A colleague asked me today what style of karate I practise*. I thought it an interesting question, and an interesting coincidence as well, as I had just been mulling over exactly that point this very morning.
My answer was not simple.
To start with, I train in Chidokan karate-do, as a young’un in the 70s and 80s, and again now, under Kancho Jack Sims sensei – who trained under Takeshi Sasaki sensei, the founder of Chidokan, and Kiyoshi Sasaki sensei, his younger brother and chief instructor at the time. Now, Takeshi Sasaki sensei always maintained that the style of karate he taught was Shotokan, and that Chidokan was just the name of his organisation. Sims sensei has told me that he disagrees; that in his view there are sufficient, and significant enough, differences to warrant regarding Chidokan as a distinct style.
I suppose against that could perhaps be the fact that Nakajima sensei, Chidokan International’s senior instructor, has a video of kata excerpts, which bears a title of “Shotokan-ryu All Kata Excerpts”, and shows in at least some kata the standard Shotokan versions, rather than what I – following Sims sensei (and he following Sasaki sensei) – practise as Chidokan kata (and in one instance a reversed name: what most Shotokan organisations – except Kanazawa sensei’s SKIF – call Gojushiho Sho, we call Gojushiho Dai, and what they call Dai we call Sho; Nakajima sensei’s video shows what I know as Gojushiho Dai, but labelled as Sho).
As well as just agreeing with Sims sensei because of course I do, I regard the differences between Chidokan and the various Shotokan organisations as quite substantive. There are differences in detail, in general themes and style throughout kata and kihon (basics) – and even, I think in the nature of training, and the focus on fundamentals (that focus seems to be more solid in Chidokan – at least under Sims sensei). Does that make it another style though? There’s the question. What does style even mean? Certainly it’s not different like Goju Ryu or Shito Ryu are different from Shotokan, but I do maintain it is different from Shotokan organisations like JKA, JKS, SKIF. Is it a style? Does it matter? These are the bits that are really not clear to me.
How I’m actually coming to think about it is something different again. I’m starting to regard different styles of karate as perhaps best seen as being a particular master’s karate. In that sense, JKA-style Shotokan could be regarded as Nakayama sensei’s karate; SKIF as Kanazawa sensei’s karate; and Chidokan as Sasaki sensei’s karate – though now I would see it, in as much as it stands truly apart, as being Sims sensei’s karate – as he has on the one hand held true to what he learnt from (both) Sasaki sensei, and on the other continued to research and to develop his karate over the fifty years following his initial period of study with them in Japan.
*And yes, this is rather a divergence from my photography posts… which have been completely lacking for a very long time anyway, and it’s my blog… so I can do what I want. 😉