Micro Vs. Macro
Written By Scott Langley Sensei
I’m sitting in the breakfast room of Roberto Nearon, here in Detroit, a lovely friend and senior member of the HDKI USA. I have known him many years and my annual visit to his home, family and dojo are always far too brief.
Last night, after a long transatlantic flight, we were sitting in Miller’s Bar, our regular Thursday evening haunt as I arrive to Michigan with the waves of jet-lag starting to hit. However, the locally famous cheese burger washed down with a couple of glasses of Blue Moon help see me through until bedtime. I am now awake and well rested after a good night’s sleep and ready for a four day, four city tour of the U.S.
The conversation last night meandered as any bar conversation should and half way through the night I found myself quoting certain professors whose classes I had taken whilst reading Social Anthropology at university. There is a need in any community, culture or society to have very local connections. These micro connections provide the framework of one’s local network. Family is an obvious example of this; your mother, father, son or daughter. These are the people you rely on and who rely on you daily. This is the fabric of our inner life. Beyond that, we are connected to our wider family and community. Our aunties, uncles, nieces and nephews. It is no coincidence that in colonial times the ruling British children would call the adults within their community Auntie and Uncle, not because they were blood relatives, but in absence of family, this convention was adopted to make the community functional. And then, finally, beyond the family, we have our community, the local school teacher, the village butcher, the line of neighbours up and down the street, all sharing a shared myth of commonality that create the comfort blanket of society. But what, you may ask, does this have to do with karate?!?
Often I think that my dojo is my karate family. Brothers and sisters in arms, training hard, fighting he good fight. They are my confidants, my inner circle, the place where I can vent my frustrations and insecurities and explain my hopes and desires. Beyond that, I have my extended family – in my case the HDKI GB & Ireland. These are the guys I see most regularly. They are the aunties and uncles, the nieces and nephews in my pseudo karate family. Beyond that, we belong to a greater community, the HDKI, which has been recently created and will hopefully expand in a sustainable way. The community makes me happy and I know why. A common anthropological model for a successful, and by that I mean happy, community is when an individual has strong links in their home. This is then reinforced by a greater number of links within their local community, albeit it less frequent or pervasive. However, the final icing of the cake, so to speak, is for community members to have strong links to other communities. It allows for cross pollination of ideas, creates niche groups and allows people to have a greater sense of belonging within the wider context of the world. If all these three levels of connection are achieved, society, in general, flourishes. Back in my JKS days I used to teach for a talented karate-ka in Loughborough, whose family were of Indian heritage. His family was quintessentially modern-day British Indian, blending the traditions, culture and heritage of the sub-continent with British society. I would often fly over Friday, teach Saturday and then fly back Sunday. The first evening we would spend down the local pub, playing pool with his work colleagues, talking football (which I had no idea about) and drinking beer. The next evening we would be eating “sizzlers”, wonderful Indian cuisine that I had never seen on the menu of any other Indian restaurant I’d been to. My anthropological training woke from a slumber of post-university amnesia and I could recognise the satisfying functionality of this snapshot of modern British culture. My friend had close, ethnically specific connections at home and within the close-knit community. He then had wider connections within the general community, within work and within the dojo. He then finally had a greater connection within the wider (karate) world being part of an international group. Life was working as it should.
However, what happens when we miss an element as too. Imagine being part of a family who all live half-way across the world – the psychological effects of this on emigrants is well studied. Imagine being part of a close-knit family, but never leaving the four walls of the home, never exploring the variety of ideas, opinions and lives beyond the nuclear family. I think a functioning existence is a difficult balance to create and one small tilt in the wrong direction can easily topple you into dysfunctionality.
For karate-ka, independence can be an alluring option, free from the control of a dominating group, eager to regulate the minutia of the dojo’s existence, but it also results in seclusion. Equally isolating is the choice to remain connected to the wider world when the local or national community have chosen otherwise. Both examples I have seen recently in my professional life and I empathise with the individuals involved, forced to make choices that only produces degrees of losing – there is no winning when a balance can’t be reached. Of course, for a short time it is possible to give the illusion of a well-balanced community. Social media has a way of making the global village a reality. The ease of connection, with push notifications, a plethora of emoji and google algorithms allow us to live within a bubble that is hard to burst. However, the existential truth that we must face is that of authentic connection. A phone call from a friend or a “osu” from a training buddy is infinitely more valuable than a like from an acquaintance three thousand miles away. I truly believe that nothing can be achieved alone that cannot be bettered in collaboration. And as the African proverb says, if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together!