From the beginning of time, mankind has had to invent and progressively adapt methods of protection to survive. To ensure the survival of our species against wild animals, and to ensure survival of family bloodlines against ruthless thieves and marauders, we as humans have had to fight to survive. Centuries ago, we discovered that the most efficient way to protect ourselves was to create distance from the enemy; when the distance was closed and contact was unavoidable, the great equalizer was often weapons. From the rudimentary club to the masterfully crafted razor sharp sword, we improvised, created, and evolved through trial and error with bloodshed and sacrifice, into the warriors of today.
Fast forward to the Ryukyu Kingdom of the 1600s. The indigenous martial arts of Okinawa (known originally as ti) were blended with the fighting arts of Fujian China to formulate the birth of what would become the globally popular martial art known as Okinawan Karate.
Before uniforms, belts, titles, and the tradition of a dojo with wooden floors, were quiet warriors in everyday clothes, secretly training in backyards or behind walls, diligently practicing under the cloak of night. There were no tournaments, no politics, and no nonsense; there were only hard men that sacrificed time, sleep, and comfort to toughen their bodies and strengthen their spirit in pursuit of improving their odds at protecting themselves and their loved ones in the absence of weapons. A nation of disarmed citizens, no matter how peaceful, will always find a way to improvise and protect themselves. The Okinawan karate legends of centuries past set the bar high, and we still follow in their footsteps.
The key turning point for Okinawan Karate’s popularity in America came courtesy of the American military men following World War II. During the American occupation of Okinawa after the war, Soldiers, Marines, and Airmen began to practice karate. For the economically struggling karate teachers, this was an answer to prayer; teaching American servicemen meant food and clothing for the Okinawan teachers’ families. After training a few years, many of the servicemen went back to the United States, continued, training, and opened dojo of their own. These men were the pioneers of karate in America. Those were the glory days of Karate in the West! The 1950s through the 1970s saw an enormous explosion in popularity of karate in the United States. Brutally hard contact, gallons of sweat pooled on the floor from hours of practice, blood and tears shed, bumps, bruises, and the occasional broken nose, black eye, bloody lip, or fractured toe was just an ordinary part of training. You would get bruised and banged up; this type of training was expected, and it was unapologetically accepted as the only way to train. Without the constant testing of skills within the four wall of the dojo, a karateka could not be confident that he was learning an effective art.
Slowly, things began to change. Now, we see a softer, gentler, approach to Okinawan karate. We see lighter contact, shorter training sessions, and lightning fast promotions. In fact, if not for the sign on the door, or the photos on the wall, many Okinawan karate dojo in America could easily be mistaken for their Korean counterparts. There is no denying that the new generation of Karate is here to stay; we live in a society of instant gratification.
With the advent of technology in the late 20th Century, popular culture has helped groom an entire generation of impatient people that want it now, and are willing to pay extra to get it. There are ‘karate schools’ that advance or promote students with very little skill improvement. Rewards for mediocrity and promotions for simply showing up have become all too common.
Fortunately, that isn’t the case with all dojos; the old style of Okinawan karate training actually seems to be enjoying a revival since the beginning of the 21st Century. There are still those that hold on to the old traditions and practice them diligently. There are those who train quietly, dedicated to preserving the old karate of Okinawa, and they can’t be swayed or bought with the promise of money, titles, or fame.
I consider myself fortunate to have met and trained with such men and women, and have dedicated my life to the practice and pursuit of the karate of times past. To the traditional karate that can only be found in small dojos in unassuming places, sometimes off the beaten path, and often only with an invitation or personal introduction from a current student or respected teacher. In the chapters that follow, I invite you to come along on my journey and see how this American gained entrance to a rapidly disappearing society of authentic Okinawan martial arts seldom seen in today’s world; a journey that has brought me a lifetime of rewards that money can’t buy.
In my new book, Chanpuru: Reflections and Lessons from the Dojo I’ll guide you on my journey, both in and out of the dojo, and introduce you to the experience through my eyes; the journey can be a little personal, and isn’t always about karate, but that is what makes a memorable life. All experiences on my path haven’t been glorious, but they all have helped to forge my will.
This book is divided into 3 sections: Book One is autobiographical, in that this section details highlights and reflections of my personal journey in karate from the dojo floor to the crashing waves of the East China Sea, and all points between.
Book Two is filled with topics relevant to the study and practice of this art. This includes lessons that I’ve learned, essays, advice, personal thoughts and stories, and little nuggets of wisdom that I’ve been taught along the way, and am now passing on to you.
Book Three is dedicated to the legacy of my teacher, Takamiyagi Hiroshi, the founder of Goshukan-Ryu (the martial arts style comprised of Goso Kenpo, or Five Ancestor Fist, and Shuri-Te), and pioneer of Wu Zu Quan (aka Ngo Cho Kun or Chinese Five Ancestor Boxing) on Okinawa, Japan. An exclusive interview is included in this chapter, along with rare photos from his personal collection.
This book is written for everyone, and no one in particular, in that the target audience for this work is very broad; it is my sincere desire that karateka of all ages and skill levels will be able to identify with some of the content, or perhaps even learn something new. Unlike the early years veiled in secrecy, now Okinawan Karate is for everyone, and should be freely shared with all.
So what is the meaning of chanpuru, the title of this book? It is one of the most popular dishes in Okinawa; there is no set style, or list of ingredients for this amazingly simple, yet wildly popular dish. It usually consists of some type of meat, lots of fresh vegetables, tofu, and egg. This is all thrown together and sautéed (stir-fried) and served with rice.
Chanpuru simply means something thrown together, or mixed up, and while there is usually a common elemental flavor, there is also a vast variety of combinations that can be enjoyed.
Indeed, chanpuru is the embodiment of the Ryukyu and Okinawan experience; with the cultures of China, Siam, Taiwan, and Japan blended into one; the flavor is uniquely Okinawan, while highlighting the very best flavors of each contributing culture.
This book is similar to Okinawa chanpuru. The common theme is Karate, but there are many different elements pertaining to the subject. These elements are compiled in this small book as a series of tips, philosophy, articles, advice, and experiences that I have gained over a lifetime of practicing martial arts. From a high school student practicing judo at the Columbus, Georgia YMCA, to a young American living in Okinawa, my experiences have taught me to be a better student, and hopefully, a better teacher.
It is my sincere wish that every person reading this book will gain something positive; In a time where stylistic elitism is still rampant within the traditional martial arts community, this book is directed toward everyone, and no-one in particular. The content of this book is written for all karateka — for those that don’t train, or those inactive practitioners on a lengthy break, perhaps a chapter or two will even help inspire you to go to the dojo and take steps on the path to mastering your own destiny.
Sincerely, Garry Parker, Columbus, Georgia. July 2014
PRAISE FOR CHANPURU
“Since 1990 when Mr. Parker first came to Okinawa, I have had the privilege of being his teacher. I have watched him learn and grow beyond my expectations and am proud to see Parker become such a fine ambassador for Okinawan Karate.
—Takamiyagi Hiroshi, Okinawa Goshukan-ryu Karate-do
“The honesty that pervades from this book comes from the Parker’s total immersion in the Okinawan culture. His metamorphosis from American G.I. to Okinawan Karate Man gives readers a unique understanding of martial arts from the Ryukyu Kingdom.”
—Gary Gabelhouse, Novelist and Goju-ryu karate practitioner
“Fascinating and important lessons from a man who lived and trained in a place most people only every dream about. I highly recommend this book to all who study traditional Okinawan and Japanese martial arts.”
—Joe Swift, Tokyo Mushinkan Dojo – Japan
“There are lots of reasons to choose this read, but one in particular makes this book a rare find among the masses. Garry Parker’s Sensei, Takamiyagi Hiroshi, is a true master of Okinawan Karate. As a glimpse into the cultures, training, methods, and daily life from the perspective of “an American student in Okinawa” it’s a great opportunity to see how all the parts actually connect.”
—Wade Chroninger, Meibukan Okinawa Dojo – Okinawa
“In Chanpuru, Parker is kind enough to give those of us who have only dreamed of actually living in Okinawa and dedicating ourselves to our training, a chance to live it through his eyes, his sweat, and his relationships.”
—Russ Smith, Burinkan Dojo