The year was 2002. After a decade of expansion, our nation’s economy was reeling from the devastating effects of the dot-com collapse and 9-11 terror attacks.
No industry was immune to the slowdown. Sales of karate-themed entertainment products—long considered a bellwether for overall financial health—were sharply impacted.
Forged in this bleak crucible: a masterpiece of video game action. Creative Edge Studios, a small but courageous band of developers and artists, released the world’s first digital bikini-based fighting adventure.
Around a decade ago, I attended a seminar with a famous Shanxi Xingyiquan master. Aggressive and direct, Xingyi is one of the few boxing arts known to have been used in preparation for organized warfare. Its emphasis on straightforward practicality was combined with enough subtlety to earn a reputation as one of the original Chinese “internal” martial arts.
After the seminar was over, I bought a T-shirt to commemorate the occasion. According to the text on the back of my new shirt, I was now an unofficial member of “The International Association of Defensive Martial Arts”.
Nevermind that we had spent the last 6 hours eviscerating each other with spears, sabers and bayonets, metaphorically speaking. Nevermind that, according to the principles of Xingyi and all other respectable combat arts, the use of purely defensive techniques is forbidden. Despite all this, in public, we were expected to present ourselves as practitioners of self-defense. Not offense.
After Karate expert Lyoto Machida’s recent win in UFC 98, fans immediately started talking about a comeback for traditional martial arts. Prior to Machida’s victory, the couch potato consensus had written off traditional training methods as superstitious and ineffective. How quickly perceptions change.
Two short weeks later, Brazilian featherweight Jose Aldo won a truly stunning victory against Cub Swanson in WEC 41. Total match time: 5 seconds. Winning technique: crane kick.
Following is a selection from Dave Lowry’s essay collection, The Karate Way.
We have to admit that the popular image of the black belt is inextricably woven into the general perception of these arts we follow. While we may have a more comprehensive view of the belt, we need to see that in the population outside the dojo, in the world at large, it usually means something else. When a black belt is conferred upon a karateka, that has implications in the popular imagination. And we should consider some ramifications that perception and those implications have upon what people think about karate-do.
Ikken Hissatsu, the popular Japanese Karate maxim, is usually translated as “one punch, one kill”. And although you won’t see it in the sporting ring, it does happen in real life. As reported in the Seattle Times,
The July 9 confrontation began while James Paroline was watering plants in the traffic circle, where he set cones on the street to protect his watering hose. Instead of driving around the cones, a group of girls got out of a car and two of them yelled at Paroline.
One of the girls summoned Brian Keith Brown, who was driven to the scene. He hit Paroline once and walked away…
Hans Aschenbach, a friend of Paroline’s for 20 years, said the [cellphone video evidence] proved Brown deserved a long sentence. “The video is shocking and was really an execution with a fist.”
Now, I’m not going to ask whether, with all your Karate training, you could have stopped someone like Brian Brown. That is too easy.
When I hear a professional martial arts instructor advising their students to be more natural, I cannot help but feel contempt. Could any help be less helpful?
What is the most natural method for safely evading a knife thrust, while simultaneously positioning oneself for an effortless disarm and throw? How does one naturally reverse a guillotine choke? People who know the answer to these questions don’t need an instructor or a class; for the rest of us, more detailed guidance is appropriate.
With that said, I am a strong advocate of “natural breathing” for martial applications, in contrast to the more exotic approaches advanced in some dojos.
For how long should we continue to practice our kata? Many senseis would simply answer: forever. Personally, I do not have forever to spare. Neither do you, I’d guess.
What do you have? A long list of responsibilities and interests, including but certainly not limited to karate (or other martial arts). You have a desire to maximize the benefits of your practice, while minimizing the costs. And you want to know when, if ever, you should quit your kata.
Simply put, you can justifiably quit when the costs of practice exceed the benefits. Here are a few of the potential, proposed and actual benefits of kata training.
Benefits of Kata Practice
Kata as a Memory Aid
The most frequently cited justification of kata is as a mnemonic device. The kata serves as a living dictionary of fighting techniques and sequences.
Excerpted from Chris Thompson’s Black Belt Karate:
Karate kata (formal exercises) was the only way karate was taught up until the 1930s. In the kata, all the elements of correct karate practice are stored. The vast majority of kata that are practiced in the dojo today and used on the tournament circuit can be traced right back to China or Okinawa.
They appear to be dance-like drills, constantly repeated by students, yet hidden in these movements are hundreds of kakushi waza (secret techniques). These appear to be one form of technique, but in fact may be doing something completely different.
Reader Rory Miller asks,
“What is the difference between martial artists and BDSM players?”
To minimize any confusion, I have compiled this handy reference chart.
On October 4, 2008, Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson accepted a last-minute unscheduled fight with a relative unknown. Kimbo entered the match with advantages in strength, weight, and reach. His opponent, Seth “Silverback” Petruzelli, held the advantage of greater experience.
In a shocking outcome that should inspire martial artists everywhere, experience won.