In Japanese I’m what you would call a ‘Kuishinbo’ (食いしん坊); a complete foodie. French, Italian, Japanese, hole-in-the-wall, high-end, you name it, I’ll probably like it. So, the other day when we were out of town my wife was hankering for some sushi. I popped open my phone and opened ‘urban spoon’ to see what was around us. Sure enough there were lots of sushi restaurants.
The highest ranked ones came with rave reviews and screamed out adjectives like ‘authentic’, ‘traditional’ and ‘classic’ to describe the food. They all seemed very promising. Heck some of them had hundreds if not thousands of ratings and dozens of positive reviews. I picked a few of the higher ranked ones out and looked at their respective websites. Naturally they served sushi of all kinds (even some I’d never heard of; ‘Gozilla Roll’ anyone?), but they also sold tempura, udon, soba, and don-buri. These other dishes were immediate ‘red flags’ and when I told my wife the results of my little investigation, she lost her craving for sushi.
Now, you might be wondering what sushi restaurants have to do with Budo and Karate-do in particular? A lot actually. You see, in Japan a good sushi restaurant only serves sushi. A good soba restaurant only soba. In other words, these restaurants and their chefs specialize in one particular kind of cuisine and usually a specific sub-type. For example a sushi chef may only serve Edomae sushi. This means that the chef and restaurant have probably dedicated a lot of time, effort and training to producing the best possible meal for their customers. They don’t bother serving other dishes like soba because they would have to apprentice for years to learn the fundamentals and they would lose precious time that could be spent perfecting their craft.
Sushi restaurants in Canada, strictly speaking, aren’t sushi restaurants because they serve a bewildering array of other dishes. Consequently, they never get any of them quite right. Sure you might get a variety of food with generous portions, and you’ll probably walk away from the table feeling full, but you won’t have tasted the subtle difference between what you ate and what real sushi tastes like. They are light-years apart.
To give you an idea, when I lived in Japan my father-in-law took me out for sushi one night. It was this tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Sasebo that sat about eight people comfortably at a counter. If you didn’t know what you were looking for you’d never find it. There were no menus, no signs on the wall, nothing ostentatious. Just the master standing behind the counter waiting to take your order. As he made the sushi, he moved with grace, efficiency and purpose. There was real craft behind what he made and it was obvious when you tasted each piece of sushi. It was the single best sushi I had every tasted in my life.
Now instead of a sushi restaurant, think of a typical ‘Kurodee‘ school in Canada. Like their distant ‘sushi’ restaurant cousins, they seem to teach everything: unarmed techniques, ground fighting, grappling, weapons, self-defense, cardio kick-boxing, kettle-bells; the list is never ending. Sure, there may be a few ‘Kurodee’ schools out there that teach all of these things well, but most of them do not.
Like eating your fill at a Canadian ‘sushi’ restaurant, their students probably leave the dojo feeling satisfied thinking they’ve learned all these different things, but they really haven’t. How could they? They don’t have the time to dedicate to learn each art properly and their instructor probably lacks depth in the skills he’s trying to teach.
The frightening thing is that all of these schools and their students think they are part of a ‘traditional’ dojo.