Home > Karate, Martial Arts, Philosophy, Random Thoughts, Training > Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea

Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea


I recently had the opportunity to view a video that a friend of mine sent me of competition at an “open” martial arts tournament. For those of you who don’t know; an Open tournament is a competition that is open to all styles and types of martial arts. On the opposite side, a Traditional tournament only allows competitors from, say, Japanese or Okinawan styles.

What I saw on that film was disheartening to say the least. The kata (empty hand forms) competition looked like a combination of gymnastics and choreographed dance moves. They even had a “musical kata” division where the kata was set to music. The weapons division wasn’t much better. Actually it was worse. I saw a guy doing a sword kata. I had never even heard of it before. At one point he actually threw his sword into the air, where it spun about 20 times, then caught it in his hand. A young lady in the kata division stood in place on one foot and threw very high roundhouse kicks while turning in a 360 degree circle. I had to admit some of the things I saw were beautiful. Some were impressive. Not many at all were practical or useful.

On the other side of the coin we have MMA. Mixed Martial Arts. When someone says “karate” these days MMA is what most people think of. Two guys, or girls (yes, Virginia, there really are women MMA competitors…and they are BAD TO THE BONE), square off in a cage with a referee and beat the living snot out of each other. MMA is big money with big events and pay-per-view ratings through the roof. Some of it has every bit of the pyro, music, and drama of professional wrestling. If you’re not careful you may think you purchased tickets to a live show of Monday Night Raw.

Somewhere in the middle is traditional karate. Although traditionalists usually practice Japanese or Okinawan styles, I know quite a few Chinese and Korean practitioners who remain true to what their art is about. Likewise I know a couple of teachers of traditional Japanese or Okinawan styles that are simply in it for the all-powerful buck. I’ve written about what I lovingly call McDojos before here and I probably will again…cuz I hate ‘em.

So here I sit in the middle. I’m somewhere between the two side of the coin. Most of us Sensei who are worth our salt are. We like it here but we hate what we are seeing happen to karate and the martial arts.

You’re probably asking yourself “So, what exactly are you talking about when you say you are a traditionalist or teach traditional martial arts?”

Good question, Grasshopper. I will try to answer it for you.

A traditionalist practices his or her art because that is what it is…an art. It becomes far more than simply a way of life to them. It becomes part of them. The philosophy behind the style becomes ingrained into their very being. They benefit from the peace and peace of mind that comes from the code they live by.

A traditionalist does not train to make money. They do not teach merely to make money. I read in a martial arts business (God, just saying that makes me grind my teeth) article one time that if you went to a school and the owner worked another job and his studio was not his main source of income, that it was a terrible place because he wasn’t good enough at what he did to make a living out of it.

Excuse me???

I believe it’s just the opposite. A teacher who runs a school and has a job runs the school because he LOVES doing it. I have taught since 1996. I cannot tell you how many times I have taken money out of my own pocket to help pay the dojo rent, pay a power bill, or purchase equipment. I also cannot tell you how many times one of my students has been going through a tough time and I have let them slide on their tuition for a month or two. I know, I know…BAD business choices, right? Guess what?

I’m not in it for business!!!

A traditionalist doesn’t fight for money either. A true martial artist, karate-ka in Japanese, knows what he or she is capable of physically doing. The need to use that skill to make money is not thought of. We train, not only our bodies, but our minds and souls as well. Part of the Code of the Karate-ka says:

1. I will train faithfully to strengthen my mind and body.

2. I am willing to endure rigorous training to achieve my goal.

3. As my strength increases I shall seek to cultivate a gentle heart.

4. I will not use my skill outside the dojo except in the most extreme circumstances.

5. At all times I will try to avoid inflicting injury upon another person.

6. I will not brag about my skill nor will use it maliciously.

7. I will train with the spirit of humility.

With the possible exception of #2 will someone PLEASE tell me where that says anything about hoping into a cage and beating the holy crap out of someone???

All of that being said, the karateka does have strength and power. The karateka does have skills, some of them even considered to be deadly. I have worked in prisons for the majority of my life. I have been in situations that, as #4 says, were extreme circumstances. While enduring an attack I see nowhere that standing in place and doing multiple roundhouse kicks while turning in a circle would have done anything for me but ensure the thugs attacking me got a really good laugh just before they beat me within an inch of my life.

Open tournament martial arts are great for show.

Try to use them in a real life situation and you will not walk away…unless your attacker is so busy laughing at you he feels pity for you and refuses to take advantage of someone so stupid.

The traditional teacher teaches. He does it because that is what he does. Simply: that is what he or she really is in their heart. Many of us do it because we wish to preserve our style. We want to pass it down to the next generation and keep it as pure as possible. We sit quietly teaching our classes, our style’s philosophies. We want to pass on to our students the real meaning of karate. We are not MMA fighters. Nothing wrong with them. They have their place like everything in the universe. Likewise we are not dancers or gymnasts. They too have their place.

The traditional student trains. She studies. She knows after a while that it isn’t all about kicking and punching. She is forging a strong spirit through her training. She finds ways to deal with life’s problems through the philosophies she learns in the dojo. She finds peace knowing she can handle difficulty.

The middle isn’t such a bad place to be.

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  1. August 5, 2012 at 9:46 am

    It’s all about finding inner peace; whenever found, the Infinite Power becomes in reach of hand…
    Love & Light

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