Saturday, 2 August 2008

When did karate become a sport instead of a Martial Art?

I often wonder what went wrong and when it went wrong?
Karate used to be a Martial Art and has now become a sport. Good if you want to keep fit and flexible, Bad if you want to practise a Martial Art.

Let me just list a few symptoms (the problems):
> Where did all the "big" good looking moves come from? E.g. blocking should be a small movement and so should be a punch. The quote "A small movement is better than a big movement ... and no movement is better than a small movement" is ancient Chi Kung wisdom that also applies to martial arts. Karate should be more like Kendo and less like Swedish gymnastics in my mind. Bigger movements are easy to understand and demonstrate to bigger crowds, smaller movements and "internal" training is more difficult to teach but more efficient.
"Action originates in inaction and stillness is the mother of movement".
> Where did recoiling come from? I really have trouble understanding the recoiling in modern karate. It doesn't seem to make sense. Compare this with other percussion combat sports like Thai Boxing and English Boxing and you identify the problem immediately. Why would I pull back one hand to my hip and make myself extra vulnerable? It is possible to train your body in such a way that you don't need recoiling in order to throw a decent punch over a short distance and without recoiling. Bruce Lee's famous 1-inch punch is purely based on bio mechanics, which implies training your body in a different way.
> Too much focus on speed, not enough focus on rhythm and distance. Speed is only as good as how effective it makes you. Your speed can be really good, but what if your distance, position of your body or timing is wrong?
> Shouldn't we be getting better with growing older, instead of hearing ourselves say "when I was younger I could do all that"? If in order to improve we have to train harder and faster our bodies won't be able to keep up with it from a certain age onwards. What if we would shift the paradigm and only train on what is efficient AND healthy for our body (meaning not hurting it when doing endless repetitions)? In Kendo very often the older master is better than the younger master: the 50 year old master is better than the 40 year old master, but in turn not as good as the 60 year old master. Who in turn is overclassed by the 70 year old master. Shouldn't this also be the case in Karate? If it isn't, aren't we doing something wrong?
> So many katas, so many preset routines. Wouldn't it be better to train our body in such a way that we can react to different situations (attacks) in a "natural" almost instinctive way. Why is it important to know dozens of katas by heart? Does the amount of katas someone knows make him a good karateka? Rather, wouldn't it be more of a proof of someone's mastery to analyse how quickly someone can learn a new kata (or react to different attacks)?
> Many of the stances we use are bio-mechanically not making sense. For starters the stretched back-leg in zenkutsu dachi ... Why would a stretched leg be good? It is possible that for a fraction of a second the leg is stretched when exercising a technique but this can only be snapshot in time.
> What about the straight back? Having your back completely vertical in fighting stances or the former zenkutsu dachi doesn't anatomically help. Ever noticed how warriors were represented on ancient Greek vases and pottery? Ever watched Ultimate Fighting? A natural fighting position will see the upper-body slightly inclined forward.

Many questions and slightly provocative statements here. I don't want to offend anyone but would like to start a conversation about modern day karate.
I am looking forward to your comments.

PS: There is a fix to these symptoms. More about the fix in a next post.
PPS: Sensei Richard Prospero in Brussels and Sensei Kenji Tokitsu have figured this out a while ago and have adapted their karate styles to be martial arts while promoting longevity.