jks okamoto sensei the other day fantastic techniques and kata but her street abilities are none existant so why is that different from sports karate I refuse to say much respect now because I have my own personal views on karate oss Adrian (cut and pasted from his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100009324319741&fref=ts)
This posting hit my eyes by chance the other day and I felt I needed to address some of the points he brought up. It is easy to see that he was upset and sounded frustrated. As I read it I realized immediately that his frustration was something that is probably shared by many other karateka.
He brought up several important issues and I found at least two of them were very valid. I decided to make my opinion public as I figured the readers would be interested in hearing an opinion of a Japanese instructor. Before I dive into my comment, I need to make myself clear that I do not support every statement he made. For instance, I feel a statement about JKS’ Sensei Okamoto (photo left) was not fair. As far as I know, her street abilities have never been verified or tested. Mr. Linton may know something I do not to make such a statement. Regardless, it would have been fairer if he had explained why he came to that conclusion.
Anyway, let me move on to the two points he made in his posting.
1) The Japanese karateka are not gods.
2) The karateka who can’t apply karate in the street are the same as sport karateka.
Here are my thoughts.
I fully agree with his opinion. Though I am very proud of being Japanese, I do not think a Japanese karate sensei should be treated as a god. I am sure my comment will upset some of the Japanese sensei and their followers. I have heard stories in which some Japanese sensei had made some unreasonable demands. I think this is wrong and it is not good for karate.
Maybe, by the term “gods” Mr. Linton may have meant “masters”. Even with this definition, I agree that just being a Japanese sensei should not automatically qualify one to be a master. That person may hold a high dan rank such as 8th or 9th dan and in addition, he may even be a National or World champion in the past. Even with those qualifications, I am afraid, it is still not fully sufficient for becoming a true master.
Then, you would ask “What qualifications does one need to be a master?” To deserve such a title, I believe there must be at least two additional requirements;
Requirement 1: That person must be able to show the mastery of his karate techniques today (not ten years ago or even last year). A nice speech or a mediocre demonstration at a tournament will not do. It must be real techniques that he can convincingly demonstrate that they would work in the streets (this will lead to the second point). To be able to do this, a Japanese (and non-Japanese) sensei must be training every day and in good physical and mental condition.
Requirement 2: The sensei must have the character that is well fitting to the title. A master, at least to me, means a master not only in karate but also in life. A true master must be able to show the humbleness, honesty, patience, diligence and other personal values in addition to courage and fighting spirit. He is not someone you fear but one you respect. Yes, it is a tall order. I do not know what you expect but that is what I expect from a true master. Do you not agree that there are too many unqualified or watered down “masters” and “grand masters” in karate now (both Japanese and non-Japanese)?
Her name is Mahiro Takano who was called a child karate master when she was only 7 years old (photo right). A seven year old child, no matter how good she or he may look, can never be a master. I have written another essay about the subject of “Karate Master”. If you are interested, you can find it in my book, Shotokan Mysteries (Chapter 11: Mystery of Karate Master).
The second point Mr. Linton brought up is street smartness. I also agree with his opinion. If you claim your karate to be budo or martial art, it must be applicable in a street situation. It is unfortunate, however, that many Shotokan practitioners (Japanese and non-Japanese) have never been tested in such a situation. Many falsely believe or dream that they could handle themselves. How can they prove that they really can do it? Regardless, the most important thing in budo or martial art karate is; your karate must work in a real hand to hand combat situation. In a street fight or a self-defense situation, looking pretty in your kata and/or winning a gold medal in a major tournament will not help you. Does this mean we should look to get into a street fight to test our skills? Certainly not. We must honor “Karate ni sente nashi (There is no first attack in karate), but we must have the mental attitude in our dojo training in a way that our karate techniques will work in a street fight or self -defense. Mr. Linton was saying if looking pretty is all that counts then what is the difference between that and sport karate? That question hits the main point of what budo or traditional karate is or must be. I will not elaborate the point here. I just want to state that budo karate and sport karate are totally different. Before one side accuses the other, we must know the differences between them. I think it is very important to do this. Do you really know what kind of karate you are actually practicing? If you spend much of your valuable time in karate training, I believe this is a necessary process that all of us should take.
As I warned you at the beginning of this essay, these points are very controversial. I do not expect everyone to agree with my opinions. I am happy to receive any constructive comments from the readers.