Monday, June 16, 2008

Is any martial art Ryuha superior to another?

In all the years of training and teaching Karate-Do, Judo, and Ju-Jitsu, I have been asked many times if there is one style superior to another. My many teachers would always be biased toward the art they practiced. Nevertheless, after countless years of research, I have developed an educated opinion on the matter.

Although in many respects, proficiency in any art is contingent on the individual, I do believe that certain Ryuhas are better adapted to individual strengths and weaknesses. Even though injuries and bad training habits certainly contribute to an individual’s longevity in any art, I believe that some arts adapt better to the changing needs of the practitioner. For example, the most common injuries experienced in Judo are knee and back problems and these injuries tend to exacerbate over time. These types of injuries are often irreversible unless surgically corrected and, even if surgically corrected, the rehabilitation time is agonizingly lengthy and painful. Ju-Jitsu or Judo ne-waza presents a host of other health issues to tendons and joints.

This in no way a condescension toward any Ryuha, individual, or Kancho/Kaicho, but rather a detailed, experiential analysis of why I believe Goju-Ryu Karate-Do is singularly the greatest system ever devised. First, Goju-Ryu adapts to every practitioner and every age group. Kihons and conditioning training are phased in over time, rather than abruptly. The core of the system lies within kata and bunkai, not kumite. Kumite is merely an extension of kata and bunkai; this is why kumite in not emphasized in great detail in Okinawa. The one strike, one kill philosophy of Okinawan Karate-Do de-emphasizes sport kumite. Japanese Karate-Do emphasizes jiyu-kumite to a much larger degree. The point is not an analysis of contrasting Okinawan and Japanese Karate-Do, but rather on the core philosophical dichotomies between the former and the latter.

Second, as individuals age their skill and ability level also changes; therefore, Goju-Ryu conditioning is then modified to meet the needs of the practitioner. Kumite to a 55-year old business man is a moot point, but kata/bunkai and exercise is surely relevant. The elderly do not often participate in dojo training because they inherently feel that the window of desire and opportunity has passed them by. Why would a businessman or an elderly practitioner subject themselves to physical punishment, when all they want is to learn basic self defense. I often see the evolution of students toward this end in the dojo. At first, they tend to approach Karate-Do in an impassioned and aggressive manner. As they mature, their confidence grows and they tend to become more relaxed and focused and exhibit a heightened sense of technical control. When they approach middle-age, they know how to fight, perform kata and its applications, and they tend to want to share this information with younger practitioners. This is the natural evolution of a well structured dojo—the experienced senseis helping the younger members, often sacrificing their own training to help others.

This continual support system, structure, and adaptability are what separate Goju-Ryu from other Ryuhas. The emphasis of Goju-Ryu is the perfection of self and the development of character. How is this achieved? It is achieved through research, practice, kata and bunkai. Perfection of self has no age limit, nor physical constraints. The philosophical tenets of Goju-Ryu, in addition to the adaptability of conditioning methodologies and kata/bunkai practice make this system a work of collective and divine genius. As Miyagi Chojun sensei’s health needs changed, he foresaw the destiny of his art—adaptability. Continual adaptability is the nature of this Ryuha. Goju-Ryu will always adapt to what you are able to physically do regardless of age. This is why this system is inherently superior to other systems in my humble opinion.

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