Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Are You a Real Karateka?


The first question is a little easier to answer. The why part is a little harder to answer. The easiest explanation is that you go to a karate dojo, but even this answer gets murkier if you ask more specifics. The 20th degree black belt and the pilgrim to Okinawa are usually equally sure that what they're doing is the "true" way. The majority of people are pretty positive that there is a checklist of what constitutes karate, but it seems like everyone is working off a different checklist. People and other martial artists in general have a check list for karate whether karateka like this or not. Basically karate is Japanese, it is comprised of punches, kicks, blocks and doesn't work. The fastest way to piss off another martial artist is to say their stuff looks like karate. On the next Brazilian Jiu jitsu video you see on You Tube, write the comment "looks like karate" and sit back as the hate rolls in. This embodies the basic types of classifications and generalizations about empty handed fighting systems. They're divided by country of origin, technique, training practices, tradition and aesthetics. All of these lines look really blurry when we start to look at them more closely. For the sake of brevity, I'll talk about only a few general aspects.

Let's first look at the name karate. It means empty hand. Every good little karate kid knows this. It's also pretty common knowledge that the name changed to this from China hand or China Hand. Karate being a synthesis between the local fighting art of Te or Hand and Chinese fighting arts. But karate is Japanese, right? Is it?  Okinawa is now technically part of Japan, but it was its own independent nation and heavily influenced by China. Karate was adopted by the Japanese and changed to promote their needs. So is karate Chinese, Okinawan, Japanese or a mix? If we look at the name literally as Empty Hand then it would seem to encompass all of the unarmed fighting arts. Some have even claimed to trace the roots of the unarmed martial arts back to Alexander the Great, so wouldn't that make all martial arts European? Things are already looking pretty blurry.

These are mostly outside labels, but karateka have their own individual labels that they use to distinguish themselves. This usually has to do with technique, training practices, aesthetics and tradition. The entire basic argument behind all of these is "We don't do it like that we do it like this." You could say that karate is only stand up striking, until you find someone who uses karate on the ground. You could say that karate has mostly linear movements until you see a Goju Ryu stylist perform Saifa. You name the training practice, aesthetics or technique and you can find a karate stylist practicing it. Tradition is the biggest divider between karateka, which is basically saying that you belong to a different branching stream off of the glacier that is the past. We're all cousins and fairly close cousins.

So are you a real karateka and why?

Should you even care?

The most important thing for any martial art or self defense system is that it should enrich your life. It should get you healthier and not break you. It should be fun and not a chore. It should allow you the freedom to think as wide and as deeply as you wish.