October 05, 2010

Okinawa dreamin'

Looking at a calendar and counting with my fingers, I noticed that six months have passed since I traveled to Okinawa to study real karate in the land of its birth. This was something I'd dreamed of doing for longer than quite a few people have been on the planet.

The trip did not disappoint. It was truly a peak experience to study with some of the greatest living masters of dento or traditional karate. The trip was organized as a seminar, so we had the opportunity to practice with a real range of teachers. We were taught by masters of several styles and traditions, including more than one version of the Uechi-Ryu, Goju-Ryu and Shorin-Ryu styles.

Karate has become very distorted as it spread around the world. In the US, it has degraded to the point of a sport engaged in by people obsessed with getting the next promotion or collecting more plastic. I learned in the last year, though, that the process of mutation began before those post-World War II years when Americans were first exposed to it--it started when karate was introduced to the main Japanese islands in the late teens and early twenties of the 20th century.

When the Okinawan karate master Gichin Funakoshi, someone I have long admired, began to teach in Japan, he began to change the art to fit the new environment. Traditional katas were renamed and changed; traditional training practices and advanced techniques were de-emphasized and gradually dropped. He taught quite a bit in university settings, which had highly competitive cultures. Worse, he attempted to "Japanize" karate at a time when Japanese nationalism, fascism and imperialism were at their height.

Ironically, what many people think of as the culture of karate, as in a highly regimented militaristic regimen, is really more the culture of 1930s Japanese fascism than that of the real Okinawan art. The resulting art was highly athletic, but very different from the original. Most Okinawan masters are too polite to say it, but they think that most of what passes for karate today is suitable only for children.

It was great to see, and finally to start to practice, the real thing.

THE COST OF WAR. The Washington Post has an interactive feature on the kinds of traumatic brain injuries often suffered by US military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan.

GOING (FATIGUE) GREEN. The US military is moving towards renewable energy in an effort to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. (Suggestion: fewer wars might help.)

UNLAMENTED. The TARP aka Wall Street bailout program expired yesterday. It turned out not to be as costly in the end as people, including me, thought, and it may have really helped prevent a financial collapse, but that doesn't seem to have won it any love.

SLEAZY MONEY. Here's a look at the big money from shadowy groups that is being pumped into the 2010 elections.



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