Friday, January 12, 2007

Paradigm Shift Part 1: Search versus Pursuit

Over my years in training, I noted several things lacking in my karate, although I still remained convinced of the practicality of traditional karate. When my best friend and old time training partner Terry opened my eyes to what strong karate really meant, I began to undergo a radical paradigm shift as he began to teach me what he learned from Nakata Sensei during his time in Hawaii. Fortune has allowed me to start training under Nakata Sensei and my views on karate have continued their transitions.

The events of the past year as well as my previous personal journey in karate leads me to conclude that there are two kinds of traditional karate: searching karate and pursuit karate. What unites these two is their traditional focus on kata to gain effective fighting skill as opposed to other training methodologies or the mere existence of Japanese cultural traits, which is the main thrust of my article entitled "What is 'Traditional' Karate". While there are many differences between the two, I chose their names based upon the learning journey in each.

Searching karate lacks a definite and consistent methodology from which refinement can occur. As the name implies, the individual is searching for such a foundation, but because of a lack of serious fighting experience (common among traditional karate practitioners) and the lack of an instructor with true depth to teach them, they are left to fend for themselves. I have met many traditional karate instructors who firmly believe that every generation of karate practitioners reinterprets much of the kata they learn from their instructors, as transmission from teacher to student is often incomplete. This simply means that someone was being a poor student, a poor teacher, or did not have the opportunity to learn everything. Whatever the case, the results are unfortunately the same. Even if there is a consistent methodology, limited understanding causes it to lack "stand alone" quality as it is not fighting effective. This leads many to develop a mixed martial arts mentality. Their understanding of kata and fighting is shallow, so they must supplement it with knowledge of other styles, whether it be jujitsu, Chinese martial arts, or whatever the flavor of the week is. At this point, they only indulge in patchwork karate, even if they devotedly train their kata. The more one searches outside of karate to understand their kata, the more pointless it becomes to "remain traditional" and train with kata. In the end, their study of karate focuses more on "what" they are doing rather than "how".

This is in direct contrast to pursuit karate, which distinguishes itself through the potential for refinement. A consistent methodology providing context for every movement in every kata makes refinement possible. In other words, it is already known "what" is being done. What is important and what must be refined is "how". This perspective highlights the luck needed to find an instructor of true depth who can provide the necessary context. Context and refinement don't narrow one's scope; they widen it. Because the emphasis is on "how", technique collection from other styles is unnecessary. My instructor uses the analogy of being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel rather than groping around blindly in the dark. He half-jokingly states that the light keeps on moving whenever he gets closer, but forward progress is always made.

~to be continued in Paradigm Shift Part 2: Boxer Mentality versus Ippon Kowashi


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