1 - Just a little
First of all I must do a little introit to
this message especially to those of you who know nothing (or just a few
rumours) about Murakami Sensei and his followers like myself.
My Master, beyond his legendary technical
capacity, was an extraordinary human being, so hard and exigent as generous
For instance, during the years I private with
him, never heard a word from him criticizing any of the other Shotokai
Masters in Europe, namely Harada Sensei and Hiruma Sensei.
Despite that, after his death, a lot of
incorrect things were said about him, and to speak truly, when I read some
phrases in books written by people who never met him personally, I cannot
believe that such prominent persons may write statements of the kind:
"Murakami never taught karate, and was merely a physical education
That is the main reason I decided to dedicate
a good portion of the last two years of my life making trips and interviews
to many of his older students around Europe. The result of this work will,
with the help of God, come to light in brief and I hope it will bring to the
martial arts public a more correct image about this remarkable peronality.
Unhappily, for the moment, about his biography I cannot offer to this list
much more than a few words in a small biography you can find on http://www.cao.pt/hist_bio_ka_murakami.htm
You may also want to take a look at a very
small biography of myself at http://www.cao.pt/hist_bio_ka_asp.htm#Patrao
along with many other Portuguese followers of Murakami Sensei at the same
location. But for the purpose of this message I think it is enough to say
that, in 1981, I was nominated by Murakami Sensei as is youngest Senpai,
when I was only 22 years old, and from then on I continued to dedicate all
my life as a karateca to my Master, till his death in 1987 and even after.
This said I would like to bring to you some of the feelings I heard from my
Master concerning competition in Shotokai, and also share with you my
personal opinion about that subject.
2 - Murakami
Sensei Thoughts about Competition
During the years I had the chance to private
with Murakami Sensei he always expressed a strong feeling against sportive
competition in Karate, since he felt it has nothing to do with Budo spirit.
He told us, a number of times, that competition brings more harm than
benefits to a karateca that wants to follow Karate-do in the way that
Funakoshi Sensei and Egami Sensei pointed us.
I think he was in an excellent position to
make this kind of statements, since he was the first Japanese Master to
teach Karate in a continuous way in Europe. For a decade, beginning in the
distant year of 1957, he taught what people now call (rather incorrectly as
you know) "Shotokan-ryu" and, during that period, he was the
teacher in charge of training the selection teams of several Karate
federations in France, England and Italy.
After 1968, when he decided to follow Egami
Sensei way, he never encouraged his pupils to enter in that kind of events
and he generally refused to train them to participate in sportive
In the rare cases he accepted, I think he did
it in a sense that I dare to classify as the feeling of a father conceding
his young son permission to go to a bar and taste some beers, knowing that
nothing good will come from that, except perhaps, experience of the effects
of alcohol. (I know people who defend that competition in karate is a
marvellous thing will not forgive me for this strong analogy, but this was
exactly what I felt from his words when he spoke about people who ask him
permission to participate in competition matches.)
But the point is that, in contrast with his
training sessions that were really very, very hard, his attitude towards
competition was firm but never rigid or intolerant.
Despite what people who never knew him closely
may say, Murakami Sensei had a very flexible mind, so I hope you may
understand his position towards this matter with another example:
In 1979, when we decided to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the
introduction of Shotokai in Portugal, a kata competition was organized and
Master Murakami accepted gladly to participate as a member of the
evaluation's jury. I must say, however, that in this case everybody
participated in a spirit of friendship and brotherhood and I can assure you
that, next year, nobody cares who won (except perhaps, the winners).
3 - Personal
thoughts about institutionalisation and competition in Karate
Now let me share with the members of this list
some personal thoughts about institutionalisation and competition in Karate.
Let's begin by institutionalisation.
Professional Institutionalisation - once an Activist now an Engineer
When I was still a teenager I engaged in the
defence of causes like ecology and bio-agriculture. I still remember being
an activist fighting for these causes in a sort of "Greenpeace
We were in the seventies and those days our claims sounded naïf and
idealistic to public authorities. For many years things didn't change. Then,
little by little, in the last decade or so, a deep transformation of
mentalities occurred in Portugal, people became aware of the harmful
consequences of incorrect attitudes towards environment.
So now, in my profession as engineer I have the opportunity to produce
projects to municipalities, in the field of wastewater treatment - the
technical name is "constructed wetlands" - that help people bring
their environment cleaner and more beautiful (plants that treat the
wastewater also grow up profusely while taking nourishment from it).
The same goes to biological agriculture. Twenty years ago, when I was
cofounder of the first cooperative in the country, we felt like claiming in
the desert and demand from market was insignificant. Now things have
changed. Everyone can find biological grown groceries in the common
supermarket store and the benefits that come from biological products, both
in terms of ecology of the fields and human nutrition are recognized by the
public in general.
And, what's more, there is some control about environmental questions.
People who make harm to environment or claim to produce biological products
when in fact they bought them in the supermarket are recognized as
prevaricators and may be persecuted by law officers.
In the militant times of bio-agriculture institutionalisation was needless
because everybody in the milieu was naïf and honest. When it became a
profitable business many persons became involved and measures of control
People in general, and especially martial arts people, tend to criticize
institutionalisation, mainly because of bureaucracy.
They are right, bureaucracy is a terrible thing. It is the black side of
But, to be frank, as an engineer I am more useful to community than as an
ecological activist. My beliefs remained intact, and now society permits me
to put them in practice.
Institutionalisation in Karate - 2 years as a bureaucrat
Now let's make a parallel to Karate.
When I began practicing Karate and Judo,
authorities were not very exigent about credentials of instructors. Anyway
we were just a few fools wearing white pyjamas with coloured belts :-)
Everybody knew everybody by first name so we can say that some sort of
Then strange specialists came (generally
wearing black clothes, to make contrast) and begin teaching martial arts
with strange names. They earn a lot of money in short time in a little town
and then they move on to another.
Has these things became more and more frequent
institutionalisation had to appear and soon the government imposed that, in
order to teach, karate instructors should make special courses in order to
obtain official credentials. Some courses were arranged, authorities became
satisfied and attention focused again on competition and games of power
inside federations that claimed for government recognition.
Since then more than twenty years have passed
and in 1998 I accepted an invitation to be Director of the Department of
Education at Portuguese Federation of Karate. The main reason upon my
decision was the aim of reactivating the educational aspects of Karate that
were forgotten inside that organization for more than years.
The cost to my personal life was very high.
The milieu was (and I think it still is) terribly stressful. I lost hundreds
of hours of dojo training and family life and my health, normally strong as
iron, deteriorated significantly.
That was my limit in the incursion on karate's organizational world in my
But when I look back and see the
results of that effort I don't regret. During a period of 2 years I helped
hundreds of karatecas to learn about useful disciplines in their daily
practice as instructors (or coaches) and have a certificate that allows them
to teach (hello Maria Camarao, perhaps you are one of them :-).
Back to top
Institutionalisation in Karate - Good or Bad?
Having a degree from an Engineer University or
from a Federation Department doesn't corrupt my beliefs in Ecology or in the
benefits of Karate-do.
I think also that I was not less helpful to
the karate world as a bureaucrat, organizing the Education Department of
Portuguese Federation, than as a long term Shotokai instructor.
I was convinced, and still am, that knowledge
about karate history, anatomy, physiological and pedagogical aspects of
practice, first aids, recovery of injuries, etc. don't scratch the essence
of teaching of a Karate-do instructor.
So I think institutionalisation in Karate by
itself is not good nor bad, it all depends on our attitude.
Now let's talk a little about sportive
competition in Karate-do, beginning with some well known and good documented
In 1935 Kichinosuke Saigo, Shigeru Egami,
Genshin Hironishi and many other direct followers of Funakoshi Sensei
created Shotokai (a kind of "Funakoshi foundation") to collect
funds to erect the Shotokan Dojo.
In 1949 the same old disciples and many other more recent followers of
Funakoshi Sensei created Nihon Karate Kyokai (internationally known as Japan
Karate Association - JKA) with the main objective of reuniting Karate-do as
a whole, and avoiding the fragmentation of Karate-do in Japan as a
consequence of the proliferation of Karate styles.
The operational staff directly in charge of NKK (JKA) included names as
Masatoshi Nakayama (chief-instructor), Hidetaka Nishiyama (Pedagogical
Counselor) and men with recognized management skills like Kimio Itoh who was
nominated Administrative Director.
However, not long after the creation of NKK (JKA), the old followers of
Funakoshi Sensei began disagreeing with the orientation that NKK (JKA)
operational staff was bringing to the organization, starting with the fact
that NKK (JKA) instructors began receiving wages for Karate instruction, a
thing that was not common those days and that many considered to be
But the main point of discordance came from
the fact that the operational staff of NKK (JKA), namely Nakayama and
Nishiyama soon began defending that Karate should embrace competition,
becoming a sport, with referees and well defined rules that may avoid
serious injuries to practitioners - a fact that was becoming more and more
frequent during "friendly" matches that spontaneously occurred
between university karate clubs. In the list of arguments supporting their
opinions, Kendo would be certainly an excellent example.
Funakoshi Sensei, however, was clearly against
that idea and Egami, Hironishi, Obata and many other old followers of
Funakoshi Sensei also felt that sportive competition was against the essence
of Karate-do. As a consequence these masters began distancing themselves
from NKK (JKA).
Funakoshi Sensei, though, maintained his
charge as founder and symbolic Technical Counselor of NKK (JKA) and so
strong was the influence upon the board of Directors that NKK (JKA) had to
wait for the Master death, which occurred in April 26,1957, to organize, in
June of the same year, the first All Japan Karate-do Championship
These events, and also the decision of NKK (JKA)
to be absent from the funeral of Funakoshi Sensei (the family of Funakoshi
Sensei decided to nominate Shotokai to organize the funeral) contributed to
the profound schism within the Shoto family, which extends to nowadays.
Since then Shotokai, with Egami Sensei
assuming the role of charismatic leader, continue to develop the practice of
Karate-do as a Budo, emphasizing the traditional aspects of the art and
developing an idea of practice that is well known by the members of this
list; on the other side NKK (JKA) masters followed a long and turbulent path
which originated a profusion of branches of sportive karate organizations
being World Karate Federation (WKF) and International Traditional Karate
Federation (ITKF) possibly the most famous ones.
Egami Hironishi and the other Shotokai masters
that maintained and developed Karate-do after Master Funakoshi death, in
1957, did it intentionally, in order to preserve and develop Karate-do as a
Budo, not as a sport. Since then Shotokai affirmed itself as a traditional
alternative to sportive karate.
So I think these historical facts demonstrate
clearly that the choice of making or not sportive competition is not a
superficial thing inside Shotokai. That concept was already present before
the cutting of the umbilical cord. And historically, at least, it is part of
the essential core of Shotokai values.
So, using current technical terms, the concept of Budo in Shotokai is as
central and important as tanden in our practice.
But let's move on from history
and use, once again, the parallel with bio-agriculture and one traditional
Budo art - Kyudo - to make our point of view more clear.
Competition in Shotokai? - Why not in Kyudo?
Let's assume for a moment that biological
farmers begin to use chemical pesticides occasionally to protect their crops
in order to maximize production.
- Providing they use these products carefully and according to instructions,
no harm will come to consumers, right?
I can assure you that a lot of persons who buy
biological products are well aware of scientific studies demonstrating that
most chemical pesticides, when correctly applied, seem to be harmless to
human health. Even though, they still prefer to consume organically grown
products, and this is a right they have.
Is it correct then to put a "bio"
label on a product that is originated from conventional agriculture?
I think not. I think that attitudes like that
can only be considered as fraud. That's why government authorities along
with consumer organisations, continually analyse products that use the label
"Biological", alerting consumers when fraud is detected.
Let approach our line of thought to martial
arts with another example.
Suppose you learn a little about Kyudo in a
good specialized book and decide to practice. You look in Internet and
discover a dojo in the nearbies. Surprisingly, when you enter the training
hall, instead of practitioners wearing hakama and using the traditional
asymmetric Japanese arches, you find a lot of people wearing sportive Adidas
suits and using precision arches, practicing what seems to be Olympic
- Excuse me! Is this the Kyudo dojo announced in Internet? - you ask the man
who seems to be in charge of the class.
- Yes! Archery is archery, you know? Monday and Thursday we practice Kyudo,
the traditional Japanese archery; Tuesday and Friday, we practice sportive
archery… Wednesday, we mix it all so you may practice with hakama and an
Olympic arch if you want, you will notice a beautiful contrast, it's really
amusing… - answered the man, offering you a big smile.
- Yeah! We are an open minded club, you know, we attend all the public and
have all the tastes at your choice…
Now, be frank, would you stay in that dojo? I
The fact that both disciplines use an arch and
shoot towards a target doesn't make them similar. In their historical past
they possibly shared a same origin - hunting or war - but now they are
really different disciplines and I sincerely hope that one of these famous
American gymnasiums isn't going to mix it all, creating another sort of
martial salad, accompanied by some sort of exquisite music.
I know, I know. You feel the caricature is too
strong. I'm just emphasizing my point. Please forgive me.
- So we agree that putting a little competition in Shotokai is not so bad,
Olympic archery is beautiful, but it embraces
a sportive concept which is essentially different from Kyudo - a Budo
discipline, that is also beautiful. Mixing both, however, will deprive each
one of its distinctive characteristics.
Similarly, nowadays, some disciplines use the
common name "Karate-do", or even "Shoto" but the
similarities end there, since they embrace rather different philosophies.
And I sincerely think that offering sportive
competition to the general public and still naming it "Shotokai" is,
(perhaps not intentionally) an error similar to mix Kyudo with archery, or
putting in the market a product with a "bio" label when it was created
using (harmless) chemical pesticides.
Then why don't we all agree that sportive
competition should not be a part of Shotokai practice and… case closed?
I think to answer that question we must come
back to the tanden concept.
People nowadays have an enormous liberty of
choice inside the Karate world:
- He/she may follow a competitive way, which is institutionalized and well
organized by a number of sportive organizations, with or without KO matches,
- He/she may follow a non-competitive practice inside Shotokai and other
- He/she may even follow both ways, in different periods of life, perhaps
beginning with competition and later embracing other aspects of Karate-do.
And that take us to the main question:
Why shouldn't Shotokai also offer sportive competition? That will avoid
people to leave and look for it outside!
- Yes, it would be a good answer to the demand of the general public, and it
will enlarge our offer, right?
Well, we must recognize that we are at an
I say it's wrong and you say it's right,
because we don't agree on which are the core values of Shotokai. Simplifying
I can say we don't agree on where our tanden is.
The modern discipline of organizations claim:
- Keep core and stimulate progress!
Using one of our technical terms I say:
- Keep tanden and be creative!
Yes, we must actualize and redefine the core
values of our practice so that we can accept variety as a richness that
stimulates progress, while keeping our tanden stable enough to maintain our
identity and integrity.
I am convinced that Egami Sensei and many
other Shotokai Masters did that kind of reflection in 1957 just after
Funakoshi Sensei's death. Their answer was clear:
- Sportive competition concept embraced by NKK (JKA), affected their core
values. So they have to refuse to walk together with them.
I am convinced that this approach was deeply
rooted since the very beginning of the divulgation of the Okinawan art of
"Te" to the general public by men like Itosu, who proposed in 1892
the introduction of Tode in Okinawa's public education system, or Funakoshi,
who introduced in the decade of 1920 Okinawa-te in Japanese universities,
emphasizing the educative aspects of the art, not the competitive ones.
And I am personally convinced that the concept
of Budo shared by many ancient martial arts like Kyudo, or Iaido, and also
by recent ones like Morihei Ueshiba's Aikido, cannot embrace sportive
- So, I understand you want competition to be
eradicated as a plague from Shotokai, right?
To be quite frank, now, 45 years old, I
understand that the primary attitude of just forbidding sportive competition
in Shotokai will be inconsequent and voted to failure.
I think I can understand now more clearly the more tolerant attitude of
Master Murakami in the decade of 1970, which is somewhat similar to the
attitude of other contemporary personalities that post messages here saying
that they "accept" competition instead of forbidden it.
Awareness about the negative influences of
sportive competition in a Budo art like Karate-do Shotokai, should come from
inside, from the heart of each one or perhaps from Tanden. Mind is, I guess,
not enough. And beyond personal reflection there is public discussion, and
listening to other points of view, which is also a good method to train
humbleness and flexibility of mind. That also can bring light to our spirit.
That's why I propose that we meet in Portugal
I sincerely hope that meeting will help us all
define where is the Tanden of Shotokai.