Today, I am going to touch on a domain which is currently spotlighted and questioned because of its prominence or lack of prominence – all over our planet – Leadership! I will briefly touch on it in relevance to Karate
Returning from Okinawa and the 20th Commemoration of Miyagi Chojun Sensei’s passing, reminiscing, and slowly digesting the experience in my mind, the first impression was that it could be compared to a cultural interplanetary experience – the two cultures pretty much almost horizontally opposed!
It took a while for everything to sink in and become meaningful – in fact, some it is still sinking in up to this moment!
I guess the one impression that struck me, was the much more relaxed and non-rigidity of the Karate ambiance in Okinawa, compared to Tokyo and my previous Shotokan experience.
Visible factors, such as the apparently relaxed relationship between Teachers, Students, Seniors and Juniors – up and down, yet, there was no question about unilateral respect, but it was kind of strange to hear senior students of Godan and higher arguing about Kata movements, as I mentioned in a previous Podcast!
Previously in Shotokan, one had the feeling that you need to keep your distance, and if you did not know what that distance was supposed to be, it was better to keep it big!
Relating to my early Karate days – briefly Kyokushin – and my Shotokan days, Yoyogi Dojo was again a totally more relaxed ambiance in comparison – when Higaonna Sensei was around!! Remember -he’s Okinawan!
In most styles and Dojo’s, the unwritten or unspoken status – well, sometimes spoken and emphasised in no uncertain terms of Teachers were mostly defined as ‘My Way or the High Way!’ ‘My Way or the Wrong Way!’ This did not concern me too much in my early days, as I came from a Calvinistic style country, community, and home upbringing, very strict but fair and loving – which extended into the Boys High School I attended and my later military experiences.
I am from Afrikaner heritage (you have realized by now that English is not my home language!). Afrikaners of my generation and previous generations did not question authority!
It was not too difficult for my generation to either take a position of authority, or leadership, or submit to someone of authority or leadership.
In Karate, I absolutely trusted my teachers, seniors and colleagues, until that trust was broken – then, that was it! I have a principle that it is very difficult to get off my Christmas card list, but once you’re off, you never get back on again!
Without sounding like a ‘My Way or the High Way’, type, I must explain that my first instinct will always be that of benefit of the doubt and/or forgive and forget, but up to a point!
If someone trampled my absolute loyalty, respect, honesty, and integrity into the dirt, either from above me, equal to me or below me, it would be extremely difficult to have a relationship with such a person ever again!
Upon arriving in Japan and Yoyogi Dojo, I mentioned in previous podcasts a few instances where I sensed a scepticism and almost hostile observation – possibly analysis, of myself by some of the Black Belts in the Dojo – the first one being Pat Telsrov, when he accompanied Higaonna Sensei to meet me upon arriving by boat on my very first day in Japan!
It was also strange, although I never realized it until it was almost time for me to go back home, that the seniors in the Dojo – a Yondan and I think three Sandan – had a special, changing room, very small, about one by two meters big, which only they used, and myself a Sandan – was never invited to use this – I had to change in the makeshift change room with the rest.
After about almost four months into my stay, I actually had a conversation with Pat and some of the Dojo Black Belts one evening after training in the Dojo izinkaya about the scepticism towards me after a few Kirin Beers started to hit home!
It then came out that in 1969, a group from South Africa came to train at Yoyogi Dojo – the first country group to visit, apart from the Senseis whom I mentioned before. I also explained before that I was at university at the time and had neither the time nor funds to go.
The group did some very bad things whilst there, the usual too much alcohol but then subsequently disrespecting local culture and behavioural norms, missing training because of this – you get the picture – which caused a bad reflection on South Africans and stereotyped us almost as persona non grata to Yoyogi Dojo seniors!
I’ll just leave it here, but there was a line crossed when Higaonna Sensei received a telephone call from the Police in the early hours one morning and needed to go down to the Police station and bail the entire group out of jail, as he was their sponsor for coming to Japan and responsible for them.
This incident was seen and regarded by the Dojo seniors and other members as an incredible insult and show of disrespect to their Sensei and obviously they were very sceptic of all South Africans coming there in future.
So, after almost four months of observing me, they were more or less convinced that I was serious about Karate – I was highly respectful to Sensei, I loved hard training and would train at every possible opportunity, a lot on my own on days when the Dojo was closed, like a Sunday, and that I respected their culture, although different to my own.
Look, I am no angel, as some of you can testify to, but I was brought up by my parents to always behave with dignity and respectfully and that it was not acceptable if one’s behaviour affected other people around you negatively, especially where alcohol was present!
So, I had passed the ‘first hurdle’ in being accepted, but there was another, much bigger one still laying install for me of which I was totally unaware, and which would only pop up a few days before I returned home – later about that and when I actually got invited to the cloakroom!
To get back to the Leadership issue, there are a lot of clutter on the issue amongst all levels of society currently – I use the word clutter, as a decade or two, three ago, the world was so much simpler to understand before so many 21st century issues started to appear in all spheres of society!
Usually ‘good’ or ‘well intended’ issues, which get abused or misused by either naïve individuals or malicious opportunists, which then puts a bad spin on it!
We are all aware of some of the different types of leadership, which can be defined in three main categories:
Autocratic, Democratic or Participative leadership and Laissez-faire, Delegative or Free reign leadership.
The foundations of any good leadership should inevitably rest on values. Supporters of any Leader are attracted by the values of that Leader and will follow because of these values.
We do not need to go far to establish these values, we only need to look at the core values supporting Higaonna Sensei’s Mokuteki or Objectives: Respect, Honesty, and Loyalty – combined – Integrity!
Apart from Values, there are other characteristics required for a leader, but, aside from charisma, a few in my opinion that are important, especially in the Karate environment, are Inspirational ability, Flexibility, Open mindedness, Visionary sense, Decisiveness and a Winner attitude – not content with mediocrity – aspire to highest personal and corporative standards !
One can just have a look at successful persons in any sphere of life – you will find these in them – Nelson Mandela our local role model!
Depending on demographic culture, the Karate Sensei probably needs to be a combination of Autocratic and Democratic – Autocratic as far as technical issues are concerned and Democratic, Participative when running a Dojo or organisation.
The Laissez-faire style typifies a weak leader and is not an option in my opinion – Leaders that are manipulated by the persons that got them in charge!
I mentioned that Inspirational ability is probably the top quality for a Karate Sensei, so it is necessary to ponder on the How of inspiration!
There are basically two types of motivation or inspiration: Extrinsic and Intrinsic.
Extrinsic inspiration is to do something to avoid a possible negative outcome – for example, you work hard because you are afraid of being fired!
Intrinsic Inspiration is to do something because you want to do it as you believe it is in your own interest to do it – you work hard because you believe this is to your career benefit.
A simple way to differentiate between the two is the cliché, ‘Don’t Drive, Inspire!’
But the other are all equally important – Flexibility, Open mindedness, Visionary sense, Decisiveness, and a Winner attitude!
Getting back to the difference between the Okinawan and the Tokyo approach, one must understand the ‘Bigger Picture’ and a couple of factors are relevant, such as the fact that Tokyo has been the financial hub of Japan for centuries and therefore everything there happens at near full speed!
Okinawa in 1973, was a very relaxed island and island people tend to have a more relaxed ‘manjana’ outlook on life!
In Tokyo, it was a more rigid, almost military type body language between Teachers and students, displaying the respect factor very visibly, whilst in Okinawa, the body language was much less obvious, and the respect displayed, also obvious, although less visible.
Okinawans did Karate for personal reasons with very little incentive or motivation to establish global Karate organisations, whilst in Japan, tournaments took on a major role in promoting Karate at school and university level amongst some organisations and the need for a visible big international organisation was there to create a market, like the way Judo had operated.
Professional, full-time instructors were needed to expand and although there is a lot to be said against it, it was the saviour of Karate Do and the main driving force behind it becoming global and for the fact that we can today practise it in so many countries, we should be thankful!
Still, I was impressed with the relaxed Okinawan way, but realised that the ultimate that I was looking for, would lie in a blending of the two Karate ‘cultures’ and this has happened with the establishment of the IOGKF in 1979 due to the visionary, flexible and directed leadership of a charismatic Leader like Higaonna Sensei and it is continuing to grow because of his inspirational presence!
We have our Go and Ju, Ying and Yang organisation!!
Putting the whole Karate leadership concept in a nutshell – as a Karate Sensei you need to Walk the Talk – not just Talk the Walk! You need to show the way, not just explain the way!
To conclude and considering taking Karate into the future – Remember,
You cannot do Today’s Jobs with Yesterday’s Tools and Expect Tomorrow’s Results!
Be sure to visit my Global Virtual Dojo, at
Music by Basson Laubscher