Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Classical versus Traditional Martial Arts

A few months ago, one of my students felt bad because someone told her Zen Goshindo was not a 'real' karate system. That it was just made up. Well, here is some good news that I hope will help.

I always get a good laugh when martial artists begin to talk about how traditional their style is and how it has stayed true to the founding artist of the style. I also chuckle when they say Zen Goshindo is not a traditional style of karate because it is eclectic and borrows from other systems.

Let's take a journey back into time and take a quick look at the formation of Karate, more specifically Shotokan. It is the first Japanese Karate system and its founder, Gichin Funakoshi, coined the term 'karate'. Prior to that, karate in Okinawa was known as 'te' or simply 'hand'. It was also known as "Chinese Hand" referencing influences from Chinese Kung fu. In fact, Shotokan is an eclectic formation of Kung fu, Okinawan 'te' and Japanese culture. It was formed shortly after WWII.

You see, modern day Karate was formed and developed into 'systems' after WWII, mostly because martial artists recognized an economic value in developing systems they could sell. So, what I call Classical Systems, were formed during this time. It was a time of economic hardship in Japan and to make a living many of the old Masters taught US Serviceman. To be competitive they needed to have a 'system' that could be reproduced.

Some of these systems were Shotokan, Goju-ryu, Shorin-ryu and Uechi-ryu. Other smaller systems existed, but these are the major players, or I should say, the ones that survived economically. These are the ones I also call, 'frozen in time', as they try to maintain the original teachings of the founder. These systems also competed for students and didn't always get along.

Zen Goshindo Karate is not a Classical Style frozen in time. It is a living, breathing Traditional Style based on Eclectism, just like Karate was prior to WWII! (Note: I am not slamming Classical Styles for sticking to original formats or having economic success...for without them we would not be where we are today)

All systems of Karate are mixed or eclectic in nature. Take Isshin-ryu for an example. Isshin-ryu Karate, which Zen Goshindo evolved from, is an eclectic form of Goju and Shorin-ryu, developed by Shimabuku Sensei. It is now considered Classical as well, but took many years for the Japanese to accept it.

It is Traditional to be Eclectic. Many of the old masters, such as Funakoshi, Shimabuku, Miyagi (Goju), Oyama (KyokushinKai), studied with different teachers and systems until forming their own. Zen Goshindo Karate is such a style.

One of my teacher's teachers was Tadashi Yamashita of Shorin-ryu fame. He told Master Dean, "We are in America now. Go steal all the techniques you can." He was returning us to the pre-WWII days when it was acceptable to go and learn all you could from whom you could find. And this is what Master Dean told me to do. Which I did.

What many of the Japanese Master's loved about coming to America was the openess and freshness of students. Even the Zen masters who came to the states would comment on how Zen is fresher and in line with the Zen spirit than in Japan where it had gotten stylized and rigid.

Zen Goshindo Karate is proudly a Traditional, and yes, Eclectic system of Karate that traces its lineage through the Classical Systems all the way back to the Shaolin Temple of China. So, when anyone says Zen Goshindo Karate is not "real" or Traditional, just say 'Thank You' and perhaps they will allow you to enlighten them.

Take Care,

Sensei Dave

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