you might want to look into the idea that they had more time back then.
in Funakoshis book he says ... no time for leisure like we have with a 9- 5 job.
back to machanics, i am one to think it is very important to study. not so much to learn karate but to have a better understanding of what you do and why you do it. science should give you a deeper understanding only after you have done thousands of reps of kata. it cant be the other way around...
Ah! you've caught me with my romantic ideals hanging on my sleeve again. However, I think I stated my point badly, and Bill's post put me back on track to what I was trying to say.
I don't think it's a matter of more time, as much as a better sense of focus. As you state, we have a lot more leisure time. Sometimes this is good (more practice), sometimes it's bad (less focus/attention to what we are doing). As Bill stated, mindful and mindlessness.
I think that modern man/woman, in general (and I really hate to generalize, but bear with me) tend to have less focus. The fundamental sciences were discovered by observant people. I think a good MA is one who can utilize that ability to observe, focus, and learn.
That said, yeah, I am definately guilty of romanticizing the past a bit. sigh.
Bill and Vicki, thanks for some great comments....now..let me get out of here and to class!