Translated as “Traditional” it imbueds emotions of ages gone by and roots that have grown trees and flourished to the point of change. In martial arts we need to often look back to see where we have come from and recognise the development and journey the original intention has taken. Age has a way of defining change and then making one reflect back to see the roots and bring intentions of a return.
This perspective was very apparent when I had the pleasure of inviting Shingai Sensei to London in August 2017. At 76 years old he is a walking reference and conduit to the connection with Sensei Motokatsu Inoue, his teacher and mine during my time living in Japan. In the early 1980’s he was considered to be one of the finest students in the Honbu dojo and one of the longest serving students of O’Sensei.
I have many fond memories of sharing the dojo and being subject to his dynamic tuition and ever passionate approach to training. Infectious it was and it made you either want to reach for the sky or watch him in admiration and think, I will never be able to do this, I should give up!
I have trained with him over the years and joined him abroad teaching and sharing the stories of old and the experiences. In the old 3 volume books published by O’Sensei in the early 1970’s he is much in evidence demonstrating Kobujutsu kata move by move. His knowledge is significant and his ability to demonstrate the moves naturally and perfectly much in evidence.
Each year as he moves to the years of time and depth his movements have become more and more like O’Sensei and his approach in teaching also more and more akin. The way of simplicity and the ability to only move when needed demonstrates the traditional ways we see less and less of and perhaps misunderstand more and more as competition and demonstration take over.
Techniques become more subtle and less overt and often the combination of block and counter becomes one move. The evolution from “O Waza” to “Ko Waza”. The demonstration also of the open hand to the weapon to help students merge both as one with contraction and extension.
This traditional way of moving and posture teach us that we must after moving forward look back to ensure the developments do not consume the original undertaking. Bodies change to and trigger thinking that relates to the journey of training and life.
During his stay this time Shingai Senseri undertook a short lecture which all found enlightening and hopefully triggered the need for more thought and more study of what we do. He walked us through the early life of Motokatsu Inoue Sensei and entwined his early training from 16 years old. Clearly the way of training was harder with greater emphasis on repetition and Kata with Bunkai. In those early days he said, training was a way of and part of your life and the demands of O’Sensei were respected and you tried to meet his standards.
He produced some never seen before photos of Taira Sensei and Fujita Sensei with the Karate group sitting with O’Sensei. It was clear the entwined relationship was deeper than many realised. O’Sensei was of significant build and size and that which many students then called him were of a stature and strength unrivalled. Other photos showed gatherings to celebrate occasions and also in attendance was Konishi Yasuhiro Sensei.
There were no photos of Godo Shioda Sensei and it was said he never liked his photo taken! The life of Fujita Sensei however was clearly the blue print trigger for O’Sensei’s training and journey and with such a depth of teachers it is clear the journey was remarkable.
Some discussion was also had around the separation after Sensei Taira’s death in 1970 and the subsequent formation of the Ryukyu Kobujutsu Association. This has led to differences and opinions being taken but it was said that if you train, the body will not lie! Some discussion also took place about the building of Taira Sensei’s grave by the Ryukyu Kobujutsu Association. Financial contributions were made by all overseas branches in support of the Honbu in Japan realising a grave fit for Sensei Taira. The grave has also the names of the groups who contributed to make this happen and it is a sad recognition that no one in Okinawa had done this before, despite so many attaching themselves to his name and teachings!
In the 3 day seminar Sensei Shingai showed much of the old traditional ways and shone a light on the origins so needed for students to reflect on the tradition and not cast such things aside. Watching his demonstration in front of everyone doing Kanigawa Tinbe reminded all of us that age was not an excuse not to do and age was in itself a way of triggering us to reflect on the journey and develop. Develop as we move forward in life knowing the road has been walked by so many before us and respecting the teachings passed down.
So many are derogatory to tradition but when you see it being shown correctly and by such an ambassador of martial arts you realise the respect it should be given and the study required to ensure we train all our lives and make it to the centre where we all should meet irrespective of style!
It is sadly evident that there will only be a handful of students that meet in the centre, so many lost to excuse, vanity, lack of discipline and lack of passion. This frailty not unique to the west and as evident these days in the east too. The challenge for all is not to be just another statistic, not to be just another, “I used to do that” and make it to the centre and swim in the deep waters of tradition and all it gives.