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From the Editor's Pen...
The John Edwards Column

volume 16 spring, 2000


In an official announcement dated March 18th, 1999 and signed by the General Secretary of the International Olympic Committee, (IOC) Juan Antonio Samaranch, the World Karate Federation was accepted as the governing body for karate. Practically speaking this means that Olympic Karate is on the horizon and may even be announced at the Olympic games this year in Sydney, Australia.

Far from being the disaster many had predicted, this may be the best thing for classical karate in years. Finally there will be a clear separation between karate as a practical fighting art, and karate as a competitive sport. The grey area that exists at present will disappear and, hopefully, just like when we woke up on January 1st, 2000, and found the world where we had left it the night before, an immense feeling of relief will spread through the classical karate movement.

Ever since sport karate was proposed its value has been questioned by some of the wisest heads in the karate movement. Chojun Miyagi, Kenwa Mabuni, and Chotoku Kyan would have none of it. Gichin Funakoshi was firmly against it but was finally persuaded by his student Masatoshi Nakayama, to allow it and even he would live to regret his actions. According to Teruyuki Okazaki sensei, "many years later, we all can see how right Master Funakoshi had been, and Nakayama Sensei in later years began to feel quite guilty; 'if I die I cannot look Master Funakoshi in the eye' he used to say. Now most people who enter tournaments are there to win medals and money; they are there to seek fortune and fame, and to feed their egos. Not everyone of course, but a vast majority."

Classical karate, free now of its younger cousin, will develop in its own way-chart its own course. Over the past five years we have seen it grow steadily, increase its share of the market, and, more importantly perhaps, develop its influence to a point where classical karate now dictates what products, books, magazines and videos are produced. Dragon Times is a perfect example of this trend. Our last three issues achieved a sell-through (ratio of numbers sold to numbers printed) of an unprecedented 75% in the Borders Books and Music chain, the highest of any martial arts publication.

The trend is gaining in momentum. The specialist publishing houses, tired of the financial failure of books by "eclectic" martial artists are now concentrating on volumes by recognized experts; the larger, legitimate video houses like Tsunami and Champ will work only with top quality classical instructors; there has been an upsurge in sales of the high quality equipment normally favored by serious karate practitioners, and a new worldwide internet information service has been registered, and will soon go online to cater exclusively for the traditional martial artist.

It's fair to say that sport karate needs classical karate and not vice versa. Without the numbers, and the knowledge of the classical movement-to say nothing of the revenue it generates-it may be difficult to sustain the sport karate movement without massive amounts of sponsorship from outside sources.

Is there room for the two types of karate? Clearly there is. I believe that classical karate will continue as it did before and actually go from strength to strength. Standards have improved a great deal over the past four of five years, and we are blessed with any number of excellent senior instructors, either resident or regular visitors. The quality of the media that serves traditional karate is improving also and if we could actually get Discovery or the History Channel to consult genuine experts before producing martial arts programming, the lives of many of us would be complete.

The future of Olympic karate in the U.S. I believe, is somewhat less predictable and certainly less secure. Many senior karate masters have publicly expressed their opposition to it. A former senior international coach resigned last year, his talent will be sorely missed. Olympic karate administrators are already discussing changing the kata for competition purposes which will alienate droves of traditional stylists. This act alone will create a vacuum of uncertainty that will deter publishers and video producers from investing money in Olympic karate for fear their products will be obsolete before they reach store shelves. Any activity that is not supported by magazines, books, videos, DVDs etc. and the advertising revenue they generate, must inevitably have a tough time of it.

Nobody is happy with sport karate's proposed new rules and therefore decisions will be contested frequently, in public, and to the detriment of the sport's reputation and public image. The dream of massive amounts of sponsorship from multinational conglomerates will remain a dream because sponsors only support activities that make them money and they know from the Olympic Taekwondo debacle that they won't make it here.

Probably the biggest hurdle to the development of sport karate is the structure of the Olympic movement itself. The IOC only recognizes one governing body worldwide for each sport, in this case the World Karate Federation. The WKF selects one governing body from each country to represent all Olympic karate practitioners, so if you don't belong to the governing body as determined by the WKF in your own country, you have no representation. To further complicate the issue, the fight to become the governing body of a country is often so bitter that it leaves great dissatisfaction in its wake, and political turmoil that often will not go away.

This all takes so much time, energy, and money that karate, and more importantly karate students and instructors become increasingly less important to the politicians until finally they are viewed as a necessary nuisance only to be tolerated because of their financial support. An example of this was the plight of a famous (and very successful) European Olympic athlete who complained about competitors being put into cheap accommodation miles from the sports stadium while politicians lived in a five star hotel within walking distance. He insisted they change places and he got his way, but was never selected to compete for his country again.

Only time will tell of course. What is most important is that, freed from the need to pretend it is anything other that an effective method of self defense with philosophical under pinnings, classical karate can now get on with the job of developing its following while maintaining traditional methods and standards. And don't forget that as only a minority of the karate community will ever belong to an association that is classified by the IOC as a "National Governing Body," in numerical terms, classical karate proponents will always be in the majority!

I would recommend for your attention the article in this issue by Kiyoshi Yamazaki sensei (page 4). From it, I am sure you will gather, there are those who are willing to embrace the Olympic movement in order to preserve within the new form, the values of the traditional karate movement. I can think of no better person for the task, and wish him well on his endeavor!

 

Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here?

The internet is a wonderful thing and has changed the lives of us all. It convenient, fast, and until the politicians find some way to tax it, almost free. It is also filled to capacity with useless and inaccurate information, nowhere more so that when it comes to the martial arts.

Even responsible martial arts groups, set up to share information across the internet often publish information that causes one to wonder at the ignorance of its members, many of whom claim very high dan grade. I offer the following as an example of erroneous material and its propagation across the Web.

A member of a martial arts chat room asked about the origins of karate to which another replied that Bodhidharma, the Indian Buddhist teacher, taught it to the monks at the Shaolin Temple. Really! Another said that he had heard that as well, and yet another that it was in one of Funakoshi's books. That settled it of course. Shotokan karate came from India via China and was 2,000 years old! A myth had become a legend, a legend history, and an opinion cast iron fact.

This is nonsense of course. Regular readers of Dragon Times will remember Harry Cook's article on the subject that proved conclusively that the source of the Bodhidharma and karate connection was a purely fictitious novel published less than a century ago. The article is available on our website (www.dragon-tsunami.org/Pages/ Shaolin.html) If people are willing to accept that a Buddhist monk who lived in the sixth century was responsible for a style of karate, Shotokan, that didn't exist until the early 1950s, clearly they will believe anything.

As far as martial arts qualifications are concerned it's difficult not to believe that there are people on the internet telling some real whoppers. According to Japanese and Okinawan authorities there are a handful of genuine tenth dans in the world, all are single discipline, and most over seventy tears old. Yet we have individuals in the US claiming multiple tenth dans and eights dans, Menkyo Kaidens in this and that. I am indebted to the reader who pointed out that we now have people claiming to be 11th and 12th dans. Ahh, progress.

Now, if it takes a lifetime for naturally talented professional instructors like Mifune, Hayashi, Higaonna, etc. to reach high dan grade how, one wonders, can an amateur achieve so much more, in so much less time.

This sort of thing has become so pervasive that we complained to one of the largest internet search engine companies with whom we work regularly, and asked them to at least verify the information they publish. They said they felt their duty was to publish anything and everything and let the public decide what was legitimate and what was not. Caveat Emptor, as the Romans were fond of saying, let the buyer beware. It seems we have made little ethical progress in the last two thousand years.

We were all really irate about this and decided that action was necessary. Then we discovered that a group of like-minded people had already started a database (apparently at the suggestion of the same mighty internet search engine company) to publish legitimate martial arts information. We promptly volunteered to help.

The result is karatedata.org a service designed to provide accurate information on a variety of martial arts subjects to internet users. This will include historical and technical data, lists of clubs, a dan grade register, bibliography, events schedule, and much more. The quantity and quality of the martial artists involved in this project is such that we are sure it will become an important institution in a relatively short time. At this moment in its early stages, as the database grows it will be possible to do research, decide which seminars you really should attend, and even go to cyber meetings with senior instructors on the internet.

I personally decided to get involved with this project because I speak to our customers on a daily basis and am acquainted with the frustrations. Parents ask me why it takes so long to get a black belt with a certain (authentic) teacher, when the club down the road can promote little Jimmy to black belt in nine weeks. The implication being that the real dojo wants to milk them of money over a long period, while the dojang round the corner has a superior training method that turns twelve year old boys into invincible fighting machines during a Summer vacation.

I tell them that there are two ways of looking at this. On the one hand, many people can play chess, but few would want to challenge a Russian grand master if their life depended upon the outcome. I then ask the hypothetical question, would they want to be treated by a doctor for a life threatening illness who had graduated from medical school in six months.

Readers' Response

On behalf of us all at Dragon Times I would like to thank you for your continuing support that is pushing this humble publication to the front of the pack. Not only did customers respond positively to our request for more subscribers, but sales of Dragon Times though Borders Books rose over the past three issues to 75% which is exceptional when one considers that the "market leader" is barely achieving a 50% sell-through.

This has allowed us to cram even more material into this issue as you will notice, to take on a new writer, and to make plans to further improve Dragon Times and expand its activities. However, there is still a long way to go. We have not come even close to our target figures for sales or subscribers, and we still need the help of readers who have supported us so loyally in the past. Please encourage your students and friends to subscribe. It's a small price to pay for the wealth of information our writers provide. Ask you local bookstore to stock Dragon Times-Borders Books and Barnes & Noble and already do; buy a subscription for your dojo so new students can see the sort of material we publishing, and hopefully, subscribe themselves; ask you local librarian to subscribe so that it's available to the people of your town.

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