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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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What you see is what you get

By Paul Mitchell

The suffix ‘Do’ as opposed to that of ‘Jutsu’ has long been debated in Karate circles. For those that have maybe not trained for very long, and therefore not really had time to consider this aspect of our Martial Art, probably the best word to use as a translation for ‘Do’ in English is ‘way’. We could therefore say that ‘Shotokan Karatedo’ means ‘the way of Shotokan Karate’.  This explanation of the term ‘Do’ does not however do it justice upon closer inspection. If one was to say that they studied or trained in the way of Shotokan Karate, they would probably seem to imply that they were merely training in the methods of their chosen Martial Art in order to improve their fighting or self defence abilities. This is to all intents and purposes the meaning of the suffix ‘Jutsu’.

In both Japanese and Chinese cultures if someone is studying or embarking on the ‘way’ they are embracing a life style, dedicating themselves to a constant regime of self evaluation and improvement. Maybe along with the word ‘way’ we should consider another word in our attempt to translate the term  ‘Do’. In my eyes, that word should maybe be discipline. Therefore if we were to take the title ‘Shotokan Karatedo’ and translate it into our language it could go something like this; ‘The house of the whispering pines empty handed way [or method] of disciplining ourselves.’

When sensei Gichin Funikoshi chose his pen name ‘Shoto’ implying the movement, and maybe sound of pine trees blowing in the wind, I personally doubt that he was anticipating the stiff and rigid methods of Karate performance that have been, and often still are performed in his name.

The image of wind blowing through pine trees suggests to me that he understood that suppleness is the way of life and stiffness the way of death. This is true on both a physical and mental level. If one does not have the ability to bend to the sometimes inevitable greater force and then spring back with the pliability of a pine tree, we will eventually soak up too much pressure and succumb to accumulated damage. On a mental level rigidity or the inability to move with the changing winds of time relegates us to the role, and the predicament of a mental dinosaur.

Sensei Funikoshi’s sixth guiding principle being ‘The mind must be set free’ says it all really. A free mind is anything but rigid. It goes everywhere, it has no taboos and no limits. In the 1936 meeting of the all Okinawan ‘Tode’ society it was agreed that Karate should and would in the future be referred to as ‘Empty Hand’ as opposed to ‘Chinese Hand ‘,because in order to spread it to mainland Japan it was considered prudent to leave out any reference to China due to the poor relations between the two countries. There is a version of the minutes of this meeting in Patrick McCarthy’s work ‘Ancient Okinawan Martial Arts.’ I personally agree with Clayton in his work ‘Shotokan’s Secret’ when he claims that these are edited minutes. He bases this assumption on the fact that Sensei Funikoshi’s name is not mentioned and there are no comments recorded from some of the very prominent and reputedly outspoken Karateka that are known and are recorded as being in attendance at this meeting. Did Funikoshi, a man who was a confucian scholar and a poet, just mean that his system of Karate is an empty handed Martial Art when he became the driving force behind its renaming? Personally I doubt it.

So what did he intend to imply by the term ‘empty Hand’? To me it seems obvious that what he was thinking of was more about our inner nature than our outer form. I think that in our culture the term ‘Open Hand’ or ‘There is nothing up my sleeve’ is getting close to his ideas. Another way to put this could be ‘what you see is what you get’. In other words, it is about honesty. As I wrote this it made me think of the supposed high grade Karateka (The most high profile being a high ranking instructor from the UK) that have hidden behind this mantle of honesty and integrity in order to satisfy their base carnal desires and how hypocritical they are, as well as how harmful they are to the profile of Karatedo. I remember a story I was told as a first dan. Someone I knew, that was probably trying to belittle my efforts in order to boost their own self esteem, telling me about a friend of theirs that was a fourth Dan. He went on to say that his friend was a fantastic Karateka, and a champion. He then proceeded to tell me that whilst drunk his ‘hero’ had a tendency to beat up his wife.

Could we get any further from the way of Karate than these individuals? Personally I doubt it. In the case of the unnamed instructor, he was most certainly an expert, many others that have behaved in similar ways may well have been technically good Karateka but are they studying or committing themselves to the way? I think not. If we can mentally go anywhere, have no limits, and no taboos we live in a time when we are most certainly catered for. Any craving or fetish can, if we are not careful be manipulated and magnified. At this point we have, because of the nature of manipulation surrendered our mental freedom to our baser needs, and to those that make a living from them. This is the point that the word discipline must come into the equation. Without personal discipline, mental freedom can be destructive to us and to those more vulnerable people around us.

Karate is often referred to as moving meditation, thus implying that the mind of the Karateka is the hub of the training and the physical movements are just the vehicle by which we train it. It is obviously hoped the physical rigors and discipline of dojo life spreads over into the everyday actions of the Karateka. Unfortunately when human beings are put upon a pedestal by those around them, as in Sensei and students we can often find a situation whereby those at the top no longer think that the basic rules of decency apply to them.

We can see examples of this in all walks of life. Certainly in the case of Jimmy Saville and the revelations of other prominent people in our society that believed they were untouchable. We can see that many people in positions of power get their kicks from the domination of what they sadly see as lesser people.

By the nature of the Martial Arts heirarchy we are bound to find a high percentage of naturally dominant people at the top. What percentage of naturally dominant people get their kicks from imposing themselves on vulnerable people? I do not know. But I personally feel that this issue bears thinking about. The obvious problem with this is that by their very nature dominant people tend to be in charge everywhere. So who can be trusted to be impartial? It is obviously hoped that all people teaching Martial Arts have the best interest of their students at heart, and of course many do. Ironically I personally think that those who expound this virtuous attitude the loudest often have the most to hide.

On a far less serious but still relevant subject, the rise in recent years of the purely profit making organizations targeting mainly children and using unskilled, virtually untrained instructors, yet in their marketing seriously taking the moral high ground, are an example of this. One could argue that these unskilled instructors know no better; after all they are not Martial Artists. In many cases they have paid out thousands of pounds for a franchise, which in fact makes them the biggest punter. However there is generally a high grade Martial Artist at the top of this pyramid.

In the cases of Jimmy Saville, Garry Glitter and others that abuse their positions, we have individuals who on the surface had a deep love for young people in a positive way, but in truth had another agenda that was anything but positive. How did they get away with their abuses for so long?

Firstly again dominance probably played a large part in them avoiding detection for so long. It is amazing how people jump into line for naturally dominant people, almost like parent and child. Their other method of getting away with their abuses for so long seems to have been that truly amazing method of obscuring the obvious, being ‘hiding in full view.’ It has long been my opinion that in many, certainly not all cases, the more respectable a person appears on the surface the more they have to hide. For obvious reasons if someone has a dubious agenda the camouflage of respectability is an attractive refuge.

In the case of Karateka that live this kind of duplistic lifestyle they may be studying Karate Jutsu [Karate’s fighting methods], but they are definitely not training in Karatedo [ The way of Karate].

What you see is most certainly not what you get.