Our Moment in History : For the Kyokushin Instructor
(The following is a 3rd excerpt from my forthcoming book, A Kyokushin Beginner’s Guide, Replicating Mas Oyama’s Budo Karate in the Western Dojo. Although this essay, Our Moment in History, was originally part of the introduction, I finally moved it to an Appendix when my Introduction become larger than I wanted it to be. Click on the Kyokushin Beginner’s Guide tab above and you can read two prior excerpts from my Introduction. The manuscript is currently with the editor. My hope is that readers will be able to order their published copies on Amazon by the end of June.)
It’s 2013 and it’s been 19 years since the death of our founder, Mas Oyama.
From one massive organization governing all, Kyokushin has evolved into a style of karate that may be taken up by anyone. Large swaths of it are still governed by international organizations that battle for prominence, just as small swaths of it are likewise governed by smaller organizations. The independent dojo, in the West, has come to be. For all of these entities, however, big or small, the question that we all struggle to answer is whether to preserve that which we witnessed of Kyokushin during Mas Oyama’s lifetime, or whether to allow it to evolve. Which elements should we fight to keep unchanged, and which ones would Mas Oyama, himself, have allowed to change with the times?
I can provide perspective here that may help some of you to sort out the answer to this question.
First, it’s necessary to understand that during Mas Oyama’s lifetime, Kyokushin WAS always evolving. Part of why it became great is that Mas Oyama allowed it to change with the times. In that sense, to stop Kyokushin’s evolution is to diminish Kyokushin’s greatness. To make Kyokushin exactly what it was, for all time, during the moment in history that you witnessed it during Mas Oyama’s lifetime is to stop a vital part of what made/makes Kyokushin great. The important question that we all face, therefore, is, “do we, as individuals, dare to allow something to evolve who’s evolution was originally overseen by Mas Oyama himself?”
However, before attempting to answer that question, we should also understand that there were ALSO certain elements of Kyokushin during Mas Oyama’s lifetime that did NOT evolve, and some, in fact, that DEVOLVED, and became weaker than they had once been also under Mas Oyama. Our important question, therefore, becomes three:
1. Which elements of Kyokushin do we improve upon looking forward (i.e. into realms where Kyokushin has not yet gone), 2. which elements do we leave untouched, and 3. which elements to we improve upon by looking backwards (i.e. to when Kyokushin, in it’s history, did it better)?
One thing I can say unequivocally is that whichever ones of us get the answers to these questions right, are going to be the ones that history will show to have continued Mas Oyama’s legacy.
The greatest piece of advice I can offer here would be to ally yourself with someone (an elder) who is exceptional at what they do, teaching and as a leader, yes, but also one who KNOWS, because he/she was there, to witness the evolution, the devolution, and those elements that remained static during the breadth of Mas Oyama’s lifetime. As fate would have it, there is not another American who spent more time in daily contact with Mas Oyama than I. Of course there were some who had sporadic contact with Mas Oyama over many more years than I did, and there are a few Japanese who later became Americans such as Shihan Kenji Fujiwara who spent longer sustained periods of time in Mas Oyama’s tutelage. However, and before you allow that statement to ruffle any feathers, the point that I seek to make here is only this:
I have had more contact with Mas Oyama than most Westerners, so trust me, and DON’T TRUST EVEN ME as a definitive source for one who KNOWS what Kyokushin was in it’s entirety enough to judge what elements of Kyokushin should be maintained, which ones should be regained, and which ones should be improved upon.
When at all possible, find someone older and wiser (than I) who was there, someone in close contact to Mas Oyama for more of Kyokushin’s history that I was. Find someone you feel comfortable following, and follow that person like your life depends upon it, OR, since that’s not possible for everyone to just pick up and move to Japan, make sure that person you’re following, like me for example, is doing his/her best to follow someone else who KNOWS better, and is delivering the fruits of that learning to you.
In my case, that person is Kancho Hatsuo Royama, and of all the things I am thankful for in my own personal Kyokushin experience, hands down, the greatest is that I have lucked into finding someone that I can follow with all of my heart. As you will see, unless you’re one of the unlucky few who find themselves with the responsibility of being the leader of many, karate is not Budo without someone to follow, and even more so, without someone to follow with all of your heart.
We have, in Kyokushin’s history, an element that might be referred to as degrees of separation. There are those who learned from Mas Oyama, those who learned from students of Mas Oyama, and those who learned from students of students of Mas Oyama, etc. Where as in some countries around the world, we have seen instances where each degree of separation, i.e. each generation, is greater that the last, the unfortunate case for the North American continent has always been that each generation of Kyokushin has been LESS than the previous one.
It has always been the North American dilemma.
Indeed, I consider it my duty as an uchi deshi (personal student) of Mas Oyama to spend my lifetime, if necessary, trying to sort out the answer to this very problem. Why do the Eastern Europeans get better at karate, per their degrees of separation, while we in America get worse?
My own theory is a still-developing one and those that would think me bold for suggesting that I have anything to say on the matter at all, should also be assured that when looking for the culprit, I spend as much time, if not more, looking inward at myself, trying to identify my own shortcomings as I do looking outward, comparing Kyokushin in Japan to Kyokushin on the continent on which I live. I can state the following though, unequivocally, and by stating it, it will lead us back to the core focus of this book, and to the replication of Mas Oyama’s Kyokushin in the Western Dojo.
The attitude with which the Western, and particularly American, student of Kyokushin tends to BEGIN his/her training, differs substantially from the one in which the Japanese student, and students of many other nationalities around the world, begin their own. Here maybe, is a good opportunity to challenge the Western beginning student of Budo karate, and because I have a vested interest, the American one.
Make YOUR generation the one that turns the tide!
Make YOUR generation the one that surpasses that of your teacher’s by making sure that your successors, your own koohais, are set on the right path to surpass you.
But be careful!
And hopefully, if you read this book, you’ll start to see that there are certain pitfalls into which the Western student might fall in an attempt to follow the same piece of advice that a Japanese student of Budo karate would follow in a completely different way.
In this case, the Japanese student, taking loyalty to his/her teacher for granted, understands that “surpass your teacher,” means “honor your teacher at all costs, and learn the best of what your teacher has to offer, so that you might pass it on, and someday even improve upon, should you gain the strength and wisdom someday to do so.” It is following this route, the Japanese one, that Kyokushin has developed in many countries around the world into one in which the norm is that each degree of separation becomes stronger than the last.
“Realize that it’s your duty to surpass your teacher,” to the American student, however, tends to mean something completely different.
“The way to surpass my teacher is to identify ways that I can do better than my teacher, ways that I can cut corners that my teacher didn’t cut to get ahead, ways in which I can show my teacher’s ways to be inferior, so that my koohais, today, will see that my way is superior, and maybe even, one day, I can push my teacher aside, and do more than he/she’s done.”
We don’t realize it, and no student likely does so on purpose, but this, paired with an also incorrect, despair-like notion that “we can never possibly catch up with our teachers who had first-hand contact with their far greater teachers,” is perhaps exactly why American Kyokushin, for one, tends to stair-step downwards. It might behoove the beginning Kyokushin student, therefore, to understand that both are incorrect.
You CAN surpass your teacher if you do it by HONORING your teacher. You can NOT surpass your teacher who is honoring his/her own teacher, by dishonoring your teacher, and trying to get ahead without him/her. In Japanese culture, honoring ones teacher is taken for granted. In American culture, one’s right to take success from those who are successful is equally taken for granted.
The problem is that Budo karate, being a uniquely Japanese entity, is better mastered through an approach mimicking the culture that created it, rather than through a culture that in many ways runs contrary to it. Remember that Mas Oyama considered American culture the antimatter for Budo karate’s matter. Look at the first students of Mas Oyama that he sent to the US to teach Budo karate to Americans. Look at how great their students were.
But what about those students’ students?
What about the next generation after that?
Approach Budo karate, as a beginner, though the lens of Bushido-influenced Japanese culture and you just might be one in the generation that reverses the trend. Does this mean committing ritual suicide through disembowelment, i.e. as the samurai would do, if you fail?
Of course not.
It just means having the proper fighting attitude each and every time you step into the dojo.
It is my hope that this book will help you to find that proper attitude.