Karate refers to the Japanese and Okinawan forms of combative art. Authentic karate is not often what is advertised, even if what is something to be respected in its own right. Its longest known origin in thought and physical training go back to an ancient time, perhaps from what is now Southern India, brought to China to become an art, exported to Okinawa and developed into a unique system of defense-based tactics, and finally modernized in Japan among the Nippon warrior culture, where it spread throughout the world, including back to Okinawa as “Karate.”
A traditional definition of "karate-do" is Japanese or Okinawan way of empty hand combat.
The practitioner of karate is called a “karate-ka.”
The term “Karate”
In contemporary culture the word “karate” has been exploited perhaps because of being a house hold name, more recognizable than other names, and at times simply to be iterated from something overheard or aforesaid propelling ambiguity for whatever reason.
In fact, Karate became defined by the Japanese and appropriately adopted to the fighting art of the former Ryuku Kingdom or Okinawa. The systems of Okinawa may have come first, but the Japanese defined their style and today refers to both Okinawan and Japanese specific systems of “empty-hand” combative arts.
Even though one can appreciate other combative activities, karate is NOT, MMA, boxing, Mui Tai, Taekwondo, or other activities often advertised practices as “karate,” but is not karate by definition.
Seemingly many people only interested in material profit loosely throw around the word “karate,” but do not explain what kind or where their true education stems from. What is truly karate do and jutsu encompasses specified elements.
What ties the real karate artist to each other is lineage. One cannot take on learning real karate solely on their own by their own means. One cannot configure their fighting knowledge together from their personal understanding, and say what they understand is karate.
The art of karate being passed down is a similar matter. Despite geography most karate-ka share similar ritual and training aspects in similarity, especially with a style because of the teachings being passed down directly, or indirectly, from an authentic source.
To have obtained the true teachings of karate, a karate sensei or instructor must have had it passed to them from and authentic source, and they had it passed from his or her teacher, and so on. Authentic karate must retain an authentic linage.
The Shotokan Karate Dojo has a lineage map that details linage from Okinawa to modern time.
Most people can learn something from simply observing karate teachings. Some people can even pass on certain beneficial aspects of karate, however that does not qualify them as a karate teacher. Such as, because you understand most of the English alphabet, does not mean you can teach proper writing. The only real people who can teach karate are advanced ranks, and traditionally, in order to retain a permanent title of a karate sensei, they must be at least a rank of San Dan (3rd degree black belt).
Dans (black belt ranks) traditionally only went to 5th as Master Gichin Funakoshi was laid to rest as a 5th Dan even though Funakoshi never gave himself rank. He is the founder of Shotokan Karate and considered widely as the father of modern karate. All other Dans higher than 5th are mostly honorary, were not introduced until the development of the Japanese Karate Association (JKA), was meant for instilling duty to a senior sensei for what they must do for their organization and karate-do, and how they make karate beneficial to society.
Most 10th Dan ranks are reserved for 9th Dans, sometimes 8th Dans, once they die. However, some disciples of Master G. Funakoshi such as Hirokazu Kanazawa (金澤 弘和) have accepted their recognition of this Dan level by appropriate authority. There is no higher rank than 10th Dan in authentic karate.
How rank is passed down is an object of tradition that makes one’s karate the real thing. In order to have rank bestowed upon someone, the examiner must be at least 2 ranks ahead of the given rank. As rank reaches in the 6th, 7th , and further Dan level, this becomes an internal organizational issue, but following the tradition remains a essential.
Despite many people believing and professing that karate is a sport, it truly is NOT. However, from a time in the early 19th century, at least for Shotokan, there developed a sport element taught and further explored with the advancement of the JKA. Not all karate-ka feel competition is relative to “true” karate despite much of karate teachings include some form of competition.
The competition element of karate gained much ground in the JKA. From an early time, the kumite (sparing) was hard hitting and something not for the faint of heart. The 1960s and 1970s competition sparing manifested some rules to be further allowed in various venues and to allow for more than just the toughest karate-ka a way to compete. Into the 1980s and 1990s karate still held rough sparing, especially between rival countries, but took on more of what was considered non-contact. Today, we see more of WKF/USA Olympic style karate without nearly any real contact and katas (forms) that have become void of the original power that was expected at one time.
Worth noting, karate has almost never taken weight or size into making competition divisions. Karate retains the thought that in a real matter of self-defense one cannot arbitrate what size the attacker will be. Why do we compete? Because karate competition is training.
The old style of kata and kumite is still taught, but remains largely unseen compared to what waits to be showcased in the 2020 Olympics. That said, there remains no lack of spirit, just less stitches and more teeth intact. If something good can be said for the new regulated style of karate competition is that only recently have the great number of the Okinawan and Japanese karate styles and groups seem to be finally working together. Nearly all these karate groups involved respect, or should respect, each other as holders of true traditional karate-do.
What Separates Us
Because Shotokan, and some other forms of traditional Japanese karate-do, was further advanced in Japan, the combative art evolved with the help of biological and medical sciences in Japanese universities. In this evolution of traditional karate, much profound in Shotokan, karate acquired a further devastating effect to adversaries.
For those at the Shotokan Karate Dojo, the ASKF, and the many traditional karate-ka like us, train hard. Often seen mostly standing in a room in karate uniforms talking without much sweat, those who do not train hard accomplish little for what we aim. For some of us hard and serious is the only way we know to train. Karate cannot be learned through means other than through physical training first, later accompanied by teaching, and even further academically. For our kind of karate, our karate peers in other true karate dojos, hard work and hard training is the only way.
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