As I posted yesterday, I’ve been looking forward to getting back into full-time training (meaning, regular training at least twice a week).
Other than yesterday, it's been almost a full year since my last post on this blog, which speaks volumes. This has been one crazy year. My falling out with Aikibudokan, losing my practice space at the cabin because of a mentally unstable landlady and her strange whims, the topsy-turvy world of a full-time musician holding down a corporate day job, Kato Sensei's sudden passing: It's been a
pretty wild ride. I took a few classes with a Shotokan group at the Jewish Community Center (no “Jew-do” or “Jew-jitsu” jokes, please), but they were looking for someone willing to make an absolute commitment to two classes a week (a commitment their sensei hadn’t made, evidently), so I wasn't invited back. I'm sure I can make two classes a week, but I wasn't ready to commit to that in writing, just to train in their group. I mean, what if something happens and I can't make that second class?
But I liked the art, and I'd pretty much decided on karate, or some derivative thereof, by this point, but I'd just about given up on finding a decent adult karate program. Here's what I mean: In my area at least, I'd guess that something like 98% of all karate-type martial arts schools are really day care centers, disguised (or not) as tae-kwon-do schools. Those schools offering some kind of karate generally don't offer any kind of class for grownups that doesn't involve some overly testosterone-fuelled version of UFC-type MMA, Brazilian "Jiu-Jitsu", or what they're calling a "military-style
boot camp." No thanks on the boot camp, guys. Going through that crap once, when I was nineteen, was enough to last a lifetime.
I sat in on a class just down the road from me, a number of years back. They played loud, hard rock music and trained in colorful, tiger-striped track suits. Their kata were fast and flashy and completely made up within their own school. The name of their school was silk-screened on their backs in a pointy, “oriental” font, and the name of their federation (something like “American Black Belt Martial Arts Union”) was embroidered into each of their belts.
I took an introductory class at GKR. GKR stands for Go-Kan-Ryu, combining the names Goju Ryu and Shotokan, as their founder had taken both of those styles and combined them to form this “family” organization. So, the name “Go-Kan” means a mixture of these two styles, as opposed to the Japanese word gokan, meaning "rape". Just thought I’d clear that up. Anyway, they had a
lot of glossy literature, showing whole families taking their karate classes in the UK (I think it’s either a UK or Aussie group), so I specifically asked to take a class for adults. You know, as I’m all grown up already. The sensei (Sensei Brian, I think) promised an adults class, and when I showed up, Sensei Brian and I were the only two people in the room who were older than 15. Nice. I got to “spar” with an eight-year-old.
Then I sat in on a class that was called “Karate by Diamond.” Brilliant. Diamond was a fifty-year-old woman, a suburbanite socialite who taught her very young students that a single reverse punch in the back would break their attacker’s spine, rendering him an invalid, and that only people who knew her American version of tae-kwon-do could be so deadly. If anyone ever threatened them, they had nothing to fear, as long as they remembered Sensei Diamond’s magical reverse punch.
As you can see, there are few places that offer grownup classes in legitimate karate. By "legitimate", all I mean here is that it's not some over-commercialized "demo team" stuff, an adventure in babysitting, a UFC cage-fighter academy, or a completely meaningless style with an overblown sense of its own badassery; but rather a regular, straightforward, internationally-recognized, Okinawan/Japanese-based karate from one of the major ryu, taught in a manner meant to approximate that of the older, more traditional Japanese systems. And the only way I can see to ensure this is to look for a school that holds a membership in one of the major Japanese karate associations. I’m sure the “American Black Belt Martial Arts Union” folks are pretty proud of their school, and Sensei Diamond loves her curriculum and her eager little assassins – but none of these styles would ever survive under mainstream Japanese rules.
See, here’s the thing: federations and associations can be supremely important to your training, or supremely detrimental. One of the factors influencing the continued rift between the different aikido styles is the formation by each little breakaway style of its own federation, association, or “Alliance”. But they can also provide a very important baseline for your training, a steady curriculum to illustrate the way forward. If you’re doing aikido and your dojo is regulated by the Aikikai, you know that if you find yourself in some other country and visit a completely foreign Aikikai dojo, you’ll at least recognize the techniques, philosophy and terminology. That’s what I mean by baseline.I'll write more on my search for a dojo and for a solid baseline this afternoon.