Interview with Sensei Spongia Part 3

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What is your opinion of Karate as a sport?

Sensei Spongia:

Karate-Dō is not a sport.

We must be honest.

Sport is one thing and the martial art is something completely different.

What will remain to competitors at the end of their careers, what will remain them besides some medals which will rust?

The experience of the competition could be a good experience for young people. I myself have participated in tournaments and competitions for many years in my youth (also because at that time there was not much choice in Italy). But this experience must be proposed with great care and attention, proposed with honesty and integrity and thinkimg to rules that should not push the practitioner to distort his practice in order to achieve success in a competition.

The ethical, moral and technical values expressed in the practice in the Dōjō should also be reflected in the competitive performance. We call it Shiai: a test for some technical and psychological skills acquired through a confrontation with an opponent whom is just an help for the confrontation with oneself.

You are not competing against other then yourself, against your physical and psychological limitations.

On the contrary, I think most people went very far from this approach, in a totally different direction, with a total neglect not only of the technical skills and effectiveness of the Martial art but also of its educational and ethical aspects.

Our organization, IOGKF, has no competitive purpose.

When we dared to propose a 'competitive experience' to our youth we were very, very careful about the formula to be adopted.

We designed it and perfected it so that it could allow a healthy and effective opportunity to verify the  psycophysical qualities and techniques with tests that require the practitioner to have a complete and non-specialistic preparation. This formula was faithful to the curriculum and educational setting of IOGKF and the Dōjō practice.

Our students, teenagers and adults, practice hard and with great enthusiasm and do not need to be motivated in their training by a possibility to get a medal.

Not to mention the attitude of the world of sports karate towards so-called “amateurs” or “non-agonists” who seem to be considered exclusively as “affiliations meat”and who in the traditional school, on the contrary,constitute the pillars of the Dojo and of the School.

Paradoxically, the Grand Masters of Budo, including Higaonna Sensei, who have never been champions of the sport, would be considered “amateurs” by Karate sportspeople.

And these amateur trainees assigned to a second-divisionare “consoled” by Dan grades that replaces the medal.

Otherwise, what is the sense of those pathetic exams for various black belt dan grades, in which I have unfortunately participated in sports federations, if not to provide a consolation for those who prefer hanging their little diplomas on the walls instead of practicing for real?

Even in a purely sports world, if you want to play tennis with someone you must know how to throw the ball beyond the net. Similarly, if you come to take a swimming certificate exam and sink miserably in the middle of the swimming pool, no instructor will ever dream of acknowledging your certificate.

Yet, this has happened in the world of sports karate with devastating effects for the reputation of Karate not only as a martial art but also as a simple sport.

Today, there seems to be a reverse tendency, given the failure of the sports approach, and illusive teachers of the traditional Karate-Do begin to “resurface” nearly everywhere...

However, speaking about the traditional Karate-Do, we do not, as it is commonly and conveniently interpreted, use Japanese terms or ape obsessively the gestures that are considered “ancient” without understanding their meaning.

The tradition consists only in passing on the spirit and the deepest meaning of the art “ishin den shin” (“from heart to heart”, as they say in the Zen), in an uninterrupted lineage of people who have been able to dedicate their lives to study and research. And it is though this passage that the art becomes enriched with new insights by virtue of unity, of undisclosed alchemy, of any teacher-student relationship, which, if authentic, results in maturation of the student who will not be his/her Master’s clone but who will, in turn, be able to propose a fresh interpretation to enrich the art.

Instead, we have been and still remain deluded by those who want to get things cheap that one can reach understanding of Budo only by taking federal courses and exams.

As a result, Italy is full of masters with all sorts of grades who often have never had a true teacher and have never really stepped onto an authentic educational path guided by a demanding human relationship with a Teacher who bears a tradition.

However all the while, both in the Way of Budo and in the Zen, it is exclusively through this personal relationship, which embraces every aspect of one’s life, that the knowledge is passed on.

It is not just a matter of technique, it is the spirit that must be translated.

Without it, at best, it is just a sport.

Like many Japanese styles, Goju-Ryu also has its beginning in China, how does the Kakie exercise correlate with other similar training methods, such as the Taijiquan Tui Shou? Could you clarify how this training method works and what its purpose is?

Sensei Spongia:

It is interesting that just recently Master Higaonna’s Goju-Ryu Teachings has been introduced into the Fuzhou Schools in South China, where Goju-Ryu originally is from.

I believe that it is the first time a similar thing has happened in China involving a “Japanese” Karate style.

In one of their many visits to China in search of the origins of Goju-Ryu in the footsteps of Kanryo Higaonna Sensei, Master Morio Higaonna and his students have given demonstration of our katas. The Chinese Masters were moved and stated that the old forms that had been lost in China are stille preserved in Okinawan Goju-Ryu...

Kakie is a fundamental exercise in Okinawan Goju-Ryu.

I believe that it bears many similarities to the TaijiquanTui Shou exercise and to the Chisao of Wing Chun.

The influence of the White Crane style is evident in this exercise.

Kakie trains sensitivity at contact with the opponent’s arms and body in order to anticipate his/her intentions and to apply close-range levers, throws and impacts.

Even though this exercise is certainly fundamental, it should be, as mentioned before, integrated with and complemented by other exercises of the Goju-Ryu system.