Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Thursday, November 20, 2014

In the shadow of the teacher

The shrine in the Barn Dojo.
I was watching an interesting video the other day, though perhaps interesting isn't the right word for it. In it, a very senior karate-ka sat in seiza at the feet of the teacher, An'ichi Miyagi, who sat above him in a folding chair. The student was interviewing him ostensibly about training in the old days under Miyagi Chojun sensei and who knew what katas and who taught whom what kata, but what really came through the interview was a sort of unabashed self promotion and a less disguised bashing of Morio Higaonna. It reminded me of a game we used to play as kids. It was a variation of the traditional game of tag, I suppose, because you "tagged" the other person by stepping on his or her shadow. It's actually kind of interesting in that it adds another dimension to the game. You have to not only make sure you avoid all of the other players, but in turning and dodging and weaving in and out of obstacles, you have to be aware of your shadow as well. And your shadow moves as you move; that is, sometimes it's behind you, sometimes it's alongside of you, and sometimes it runs off in front of you.

I'm not exactly sure why I thought of all this, except that I know it had to do with shadows in a metaphorical way. So often, it seems to me, students want to sit in some teacher's shadow, and in doing so, they want to make sure that their teacher's shadow is bigger than someone else's shadow. I suppose this is the whole lineage question. But why do students think that they can bask in anyone else's glory, by association, simply standing in someone's shadow? The extent of one's knowledge or understanding of karate can only be measured on the dojo floor. It's something personal. I'm reminded of Plato's Cave. What if the shadow you're standing in (and it might even be the shadow of "the world's greatest karate master") isn't the real thing?

With Choboku Takamine and
Seikichi Higa senseis.
This video was sort of funny and sort of sad at times, and I found myself wondering what point there was in putting it on the Internet. "Who taught Miyazato" or "Who taught Morio Higaonna"  this kata or that kata, the interviewer asked over and over again. "I teach," An'ichi Miyagi would answer. So-and-so didn't know that kata, he would add, or so-and-so had no "understanding" of that kata. I think the point that the viewer was supposed to take away was that the student, kneeling at the foot of the master, had found the source. He was legitimizing himself by proximity to the real source. Everyone else was not the real thing.

We have guilt by association, so I suppose we also have its opposite, something like legitimacy by association. But then again, neither one is really true, is it? And I am making no judgment here on what An'ichi Miyagi knows or what Eiichi Miyazato knows or what Morio Higaonna knows. Personally, and this is probably obvious to anyone who has read any of my ramblings, I'm not a fan of any of their ideas on bunkai or understanding of Goju-ryu. In my experience of training in Okinawan dojos, they teach hojo undo, junbi undo, kihon, kata, and various forms of kiso kumite and yakusoku kumite. Very little bunkai of classical kata is taught--though this seems to be changing in recent years--and if you don't teach the bunkai to the classical kata, it is very difficult to practice the principles upon which Goju-ryu is based. My teacher once said to me, "Don't follow me. Follow Goju." The teacher points the way. But it is each individual's journey. The only things that lurk in the shadows are paper dragons.

1 comment:

  1. Better to point to the principles behind the amazing technique, karate master, or strong lineage? I don't think YouTube has much of that going on!