The Old Days


The Old Days

They were a lively lot tonight, most of the students were in their teens and playing off each others energy, but as young energy has a wont to do, it faded all too quickly, leaving a large group of flushed, animated but physically tired teens.

“Sit down”…  Sensei recognised this and realised that this was a perfect ‘window of opportunity’ to inject a little wisdom.

“Any questions?” – a good coaches ploy to get the students to start the conversation… Sensei looked along the line of young, flushed and animated faces…

The hands shot up… “Jamie?”

“Sensei, what was karate like when you started all those hundreds of years ago?” Ripples of cheeky laughter ran across the class.

“Cheeky beggar!”  Sensei grinned.  “Karate only really came to England in the 1950’s which isn’t quitehundreds of years ago…  but it’s getting there.. It was introduced by a chap called Vernon Bell who died quite recently, it then really started to take a hold in the 1960’s when the first Japanese instructors came over to live and teach.

Nowadays 70% of karate students are children and certainly in our club, 50% female, but in those days our club consisted entirely of young men in their late teens and twenties.  All our dojo’s were in a rough part of South London, so training tended to reflect the membership and location.  Knowledge of karate was also very sparse, one of the reasons I don’t talk about those times much, is because we did some really stupid things.”

“Tell us Sensei, what stupid things?”

“It’s really not appropriate to talk about them, but suffice to say that the local hospital got fed up with our continual attendance at the accident and emergency and fracture clinics.  All those injuries from stupid training come back to haunt you in your autumn years…

“Autumn years” repeated one wag to more laughter….

“But I think the main differences were in English culture at that time.”

“What sort of differences?”  Now Sensei knew he had their attention.

“It wasn’t so long after the Second World War where we had fought the Japanese, so there was still a lot of anti Japanese feeling and many people weren’t that happy with anything oriental.”

“That sounds a bit racist to me!”

“You probably wouldn’t have thought so at the time, most families had suffered loss in WW2 and many to the Japanese army, you also have to remember that we were not the diverse, multi ethnic culture that we are today, so there wasn’t the same sort of ‘international natural tolerance’ that we have now.”

“You can still see that intolerance in so many countries” said one student wisely.”

That’s right, blighty still isn’t a bad place to live” said sensei.  But in those days people used to come into the club and be horrified at the fact that we were kicking each other!  In the ‘50’s and ‘60’s men didn’t kick in a fight and no one fought ‘dirty’ so there was no groin strikes, hair pulling or gouging.  Karate was often referred to in what we would now call a racist fashion, as ‘dirty Jap fighting’.  Most differences were sorted out by boxing or wrestling to agreed rules – at school if we were caught fighting, the PE teacher would take us into the gym and make us put on the boxing gloves and referee for us!

Most people in our area had never been abroad except those that went to fight in WW2, there was no internet, no satellite or cable television, no videos and no DVD’s, the world hadn’t heard of Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan, in fact we didn’t even know the words Kung Fu until the 1970’s…”

“Bruce Lee?  Who’s he?” piped up one of the younger students.

“A really old version of Jet Li” said another..

“Sensei…  you really are old aren’t you…”

“Not really, it’s just that technology updates really fast.  Sensei gave a mischevious grin.”

“We only had one television channel in  the ‘50’s and 3 television channels in the late ‘60’s and all in black and white only, I grew up on a diet of cowboy television programmes like ‘The Lone Ranger’, The Cisco Kid’ ‘Rin Tin Tin’ (a german shepherd ‘cowboy dog’), Fury (a cowboy horse) and ‘Roy Rogers’ all westerns.  All the heroes wore white hats and the villains black hats, there was no swearing on television and everyone admired the heroes.  The hero always won and the only injuries he ever got were shoulder or leg wounds, there was always a very clearly defined line between what was good and bad and that was also reflected in society.”

“As a result of the post WW2 culture, the 1950’s society policed itself, it was the duty of every citizen to uphold the law.  If you saw someone doing something wrong, it was your duty to stop them and generally everyone did.”

“If you did that nowadays you would be arrested and the criminal’d sue you..”

“Yeah…  you’re told to phone the police and if you do you either get an answerphone or they’ve never got anyone to come out!

“And if they do they’re more likely to arrest you than the villain!

“They do that so you don’t report crime and then their statistics look good for dealing with it.”

“Well I’m not sure that’s exactly true, said Sensei, but I can understand the frustration of those that remember how it was, it wasn’t all good that’s for sure, but sometimes I do feel that they threw the baby out with the bathwater.”

“In society in general, or in the Martial Arts sensei?”

“Both really, we don’t seem to have the knack of keeping the good and getting rid of the bad, modern society seems to breed cowards and lean on (and blame) authority instead of taking responsibility for itself.  In the same way, martial arts seem to focus on the systems and not the individual people.  When they fail, students blame the system or teacher and the system and teacher seem to be able to manipulate the students more easily because they are weaker.”

Sensei had that far away look in his eyes, “gone are the days that you could tell the difference between the heroes and villains, when you were judged by what you could do rather than what you said, when the colour of your belt had to be matched by your ability, when the people were strong and the system supported them, when friendship was unconditional, agreements were made on a handshake, when a CD was an LP, when a rucksack was a haversack, when gay meant happy and your word was your bond.”

“Sensei, we’ve moved forward since then and progressed…..  we’ve got technology, transport, satellite television, DVD’s, video’s overseas travel, we know much more than we did then…”

“ I wonder…… mmmmm…. Do we?”

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