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Institutionalisation and Competition in Shotokai
(Parallels with Bio-agriculture and… Tanden)

(This article is a synopsis of a more extensive work to be presented at SIM 24/26-Oct-03)


1 - Just a little biographic foreword

2 - Murakami Sensei Thoughts about Competition

3 - Personal thoughts about institutionalisation and competition in Karate

      3.1 - Professional Institutionalisation - once an Activist now an Engineer
      3.2 - Institutionalisation in Karate - 2 years as a bureaucrat
      3.3 - Institutionalisation in Karate - Good or Bad?
      3.4 - Some historical facts
      3.5 - Competition in Shotokai? - Why not in Kyudo?
3.6 Finding Tanden


1 - Just a little biographic foreword

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 and charm.

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 teacher".

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.

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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 competitions.

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).

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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.

3.1 - 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 style".
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 were needed.
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 institutionalisation.
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.

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3.2 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 auto-control occurred.

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 country.

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 :-).

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3.3 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 historical facts.

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3.4 Some historical facts

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 ethically unacceptable.

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 Tournament.

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.

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3.5 - 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?
- Wrong!

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 archery.
- 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.
- Indeed.
- 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 certainly wouldn't.

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, right?
- Wrong!

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.

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3.6 Finding Tanden

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 organizations,
- 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?
- Wrong!

Well, we must recognize that we are at an impasse.

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 competition.

- So, I understand you want competition to be eradicated as a plague from Shotokai, right?
- Wrong!

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 in October.

I sincerely hope that meeting will help us all define where is the Tanden of Shotokai.


José Patrão

 Texto/Text: © Copyright, José Patrão, 2003


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