Is Karate just a sport?

Janina

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As practitioner of Shorin-ryu style of Karate I wanted to start a discussion about Karate as full system of psychophysical practices. It is not just a sport or combat skill, but trains ones body and mind simultaneously. Master Matsumura did crystallize his views to text called Precepts and I quote them here for further discussion. Next quote has been taken from web page: http://seinenkai.com/articles/noble/noble-shorin1.html and writer for the article is Graham Noble with Ian McLaren and Prof. N. Karasawa.

So let織s discuss. How important is the mental and spiritual sides of Karate to you. Is Karate just a sport or do you see vaster psychophysical meaning in it?

Here I end my post with the Precepts of Master Matsumura:


The Precepts of Master Matsumura

You must first resolve to study if you wish to understand the truth of martial arts. This resolve is very important. Fundamentally, the arts and the martial arts are the same. Each has three fundamental elements. As far as Art is concerned they are Shisho-no-Gaku, Kunko-no-Gaku and Jussha-no-Gaku. Shisho-no-Gaku is the art of creative writing and reading - in a word, literature. Kunko-no-Gaku means to study the past and gain an understanding of ethics by relating past events to our way of life. Both Shisho-no-Gaku and Kunko-no-Gaku are incomplete until supplemented by Jussha-no-Gaku, (the study of the moral aspects of the teaching of Confucius). Have a tranquil heart and you can prevail over a village, a country, or the world. The study of Jussha-no-Gaku is the supreme study over both Shisho-no-Gaku and Kunko-no-Gaku. These then are the three elements necessary for the study of the Arts. If we consider Budo, there are also three precepts. They are Gukushi-no-Bugei, Meimoko-no-Bugei and Budo-no-Bugei. Gukushi-no-Bugei is nothing more than a technical knowledge of Bugei. Like a woman, it is just superficial and has no depth. Meimoko-no-Bugei refers to a person who has physical understanding of Bugei. He can be a powerful and violent person who can easily defeat other men. He has no self-control and is dangerous and can even harm his own family. Budo-no-Bugei is what I admire. With this you can let the enemy destroy himself - just wait with a calm heart and the enemy will defeat himself. People who practice Budo-no-Bugei are loyal to their friends, their parents and their country. They will do nothing that is unnatural and contrary to nature.We have "seven virtues of Bu". They are:


  1. Bu prohibits violence.
  2. Bu keeps discipline in soldiers.
  3. Bu keeps control among the population.
  4. Bu spreads virtue.
  5. Bu gives a peaceful heart.
  6. Bu helps keep peace between people.
  7. Bu makes people or a nation prosperous.

Our forefathers handed these seven virtues down to us.Just as Jussha-no-Gaku is supreme in the arts, so Budo-no-Bugei is supreme in the martial arts."Mon-Bu" (Art and Martial Arts) have the same common elements. We do not need Gukushi-no-Bugei or Meimoko-no-Bugei - this is the most important thing.I leave these words to my wise and beloved deshi Kuwae.

- Bucho Matsumura
 

K-man

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As practitioner of Shorin-ryu style of Karate I wanted to start a discussion about Karate as full system of psychophysical practices. It is not just a sport or combat skill, but trains ones body and mind simultaneously. Master Matsumura did crystallize his views to text called Precepts and I quote them here for further discussion. Next quote has been taken from web page: http://seinenkai.com/articles/noble/noble-shorin1.html and writer for the article is Graham Noble with Ian McLaren and Prof. N. Karasawa.

So let織s discuss. How important is the mental and spiritual sides of Karate to you. Is Karate just a sport or do you see vaster psychophysical meaning in it?
The age old answer is ... it depends.

It depends on what you want from your martial art. If you want sport you can have sport, if you want fitness you can find styles that don't allow contact. (Whether they deserve to be called MAs is another question.) if you want self defence, it is more difficult, but you can find schools that teach reality based martial art.

Very few of the karate styles are trained today as they were trained when they were first developed. Taking them into the schools changed most of them forever. The Japanese style of training is very different when compared to the Okinawan style of training as the Japanese like everything to be structured.

But your question raises a very interesting point. Where is the mind in all this? I know when I started I didn't think beyond the physical. My teachers didn't teach beyond the physical. We never questioned, we never thought, we just did. And, to be fair, what I was being taught was sport. Two of my instructors were in the Australian karate team at the world championships and my chief instructor was the Australian coach. I look back now and see that my instruction in the basics was top class in the physical sense but totally limited if you considered it in physchophysical sense.

It wasn't until I retired from work and had more time to read and think that I realised there was so much more to karate than was being taught in the mainstream and it was only after I set up our own school that I was free to explore and teach outside the box so to speak. I encourage my students to explore, not only within karate, as I believe to understand karate you need to look at Okinawan Te and Chinese Kung Fu, but also the mind as in the Chinese internal arts.

Mutsumura was on the money when he said you need to study if you wish to understand your martial art. It is my observation that in most cases the study of most martial artists today, including instructors, is very superficial, and that may well be due to the time constraints of our hectic existence. :asian:
 

Cirdan

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Oh there is definately a mental side to karate, I think that without it the art hits a dead end really fast. I am not sure if there is another component, some people talk about the spiritual side, the moral side, the emotional side. What does these mean anyway? They are certainly big words that get thrown around a lot.
 

TimoS

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Very few of the karate styles are trained today as they were trained when they were first developed.

I would say that none of them are trained in the same way when they were developed. The closest to the original methods are the Okinawan styles, at least some of them, but they've evolved also. The core, kata (and how to apply them) is probably more or less intact, but the teaching methods have changed.
Oh and as for the actual topic, I agree that it depends. I don't teach any spiritual "stuff", because to me, it is up to the student to decide how much of it they want and besides, when you get to real core of martial arts, I think it really ultimately is about fighting and all the spiritual stuff is just glued on to it. Of course it is not as black & white as that, but I don't really think that martial arts develop your character, they merely strengthen it. So, if you're an a-hole when you start martial arts, you'll likely be an even bigger one as time goes by. I've seen my share of high-ranking people who talk the talk, but don't walk the walk when it comes to this "budo spirit"
 

Kong Soo Do

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I would say that none of them are trained in the same way when they were developed. The closest to the original methods are the Okinawan styles, at least some of them, but they've evolved also. The core, kata (and how to apply them) is probably more or less intact, but the teaching methods have changed.
Oh and as for the actual topic, I agree that it depends. I don't teach any spiritual "stuff", because to me, it is up to the student to decide how much of it they want and besides, when you get to real core of martial arts, I think it really ultimately is about fighting and all the spiritual stuff is just glued on to it. Of course it is not as black & white as that, but I don't really think that martial arts develop your character, they merely strengthen it. So, if you're an a-hole when you start martial arts, you'll likely be an even bigger one as time goes by. I've seen my share of high-ranking people who talk the talk, but don't walk the walk when it comes to this "budo spirit"

+1

I agree that the Okinawan styles are probably the closes, yet they have changed as well. As an example, Sanchin kata as trained in the Pangainoon system took perhaps a year to learn. Just the opening movements would be trained for several months. Result...a powerfully performed kata! In a period of ten years, Uechi Kanbun Sensei learned only three of the four kata in that system.

Martial arts have a lot of esoteric fluff attached to them, but they aren't needed or even desirable. At least not beyond the normal things such as 'use for SD only' et al. Boil away the fluff and feathers and the martial arts are about hurting people (ideally to prevent yourself from being hurt). Sport was added on later but requires the art to be watered down by adding rule sets and artificial environments.
 
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Janina

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Thank you all for your great answers. It織s nice to read so much different views and thoughts about this issue!
 
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Janina

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The age old answer is ... it depends.

It depends on what you want from your martial art. If you want sport you can have sport, if you want fitness you can find styles that don't allow contact. (Whether they deserve to be called MAs is another question.) if you want self defence, it is more difficult, but you can find schools that teach reality based martial art.

Very few of the karate styles are trained today as they were trained when they were first developed. Taking them into the schools changed most of them forever. The Japanese style of training is very different when compared to the Okinawan style of training as the Japanese like everything to be structured.

But your question raises a very interesting point. Where is the mind in all this? I know when I started I didn't think beyond the physical. My teachers didn't teach beyond the physical. We never questioned, we never thought, we just did. And, to be fair, what I was being taught was sport. Two of my instructors were in the Australian karate team at the world championships and my chief instructor was the Australian coach. I look back now and see that my instruction in the basics was top class in the physical sense but totally limited if you considered it in physchophysical sense.

It wasn't until I retired from work and had more time to read and think that I realised there was so much more to karate than was being taught in the mainstream and it was only after I set up our own school that I was free to explore and teach outside the box so to speak. I encourage my students to explore, not only within karate, as I believe to understand karate you need to look at Okinawan Te and Chinese Kung Fu, but also the mind as in the Chinese internal arts.

Mutsumura was on the money when he said you need to study if you wish to understand your martial art. It is my observation that in most cases the study of most martial artists today, including instructors, is very superficial, and that may well be due to the time constraints of our hectic existence. :asian:

Thank you for your great answer.

One of the reasons why I started this thread is the fact that I am a Zen Instructor in Soto-Zen tradition and teach Zazen to people on Zendo. As Karate practitioner I have always felt more in my personal practice than just kicking and punching. We use breath, ki, mokuso and many other concepts to describe things which are more than just physical. They tend to describe reality of mind and energy or lifeforce.

One of the interesting parts on your post is the way how you described that you first practiced simply physical Karate and later found mental or spiritual level of Karate. I personally have experienced training also from purely physical to mental, where something you started to practice for one reason (better health) changes to something more than that. I would describe it with term Do, path!
 

K-man

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Thank you for your great answer.

One of the reasons why I started this thread is the fact that I am a Zen Instructor in Soto-Zen tradition and teach Zazen to people on Zendo. As Karate practitioner I have always felt more in my personal practice than just kicking and punching. We use breath, ki, mokuso and many other concepts to describe things which are more than just physical. They tend to describe reality of mind and energy or lifeforce.

One of the interesting parts on your post is the way how you described that you first practiced simply physical Karate and later found mental or spiritual level of Karate. I personally have experienced training also from purely physical to mental, where something you started to practice for one reason (better health) changes to something more than that. I would describe it with term Do, path!
You will find this area of practice to be most controversial on this forum. I don't do much in the way of meditation in the sense of zen but the use of Ki and kokyu is a very big part of Aikido and I have incorporated much of that understanding into my karate and karate teaching. It is my belief that this is part of the concept of 'soft' in Goju. Just as you describe what you have discovered as 'do' I would probably go the other way and describe my practise as 'jutsu' but the two are still interwoven. :asian:
 

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My old teacher wrote a book that was titled "Karate-do: Art, Sport, Science."

I believe that Karate can be any or all of the above, since different people will practice it in different ways for different reasons. Some people practice Karate primarily for the competition (sport) aspect, while some people prefer the art or science of it. There really is no right or wrong answer, as to who is practicing Karate in the "best" way, since what works for one may be less than optimal for another.
 

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We have had such a debate in the TKD forum for many many years, TKD is no Karate but is similar and here you have my wy of thinking. Is Karate/TKD a sport or a martial art? well.. it can be one, the other or both. In ous society dojos/dojangs tend to teach these martial arts in a no harsh way, I mean the technikes had been debrutalized in a way that some of the most dangerous techs are erased or softened to not maim or kill, very simple for example if we deliver a full force shuto to the neck we can kill a person or perhaps injure the person pretty bad so maybe this felow eill not come back for training or even sue you as a tecaher for the use of full brute force. For this matter we hace change a little or way of teaching and focusing is a sport way to do sparring, using pads and using and even not to light contact, for this sake we have tournaments.

Do topurnaments afect adversely the martila art? well.. it all depends, if you focus your teachings on sport maybe it can hurt the martial art, for that matter we have to teach the sport side if we want and the martial art side.

The way I teach TKD is as a martial art leaving sport sparring in a second level, I mean I teach the techs, the poomsae (kata) and the self defense or aplication of the techs, wehn we do sparring we use hogu (protecting vest), the helmet and the shin/step pads and the cup and use full power kicks.

I am a traditionalist and try to keep this way with my students, my sambonim (master) is 50/50 (traditions/sport).

Manny
 
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Janina

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My old teacher wrote a book that was titled "Karate-do: Art, Sport, Science."

I believe that Karate can be any or all of the above, since different people will practice it in different ways for different reasons. Some people practice Karate primarily for the competition (sport) aspect, while some people prefer the art or science of it. There really is no right or wrong answer, as to who is practicing Karate in the "best" way, since what works for one may be less than optimal for another.

Agreed with you here Grenadier. That織s why I am most interested about subjective views of practitioners. There is so many possible ways to see your practice. Do, Jutsu, Self Defence, Sport.. No right or wrong, just different thoughts on same issue!

I would probably go the other way and describe my practise as 'jutsu' but the two are still interwoven.
smileJap.gif

Yes, I don織t see muche difference between these two. Actually I think that jutsu in the meaning of technique and Do in the meaning of path are definitely interwoven with each other..
 

Takai

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Oh and as for the actual topic, I agree that it depends. I don't teach any spiritual "stuff", because to me, it is up to the student to decide how much of it they want and besides, when you get to real core of martial arts, I think it really ultimately is about fighting and all the spiritual stuff is just glued on to it. Of course it is not as black & white as that, but I don't really think that martial arts develop your character, they merely strengthen it. So, if you're an a-hole when you start martial arts, you'll likely be an even bigger one as time goes by. I've seen my share of high-ranking people who talk the talk, but don't walk the walk when it comes to this "budo spirit"

The truth is the truth not matter where you see it. Hard vs soft, Ki vs scientific terminology. In the end the same things end up being discussed but different terminology is used to describe it. When you start discussing the "spiritual" side of MA's you are starting to discuss a personal journey for each practitioner. No matter how far or short the journey may be it is still their own.
 
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Janina

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So, if you're an a-hole when you start martial arts, you'll likely be an even bigger one as time goes by. I've seen my share of high-ranking people who talk the talk, but don't walk the walk when it comes to this "budo spirit"

Yeah, that織s very much truth. If you see somebody performing good and pure technique on tatami, you cannot assume anything about that persons personality by the technic he or she practices. This however does not lessen the meaning of Karate as mental practice, it only shows the fact that human being is human being no matter what they are interested in!
 

chinto

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Is Karate a sport? well there are people who train and use it only as one, but as a student of Okinawan Karate, I can tell you that the kata teaches self defense and combat. the kicks in kata are low, the strikes are intended to maim and incapacitate, brake, and kill. So when taught properly it is a combat art that may be used with modifications for some sport applications.
 

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I see several levels of possible reply. If you teach a martial art, with the presumed ability to injure, then it should be incumbent upon the instructor to also teach some morality for its use. I believe there exist some clearly defined right-and-wrong, and such should be included in the syllabus, even beyond the token "refrain from violent behavior" kind of thing.
I also believe there is real technical value in the idea of "empty mind", in the concept of fighting without emotion or conscious thought. I suppose it could be as simple as switching to auto-pilot in contact, or could be far more intellectually ranging.
However, I think we should recognize that we are teaching and learning techniques which can kill or injure, and that possession of these skils imply some readiness to use them on occasion, although defining the appropriate occasion may be subject to rigorous debate.
I sometimes - often, even - question how many of my students ever reflect on any of this. It's only some miniority who seem to get that there are larger issues than the next test or tournament. That probably reflects on my skill - or rather, lack of same - as a teacher.
 

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You can't say that Karate is just a sport. It is also an Art. It can develop your body and mind very fruitfully. It makes you healthy and fit. The techniques of Karate are very useful for your self defense also. You can protect yourself and your family / love ones with this art. I am also associated with a Karate Academy, who has been offering effective self-defense programs courses to men, women, teenagers, and children for over 50 years. So, I know the benefits of Karate / Martial Arts :)
 

Cyriacus

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You can't say that Karate is just a sport. It is also an Art. It can develop your body and mind very fruitfully. It makes you healthy and fit. The techniques of Karate are very useful for your self defense also. You can protect yourself and your family / love ones with this art. I am also associated with a Karate Academy, who has been offering effective self-defense programs courses to men, women, teenagers, and children for over 50 years. So, I know the benefits of Karate / Martial Arts :)

Karate is a system. That system can be twisted and bent to be a thing of spiritual development, a thing of sport, a thing of profiteering and business, a thing of artsyness, a thing of fitness, a thing of confidence, and so on and so forth. Karate itself is a bunch of techniques representing a bunch of ideas. The other stuff is how we filter it. :)
 

Gorilla

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Love all aspects of Karate!!!!


They are all important!!! None above the other!!! Each Martial Artist can choose his/her focus!!!!
 

Jackthekarateguy

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well I think the whole Budo thing is very interesting and I certainly bear it in mind, especially in my attitude towards training and conflict outside of the dojo. I don't treat it like a sport and whilst I know I can protect myself to a reasonable extent I don't train for self defense. I use karate-do as a creative art form and a way to occupy my hands and brain during the week. Ultimately karate is as it has always been, a bunch of ways to beat people up. It's just a matter of how and why and who with.
 

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As practitioner of Shorin-ryu style of Karate I wanted to start a discussion about Karate as full system of psychophysical practices. It is not just a sport or combat skill, but trains ones body and mind simultaneously. Master Matsumura did crystallize his views to text called Precepts and I quote them here for further discussion. Next quote has been taken from web page: http://seinenkai.com/articles/noble/noble-shorin1.html and writer for the article is Graham Noble with Ian McLaren and Prof. N. Karasawa.

So let織s discuss. How important is the mental and spiritual sides of Karate to you. Is Karate just a sport or do you see vaster psychophysical meaning in it?

Here I end my post with the Precepts of Master Matsumura:


The Precepts of Master Matsumura

You must first resolve to study if you wish to understand the truth of martial arts. This resolve is very important. Fundamentally, the arts and the martial arts are the same. Each has three fundamental elements. As far as Art is concerned they are Shisho-no-Gaku, Kunko-no-Gaku and Jussha-no-Gaku. Shisho-no-Gaku is the art of creative writing and reading - in a word, literature. Kunko-no-Gaku means to study the past and gain an understanding of ethics by relating past events to our way of life. Both Shisho-no-Gaku and Kunko-no-Gaku are incomplete until supplemented by Jussha-no-Gaku, (the study of the moral aspects of the teaching of Confucius). Have a tranquil heart and you can prevail over a village, a country, or the world. The study of Jussha-no-Gaku is the supreme study over both Shisho-no-Gaku and Kunko-no-Gaku. These then are the three elements necessary for the study of the Arts. If we consider Budo, there are also three precepts. They are Gukushi-no-Bugei, Meimoko-no-Bugei and Budo-no-Bugei. Gukushi-no-Bugei is nothing more than a technical knowledge of Bugei. Like a woman, it is just superficial and has no depth. Meimoko-no-Bugei refers to a person who has physical understanding of Bugei. He can be a powerful and violent person who can easily defeat other men. He has no self-control and is dangerous and can even harm his own family. Budo-no-Bugei is what I admire. With this you can let the enemy destroy himself - just wait with a calm heart and the enemy will defeat himself. People who practice Budo-no-Bugei are loyal to their friends, their parents and their country. They will do nothing that is unnatural and contrary to nature.We have "seven virtues of Bu". They are:


  1. Bu prohibits violence.
  2. Bu keeps discipline in soldiers.
  3. Bu keeps control among the population.
  4. Bu spreads virtue.
  5. Bu gives a peaceful heart.
  6. Bu helps keep peace between people.
  7. Bu makes people or a nation prosperous.

Our forefathers handed these seven virtues down to us.Just as Jussha-no-Gaku is supreme in the arts, so Budo-no-Bugei is supreme in the martial arts."Mon-Bu" (Art and Martial Arts) have the same common elements. We do not need Gukushi-no-Bugei or Meimoko-no-Bugei - this is the most important thing.I leave these words to my wise and beloved deshi Kuwae.

- Bucho Matsumura

I realize that I'm sort of digging up this thread, but I keep reading it, and it keeps irking me to respond.

Without meaning any disrespect to Matsumura-sensei, I've got a bit of a bone to pick. I believe that this sort of mysticism and over indulgence of philosophy in the arts can be very damaging to the art itself, as well as the students trying to understand it. While Matsumura does make some good points, I think he's also contributing to the art's being shrouded by much vague and meaningless terminology.

Let's take this mystical "bu", for example. This isn't some mystical word shrouded in some deep philosophy. It is a perfectly common character that simply means "war" (武). To say that "bu prohibits violence", is laughable. Nor does it promote peace, for it is by definition "war."

This kind of modern reinterpretation of arts is really more the issue. The old martial arts are about one thing only; learning a systematic approach to combat. They do not concern themselves with sport or philosophy, because those are separate subjects; though, to a limited degree, the experiences and philosophy of its practitioners might be recorded and passed on. But the arts do not try to redefine themselves. They are about killing or otherwise injuring/incapacitating the opponent - first and foremost, and above all else.

It is only in the modern world, where "violence" is perceived in such a negative light, that people have felt compelled to reinvent martial arts as a sport or a philosophy. And don't get me wrong; there are many good virtues you can learn from studying martial arts. But those only come if you study an art earnestly, and for whatever purpose it was designed; otherwise, you're just deluding yourself with abstract notions that you don't really understand.
 
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