In The Mix: When Different Styles and Martial Arts Clash in the Dojo

In those heady 1970’s, lots of people who had started in different karate styles and even different martial arts would waltz into the dojo to have a look-see at Goju. At the time I couldn’t tell a true martial artist from a wannabe. This was much before I had seen guys humbly shed the black belt of their style and don the white of ours and win our black belt honestly through their sweat and effort. I’m talking about people who had maybe six months to even two years in another karate style and instead of patiently learning our katas would regale us with their own half-forgotten Shotokan or Shito-Ryu, or want to grapple in a kumite as if still taking judo. These weren’t black belts trying to unlearn reflexes and habits etched in stone, but rather godforsaken white belts or yellow belts or orange belts defying the sensei at every opportunity. It was sad. You wondered what in Dojo Heaven they were really looking for. There would be guys in the dressing room whipping nunchakos in katas they invented watching old Chinese Kung Fu movies on TV. The “tameness” of the old Tandoku Kata would warp their minds. There would be the 30-year old guy who last took judo when he was 20 in college wanting to grab your gi and throw you for a loop. Most you learned had either got kicked out of their former school, or were waylaid for six months after ripping their groins on a forced split only to find that their old sensei had closed the dojo and run off with a girl student when they returned, or got their axle greased in a tournament with only six months of training on their shoulders, etcetera. Most Okinawa styles can merge after brown belt, even Shotokan black belts can make the transition, and wise judokas learn how to blend their powerful grips and stance with what they learn in Karate or Aikido. Good Tai Chi practitioners take advantage of their innate knowledge of the soft styles to amazing results. Natural ability in many styles is like a gift for languages, not all have that facility. But there are true and serious practitioners who respect all the martial arts and some excel in quite a few. Luckily, most of the wannabes drop out, saving us the aggravation, and go and practice with their sisters or wives at home. Or, as we see now in many martial arts forums and comments to Katas on You Tube, they invade the Internet, chattering their ignorance like crazy kung fu monkeys, their wrists caught in the coconut of their junk-food-fed inanity. I withstood a lot of snickering from 22-year old masters of the mysterious arts of the orient when I did my practice kata as they skateboarded through the air, gesticulating some evil Zen mudra. And yet, one must wade through a lot of feces in life to find some kernel of truth: one must honor one’s style, and by doing so, one honors all styles. Dixi.

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