I received a message from my teacher, Hanshi Patrick McCarthy asking me if I had heard about my teacher, Sensei Morio Higaonna. Sensei Higaonna sent a strong message recently when he left the Okinawa Karate organization that he had founded and built over the course of years, imbuing it with the highest pride and honor.
The statement stunned me and made me stop and think while still recovering from a long trip to Africa… I wondered if I was on the right path? Martial artists talk about the 47 Ronin, but don’t understand that they were all devoted to One Teacher.
I studied for years with Kubo Akira Sensei and many other great masters, to whom I owe all my current skills and knowledge. Throughout my years studying with them, we never had conflicts, even when we didn’t see eye to eye, I still follow them and show them the utmost respect. I started studying with Hanshi Patrick McCarthy in 1985 and to this day we still carry a great relationship and friendship as teacher and student. In 2000 I started studying with Professor John Machado and even when I train with one of his brothers, such as Professor Carlos Machado or others, I still seek his blessing and permission, as he is my Professor. As a student, it is clear to me that you follow your teacher always, even if you add to your Martial Arts skills Judo, Karate, Kendo or BJJ, you maintain your loyalty to your teacher and I would not dare to step onto a BJJ mat of another teacher without seeking the blessing of my Professor.
I write this to make it clear that when given the choice to follow your teacher or to follow an organization, it’s not even a question. It reminds me of my days practicing Kendo when I had an argument with the IKF Secretary who was racist and showed the utmost disrespect, I told him that he is not my teacher and I’ll never follow him, then formally disassociated myself from the organization while still studying Kendo under my Sensei.
The same goes for BJJ. Many have asked me if I’m in this Federation or that Federation. I respond that I’m a student of my Professor, John Machado, Federations haven’t taught me anything, and most have an ulterior economic agenda. Many Israeli Federations sell certificates under the guise of a ‘non-political organization’, but will send lifetime certificates and awards if I agree to join them. Still, I refuse to participate in this charade.
As a Sensei on the Road, I had an opportunity meeting all kind of people. Some chose the path of deceiving, dishonesty, and dull spirited. But I’ve also met some of the most wonderful and hospitable people I’ve ever known. Honest, true to their path, true spirited of the highest caliber.
Over the years, I’ve built relationships with good, and honest people, who over time have become like a family to me. Looking back on the price that my own family had to pay due to my travels, work, and adventures. I’ve been as far as the Arctic and the deserts, even risked my own life a few times, but it was all for the love of the art and my students.
Just like my teachers such as, Kubo Akira, Hanshi McCarthy, Higaonna, and Professor John Machado, that have been let down so many times by people and students. They remain true to their spirit and to the art, as have I.
When Sensei Higaonna announced that he is starting a new organization, I was sad to find that the old organization he built for many years, left the values he taught so many students for many years. But I am happy and honored to see that he keeps moving forward, keeping and staying true to the spirit, and the art.
When you’ve been doing this for as long as I have, you realize that this is how you earn the title of Sensei. It’s not that you’ve been let down so many times, but it’s the fact that you’ve stayed strong and knew how to rebuild. The only thing that matters, is that you continue moving forward. This is what it means to be a Sensei.