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Future of Uechi-ryu Karate

by George Mattson

Looking towards the future!

by George E. Mattson

As 2000 winds down, thoughts turn towards the new year and new hopes and aspirations. Among other things I’ve been accused of by my detractors, is being a dreamer! In the early 60s I saw Uechi-ryu prominently involved with the emerging freefighting era. In the early 70s I envisioned Uechi-ryu remaining a unified and dynamic organization, with successful dojo throughout the world working together. My goal and emphasis was always to work within the Uechi framework of tradition and style. In the early 80s, I introduced the Uechi world to its Southern China ancestors, believing that exploring Uechi-ryu’s past would enhance and vitalize its future. Again, I hoped that Okinawa, China and the rest of the world could work together in some kind of accord that would strengthen Uechi-ryu. Although no accord happened, through the annual Summer Camp, hosting multiple styles of the martial arts, Uechi-ryu has become and remains a state-of-the-art system that has evolved and has been able to survive in an era of intense competition. 

Today, Uechi-ryu (and nearly all traditional systems) has moved away from traditionalism and its Far Eastern heritage. A new emphasis has focused on a more individual dojo approach, based on an eclectic blend of broadly interpreted set of old movements. The unified goal of Kanei Uechi has been shattered by seniors who took the organizational shell too seriously and who focused their attention on the shell and not enough attention to the heart. I was probably one of the last “Traditionalists” to recognize that in order to survive in this new millennium, organizations must rethink their original attitudes regarding the ‘old’ ways and the people we trusted to pass and preserve these methods. 

I had long ago given up on the idea of a one-world martial art’s organization. . . Or even a unified Uechi-ryu world. The concept of a “Ryu” is too firmly imbedded in this generation’s consciousness to accept anything but the old way of running a dojo and by extension, an organization. As an art, we have not accepted the concept of the individual within the art. Too many of us look for the standard by which all should be judged and once discovered, are intolerant of others who see the standard from another perspective. Obviously, the future of the martial arts lie with the new teachers and open minded elders.

Lots of things have happened since I taught my first class at the Boston YMCA in 1958. We tend to look at all the bad things people do and ignore all the wonderful things accomplished. In spite of all the setbacks we have had in Uechi-ryu and the martial arts in general, think of all the advances! Many of you new students are blessed with teachers who are truly talented and gifted. As students, you will make new mistakes I’m sure, but as a group, you are so much better off today than 40, 20 or even 10 years ago. You are spoiled as well, because there are so many fantastic martial arts being taught all around you. In 1958, I was the only game in town! Today, your biggest problem is selecting which dojo to attend.

Teachers today must be the very best in order to survive. Mediocrity may attract a couple of students, but will not sustain a dojo. Old timers continue to reside in their cocoons, live in the past and revel in their past accomplishments while the new teachers search for the best methods and are eager to share their techniques and interpretations with the world. The keepers of the time capsules continue to guard their secrets and segregate their students from the outside world while the new generation downplay styles and focus on individual skills. We no longer debate over which style is better, for most know it is the individual, not the style that makes a difference.

As a dreamer, I continue to push and pull martial artists into looking for areas of similarity instead of differences. I still consider myself to be a traditionalist, but prefer to define this term as it relates to the twenty first century, rather than what it meant to me in 1958. I’m more focused today on working with like minded martial artist than I am on trying to save the Uechi-ryu world. 

Marty Dow once said of me, “I like working with you. You are controversial and make lots of mistakes, but you mean well and you do make things happen!” As we go into 2001, I am looking forward to working with you all, making lots of things happen! Join me in celebrating a new and better relationship with our fellow martial artist. Let’s tear down the barriers, forget the past and let’s concentrate on working out together and building a stronger, better vision of traditional martial arts. 

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