Why are we training? The diversity of karate motivation

When you put on your gi, strap on your obi, and step into the dojo, why are you doing so?
No doubt you have your own reasons; as do I mine, and as do your teacher and training partner theirs. But do our reasons all match? Or, indeed, do they need to match? 

The answer, of course, is: No.

Particularly in western cultures, karate is often seen purely as a form of self defence. Priority, both psychically and psychologically, is given to training forms and techniques that prepare karateka for violent encounters in the ‘real world’.

And whilst this is undoubtedly a significant aspect of anyone’s karate training, that is certainly not to say it is the only one, or indeed the most important to everyone.

In Japanese, there is a saying: 十人十色 (jyu nin to iro), which means “10 people, 10 colours”. In other words, it refers to how everyone has their own ideas and tastes: “different strokes for different folks”, if you will. And I believe this applies so fittingly to the diverse array of motivations that drive karateka to step into the dojo.

To take a different look at it: when joining a rugby team, is it everyone’s goal to be selected for the All Blacks and to win the World Cup? Not necessarily. Some may play simply for the enjoyment factor, others for fitness, or perhaps just to be a part of a team environment.

And when learning to play the guitar, is it everyone’s goal to become the next Jimi Hendrix and tour the world? Again, not necessarily. Some may practice for fun, to master a new skill, or simply to add another string to their bow.

At the end of the day, everyone has their own motivational factors driving their desire to do literally anything in their lives.

And I believe this is certainly true in karate training. Some may train for the enjoyment, to learn a new skill, to have to goal to work towards, to get fit, to be a part of a club, to enrich their own lives, or to master a historical and tradition-rich art. It’s not necessarily the case that everyone steps into the dojo simply to learn self defence against the most violent, brutal criminals in the world.

For many, karate training is about mastering an art, and mastering all aspects of that art.

As such, we must practice kata until the techniques are perfect, performed elegantly and refined. We must practice bunkai in various contexts (see this discussion) so that it not only works well, but also so that it demonstrates the art we are working to perfect.

We must work to sculpt ourselves so that our character reflects the key elements of budo so deeply engrained in the history of the art we strive to perfect.

Gichin Funakoshi (the founder of Shotokan Karate-Do) said:

“The ultimate aim of karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants.”

And this is what truly defines us as karateka.

A good practitioner of karate is not one who can win 100 fights. A good karateka is someone with virtue, humility, honesty, respect, courtesy, and integrity. Someone who is willing to put in the time, patience, persistence, and practice required to preserve and perfect the art that has been passed down to us through the generations, resulting in the ability to protect oneself. “Spirit first, technique second.” – Gichin Funakoshi.

Engaging in brutal fighting and learning a self-defence accordingly is only one part of karate training. A combination of that, alongside mastering the art and perfecting one’s character, is what I believe is required to be a truly fulfilled karateka.

Karate is so much more than simple self-defence: it is a lifestyle.

“Karate aims to build character, improve human behaviour, and cultivate modesty; it does not, however, guarantee it.” – Yasuhiro Konishi (founder of Shindo Jinen-ryu Karate).

It is thus your job to insure the all-round cultivation of yourself as a karateka, and it is our job to recognise all aspects of what that encompasses when viewing and assessing someone else.

Acknowledging the array of motivations that drive people to step into the dojo is incredibly important. We must take these factors into account as we review our own training style, and indeed, ourselves as practitioners, and our position along the path of Goju-Ryu.

Blake Turnbull

A Brief “Bunkai” (Analysis) of Bunkai

We all know the importance of bunkai in karate, but recent discussions I have had with various sensei at the Jundokan So-Honbu Dojo have spurred me into writing down a few ideas that are often overlooked in bunkai training.

Have you ever heard the phrase: “This is the bunkai for this technique”? 

It is a statement denoting the sole existence of a single, pre-determined form for each technique in a kata, but is this really possible? And, most prudently, is this really that practical?

Granted, there is kihon (基本, “basic”) bunkai, which one could argue to be a uniformed, textbook-like technique, but even within kihon bunkai there is variation. The phrase “kata doori” (形通り) meaning, “as the kata is”, refers to applying a set of techniques on an opponent in the exact same way they are preformed in the kata. However, I was told recently that all bunkai, preformed as the kata is, can be applied on both sides of your opponent, inside and out. If at first it doesn’t seem possible, it’s up to you to work out how it can be done. In other words, even kihon bunkai, preformed as the kata is, has variation.

The term “bunkai” (分解) is widely translated by karateka as “application”, often heard in such statements as: “show me the application for the first move of gekisai”, for example. However, the term actually means to “decompose” or “take apart”, referring to the process in which one must research and analyse the techniques of the kata to apply them in practical situations. Thus, while I don’t think the term ‘application’ is necessarily bad, I do think it is often incorrectly interpreted. 

To put it best: bunkai is situational. We’re applying the techniques to the situation at hand. Naturally, every situation is different: your opponent could have different sizes, strengths, weaknesses, experiences, and abilities. Bunkai is thus the process of applying the techniques of a kata to a particular and individual situation.

It stands to reason, then, that there can be no single bunkai for each technique in a kata that can be applied by anyone to anyone.

What works for me against one opponent may not work for you against the same person and vice versa. Similarly, what works for me against one opponent may not work against another.

This is where certain (not all!) practitioners of renzoku bunkai, rehearsed and refined to the extent that techniques becomes muscle learnt and rhythmic, often fail to grasp the true purpose of what they’re doing. When a bunkai becomes so drilled in one particular manner, it becomes extremely difficult to adapt those techniques to a different situation. This has sparked a recent shift away from renzoku bunkai in some dojos.

At the end of the day, it’s all about adaption. Adaption to the person you’re fighting, and to the situation you’re in.

I have been lucky to receive a lot of one-on-one training at the Jundokan So-Honbu Dojo with some of the best, most forward-thinking practitioners in Goju-Ryu today. And during these sessions, it is interesting to note that each sensei will often show different bunkai for the same technique (even when considering kihon bunkai). Is this because they cannot agree on what the ‘one correct’ bunkai is? 

Of course not.

It is because they’re all different, and thus all react to me (as their opponent) differently. Some are shorter than me, some are taller; some have less arm reach than me, some have more; some are bulkier than me, some are slimmer. However they read the situation and present their bunkai to combat me as their opponent. And this is how bunkai should (/must!) work.

It’s not about (force-) fitting a fixed set of bunkai to every situation, and trying over and over until it works. It seems impossible that one could make a single form of bunkai work on all opponents in any situation. 

While can learn an enormous (indeed, endless!) amount of bunaki from our Okinawan sensei, what I believe they are really teaching us is different ways to think about our own bunkai, and to look at how to apply said bunkai in various situations. And whilst there is certainly value in copying them technique for technique, and practicing that over and over, at the end of the day, what we are learning is a blueprint - a basis from which to think about, and develop, our own bunkai to use in diverse circumstances.

Bunkai training is about diving deep into the kata, analysing the techniques from multiple angles, and practicing with a range of partners: big, small, strong, fast, skilled martial artists and beginners, until you have built up a solid toolbox for each technique that can be applied in various contexts.

At the end of the day, you cannot predict the situation in which (perish the thought) you should ever need to use your bunkai in real life. Our daily training is about preparing our bodies and minds to adapt and apply the bunkai in whatever context.

And it is this research (i.e., applying the techniques of the kata and unraveling the hidden meanings so carefully constructed by the old masters) that is the ultimate goal of karate training. 

The question, then, becomes: How should we train and develop our bunkai skills

The answer, I believe, is through variation

When we train bunkai, we should focus on:

  • Different opponents to alternate strength, height, speed, mass, and skill-level.

  • Different rhythms to alternate the timing of techniques (both your opponent’s attack and your defence/retaliation) and to avoid falling into the trap of preforming dance-like, muscle-memorised techniques.

  • Different beginnings to alternate the technique in which you first engage with your opponent (it almost certainly won’t come from a single, straight choku-tsuki punch in the real world). Kakie is the perfect training to combat this.

Of course, it is understandable that beginners may temporarily be taught a ‘single’ bunkai for each technique as an introduction to why we do kata, and to ensure that they develop a fundamental understanding of bunkai before building their own at a later stage. 

But, at the same time, I think it is also important that they be told of the real way bunkai works so they can start thinking about it and, when the time is right, start developing their own bunkai prepossessing the knowledge of how to do so and why that is necessary.

To sum up, when practicing bunkai, it is necessary to take both the Japanese and English usages of the word into consideration: ‘analysis’ and ‘application’. Analysis of the techniques, hidden meanings, and myriad of ways in which they can be applied, and application of said techniques appropriate the situation and context at hand.

Bunkai (analyse and break-down) the way you do bunkai.

Analyse the way you preform your bunkai and vary it each time to different circumstances and situations. There is no “single” answer for each technique in the kata, and thus no single bunkai that can be used in every situation.

If we train with this in mind, and disregard the idea that we must all do the same unified bunkai in the same unified way, we will move towards a more self-fulfilling, productive training regime, and towards a more varied, practical toolbox of bunkai.

Blake Turnbull

Busaganashi: The Patron Saint of Goju-Ryu

You have probably seen the figure of Busaganashi in the logos of Goju-Ryu Karate clubs throughout the world, but explanations for who he is and what he represents are often few and far between. This article is an attempt to provide some background information about the character so widely revered in Goju-Ryu, and offer an explanation as to how this came to be.

Busaganashi is known throughout the martial arts world as the Patron Saint of Goju-Ryu Karate; however, officially, Busaganashi is a lesser-known Taoist Deity of art and business from Chinese Taoism Philosophy. So how did he come to so strongly represent Goju-Ryu, regardless of affiliation, throughout Okinawa and the globe? Let us take a look at the historical background that lead to where we are today…

The Legend:

The origins of Busaganashi are embedded in both history and legend. There are two common origin myths: the Chinese version, and the Okinawan version. Both are similar, but contain slight differences. I will discuss the Okinawan version here, and reference the differences from the Chinese story below.

According to the Okinawan origin story, a young, single woman gave birth to a boy in ancient China. As raising a child out of wedlock brought about shame to the family, the woman decided to abandon her son in the forest. After three days, the woman and her family felt remorse and went back to look for the boy. When they returned to the forest, they found that the trees had surrounded the baby to protect him, and the creatures had provided food to feed him. The family realised immediately that this baby was special, and took the boy home to look after him themselves.

From an early age the boy showed signs of great intelligence and athleticism, and was recognised in his village as an outstanding musician. As an adult, he scored remarkably high on an aptitude test and was able to join the military, where he studied and refined his martial art skills.

According to the legend, one day, a tower in the Imperial Palace caught on fire, and quickly became too big for the city put out. Seeing this, Busaganashi used his dynamic martial arts breathing to extinguish the fire with a powerful exhale. In doing so, he saved the city, and was awarded the title of “Marshall of Wind and Fire”, where he became a symbol of martial arts.

The Chinese legend is slightly different. According to this story, Busaganashi was in fact a musician in the Tang court, not a martial artist. He took charge of the imperial guards when a large fire broke out, saving the palace. The Tang Emperor was very pleased, and gave him the title "Grand Marshall for Wind and Fire”.

Historical Background:

Busaganashi, or Tian Du Yuan Shuai (田都元帅) as he was known in China, was, in fact, a real person who existed during the reign of Emperor Xuan Zong in the Tang Dynasty. Based on the records of Fujian and Taiwan folktales, Tian Du/Busaganashi was an expert in both Martial Art and Music Entertainment (Opera).

Today, Busaganashi is known as the Fujianese and Taiwanese god of business, art, music, and wealth. He is worshipped by both martial artists, and music performers, especially by those in the Chinese Opera, but where does the connection between music/art and martial arts lie? Although the history is deeply embedded, I believe it can be best simplified as follows:

During the Ching Empire, when martial arts were outlawed due to political unrest, many Chinese martial artists hid in Chinese Opera groups, where Kung Fu plays a major role. Because of this close relationship between opera, music, art and Kung-Fu, the Busaganashi came to be the patron saint of martial artists too.

Pictures and statues of Busaganashi are particularly found in White Crane Kung Fu schools, as well as in business, markets, and restaurants.

Connection to Goju-Ryu:

In 1915, Chojun Miyagi-sensei, the founder of Goju-Ryu Karate, first travelled to the Fukien Province in China to further study and refine his martial arts. Here he came across images of the Busaganashi, and learnt about the history of the beloved martial arts deity. He purchased a scroll depicting Busaganashi and took it back to Okinawa. 

As a Shinto practitioner, Miyagi revered the Busaganashi picture and prayed to it every day. However, during an air raid in World War II, Miyagi’s home dojo and all of its contents, including the Busaganashi scroll, were destroyed.

In the late 1940’s, sensing his master’s sorrow, one of Miyagi’s disciples, Keiyo Madanbashi, who had previously made a sketch of the Busaganashi scroll, journeyed to the Philippines to have a three dimensional statue made of the deity. Although hesitant of what his master would think, having made it without permission, upon return to Okinawa Madanbashi presented the statue to Miyagi. The gesture was so overwhelming that it is said to have brought the karate master to tears.

The hand crarved 15" tall statue now rests in the Jundokan Dojo in Okinawa, having been gifted to Ei’ichi Miyazato upon Miyagi’s death.

Aside from seeing pictures in China, it is likely that Miyagi also developed a fondness for the warrior deity through exposure to the Bubishi (the most comprehensive Kung Fu manual of ancient China, and later the most influential martial arts book in Okinawa), in which pictures of Busaganashi are found.

Indeed, Busaganashi was so important to martial arts in Okinawa that the modern Okinawan Bubishi (沖縄伝武備志) has him on its cover:

To research more about the Chinese origins of Busaganashi, or to see different pictures of him, you can Google search for the following alternative names:

  • Busaganashi

  • ブサーガナシー

  • 九天風火院三田都元帥

  • 三田都元師

  • Tian Du Yuan Shuai

Blake Turnbull

The Inspiration of the Jundokan

As I return to the the Jundokan Honbu Dojo in Okinawa for the fourth time now, I am once again reminded of the humbleness and kindness of those masters from whom we seek to learn the art of Goju Ryu. That said, however, this trip has been the first time I’ve realised that, perhaps it hasn't always been this way, and that the karate training of the past was indeed very different to that which are accustomed to now.

After inviting me out for lunch one afternoon, Gima-sensei, 9th dan and chief director at the Jundokan, told me a story of his early days training under Ei’ichi Miyazato Sensei. He said that very few of his senpai, or senior students, really understood the ‘soft’ side of Goju. Training was extremely tough, and out of the 100 students who joined around the same time as him, only two were left training in the end. Gima-sensei recited tales of the brutality his senpais would inflict upon him, both inside the dojo and out. He reminisced about receiving split lips from punches to the face and then being forced to drink carbonated drinks as his eyes welled up in pain. He recalled an incident in which both his forearms had been split open with blood pouring out after a particularly strenuous conditioning session, to which his senpai said “never mind your arms, what are you going to do about the blood on the floor?!”. He laughed about it as he told me, but made sure I understood that the reality of training in those days was a harsh and unsparing affair.

This made me realise all the more how special the current generation of Jundokan masters really are. Undoubtedly, such brutal means of training continue to exist in other Goju Ryu dojos, and indeed in other styles of karate and martial arts spread throughout the world; but the Jundokan has become perhaps one of the most respectable and virtuous places to train, very unlike the scenes which Gima-sensei so openly discussed. To take one, very simple example from my most recent trip: after training in kakie one night with Shimamura-sensei, when my arms could barely move he decided it was time for some arm conditioning. He said that I was to say stop when I needed to, and although I did my best to keep it up for as long as possible, I was, of course, eventually forced to concede and say stop. But when I did, instead of continuing further, or trying to push me to breaking point (as was the case in the olden days), Shimamura-sensei rubbed my arms to make sure they were okay, and said “right, now you know your limits — your goal is to exceed that next time”. This simple lesson was enough for me to understand his message and know what I need to do, and I realised that this is the way of modern-day Jundokan.

All of the masters who train within the Jundokan’s walls are true inspirations to us as budding practitioners of Goju Ryu karate, not only in their style and practice of the art, but in their demeanour and personal conduct too. If I myself am able to become even half as admirable as they are, I would consider my pursuit of Goju Ryu (despite having only scratched the surface) all the more worth while. Every trip back to the Jundokan re-sparks a fire within me not only to better my own karate, but to better myself and my way of thinking as well. This is the inspiration of the Jundokan, and this is what I believe we must strive to achieve.

Blake Turnbull

What's in a Dojo?

Although the term ‘dojo’ is often translated as a ‘training hall’ used in the practice of martial arts, the term literally translates to a ‘place of the way’, in which one trains for personal enlightenment. But what is a dojo? And is there a difference between what we perceive to be a karate dojo, and what we think of as a karate club?

It is often said that karate training can be done without the need for physical movement. That is, contemplating a kata in your mind, imagining each movement and technique, and seeing yourself perform it. If we were to follow such a conceptual mentality, we could resign to the fact that we don’t need space to train. In 1934, Miyagi Chojun Sensei wrote a selection of eight Special Merits of Karate. Five of these merits are of interest to this situation: (1) a large space is not required; (2) karate can be practiced alone; (3) its practice does not require much time; (4) proper kata can be selected and practiced at one's own discretion, and; (5) one can practice with empty hands or the use of simple equipment can also be employed without much expense. In summary, karate can be trained alone in no space with no time, equipment or money.

So, returning to the original question in review of Miyagi-sensei’s Merits: what is a dojo? It seems that, if a club can consist of as few as just one person so long as that person is training, be it physically or mentally, then a dojo can be literally anywhere: a bedroom, a shed, a kitchen, a hall, or even a broom cupboard - it doesn't matter so long as some form of training is taking place. And wherever there is a dojo with one or more people training, there is a club. A club can thus be viewed as one or more individuals training in pursuit of a similar target; that target being to discover and understand a path of self-defence, discipline, and on a larger scale, a way of living to further enhance their life. Karate is, in fact, as much a pursuit of ‘the way’ as it is the learning of self-defence, and it is the pursuit of this ‘way’ that (literally translated) forms the fundamental criteria of what a dojo is.

I review this notion now, just one week out before I venture to Japan to complete a 3 year degree at Kyoto University, and leave behind the karate club that I’ve trained with for the past 20 years of my life. Despite knowing that I will one day return, walking away from what I consider to be my dojo was not an easy decision. But, in light of the above information, I’ve come to realise that, in actual fact, I’m not walking away from my dojo. My dojo is built within me, ready to train in where ever I go. I write this now as a means of encouragement both to myself, and to others in similar positions. One of my favourite quotes of all time is: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got” (Henry Ford).

I’ve always thought this applies well not only to life in general, but also to karate training. However, recently when watching Disney’s Kung Fu Panda 3 (very wise movie, believe it or not!), I heard a more suitable rendition, which I would like to share with you too: “If you only do what you can do, you'll never be better than what you are” (Master Shifu).

Change is inevitable, both in life and most definitely in our pursuit of the way of karate. What’s important is to keep looking forward and to stay hungry for more. Karate will be with you where ever you so choose to be, and so long as you have the mindset and spirit ready to train yourself, both mentally and physically, know that your dojo will be there too.

Blake Turnbull

Jundokan New Zealand Master's Seminar 2014

Last weekend Richmond, Nelson, played host to the Jundokan New Zealand (JNZ) Masters Seminar for 2014 (December 13th-15th), hosting Okinawan Jundokan Honbu 9th dans Gima Tetsu-sensei, Kinjo Tsuneo-sensei, and Yurio Nakada-sensei, for a 3 day seminar of traditional Goju Ryu kata and bunkai. It was the first time New Zealand had played host to the now Alaskan-based Nakada-sensei, and 7 years since both Gima-sensei and Kinjo-sensei had last visited in 2007, but it was clear from the get-go they were happy to be back, this time beneath the beautiful sun and warmth that Nelson had to offer

The seminar itself was a truly fantastic event that could only be described as enlightening (if not a little mind-boggling at times!). Beginning with Gekisai and Saifa on day 1, moving on to Seiyunchin and Shisoshin on day 2, and finishing with Sanseru and Seipai on day 3, those who participated in the 3-day event received invaluable tips, advice, and demonstrations on kata from the Okinawan masters. Following each kata, we began looking in-depth at the bunkai, both kihon (as is laid out in the kata itself) as well as more advanced techniques that built on the basic kata foundations.

One thing that was stressed to us time and time again was that, although the masters could teach and/or show us what they know, at the end of the day, it was up to us to take those techniques and concepts that we liked and those that worked best for us, and assimilate them into our own style of bunkai. It hardly need be said that having 3 surprisingly different styles and techniques from each of the 3 masters themselves certainly gave us a lot to work with, and the knowledge that everyone received is something truly special and an incredibly unique experience that I am sure everyone involved took a lot away from. A grading was also held on the final day for Hayden Wilmott, Glen Morgan, Richard Dickens and Jack Carter. Congratulations to you all and an outstanding effort and performance.

What I believe we can take away from the seminar is that (certainly in my eyes, at least) JNZ is on the right track in terms of where we want to be in our own studies of karate, and where we sit in the eyes of the Jundokan masters. It was a truly fantastic seminar in which all those involved were simply there to train and to learn from the masters themselves. No egos, no flashy performances, no attitudes of self-importance - simply a bunch of like-minded people there to learn from the best of the best. And I believe this was reflected in the overall success of the seminar as a whole, and also in the views of the masters themselves, who seemed more than happy with how it all played out.

I would like to say a huge thank you and congratulations to Paul Allot-sensei for all of the time and effort he invested in to making the seminar such a resounding success. He is simply an inspirational leader for Jundokan New Zealand, and I believe there is no one better and more suited to be leading this ever-strong organisation in our journey to continue learning about the art of Goju Ryu. I also believe this was reflected in the mutual respect shown by the Okinawan masters towards Paul-sensei, and it is clear that with him at the helm, JNZ will continue to be a strong, close-bound organisation for many years to come. It is also clear to me that the ties between JNZ and the Jundokan Honbu Dojo in Okinawa have never been stronger, nor have the bonds between the members of the JNZ family.

I believe that the mutual respect between JNZ and the Jundokan Honbu will long continue hereafter, and I look forward to the next chance in which we are all able to train under their watchful eye in the near future. Until then, let us continue our own training, incorporating all that we learnt over a simply outstanding seminar, as we continue to grow and advance our karate together as members of Jundokan New Zealand.

Blake Turnbull

Owning Your Own Karate

In my last writings I touched on Bunkai, and how as our Knowledge and understanding of our Karate changes and grows, so does the application of what we study. I am continually intrigued reading articles all over the globe telling me to “Own my own Karate”. Hell, I thought I did. Does that mean we have to all see things the same way? Or just to do things our own way?

Neither of these are the case of course, and Im sure that what these ownership statements are getting at is that as Karateka, we should be responsible for our own training and growth in our chosen art.

Many people are happy following their teacher, and learning what they can from him or her. Does that mean that they are not owning their own Karate? Of course it doesn’t, it just means that they have found where they want to be in their art, and are happy there. Now that’s ownership!

Sensei John Jarvis said to me some time ago at a difficult time in my career of Goju. "Find a teacher you can trust, and stick with him” ... wise words indeed, and yes, I did.

As we grow in our art we are encouraged to look deep into our Kata and come to understand and practice the Bunkai within. Now that's where the problem starts, and where egos can get in the way.

We must practice of course, however, as Im sure you all know, if we practice bad techniques, well, we will get very good at them and that’s not what we want at all is it?

Practice your Kihon and grow from there, and you will be surprised where it leads you. The fact is it has to work. What would be the point of it if it didn’t? Find a partner to work with and make sure what you are doing is effective. If you are finding that it isn’t then you may have to adjust it to suit your size or stature. Ask if you're not sure. Im sure you are surrounded by a Dojo full of people who can help you.

The fact that they have decided to turn up in the first place tells me that they have made the choice to “Own their Karate”. It's that simple really.

Do not ever think that you have Bunkai that is “yours”. To do so would be arrogant. So who’s is it I hear you ask ? If I “own my own Karate” then mustn’t my Bunkai be my own? No it mustn’t. No matter what we do or how we apply our Kata, are we really that arrogant to believe that someone else before us has not done the same? It is merely the Bunkai that you prefer to use, that’s all. And you prefer to use it because it works right?

I had a wonderful chat with a good friend today who runs his own Ju-Jitsu club here in Dunedin, and we ended up laughing at each others techniques. Why? Because they were similar, not the opposite as you may think.

At the end of the day there are only so many ways to skin a cat. Maybe he “owns my Karate” or do I “own his Ju-Jitsu”? (stated whilst my tongue was firmly planted in my cheek.)

Mike Dalton

Seeking the True Meaning of Karate in Okinawa

Did you know that karate, arguably the most well known martial art in the world, originated in Okinawa? Me neither. But it turns out the small archipelago beneath mainland Japan is where it all began. It wasn't until the early 20th century that Karate made it to the Japanese mainland.

On a recent visit to Okinawa, I had the chance to meet with a local instructor and do a refresher of my rusty karate skills. Kevin Chaplin, a Brit now based in Okinawa, was my mentor for a session at Murasaki Mura theme park.

Quizzing him on the difference between traditional Okinawan karate and the modern approach he said:

"True karate has been diluted, changed and adapted. The modern approach is to make money, but you have to balance the money with correct teaching. Karate is an education, not just a combat sport."

Though I learned karate as a teenager, we never once delved into the philosophy behind it. But my story is a common one, according to Kevin, as many karate schools are more concerned with membership and increased revenues than teaching the true meaning behind the martial art.

"Traditional training is hard, so many schools just hand out belts to keep people coming back. That’s why sports karate became so popular, there’s money involved. If your students are successful in a competition, you get more students, more money, more recognition… but you sacrifice the true meaning of karate along the way."

"The Okinawan spirit is to 'just get on with it'. That's what's different from some of the other Japanese martial arts, and some of the teachings coming from China. There’s a little more spirituality involved, but the Okinawans are more pragmatic towards it. There’s no shortcut to doing a perfect punch. Just get on with it. If you have to practice 1000 times a day, just do it, whatever it takes, and you'll learn."

Educating tourists on the origins of karate at the Murasaki Mura theme park, as well continually improving his own skills with a local sensei, Kevin views karate as character building.

"As a karate practitioner you always talk about your mind, your body and your spirit - the three together. Karate has that built in, you go in there with the mindset to do it and improve."

"When I teach the kids, I just try and keep that in mind. Teaching them to clean the dojo, show respect to each other. We always talk about who is that best, but you’re always teaching everyone to improve."

"If one kids really sharp, really fast, a great fighter… but the kid who was really nervous and crying the first day, three months later he’s facing up to the strong kid. That’s the biggest success. The kid who’s always winning, that’s fine, but the biggest success is the kid that grew in some way."

After having only a brief training session with Kevin, my karate skills are still as rusty as ever. I’m not about to go back to training, but I have developed more of an appreciation and understanding of the history behind the martial art.

If you seek the true meaning of karate, Okinawa is the place to find it.

Yasuda Tetsunosuke ~ Hanshi 10th Dan

If you happen to meet him at the corner of a street, Mr. Yasuda Tetsunosuke will remind you of a gentleman of old time Okinawa. In the post war Okinawa, he worked on US military facilities before opening his own real estate company named Yasuda Jutaku Co., Ltd that he still runs today. While at a first sight you might not notice it, the life of CEO Yasuda was supported by karate and yoga.

Born in 1926, Yasuda sensei became a student of Miyazato Eichi sensei, a direct student of the founder of Goju-ryu, Miyagi Chojun sensei. As he explains, "The reason why I chose Goju-ryu is because this school had the breathing kata Sanchin and Tensho. This is because I studied the way of breathing through Yoga."

Having encountered psychology at university, Yasuda sensei has always lived a life where severe karate training and Bushido way of thinking are like the two wheels of a bicycle.

Yasuda sensei truly believes that "It is important to face oneself in an honest way. Unfortunately, in the case of many karate people, they are focusing on the outside aspects of karate. That is why when I look at martial arts today, I can not stop thinking that it has gotten out the way of Budo. Ideally, if one practices karate thinking of it as a way to build himself, he will find his Ikigai, his purpose in life". He goes on saying that "Human beings should follow the principles of the Kamikaze units, living as if today was the last day of their life. This concept should prevail for life but also in karate and never be forgotten."

To the question what is the most important thing in karate, Yasuda sensei answers frankly, "Tanden no kyoka and Kiso tanren, respectively the strengthening of the tanden and basic training. I can't conceive that an animal could do something but a man could not!" And at 87, Yasuda sensei, the Saiko Komon or supreme advisor of the Jundokan Sohombu, doesn't only speak about theory but also applies it. Grabbing a 20 kg weight and holding it behind his head, he executes easily some 30 sit-ups. And when finished, he goes back to instructing with a healthy smile on his face...

Interview Conducted by Okinawa Karate News: http://okinawakaratenews.com/eng/hanshi.php#h1

First Impressions of the Jundokan

When you think about the idea of training at the Jundokan Honbu-Dojo in Naha, Okinawa, the birthplace of Goju Ryu Karate, thoughts of brutal conditioning, hours of solid press-ups, and a code of conduct so strict that one false move will have you kicked out, may come to mind. But, in reality, that’s not the case at all. In fact, it couldn’t be further from the truth.

My first trip to Okinawa in October of 2008 started with unsurprising feelings of anxiety towards such prestigious training at a place as historic and world-renowned as the Jundokan. Of course, I too thought along the same lines as those mentioned above; training with the masters of the art- it had to be tough! However, after just one night's worth of training at the Jundokan dojo, I quickly realised I was wrong to feel that way. In fact, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Contrary to popular western ideology, the teaching style at the Jundokan Dojo is not about beating one another until you feel no more pain. Don’t get me wrong, training is serious and requires 100% of your effort and concentration, but those teaching at the Jundokan are accommodating, teaching age-old techniques and ideologies in a manner which is specific to you. A sense of “equality” is created, one sensei even stating to me that it is best to train as “brothers, rather than as teacher and student” (Hisao Sunagawa, 2012). It is a combination of these factors that make the Jundokan Dojo unique like no other.

Upon returning to the Jundokan now in July of 2012, I have quickly come to realise that things have not changed in the slightest. All of those teaching here are exceptionally friendly and welcoming, one sensei having even invited me out for the day where he bought me a drink afterwards. And of course, training itself is no different. One night saw us working over kata and at a stage where my technique differed to those of others around me, a discussion closely ensured. Within long, we were told that in fact I was not wrong, and that the technique could be done both ways depending on the bunkai. Such an accommodating style of teaching is what makes the Jundokan unique; always open to the opinions of others, always looking to learn more from others around them. The idea that “this is the one way to do it- your way is wrong”, simply does not exist, but rather, the concept of accommodation and equality prevails.

Okinawa is a great country, and Naha is a beautiful city filled with interesting and unique things to do during the day, and world-class karate to train in at night. The Jundokan Honbu-Dojo is remarkable place where just one night’s training can change your entire perspective on Karate itself. It is a place that unites people from all across the globe for one single purpose: to train in the traditional art of Goju Ryu Karate-Do. There aren’t many places in the world where you can train with the current masters of Goju Ryu as equals, but the Jundokan strives for just that. There really is nothing else like it, and no better way to learn the art of Goju Ryu.

Blake Turnbull

July 2012, Naha, Okinawa.