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Karate vs. Martial Art, Why make that Distinction?

Blog Article/Post Caveat (Read First Please: Click the Link)

In my most recent posting, articles, I have begun to use, “Karate and Martial Art” to separate karate from the martial arts. It then gave rise to the question I answer in todays article, “Why separate karate from martial arts, aren’t they the same?

In the beginnings of my studies of karate I, like many, made and accepted the assumption that karate was a  martial art but in the last decade or so I have contemplated karate as a martial art and my studies led me to finally accept the fact that karate is NOT a martial art. 

As my continued research discovered more of the history of karate and with the theories and understandings of others who practice karate and martial arts with a traditional or what some call a “Koryu” sense, I came to my conclusion.

First, karate was born from the ancient practice of hand defense some believe is called, “Ti (pronounced tea).” Ti was an indigenous form of defense practiced on the island of Okinawa and its practitioners may or may not have been few and of a higher class of its society - that part is and will be a contested historical nature.

Second, Ti was also considered by the military presence of the Okinawans as a prerequisite to weapons training and there are tidbits of information from a concerted historical documentation of Okinawan history that states there were places, open ground, that clearly was found to be used to train in Ti so that its practitioners could and would move up to the weapons training necessary to protect the island but more importantly the ships used in their commercial trade efforts. Like any military, there is always an empty-handed or hand-to-hand component because there is always a chance Ti or the empty-handed discipline would, but not very often, be necessary in a combat situation. It can be theorized that even in close quarter combat with swords that their training and ability with Ti could be used in tandem with sword play and so on.

One could argue that Ti as a prerequisite makes it a martial art but in general since it was used as a means for civil defense by guards, etc., on the island it still mostly falls to civil defense. It is not actually a required discipline used in combat, that is what weapons are for but still, it is possible. I would suggest and I believe it is a civil thing rather than martial because in a nutshell its lack of significant presence in historical military or social renderings it is only mentioned in passing. I also take into consideration that the more ancient martial artists considered it a play toy vs. an actual combative tool for military conflicts. 

Third, then we come to the modern version of Ti or what became also known as Toudi, karate. Karate actually came into the forefront of practice of the Okinawans and in the late 1800’s and then 1900’s the Japanese but for certain socially driven political war effort reasons.

The Japanese, even in the 1800’s-1900’s were still war like and with their superior attitudes started to expand themselves to China and other Asian societies, etc. One of the significant events of those times was the writing and publication of the book, Bushido. As many modern articles and theories indicates this book and the subject of Bushido didn’t really have strong ties to the ancient practices of the feudal era where samurai, warriors and the conflicts and violence involved bushido really didn’t exist and if it did it was more or less insignificant. What was more significant was the practice and requirements of that practice of Zen Buddhism but that is another whole article. 

The Japanese needed to find a way to prepare and convince the Japanese people that war was good, necessary and of the right mind-set. The publishing of the Bushido concepts fell right into their needs and plans. Then the effort to incorporate practices into their society, including the Okinawans, they found that karate, while not a martial art, could become a prerequisite to being a willing warrior for the Japanese cause, i.e., karate was implemented into the educational system.  When karate, then actually translated as China Hand, was first introduced to the Japanese it may have been seen as a means to instill that form of bushido or military willing attitude into their youth, via the educational systems. The person who demonstrated China Hand then changed it to Empty Hand simply because that made it more malleable to Japanese acceptance - especially the military.  

Karate was accepted and then instituted into the Educational system along with other martial arts. It was also allowed, possibly directly but I sense more indirectly to be under the heading of Japanese Martial Arts. Karate, even with the changes but especially with the changes necessary to make it acceptable to the education of the younger peoples of Japan and Okinawa became even less martial by its watering down, etc. hiding its true nature as a defensive fighting system. 

When coupled with the possible propaganda oriented education toward a more warrior like mind-set and mind-state it was made acceptable and easy to label as a martial art. Labeling it or placing it under the heading of martial art also worked to the advantage of the Japanese in conditioning the young adults toward acceptance of a military war like mind-set ergo how karate first became understood as a martial art when in truth it was still a civil defense system.

My view here is more toward its historical beginnings as a traditional civil defensive system and my effort is to bring my practice up to speed so that my practice of karate will be more of a self-defense civil discipline ergo the creation of principles that fit with the fundamental principles of multiple methodologies for defense

While I am at it, this is also why I have changed my reference to principles from, “Fundamental Principles of Martial Disciplines” to “Fundamental principles of multiple methodologies for self-defense or defense.” My karate, as I aim for in training and practice, is to focus on the underlying fundamental principles as applied toward the use of multiple defensive methodologies for self-defense in a modern society in which I live. 

Bibliography (Click the link)

p.s. also, just because it is indiscriminately used and labeled as a martial art does not make it so like an accepted use of a new term would be added to a dictionary. If this were acceptable then we would have to change the true meaning of martial art, combat and warrior - not true or going to happen just because it fits our agenda. Now, I accept that this may be an issue with my view and belief as stated above. That is the nature of this game. 

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