Lack of Posts Lately
Seems fitting that I start his article off by apologizing for the lack of posting lately on my part and give a huge thanks to all of the other writers that help make this site possible. Noah has been saving me lately – this site would be really bare the last few weeks without his help. I am also happy to announce that there have been a few more people asking about becoming contributing authors, so there will be some more perspectives on here over the next few weeks.
Let me move into explaining why I have been so busy. I am currently cadre for a program at the Air Force Academy called Summer Seminar. We bring in a group of high school juniors (17 years old) who we think would make good applicants to the Air Force Academy and spend five days trying to give them an accurate view of what we do here and the pros and cons of becoming part of our academy. My part in this program is to guide eight or nine of those potential applicants around and offer a more personalized “tour”. It sounded easy enough, but I find myself starting my day at 0500 (5 am) and ending at 2300 (11 pm) daily. Obviously leaving little time for this site. What I have been doing however is talking to some of them about the various clubs on campus, including the Karate club. The initial perception most of them have about Karate is less than encouraging. Let’s talk about changing that.
Abandoning Bad Application
I have been doing a lot of work lately to transition from the common “child friendly” applications that are very common in modern Karate back into more and more combative applications that would be effective in an actual fight. The first step I took a few years ago was to eliminate point sparring from my curriculum. This encourages two bad behaviors in a karateka. First, the students want to “get in, strike, and get out”. Taking the cue from tried and tested combative arts such as Krav Maga, I found Karate applications to be much more effective when my students always continue striking until the opponent is unable to fight back. This can mean ending in a take down, knockout, or death (not in training). I still use the same techniques, I just don’ stop after the first contact.
The second behavior is the desire to put large distances between the student and the opponent. Many modern applications of kata revolve around the lunge punch and other long range attacks and how to defend against them. When I start students much closer to each other, they are able to take pieces of kata and apply them in a far more realistic looking scenario against an attacker who grabs, scratches, knees, slaps, and chokes. You know – things people actually do in a fight.
What About the Children
The exception to this transition is when teaching children. What started these child friendly applications was Itosu’s introduction of Karate to children. In the same way that programs like JROTC and the Boy Scouts mimic military functions in a friendly manner, kid’s class at a karate school should take everything it can from pure karate – such as, philosophy, discipline, respect, and structure – and teach that along side child friendly application until the kids are old enough to be able to safely learn more lethal techniques.
Adults on the other hand, do not need to “graduate” from the children friendly techniques. Start them off with effective techniques and slowly progress them into more lethal moves – rather than starting with the useless and eventually rounding out with the semi-practical.
Changing the Perception
Ideally this will help change how people look at karate. I know after demonstrating only a few minutes of what effective, lethal, karate looks like to my group – I had half of them asking how to sign up when the arrive at the academy. This included people who had previously seen the Army Combatives Program at West Point and were more impressed with what I teach here. Why? Because they have only ever seen karate in the movies, and we all know it doesn’t actually work. Let’s stop fooling ourselves and pretending that knowing how to defend against the lunge punch will somehow make us safer on a dark night.
If you run a school or even teach at a school, let me know what you think about this. So many of the karateka I talk with that want to learn to defend themselves rely on training in other arts because of a lack of faith in their karate to provide a complete defense. Shouldn’t we work on making our karate a complete defense rather than trying to find something else to do when we are done dancing and calling it self-defense?
Note: The image is of my friend Warren’s school patch. I am not implying they teach bad karate, but ask yourself what came to mind when you first saw it – that is the perception I want to change.