"When you learn this stuff, you try to get the essence of the tradition first, but then later modify your practice so it works for you. You still pass down the tradition because it is a good way of training, but after a certain amount of time, your practice must become your own."
I am a believer that once you learn something thoroughly, it YOURS. Not some organization or chief instructor; YOU. Further, as you advance in your mastery of
Mr. Charles James has studied, taught and practiced Isshin Ryu Karate for decades. He is the proprietor of some excellent blogs (Martial Arts Terms, Isshin Do, Karate Questions and Kenpo-Gokui). Please pay them a visit.
Mr. James has been kind enough to provide a guest post here, describing the evolution of his Karate Do. Enjoy.
My System, My Way, My Isshinryu:
I have practiced for about 36 years this art of Isshinryu, this gift we received from a karate master by the name of Shimabuku Tatsuo Sensei. He allowed us, the Marines, to study his system beginning in the late fifties. Sensei Don Nagle was his first Marine of note to take on Isshinryu.
The goal of the martial arts is to achieve a greater self. To take the gift of Tatsuo-san, in the case of Isshinryu practitioners, and make it our own. I didn't come to this realization to many years into my practice and it came to me as inspiration. I am not advocating one move off the path Tatsuo-san provided but rather one to allow it to speak to your spirit and the spirit in time would then speak to you, the person, the individual making the system "your own."
I remained dedicated and diligent keeping the system I was taught by Sensei Warner Henry intact as he learned it through the Nagle-san way of Isshinryu. In later years as I began my spiritual journey in Isshinryu I sought out knowledge through the ken-po goku-i. This short "Karate koan" inspired me first in its interpretation through my personal perception in a "literal" way. Progressing in my studies I came to "see," "hear," and "feel" something unique.
I started to see "connections" that were not apparent before this time in my practice and training. The connections to terms and symbolism and meanings through things like "Shin-gi-tai," "Shu-ha-ri," and "Chinese-Japanese cultures" as they related to Okinawan cultures, beliefs and perceptions, i.e. Tatsuo-san as the lead, the mentor, the master.
I suddenly realized that staying strictly and doggedly attached to exactly what Tatsuo-san gave us would be just the exact opposite of his intent for Isshinryu. I connected the constant differences in Tatsuo-san's practice of kata as another indication we should not remain dogmatic in our practice but to reach out beyond the stars.
Consider one literal point, most of the masters who created systems or styles at the time were taking what they received as a gift from their Sensei and creating their own, i.e. Isshinryu, Gokuryu and Shorinryu to name a few. I don't mean that I must create a whole new system or style but still "make Isshinryu my own."
This influenced my view, perception, imagery and visualization of my practice and training. I began to see things like bunkai in a light that matched my time, my environment and my cultural belief systems. I began to "see and feel" things that fit me as to my personality and ability, i.e. uniqueness of me. It meant that I needed to change things in small ways to fit "me."
I also realized that this did not affect Tatsuo-san's system as it is and should remain for future generations. It is the blueprint and foundation that should remain intact so that those who go after me or any Isshinryu Sensei can achieve the same epiphany I did, make Isshinryu my own or your own or his/her own. Teaching it and practicing it as your own if it comes at the time that is natural to the individual makes it easy to carry forward in its dualistic form.
I realized as I traveled this path that my original blueprint of Isshinryu was a "one wholehearted system" as Tatsuo-san intended and like the Great Tai Chi the "one" divided into the "two" or "yin-yang" of Isshinryu. The yang being Tatsuo-san's Isshinryu and the yin being my Isshinryu. The duality I carry today.
This process is not easy and it takes many, many years of practice, training and contemplation. It came about because I was very lucky to realize that it involves not external persons, things or validations but rather an openness to my "self" for self-reflection and as I traveled this new path self-transmutation which lead to my transforming or morphing Isshinryu into my own Isshinryu.
It was a beginning of one wholehearted melding of mind, body and spirit through my physical and spiritual training that led me to reach higher into my self and allow for change. I realized that change is natural, instinctual and a part of our very being as humans. The I Ching, as I was led to from study of the gokui, speaks to generations to the "art of change." The changes must come or we become stagnant and I have come to believe this is why many systems and practitioners become lost and change out of the martial arts.
The journey is long and I have reached the "HA" level of Shu-ha-ri but at the very edge and expect that my efforts will continue for a long, long time. This path led me to writing and other endeavors that also result from this effort.
I hope this short meanderings has some success in conveying the how I traveled this path. I don't have or do I expect that there is any particular steps or practice or direction one must follow to achieve the realizations I have been provided but hope that it inspires other to reach beyond the sky, the moon and the stars and reach further out into the cosmos - it is there, waiting, expecting and hoping to "see," "hear," and "feel" you.