International & Global Education
It is a privilege and an honor again to be able to present some thoughts from Mr Peter Giffen. Always articulate. Always thought provoking.
The Purpose of Traditional Karate - by Peter Giffen
I didn't want to post this during the Olympics, to disrespect the fine young karate athletes participating. But now that we are done, here we go:
With the Tokyo Olympics underway, karate is in the spotlight. I hope that its debut makes a good impression with viewers and helps to build memberships in dojos worldwide hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
While modern karate competitions are exciting — especially with rules that provide scoring incentives for competitors to execute high kicks — I think the karate masters who founded the different styles, and the todi practitioners before them, would little recognize their practical methods of self-defence in these contests.
Yes, the young competitors are highly skilled athletes who should be admired for their physical abilities and determination. But the danger is, people will perceive that you need to be an elite athlete in order to do karate effectively. This may have been what happened when judo appeared in the Olympics 1960s. Some experts argue that the Olympics harmed rather than helped judo’s growth, and branded it more as a sport than martial art.
Karate is not just for young athletes. It developed as a civilian method of self-defence, with highly effective techniques, including hand strikes, kicks, joint locks, chokes and throws. Anyone, any age can gain increased self-defence skills through regular and committed practice.
But the key is to stay true to karate’s purpose as a traditional martial art, and not get distracted by modern variations and attitudes. We have practitioners who just like to have a bit of exercise and perhaps socialize a little bit with other members. We have regimens like Tae Bo, which strip away the combative aspects of karate and turn it solely into a cardio exercise. We have parents who want to make their children a little more disciplined.
All these uses of karate are good, but you don’t need to water down the art to receive the benefits. The exertion required to do a martial art properly hones the body and focuses the mind. And yes, if adults want to get together after a workout because they feel a joint sense of relief for surviving a gruelling workout, that’s fine too.
If you want to become an elite athlete, that’s also good. But after your competitive career is finished, don’t just sit in a chair, looking at your past medals, and say to yourself, “Ah, those were the days.” Continue to practice and continue to grow outside the structure and rules of tournament karate. Be a coach, if you wish, but cultivate a personal practice of traditional karate that draws on your discipline as an athlete.
Traditional karate requires rigorous training so you can execute techniques properly. You must also train the mind to be focused and calm, so you can perform effectively even when pressured by a dangerous situation (such as being attacked) or a deflating one (you feel lazy and uninspired). You must continually push your boundaries and strive for self-mastery.
I have students who have come to me and say they don’t like violence or the idea of hurting other people. I say, good: You should train yourself every class as if you were going to fight for your life, or someone else’s. But then you should conduct your life in a way that you never have to use your skills.
If you practice in this way, the old masters would be much more likely to recognize their karate in you than in the rules-bound contests of Olympics karate.
Okinawan and Japanese Budo
James M. Hatch
International Educator who happens to be passionate about Chito Ryu Karate. Born in Ireland, educated in Canada, matured in Japan