Tradition and Pedagogy within Karate

Discussion in 'Karate' started by GaryWado, Apr 8, 2009.

  1. GaryWado

    GaryWado Tired

    Things have been a bit quiet on here as of late, so I thought I would post this for everyone to muse over.

    I know it is perhaps a commonly posted thread / question that has been posed many times before on this forum – but what is it in your view that constitutes the "tradition" in traditional Karate?

    One thing for sure, is that is impossible to say or pin down the term “traditional” within the realms of karate training - as tradition does not follow a uniform pattern between styles or even groups within the same style – nor do they have to really.

    But this is a subject that intrigues me, as I see many peoples training “consumed” by tradition seemingly for the sake of it - i.e. tradition = respect, discipline, order and a good moral code etc. therefore = “the bigger lesson”.

    Now of course, there is nothing wrong with that, but my thoughts are that sometimes, it does more harm than good when focusing too much on that “bigger lesson”; as you are not only at risk of missing all of the juicy functional bits, but also the process that would have enabled you to fully “realise” the higher intention, has been severely restricted – if indeed the latter is important to you in the first place.

    Personally for me it is, but the key is to achieve this with whilst practicing fully functional karate – and I like to think that this is what constitutes the “traditional” way in Wado.

    In a nutshell what justifies the label within Wado is that it is maintaining the pedagogy its creator intented.

    Do you consider that you practice traditional karate? Is your group traditional and if so what do you think defines you/ your group and or the karate as such?

    Last edited: Apr 8, 2009
  2. Fish Of Doom

    Fish Of Doom Will : Mind : Motion Supporter

    i consider myself to do "traditional" karate, in the sense that i train it with combative application and physical development in mind, yet i do not do it with malicious intent, or as a means to overpower people for the sake of control, but to better evolve as a person, by using the training methods that define "traditional karate" as such (kihon, kata, etc).

    the group i'm training with now, the local SKIF branch is highly traditional in it's methodologies, but it does include a fair bit of the stereotypical shotokan egocentrism and closed mindedness sometimes, which does not appeal to me neither as a karateka nor as a human being.

    IMO, the thing about the "bigger lesson" isn't so much a philosophy or anything like that, but rather simple responsibility for one's actions; one should always remind the students that a punch is a punch, a kick is a kick, and even untrained individuals can and do kill, whether by carelessness or not. once a student has proven himself as responsible, disciplined and dedicated, and a relationship of trust has been established with the sensei, the student would start training more dangerous techniques, and generally the "nastier" physical side of karate, like the proper locations to attack for maximum effect, how to train the techniques used to attack those sites, etc, and would me made to reflect on such techniques and on the effect they have, so that they completely understand that they're not playing a game, they are training a martial art whose direct, physical purpose is to inflict bodily harm upon another being and thus, should not be used carelessly at a whim. thus the "peaceful" side of the art comes hand in hand, and even as a direct result of, the violent side.
  3. Fish Of Doom

    Fish Of Doom Will : Mind : Motion Supporter

    serious discussion is a lonely business, it seems.

    come on people, post! this is interesting!
  4. Mitch

    Mitch Lord Mitch of MAP Admin

    I think the meaning of "traditional" has become "Funakoshi'd", ie the direction of training is about self improvement and development of strong bodies and minds. This tends to mean bigger classes, iron discipline, respect and a moral code.

    How much any of the latter three are required for the first to be successful is another discussion and fits in nicely with the move of karate and other arts not just to the Japanese schools/military/other environments but also to the West.

    This is not "traditional" in the terms of Okinawan karate as I understand it, where traditional would mean very few students with few facilities training in a back yard for a more combative end.

    Now, whilst the latter definition sounds very romantic and many pour scorn on the former, we should stop and think about the different societies that karate now operates in.

    Pro boxers don't train in back yards despite every tree-cutting, beef-thumping cliche Rocky can revive. Nor do Thai fighters, MMA fighters etc.

    So I'm not sure there is even a tradition to uphold when it comes to training methodology. I don't believe the practice of kata was anything like it is now for example.

    There are ideas to uphold however. Gavin Mulholland, in his Four Shades of Black, talks about how the basics of karate training should, essentially, be belting the bejaysus out of pads with a variety of simple techniques to the point of exhaustion and beyond, for about six months.

    This strikes (see what I did? :)) me as a great idea. Forget everything else and just inculcate a tenacious, aggressive, fighting spirit which responds with solid basics. Everything else can follow.

    I'm increasingly designing my training drills around this kind of thinking. Hit hard, fast, repeatedly and take the initiative.

    To me that seems "traditional" and may accrue many of the benefits of a stronger mind and body, but they are in addition to, not the goal of, the training.

    Did that make any sense? This Rioja is very nice...

  5. Moosey

    Moosey invariably, a moose Supporter

    I think I train in the traditional British arm of Japanese shotokan karate.

    I don't really care how dudes in Okinawa used to train nor do I buy much into the Funakoshi-bashing school of thought. I'm here to train in the here and now. I accept a certain amount of cultural baggage as you find in loads of sports and I accept the idiosyncrasies of the way my teachers teach because I enjoy learning from them.

    To me, the traditions of karate are in the methods of power generation, the use of angles, unbalancing, muscle contraction, striking. The uses of the limbs.

    The bowing etc are traditions in the same way as downing 10 pints of cider are Rugby traditions - traditions of clubs but not central to the discipline itself.

    I would like to teach karate one day, but I would still consider myself to be teaching traditional karate if I taught the punches, kick, body co-ordination etc that I learned, even if I didn't wear a karate gi or end the lesson in seiza.
  6. GaryWado

    GaryWado Tired

    Would you teach it in the same way that you were taught - and therefore allow your students to grow in the same way you did (warts and all), or would you take different tack?

    Would you take what you know (or think you know) now and spare them those warts?
  7. GaryWado

    GaryWado Tired

    In Wado, the "Rei-ho" forms a functional part of the training as well as the formal etiquette side of things.

    Karate training starts and ends with a bow - not just out of respect and the whole "zen" thing, but practically as well.

    Now we are getting somewhere?

    Last edited: Apr 10, 2009
  8. John Titchen

    John Titchen Still Learning Supporter

    I'm going to throw in my 2p here by adding in, if you'll forgive me, a link to a rather long piece. I did discuss some of the points raised with Fish of Doom shortly after this was published as the lead article of the first issue of Jissen Magazine.

    Click on Karate on the top right menu to call up the article:
  9. Infrazael

    Infrazael Banned Banned

    From a Chinese arts perspective (and cultural, since I am a Chinese national。。。)

    The most important thing in traditional Chinese system, in my honest opinion is loyalty and paying respect/homage to your teacher, and lineage, followed by honoring them, your version of the history, and what your teacher asks you to do for them.

    Sometimes, this can even lead to violent actions, for example taking out other martial art schools, rivals, especially if the school is connected to, or directly involved in Triad/Mob business. It can get really sticky.

    It can also mean fighting your friends, just because of a beef your teacher has with his teacher (if you are both martial artists). For example, if for some reason my CLF teacher asked me to fight a certain person from the Hung Kuen school in Chinatown, I would have no choice in the matter.

    I hope that explains it.

    Sometimes, "hardcore traditional" is a pain-in-the-ass path to follow but it is something I take extremely seriously, this is the culture I was raised in.
  10. GaryWado

    GaryWado Tired

    Hi John,

    Thanks for posting that link, I think I had read that article before, and I agree that something only has to be a matter of minutes old in order for it to be classed as tradition.

    If I may though, I think that sometimes too simple an analogy when making refernce to things likes Gi's and Makiwara.

    Also to an extent it could be argued that what the likes of Matsumura, Itosu and Funakoshi did; (cross training, changing kata, forming their own schools and creating there own style) was in fact typically "traditional" given the concept of Shu-ha-ri is such a crucial part of traditional Japanese martial arts.

    Allow me to throw something else in here, based on my own knowledge and study of Ohtsuka's Wado-ryu.

    As many of you know, it is an over simplification (and to an extent incorrect)to state that Wado is a karate style based on the Shurite system that also incorporate aspects of Jujutsu into its syllabus.

    Most of the Wado scholars these days believe that what is probably more accurate, is that Ohtsuka saw the new art of Karate as no more than a convenient vehicle for him to be able to create a structure or platform from which he could propagate his vision of Jujutsu. Karate was the new rock and roll of the time - and Ohtsuka recognised this pottential.

    He took the relatively newly developed concept of karate and applied a pedagogy that is firmly rooted in the koryu arts of Japan - to create something entirely new but with traditional processes as well.

    Question is, do I think I can improve on Ohtsukas wado by developing something new, or are the answers already there for me?

    Last edited: Apr 10, 2009
  11. GaryWado

    GaryWado Tired

    I think it also important to bear in mind, that these great masters, were the result of their time - a culture with different values than today.

    Ohtsuka for example was fully immersed in a culture that was surrounded by the martial ways of Japan from the day he was born, so when he created Wado it was off the bat of a lifetime of budo experience.

    A bit different to today perhaps, where most of our experiences come from some bloke teaching us two or three evenings a week at the local leisure centre.

    Last edited: Apr 10, 2009
  12. GaryWado

    GaryWado Tired

    I sincerely hope this is a bit of mickey taking.

    If so very good, if not ... blimey!!!
  13. John Titchen

    John Titchen Still Learning Supporter

    Both. :)

    For example, you have told me elsewhere that the Jissen element of your system (at least in terms of how it is drilled) tends mainly to come from the Ju-Jitsu heritage of the style rather than the application Karate Kata. Odds are, if you were to develop some different approaches based on your existing repertoire, you would be doing something new, but you'd also be using what is already there but not necessarily practiced.
  14. GaryWado

    GaryWado Tired


    There would be a risk that I would go the same way as Mr Abernethy.

  15. Moosey

    Moosey invariably, a moose Supporter

    Could you explain more please, Gary?
  16. GaryWado

    GaryWado Tired

    I will try, but internet forums do not lend themselves to the transmitting of technical detail very well.

    If however you were to train with the likes of Mr Shiomitsu, you would see that he has an outstanding way of explaining how the "za-rei"that most traditional karate-ka practiced should be approached - from a very functional point of view.

    These points are in no way the exhaustive list but food for thought maybe:

    1. In "ritsu" (standing position) at the start of the lesson we should address our posture (Alexander Technique style). We should feel that we are supported from the hara. Radar engaged.

    2. When performing "seiza" (the act of kneeling down), we should be in control of the process lowering oneself into position rather than flopping down and letting gravity take control. We should be aware of our centre / balance all the way through. Radar still engaged.

    3. Whilst in kneeling position the hara is supported - ie your backside does not touch your heels - this keeps you centre of mass in the correct position + better body structure / more alert / ready to respond.

    4. When performing Rei (bow) one must keep the "nape" of the neck. Not look forward in the low position as you should use your periferal vision both in front of you and behind you (and you cant do that if you face is staring forward).

    5. All senses are engaged "the Radar" at the lowest point of the bow you should not only be able to utilise periferal vision but other senses like hearing etc.

    6. Don't press on the floor with the palms of your hand - they should float. This is to avoid you using your hands to "push" your body back into position as far as I can see. Which is lazy.

    7. Keritsu - Standing up, use your body (from the hara) to stand up, rather than pushing down with you hands and arms on your thighs for example.

    All of which are designed to engender correct form, movement, core strength, awareness of your surroundings which we continue to use during our training - how many times have you heard your sensei say - move from the centre and have zanshin?

    Thats my take on why karate starts and ends with a bow.

    Last edited: Apr 10, 2009
  17. Infrazael

    Infrazael Banned Banned

    No, this is just the "old old school" way of doing things. It stems from both Confucian values, but also martial discipline. Schools of the old required absolute loyalty, a lot of the Chinese systems were also practiced by a lot of the guys not "straight" you know what I mean.

    This is not something I like or dislike - just the way it is. Most modern guys and kids today take a lot of what they have for granted and at face value.

    Back in the day you can't throw mud around or anythign like that. If you ask me this type of absolute loyalty - punishment system promotes obedience and weeds out those who shouldn't be doing martial arts because they are fighting systems for warfare/killing.

    This is not something I personally worry about because my Sifu has no connections to anything down under, but there are those that do and trust me when I say these things, a lot of it still true today . . . . maybe sad, or outdated, but some can't/don't want to let go of the past. :)
  18. GaryWado

    GaryWado Tired


    Sorry, but I am struggling to separate what you are saying from the reality of the cheesy 70's Kung Fu films.

    I simply can't believe that a martial art -with a thousand years of history, would debase itself with such simplistic gang like values.

    I can perhaps understand or see that in the past, clan rivalry might have fueled progression / development within a given form in order to develop the fighting method, but any such method that has survived the test of time and still exists today doesn't need to be tested in the way that you seem to want to promote it today IMO.

    I would say it is worthy of a different kind of testing / study

    Gary ;)
  19. Mitlov

    Mitlov Shiny

    To respond to the initial post, this would cause some friction in my organization (JKA Shotokan), but no, I don't think we're really traditional. The organization routinely uses that term to describe itself, but I don't see it. I think what they're really trying to say is that "we're not a cruddy belt mill" or "we're not Street-Fighter-II-inspired cheesiness," but people want to say it in a way so that we're not explicitly condemning belt mills and the like. So the term "traditional" is used when people are really just saying "good."

    Instead, I think of "traditional" as a separate and unrelated question from "good." I don't place a value judgment on being either "traditional" or "non-traditional."

    And in my mind, the JKA approach to Shotokan isn't really traditional because JKA Shotokan continues to evolve. I've never seen someone look to how Funakoshi performed a particular kata or technique and try to stick to how Funakoshi did it. Instead, people look to how the current leadership does stuff, even if it's evolved a bit from what the JKA leadership said ten years ago, not to mention 100 years ago. At my particular dojos, the question is always "What does Hidetaka Nishiyama have to say about this," not "what did Funakoshi have to say about this." And although Sensei Nishiyama recently passed away, I'm sure the art will continue to evolve in the future as someone steps up as the next Nishiyama. I understand that other Shotokan organizations continue to take a more original-intent approach to their karate, trying to do Shotokan as Gichin Funakoshi did Shotokan, and that's a much more "traditional" approach to a martial art in my mind.

    The other thing that really weighs in my mind is that, in the grand scheme of things, Shotokan really isn't that old. It's only about 2/3s as old as Queensberry-rules boxing, to put things in perspective, and I've never heard of someone refer to boxing as a "traditional" art.

    I don't think that the emphasis on combat, sport, or self-improvement weighs one way or another on the "traditional" question. Martial arts have been used for all three purposes throughout history. Despite a lot of assertions to the contrary, my understanding is that kung fu was taught at the Shaolin temple in 5th century China was more about self-improvement for the monks than it was combat. As for sport, sporting martial arts have been around for thousands of years (from Taekkyeon in Korea to Greco-Roman wrestling).

    As for the cultural trappings involved in our karate training (wearing a gi and using Japanese terminology), that in itself is traditional (to a limited degree, though...wasn't the gi and belt system only introduced to karate about 100 years ago?). However, those things alone aren't enough to make the training experience as a whole "traditional" in my mind.

    As a side-note, in my mind, those things are not as unique to "traditional" martial arts training as many people would assert. All sorts of other activities have similar trappings. In fencing, we used French terminology (riposte, fleche) even though none of us were French-speakers. The same is true of ballet. In the practice of law, the use of Latin phrases is not uncommon (res judicata, de novo, de minimis), even though 99.99% of lawyers aren't fluent in Latin. And if you think a gi and belt is silly, stop by a courtroom sometime and think about what you see. American lawyers make fun of the wigs you'll see in UK courts, but a suit and tie is equally arbitrary and ridiculous if you think about it. At least a gi has some functionality (durability). A necktie has none.

    Because stirring up arguments about semantics in a dojo wouldn't do anybody any good, I go along with the use of the term "traditional" to describe our training, but I don't actually think it's a very accurate adjective.
  20. John Titchen

    John Titchen Still Learning Supporter

    Good post Mitlov.

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