For more years than I would care to remember I have often wondered if what we now do today in Wado Dojos is a true reflection of what the founder Ohtsuka Hironori intended?
I did once see the late founder, and watched him demonstrate his art. It was Crystal Palace 1975; I was only a year into my training and competing in the UKKW Nationals. The audience waited in reverential silence as the elderly master assisted by his son gave the familiar display he always did in his later years. However, this one was different.
There was an error in the well-rehearsed display which resulted in Ohtsuka Sensei fractionally leaving his hand in the path of a descending katana blade – the result was a wound which many of us did not see, until tiny drops of blood appeared on his otherwise perfect white keikogi top. Ohtsuka Sensei seemed untroubled and carried on with the demonstration. First aid assistance was given to the old master at the end of the performance and he seemed unfazed, almost amused.
From the mid 70’s onwards I spent many hours working in the Dojo with Japanese masters all doing Wado Ryu karate. But there were differences; even contradictions.
It took a long time for me to realise that through these differences I was possibly getting a glimpse of the real Ohtsuka. It was like looking at him through a different set of lenses, with degrees of refraction and distortion.
This was frustrating in a way, a bit like trying to identify someone by their image seen through opaque bathroom glass; as I shifted my viewpoint ever so slightly the image distorted and changed. I struggled to make sense of it. But it was more complex even than that. The late master always said that Wado was a work in progress, and those with capacities and knowledge greater than mine continued to hone and refine the art; the ground was shifting and the lens was shifting as well.
Koryu martial artist Ellis Amdur said that success in the martial arts was easy…. All you had to do is pay attention! I think he is right, but I would also add a couple of things.
First you have to empty your cup; and secondly you have to be prepared to be hard on yourself and try to bypass a tendency towards observer bias, and that very human weakness described by psychologists as ‘cognitive dissonance’. Meaning; when confronted with anything that contradicts what we think we have already established we filter out the contradictions and cling to those aspects that we feel we already know. That is not really ‘paying attention’.
I learned a valuable lesson on this when acting as Uke for Ohtsuka Hironori II over ten years ago. On that occasion I experienced the full weight of his Kote Gaeshi and it came as a genuine surprise and painful shock! At the time I tried to work out what he had done and developed my own theory based on previous knowledge. It was only recently that I figured out what had really happened and how far my original theory was out – until another theory comes along anyway.
As one penguin talking to another penguin please bear with me on this.
At one time we all lived happily on one huge slab of ice. So secure were we that we believed that the ice was sitting on solid land and that things would never change.
We observed that occasionally discontented penguins would hop onto adjacent lumps of floating ice and start to form their own penguin colonies. Many of them drifted off, some were never seen again. Some could be seen in the distance, or we could hear them yelling, trying to convince us that their decisions to split away were correct and how we who remained were all wrong.
But we remained content and seldom thought of the future – why should we –we’re penguins.
Then the penguin colony was abruptly rocked by reality. We found out that we did not live on solid land at all; we too were on a floating ice floe, albeit a very big one. The dawning of this fact came when the colony itself suffered a huge catastrophic split. The fault lines were always there but we did not see them; we just thought they were part of the landscape.
The split was not a neat half and half one, it was ragged and uneven, some bits bigger than others. It should have been clear from the beginning that each of the splits did not stand an equal chance of survival; some were going to melt and shrink faster than others.
From the penguin’s point of view; when the catastrophe happened; where you ended up depended on where you were standing at the critical moment.
The frozen scene has been chaotic ever since. Imagine an ocean cluttered with ice floes; which inevitably encouraged penguins hopping from one minor ice floe to another.
So, should penguins ponder the future? Or should we just go with the floe?