Grace Martial Arts Fellowship began in 1990, went online with a website in 1995 and began publishing newsletters to the Christian martial arts community in 1998.
Because of the quality of information found in those early newsletter articles and the fact they are no longer available online, we’ve decided to re-publish many of them in the coming weeks and months. Our hope is that a new generation of Christian martial artists will be blessed by the wisdom of those who were on the path before them.
[Podcast version available at the end of this post.]
January – February 2003
Welcome to the GMAF Newsletter! We pray it will encourage you in your Martial Arts and Outreach for Christ.
One of the more controversial topics among martial artists is that of Sokeship. More and more people across the country and around the world are claiming the title everyday. How has the controversy affected Christian martial arts? GMAF recently received e-mails from some of our members about Sokeship. We believe their thoughts will help all of us as we seek the truth in this matter.
Soke Karl Marx
Founder of Keichu-Do Karate
So you’re a Soke, who says so? What requirements did you complete? Oh! you paid someone a large amount of money, to cover his expenses for honoring you at a great Banquet. A nobody who creates his own style and an organization that allows him to give out ranks of 10th dan and titles of Soke, who gave him that authority? Why are so many Christians seeking such honors and titles and high rank? Anyone should be satisfied with being a pastor. A shepherd of his/her flock. I don’t understand anyone who creates his own style has to brag about the long heritage, and their mostly false statements of being recognized from Japan and other Oriental sources. That is such a crock.
This article will proberly upset, and anger a lot of people. To you I apologize and advise you to (GET A LIFE)! The thing that bothers me the most is that so many men who are professed Christians and even Pastors, covet the titles of Master, Grandmaster, and for the last decade 10th Dan, high rank and the title “Soke.” What is with this kind of covetousness? I am as guilty as anyone because I was proberly the first to have this desire. I went so far (with a Japanese translator) as to write the founder of Wado-Ryu, asking him because he was the Soke (founder) of his own style of Karate, and the then President of the All Japan Karate Federation or whatever the name of the martial Arts organizations he directed.
This great man honored me by responding to my plea for recognition, by a letter of wise instruction. Soke Hironori Ohtsuka, himself congratulated me for my accomplishment (creating My own style) and wished me success in my endeavors and advised me to NOT seek recognition from ANY martial arts organizations, but rather that I continue what I was doing, “and after 25 years if I had at least two persons who stayed with me and were ranked at least 5th degree black belt, that my peers in the martial art field would acknowledge and recognize my success.” That my friends is exactly what happened. He was absolutely correct in his advice.
Twenty-five years later my students won two gold and three silver medals at the Tae-Kwon-Do Junior Nationals held in Chicago the windy city. Ohtsuka Sensei explained to me that I didn’t need him or the many organizations he headed for recognition. However did I heed his advice? Oh! No! I had to try on my own, and so like the idiot I was I sought recognition from every crook and nook unqualified geek who was willing to take my money since I was too stupid to know the difference. In the process of getting a lot of brother in law, quack outfits I did find a few legitimate Associations. But “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” kind of rank exchange or cross grading as we called it back then, definitely was illegal.
We see today men with credentials that impress the unknowing but repulse the wise, knowledgeable, real veterans of the square circle. For example, a person in his thirties with the following credentials. 1) 7th dan karate. 2) 7th dan tae-kwon do 3) 6th dan judo. 4) 5th dan Jujitsu 5) 1st dan aki-jitsu. It takes a life time to study just one discipline. It is possible to study two or more different arts such as Judo and Jujitsu. One might be able to throw one style of Karate in there but several styles of Karate would definitely confuse even the smartest person. I fear that Christians are all to many involved in this terrible dilemma.
The Soke Dilemma
Rev. Darrell Collins
Nippon Kamishin Ryu
Shindenkan Budo Renmei
Firstly, I would like to state that I am not writing this article to alienate anyone (especially brothers in Christ). I am writing this article to address a truth that I have been made “painfully” aware of over the past few years. Secondly, this article is written from the viewpoint of Japanese based martial systems. Even if the reader is from a different martial “cultural” base, the basic message still rings true.
I read an article by Joseph Lumpkin, about the Sokeship issue and for the most part totally agree with his assessment. I am also disturbed at the number of people in America that claim the title of Soke. It is amazing how relatively easy it is to get paperwork that calls you 15th dan Grand Super Soke from anywhere USA. Unfortunately this type of practice is not only looked down upon by Japanese “traditionalist” but is generally laughed at.
It is so rare for one to be considered a true Soke that for the most part Japanese traditionalist will not accept anyone (American or Japanese) that uses that term as an official title within a martial system. I am a first hand witness to this “dilemma” right now, more on that later.
I must start by defining the terms that we have come to associate with martial head families and their “second in command”, that of Soke and Soke-Dai(ri) in the view of a Japanese traditionalist.
Note: Soke-Dairi is the extended title that is often shortened to Soke-Dai.
Soke literally means head family and is not exclusively a “martial arts” term. It was/is used for family “arts” that have been passed down for generations from father to son (or inheritor designate). In early Japanese history many artistic and cultural activities were dominated by familial lineages that essentially operated as types of “commercial guilds”. These “commercial” arts, such as tea ceremony (chanoyu), flower arranging (ikebana), Noh theater asserted familial control over their teachings.
The comparison of these early artistic lineages to commercial guilds is evident when we find that historically everyone whom participated in a particular system’s art paid a fee for the teachings received. In the early history of Japan’s lineage based ryu, secrets were kept and only passed on to the inheritor designate.
In their day, keeping secrets within the ryu constitutes today’s equivalent of the Coca-Cola Corporation maintaining their “secret” ingredient of their drink under lock and key. In other words, it was simply a good business practice. However, in general, that mode of operation did not pertain to warrior-based systems. If secrets of military prowess were held back from the samurai that lived and died on the field, most likely that clan would not last to see another generation continue.
The term “Soke”, as far as martial systems go, is actually a fairly modern day adaptation (1868 and later). In fact it is thought that the first truly “Soke” based martial system taught was through the Kodokan School of Judo! It is true that martial art researchers today find authors utilizing the term Soke when referring to head families of ancient systems. It would be fair to say that the term is used in a retroactive context.
Soke-Dai(ri) literally means “in place of the Soke” or “instead of the Soke”. The Soke-Dairi position was used as a sort of “proxy” to handle affairs that the Soke could not attend to. If the Soke were unable to attend a formal function the Soke-Dairi would attend in his place. He was used as an official representative of the Soke. Being a people of great honor, in Japan if one were formally invited to an important function, it would be a “loss of honor” not to show up or have some kind of formal representation, so the Soke-Dairi would be there.
In the west this term has been improperly used to mean “the next generation inheritor”. Unfortunately, as mentioned above, this is not a true definition of the term or its function. Most Japanese ryu have many Soke-Dairi with only one person destined to inherit the ryu. Generally the inheritor will also be a Soke-Dairi but does not have to be. Many traditional arts today may not use a term for the inheritor elect but some of the oldest ryu have used the phrase Sugi-no-Soke as the title for the inheritor designate.
The art I that I study was inherited In Japan by an American (with a documented lineage succession scroll). This in itself is rare because most Asian head families, although loyal to their lineage, view their martial system as a national treasure. The American was the only master of the art that stayed loyal to his Soke until his death (the art was a small goshin-jutsu (self-defense) oriented system, and over the years numerous students began leaving the art to join some of the more popular and newer arts). Likewise, the Soke had no son to leave the family art to, so he looked to his number one student. The art was re-named in Japan (this in itself is a long story but a very traditional one). A second scroll attesting to his inherited art and Soke title was generated in Japan.
Even with all of this documentation and the fact that the art was recognized in Japan in the late 60,s, some Japanese nationals still wrinkle their noses at the prospect of a true Soke teaching and sharing their national treasure exclusively outside of Japan. Our current Soke, by lineage succession, recognizes this fact but respectfully moves forward in the transmission of this wonderful art.
Martial arts are being created everyday all over the world. This brings me to the subject of Shodai-Soke (first generation head family/founder). It is true that some Japanese have started their own arts and have adopted the term “Shodai-Soke”. For the most part, even a Japanese national that creates a new art in Japan will not use the term Shodai-Soke. If the art lasts and is passed to the next generation inheritor he may look back on the founder and call him Shodai-Soke. Even fewer traditionalists will acknowledge a Japanese national as Shodai-Soke if they create the art outside of Japan.
For an American to create a new art, even if based on Japanese arts, and use any form of the term Soke it is considered unacceptablein the eyes of traditional Japanese nationals.
I am afraid that although there are some legitimate reasons for creating your own art, this practice is rampant in America, where loyalty to your Soke (if truly applicable) and ryu and honor seem to disappear in the light of self-promotion. This type of thing really bothers me not only from a traditional martial arts standpoint but also a Christian view in which we are commanded to flee from pride and selfish ambition.
The guidelines in which western martial art organizations use to title someone a “Soke” should be re-examined. A much more acceptable term for this type of person is Kaicho (president of organization). This term is widely used in Japan for a person starting a new art/association and is not looked down upon for an American to use either (there are legitimate Japanese Soke that use the term Kaicho to designate that they are also the president of the system’s martial association). I believe this would bring MUCH needed credibility back to the western martial artist.
One last topic I would like to address, the issue of rank in the west. It is amazing the amount of people who have received multiple high grades in America. In Japan, traditionally 3rd / 4th dan is a high rank, 5th dan is VERY high and 6th, 7th & 8th dan is ozone high (and not a dime-a-dozen)! In America everyone is “Grand-Master” of something or another. It is just not that way, traditionally.
I do not wish to divert attention from the expertise found in true American martial masters. I believe we have some of the best martial artists in the world, but we need to keep our egos in check and realize that our misunderstandings of Japanese tradition and culture cause us to look uneducated and lacking in quality control.
Thanks to Ted Petit, Hanshi Shindenkan Budo for his assistance in proofreading and editing this article.
Karate for Christ
I was recognized by several martial arts groups as soke of a new system. Most had never even seen me. I denounced the sokeship in order to pursue my love of hapkido. My 6th Dan in Hapkido means much to me, for I have trained with Joseph Lumpkin many times, for several years, wrote much on philosophy, and contributed to the style all that I can. Most other rank to me is junk, (I Do have earned rank in TKD as well). I have received rank in the mail from guys I don’t even know, and was offered rank in styles I cannot even pronounce. It has taken years to learn Hapkido and Tae kwon do, with some Judo and JuJitsu mixed in. But, at 33 yrs of age, I in no way would desire to be called master, grandmaster, or Reverend for that matter. Rev. is a title you will find in the Bible that references God. This is why, even
Though we practice a Korean Art, we use the title Sensei, or Teacher. We do refer to the head of our system as Do Ju Nim, recongizing his accomplishments, but it is a title of classification, not of ego.
I agree with all that is said, and to those that have something “NEW”, I invite them to send me a tape. I haven’t seen anything new in the last 10 -15 years, except the loss of integrity of ministers and black belts.
To those seeking rank, I invite them anytime to come to our school. I would be more than happy to see their skills.
Today, people have reached the level of shodan and think they have mastered the world. Might I remind you Shodan is the beginning for the student. Before that rank, one is only a guest in the Dojang. It is as Shodan that one starts the journey.
To those that have been in the arts for a while, I remind us, to be a master, one must remain a student. From men like Do Ju Nim Lumpkin and Kang Rhee, I will continue to learn. Perhaps Kang Rhee summed it up best. He is the founder of the Pa Sa Ryu system, and has taught it since 1964 here in the U.S. He has trained men like Bill “Super Foot Wallace”, Wayne Carman, and yes, Elvis Presley. When asked why he does not hold the 10th dan, but only the 7th (Now 8th) his reply was: 10th symbolizes perfection, and eternity, I still have much room for improvement, therefore, I am 7th Dan. This from a man whose style is recognized by ALL the powers that be in the martial arts world. May we learn.
Con Say Hom Nhe Dha
Con Mon AH Yo, An Young He Kay Say Yo
Protecting the Vulnerable (Part Five) – Grace Martial Arts
Taking God’s Grace to the World!
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