I've been following Richard's post on the Cyberdojo for quite some time. Although I don't agree with everything he has to say, I find myself agreeing with him most of the time. I received an email from him, saying he was joining my monthly newsletter list while stating that he was surprised that I invited him, since most lists ask him to "go away". Well, here is one of his posts that I saved, meaning to ask his permission to post it. I forgot about it until he contacted me today. The post should provide some interesting discussion. GEM
Richard McEvoy wrote:
First off, I admit that this piece is almost entirely polemical in nature and makes no concession to any counter argument. Having said that, I hope it will provoke some new thinking on the subject.
The origins of Karate are supposedly lost in the mists of time. What we can be sure of however is that the majority of Karateka who are credited with founding the modern sport (Kanryo Higaonna, Matsumura etc) learnt their unarmed martial arts from Chinese martial artists either directly or via their teachers. Even if they had native fighting techniques of their own, they buried them in the Chinese forms and training methods that they learnt.
IOW Karate is neither more nor less than a variant of Kung Fu. And fights were conducted in accordance with Chinese fighting customs using some form of sticky hands type duelling.
However, when Karate went public, it was changed from a Chinese martial art to a form of physical callesthenics largely based around group teaching of kata to High School children with the aim of preparing them physically and mentally for service in the Japanese military machine. Little or no two man practice was involved.
Some Karateka continued to learn in the traditional fashion but the majority of new Karateka on the scene learnt in the new way and never saw or experienced traditional practice which was done in private.
During WW2 a lot of the traditionally taught Karateka died as result of the consequences of war reducing their number to a mere handful.
In the post war period, Karate again became popular but with so few traditional teachers around it was again not practised in the traditional fashion. Instead a new form of sparring based loosely on Kendo rules, not the rules/forms of Chinese boxing.
Sticky hands fighting where the loser was the one on the ground was replaced by points sparring where the loser was simply the one who was struck first. Instead of close combat techniques coming to the fore, striking from a distance became the important skill. Some teachers still retained elements of push/sticky hands in their training but the majority were forced by popularity to accept the new form of sparring.
Effectively at this point the Karate kata techniques which were based around the Chinese sticky hands/close combat duelling systems were rendered both ineffectual and irrelevant as training devices. They persisted only through custom.
So when Karate came to the West, it brought with it a training system based on sticky hands and a sparring system based on points scoring. IOW the fighting system taught and the training system were completely mismatched. And we wonder why western Karateka get confused about what the kata are for.
The problem is that without a knowledge of the history of Karate's development and in particular its radical departure from traditional methods around 100 years ago, Western martial artists are left scratching their heads over patterns supposedly related to combat which don't match either their sparring experience, sports combat experience from other arenas or even their street fighting/duelling experience (which also developed on different paths to the Chinese systems) because any attempt to interpret the kata without this knowledge is quite literally doomed to failure.
Perhaps more importantly because this knowledge was never passed to Westerners and indeed as you can understand from the above was never passed to the majority of oriental Karateka in the past century either, real Karate utilising the sticky hands duelling methods has effectively died a death.
NO ONE IS LEARNING TO DO KARATE LIKE THAT ANYMORE ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD.
Instead what is being taught and practised is an ersatz martial art cum sport which is neither an effective unarmed duelling method nor a good basis for learning self defence.
Having said this, some Karateka, westerners in particular, have gone in search of better and are teaching under the guise of Karate effective forms of mixed martial arts. But, once again, these are not the original way of doing Karate and the kata still remain irrelevant to training.
If we were interested in reviving Karate in its original form, we would have to take the katas we have been taught and combine them with a knowledge of sticking hands methods which can still be acquired in Kung Fu training halls. The alternative is to forget the katas and train in mixed martial arts and just call it Karate because it's a convenient label.
Which is the correct approach?
I think the answer depends on why you do Karate. If you are doing it with any notion whatsoever that someday it might come in useful on the street, it would be better to forget tradition and just practise mixed martial arts because Western street fighting does not use the Chinese sticky hands approach. OTOH if you are the Karate equivalent of the Society for Creative Anachronisms then returning to the sticky hands form of fighting is the way to go.
The choice is up to you.
Unless you think I am wrong and there is some better explanation for where Karate has gone wrong (or right for that matter).