Giri is obligation and Chu is loyalty. Both are important virtues of training in the martial arts but, in the past 15 years, I have watched as they slowly are being replaced with self centered acts of disrespect. In many ways I am very blessed as Sensei because I have several students whom I trust completely but they had to earn that right. In other ways I often find myself disgusted with people because they don’t understand simple principles of respect and loyalty as it pertains to martial arts.
Today I was at a martial arts tournament and a former student of mine introduced me to his “new” Sensei. Before I go on it is important to understand that this former student hardly ever came to class, made excuses all the time to miss class and the last class he attended one of my black belts had to thump him because he was not listening and loading up on the other students. So, when he quit, I was glad to see him go because I simply have no interests in training people who can’t learn…and he was a good example of such. That being said, when he came in and told me he “had” to quit, he said he had no time to train. Well, evidently that was a lie if he found time to train at different school. This student had been a member of my school for a year but only trained a total of a couple months when you add his classes up. Needless to say he never promoted beyond his 9th kyu white belt because he “couldn’t” get to class.
In Okinawa they see Karate training as very important. When you begin in a dojo and art you stay in the dojo and art. In America people jump from school to school all the time which has led to the downfall of quality in schools available out there. It seems that I run into “black belts” running schools who have no concept on basic principles so that means their students are learning incorrectly…oh and God forbid you try to help them, or educate them, because they KNOW IT ALL. Hey, I was like that once too, but luckily I got over myself so I could be taught for real…and my students are the ones who have benefited from it.
Loyalty to one’s Sensei, Dojo and Art is paramount. Students who train with dedication, work hard and earn the respect of the Sensei are taught above and beyond basic martial arts. At black belt you are NOT an expert on any level. You have only shown that you know the core material of the martial art you are studying, that’s it! I also love when people tell me they teach and “Okinawan” martial art and they have never been to Okinawa, their instructor was never taught by an Okinawan and it is NOT a recognized martial art from Okinawa. It may seem like I am ranting but, in all honesty, I am very blessed to have been to Okinawa, trained there, train under a Kyoshi who was trained in Okinawa from an Okinawan Grand Master so I may understand what it is Okinawan Karate a bit better than those who just think they do.
When I train a student and they show a lot of promise I watch them closely. I keep an eye on them for years, learning about them and determining if I want to share the inner workings of our art with them or if they are worthy to learn beyond what “looks” like Karate. This takes time and the student has to prove they are worthy of the lessons I have dedicated my life to for the last 40 years…and I DO NOT take it lightly.
Over the years I have trained 65 people to black belt. Some quit soon after, some trained for a few years, some trained for several years and some are still with me. It is a fact that people will quit after getting a black belt because they think that is the only goal that matters but it is only the beginning. At this same tournament one of my former black belts was there. He had students there too. I watched as they ran made up forms. Yes, they ran made up forms. They did nothing traditional and their simplest techniques were lacking anything practical. My former black belt has gone way off the deep end and has even gone out and called himself Master yet he never earned beyond his 3rd degree with me…and if he did get a higher promotion it was not earned but probably bought. My former black belt had good Kata but that was it. His self defense was alright but he was not a fighter at all. He did try but just never could grasp the concepts necessary to actually win a physical confrontation. He had excellent technique but soon began to “make up” weapons forms and empty hand forms because he didn’t bother to come to classes since he “knew enough”…sadly he is still a low level skilled black belt even though he calls himself Master.
As a student we will not always agree with our Sensei but, the Sensei has been through more than we could ever understand…especially in the martial arts. There is a reason why your Sensei has you do everything they require of you. In my lifetime I have only ever had four Sensei. My first Sensei closed his school and moved away which led me to another school. I was with him for many years, was one of his top students, and even ran his school for a little over a year. I was very loyal to him until I watched him do things that I knew a good teacher would never do. My third Sensei was a good friend and he opened my eyes to what Karate truly was about. When he passed away in 2007 I was lost, in a haze, and felt empty. As they say though “when the student is ready the Sensei will appear” which led me to my Sensei I have now.
As a student, regardless of my rank and that I own two of my own dojo, I want to provide for my Sensei, take care of him and make sure he is happy with me as his student. There are times when my own students think it is weird that I drive two hours just to train with him or that I make sure I open doors, know my place, help him with things without him asking and do my part. As they witness me behaving as a good student it is always my wish that they would learn from it…but many do not. They just chalk it up and never pay attention because they can’t see past their own interests most of the time. A good student will make sure their dojo is taken care of, cleaned and help the Sensei out as much as they can. It is our Giri, or obligation, to do so and it never ends. This is the exact same thing we have for our parents…but, in society today, I see many people not respecting their parents or elders as well which saddens me.
Getting back to the former student who introduced me to his “new” Sensei…well I spoke to his new Sensei, and another black belt at their school. I told them about my experience with him and that need to watch him carefully because he was NOT a good student in my eyes. I don’t care if they listened to me or not but I will speak my mind as I see it because I earned that right after 40 years of dedicated training. During the same event the promoter asked me if he could put my former black belt in my ring and I said absolutely not because I don’t even consider him a black belt anymore. I am sure the promoter was a bit stunned by this (I could see it on his face) but he wasn’t there when my former black belt closed his school and blamed it on me even though I had never been to his school. He wasn’t there when my former black belt proclaimed himself a Master and founder of his own bullshit martial art. When I watch his students they aren’t doing anything other than ripped off versions of forms I taught…he has just changed them which he was not qualified to do to begin with since he rarely trained and barely passed his 3rd dan test. The promoter agreed and we dropped the subject.
There are many times that I wish I had met my current Sensei when I began training as that young kid and been with him all these years. I often contemplate on that but then I realize that everyone who has taught me was part of my pathway that led me to him. I am very loyal to my Sensei, his dojo and our martial art. I will not bastardize it to make money. I will not disrespect my Sensei just because I disagree with him on some things. I will be a good student and hopefully my own students will learn from it and become better people with a deeper understanding of what respect, obligation and loyalty truly are. Heck if I had jumped from school to school like people do today I probable would’ve eventually got a black belt but the only thing I could have ever taught was MIXED UP MARTIAL ARTS…I am glad that I never did that because we need more true experts / Masters teaching than what is prevalent today. This past tournament, although a very fun time and good event, show cased that heavily with all the made up arts that were being done in the rings…sad part is those people competing don’t even know they are being lied to and taught made up stuff which is the real sad part as I see it.
Well enough on this. I need to get ready to go teach my students who deserve to learn the martial art that we didn’t make up so they can become strong, focused and capable Karate people. As always train hard but remember a martial art without loyalty is missing the martial part of it to begin with.
Steven Franz, Shihan
Shorin Ryu Shorinkan