Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Association Gathering in Cape Coral, Florida
October 18, 2008
Permanent executive board
Luis Fernandez, Sensei/Shorin-Ryu
Manny A. Saavedra, Sensei/Goju-Ryu
Jim Kelly, Sensei/Isshin-Ryu
Janice Bass, Sensei/Uechi-Ryu
Dr. J.M. Gallego, Goju-Ryu/National/International Secretary

The World Traditional Karate-do Union is a dynamic, traditionally-based association of professionals united under the examples and teachings of our respective systems. The World Traditional Karate do Union adheres to strict protocols of appearance, etiquette, education, and sound moral standards. While other similar entities exist, the World Traditional Karate-do Union is unmatched proactive approach, in addition to its global reach. Presently, the World Traditional Karate-do Union is represented in many countries throughout the world, and it is our intent to spread the ideals of our association to the four corners of the earth. We do not allow individual schools to join the association, but rather by established, traditionally-based organizations and their respective affiliates.

We have been approached by numerous school heads to join the association, but they have been redirected toward an established organization for admittance into the association. There is ample opportunity for all member organizations to thrive and prosper within the WTKU. For example, because unattached schools are not permitted to join individually, they must first affiliate with a member organization within the WTKU. Once admitted into the organization, they are covered under the guidelines of the WTKU, and reciprocity is observed. Lastly, the WTKU conducts seminars and certifications in crime prevention, ethics and morality, and other significant issues that confront the modern martial artist. Once these guidelines are achieved, the branch or school has officially met the standards of the WTKU. This is what makes our consortium more standardized, comprehensive, and different from any other traditional governing body in the world. We are committed to the research and development of Karate-do. Again, thank you for your participation, patience, and attention during this foundational event.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Issue of Rank and Longevity

For many years, the debate of individual rank and its relation to longevity has come into question. Miyagi Chojun sensei always viewed the notion of rank with contempt. He viewed rank as something that creates unnecessary rivalry among practitioners. However, rank is a necessary evil and is here to stay.

Let us examine various scenarios regarding rank: first, is the perception between competition and teaching. An old adage stipulates: "those who can do, and those who can't teach." This perception is archaic and misleading. Champions do not occur through chance, they are made! To the degree that a practitioner becomes a champion, the instructor is the vehicle by which these individuals become champions. In this case, the instructor should receive the proper accolades and recognition commensurate with appropriate rank. In Judo, star athletes have different rank criteria than instructors; this criterion is simply wrong. Therefore, it is not uncommon for practitioners in their 30's to have Shichidan or even Hachidan ranks. I have absolutely no problem with the issue of rank to young practitioners provided that their knowledge base is extensive and thorough, and not based simply on competition proficiency.

Second, the notion that only individuals who are past the age of 50 can receive master ranks is also archaic and narrow-minded. Yes, one can argue that these older masters have a wealth of experience and knowledge, but time again is an overriding issue. I have known individuals who have entered the martial arts arena as adults, and over time, they have been able to procure high master ranks. What is the difference between an individual who begins martial arts as a youngster and is still practicing, training and teaching, to an older individual who has basically the same time in training? The answer is that all things being equal, both individuals have put in a lifetime of study, and as such, should be compensated for their efforts.

Third, the "I have been practicing the arts for 50 years" is a deceptive proposition. Very few martial artists have dedicated themselves to intensive study, research, and development over the course of lifetime. There have been some, but not many. To this end, if one begins martial arts in 1950, but is only active until 1970, then to say that one has 58 years of martial study is highly deceptive. However, it is more plausible to believe one who is older, than someone who is younger. This mentality is the proverbial norm today. Research and development is at the foundational core of all martial arts. Have you upgraded your skills in the last decade, or do you continue to propagate what you have taught for many years? Singularly, the most important facet of any instructor or even practitioner is to continually upgrade one's skills and knowledge base. One can never master anything in a lifetime. Unfortunately, because we are finite beings, full mastery and perfection is not possible.

Lastly, the bible clearly states that: "ye shall know them by their fruits." True expertise and knowledge cannot be falsified. Hence, peers will often judge us by what we know. One can easily hide behind rank and other trinkets of deceit, but knowledge is what invariably separates the men from the boys. How do I know this for certain? Just as in times of old when everyone knew who the master was, walk into a reputable dojo, and everyone will know who the master is. Rank, at that point, becomes a moot point.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Beauty and Perfection

Although the term beauty in Western thought denotes something pleasant to behold, in the warrior mind it conveys a totally different message. To the samurai, there was no greater and glorious death than to give his life for the ideals of their master. Through meticulous, ascetic training, the warrior practiced to perfect their craft. By living a morally correct life and to value the rights of the impoverished was to live Budo.

In a sense, beauty and perfection become one to those aspiring to live in the way of Karate. By perfecting movements, one is able to delve in the deeper meanings of kata. Kata is the vehicle by which one attains discipline. Although Jiyu-kumite is an important tool to test techniques in movement, it is nevertheless one tool among many used in Karate-Do to enhance proficiency. The cogent point here is that as one's physical skills diminish with time, kata is the sole vehicle by which an aging practitioner can continually develop and perfect movements. A true understanding of kata and bunkai is a skill that takes a lifetime to master.

In the continual attempt to perfect self, a practitioner is able to delve deeper into the tenets of Karate-Do, and to transfer these qualities to everyday life. To seek perfection of technique requires diligent practice and a clear mind. As technical perfection is achieved, this state of perfection should transfer to every aspect of one's life. Because one seeks perfection of self, one should be kind and considerate of others; one should impact the lives of others, and most importantly, one should prepare for the hereafter continually. As one perfects self, assist in perfecting those whom you touch. The true sensei is not arrogant or selfish, but wants everyone to prosper physically and spiritually as they prosper. Bruce Lee said it best: "the keys to immortality is living a life worth remembering." Once our individual journey is over, if people still give credit and respect to how we lived our lives, then the journey was certainly a productive one.

Lastly, never fear the unknown. God, in his divine providence and wisdom, has left the door ajar for all who seek his divine plan. Giving one's life for the master is glorious and inevitable--everyone will experience death at some point; hence, the glorious death is universal. In the end, we all will leave this world as we entered it--alone and helpless. It is, in a sense, the same for western and eastern culture. To define God is a personal matter, and should be an individual choice. Whatever the choice, strive to perfect self and others. Live beauty and perfection to the fullest extent.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Essence of Karate-Do

Chojun Miyagi Sensei had a clear vision of what Karate-Do should be. The essence of Karate-Do has often been misunderstood. What is the essence of Karate-Do? The essence of Karate is really not to become a great fighter for the sake of recognition, but rather to realize that a great fighter will understand the destructive force of his technique, and in that realization, he will be deterred from fighting. As fighting skills progress, one needs to adapt these skills to a disciplined and detailed mind-set. A great fighter who is devoid of discipline is a danger to himself and to others. That is why traditional Karate-Do kumite is phased in over time after many years of kata, bunkai, and kihon practice.

The essence of Karate-Do requires discipline and humility. These tenets are by far the most difficult to master. As one acquires more skill, the tendency is to flaunt one’s skills in public. This may be good for the ego, but deadly to the soul. Discipline and humility must always be in a state of perfect balance. Why is this so important? Genuine humility cannot take place if one does not exercise discipline. Everyone loves recognition and accolades, but although it may edify one’s ego, does it really change how you perceive yourself? Refinement of technique over time is what we all strive to achieve, but how you see yourself is what discipline and humility is all about. Humility can only be achieved if one has the desire to understand discipline. This will not happen overnight, but it is a continual process requiring a lifetime to master.

The essence of Karate-Do requires responsibility. Here in the United States, there are individuals who make Karate their livelihood. There is nothing wrong with this practice, but it is not the path that I have chosen for myself. Eiichi Miyazato Sensei of the Jundokan always placed life in the following order: family, job, and Karate. My personal order is: God, family, work, and Karate. Placing Karate above anything else is a mistake. The essence of Karate requires us to accept all of our respective responsibilities and to act upon them expeditiously. One should never proselytize in the dojo, but merely guide others to find to their own path “Do.”

The essence of Karate-Do requires us not to propagate ourselves, but to propagate the art. Why is this so important? Miyagi Sensei always stressed two things: one should not live from Karate, and Karate should be accessible to anyone who wants to learn the art. In the United States where the free enterprise system is the economic model, fortunes are often made in business on a routine basis. I have taught students who have been turned down by other reputable instructors simply because they were unable to pay. This is one of the primary reasons why I have a full-time job as a special education teacher. How can a person living the lifestyle of Karate ever turn a student away because their inability to pay for instruction? Do I make money from the martial arts? The answer is a definitive “yes.” However, I have many students who do chores around the dojo to offset the cost of their tuition. Karate should be available to anyone who wants to experience the path “Do” of Karate. Many instructors never fully understand the impact they make on their students. We serve the role of instructor, priest, psychologist, mentor, parent, and disciplinarian. Sometimes the only source of inspiration to a student is the sensei.

Lastly, the essence of Karate-Do entails the development of character. Gichin Funakoshi Sensei always said the most important aspect of Karate is the development of character. What is character in terms of the philosophy of Karate-Do? Character is simply exercising discipline, exhibiting honor, duty and self-control, and continually adhering to humility. The Japanese have an expression that says: kiritsu, ninmu, shi—discipline, duty, and death. Although this may sound feudal and archaic, it is nevertheless relevant to the modern practitioner. Without character and a strong foundation, nothing of substance can be accomplished. Winning championships is fun, having excellent technique is desirable, understanding kata and bunkai are optimal, but as wonderful as these things are, they should never replace a strong, disciplined character. Masters who have perfected character do not criticize others, nor do they seek the approval and admiration of other men, but rather exist to learn, teach, and develop in the way of karate-do.

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.