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Lee Taylor
Lee Taylor's picture
What would karate have become?

I have just finished reading 'The Essence of Karate' by Gichin Funakoshi and found the following ineteresting statement by him:

'While karate is not something that can be easily conveyed and is difficult to explain without presenting an actual demonstration, a characteristic that distinguishes it as karate is that it cannot be commercialised or adapted for competition. Herein lies the essence of karate-do, as it cannot be realised with protective equipment or through competitive matches.'

So i was thinking, what would karate have become if it had not been formalised into what we know as karate today?

Lee

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Lee Taylor wrote:
So i was thinking, what would karate have become if it had not been formalised into what we know as karate today?

My view that is would have become a forgotten art that was only ever practised by a small number of people on Okinawa.

While we can see many of the negative effects that the formalisation of karate of karate has had today, it should be remembered that all those changes were done with a view to making the art fit with the times and hence makes it as popular as possible. While that had a negative effect on the art combatively, it is doubtful karate would have survived and spread had those changes not been made. “Karate” is a household word over much of the globe, so those changes were certainly very effective in that regard.

Had the climate of the time been different, and had karate spread as it was originally practised, I feel it would pretty much become what is for most pragmatic karateka today i.e what karate originally was: A group of effective civilian systems with strong roots that makes effective use of the work of all previous generations, is not afraid to adapt to the times, and draws from all available proven methodologies.

Interesting theme this and it will be fun to explore the possible impact of all the variables!

All the best,

Iain

michael rosenbaum
michael rosenbaum's picture

Lee Taylor wrote:

So i was thinking, what would karate have become if it had not been formalised into what we know as karate today?

Lee

Lee,

It would have probably remained an obscure fighting art, little recognized outside of Okinawa.  The formalization process has its drawbacks i.e. cookie cutter karate, practitioners bound by system and kata, over emphasis on rank, etc, etc, but one thing it did was organize the Okinawan civil fighting arts into a format that could be passed on to the masses. A format that has a beginning, middle and advanced stage something which is very important to the western way of thinking. The effectiveness of this linear presentation can be seen in other arts that have adopted it into their teachings. I've seen  Burmese, Filipino, Chinese and Indonesian practitioners all following a similar format and wearing belt rankings draw from or identical to those found in karate. You can practice Karate in your pajamas, swimsuit, dress suit, dress, underware or artic clothing, but when presented to the masses what most people identify with is the GI and black-belt. Kata also comes in but usually way down the line.Way, way past flashy kicks and loud screams.wink

I think where the problem is that far too often we confuse the teaching format with the process of learning thereby hindering our own personal growth as fighters and individuals. It's only after we balance the two that things come into perspective. IMO that is.

Mike R

R Olson
R Olson's picture

It's interesting that the less formalized a system is, the less obscure and perhaps the more badly practiced it becomes, simply because it doesn't attract enough people.  How many folks have splintered off from a formalized karate organization or school to form their own "Reality-Based Self Defense" (RBSD) system, only to watch that crash and burn as the few people who practice eventually plateau or just train badly, despite any of the emphasis on effective civilian combat.

I occasionally watch vids of certain splinter schools showing off their training of realistic scenarios in civilian clothes and "none of that formal nonsense", but often become wide-eyed at the number of individuals who lack any sort of precision or technique, even though they're engaged in realistic practice.  Sure, you teaching people how to fight, but for some reason I've come to believe that the some of the formal trappings of traditional martial arts do a good job of at least teaching an individual how to guage their own progress in training, and how to recognize what they lack.  Less formal systems don't seem to have found a suitable replacement for this.  

Granted, you can point at thousands more who have all the precision and technique in the world, yet none of the application for real fighting, so I guess it's a wash.  Maybe.

Lee Taylor
Lee Taylor's picture

With the successful inclusion of karate into the Okinawan education system by Itosu, do you think it still would have become obscure or a forgotten art, and with Japan occupying Okinawa karate's recognition would of developed anyway?

Or did it's mass appeal really depend on the 4 major founders of the 4 styles Shito-Ryu, Gojo-Ryu, Wado-Ru & Shotokan?

Lee

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Lee Taylor wrote:
With the successful inclusion of karate into the Okinawan education system by Itosu, do you think it still would have become obscure or a forgotten art, and with Japan occupying Okinawa karate's recognition would of developed anyway?

Or did it's mass appeal really depend on the 4 major founders of the 4 styles Shito-Ryu, Gojo-Ryu, Wado-Ru & Shotokan?

Who really knows as such historical “what ifs?” are always pure conjecture. However, my money would be on the art still fading into obscurity.

Itosu’s introduction of karate into the school system would have been a failed experiment had Funakoshi et al (or some hypothetical “others”) not taken the torch and run with it. It was not Itosu’s actions that spread the art worldwide, but it defiantly set things up so it could do so. It was a chain of events, and all chains are only as strong as their weakest links. If the second link on the chain failed, I think the art would still have failed to spread.

But who really knows? indecision

All the best,

Iain

michael rosenbaum
michael rosenbaum's picture

Lee Taylor wrote:

With the successful inclusion of karate into the Okinawan education system by Itosu, do you think it still would have become obscure or a forgotten art, and with Japan occupying Okinawa karate's recognition would of developed anyway?

Or did it's mass appeal really depend on the 4 major founders of the 4 styles Shito-Ryu, Gojo-Ryu, Wado-Ru & Shotokan?

Lee

There's a lot of what ifs where history is concerned. My guess though is that with the Japanese occupation the art would have flourished. If the four earliest styles hadn't been created then others would have popularized the art. Having stated that though let's not forget that much of karate's popularity in the west is due to returning servicemen who were stationed on Okinawa, or in Japan, then came home and made karate popular in the west. I'd venture to say that there is a three to one ratio, if not higher, of Westerners over Okinawans and Japanese, who made karate popular in the US.

Mike R

Gavin J Poffley
Gavin J Poffley's picture

Quote:
let's not forget that much of karate's popularity in the west is due to returning servicemen who were stationed on Okinawa, or in Japan, then came home and made karate popular in the west. I'd venture to say that there is a three to one ratio, if not higher, of Westerners over Okinawans and Japanese, who made karate popular in the US.

I agree with this a lot and find it sad that sometimes the local pioneers who brought arts back to their native lands don't get the credit they deserve, especially from the Japanese side. If you read any of the Japanese literature on the subject it will without fail simply list the various instructors who went to different parts of the world and give them 100% of the credit for the growth of the arts there.

I remember talking to an old timer in Japan about the spread of karate to Europe and his attitude was basically summed up in the comment "England was Kanazawa and Enoeda right? They were good fighters, very strong in competition which must be why the UK had so much competitive success".