Uechi-ryu for a lifetime!

by George Mattson

Good day George,

I wanted write this e-mail to thank you for signing a copy of your book that I bought last winter for my son Alex; it was a great surprise for him and it meant a lot that it was signed from you to him.  The timing of the book  was a good motivator for him as Alex has struggled some in recent years as to finding his future direction with his karate.  Alex has been in Uechi-Ryu karate since he was 7 years old and is now 21 nearly ready for his Sandan test.  I know you won’t remember this so I enclosed a photo of when Alex  met you quite a number of years  ago at a karate event in Halifax, Nova Scotia when he was about 10 (he is the small blond purple belt on right).  At the time I asked you what keeps kids in karate for the long haul and you told me that if kids can get to 16 and get their black belt they would have karate for life, and I have to admit that it has worked so far for Alex.

Unfortunately I have seen karate lose a lot of other kids along the way, which I think is a real shame. Alex spent a few years on our provincial karate team and went to National Karate Association tournaments and the one thing I have noticed about kids that stick with karate to a high level is that they are all very good role models for the rest of society.  No matter what karate style, in general they are disciplined, fit, eat healthy, are respectful, and high achievers in sport, school and in their eventual careers.  This is something that the karate world and people like yourself that have given your life to karate should be very proud of.I noticed from your past newsletters that that you are always looking for input into ways to make karate and events like Summerfest better.  I am also aware that traditional karate is losing students to the MMA trend  and there is a lot of pressure for clubs to modify their traditional karate programs to retain students. I would like to pass along a few of my thoughts as a karate father observing many karate kids over the past 13 years.

·Of all of the kids that started karate the same time Alex did, he is the only one that has stuck with it.  In Uechi Ryu you can get your junior black belt at 12, but have to wait until 16-17 to get your adult black belt.  There does not seem to be a real benefit to starting karate too early as the kids advancement stalls and they lose interest in the gap between 12 and 17 unless they go into competitive karate.  Uechi Ryu needs to find something to better fill the gap between 12 and 17.

·Kids get a lot of peer pressure to play other more traditional school sports.  Karate doesn’t have the same sport profile with peers.  When kids have no grading or advancement goals they drop out of karate in droves to other sports such as hockey, football and soccer.

·Adults that started karate at the same time as Alex did are two black belt ranks higher than he is today because they were older and more mature when they started, not necessarily because of skill.  Young people have trouble understanding this.

·Years ago Alex’s sensei told him that you only start learning karate once you have reached your black belt level.  I now know this to be true now, but I don’t think it is explained well to young people.  The philosophy and psychology of karate is not well taught or understood even when people reach their black belt.  It is the philosophy of mind, body and spirit that makes karate (Uechi Ryu) different from sports like MMA.  You practice Uechi Ryu to become a better person mentally, physically and spiritually which may take a lifetime to achieve. In mixed martial arts they short cut this process to get at slugging it out with each other.  Kids have trouble seeing the difference and get draw to the hype.

·Teaching is good and necessary for a karate student to progress; but when there are not many black belts in a club,  it makes it harder for the higher belts to achieve their own karate goals, as they tend to have to put them on the back burner to help other lower ranks  learn.

·In our club most of the higher level black belts either have left or retired quite a number of years ago and what is lacking today is access to a depth of mentors and opportunities for the higher ranked belts so that they can continue to grow and develop their skills.

·Is there a way that more training can be done via the Internet, especially for the higher ranks?

I am sure that you are well aware of these points, and I by no means want to criticize the efforts that you or anyone else has put into Uechi Ryu karate.  These are basically things I have observed over the years and I apologize for not having more constructive ideas to offer. I think that the training of the body and spirit get the emphasis but the training of the mind is what is missed.   Knowing what to do and how to do it  is often not enough, young people need to know the why as well if they are going to commit to something.

Thanks for listening.

Gary Morton, Kentville, Nova Scotia

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