A few times a year I get an email from someone asking how he can learn Tou’on-ryu. Usually the email is prefaced with a laundry list of accomplishments, dan ranks, and list of teachers the person has trained (visited?) with, which to me is a red flag. My answer has always been the same, “No!” Well, maybe I don’t yell, but I always politely refuse the request if I don’t know the person. Sorry, its just not going to happen. Instead, I always refer them to the honbu dojo in Beppu and to Ikeda sensei.
I refuse the request for a number of reasons some of which I’d like to talk about briefly. The first and most important reason is that I don’t know who you are. Despite the laundry list introduction I can’t know what kind of person you are no matter how flattering your description of yourself is. For me to know you means that I have to meet you, face-to-face, and make some form of evaluation and judgment of what kind of a person you are. It means that we have to practice together, let me watch how you interact with others, and see how consistent you are with your practice.
The second reason is that traditional Karatedo is very much like an apprenticeship; you need to commit to study under a knowledgeable and skilled instructor to get the most out of training and honestly that is not me; I am still a student of Tou’on-ryu. That said, my view that you must commit to study under a skilled instructor is not only for the student’s sake, but also for the dojo. Remember the dojo gains very little from taking you on as a student; at least for the first few years. So, initially the dojo is assuming the risk.
Another reason is that Karatedo is not like some online course that you can take via the internet. Sorry. Nope. At least not for me. Perhaps others can make this format work, but it goes against everything I believe in regards to what Karatedo is about (hint: its about relationships and ultimately owning your Karatedo practice). Perhaps there are teachers who can instruct at a high level via the internet and never interact with a student. Kudos to them I say. That’s something I can’t and won’t do because I consider my time and the quality of the interaction with students extremely valuable, and that is time that I don’t want to waste online trying to “coach” a student.
Which leads me to my another reason which I previously alluded to; its about the relationships you form in the dojo: teacher to student, kohai to sempai, and sempai to kohai. No relationship means no communication, which means no interaction, which means no learning. You can’t duplicate this online. It just will not work. You will never get a real sense of what the person’s character is like. Does he disrespect other students, does he get angry when he is corrected or challenged, does he help others, clean the dojo? Now you may think this is “old fashioned” or “quaint” in this day and age of consumerism and coaching, but there is wisdom in this view. Karatedo is a cultural, social, and martial practice, something of value, and although you may accuse me of elitist snobbery, I have no desire to, “cast pearls before swine” nor teach fighting techniques to someone I have no connection with and know nothing about his character.
The final reason is that Tou’on-ryu is a unique, but very minor Karatedo style. It is almost a family style that has important historical and cultural value (1). As such it deserves respect and that means you need to put in the time to train properly. This is the way it has always been done and this is the way Kanzaki sensei told me to teach. Maybe that’s why my dojo is tiny, miniscule, pathetically small, not even a blip on the radar, but I’m happy about that because I know each and everyone of my students. Do you?
(1) In fact, the style is so small that everyone in it knows everyone else. So when someone says, “I learned Tou’on-ryu” or “I learned from such and such” or “I know Tou’on-ryu Sanseru kata” it is easy to verify.