Karate Crisis #5
My JKA/KUGB Licence from Enoeda Sensei’s famous Marshall St Dojo 1977
The book “Karate Stupid” by Scott Langley is a salutary read for a Western karate-ka, or “Gaijin” as the Japanese call us. “Gaijin” basically means Foreigner, the implication being foreign barbarian. Amongst themselves I would guess that certain types of nationalistic Japanese say the word with a sneer of contempt, just as certain nationalistic right wingers in the West, even well after the war, would say “Japs”
Both words carry lots of baggage. There is no doubt they are both racist in intent and meaning. Essentially once one has read Scott’s book, the overwhelming impression is that most Japanese Karateka regard Gaijin as milksops, incompetent ignorant clumsy uncultured fools who can’t even hold their drink. Or their own in karate.
On the whole, they’re right. Compared to the average exponent of karate in Japan many of us are a sorry lot. (With exceptions of course) Watch a Japanese kid on youtube making Enpi look like a sliced, diced perfectly presented Bento Box, everything precisely in place and timed to the second and tell me most of us aren’t inferior in every way. Especially dedication, determination, physical dexterity, balance, timing, focus, grounding, centreing, finesse, perfectionism, musculature, hip movement, black hair and so on. Cuteness too, obviously.
And in Kumite (fighting), we have brute strength but they have superhuman speed and accuracy. Yes Gaijin have defeated the Japanese in tournaments. The famous one for me was when Enoeda Sensei’s British team won the JKA all Japan championships. The Japanese would of course put that down to their having had a famous Japanese instructor…
The takeaway from Langley’s book for me is not just the contempt he suffered on the JKS Instructor’s course, but what he describes as the relentless bullying and the brutality. This does not sit well with me.
I have been fond of saying to young karateka, jeez you have it easy! When I started training with Enoeda at Marshall Street, we would learn what pain meant. Always hard contact, bruises, black eyes, cracked ribs, torn ligaments, groin calf and ankle sprains, ripped Achilles and yes there were certainly some of those. And yes, by the end of two hours training my gi was wet, you could wring it out and get enough liquid to fill a glass. Ok big deal.
Now it’s nothing like that. In fact sometimes I can use the same gi twice without washing it. And injuries are rare – students are told off unequivocally if techniques are too hard and hard counters are frowned on.
But what Scott encountered makes all we suffered in those Old Days seem like nothing. And his book made me question – especially as I am about to go to Japan – what I think I’ve devoted heart, soul and might for 40 years to.
I thought character development. Resilience. Immunity to pain. An art which, in the worst case scenario would help me defend myself against the stupidity of unprovoked violence. A route to spiritual development through dedication, determination, pain.
And yes I have definitely achieved some of the above. If you know me, you decide.
I need to internalise and mull over the tone of this book. I need to accept the obviously Scott’s experience of the JKS Instructors’ Course was unique to him. Seen through his eyes. His perspective.
In the end, as one of my great Senseis said, “It’s not my Karate you must follow. Or his Karate. Or this Association or that Association or this style or that style. It’s YOUR Karate. Your Do – your Way.
I will face demons in Japan, my own and others. Perhaps I will be injured or worse. More likely, Japanese karateka will treat me with what I have earned as an elderly Gaijin who has pursued his path for forty years. With respect or just kindness and tolerance or variations thereof. Whatever.
UPDATE: in training with Sasori on Saturday (I am booked to fly out on Thursday) I sprained not just one calf but two. According to Dr Google the left leg is level 3 and the right leg about a 2. The left happened during a mawashigeri jodan yakizuki the ura- mawash to opponent behind. So enjoyable, especially as my mawash was incontrovertibly jodan against a 6ft opponent – great timing and within an inch of his face. This is the karate I love – hard, fast, precise. Until with an almost audible snap, the calf tears and there is no way to do anything except hobble painfully to the nearest chair and sit in a miasma of pain and faintness.
After training the six-foot uke who had paired me supported me all the way down the King’s Road to the Stockpot restaurant. Lunch was full of laughs as always, but as we left snap! The right calf tore, leaving me almost crawling to the chemist where my dear old friend Ibrahim towers over his medicine and placebo kingdom like a benevolent Great Frog.
Tokyo flight is Thursday. I had a devilish plan to book myself a flight home via San Diego and Mother’s 90th birthday. Yes I know she has Alzheimers and she most likely wouldn’t get the point. But the surprise for her and sister – especially brother would have been worth the effort and maybe even the money! This is now a ridiculous idea.
I am typing this on Monday morning in the doctors’ waiting room. Junaid picked me up in his car and is going to Sainsbury’s to get confused over my shopping list.
I shall get far more confused in the next few hours. I will ask the GP for a prognosis and advice. She will be unable to give me either. I will Google “cancelling flights” l will balance my options. Rebalance. Decide. Change my mind. Then repeat the process several times.
I do NOT want to be a burden to my Kohai Senpai and Sensei. I certainly will be unable to train so that’s my one Karate Crisis unresolved. There would still be Tokyo and Kyoto to explore – but how much walking would that involve? To what extent will I have recovered over the time? And what about all the damned walking with baggage at airports? Museums? Parks? Legs are so fucking useful and once they’re gone…my heart goes out to the disabled – how can I dare to sink into self-pity when some people have no legs for life?
It brings the whole Karate Crisis to a head: can I continue? Once I’ve recovered, when would the next debilitating injury happen? What would be left of me without Karate?
UPDATE: I send this from Japan!
Stay tuned dear reader. I will be posting Letters from Tokyo soon!