Kind of an interesting title, “What is Karate…” for this article. I used to be the guy that sold dreams to people wanting to learn karate. To most Americans in the 1970’s and 1980’s, karate was a mysterious way of fighting. Perhaps they had seen movies and TV shows how a smaller man/woman/child could best a bigger, stronger opponent. So when people waked in to my studio I would tell them what was possible for them or their children.
The thing is there was no single idea of what karate was to people. Many wanted self defense at first but then sought to attain, rank, trophy in sport kumite and kata. Some wanted to learn some good street fighting techniques (most for self defense). The thing is as a salesman – I changed my presentation to suit each person individually. I told them whatever reasonable goal they had for karate – I would help them achieve that as well as teach then the Kenpo Karate system of self defense.
Before I give you my answer of what I think karate is, watch this catchy karate rap video of the period for a good idea of what people thought of karate back in the day.
I’ve been learning a new martial art lately that I’ve alluded to at times – Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ). Our association has adopted jiu-jitsu training as part of our curriculum so even though I don’t need it (as I’ve already attained rank), I decided to widen my martial arts horizons.
In this post I’ll discuss how jiu jitsu relates historically to the kenpo that I practice and some background on what grappling is today. I’m going to have some fun because I have always been one of those guys that does not like ground fighting. I mean when I wrestled in school – boy was that a lot of work compared to striking. Here is an overview video of BJJ.
Thousands of people the world over have studied various forms of Kenpo or Kempo Karate. I remember when I first started learning karate lessons from an actual instructor, he told me about some of the styles of Okinawan karate. Later when I started learning kenpo karate, I was told that there were Chinese, Japanese, Okinawan, and Hawaiian styles of Kenpo. Well let me tell you that I was confused then and while searching through the internet for kenpo history – I am still a little fuzzy.
In this post I will discuss the difficulty discerning history because of bias, poor records, frame of reference, and other research challenges. I will also speak of Kempo/Kenpo’s recent history since James Mitose in Hawaii and the Hawaii Karate Museum’s online records. Here is a video of some of Kenpo’s early history including its spread from China, Okinawa, and Japan.
Aloha! One of my first karate exposures was from Hal Edwards Lima Lama and the NAS Miramar base in San Diego. When I was a teenager we (fellow military brats) would go to the base karate program and learn Lima Lama. Hal was a black belt from Saul Esquivel. I met Saul Esquivel at the base karate club once and later met the founder of Lima Lama, Tino Tuiolosega at a seminar in Escondido, CA as I recall.
One of the things I heard about Lima Lama was it was composed of old island martial arts that the head hunters used to practice (Lua) and many of the moves were part of the traditional island dances called hula. Hal was big on pointing out the benefits of using short circular wrist moves to block and fingers or back knuckles as a quick counter. I looked for some hula on youtube.com but found modern dances for the tourists but here is one hula that seemed to be telling a story (I am not an expert in hula).
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When I was starting out in karate I was told about the Tracy’s system (most styles are similar), basics, 240 self-defense techniques, 17 katas, and kumite (sparring/fighting). My first thought I asked my instructor was why I could not just learn how to fight. Why did I need to memorize so many techniques to attain each belt rank? My instructor (Dick Willett) told my that forms and techniques helped us learn how to learn the martial art. I thought about that and it made some sense… If I had just wanted to learn how to fight, I would have taken wrestling or boxing.
Lets explore the components that make up a martial art and then look at katas in more depth. First look at this video of two karate/kung fu champions doing a funny skit. George Chung was one of the top kata competitors in my day (late 70’s/early 80’s). Cynthia Rothrock was from the same era, also winning lots of kata championships.
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Many of you may be wondering what is the best style or martial art for self-defense? There are many good martial arts schools that teach adaptive self-defense moves that also teach the traditional martial arts. People often ask me what is the best way to learn self-defense. The short answer is to find something you like for the time commitment you want to make, and then follow through.
Almost any martial art will work in self-defense if one practices but it must be suited for the student. For instance if a woman wanted to learn how to fight in two weeks, I would not suggest a formal Kung Fu or Karate school (unless they also taught self-defense courses), but rather a self-defense course. If a woman wanted to learn an art form as well as some practical self-defense then almost any martial art will be good (Kung Fu, Karate, Jiu Jitsu, Judo, Aikido and so on). Here is a short video of a Kung Fu school with a self-defense offering.
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