Ryukyu Martial Arts Research 琉球武道研究

Karate as a multidisciplinary arena

Karate has many faces, and each aspect has its own unique characteristics, goals and challenges. It is in fact a multidisciplinary arena.

The term "karate" refers to martial arts close-combat that evolved in the Kingdom of Ryūkyū (Ryukyu). The chain of islands was officially annexed by Japan in 1879 and named after one of the largest islands in the chain, Okinawa 沖縄.
During the reign of Ryūkyū, the local close-combat was developed unnamed by skilled warriors and security officials, who acted in various security missions in the service of the royal house and government. After Ryūkyū Kingdom era, the local combat was transformed and was adapted to the civilian population. It was only in the early 20th century that the name "karate"空手 was used. Only then karate spread from Okinawa to Japan and the rest of the world.
Since then, karate has undergone many changes and has adapted itself to the spirit of time, environment and needs.

Today karate contains various fields, each has discipline that is derived according to the environment, the target audience and the main goals. Of course, there is a much in common among the fields. However, it is precisely the difference that creates the essential differences among them:
Basic self-defence, close-combat or dedicated self-defence, heritage and tradition, folklore, popular sports, achievement sports, personal empowerment, therapeutic.

1. Although the article is in male language, it also appeals to girls and women, and so does your forgiveness.
2. Within each group frame, it is important to give attention to each practitioner, and to adapt the nature of the study as much as possible to the individual.

Basic Self Defence
Basic Self Defence

Basic self-defence
A short course of several limited sessions, where techniques are taught and practiced in natural and simple movement patterns.
The goal is to provide the practitioner an effective self- defence tool, in short period of time. I compare this course to basic CPR course. In both cases, the practitioner does not emerge as a skilled professional, but comes with basic knowledge that is certainly made and intended to save lives.

Dedicated fighting or more advanced self-defence
A course in approach and techniques designed for a specific workspace.
Courses may constitute a permanent or long-term framework at various professional levels: Basic courses for target groups such as guards at entertainment or shopping centres, civil and municipal unions (such as inspectors), various police frameworks, various military frameworks, and security agencies such as personal security. In some cases the goal is not only self-defence but the protection of a person, group or locality. In such cases, the practitioner may be the initiator. Other examples of dedicated courses are an intensive protection course for a population of drivers in public transport such as buses or taxis. Courses also exist for individual citizens, where it is important to tailor the course structure and method to the individual (boy, girl, adults, workspace and practitioner abilities). The threat range, goals and target audience are large.

Dedicated  Self Defence
Dedicated Self Defence

Heritage and tradition
The term "traditional karate" is quite common, but it differs in perception between different organizations and cultures.
Definition of traditional karate according to my perception:
1. Karate - Martial arts that developed in Ryūkyū Kingdom, which ceased to exist towards the end of the 19th century, and became an official part of Japan under the name: Okinawa, where it continued to evolve.
2. Tradition - a socio-cultural system of norms, values, customs, beliefs and myths that transfer from generation to generation throughout history.
Therefore, traditional karate is a martial art, as mentioned in section 1, and which fulfills the conditions mentioned in section 2.
That is, traditional karate is a martial art that incorporates a cultural, historical factors and heritage.
I will also mention briefly two important points:
One point is the term "culture". There is an identity and there is a difference among cultures. Each culture has its own perception, atmosphere and ethical framework and behavioural codes, from which the didactic approach, method of execution, concept, body mechanics and technique are derived.
A second point is the lineage through which art is passed down from generation to generation.
Also lineage origin, length and authenticity significant.
Higa Yuchoku Sensei, Kyudokan estublisher
Higa Yuchoku Sensei, Kyudokan estublisher

Akamine Eisuke Dai Sensei and Taira Sensei
Akamine Eisuke Dai-Sensei and Shinken Taira Sensei

Of course, there is great importance to the certificates and documents indicating the lineage, the hierarchical position and the accompanying title, if any. For example: certificate’s origin, the one who signed and whether the signature is original, rank which "Dan" and a title such as "Shihan", "Renshi", "Kyoshi", "Hanshi". In case of dojo or sensei, the content written on it (instructor, direct official e.g. "Shibu-dojo", "Shibu-chu" and the like).
Today, there are parallel karate frames that define themselves as "traditional" all of which have a common denominator and each of them are unique in codes and character.
Factually, karate in Okinawa, Japan and the West differ in atmosphere, movement mechanics, method and overall perception. Waist motion, rhythm, durability, technique, terms such as Chinkuchi 一寸力 and Ganmaku/Gamaku 岩捲 are not usually heard outside Okinawa. Western karate is more athletic and sporty. The term Budō 武道is perceived differently in Okinawa, in Japan and in the West. The emphasis on mental practice is much stronger in Japan and Okinawa than in the West, and the examples are many.

With Higa Sensei in Okinawa
Receiving instructions from Higa Sensei in Okinawa

In Okinawa, karate is also perceived as folklore. A dōjō 道場 exist nearly every corner, some large but most small and family alike. Historical sites and monuments that related to karate are found in public sites, gardens and sometimes on street corners. Almost every child will find himself in a dojo at some point in his life. There is also social life and community in the dojo. The atmosphere is free, social, friendly and welcoming, though the order is maintained. This atmosphere is typical of Okinawan society as a whole. Many legends and stories related to karate and kobudō are told. Most dojo members practice regularly, and the term "way of life" forms part of their de facto routine.

Performing kata in Tag of war festival
Performing kata in Tag of war festival

Family Atmosphere
Meet once a week after workout for tea / coffee, traditional cookies and small talk. Family Atmosphere

Popular and competitive sports
In the Western world, karate is seen as more physical than mental. Physical fitness, athletic ability, achievement and some self-defence as a bonus. The mental dimension is rarely exist or different in the West. Most of the work is done in a group or with partners and there is almost no personal work. Okinawa, on the other hand, has a strong emphasis on the personal work of the student is in front of a Sensei or other senior practitioner, both within and outside the lesson frame.
In the western world there are competitions almost everywhere, at the dojo, school or organization level.

Today, karate is athletic
Today, karate is athletic


In addition, there is also platform of professional competitive sport, with multiple training hours, complementary training and an accompanying professional team.
The goal of the competition is to scoop medals, trophies and it is about winning, while close-combat and self-defence, the goal is about not to lose.
This saying serves the Okinawan approach to karate, but if we look in depth, it is found to be a milestone throughout Okinawa history. In any confrontation, if we succeed in bringing the confrontation where both sides arenot loosing - we have a future for a friend rather than an enemy.

Personal Empowerment
As I mentioned earlier, personal practice and methodical way in Okinawan karate is a way of personal coping, personal attention and introspection. When Sensei comments on a particular position or technique, the practitioner will practice personally and will strive to improve it according to Sensei’s instruction. When the Sensei comments on kata, the practitioner will practice the kata and delve deeper into it. It is probably possible that after a period, Sensei will change his explanations for the same kata, or technique, depending on the student's maturity. It is an important aspect of Okinawa karate.
Sharp eyes will be able to discern a technique or kata between Okinawan karate and the western one. The qualities are different. Not better but different, regardless of the cleanliness and accuracy of techniques. Focus and quality is different. This is due to an internal seed and different practice.

Therapeutic field
For many years the therapeutic field has become more and more effective for many problems and difficulties such as motoric problems, various syndromes, ADHD, raising self-esteem and self-confidence and social skills.
Initial studies were several decades ago. In 2001, I was exposed to an academic research at the University of Martial Arts in Chiba / Japan. However, today many studies have been done around the world. The methods and measuring instruments have been improved, the data has accumulated and the knowledge becomes more accurate and reliable. Karate, for example, can be a very effective tool for children with HDHD. Consider what happens to a child who suddenly becomes self-confident, is more successful in school, in sports, becomes socially acceptable. The school that used to be a source of failure becomes a place for security and growth.

In each of the mentioned areas there is a framework and method that correspond to the goals for which we practice karate.
Competitive karate is completely different from karate designed for self-defence. The frame is different, the technique is different, the atmosphere is different, the tempo is different, and in fact the different is expressed in almost every parameter.
In competitive karate, we prefer speed, agility, movement and mobility over power production. There are rules, scores and sometimes a number of rounds so you can build matching tactics and strategy.
In self-defence or close- combat, we aim for simple, fast-moving techniques with minimal movement, giving importance to weak points and maximizing power. Each step must be effective in terms of life and death.
But there is more. In self-defence, we strive to break off contact, while in close-combat we sometimes strive to initiate or strive to contact.
In the therapeutic field, we strive to practice in person or in small groups with maximum individuality. This will often be the case with guidance and coordination with other parties.
In Okinawan Karate, the personal practice, exploration of performance, personal attention, introspection and power production create an interesting combination and infinite potential to improve.

With Akamine Sensei in Okinawa
Receiving instructions from Akamine Sensei in Okinawa

Of course, you can combine several components from different areas and create a mix that suits you.

And finally I want to raise two points:
The first one -It is fundamental to distinguish between " Leaving well alone " and " The more the merrier". Combining specialties is desirable but must be done wisely.
The second - Do not expect to achieve high capabilities if you don’t work to sharpen that specific skill. To be effective in any field, we need to learn well and practice well. Efficiency and quality require proper process of study, practice and experience.

Further reading sources:
About the development of Okinawan Karate techniques from historical and practical aspects:
The book Pathways of Karate Development: From Ryūkyū -di 琉球手 & Tou-di 唐手 Via Okinawan-te 沖縄手 to Karate 空手.

Deep dive into karate evolution. Thorough research of history, methodology, culture, philosophy, ethics, heritage, military and civil circles.
The book Karate Uchina-Di 沖縄手 - An Exploration of its Origins and Evolution.

Itzik Cohen

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