What is Good Karate

What is Good Karate

This article is a discussion about the definition of “Good Karate”. The sections include:

1) Comments
2) Reaction
3) Fundamental Kata
4) What is Good Karate
5) Constructive Criticism

Background

For the many of you who do not keep up on my YouTube channel, let me give you the background that sparked this post. I posted a handful of clips from my 3rd Dan test onto YouTube. They are neither educational or perfect. They give me a backup version should my hard drive crash and I know there are people out there that may enjoy them. A particular clip on the Hakutsuru Kata taught to me by Tadashi Yamashita has sparked a lot of views, dislikes, and negative comments. One of the main things I believe to be driving this is that people compare it to what they know to be Hakutsuru and assume that any differences make it bad.

This being said, it is a very bad performance of my kata. It was the end of my 3rd Dan test and I was physically exhausted. A gentleman from Goju-ryu had commented on how weak my hands looked and we had a polite back and forth about it leading to a talk about Kimo Wall. A second gentleman recently commented on it sparking this post.

Comments

“I’m speaking from my years of experience… I’m also a Shorin-Ryu Karate practitioner. What I wanted to tell is that Kata is based on forms – which should not also be taken for granted. Okay, it is not your intention to impress anyone but think about this – Didn’t you post this video for someone to show it to? I posted a response from this video cause I think there should be some improvements on how you perform your kata…

I checked your other videos – kihon kata, kanku dai… all of them poorly executed, no power… just check other videos online I think you’ll see what I mean.

Check your fists also – you don’t clench it well enough.

Lastly, what I would like to point out is you must also practice the basic kata before performing the high level ones. It is really connected to each other. I recommend you practice naihanchi sho, ni and dai.

sorry i think i got it wrongly… should be naihanchi shodan, nidan and sandan.”

Reaction

He informed me that I shouldn’t have even uploaded it and that it was a terrible, “Poor execution, timing, stance, everything.” That is his opinion and everyone is entitled to one. But how does he feel justified in critiquing my kata? He must be familiar with it because he knows it as well, right? No, he does not claim to do that kata. He must do the same style as me and have a reference point in a more experience karateka?

Kind of. He does Shorin-ryu and therefore knows what my kata should look like. For those who do not know, there are many branches and schools of thought on Karate and Shorin-ryu. I trained under a 9th Degree for a few months in Matsumura Seito. Learned a few things I still use and a lot of things I found less useful for my body type. Neither are wrong, just different schools of thought. They used well grounded stances and tensed muscles (combined with body conditioning) to do Karate. I learned to relax my body (hands included) to generate speed and then tense at the last second to generate more power with less effort. Works great for me.

So this gentleman likely does a different style of Karate and does know my kata. Maybe there is something else I am missing on why he would make these comments?

Fundamental Katas

One of the comments he made that jumped out in my mind was that I should consider practicing the Naihanchi Katas more before trying to attempt the “upper level katas”. For those who don’t know, the Hakutsuru kata I perform is from Shinpo Matayoshi’s Kingai-ryu and has absolutely nothing to do with Shorin-ryu Karate except that Tadashi Yamashita teaches it and teaches Shorin-ryu Karate separately.

So Why Rant

I think I made my point, that the gentleman commenting on my kata does not understand that it is different from something he may or may not do by the same name and therefore should not pass judgement under the assumption that his Karate is perfect and anything different is automatically wrong. So why rant about it?

What is Good Karate

I am ranting on here because it made me start to wonder, what is good Karate. I talk all the time about my Karate, but what is good Karate? Is it good when people agree it is pleasing to watch? Do these people only get a vote if they have a black belt? What if your friends like it and others don’t? So many questions come to mind very quickly.

Let’s take a step backwards, what is the goal of Karate? This is something I have talked about before, and the answer is – “Depends on the Karateka.” Some people do Karate for exercise, then “Good Karate” would be Karate that helps them exercise the best. If I do Karate to protect myself, then the Karate that helps me protect myself the best, is good Karate.

Wait a moment. If we all have different expectations of Karate, how can we judge other people’s Karate without knowing their expectations? We can’t. I was once part of the large majority of “traditional karateka” who thought that kids doing “Extreme Martial Arts” made the rest of us look bad. I have come to realize, that many of those kids need an outlet. They want to perform, compete, enjoy themselves – and they are! Where do I get off judging them? Some of those ten year olds can do acrobatic movements that would put me to shame. Maybe their Karate is good and mine is bad? Maybe, we are simply different.

Constructive Criticism

Before I get accused of being on the “everyone is equal” bandwagon – there are ways to give and receive critique and improve from them. In a bit of irony, that clip is from a 3rd Dan test where I was judged by a panel of black belts of different ranks and from different styles, including a 5th Dan from Tae Kwon Do. Without knowing my style very well, how could he possibly have provided input? Easily, I asked him to grade me on my ability to explain what I was doing  and ask himself, would you consider someone with this ability to teach capable of teaching at his school. It is just a matter of changing the grading metrics.

Suppose this gentleman had commented, “I notice you do not clench your hands very tight, is there a reason for this?” I would have explained that I do tighten my fist on contact, but not while moving about because I do not see a reason for it. We could have discussed it, he may have even had a solid chance of teaching about his methodology compared to mine. Suppose I had asked in the info box, “Please leave comments telling me what you think of my Karate compared to your own?” or “Don’t you think I my Karate is amazing?” I didn’t.

Conclusion

To end this in a constructive manner with a rant overtone rather then just a rant. I ask everyone to consider this when they judge other people. What are you metrics for judging them? “If you performed your kata this way at my school, we would call it sloppy.” is very different from “Your Karate is sloppy.”  If you think someone is doing something wrong, offer your opinion and if they don’t want it, that is fine, but offer it in a constructive manner to make everyone better Karateka. Don’t attack people – it only makes them that much less likely to agree with what you are saying.

I want to end this with an offer. If anyone reading this, thinks I am ignorant and don’t know what Karate is – Please show me. I would be happy to learn. Make a video response to my kata and show me the “correct” way to do it. But attacking people on an empty YouTube account is probably not the best way to give yourself any credibility.

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Theodore Kruczek is the founder and head writer of the Okinawan Karate-do Institute. He is a 4th Degree Black Belt in Okinawan Shorin-ryu with more than 14 years of experience. This site was created as his way of both teaching his own Karate and learning about others.

Comments (5)

    • It is always easier to criticize when no one knows who you are. I just hope everyone who read it remembers it when they go to criticize a video because the style is different. Thanks for stopping by Matt.

  1. Livingston Martial Arts Reply

    This is a great post. I have studied karate but still found this useful and some new information. I don’t think you were ranting! Your quite correct on you constructive criticism and I am going to read more of your posts.

  2. It is always a good practise to question ones self, “how is my karate?” which simply should not just mean how am i performing my kata, do i have my stances right, or is my karate better than others. But better asking this question with this in mind– how is karate in my life? I believe that what one does outside the mat should be the way he/she practices in karate or any budo. Osu to another great article.

    • Thank you for that Jason. It is always great to hear people get something out of my writing.

      You mentioned what you do outside the mat should be the same as the budo you practice – that is the essence of budo. It is not the martial arts, but rather “The way of the martial arts”. It is the one thing we who practice budo will always have over bujutsu (like jujutsu) – philosophical learning in addition to technique.

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