Friday, November 14, 2008

The terrible truth about karate... really the terrible truth about all martial arts.
The terrible truth is that under stress, (unless we freeze and do nothing) we behave the way we have trained. Why is that a 'terrible' truth? Because we often do not train to attain the things we think we are training to attain. A couple of days ago I posted an article about some funny aikido ideas that might be incongruent with what is really being practiced. Today I want to show a few examples of the same type of incongruency in karate.
(And this is not a rant about karate or karate guys. I love karate. It just sprang to mind as an example of incongruent training ideas.)
  • A lot of karate guys like to talk about hitting then escaping while the enemy is stunned, but more often in the karate classes I've seen and been in, we train to hit two or three or five or seven times when the opportunity presents itself. We practice pursuing the attack from opportunity to attack to stun to knockdown to finishing. We want to hit and run but we train to hit and hit and hit and hit... and there's never any 'run' in there.
  • Typical sparring in karate does not simulate 'normal' violent encounters (and judo and aikido randori are not too much better). Sparring/randori simulates a duel. So, we stand the chance of getting into a violent encounter and behaving as if it were a duel. Sometimes that works and sometimes it fails miserably. (But on the other hand, practicing a martial art with no sparring/randori system at all is also prescription for sucking. You have to have a sparring system but you want to consider the congruency between the rules and what you think you really want to be training.)
  • How much time in a conflict is spent standing still and striking? Not much. How much time is spent in karate class standing in a prescribed stance and repeating blocks and strikes? Much. Even though most conflicts are mostly movement with just a moment or two of standing still, we spend way more time standing still than we do moving (but on the other hand, the momentary strike might be the most important part of the conflict).
In any artform there are decisions – strategic choices – artistic license. It would be crazy to say Rembrandt sucked but El Greco didn't. It would be even crazier to try to determine whether or not Bach was better than Picasso. But given very similar information and skill, I might come to very different conclusions than some karate guys. That doesn't make me right and them wrong – that just makes what we are doing an artform. But on the other hand, it doesn't make me wrong either – I think folks ought to think about these things whatever artistic choice they make. Whatever your martial art, I think you'd do well to consider whether or not your practice is congruent with your goals.


  1. Now, see, the problem here is that you write these things when I don't have time for a lengthy comment. :)

    Back later.

  2. No problem, Savage Baptist. You see, I plan the timing of my posts so that I can take your silence as agreement and declare myself triumphant!

  3. You are correct sir!

    "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face"

    -Mike Tyson

  4. Thought to quickly share a link that is similar in spirit with your post ... The Problem with Hard Style Systems like Karate and Taekwondo. I'll get back to a better response later. Colin

  5. Hmmmm--I think you knew where I would go with this before you hit "publish," but nevertheless, for those who may not have heard my rants on the subject before, here it is.

  6. The terrible truth of any defense system is that the instructors do not teach the goal, they teach what they teach. In KiHara we teach the importance of movement, movement at the proper time. This movement must also be coordinated with the proper result, RUN FOREST RUN. Pat you are right! Too many of us are teaching and forgetting the 'realness' of what we are teaching for, to survive an attack!! The key word there survive. I am happy to be someone who has survived long enough to meet all of you wonderful people. And remember the ol' Marine Corps saying, "The more you sweat in peacetime, the less you will bleed in battle." It does not say anything about 'NOT' bleeding!!!!


  7. Ha! Yep SB, I could have probably written that response for you - except I can't spell tomariryutetode or what ever you call your flavor of karate. I enjoyed your response and I'm sorta glad you kinda agree with me at least partially ;-)

    WES! You got what I was saying right on! I'm sort of working my way up to a post about how we can't study 'the thing itself' so we systematize it and study the system, but the system is not the thing itself.


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