This is a subtly modified version of a text I sent to Shotokai France to be included in their forum (http://www.chez.com/shotokai)
Shotokai Technique and the Shotokai WWW
Now that our Shotokai friends in France created a Shotokai forum, something I had intended but never fulfilled, I have the intention of supporting in any way I can and if I can comment based on my limited Shotokai experience I will take the chance.
I administer Shotokai Karate-do’s website in Chile (http://www.shotokai.cl). I have almost four years of training in SKB under the direction of our Sensei (teacher) Humberto Heyden, I am currently a brown belt.
Now that the formal background is clarified you now know how much weight, if any, you place on any comments I make.
I would first of all like to comment on the technical aspects of Shotokai. I have a limited experience personally but I have been able to meet a few Shotokai groups from Europe (not enough though) and thus can comment a bit more now than a year ago. I base many of my comments on conversations held with our teacher (who doesn’t J) and miscellaneous conversations with a number of Shotokai friends on the Web (please tell me if I need quoting you somewhere).
I am sure we could discuss and maybe even end up fighting (J) about the “real” or “true” Shotokai technique, mostly because there seems to be no such thing.
Master Shigeru Egami did not teach the same Shotokai technique in the different places he directed, possibly because he viewed this as secondary. Any Shotokai group, post-Funakoshi, with direct contacts with Egami will practice depending on where their Sensei’s trained and when their contact with Master Egami was severed by distance, communication impediments or any other reasons.
For example our Karate-do until recently represented a very “old-fashion” Shotokai, actually differing (among the new participants, not the older karatekas) in appearance, not too much from the Karate practiced by the SKA or older JKA Karate, though more relaxed and with low positions. This was mostly due to the fact our Karate was passed along through Sensei Mitsusuke Harada during the 50’s and early 60’s in Brazil, before many of the experiences that Master Egami were interweaved in the practice of Shotokai. The other reason was the strong isolation of Chile and the limited travel possibilities a Chilean has. Now, there are, for example, other groups that have a very strong influence of Aiki in their practice, with very high positions with respect to others. This was another of Master Egami’s experiments, if we can call it this way. Others like Murakami-kai Shotokai or Shotokai in Chile, practice in very low stances, front leg’s upper half in zenkutsu-dachi parallel to the ground (as the ideal stance). There are others that practice without zenkutsu-dachi and only in fudo-dachi as shown in Master Egami’s last book: Karate-do for the Specialist, others do not accept any type of contraction in techniques (no kime at all), etc, etc.
How can this be? Can Shotokai accept this and survive?
(Please remember these are opinions in great measure, not to be taken as THE explanations nor official)
This is so, I believe, because Shotokai is not technique for the sake of technique. I have read in the Shotokai France web site comments and words that sound extremely familiar because I had heard them here in Chile independently. Shotokai is not technique, Shotokai is a Way of Thinking, a “philosophy” and not merely a given technical stance, nor merely a self-defense method and surely not a sport. It is rather a framework, a “method” that strives for a common goal but not by limiting its followers to a given recipe or model. The goal is common, or so I believe, in all serious Shotokai groups, something in the fashion of striving for personal spiritual, mental and physical development through strenuous discipline and training. The goal: to overcome your personal limitations on a daily basis (i.e., at each training session), to constantly overcome yourself and your weaknesses, not only those that are physical but more importantly, those that are mental and most entrenched. Thus the primary emphasis in Shotokai, in my personal opinion, is not an overwhelming interest in technique and cloning participants, maybe not even on the effectivity of Shotokai technique in self-defense, rather an interest in the effectivity of technique towards the attainment of the basic goal: self-directed personal development. It is also therefore that you can commonly observe Shotokai practice that looks strange (based on the stereotype of Karate), with very long techniques, movements that can come to resemble a dance or maybe Tai-Chi, etc. Though the method may vary, the objective includes such techniques.
Another goal is to strive for natural movements, techniques that do not require tension, flowing and unrestricted movements, that allow a person to maintain a relaxed and healthy mind and body. This can be an outright contradiction with respect to many styles, mainly the Okinawan Karate groups, that strive for the complete opposite, tension and contraction. Master Egami says himself that stiffness and contraction are characteristics of death and thus are not to be considered the objective of karate, suppleness and flexibility are naturally a reasonable goal.
Well, I intended the technique part to be short and it wasn’t…
Now, some short (J) comments on Shotokai on the WWW.
It is my firm intention to help, as well as I possibly can, in recuperating Shotokai’s true dimension with respect to its influence and relevance in Karate-do as well as trying to contribute in transmitting Karate-do as originally intended by Masters Gichin Funakoshi and Shigeru Egami. The WWW is the best way to do this, firstly because of the democratic characteristics of the web and secondly due to its universal appeal and worldwide access.
Following in this line of thought, I will soon be opening a site that will sponsor Shotokai groups, giving them access to 1-5 Megabytes of disk space and Web accessibility. This service I will offer for free and exclusively for Shotokai groups worldwide. I hope I will not have to stick my fingers in the HTML area of these future Home Pages and just limit myself to putting the info on the Web. I believe the date for such an enterprise will be March or April 1998. Those that cannot wait until then are invited to send their info and documents to me now, either attached in e-mail or through ordinary mail.
I am very glad that great new sites on Shotokai have appeared on the web, this French site, for example, for the Spanish speaking portion a Herbert Shotokai group site in Spain, it includes extremely valuable documents by Sensei Sugimoto. All this information can only further stimulate the growth of Shotokai, my only wish now is that this growth will result in even more bonding between the different Shotokai groups worldwide.
Last summer 1997, February in Chile, I had the chance to plan a trip to Europe around visits to Portugal and Spain. I was able to visit four Shotokai friends that I originally met through the Web site, and maintained contact through e-mail, two friends from Spain and two from Portugal. It was a great surprise and a very comforting experience to see that the friends were not four but all the participants of Shotokai in those countries. I now know for sure that no matter how much time has gone by, no matter who our teacher is, or was, if it was serious Shotokai practice we will feel as long-time friends and even brothers. I believe this feeling will expand, as the new web contacts become real life contacts.
So the message should be clear, at least the message I am trying to convey: no matter what technical differences may exist, no matter who your master was, if the objectives are parallel, if the objective is not sport, if we strictly follow the teachings of Master Funakoshi Gichin and Master Egami Shigeru, we are Karate-do brothers. It is our responsibility to create bonds, to link our groups through informal friendship using this powerful medium, the Internet. We will thus create relationships that in time will connect our groups physically through brotherhood and cooperation.
The future has a great space waiting for Shotokai, our legacy is extremely valuable, the sacrifices our teachers, and our teacher’s teachers, made have been many, now it is time to play our part and give back what we have received and a bit more.
Long live Shotokai!