Classical Karate has Fallen on Hard Times!
Karate, as it is done in modern times, bears little resemblance to the Classical Karate invented centuries ago. There are many reasons for this, cultural, historical, vested interest, and on and on. This article will pin point the exact reasons Karate has changed, and it is considered a failure in the eyes of many people.
Karate was developed to protect the king of Okinawa. The martial arts techniques gathered together were specific in their intent, and that intent was shaped by having to deal with a variety of soldiers and weaponry. Interestingly, Karate had very little to do with blocking and striking, though that can be considered as valid, and more to do with disarming and maiming.
The Japanese eventually commanded the King of Okinawa to live in Japan, where he was treated like a guest, but still in prison. With the king living in a foreign land, what reason did the bodyguards have to study their art? Thus, lessons were taught to children to make them strong, but the maiming and butchery of the pure art was left out.
Eventually, Karate was brought to the Land of the Rising Sun, where it proved not only adequate, but more than comparable to the arts of the Japanese. One must remember, however, that the Japanese had stolen the king of the Okinawans. Thus, it is doubted whether, if the teachers even knew the true art at this point, whether they would teach the people who had stolen their king.
The next step in the evolution of Karate came when the Americans conquered Japan in World War 2. They did this by dropping an atomic bomb, and now we have the same scene as described in the last paragraph. One has to ask whether the Japanese, if they even knew the true art, would teach the people who had dropped an atomic bomb on them.
Now the art reaches America. It is commercialized, dumbed down so it can be taught to children, and geared around tournaments. People are more concerned about belts and the latest fight night than they are about the knowledge potential of the art.
Finally, the art starts to come apart. People refer to MacDojo’s in disgust, and the brutality of MMA, at least workable, is held up to the light. Yet, I ask the question…what was the original art that worked?
What is that art that was designed to maim and destroy in defense of honor and country? What is that art that plumbs the soul and reveals the depths of the human being? I say it is still there, the true martial art is still there…you just have to be willing to look for it and work for it.
The question I have is this: If karate was traditionally designed for use in combat, why wasn’t combat practicality applied to its design? I mean, in order for karate to work efficiently, the way it is designed, it must be used against someone who actually fights using karate…..for instance, if a karate ka is fighting a cage fighter and he puts his hands and arms in the chambered position to prepare for a punch, he is in trouble because he has just let his guard down. If karate is to survive, and I hope it does, it must be viewed as a system of athletic prowess and traditional mental and spiritual training. Karate as it stands today and in history, can never be called practical for fighting. It is more like dancing. This is evidenced by the fact that karate dojos, as a whole, betray their technique when they spar and compete by assuming boxing guards and using boxing style punches instead of those that were “designed to protect a king.” I, personally, do not believe that that style that came to America was karate. I think a bunch of performers, who knew nothing about fighting, put it together as a marketing gimmick. Note: I love karate and practice it; but for reasons other than most do.
Hi Dave, your points are well made. Actually, the karate that I see in the dojos today is NOTHING like what I was taught back in the sixties. If you want a complete write up on why Karate degraded, check out my Matrix Karate page. I know it is an ad, but the data explains exactly what happens to ALL martial arts. That’s Monster Martial Arts, the Matrix Karate page. Thanks for commenting. Al
There are many forms or schools of karate. The classical karate that you refer to is not really the original form. It was “watered” down in someways when it was introduced into Japan to include Zen principles of peace, character building, discipline etc. The arm chambering and all, katas etc are essentially no more than “dance” like drills to not only drill in basic muscle memory but are also an expression of cultural beauty. I studied karate for years. Studied shotokan at JKA (Japan Karate Association) and am also a practitioner of Kyokushin, …. Taught for years. In karate training, not only katas are taught, there is fight training too where the punches etc are no longer chambered. We have uppercuts, roundhouse punches, over hands etc and blocks are not what you see in Katas. We parry, side slip (tai sabaki), distract etc. All these are taught in Karate although depending on the organization or “ryu” that you are in, these are taught and practiced early on as in Kyokushin or after brown or black belt in Shotokan. Go watch videos of Kyokushin fights and you will understand. For the non-contact Kumite competitions of the likes of Shotokan, Goju etc. these are not representative of real fight training but rather sporting events. There are full contact no holds barred fight training too but these are not meant for competitions and are carried out for only senior black belters. You can catch a video of these hardcore fights (face punching groin kicking and all) on YouTube as practiced in JKA by the Japanese Self defense Force (military).
You make a very good point that Karate seen today is not the same Karate that existed in Okinawa. I have met some of the Okinawans who brought Karate to the US in the 50’s and 60’s and they look nothing like what is taught by most people now. The sad truth is Karate lost its meaning in the West and there are many who write based on what they have read which many times is wrong. Few realize that Okinawa is the birthplace of Karate and many claim to teach the “Original” karate with a 2000 year history from China. There are also many who work hard to impress judges in tournaments who are not qualified to jugde their own styles let alone another style. People now practice “control” rather than power and makiwara.