AN INTERVIEW WITH GRAND MASTER ANSEI UESHIRO an excerpt from a forthcoming book by Jeff Moriber entitled “The Graphic Martial Artist”
JM: “Looking back over the period of time since you first brought Shorin-Ryu Karate to the United States in 1962, how has karate translated into our Western culture? Can it be as meaningful for someone outside the Okinawan culture as inside? What were your expectations in 1962 and have they been met?”
MASTER UESHIRO: “First, in the West, karate was seen mostly as a form of self-defense, but one with a special mystique because of its Eastern philosophy. Now it has become a sport, like boxing or wrestling, but it still has that mystique. It’s not just the mystique; many people now realize that it’s a system that helps you order your whole life. In that way, it can be as meaningful to someone outside the Okinawan culture as inside, yes, but the meaning is different because the cultures are different. As for my expectations in 1962, as far as my students understand the deeper meaning of karate, as a way to focus and shape their lives, they have been met. But in addition, I’d like to see the view of karate as a destructive force, or solely as a money-making proposition, eliminated. Karate is an art that can benefit society and help improve people’s lives.
I lifted my head and as I was about to ask an additional question he raised his hand and, establishing his ground rules, gently said: “Just because you are writing a book doesn’t mean that you should give away all the meaning and secrets of karate. Neither the book nor the answers have to be long to be complete.”
JM: “What are your feelings about training with contact? You are renowned for your aggressive, full-commitment style.” His ever-present smile was now replaced by a serious expression: “When you have to protect your life, you must use all your strength and skill. To use force and contact when you train would be very dangerous and foolish. It would cause injuries that would prevent your continuing to train. Training should prepare you to fight. ‘To fight is a very serious thing, my Master said, ‘Sometimes it is alright if you are hit once, if that will end the fight. Fighting should not be entered into lightly’.”
The Master referring to his Master, spoke volumes to me. His smile returned.
JM: “Is the concept of Karate-do as meaningful today as it was in the past?”
MASTER UESHIRO: “Certainly. Karate teaches you how to focus your being on certain goals, whether it be to perfect a kata, or to master the nunchku. And this focusing carries over into the rest of your life. Karate is more than just a physical skill; it is a balancing of mind and body. It’s a spiritual system as well as a sport, and one that is as valid today as it was two hundred years ago.” As to karate’s validity in today’s times, Master Ueshiro added further clarification when I reintroduced the question: “In any culture, in any country, at any time in history, a person must always be able to defend himself.”
JM: “You were born into the karate tradition. Was there ever a time when you questioned whether or not you would go on? What has karate meant in your life?”
MASTER UESHIRO:”No, there was not any time when I questioned whether or not I would go on. Karate has been my life; it has given me the philosophy for living my life.”
JM: “How does one continue to practice karate as he advances in age?”
MASTER UESHIRO:”Karate is a way of life. It is not a thing that you just learn when you’re 18. There is spiritual growth as well. Obviously, physical strength will decay, but the aesthetic value you get from the art will continue to strengthen over the years.”
JM: “We all face difficulties. What aspect of karate was most difficult for you and how have you tried to overcome it?”
MASTER UESHIRO:”There are always other difficulties in life, and karate for me is a form of meditation almost that relieves the tensions of everyday life. If there was a difficult aspect of learning karate, I didn’t realize it was there. I once had an accident that made me lose the use of my hands; recovering from this accident, mentally and physically, was the main struggle of my life. It was karate that made it possible for me to recover.”
JM: “What did it mean to you when you received the Sho-dan rank? What did it mean to you when you received the Kyoshi title?” (To be awarded the title of Kyoshi one must first be a Go-dan, fifth degree black belt. After a minimum of two years at that rank and being at least 35 year old, the title Renshi may be awarded. After ten years as a Renshi and being at least 45 years old, the title Kyoshi can be awarded.)
MASTER UESHIRO:”The better I got, the more I felt a responsibility for the art, to help those who are learning it.”
The underlying doubt and skepticism that I had brought to this meeting had dissolved. Here before me was a man of disarming charm and personality who had, beneath his ebullience, a rock-solid strength in his beliefs and dedication to karate and its traditions. I was happy that circumstances allowed me to have this opportunity to talk with him. I thanked him and he thanked me. In parting we shook hands, which he followed by bowing deeply. I returned the bow, having had lots of practice in the dojo. He then returned my bow with a second deep bow I knew I had entered new territory. I regained my balance but not my composure and returned his bow. How I wished I knew more about the etiquette of bowing. I felt awkward as I made this second bow not sure when to rise or how low I should be, hoping that despite my feeble effort I was showing the proper respect, which I genuinely felt toward this man. He would have the last bow. My mind reviewed our meeting as if it was in fast-forward. Over and over, the one highlight that kept pushing itself to the front was Master Ueshiro’s response to my last question. Indeed, after this meeting, there was no doubt in my mind that that answer should be the last word.
Jeff: “To those who read this book but are not now studying karate, what is the one thought you have for them? For those who are now studying, what would you tell them?”
MASTER UESHIRO:”TO those who are not now studying, I have nothing to say. I would tell those who are now studying not to stop. Karate is a lifelong pursuit.”