Hi, and happy New Year. First of all, apologies for the lack of activity on here. I have been working on other projects, writing a sequel to my first fictional novel, which is currently in production under my pen name, Tyrrel Francis.

 

Anyway, I thought I would kick off the new year with a post on a subject for which there will always be a place in my heart, Karate, an art which was in Martial Arts terms, my first true love.

 

Karate is one of the best known Martial Arts in the West, but also one of the least understood. To many non-martial artists, Karate is just another word for Martial Arts, and any art gets branded with the label. This is partly why a film about Kung Fu got labelled as the remake of the iconic Karate Kid film.

 

Then there is the negative press, the readership of the armchair experts, labelling Karate as ineffective and flowery, judging an art by who, in their opinion, could beat who up. Martial Arts magazines can be just as guilty, belittling it in favour of whatever art has become fashionable at the time. Why is this? Is it because at one time, Karate was the ‘Fashionable Art’, and that time has passed?

 

Karate was the result of Okinawans, and other inhabitants of the Ryuku Islands, between Japan and China, being occupied by the Japanese, who banned the use and carrying of all weapons, being taught the art of Kempo by Chinese traders in order to defend themselves. This included both unarmed striking techniques, and adapting tools, mainly farming and fishing, as weapons. The practice was banned by the ruling Japanese after the art was used by a small and troublesome resistance against them, hence the use of Kata, or formal display, to hide the practice in a workout routine. After the Second World War, many American Servicemen, stationed in the Islands, learned the art and introduced it to the US on their return home, experimenting with competition rules, and giving birth to what we know as Kickboxing, which is not to be mistaken for the more ancient forms of Combat Sports such as Muay Thai, which has it’s on origins in Asia.

 

I have read an article in a Health Magazine, written by a Non-Martial Artist, who had tried a session of a few different arts, and printed his conclusions as to which arts were best for what. It was a brief insight, and he labelled Karate as ‘Best for Discipline’, but added that if you tried to use it to defend yourself outside the Newsagent, you would likely end up in Hospital. I have heard lot’s of similar conclusions from people who have watched a session, pointing out very helpfully the ineffectiveness and dangers of holding your non-punching fist on your hip, and working from deep, long stances, comparing it to arts such as boxing, which, being relatively simple, can be put into practice after a handful of sessions. I admit, as a person for whom Karate was my first love, that I have questioned the hours of drilling techniques up and down in lines, and the endless practice of Kata.

 

It does take years of practicing Karate to have the ability of putting it into practice effectively, and took looking outside of the art to realise what I had been practicing all those years. It made me realise why the more advance you become in Karate, the more short, higher stances are introduced, and the way you execute your techniques evolves. The long deep stances become transitional, not held for more than a moment at the correct time before shortening to what is considered one of the more ‘advanced’ stances. The years of working up and down the hall, of three step, five step, one step, and of advanced prearranged ‘Kumite’, were programming the muscle memory, and conditioning the necessary muscle groups, as well as building the fighting spirit and developing the internal organs in a dynamic way. If you watch a top level Boxer, or Mixed Martial Artist, you will see some of the same stances and explosive movements as you will see in a basic Karate session, and some of the same footwork.

 

Karate, when practiced at the highest level, is very explosive, dynamic, and direct. An advanced ‘Karateka’ is hardly recognisable from a basic beginner, but will still practice basic, fundamental, foundation techniques and drills. As an art, it is also a very effective, and compatible base style, giving the practitioner good grounding towards adapting to another art, whether it be a striking, or a grappling style.