Under: karate, martial arts, Self-defense
4 Jan 2015


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.


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That video brings me back to my disco days but it did show board breaking and other moves many did not relate to fighting. When I was young I tried to break boards, bricks and found it was easy. Why if I ever ended up with a board – all I would have to do is karate chop it. :)


But getting back on track for his article I think karate encompasses part sport, part dance, part fighting and part self-defense. To complete with others you need to water down the moves (rules) so no one gets hurt too bad and try your skills against other students to see if you are catching on.


When you do kata’s you are basically dancing using all of your speed, coordination, and timing to do the karate moves. When you have to use self-defense you have to pull the moves from your techniques you practice. The one thing that encompasses all of the aforementioned is fighting.


I have had people take issue with me using the word “fighting” to describe karate. After talking to them I figured out it is either cultural (fighting locally is for thugs) or a legal definition (i.e. the legal difference between self-defense and challenge matches/brawling in pubs) that bothered them.


I assure you that my mind thinks very simply. Fighting is fighting is fighting. I can watch any sport/challenge/street fight with whatever fighting method, with or without weapons and have an idea how to best or one up the other guy. You see I have a fighters mind. I simply like fighting.


If one assumes that the bad guy you have to fight (for me it is only self defense for real) has it coming, I can overcome my empathy for the loser (during the fight). However after the fight I would have to give aid assuming it was practical (I was not running for my life).


So what I mean fighting is fighting is fighting is that I do into the same mode no matter what I encounter. If I am sparring in the school or fighting for my life – I am trying to work out how to best my opponent. I lump this methodology under the genre of fighting.


So when I do kata (karate dancing) – am I fighting? Yes – you see kata is created from various defenses and attacks. While one might argue that some kata moves are not practical – they are all fighting moves.


Is sport competitions fighting? Yes – even though sport fighting would not (or I will say should not) work in a real fighting (no groin kicks or eye shots), it still gets the practitioners used to the idea of open combat with an assailant.


Is self-defense fighting? Yes – in self defense there are no rules assuming you are fighting for your life other than moral, ethical and legal rules after you best your opponent in a reasonable way (stopping after your opponent is no longer an active threat). Notice I said no rules before you bested your opponent… after there are plenty of rules so again self defense is the closest to fighting.


So what is karate? Karate is Fighting (hopefully for self-defense, or sport), so come on everybody train karate!

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2 Responses to “What is Karate; Sport, Dancing, Fighting, Self-Defense?”

  1. Dr. J Says:

    Okay, I’ll give you that karate is fighting, but…

    for me, that learning to fight gave me self-confidence, fitness, focus, and a presence that is always with me in daily life. I had no idea when I first started the path looking for self-defense that it would become so central in my life.

    Going to train now, thank you, Sensei :-)

  2. Mark Says:

    I agree that part of karate is fighting, but I hope parents and kids don’t get the wrong idea that even self-defense can be fighting. Self-defense prevents fighting, and I’m not just talking about blocks that you use in sparring (fighting). I’m talking about the self-defense that comes from the intangibles in karate: discipline, respect, increased self-esteem, confidence etc. All of these skills improve your self defense even if it doesn’t seem like it. Having more self-esteem can help avoid fights, for example. This article describes more mental benefits of karate: http://www.sandovalkarate.net/mental-benefits-karate/

    Interesting article, but as a karate junkie, I don’t want people to think that all we want to do is fight.

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