Egami Sensei writes in his book „The Way of Karate (Beyond Technique)”:
While it can be said that there are certain groups in the United States and Europe that, with the objective of understanding the soul of the Orient as a means of counteracting the impasse arising from materialistic civilization, place emphasis on the spiritual side of karate, the sad truth is that many styles teach only the fighting art and neglect the spiritual aspects.
What is Egami Sensei talking about? Are there really groups in Occident that are trying to comprehend the soul of Orient as a way to fight the overwhelming advance of the materialistic civilization? Through which methods? Through „sports karate”? Surely yes, if you believe that Karate-do and „sports karate” are the same thing. On the other hand it would also be prudent to question ourselves: What is wrong with our society? Evidently not all, but the great majority of karate instructors come to Occident to precisely enjoy the benefits it offers and we learn „sports karate” from them. What is wrong with our society then?
Another question that also arises is: Where is the spiritual aspect of karate? Is it to develop a fighting spirit? For many decades the great majority of instructors have talked about the fighting spirit, the spirit of the warrior, etc., etc. Is this the spiritual aspect of karate? If so, why does Egami Sensei place „the art of combat” on one side and „the spiritual aspects” on the other? Does this have to do with what he calls „the soul of Orient”? On the other hand, why does he consider that understanding the soul of Orient the overwhelming advance of the materialistic society can be counteracted?
But this way of focusing on the world has made us create a society that lives for technological progress, thus creating a sick society, where humans are less important than the machines. It is in this context, referred to martial arts, we will act in accord with our cultural background and will look at Karate under this framework, this world-view. Thus we will create our own organizations and institutions, they will extend our own vision of karate or any other martial art if that is the case. We will create directive and administrative bodies, under a design as democratic as possible, thus giving it more authority and representativity; but what we actually are doing is expressing our cultural vision through Karate-do.
Continuing with this logic, we will establish a new grading scale, for we will consider that a 5th Dan as maximum does not fit in with the present reality and we will create a scale more fitting for our mental structure. Equivalently, we will exaggerate and overemphasize the conferral of grades, accreditation, titles and qualifications, that show off our attainments and our position. That is how, almost naturally, the 8th, 9th and 10th Dan appear (I personally view this as excessive modesty, I do not understand why there still do not exist 20th or 25th dans) and the titles such as „Grand Master”. This makes me believe that one day there will possibly exist „super – duper – extra – grandmasters”.
Following this logic, technique necessarily must be as utilitarian as possible, it is only this way that it can be understood and even easier understood is „sport”. Anyone can understand this, many want to learn it and it is easier to sell. Continuing with the same logic, titles and more titles will be created, more and more trophies, we will create a gigantic show to elect the best and we will make this the real reason of karate’s existence.
On the other hand, in Karate, there are those that with the best intentions, teach the art as a self-defense system. With this in mind, a profound and systematic study is done that directs instruction and teaching as a highly effective personal defense system.
Surely karate can be an extremely effective self-defense system, but I believe this is an added subproduct. I do not believe this is the real objective of the art. But for our mental structure what is easiest to understand are those things that as simply as possible show their utility, but this doubtfully represents the art’s real purpose.
Master Egami expresses his concern in another part of the text, stating that Karate-do cannot be viewed as an „art of homicide”. If this is to be avoided, instructors must not teach it this way. Anyway, this is just another typical manifestation of our pragmatic and utilitarian mentality that is characterized by its lack of spirituality.
Many instructors have traveled from Orient to Occident to teach martial arts, but what the vast majority have done, is teach an art tailored to the Occidental mentality. Thus they have overemphasized titles and distinctions and consequently the art has been transformed into a sport, which has guaranteed the success of many of them. We must then presume, that what these instructors have done is profit of Occident’s benefits, that is, the material advantages that it offers. When we consider this we can assume that these instructors had a very occidental mentality. This is of course not the case of those instructors that have taught their art establishing a cultural bridge between Orient and Occident.
Evidently, Master Egami considers the spiritual aspects as very important and fundamental for understanding the soul of Orient.
Karate-do is an art which points toward an awakening of a level of consciousness, just as all oriental cultural displays. That is why filling it with Occidental superficiality means corroding it’s most profound essence. This is why the art can not be utilitarian, nor be full of titles and grading beyond those established by the founders and creators, this is not out of respect to tradition, rather out of respect for the very essence of the art. If I need to fill it with distinctions, I am filling it with a superficiality that is not part of the art’s essence, just part of the Occidental logic and in no way part of the art’s objectives.
The art of Karate-do as Master Egami proposes it, is oriented towards human development, but a development strongly based on the Oriental vision that brings an awakening of human spirituality, thus giving him/her the tools to confront the overwhelming advance of an insensible and materialistic society.
Now, how can we attain this purpose?
I believe this can only be done through sincere practice, done with sincere love of the art. Not searching profit from it. Life can not be the search of profit. Life is sentiment, life is integration.
Why do we have to fight one another? Why do we have to show that we are better than the others? Can we not mutually help each other to become each day better people?
It is only our insecurity that makes us so competitive and we search for security in other people’s recognition. We will not stop being who we really are, just because we are „better” when compared to others.
From all I have expressed previously, it would seem as if there is a confrontation between the Oriental and the Occidental mentality, but I do not believe this is so. However, it is necessary to clearly define cultural attributes to be able to understand the problem in it’s full extent, only this way can we fully grasp the words of Master Egami.
It is my belief that thanks to the cultural mixing and the great development of communications, a day will come when there will no longer be a dichotomy between cultures and we will talk about a great universal culture. It will have as an objective the holistic development of human beings and all society. If this is to happen, great leaders will be necessary. People that can express the best of what humans can be and that will struggle for humanity’s cause. Will this be the job of the men and women of the third millennium? Let’s hope so. With respect to Karate-do and Budo, leaders will be needed, they will maintain Master Egami’s legacy unaltered. These leaders will be pledged to the cause of humanity, but, coupled with this, they will need a great amount of humility to assume this role. It is not a political job, it will not be attained this way, no matter how many organizations we establish and no matter how noble their goals are. It is a goal that will be attained through Keiko, this job will have to be done with keiko-gi.
It is a goal that must be accomplished in contact with nature and not by a desk nor in an sports arena, it’s a job that has to be completed in the deepest confines of each human being.
Who will be the next one that will give his life so that we may understand something about the Way?
Humberto Heyden Sensei comments on Occident and Orient;
Karate-do, sports karate and how Occidental culture has deformed Karate-do.