When I began my journey into the world of martial arts, I was not expecting to become so involved. I didn’t expect the study of martial arts to become such a big part of my life. Well long story short I did and it has.
When I began my journey many years ago, ( too many to mention without wincing) I came into it expecting to learn a style of martial arts that would translate into actual fighting. That being said I dabbled in several styles, a year of Tai kwon Do, Boxing, wrestling and others but never a serious study of martial arts. I looked around were ever I lived and every dojo I went into just didn’t look like what I expected martial arts to look like.
What should martial arts look like? well I’m a uber geek when it comes to martial arts movies. I think I’ve seen every Shaw Brothers movie ever made
all of Bruce Lee’s movies, Every Jackie Chan, Chuck Norris,Jet Lee, Donnie Yen,and every episode of Kung Fu ever made. I just didn’t see that in a lot of the dojos I went into. What I saw were people (some in multi colored Gi’s) that had created their own styles and were taking hundreds of dollars for the privilege of learning what they had created. Most of these styles had no basis in tradition and the people teaching them seemed more interested in filling their classes and less into who I was. Not one of these people asked me about me. They always talked about the schedule and payments. Sign up for six months and get a discount… I got the same thing when I signed up for a gym membership, and I gave up my gym membership because I didn’t like the atmosphere or the people that worked there.
I was looking for something for my ten year old son that would help him boost his confidence, focus and a feeling of teamwork. I was looking at the soccer and baseball leagues here in town on the city web-sight and saw that they offered traditional karate as well so I went down and signed him up for the wait list. Well the Sensei called me about a week later and asked if I would bring my son down to check out the class and see if it would be something he would like, He went on to explain that it is a traditional style and he wants to meet us and show us what the style is about. Well… this was new, and a pleasant surprise. He didn’t even mention money ( which was less than a monthly gym membership)
Well we went down and watched the kids class and I noticed several black belts and a brown belt there helping with the kids, A little unusual I thought and the age range was between eight and thirteen and it was obvious to me most of these kids had been there a few years. We watched the class and I immediately recognized several classic Chinese styles in the karate that they were practicing and I knew the style came from Okinawa, but not much else. The class was very serious and traditional and I saw the type of martial arts I had been looking for. The Sensei was a seventh degree black belt that had been studying the style for thirty years.
The style is called Uechi-Ryu and it comes from Naha Okinawa by way of Fujian Provence in Fujian City in Southern China. It s called Pangainoon and has influences of White Crane, Tiger, and Dragon. The Sensei went on to explain that the style had not changed for over one hundred years. All this history and tradition appealed to me, and not just the style but the fact that the person teaching the style spent the time to explain the history of the style, and he actually seemed interested in my son and myself. It almost seemed like we were being vetted. Later I would find out, that is exactly what was happening.
Well having picked the style I did a little background research on the origin what the style was and the history of the style. What I found was pretty impressive so I started thinking about doing it myself. The style had all of the elements of martial arts I was looking for. I also found out that the masters of the style were still teaching in Okinawa. These masters, some of them in their eighties and in great physical shape. This really interested me because I had always believed that a lifestyle of martial arts study could extend quality of life.
So I started taking the adult classes after the kids class and realize now three years later what changes this study of martial arts has made in my life. Due to the physical conditioning the changes my body has undergone in the last three years are life changing. Not only do I have the opportunity to train under one of the highest ranked Sensei in the World, but I have met some incredible people including a grand master in another style that eventually I hope to train with. I know I have just begun my studies and I’m not close to where I want to be, But the journey to my goals will be filled with rare opportunities that a non traditional style would never give me. So to answer the question, “Are We There Yet?” the answer would be No! but to quote Master Po”Patience Grass Hopper, Patience”
The biggest thing I have learned is that sometimes its not the style as much as it is the teacher. And make sure the teacher isn’t some self appointed tenth degree black belt.