When you’ve trained and travelled as much as i have over the course of my life, you get to see a few things. I’ve seen people who know nothing that thought they knew everything. I’ve seen people who knew plenty who were humble enough to recognize they knew nothing. I’ve always fancied myself as somewhere in between but I would be lying if I said that it was easy backing down, especially when I was of the opinion that I was right or had the better way.
I’ve always fancied myself as the type of guy who could be humble enough to allow someone, especially of a different style, to express themselves and provide a different perspective. After all, the only real difference in any style of karate is that we all do the same thing in slightly different ways. Until we don’t. And that’s a situation the practitioners should all remember when butting heads on techniques. I got to experience that firsthand, less than a year ago.
Uechi Ryu is significantly different from Shotokan, in that the former focuses on tight, small circle techniques with a focus on fine-point strike. The latter focuses on crossing long distances, elongated stances and full impact strikes for every technique. There are a number of significant differences beyond that, but that’s a very generalized summary of how the styles differ. Uechi Ryu also owes its origins to Okinawa and Shotokan is a Japanese style that descended from Shorin Ryu, which is also an originating Okinawan style. You’d think coming from Okinawan roots would make the Japanese style a little more humble. It did not.
I encountered a particular situation some time ago; one that made me question whether I should take a firmer stance or simply let it go. For the most part, the easy route is usually to let it go. I guess the question is how far do you let it go before you wind up compromising your teachings in exchange for those of another? It’s important to be respectful of other styles’ perspective and techniques. But how far do you allow that respect to go, if it contravenes your own style’s way of doing thing? That is the question and that is what I faced all those months ago.
We were performing lines of techniques that included a simple front kick. How ironic that one of the most basic of techniques would be the one that two black belts would differ on? The Shotokan black belt commented on how I should be using the ball of my foot as an impact point. I argued that Uechi uses the bog toe, training to focus the dynamic tension of the remaining toes to strengthen the impact point as such. He countered that doing it this way posed too much of a chance that the technique would break the practitioner’s big toe. I stated it would only happen if the practitioner did it incorrectly… Impass.
I chose not to argue. I was comparing our respective training and found my opposition lacking. He was in his early 20’s and had only been doing karate for about a third of the time that I had. I felt that I definitely had time and experience on my side. The difference is that I was in HIS dojo and was there to learn HIS style. Even though I felt that he might have been wrong, I acknowledged that it would have been rude to correct an instructor in his own dojo. I stayed silent on the matter but it might go a short distance towards explaining why I no longer train there. Besides their exorbitant costs…
Cross-training in different styles can be rough, especially if that other style differs significantly from yours. But a big part of the dojo culture is respect and understanding. Even if someone’s way of doing something may be different from yours or the techniques differ, be willing to keep your mind open to learning a new way of doing things. This is genuinely the only way to expand your overall martial arts toolbox. Food for thought… ☯️