Saturday, August 8, 2009

The pitfalls of Traditional Karate

Dear Mr. Wilson,

             So it is your assumption that Shotokan karate is not a "reality based system?" What's it based on? Fantasy? An alternative universe? So the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people all over the world who have trained in it and benefited from their training are living in some dimension  other than reality? That's an interesting concept.

Dave Lowry

             I began my formal Martial Arts training in one of the so-called "traditional" Martial Arts(Shotokan Karate) as a Child over two decades ago and have trained with some of the best in the World in these Arts. When you speak about traditional Martial Arts and even use the Karate/Kara-Te, people conjure up idea's that these arts are hundreds or even thousands of years old. The actual truth is that the term "Karate" was not used until the 20Th Century and gained widespread use during and after World War II.
           It was Gichin Funakoshi and his disciples who are responsible for what is known as Karate today. Karate is based on older fighting systems which were not very well organized and somewhat eclectic in nature. Funakoshi learned these Arts and modified them in such a way so large groups of people could be taught at one time, such as in a College or School setting and the target group was Children and Adolescents. He also incorporated a great deal of drills and techniques that were geared more toward fitness and strength building than they were actual combat.
                     The Asian culture, heavy on structure,discipline and etiquette was also a heavy focus. So,what ultimately designed was a system for "development of the individual" rather than solely focusing on learning how to fight or defend oneself.
                      You must ask yourself......what do I want from a Martial Art class? If Self-Defense is your only goal, then traditional Karate is not what you want. The reason for this is because of Funakoshi's modifications to the actual fighting techniques. Chambering the fist on the hip is a very bad habit to get into. Karate exponents claim the hip chambering as well as the extension of the opposite hand are to learn proper push/pull action and rotation/drive of the hip. I feel there may be a slight degree of truth to this argument, but participation in these drills should be very limited at most, so that it doesn't become habit otherwise you will reflexively do it in a real fight. I feel the same effect of push/pull & hip/waist rotation can be accomplished by keeping your hands in natural fighting positions plus you'll build muscle memory and instantly put your hands where they need to be. The main reason for the hip chamber is the Asian mentality to have everything uniform and symmetrical. The hip chamber and extension puts everybody in a large group in the same position for aesthetics and simplicity of training. Some will argue that the chambering mimics the movement of certain techniques such as a rearward elbow, grabbing and pulling the opponents clothing or limb into the punch or some other type of trapping, locking technique. If so,why do it all the time and in such an exaggerated manner? The same concept applies to the long exaggerated deep stances used in Shotokan Karate.They do have their limited use, but every school I've been to train all basics using them as well as using long robotic stepping and lunging footwork.There is an actual application for it, but in proper time, place and context. It has to be selectively applied and that is pared with the proper technique at the proper time at the proper range, which in this case is the longer ranges. Useful in hit and run strategies or closing the gap quickly and especially against a much taller opponent, but even so, must be modified from the way they are teaching it to be effective in real-world application. 

       Most modern Karate schools are teaching a sport form of Funakoshi's "combat exercises".When I first went to Chicago to work for a school which taught sport Karate almost exclusivelyy, I was amazed at the amount of students who thought they were learning self-defense. It was a pleasure to open many of their eyes and I hope I was was instrumental in helping them find the path to what they were truly wanting which was reality-based self-defense training.
                           The "traditional" Kata's or Forms are something else that I believe are pretty much a waste of time and really teach nothing more than bad habits.The various claims of that sequencing, stance, rotation, distance etc. are only learned by these Kata's is misguided at best. You can learn all these things in a functional way by simply putting together combinations of actual fighting techniques. "Shadow Sparring" while visualizing a live opponent will serve you much better for learning how to fight than Kata ever will. Also, the use of the Gi is unnecessary and will impede your training.You don't walk around in public in one, so why train in one? Train in cloths that you normally wear or at least simple t-shirt and shorts or sweatpants. Shoes are a also good idea, because not too many people walk around barefoot in daily life.Wrestling shoes or MMA shoes will serve you well in training.
                       Rank is also something that means very little to me. It's all subjective and there is no set standard to get a particular rank and quality and qualification will vary from Instructor to Instructor. I have encountered too many Tenth degree Black Belt Masters and Grand Masters that knew all these "deadly techniques". Of course very few of them will demonstrate them to you since they are "too deadly" and the times that they have tried, they all gave me nothing more than a chuckle after rendering them helpless. Perhaps that is disrespectful on my part, but if I walk into a school/dojo and the Instructor is arrogant and claims his style better than all others and that MMA fighters, Boxers, wrestlers or any Martial Artist pose no threat to their "deadly techniques, I will usually call them out and ask that they prove it and show Me. A personality flaw and sign of immaturity by me I guess, but it proves my point to him and his students and his students deserve to know the truth rather than be mislead by a scam artist.

           I'd heard claims by Sensei's telling their students that they would easily thrash Mike Tyson, any of the Gracies, any MMA fighter, any and all Combatives teachers or Reality-Based systems Instructors in a real street fight, that they can drop an opponent with a pressure point touch or that they could merely "slap" their opponent into unconscious. There are nerve clusters and pressure sensitive area's on the Human body, but I've never seen anything that resembled a "death blow" or allowed a "one touch knockout" that didn't require a lot of force generated. An annoyance to some discomfort is about all I've experienced from people who claimed they could knock me out with a pressure point strike. Nothing that would in any way disable me or stop me from doing what I want to them. Perhaps such techniques are out there, but I've yet to see them or any proof that they are real.
                   Same applies to Chi/Ki/Qi. This is an abstract concept based in traditional Asian medicine and I see no evidence to prove it's real. Some of the various Asian medicines that are based on it probably do have effects along nerve transmission,synapse chemical and the like, but I have a hard time believing in some "force" that sounds like it belongs in a Star Wars movie.

           If you want a hobby that stresses uniformity and rituals or anal aspects of Asian culture and like to wear a Gi and feel some sense of accomplishment by wearing a colored belt around your waist, then traditional Martial Arts may be for you. I however, am only interested in what works in real self-defense situation and could care less about Asian traditions.
                 This article is not meant to be disrespectful toward Traditional Karate as they it actually has much to offer the Self-Defense exponent if approached with a base of knowledge and from the correct perspective and these Arts do contain actual fighting methods, techniques and certain elements that are effective, but the original real-world applications that have been so diluted with rituals, tradition and many times have been altered and updated into a modern form of exercise (as was the case with Shotokan) so much that it can hard to decipher and uncover the underlying parts that which will work in real-life. Many new students sign up to take a class wanting to learn how to protect themselves and think they are learning self-defense, but in reality are learning a lot of things that simply won't help them. I take real-world self-defense extremely serious since it can be a matter of life and death and showmanship and wasted time devoted to things that won't advance your ability in protecting you and yours is not to be taken lightly.