The MYTH of Karate Styles
Many people miss the point. "What style do you do?" they ask. Nearly always it is asked politely, but often the answer is greeted with suspicion or derision if the answer is not from the same set as the questioner.
The problem is that the major ryu-ha (lineages) are not as cohesive as those who ask the question would have you believe.Let's take a look at the obvious one:Shotokan. What is shotokan? Well, literally, it is the dojo of Funakoshi Gichin that was destroyed during World War 2. There are very few people alive today who trained at the Shotokan. There are very few people who trained there consistently and could claim to have inherited the style of that dojo. There are even fewer who were more than children at the time of training with Funakoshi. Those who trained with those who trained with Funakoshi are themselves passing away at a rate of knots. Those who did train with Funakoshi would, inevitably, have imbued some of their own character and preferences into their training and their teaching. That means that no-one is passing it on exactly as Funakoshi did. There is a huge case for stating that Karate SHOULD not be passed on exactly, but instead should evolve with improvements in all major areas. Then comes that nasty question about who is qualified to judge whether a change is really an improvement...The JKA were undoubtedly the biggest influence on spreading Karate across the globe. Their Karate was University Karate. It was not Funakoshi's Karate but rather his basis with the addition of more athleticism and sparring. While we do not know if Funakoshi placed much emphasis on bunkai, we do know that the JKA did not.So why do the JKA karate-ka refer to themselves as doing Shotokan?How about Goju Ryu? The art of Myagi Chojun has remained unchanged since it's inception hasn't it? That depends on whether you believe there is any difference between Okinawan Goju and Japanese Goju. How about Ryu versus Kai?Kyokushinkai? That too has it's split off groups.Wado Ryu? Shito Ryu? You better believe it. These splits occur all over the place, with every new generation of organisation believing that the changes they have made were for the best.
Within any one lineage, within any one association even, there are certain common elements and some things that mark them out as different to their fellows. What happens when a Shotokan group starts teaching Sanchin kata? Do they stop being Shotokan? That might seem major, adding a new kata. What about the different groups who have different feelings about whether the back heel stays on the floor or not during kumite? I know of Shotokan high grades in both camps.
Please. Be adult about it and admit that style is not the same as substance. In substance we must admit that there are only so many ways to move the arms and the legs, and that they are all Karate if they come from that root.