Interview with Sensei Paolo Spongia – IOGKF Italy

Newbushido: To whom would you recommend to practice Karate?

Sensei Spongia:

To anyone without limitation.

It might seem an obvious and “advertising” question but I think that it is a fundamental quotation.

However, I would like to advise at once that Karate-Do is for everybody and for no one.

That is to say that, definitely, the practice of Karate-Do offers, in its most complete sense, an infinite range of instruments and learning experiences, which, taught wisely by an experienced teacher, could allow any person at any age to reach the maximum of both their psychophysical and moral potential.

Yet, as any respectable art, Karate-Do requires sincere dedication, especially after a certain level of learning has been attained. It means that Karate-Do should become the foundation of one’s life, with its principles transferred effectively into daily life.

With the word “dedication”, I do not mean a single-theme mania. On the contrary, those who know me are well aware that my “model” Karate-Do teacher is not only a specialist in kicks and punches but a complete person in any sphere of the life, who is able to grasp the principles of the art and to apply them to every moment of ordinary life.

And still, one must get deeply into the study of the Discipline offering it the necessary time, passion and commitment; otherwise the results will only be limited, as in any art.

Everybody likes to say that they practice “the art of Karate” but any respectable art requires enthusiasm, dedication and discipline, as well as creativity and intuition (which, ironically, are precisely the result of the discipline), or else Karate-Do may become, at best, a hobby like many others, with much weaker effects indeed, in some cases, deleterious effects, due to the dangerous hobby like and disengaged attitude, which is common these days, lies at the root of numerous diseases of our society.

To complete my answer: the sea is immense, but if you approach it with a spoon, you will get only a tablespoon of water...

Let me add a comment on the training of children, which for me is a separate chapter.

Training involving children must have a enjoyable approach.

Precisely, it is necessary to develop every movement and psychological characteristic of the child, offering him/her the means for an adequate growth and, at the same time, making the best use of educational, mythical and symbolic tools, which are provided to us by our discipline and which speak deeply to a child's psyche.

I am against some “sport oriented” approaches that have purged these precious elements off the Karate-Do for children, turning it into a dull sporting game deprived of all its mythical and symbolic potential.

Newbushido: When and why did you start practicing Karate-Do?

Sensei Spongia:

I started when I was 13.

I had played tennis since the age of seven and discovered Karate, as it often happens, because of a friend, who had already been practicing and who led me to attend a lesson... it was like an electric shock, I still remember the smell of the Dojo, it felt like to be back home again.

For a couple of years more, I was training in the Dojo and still playing tennis at a competitive level, and then, by the age of 15, I had to decide which way my energy should be directed, and I had no doubts in choosing Karate-Do; I felt that it could offer me more, as it further did, to become a man; well more than scoring a point by hitting a ball over a net.

I chose Karate-Do because I realized that I could take it with me into my everyday life instead of having an experience limited to the tennis court.

Newbushido: Among Karate styles, Goju-Ryu is maybe the most traditional one, rooted deeply in the island of Okinawa. Which are the main differences with the other Karate styles?

Sensei Spongia:

Honestly, I would refrain from comparing their qualities.

I believe, I know my style well enough but I do not have sufficient knowledge of other styles to be able to discuss them.

The Karate-Do, which was imported to and spread in Japan, has undoubtedly undergone significant changes, as compared to the original Okinawan Karate, both in terms of technique and style, as well as in terms of its goals.

Sports development then did the rest.

I think it does not make sense any more to talk about styles in sport karate.

The same Goju-ryu has undergone a dramatic transformation on its way from Okinawa to Japan, in so much that some training methods have been completely abandoned and the same Kata have been modified significantly.

I think that a style practiced with proper dedication and under a competent teacher should be able to ensure an effective system tested by the long-term experience that comes from a lineage of Masters.

A style must be “effective”, and by this term I do not only mean its effectiveness in a fight, which is certainly an essential aspect, but also the efficiency of energetic and psychophysical development, which would ensure well being of the person practicing the style.

In short, one should reap the benefits and see the exact results of his/her training both in terms of combat performance and well being.

Otherwise, one’s way will be fraught with all those aberrations that make one’s search for well being through lax and comfortable exercise to the satisfaction of public demand, and this, in my opinion, apart from bringing a temporary relief, appears utterly ineffective for deep and lasting training and benefits. Or in the case one seeks the notorious combat “efficiency”, may ensure in some, rare cases are a certain short-term effectiveness, which will inevitably plummet with age leaving behind a broken body.

Too often do we see planting on of dubious products, a medley of techniques and exercises without any connection between them.

Before discovering the Goju-Ryu of Higaonna Sensei, even though I was training very hard just as I do now, I had been plagued by many doubts because I had not been able to reap the promised benefits to see the concrete results corresponding to my efforts, and so I had kept on searching and searching until I met my Master, Higaonna sensei, who dispelled my every doubt.

The Goju-Ryu that I practice, I believe it is a complete style in the fullest sense of the word. All forms of exercise we employ, from Junbi Undo to Hojo Undo, from Kakie to Irikumi, from Kata to Bunkai, etc., lead us at the final result: the complete development of the practitioner both from the point of view of martial or fighting skills, as well as psychophysical training and well being.

If you neglect even one aspect of the training, the final result will be far different.