Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Failure of Modern Karate-Do

Modern Karate-Do was never meant to be a practical self defense art. This is because of the Do or Tao, however you want to say it, which places the emphasis on spiritual development, Zen. Though a serious student of Zen doesn't call it that because it is The Way or Do. The serious applications of karate are not an essential part of this path of study. Despite this the practice still fails as a spiritual study because the techniques were not the only things that changed. The practice changed as well. This is where it went wrong.

Zen is sitting meditation, or zazen. It is posture, breathing and awareness. This is all. It's a simple exercise that sets a person on the path. You sit, you pay attention to your posture and breathing and let your thoughts go. Kata, a single kata, fills the same function as seated meditation. This was how karate was taught classically. This was how all the "founders" learned karate. Gichin Funakoshi spent ten years on the Naihanchi kata alone. Karateka learned other kata after they had a rock solid foundation in one. The parallel between Zen and karate is repeating a mundane task over and over and over again. It's repeating a single task as a foundation that slowly seeps into other aspects of your life. This is the aspect of karate that leads to self awareness, and it's one of the major changes the founders made.

I believe the founders misidentified the root of this spiritual development to karate itself instead of the repetitive act of a single task. They believed practicing all of karate would give you the desired result even though no one had practiced it this way. There was no reason to doubt this, but I think the results speak for themselves. The reason for this is they forgot about thinking.

Thinking is the big difference between meditation and none meditation. I'm not talking about ignorance or stupidity or knowledge, academic thinking. I'm talking about being present in the moment and focusing on what you're doing. Full commitment and intent on the task. Practicing several kata keeps you thinking all of the time. You think about your form, what you're doing, whether you're doing it right and whether you need to do it more. You're thinking about grading, testing, making your sensei proud, what you're going to learn next and the other students. Your focus is on everything except the moment. There isn't much to think about with one kata. Your focus is on one thing and your movement. The movement becomes as natural as breathing. The only goal is to practice the kata, so you practice the kata fully committed and intent, because there isn't anything else to think about. This is what leads to spiritual growth, not karate. One could do the same thing washing dishes.

We've had more than 60 years of modern karate-do. It has not created a legion of self aware people, who can become fully intent and committed to the moment. It has created a legion of people arguing about where your big toe should be pointed during a kata performance and how many years it should take before you tie different colored belts around your waist. Spiritual development has been the excuse for lousy karate, but modern karate-do lacks the characteristics to develop any spirit.