Fragmentation of Karate in the United States... is this a good thing? No. But is this a reality? Yes. This issue of non-standardization is not a new argument in the Karate community. This is actually an age old issue that is currently being fought in legitimate and illegitimate circles of Karate regardless of what Ryuha (style), Kaiha (group within a style, example Eibu kan, Seiwakai, Ichikawa-ha, etc.) you practice. Here in the United States, we choose not to address it sometimes because we figure that standardization is a farce... that it breaks from traditional training. Or... another good argument for not wanting standardization is that it takes away from the "martial" aspect of the Karate and therefore makes the system inefficient because it concentrates on tournament fighting. All good arguments in my eyes, however, I think we are not seeing the benefits from standardization.
"What benefits are you talking about?," the skeptic always asks me. Well let me go into it so that I can keep the age old argument running in style.
First... my disclaimer... In the big scheme of things my opinion is just it... it is my opinion. However, IMHO, a practitioner needs to train on different levels.
- A practitioner needs to know if his or her technique is viable in a actual situation. This kind of training must be done in conjunction with your normal training and I consider this to be a specialized portion of your training. (Mainly for advanced black belts. Including kyusho/atemi (vital striking) and takedown to finish. Ippon Kime (not 1 point but 1 strike finishing Kime... can you finish your opponent with 1 technique) **Life or Death**
- A practitioner needs to know if they can control their technique and apply this control to the given situation to protect oneself and others. **Any Given Situation**
Standardization vs. Specific Training
I believe that specific training, especially for traditional "martial" training comes directly from what ever lineage you pull from. This is where "dojo" techniques are passed down, specialization techniques which are just focused by your dojo organization are passed down to those who are capable. The Japanese call this passing on the dojo's "Tokui Waza" or specialization technique. Some dojos concentrate on the Tokui Waza as well as the traditional application of their Kata and only do so. While this may be old fashioned, this is not incorrect, they are just practicing on what has been passed down to them. Can this be standardized? I do not think so... and here's why.
Take Jeet Kune Do for example. This was a style that Bruce Lee developed. While this style has lived on and still continue to produce students, has the system evolved? Many believe, including myself, that while the system is viable, the system will not grow beyond what Bruce Lee left behind in his Tao, videos, books, and other material that is being coveted by the system's practitioners. Meaning, that a lot of Jeet Kune Do's specialization died with Bruce Lee when he passed away. While it began as a unique system, it will eventually stay the same as many of the schools we have here in the United States, masterless and unevolving.
However, take Kyokushinkai Karate for example. While a different style of Karate all together, the system has evolved and continues to evolve because of 2 different thoughts. 1. The Teaching of Sosai Mas Oyama, and 2. The will to train harder and to become stronger according to Oyama's focus. While each Kyokushinkai Dojo maintains the spirit of Mas Oyama's teachings, each Kyokushikai has individuals who continue to produce students based on #2... students who have the will to train harder and become stronger. With the help of MMA greats like George St. Pierre, Kyokushinkai Karate continues to grow and has contributed to the arguement that Standardization does work in certain avenues. Even though Mas Oyama's passing, the spirit of #1 and #2 continue to grow and evolve. (there is a reason for this and I will post about in my follow-up to the Fighter in the Wind article... =)
I may speak about legitimate and illegitimate schools here in the United States, however, please do not take it the wrong way. As I have explained before in my past articles, when I describe illegitimate schools, I do not mean that they have no merit. What I mean is that the school is illegitimate because of circumstance. This could have been due to choice or due to circumstance. Part of my goal is to communicate to these schools and let them know that there is hope to connecting them with their original lineage as long as the instructors can leave the egos and the $$$ at the dojo door. While my personal journey has just begun to connect with existing American Goju schools and systems, I'd like to open my doors to those who may have questions. This is only possible with being a part of the largest national organization in Japan, the Japan Karatedo Federation (all styles, also known as Zen Ku Ren or Zen Nippon Karatedo Renmei).
Although, I am only officially a member of Japan Karatedo Federation, Goju-kai, it is an avenue which can open up to JKF Shotokan, JKF Wado-Ryu, JKF Ryuei-Ryu, JKF Shito-Ryu, etc. For those who are avid tournament goers, this group is what consists of the WKF or the World Karate Federation, which is currently the leading Global Organization leading to have Karate in the Olympics. My point is that while the school in question may not have connection with any of these organizations, there may be a chance that looking to standardize with an existing national organization may improve your Karate through this training by reconnecting with experts and deepening your resources.
To my knowledge, there are many schools that still focus on the fact that they were developed by some of the founding fathers of American Karate (example Peter Urban or even Ed Parker), many on the eastern seaboard... these schools have a forgotten depth that they can tap into. Many schools have grown many generations of instructors and these organizations have taken on a life of their own. Very close to how Karate grew during the after effect of WWII. Again, this is not something I feel is negative. I believe that this is something that needs to be harnessed in the United States... however, I truly believe that Karate, regardless of what style, needs to build their network and increase the possible resources that current instructors here in the United States can reach out to. Groups like the USNKF, or other schools who are affiliated with the Japan Karatedo Federation (All Styles or even the individual style) or even others like the IOGKF or IKO can be a huge part of that resource pool. Having instructors on both sides of the ball understand this so we can help each other out will be a great undertaking for US based Karate but I believe that one day we can do so.
Note to self... Standardized training doesn't mean learning "shitei" kata or having to tone down your Karate. It is a method to combine your dojo's knowledge with other instructors and learn from those who are recognized by the global Karate community and have the ability to learn from them and use them as a resource. Many dojos, mainitain their training on top of the training they receive from these National Organizations... many dojos like mine, require you to rank with both the dojo and the national organization. They are here to keep you on your toes... not to take over what your traditional dojo training dictates. The training may not always agree on certain aspects with your dojo training... but the training will help you see things from another perspective.
Keeping the argument alive. Love to hear your thoughts... In training as always!