History, traditions, etc…

Last year was a very special year for me because I had three of my students accompany me to Okinawa for training. Since my flight for Okinawa is coming up quickly for this year I began to look through last year’s photos and this image (used in the post) caught my eye. In this photo we are looking at the images which are posted around the inside of Nakazato Karate Dojo in Naha, Okinawa. This dojo is the headquarters for Shorin Ryu Shorinkan worldwide and was founded by Shugoro Nakazato Hanshi Judan with the permission of his Sensei, Chosin Chibana.

To some this photo may seem to be just three Karate guys checking out the dojo but it is so much more than that. Here you are seeing two Karate students being given a tour from their own Sensei (me). During the tour we took time to learn about the images, read the Ethics, Morality and Rules of the dojo as well as soak in the atmosphere. There is history being taught in this photo, not just looking at pictures. While to some that may seem trivial or worthless, to a good Karate student it is part of the training.

Over the past 15 years, or even longer, I have noticed more and more martial arts school that do not know their own history, the history of Karate or quite simply have thrown it out of their curriculum. Teaching your students the history of the art you teach is not ever to be thrown out. That is a complete lack of respect for all the people, especially your own Sensei, that paved the way for you to be there, teaching in your own dojo. Failing to educate your students beyond the physical methods of the martial arts shows a lack of ability as an instructor as I see it. The historical references found in the martial arts, from traditional all the way to eclectic and modern, are there, right in front of you. If you do not know the history of your art then you do not, and I repeat, do not understand your art at all.

When I watch some people perform Kata at tournaments they are doing so seeking to reach the aesthetically pleasing level to win a trophy. It is quite clear they have no understanding where the Kata came from or even why it could have been developed the way it is. When you know the history of your art the Kata becomes symbolic of that art and takes on a deeper meaning thus making it more valuable to your training. When it is all about making it pretty to win a trophy it has surface meaning and the deeper purpose escapes you. The history of the art you teach leads the way to pave the future as well.

Within the history of our own art we learn to understand why it was developed, how it was developed and the methods of the madness to which it was organized. Through this deeper understanding we gain insight into our art that others, who have not bothered to learn it, will never gain nor grasp. It is important to know the history, research the facts, delve deeper into your art beyond the mere physical aspects of it in order to be a complete martial artist.

Personally I find it sad that many people who teach some form of martial art in the United States don’t even know who Robert Trias was. That always shocks me because he was an innovator, opened the first dojo in the USA in Arizona in 1946 and built the first tournament structure that is still used today…not to mention he formed what was once the largest martial arts organization in the world, the United States Karate Association. For those who have never heard of him, good or bad, I would wonder why your Sensei has no concept that those tournaments you compete in are based off the rules Trias created among many other things. Knowing who the pioneers of the martial arts were in the USA will help you understand why it developed in the manner in which it did here…for better or for worse.

The history of Okinawan Karate is very old and, up until a few years ago, we didn’t have much facts to go by due to the destruction of records in WWII. In the past few years more and more families are opening up about the factual side of Okinawan Karate, sharing their stories, the stories of their teachers and publishing more about the subject. In Tomigusku, Okinawa they built the Karate Kaikan, a training hall dedicated just to Okinawan Karate with an incredible museum located inside that covers the history and development of the art. There is so much more the training the martial arts when you have a Sensei that teaches you the historical values, reasons and methods of where the art developed from.

Go beyond the Kata, the Kihon, the Kumite, the Ne-Waza…learn more, understand your past to build your future. This is important and without you can never truly understand the road ahead. Train and learn everything…

Steven Franz, Shihan
Shorin Ryu Shorinkan Rokudan

PS. The internet is a great place to start learning about the history of many martial arts, however there are also many lies, unsupported facts and urban legends out there (such as the white to black belt color meaning). Do serious research and don’t just believe what you read at face value. Good luck.

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