Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Book Review -- Chanpuru –Reflections and Lessons from the Dojo, by Garry Parker

Chanpuru –Reflections and Lessons from the Dojo, by Garry Parker. 2015. Tambuli Publishing, Spring House PA

Following a stint in the US Air Force, where he found himself stationed in Okinaw, Garry Parker  stayed and began the study of Okinawan Karate.  Later, after he returned home to the USA and was unable to find training in this art that fit him, on the urging of his sensei in Okinawa he opened his own small school and became a sensei himself. In this book Garry Parker tells that journey and shares some of the lessons that he learned from it.

This book is a quick read, being only about 163 pages. At times, it seemed a bit superficial and I would have liked more depth and detail, but I suspect a large part of this is that I do not study Okinawan karate.

It’s divided into sections. In the first section, Parker tells of how he enlisted in the air force, arrived in Okinawa and joined a dojo. He speaks of how, despite throwing himself into the art, he tells of how his sensei occasionally wondered about his discipline and intent.
He describes what it was like training in an Okinawan dojo, and the constant use of the makiwara board and hand conditioning techniques. He tells of training with such intensity, and constant signs of wear and tear on his hands, that he was identified as a beginner by an elderly Okinawan lady in the supermarket who easily recognized the marks of a zealous neophyte.  

Later when he returned to the USA, he tried to follow the same traditions and practices.  Unable to find a dojo that fit him in his hometown of Columbus, Georgia, his sensei in Okinawa encouraged him to start training on his own. Despite hesitation, he set out to do this. After training in his house for several months, he began constructing a wooden dojo in his backyard. When he felt his progress stagnate, again on the urging of his sensei in Okinawa, he began teaching students. Beginning with his wife and children, he’d soon recruited several students and began teaching them not just the physical skills but also the moral lessons that he felt were an important part of Okinawan Karate.

In the second half of the book, he shares some of the lessons he has learned as a teacher. These include the importance of regular training, the importance of not judging students before really understanding them or knowing the facts about their behaviors, and the importance of “giri” or obligation among students and how it not only helps the dojo but also helps the students themselves.

In part three, the author writes of the importance of legacy and honoring one’s teachers.  

Personally, as stated, I do not study Okinawan Karate but  expect that this book will resonate among people who do. Although I often wished that Parker would have included more detail and depth in his stories, he is clearly sharing something important to him, and it’s clear that this is what he also does when teaching karate. I think Chanpuru will be a welcome addition to libraries of books about martial arts teachers and what their art means to them.  

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