(Warning: rant alert.)

I've moved in and out of the karate world, because I see merit but also disappointment in it. Traditional arts can be ritualistic to some extent, and if I'm going to have ritual in my life, that's the only place I want it - I'm not big on belief systems. If I were a real fighter, I probably wouldn't want it there either.

Ritual unconsciously triggers mental states, the question being whether they're useful states. For someone who did not come to karate as a natural fighter, this offers buffers and protection, but can also install poor movement patterns that negate the useful reflexes we're all born with. (See Tricia Sullivan's website - links from the bio page - for more on this, including insightful stuff I hadn't thought of.) I make no claims about my own abilities, you understand.

Or you can think of it this way. There are (supposedly) benefits other than fighting ability to be gained from training in a martial art - but 99% of students (if not 100%) have a desire to be able to defend themselves as a primary motivation. Later, it can get lost in the complexity of learning a system. The worst thing is that someone soon thinks the self-protection part is easy - dealt with by basic techniques - and that they've already got that part sorted.

Anyway, what's on my mind is the concept of 'sensei'. The master at the front of the class is the Big Cheese, the Real Deal, right?

Well, in the case of Enoeda-sensei, for me that was true. His charisma drove everyone to train hard, and I had an absolute sense of his uncompromising integrity. His notion of the right way to act in a given situation might be different from mine - he came from such a different culture, for one thing - but I was always sure he would act in what he thought was the right way, however hard. (Not that I knew him personally- I was the guy at the back of the class.) Incidentally, he was not one of those instructors who insisted on the correct Platonic form of every physical technique - when he threw a powerful gyaku tsuki punch, his head moved first, before his hips, and his rear ankle rose from the ground. (A boxer might wonder how else anyone would punch, but a karateka would be looking up the spelling of 'sacrilege' at this point.)

So once, when I'd just started training at a new dojo, I wandered close to the 4th and 5th dans who were chatting away in one corner, laughing about something. What could the great men be discussing? Well, the head of the association was talking about how he'd bonked some other bloke's wife in the front seat of her very posh sports car. Oh, dear.

Another time in another city, my instructor had a story to tell about his instructor - a guy I used to sometimes train with myself, and who is now a 7th dan. So my instructor and his mates turned up for training, went into the changing room, and found Senior Instructor and one of his lady brown belts working on their grappling techniques on the floor. And they'd forgotten to put their clothes on. It's not so much that they were both married to other people that's disappointing: it's the fact that this lady's husband was also a brown belt student at that dojo. Luckily, he wasn't one of the guys that stumbled into this scene. (Apparently Senior Instructor shouted: "Don't you buggers ever knock?" The natural reply would have been, "Not walking into a changing room, no." But they just went back out laughing.)

I think I'm lucky that my first training was in judo. I found it hard, because big people would just sit on me in sparring, but there was zero bullshit - no moral superiority, just hard training.

End of rant. End of work avoidance.


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