Make Karate Your Own

Make Karate Your Own: 2018 SRKDI Okinawan Weekend

By David S. Hogsette

May 18-20, 2018, I was once again blessed to participate in a monumental and historical Shorin Ryu Karate Do International (SRKDI) event: the 2018 Okinawan Weekend. Sensei Jerry Figgiani, with the help of many other SRKDI members and students, planned, organized, and hosted Senseis Takeshi Tamaki, Masahiko Tokashiki, and Sadahiro Makino, along with Tsutomu Daiku San. I’m proud to be part of this impressive lineage, as both Senseis Tamaki and Tokashiki are some of the most senior students of Shoshin Nagamine, the founder of my system of training, Matsubayashi-ryu.

I first met Tamaki Sensei in 1995 at a seminar in Cincinnati, Ohio, and I was most fortunate to meet Tokashiki Sensei, Makino Sensei, and Daiku San in 2015, when I traveled with Jerry Sensei and many other SRKDI yudansha students to Okinawa, the birthplace of karate, to train at the honbu dojo (the home dojo of our system). I was thrilled to see the Okinawan masters once again here in America and to train under their instruction.

Karate, like any life-long passion or endeavor, is an on-going, never-ending process of learning, growing, relating, developing, modifying, and expanding. If we don’t grow, we become stagnant, like a bog or murky tarn with no streams bringing new water and life into the system. For me, this weekend’s training seminar was yet another stream of martial arts knowledge and experience to help me grow and develop “my karate.”

I spent meaningful moments sitting and chatting with the masters, and they repeated and reinforced this message: make karate your own. Techniques are less important than learning the fundamentals and then figuring out how to express and apply the fundamentals in your own way. Everyone’s technique, kata, kumite, and drills will look different. Don’t try to execute a technique or perform a kata like someone else. Do it like yourself. As long as the fundamentals are correct, the movements can be your own. Make it your karate.

What a different perspective. The common view and practice in the martial arts is to do everything like your instructor. Everyone must look the same and do the kata the same and do the techniques the same. No. That is not the Okinawan way. Fundamentals must be the same—they must be correct. But everyone will express or execute the fundamentals in his or her own unique way, because everyone’s body is different. Everyone exists within the same reality, but because of our own unique embodiment, we experience and engage the same reality differently. Thus, even though the fundamentals are the same, their expression will be different. Unique to oneself. Make karate your own.

Those who watch my videos know that I really like application. I love to explore what the movements mean, may mean, can mean, and how to apply the movements with a partner. For me, karate is worthless if it does not “work” within specific contexts. This weekend, I was reintroduced to another very important aspect of karate–the martial arts context. I learned more about some Okinawan perspectives on body dynamics, relaxation, structure, and the relationships between the core (the body’s center) and the dynamic extension of energy to the limbs from the core. This is not mystical—it’s basic biomechanics. But, many practitioners in the East seem to have a much better awareness and understanding of biomechanics than many of us in the West. It was wonderful to be reminded of these important fundamentals.

I see the next chapter in my own karate training as an exploration of how to integrate this re-awakening of biomechanical fundamentals with practical application. Much to explore, consider, think, and rethink. That’s why it is a lifelong pursuit of neverending learning and growth.

Thank you to Sensei Jerry Figgiani for organizing this event, thank you to our Okinawan Shorin Ryu family for coming to America to teach us and visit with us, and thank you to all the other martial artists who packed the dojo and made the event such a success.