Be Like Edible Crystalline Carbohydrates

Sometimes you guys send me some pretty interesting links.

Last month, for instance, I received a particulary interesting link from a clever guy named Mohammade who thought I should have a look at a speech he had found on the world wide interwebs.

I had a look, it was great, one thing led to another, and next thing I know I’m sitting with a fresh book in my lap named ‘The Art of Choosing’ by Sheena Iyengar. I’m not going to review the book or anything, I just want to tell you about a funny story she mentions (which is also mentioned in her speech), from which we can learn a lot.

It will serve as a good backdrop for the rest of the post.

Sheena (who is a Columbia University psychologist and business professor) once travelled to Japan for some research work, and at one point decided to order some green tea at a restaurant. Sheena likes sugar in her green tea, so that’s what she orders, to which the waiter replies, “Sorry, one does not put sugar in green tea.”

Astounded she repeats the request, and is again told (in a more polite way) that “One does simply not put sugar in green tea” which is of course true.

You don’t. Not in Japan.

But she insists, since she always has sugar in her green tea at home! So she asks again.

The waiter bows, excuses himself, runs away and consults the manager -who appears at the table, saying “I’m sorry, we don’t have any sugar”.

Stumped, Sheena orders some coffee instead — which is brought out moments later with two bits of sugar on the side.

Let me repeat that, in case you didn’t get it:

Two bits of S-U-G-A-R on the side.

Isn’t this pretty… astonishing?

This is a perfect example of the kind of mindset that holds back progress.

The above scenario was not due to a simple misunderstanding. It was due to a fundamental difference in our ideas about choice, and who has the right to make them for us.

If you are on a quest for knowledge (which I presume you always are), you can’t afford people not giving you “sugar” when you need it. At least not if you already know what green tea without sugar tastes like.

It’s a choice you should make.


Some don’t. And it’s easy to see why.

I mean, when a complete foreigner comes to your restaurant and orders green tea with sugar in it, she is implying that your green tea is not good enough au naturel. There’s clearly something wrong with it! Imagine if other customers see this. What would they think?!

You would be afraid of people like Sheena, because she thinks outside of the “green tea box”.

She is a threat.

And sadly, this exact mentality is prevalent in many Karate organizations.

Ever stopped to wonder what makes more and more Karate enthusiasts slowly change their ways to a non-bound, style-free direction? They get fed up with big brother telling them what to do! They are hungry for more, but can’t get it, because it’s “wrong” for no apparent reason.

Let me ask you this:

“What is the purpose of a big Karate organization?”

To guard knowledge?

To protect ancient customs?

Or, to act as a knowledge base – and distribute this knowledge in a systematic and understandable fashion to each and everyone of us who are willing to take part of this knowledge whilst sharing our own?

If I was to make an organization, that last one would be my vision.

Because, even though the two first alternatives would indeed make me seem untouchable and unresistably mysterious (not to mention stanky rich!), they wouldn’t give me much more than that. It stops there. It doesn’t further my own progress.

And yet, this is exactly how some major organizations act! Like virtual barriers between us, effectively obstructing our view of one another. Like huge filters; woven of money, power, titles and ignorance.

Simple example:

  • Enthusiastic student: “Hey, sensei, what’s that kata over there? Looks pretty interesting!”
  • Grumpy sensei: “STOP looking, it’s NOTHING you need to CARE about! We’re BETTER than them anyway!”

I see this every day, when I participate in stuff.

You want to do things, but you can’t, because you don’t belong to the “right” (air quotes) organization. You’re one of “them” (repeat air quotes).

So we’re politely steered away from putting sugar in our green tea.

Even though we’re able and ready to pay the price, and understand the consequences.

No doubt, this happens to me also. I’m one of “them”.

But not because my own organization tells me I can’t go to other places and learn fun stuff. No, I’m not bound by any organization(s), I made sure of that a long time ago.

It’s because of other organizations.

Since I don’t have the “right” patch on my gi, or use the “right” words (none of which they use in Japan, by the way) I’m a threat. I’m a big bag of nasty sugar, trying to jump into their precious teapot.

Now, I’m not saying organizations shouldn’t exist. I’m just saying they need to change with the times. Go with the flow! An organization that treats their members (who can be regarded as customers, in fact) as infants under such paroles as “Keeping Karate’s Highest Traditions Alive” or “Preserving The Ashes Of Our Godlike Masters” will not last long today.

I’m just saying.

That kind of conformist mentality is pass’e.

I’ll be damned if the future of Karate is to lie in the hands of a bunch of bald desktop warriors in their late 50’s with salt-and-pepper beard, who are too busy counting stacks of diplomas to even see their precious Soke-ship slowly sink under the waves of knowledge cause by the likes of you and me.

The solution?

  • Read books.
  • Watch DVD’s.
  • Go to seminars.
  • Check youtube.
  • Read handsome blogs.
  • Cross-train.
  • Go to tournaments.
  • Lurk on internet forums.
  • Ask questions.
  • Read martial arts magazines.
  • Be annoying.

Do whatever these McKarate CEO’s don’t want you to do. Whatever threatens their status quo, and makes them feel uncomfortable.

Always ask for sugar in your green tea.

Because that’s where evolution lies.

One day they will realize that a Karate organization (or style/school/dojo for that matter) is not a religion. If “attacked” it doesn’t need to be defended, and there’s no need to be offended. People disagreeing with you doesn’t make you right or wrong, it just makes you disagreed with. It’s as easy as that.

So let’s be loyal to the goal, not the method.

Because, even though they won’t admit it, nobody knows which method is the best anyway. Really, we don’t know. There’s nothing to believe in. We’re all just experimenters, tooling around and trying stuff. Actors, if you will. Even your sensei.

But you can never say it out loud… and if you did they would never admit it.

Not to a piece of sugar like you.

All of us are working together in a spirit of real co-operation in which there is no single authority: it is our interest in the teachings which brings us together and helps us to work together.

– Krishnamurti

In the end we’re all just searching for knowledge.

Truth is a pathless land.


  • jesús espiga
    Congrats again!! I think a saw you preforming kata las fev. in Rotterdam open, were you there?
    • Hmm... Don't think so. Or do you mean Dutch Open? I probably was, I'm everywhere ;)
      • jesús espiga
        Yeah! Dutch open was held in Rotterdam last fev. I guess. But maybe i am wrong!
  • Fraser
    You are absolutely right you are "one of them" "Tradition enslaves the mind - Classical Methods and tradition make the mind a slave - you are no longer an individual, but merely a product. Your mind is the result of a thousand yesterdays." Bruce Lee Striking thoughts who you are so fond of quoting Karate has a price as you pay this price one finds it has no worth or value and truth seems further away than when one commenced ones journey.
  • Diego Romero
    nerd moment: "Beware of he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart he dreams himself your master." Commissioner Pravin Lal, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri. video game quotes ftw :D also, Ryukyu Tode Kenkyu Kai. Nuff said :p
    • ^teh truthz. That, and "all your base...." :)
  • isaac
    This is interesting and important to think outside the box
  • BF
    Great article! Im my personal experience I also face this kind of problem to some extent: One can discuss with my Sensei, and I really respect him and he definitely is a great trainer, but he himself declares that he will follow whatever his sensei (who happens to be the head of the national branch of our organization) will say and direct. For him this is part of the 'samurai loyality' (no, so far I did not confront him with the question how in God's name the samurai relate to karate). It's kind of sad, especially, as said, my sensei is quite open-minded and in no way of the opinion that only our organization/style is doing good karate, quite the contrary (well, to be fully honest, unless the discussion comes to one of our 'organizational competitors', which happens to be the by far biggest national karate association. He used to be a memeber there but left some 25 yrs ago. I guess the saying that an disappointed love is the best way to create the deepest hatred has some truth in it). Ah, before I forget: Of course our organization is the true heir and conserver of the principles of the founder of our style (which is quite ironic, given that we are talking about Shotokan and remembering that Funakoshi himself said that there are no styles in Karate). Greets
  • Fraser
    Hi BFs What has Samurai got to do with it? This has always puzzled me. Were thay not the one who attacked unarmed men that led to the development of Chinese Hand that then got rebranded as empty to free it from it's provencialism. These pyramid selling organisation that sell belts that become worthless when you leave, which make people stay so they do not lose the money they have invested. They have firmly belted thinking in the box. Good luck with your training.
  • Davide
    Great post as always. I completely agree with you :)
  • Kait
    I was wondering if you're very familiar with Shudokan karate, the school of karate that emerged from the dojo of Toyama Kanken? I ask because this article seems to embody the goals of Shudokan: to be continuously growing and developing based on what can be learned from others.
    • Yup, even posted a translation of Kanken Toyama's article "Styles of Karate" before. Great stuff. :)
      • Kait
        So great. :) I couldn't resist asking because the dojo where I train is part of the American Shudokan Association and I love it.
  • Gerry
    I have a similar story relating to the tea. This past summer my family visited China and in most restaurants we were given hot tea with our meal. Now considering the heat and humidity, I didn't want hot tea, but iced tea instead, so I would ask for for a small container of ice. In every restaurant my wife, who is Chinese (from China) would need to explain why her "crazy American husband" would need the ice. In each restaurant I would tell my wife that I was starting a new national trend and soon enough my "crazy way of drinking tea" would become a national obsession!
  • martha
    I have another similar story. When i went to USA me and my brother ordered some pizza at a restaurant and when we asked for ketchup the waitress looked at us like "what's wrong with you guys :S" By the way you should try the pizza with ketchup, it tastes great!

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