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My System is Better Than Yours!?!

by Steven Franz, Editor

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Ever since the beginning of the History of Karate in the United States there have been people setting out to prove, or just down right claim they have the best Sensei, the best Dojo and the best system...but to what avail?

Dojo bashing, as I call it, does nothing but prove how far we as martial artists have yet to go in our training. Loyalty to one's style and dojo are of the utmost importance in attaining trust from your Sensei and inclusion into privileged areas of your system that others never see, but you must remember that Loyalty does not mean you have to bash another Ryu to attain it. Bashing is caused by several factors and we will look at a few of them here as well as examine the outcome of some of these behaviors in the eye of the general, non martial arts public. Please keep in mind that I do not condone bashing or disrespect of any system, sensei or dojo within our system...but I am aware that it does occur. My hope is that with proper education of Karate Ka, my own students will learn why I do not feel that it has any place in our world.

Why do Sensei have to feel the need to talk badly about other Sensei?

In the beginning it was more do to our competitive nature I would believe. Karate students from all over the US would travel to the what little tournaments there were to earn honors that they could bring back to their dojo. The dojo would then display these "honors" in the windows, on their desks or around the floor to "impress" prospective students in the hopes of signing them up. Is this wrong or is it alright to make claims based on winning tournaments? To examine this we must first understand that some of the best fighters in the martial arts probably have never even competed outside their dojo walls. One of the first things my Sensei always said that if trophies are displayed all over the dojo then you can bet you will not learn the true meaning of Karate Do there...but some of these schools are very good, even despite their trophies. It is important to note that competition today is not the same as it was in the early 1960's. Today's competitors do not face the real dangers our pioneers did when the competitions were often brutal and bloody. Today we have so much gear and allow so many un-technical points that one will often win by luck, even when they are very good. Unfortunately since Sport Karate is huge in the USA the general public, as well as improperly trained Sensei feel that the more you win the better your dojo/system/ Sensei must be...but we all know that is not the case. I have met many champions in the last 30 years and some of them couldn't teach me how to tie my belt but they definitely could beat me in the ring. Teaching is a learned art and is not done on the sport floor. It is done by daily practice of perfection in your system so you can understand how to hand down that knowledge to your students...trophies have nothing to with it. The outcome of sport Karate bashers in the general public's eyes makes everyone believe what we do is a sport and not a true art form or daily life practice. Parents see the trophies and think the dojo must be great because our society puts winners on platforms and losers nowhere, but remember that a lack of trophies may mean that the dojo is a real one and not focused on ego and pride...both of which competition pushes into its students.

Another reason why there is a lot of bad talking amongst schools can be attributed to none other than Bruce Lee. I am an admirer of Lees but keep in mind he had little formal training and went on to promote his art through bashing of other systems in which he had probably no training until his later years. Lee basically stated that the only important thing was one's ability to study and apply their skill in fighting...a formatted statement that has led to MMA fights all over the world today. He also said that classical training methods were not needed, yet what do you think made him so technical in his abilities...it was his training in Wing Chun that helped become what he was. Lee made people believe that if they learned a little bit of Karate and could beat up others then they were on the right path. Now, this is not to belittle Bruce Lee since his work on martial arts has been detrimental to the growth of it all over the world, but rather to point out he often made statements with little regard to what the effect of them would be. In the end Bruce Lee had gone back to studying the traditional systems, even learning forms and had began to appreciate them. It is shame that he passed away as I am sure he would have eventually made a 180 degree turn around and began realizing the importance of classical training methods versus his younger, impatient methods of application first and technique second.

One of the biggest factors is the lack of an official governing body of standards for kyu, Dan and instructor levels in the martial arts. There are no predefined standards on technical ability, physical ability or moral character requirements in the martial arts world. Since it is this way there is no way to be able to determine the qualifications stated by most instructors in the USA. In reality any moron can run out, buy a black belt and open a school with little or no formal training. The general public will believe their claims because they have a good sales speech and rhetoric, but in reality they make us all look bad because their lies will be found out eventually. Or what about the student who trains with one of these people and goes on to found their own school? They want to be respected when it matters and believe they learned a real martial art but in reality they only learned what we now call McDojo style martial arts. Who is to blame? The person who is teaching what they learned believing it to be right or the person who first made the lie up? In my opinion all of us are to blame because we, as martial artists, have allowed this due to politics and fighting over egoistic things such as rank or money.

What about the places that have several schools within their city and all these schools do is talk each other down? What ends up happening is they are all looking stupid and most people do not want to be involved in a who's who contest but rather just to train and live a better life. It is a shame that most schools are caught up in this type of trap. Either due to insecurities within their own systems or self or because money is more important to pay the bills than the actual handing down of knowledge is. Regardless they are all missing out on money because soon the communities will go outside of their home towns to find a true dojo that teaches and is not involved in this trash talking.

What can be done to fix this issue?

Nothing except for all Sensei to quit worrying about the McDojo down the street, or the he said blah blah blah stuff going on and just focus on teaching and living the martial way. I only wish that everyone would have had a Sensei like Takanami Sensei. He never cared what other dojo did, wasn't big on competition and basically trained daily to live better. My Sensei was unique in that he would often go to other dojo, workout and have a good time because he never cared what they thought nor did he care about seeing who was the best. The Aiki Te Ryu Karate Kai system is based on this philosophy. I will attend any seminar, visit any dojo and workout with anyone as long we are open minded, share our ideas and respect our differences. Earlier this year I attended a seminar on KravMaga, the Israeli Martial Art, only to hear the speaker go one for hours about how great he is and how all other arts fail in comparison. This bored us out of our minds since we were there train rather than be impressed. When it came down to it most of the stuff we were being shown was in every art I have practiced...it was nothing new...just a new way of selling it. At this same event I attended a seminar on Kyusho Jutsu and all we did was train and perfect the techniques. Everyone I know was very impressed with that Sensei because he taught and helped us gain a respect for his system without bashing another to prove a point. All I can ever hope for is that my students or people I teach feel that way about me someday.