A few weeks ago my students and were talking about how Karate-do and Kobudo teachers in the West have a tendency to affiliate themselves with a well-known Japanese or Okinawan teachers and their respective organization. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but some of these same teachers will state that they are a ‘direct student’ of that same teacher. A ‘direct student’ or ‘jiki-deshi’ (直弟子) in Japanese is someone who has learned from a teacher directly. So, when I hear someone rattle off a laundry list of teachers and say they are a ‘direct student, to that I say, who are you kidding!
This shows me that these teachers are more concerned with their image than actual practice. It reminds me of people’s desire to own a “brand-name good.” These teachers won’t settle for some hand-me-down or cheap knock-off. No, they have to own the “genuine article” at any cost. In terms of Karate, this means that they have to be connected to that teacher; even if it means creating a fictional relationship. These teachers are deluding themselves to think that a dozen hours a year with their Japanese or Okinawan instructor at the hombu dojo makes them their student, let alone a direct student. It’s ridiculous! You’re not a student; you’re a guest at best, at worst a tourist. To be a student, in any endeavor, means putting in the hours not over weeks, but over years in front of your instructor. Think about it for a moment. If you are truly a student of this teacher, it means having a relationships with him and to build any kind of meaningful relationship takes time.
I suppose that’s why I find the “Karate tourist” trend that is being promoted by the Okinawa Prefectural Government and the various Karate and Kobudo groups in Okinawa so disheartening. They sponsor seminars for non-Japanese Karateka and Kobudoka with well-known teachers, and there is no doubt that these teachers are highly skilled and knowledgeable about their respective styles, but to think that you could even say that you “trained” with that teacher would be a stretch, and saying that you were a student of that teacher afterwards is preposterous. I suppose in rare cases, it could lead to a student connecting with a teacher, and uprooting his or her life to be with that teacher. But honestly at these seminars, If you’re lucky you’ll break a good sweat, review some basics, and maybe have some photo opportunities that’s about it (sounds like being a tourist to me).
Throughout the years I’ve encountered so many of these ‘direct students’ and with the rise of the internet and social media, their number increases every year. These ‘direct students’ don’t compare to those men and women who spent years learning under their respective instructors and built long-lasting and healthy relationships that last to this day. People like Joe Swift, Derek English, Katherine Loukopoulos, Wade Chroninger, Dan Kogan, etc., to name but a few. So the next time you want to boast that you’re a student of sensei (insert name), think before you answer.