PAST – PRESENT - FUTURE
A PART OF THE LEGACY
The international karate community, due to splits and divides, has become splintered and arguably fractured to the detriment of the art. These divides and splits however, whist unfortunate, are both inevitable and can be analysed as a clear prediction of what will continue to happen to the art for future generations.
Whilst witnessing such organisational divides and splits prompts a degree of sadness and nostalgia, it is important to bring attention back to the art. Whilst being a part of a larger collective is important to karateka, and indeed the art itself, the art remains a personal voyage. Therefore, whilst this voyage can be shared alongside others as a part of a larger collective, it is and will always be something personal to the karateka.
We tend to think of the concept of a legacy as something ingrained in an association or a larger collective. For this reason, many judge and criticise an individual’s karate due to the acts, abilities and philosophies of the many. We are however, whilst being brothers in a larger collective, solely responsible for our own development, ability and personal approach.
Paul Herbert 5th Dan (Shotokan), famous for once making the bold and powerful statement “Karate politicians should just f*** off and leave people alone to train” first started karate in the mid 1980s. He soon became a long-term student of the world renowned Keinosuke Enoeda, developing into an international competitor, and later a highly respected and talented instructor. Throughout this article, I hope to explore the concept of the karate legacy, using Paul Herbert as a case study to support and solidify this exploration.
Time passes; an inevitable and universal truth.
Time has brought karate forward, bringing with it a clearer understanding of the body, how skills can be developed most effectively, and how the art can be most efficiently promoted. Whilst the positivity and negativity of this is often debated by theorists and historians, its inevitability remains undeniable. An associated inevitability with the passing of time is the passing of human life.
Over the last decade, the international karate community has lost some of its most significant propagators, the likes of Keinosuke Enoeda, Taiji Kase, Hideka Nishiyama and Tetsuhiko Asai, and their passing leaves an unquestioned void.
But whilst the students of such legends can never fill this void left, they naturally take on an often unspoken responsibility: to continue the legacy of their teachers.
Paul Herbert is a student of Keinosuke Enoeda 9th Dan. Speaking of Enoeda Sensei, Paul once stated “I discovered that Enoeda Sensei had this natural ability and aura to him that made you achieve things that you didn’t know you could do. He could make you push harder than you ever thought possible and I believe that when you’re consistently training under those circumstances, you cannot help but improve both technically and mentally” [www.theshotokanway.com].
In another interview, conducted with Traditional Karate Magazine in 2006, he stated “It was an absolute honour to train week in and week out under someone who could only be described as a legend. Martial Artists would travel from all over the world just to take one class with Sensei and there I was 2/3 times a week”.
With such close proximity to a teacher of such calibre and skill, it is understandable how Paul soon went on to become such an inspirational talent; competing on an international stage and yielding a vast selection of awards to reflect this.
When speaking of his competitive days and being a representative of Enoeda Sensei, he has stated “Not only were you competing against some of the best teams at home and abroad but you also had the responsibility of ‘doing the boss proud’ and preserving his reputation as it were.” Throughout his illustrious competitive career, competing at the highest possible level, he not only developed the essential skills for success on the tatami, but he also refined a deep understanding of the requirements to develop talented students himself. When I interviewed Paul, he said “Enoeda Sensei passed away on 23rd March 2003. Just four weeks later on Saturday 26th April 2010, with what felt like the expectations of an entire era on my shoulders, I captained the male kumite team from Enoeda Sensei’s dojo to victory in the KUGB British Championships. On that day there was no personal glory, just the honouring of a legacy with the most fitting of tributes. Today, I hope that legacy has continued to grow but that its principles have evolved as Enoeda Sensei believed they should...”
I can remember staying at Paul’s home in Kent, and after breakfast, we decided to do a bit of light training. Paul however has keen eyes that are able to analyse and decipher the motions of the body, and expanded my knowledge of many aspects of my training that day. What fascinated me was his ability to relate his teaching to his experiences, both with Enoeda Sensei and Enoeda Sensei’s protégé Dave Hazard , but also his time training with many of the other great Japanese and western instructors. This is no better illustrated than when he explained the breathing methods he had been taught for the symbolic movement of Gojushiho Dai as stressed both by Yoshiharu Osaka and also Enoeda Sensei.
Paul throughout that informal session opened my eyes to many aspects that I had not before considered. What stuck out as most important however was his silence as I spoke. He was genuinely interested in my thoughts and whilst he often proved me wrong, he listened and allowed me to express myself. I remember the journey home contemplating this, and I was simply awed by his openness. He treated me as an equal, though I can assure you I was neither equal in skill or knowledge, but he allowed me to express myself. I often refer to people such as this as “eternal students”, a concept I am obsessed with. It is however this openness and ability to listen and embrace, that has given him his vast and extensive knowledge.
When talking about a legacy, it is important I suppose to define its implication.
I think it is a common fallacy that to honour tradition, we must become blinkered and follow blindly, almost seeing karate through squinted eyes; wide enough to see, but not wide enough to see beyond your own nose. Is this really what the greatest instructors did?
In a recent interview with Shotokan Karate Magazine, Paul was described as “The New Generation”. I completely understand the point this specific editor was making, but it prompted my thinking process about where each of us sits in the wider scheme of things.
We all have a legacy; it’s a part of being a son, a brother, a husband. We all sit in a line somewhere. But just because I was raised by my parents, and was therefore raised by the principles that they believed, does this mean that I cannot have my own thoughts, my own beliefs?
A major misleading notion, I feel, is the idea that to honour a legacy you have to pursue it without question, that you follow it to the disregard of your own ideas and personality. But surely, to honour the legacy of your teacher, you should continue their work, but through your own eyes, through your own words, using your own brain?
I remember partnering with Paul on a seminar in Nottingham. After working with one another for a matter of moments, the clear functionality of his karate was so apparent. He was dynamic, and relaxed and subsequently ridiculously powerful…to the sadness of my ribs. As a tall and muscular man, Paul somehow incorporates the ability to hit like a train, yet move like a cat. Following the session, I was determined just to sit back and watch him.
A month or two later, I had hurt my wrist quite badly so was sat to the side whilst gritting my teeth. Whist I was annoyed that I had to sit out of one of Sensei Hazard’s awe-inspiring classes, it did carry one benefit. I was able to watch Paul in action. I vividly remember the sequence from the beginner class – which Paul always insists on attending – and Sensei had the class practice soto-uke, yoko-empi, yoko-kekomi, followed by gyaku-zuki. His movements had the unique blend of agility, yet cruel force. He has an instinctive and relaxed movement; decisive and brutal in its impact.
Such technical attributes are very important in illustrating Paul’s honouring of the skills passed to him from his teacher Enoeda Sensei, and later Dave Hazard. To take what had been given to him however and just continue practicing this forever, is this really honouring the legacy of Enoeda Sensei?
Did Sensei Enoeda reach a level and just stop?
Paul Herbert, through his training with Enoeda Sensei, developed many attributes as passed to him from such an influential leader. Right now however Paul continues this part of the legacy by continuing to propagate what he had been taught, but by also developing and expanding his own thinking; following in his teacher’s example. This is no more clearly illustrated than in the refinements he has made to his training, employing extensive impact training, and violent application of the finer principles of the art into a setting that is realistic.
Paul Herbert is dedicated to further refining his ability to make karate functional. Through my many years of discussions, many experiences partnering with him, and later teaching alongside him, it is abundantly clear that he is completely interested in making karate a functional art. When asked what the main focus of his training is, he once said “Striving for effectiveness I guess. I work hard on impact training and also applying techniques, or segments of Kata against a training partner. This is really what I consider my basics to be now.”
Last year, Paul and I hosted a joint course. As you can imagine, I was both honoured and terrified to teach alongside him. In his session, I watched the structure of his class. He initially started with five minutes of simply gyaku-zuki “to co-ordinate the body for the session” he explained. He then went on to teach a sequence perfectly devised for development of kumite competitors, encouraging focus on use of angles, timing and whole body co-ordination. Somewhat effortlessly however, this bled perfectly into a reality based close proximity fighting sequence using open hands and attacks at short range. Paul however delivered explosive power from all ranges, but what blew me away most powerfully was his ability to take the fundamental principles of karate through the three extremely different settings. Therefore, throughout one lesson, he illustrated the point of this article far better than my words ever can. He embraced the lessons and teachings from his time with Enoeda Sensei, and breathed them both beautifully and violently into a realm that is important to him and his study. He is therefore fully, and whole heartedly continuing the important work of Sensei Enoeda and developing the art through his own personality, character and outlook.
When we as humans die, our physical bodies leave the earth. But what are we as humans, we are made up of energy are we not? So if we spend a lifetime expending energy on the development and improvement of others, can we ever really die if those people continue this intangible, yet powerful line of energy?
To honour a legacy, and be a part of a legacy is not to squint your eyes and follow blindly. It is to continue the work of your teachers, continue to develop in the way they would have wanted you to do so, and maximise the potential of your life and karate.
Paul Herbert most certainly is a part of a ‘New Generation’ of extremely talented instructors. He carries with him a deep and colourful history that has led him to his current position and is working hard, in Sensei Enoeda’s honour and with the support of his current mentor Dave Hazard, to pave his path forward with development, dedication and perseverance. Surely this is the true meaning of honouring a legacy isn’t it?
(Paul Herbert can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or 07834239714, and is available for Seminars nationally and internationally)