Karate today is so watered down and un-respected by the general population that many of us with a karate background are embarrassed to admit to it because of the current state of karate.
I stepped away from sport karate training several years ago to focus on MMA and have just recently started taking my students to sport karate events and in doing so I’ll have to say that, for the most part, I am very let down with where karate is today. Many of the competitors in the sparring divisions are dressed more like a baseball catcher than a karate fighter. When I was coming up years ago we understood the importance of learning how to block or evade a punch because we didn’t wear all of the protective equipment that you see today. We’re doing our students a great disservice by forcing them to wear all this gear, in doing so they’ll never learn to respect the power of a punch or kick.
When I was coming up in karate it looked a lot like how MMA looks today. When we sparred, we sparred. We pivoted our hips when we threw punches and kicks and we didn’t worry about accidently popping our partner too hard because we knew control (control means knowing how hard you hit, not pulling your punches). We didn’t feel the need to dress ourselves in bubble wrap, we learned to defend ourselves and more importantly we learned how to take a punch. If someone got a bloody nose or a black eye no one thought anything of it, it was expected to happen from time to time.
So what changed? Prior to 1985 many can attest that most karate schools were rough and tough and you had to earn your way in and fight for survival and the classes were full. Then everything changed when The Karate Kid came out, which was a movie about a janitor who taught a punk how to defeat an army of legit black belts in about a month or so using household chores as teaching methods. America was hooked and also mislead. The public was led to believe that all you need to do is throw a few punches and kicks in the air to become a champion martial artist, and that the hard-working crew at the Cobra Kia dojo had it wrong by actually sparring with each other.
Once the influx of kids came barreling into dojos across America the McDojo was created. A McDojo is a place that calls themselves a martial arts school but teach no real skills and are happy to sell you your next belt and this has killed the karate that we once knew and loved and turned it into what you see today. These instructors let insurance, billing, and marketing companies influence what and how they teach and they have resorted to having to use these companies because their lack of business sense. What’s worse is that many are products of McDojo’s themselves and have drank the Kool-Aide and believe what they teach is “real” karate.
We need to make karate great again and earn our respect back. We need to stop letting outsiders tell us that we must water our classes down in order to attract and keep members. MMA, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu & Krav Maga schools are popping up everywhere and there are not pulling punches or worried about their classmates feelings. There’s contact and lots of it! And these schools are flourishing. They don’t spend countless hours running kata/forms or practicing useless self-defense techniques that do not work, they spend their valuable time drilling what’s battle tested and proven, not theories.
If you can’t drill it live then you won’t do it when it matters!
In saying all of this, I realize that 90% of parents who seek out martial arts instruction for their child does so for character development rather than to turn them into a world-champion fighter and we, as martial arts instructors, should not forget our moral duties to teach valuable life skills such as honor, duty, respect, discipline, etc. but is equally important that we teach our students how to survive in an ever-growing dangerous society. WE CAN DO BOTH!Another prevalent problem in the world of karate is there are many egotistical “high ranking” individuals who hide their incompetence behind their titles and meaningless awards and refuse to innovate their system to be affective in the modern world. If we’ve learned anything over the past 24 years since the first UFC aired is that not one system alone has all of the answers, but because many leaders of traditional systems won’t humble themselves to learn and expand their systems and won’t support their students to seek additional training to become better-rounded it is killing the art. I currently have 11 black belts from other systems who train with me either full or part time in order to get what they can’t at their own dojos. Though I’m very excited to have them on the mats it’s a shame that they must look outward to get the training that they desire.
Most adults who join a martial arts program doesn’t have the desire to be a world-champion either but are looking for a stress outlet or an alternative to the treadmill. These people aren’t looking to go to work the day after training with a busted-up face but if you do it right they can get the fitness that they are looking for, without wasting hours in front of a heavy bag throwing punches and kicks with horrible technique, and learn valuable self-defense techniques in the process. You’ve just got to change your mentality and together we can all do our part to
Make Karate Great Again!