Yagi Sensei once spoke the following words “If you live a good life and be a nice person, you will attract and become surrounded by nice people also”.  Whist his teacher, as in Miyagi Sensei one said words to this effect Studying Karate/Ti without the guidance of a Sensei of deep understanding is like wandering in the dark without a lantern”

These are those invaluable bits of advice that we can seek to understand and take on board or disregard to our detriment. Be it in life or in Karate circumstances situations and opportunities presented will either allow us to excel or they will end up holding us back. Like it or not, others will also have a major influence on our lives and our Karate too, so of course we must be wise enough to evaluate and differentiate. As being in the company of refined hardworking positive people who are knowledgeable is most certainly going to be motivational and the path to happiness and success. But on the contrary, negativity or surrounding ourselves with those who have a poor disposition or understanding will not only lead us down a road of discontent, but one of wasting many potentially valuable years. However, when push comes to shove and all is put aside, the one thing that will hold us back in life and Karate is ourselves, be this through people association or the decisions that we make…

As human beings we not only learn from our mistakes but also the experiences and the understanding of others too, be they good or bad. All really is a natural learning process as from a young age as we go through childhood we are all taught by others. As we get older we then tend to find direction whilst naturally warming towards and surrounding ourselves with likeminded compatible people, with it being well-known that to judge the character of a person or oneself is to look at ones five closest friends. This isn’t 100% accurate of course, but it’s certainly a good marker.

So, what has all of this got to do with Karate!? Lots… As whom we surround ourselves with together with who we receive direction and guidance from is going to have a major influence on our Karate and whether we acquire a high level of understanding and in parallel effectiveness in the art or not. Together with the type of Karate that we study or practise. As with Karate you not only need to be putting the required time and effort in inside the Dojo, you really do need to be putting your life skills intellectual hat on, whereby sadly many throw it off as soon as they enter the Dojo and believe way to much of what they see or hear from those who speak the loudest or market themselves well. A movie it may be, but the Mr Miyagi saying “No such thing as bad student, only bad teacher” is a good one…

“The most singular things that will hold people back in Karate are, poor guidance, laziness, lack of brainpower, and ego. Physical ability rarely comes into it”.  Glyn Jones

I’ve never been one to follow the supposed big names in Karate or those that speak the loudest. Don’t empty vessels make the most noise? Personally I don’t feel that this is where the answers lie, of course all is down to personal choice. I just prefer to seek out the quite man and lady of Budo. Yes those who need to say little but who never fail to impress you with their actions, understanding and ability to match. As Karate Ka we must not only be open minded and go out to enjoy the journey as this will keep one Karate motivated and enjoyable as you analyse and research, but one should be wise enough to choose wisely without influence when it comes to mentors. There are many a dedicated, honourable and hard-working Karate student out there who have ability to match but are being held back by a rough and ready taught Karate that lacks deep understanding. Kuchi Bushi is Kuchi Bushi no matter how it’s wrapped up or spun around. One must be careful because the warmth and infectious character in and individual does not equate to knowledge and true understanding when it comes to Karate.

A Karate Sensei of worth is certainly difficult to find these days I accept because in theory you don’t know what you don’t understand, so of course it’s so easy to get drawn in or believe all that you are taught or told. There are also many flavours to Karate, be it Okinawan, Japanese, Western or sport based. This is I why I don’t offer advice to anyone regarding receiving guidance Karate wise, that’s a decision for us all to stand by or fall by, yes it’s a Karate test in itself for sure as one man’s success is anothers failure. Remember… You can experiment and cook your own food for thirty years but it doesn’t make you a chef does it!? Just like going on holiday to Spain each summer and sampling some fine food doesn’t make you an expert in Mediterranean cuisine…. Yes! Karate fits well to both of these analogies and I see it often.

Having only recently returned from my latest visit to Okinawa. Only for a month or so I admit, but having continually returning to the island for many years now to receive guidance I’m still blown away at times by the depth and level of understanding, and contrary to popular belief, much of the art is still rarely fully understood or being correctly taught over here for sure with many myths and so much distortion being flouted around. The problem is many visiting Karate Ka are still on the outside instead of forming a close relationship with a Sensei who then accepts them like family.

Some of you reading this may feel or get the impression through my words that ones Sensei or Dojo must be Okinawan or Japanese to be able to acquire a deep understanding. But this is incorrect and a myth too… I can honestly say that whilst visiting Okinawa I have learned just as much from James East Sensei (Pictured above training at the Shinjinbukan Dojo 2005) through our regular training session together and discussions as I have from anyone. With James having lived on Okinawa for well over 20 years now, then of course is depth of understanding of Okinawan Karate and Ti is going to be vast. I also hold the same high regard for Slater Williams Sensei of the Shotokan way and Brian Hinchliffe Sensei of Goju Ryu, two of my mentors in Karate for many a year over here in England. Yes, they are both quietly teaching in England at an exceptionally high level if one is wise enough to seek them out for guidance.

The first lesson is to choose your Sensei wisely because who we surround ourselves with and seek guidance from in Karate is more important than all of the hard training sweat and blood shed….