Today I close my hands, retire, from active teaching of Karate. What started as a brief visit to a Karate Dojo in Greensburg, PA, lasted 55 years. I retire as a seventh Dan. While my mind has remained extremely energetic, the body has suffered from the type of training we did for decades. To not waste the knowledge gained, I will continue to do some self defense teaching and share knowledge whenever the opportunity presents itself.
It has been the greatest journey. Along the way I have become friends and studied with some of the best teachers I could find. The list is quite extensive. The early days – Nick Long, Bill Brigham, Tadashi Nakamura, Robert Trias, to Gary Alexander, Joe Hess, Al Smith, Don Vitale, Isaac Henry, Jody Paul, Dennis Decker, Vincent Flores, Robert Drews, Jake, continuing to Robert Mason, Andy Horne, Stan Schmidt, Dan Ivan, Andrew Linick, and so many more.
I opened Bushido Karate Dojo (BKD) in 1967 as a training hall not a business. From Day One it has always been a hybrid of traditional martial arts. Never was a lesson ever wasted. BKD, in 1971, changed as Anthony Del Giudice became a student. He, like me, entered the Dojo and never left. Today he is a seventh Dan and continues to teach and learn. With Tony’s assistance, we trained some of the most proficient black belt students around. Since BKD was never a business, but was all business, as it was just a place for friends to train, the classes were long and vicious. Out of the tens of thousands of students over the many decades, only a few reached Shodan or higher level. Phil, Beth Vincent, Steven, Larry James, Carmen. Vincent continued and trained in Japan, studying at the JKA, obtaining rank in Shotokan and Kendo as well as Okinawan Karate. Steven still trains today like he did 30 years ago. Beth, Larry, James, and Carmen are still involved in various martial arts today. We also had dedicated brown belts, Chuck and Don to name two of the best and many, many followers. I was blessed that students would travel, some for over an hour, past other schools to train at my dojo. And they did this for years.
What I consider the highlight of my relationship with BKD, was that at a black belt test in a branch Dojo, in 1992, I met Marla. She was the student testing and four months later, my wife. She continued her training and while we lived in Florida, taught at one of Joe Hess’ Dojo. Karate, Yoga, Reki, she is totally involved and for that I am blessed. She also trained an outstanding black belt student, Ana.
There will always be fond memories of the many trips to Honda on Fifth Ave in New York and waiting for packages to arrive from Sensei Dojo Supply. Jaunts to Japan brought me to the Kyokushinkaikan, Gojukai, JKA, and the Kodokan.
I have decided that what is being practiced as Karate in America does not rise up to what I believe Karate should be and must be taught to future students. There are only my thoughts. I have seen great athletic and strong people practicing what they believe to be Karate, but, what they are doing is not even close to Karate. Yes there are kicks, punches and other movements that resemble Karate, which is where the similarities stop. Briefly, to me, Karate is something that needs to be practiced daily and not just a quick 45 minute class twice a week. Having children breaking boards, while cute, has me wondering about the development of their bodies and how many weeks and months of conditioning was done prior to the break? When did the rainbow of belts with so many stripes become a part of Karate? Once Karate became a product not an art, big business took over and everyone knows what happens then. One just has to observe of the senior BKD black belts to understand what BKD stands for. Their ability to skillfully perform Tameshiwari yet caress their children, the journey from student to teacher is complete.
To the schools I am writing about this is appropriate. To borrow from the first Karate Kid movie and adding my thoughts as the last line:
Fear does not exist in this dojo. Pain does not exist in this dojo. Defeat does not exist in this dojo. Karate does not exist in this dojo.
In Bushido Karate Dojo, my training hall, sparring was brutal yet controlled and supervised. Knowing you can defend yourself against whatever inside the Dojo throws at you gives you what you need to survive a real street attack. Learning to not get hit by getting hit, to me, is the only way to succeed. Anything less, is bad for your health in the real world.
From what I have observed pertaining to the training of Karate weapons, reality is missing. We used heavy weapons from Shureido not toothpicks or dull blades. This developed strength and skill and should a student need to actually use a weapon, the weapon would not break and the intended outcome would occur. To my original black belt students, you knew how to use a weapon when you can successful defend against that weapon. How many remember doing thousands of kicks during a single class or the floor covered with sweat from Kihon practice? When it was hot, we did not wear Gi pants and a t-shirt, we moved faster to create a bit of a wind. In the winter you wanted heat, work harder and heat generated from inside.
When did Kata become a series of yells, back flips and movement without specific purpose? Those movements appear to be a gymnastic performance, but accomplish nothing that is benefited from the practice of traditional Kata. These forms are just movements like a dance routine, lacking any intrinsic worth. There are reasons why things are done a certain way, why a class is run a certain way, why belts are not just given out based on classes attended for funds paid. It is only my opinion but I truly believe today’s type of McDonald / Wal-Mart training does not give the student what they need to survive a confrontation, develop confidence for life’s challenges, build strong spirit, or any of the many other benefits those from my Karate generation received. All one gets is the illusion of martial arts, of self-defense. A kid with a sword jumping around a stage, screaming and flipping the weapon while doing cartwheels, well that is not what it is all about.
The differences that I have see today from how I was trained and what I have taught to my students makes me thankful I did train when I did. I do believe that any and all training is beneficial but it is time to find a new name for what you do and stop riding on the Obi of those who continue to train the way the art was designed. I do enjoy watching the abilities of the gymnastic forms and get a chuckle when they act all warrior like. After all it is a great exercise. And that is an important part of why people work out.
I applaud what Hanshi Linick is doing for the future of all martial arts via www.OfficialKarateMag.com. I hope those who wish to learn about the origins of what they are practicing, and to possibly understand why the arts are done a certain way, take the time to read each issue. Then you will understand why it is time to close my hands. After all is said and done, what is good for one person might not be good for another. These were only my thoughts. I am sure that each of you can defend why you train the way you do and do the things you do. The goal of Karate training has always been personal development, character building, remaining safe and having tremendous fun while training.
Shihan Martin Katz
Chief Instructor Bushido Karate Dojo