I was working out and training this morning when a thought occurred to me, “If karate-ka observed your kata today they would flame you for not adhering to certain basic and fundamental practices such as the enbusen line.” It made me think of those days when I worked construction building houses so very, very long ago. It goes a bit like this:
You start our building a house with blueprints and specifications. This is much like being exposed to basic techniques often called the upper and lower basics. It extends into the kata that are like blueprints where the drawings outline certain patterns in the home such as wall configurations and placements, etc. This is similarly or symbolic of the enbusen lines.
As you practice as a homes construction begins you deal with a ton of logistics such as materials, workers, costs, construction techniques and of course the design of the house. This is similar or symbolic of such things as the fundamental principles of martial systems, i.e. structure, posture, power, etc. You are getting my drift here, right?
Now, once the construction is completed the home sits on the lot. It has a foundation, walls, roof, doors, windows, etc. but not much else. This is the state of today’s martial arts practice in particular “karate.” It is like we are happy with the home so we continue to check out the construction and go over the blueprints and so on to make sure the home is solid and long lasting but we are not truly living in that home because it is missing something, a something that makes that home, a home.
Most, if not almost all, seem content to play with the home as it is and often leave it every training session just like it was when they first entreated it after construction was completed. They are so thrilled to have a home and to have one built by a particular designer, i.e. “this home was designed and built by Tatsuo-san (using the karate system I learned as an example ergo Tatsuo Shimabuku Sensei).”
Now, as I understand Isshinryu history, Tatsuo-san always told his graduates (those leaving a tour of duty on Okinawa) that they must continue practicing and learning before they assumed a certain level of proficiency as indicated by a silk certificate he presented. This is tantamount to giving a new home owner their front door keys and saying, here you go, it is all yours, do with it as you feel you should.
We all took what we were taught and accepted the house as it appeared after that construction but we assumed that to change that house in any way would be disrespectful to the designer and the builder. This is where most karate gets stuck, it stagnates. It is also the reason why so many start out training and practicing in karate but soon, very soon, stop.
What I propose is one must practice and train following the blueprints and design specifications but when all is done and open to move in the practitioner must “move in” and then practice and train until they are inspired by the house, the property and the neighborhood (i.e. the culture and beliefs system of Okinawa along with their personal culture and belief systems) so that they may begin to “decorate” it to fit them and their life practices. This is part of the budo of bujutsu.
We decorate by playing with basics, kata, kumite, reality based training models, and as a simplified example we break the enbusen line; we break the patterns and line of the kata; we break the drills from their patterns; we break the drills used for self-defense training so that we reach higher levels of proficiency that is not tied to any particular pattern because such patterns tend to stagnate and freeze us when we try to apply them to life’s challenges.
To decorate the home is to add curtains, purchase and arrange furniture that fits each room’s functionality and we put gardens of bushes, plants, flowers and such to create a new and greater house that comes from all the designer’s and builder’s vision into something unique.
In Isshinryu, this is exactly how Tatsuo-san created the house of Isshinryu. If he had stayed steadfast and dedicated to what his teachers has taught him so long ago Isshinryu would not have been built (born). He did just what I suggest above but he took it one step further than most can, should or will do, create a new system and name it - that is not the point. Making a new system and naming it simply fogs the mind and clutters the arts in general but creating something unique and applicable to yourself is a good thing.
As with history, we should be respectful to those who came before but we should also extend that respect into admiration by creating ourselves not in the image of that master but in our own image of what we aspire to be as a human and as a karate-ka.
Karate today is stagnate and to achieve mastery of a life time of practice, training and applications is to break free of those chains and practice, train and apply something that is unique to you, the individual. It is about decorating your house of karate with all those things that tie directly to the true essence of all martial arts and to life, the fundamental principles of martial system - the one corner stone of building that does not change nor should they be changed.