I’m currently preparing a rather lengthy work on the most common failings of modern karate when it comes to self-protection and how these can be rectified. While it is common to see karate promoted as a form of self-defence, I think it would be fair to say that there are some common and very significant failings in that regard. Here is my initial list of these failings and I would be interested to see if anyone feels I’m missing anything or has any thoughts?
1 – The failure to define and differentiate between contexts.
What I mean by this is when we see art, culture and sport presented and self-protection; or their training methods deemed valid for self-protection through either ignorance of the nature and needs of differing contexts or self-deception based on over attachment to a given training methodology.
2 – A failure to teach the core concepts of awareness.
Without awareness there can be no avoidance and the enemy is always given the huge advantage of surprise. It is not sufficient simply to say, “be aware” as the student needs educated how to be aware and what to be aware of.
3 – A failure to teach the key principles of conflict management / de-escalation.
Again it is no good to say, “don’t fight unless you have to” and then not teach how the physical confrontation could be avoided.
4 – A failure to teach the basics of the law.
You see misunderstanding and misinformation about the law presented as fact all the time in the martial arts and this leads to unnecessary fear of consequence, doubt about the legality of actions, and potential legal problems post incident.
5 – A failure to teach effective escape skills and tactics.
Throughout the martial arts there is often an assumed “fight to the finish” mentality (which no doubt spills over from competitive martial arts) as opposed to a “fight to flee” mentality which is far better for self-protection. It’s not good to say, “run away if you can” without teaching the associated skills needed to disengage and effectively escape individuals and groups.
6 – The failure to teach realistic ways to deal with weapons.
We see frequently unrealistic attacks (i.e. oi-zuki style knife thrusts before freeze framing) and unrealistic “defences” (i.e. locks and complex disarms). What we should see is frantic close-range pumping and slashing for attacks. For defences we need an emphasis on weapon awareness, pre-emption, stopping on the draw, dealing with the enemy (not fixating on the weapon and ignoring the guy wielding it), creating distance, effective control if totally necessary (i.e. not complex grips and locks) and getting out of there at the first opportunity. We also need to differentiate between many of the “artistic” methods that have no bearing on reality and those methods that are genuinely useful.
7 – We should judge blows by their ability to incapacitate and not by any arbitrary aesthetics (which may actually inhibit function).
Far too often the quality of a strike is judged by the arbitrary dictates of “style” and aesthetics and not by function. Karateka need to spend much more time hitting things and measuring by effect. Effect should be first and foremost and all else is secondary. Not that it really matters, but an effective highly-developed technique will be aesthetically pleasing. However, just because a technique is aesthetically pleasing does not mean it is effective. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder: Power is not. So we should be testing and measuring by effect.
8 – Too much emphasis placed on reaction as opposed to pre-emption and being proactive.
What I mean is the fundamentally flawed “if he does that, you do this” approach to dealing with violence. This effectively puts the enemy in charge and gives them the huge advantage of “setting the agenda”. Sure you need to able to stop what comes at you, but the emphasis should firmly be placed on developing the skills and mindset that have the karateka take the dominant position when conflict cannot be avoided. That way it is the enemy that is on the back foot and not the karateka. Even in some of the more allegedly “practical” quarters of the martial arts we still see reaction being taught as the predominate way of thinking. This is not at all practical though and we need to see pre-emption and pro-action being put first and foremost in training and mindset.
9 – Everything always being practised one-on-one.
Real situations are not always one-on-one. You may well have multiple enemies to deal with and loved ones to protect. The tactics associated with a one-on-one fight will leave you and your loved ones vulnerable and will not cut it when numbers increase. Dealing with multiples (both in terms of “attackers” and those to defend) needs to be drilled and practised because it is ridiculous to expect to have the associated skills magically manifest when needed. And yet that’s exactly what we see in most karate dojo (and most other martial arts too). Multiple enemies are not drilled anywhere near as much as they should be.
10 – A failure to drill realistic scenarios live.
To be able to test and develop effective skills, live training needs to be part of the mix. Most dojo sparring is live, but that is not enough because the skills developed through consensual unarmed dojo fighting do not “cut & paste” to other contexts. We need to gain experience in the dojo of actively escaping, dealing with multiples, protecting others, etc, etc. Theory and technique, while vitally important, are not enough unless actually put into practise in a way that as closely replicates reality as safety and practicality allow.
11 – Practising only one combative aspect of karate to the exclusion of all others.
Although on the wane, it is still very common to see karateka focus solely on punches and kicks and totally ignore the gripping, limb-control, escapes etc found within traditional kata. Indeed, so ignored are these elements that motions have been reinterpreted into implausible “strikes” and “blocks”. This makes their take on karate into a “partial art” and their mono-range training leaves them totally unprepared for the unrestricted nature of civilian conflict.
12 – A failure to develop the right combative mindset.
A misunderstanding of the “do” concept has lead to the right combative mindset being discouraged and replaced with “overly mystical thinking”. Laser focussed, super intense, in the moment, aggression is what is needed. Not a “zen like” state of otherworldly detachment. Egotistical instructors and a perversion of dojo etiquette have also lead to subservience being an encouraged trait in some quarters. This runs contrary to the “sense of self” needed to forcefully defy the will of any assailant i.e. they have become conditioned to unquestioningly obey the “dojo tyrant” and hence are very likely to unquestioningly obey other tyrants too.
Obviously not all of the above applies to all dojos and, because of the very nature of this forum, I would guess it would not apply to most reading this due to their pragmatic bias. However, I do think these are the most common traits found in karate generally (and other arts too, but my related piece of work is focused on karate) that lead to karate, as they practise it, having little in the way of value from a self-protection perspective. Which is a huge shame as I think karate is highly pragmatic when correctly approached.
How to avoid the above and ensure karate is functional is what I’m currently working on and I’ll bring you the finished work in due course via this website. In the meantime, what do you think? Am I missing anything? Am I right that these are the more common failings? All thoughts and feedback gratefully received.
All the best,