Let’s Make Karate Kool Again
I was walking in the mall with my family the other weekend and I came across a large advertisement for another Academy in my town. It had top notch graphics and stock photos, it was a nice advertisement and it really caught my eye.
“You should do one of those!” my wife shouted at me.
“I don’t know, seems a bit cheesy?” I replied, questioning my reluctance.
We both sat a little bit while our kids ate ice cream and thought about the idea. Was it cheesy or a really good idea? Certainly better than some other ideas I’ve had in the past and certainly seemed to work. Why was I so against this idea that could be a huge opportunity?
Then… out of nowhere, a young man and his mother stopped by and she took notice and just before she could mention it to him, he said pretty blankly to his mom, “No, mom, it’s not MMA.”
… and like that, they were gone. That comment slapped me right in the mouth and to be honest…
…it hurt a bit too.
I’ve literally spent almost 30 years in Martial Arts and the majority of it in Traditional Karate. Oh sure, I train in other Martial Arts forms too: NOGI Brazilian Jiujitsu, AikiJujutsu, a little Kickboxing, but mainly…
I’m a Karate Guy.
It hurt because I know that Karate has all the things in it that could excite that young man: kicks, punches, elbows, knees, throws, joint locks, submissions, and ground fighting.
But, he doesn’t know. To be fair, not a lot of people do.
To be fair, it is not an easy question to answer but like all things that catch on, eventually, the over saturation of it will eventually deplete it. You see, Karate USED to be cool until it became sooooo popular, that it wasn’t.
It’s like Facebook: once your parents are using it, you aren’t.
In the 1980’s, a little film called, “The Karate Kid” came out and took the world by storm. It introduced the world to Okinawa and eventually the “Karate Boom” started and just kept going. Everyone had Karate fever and schools began to open and operate with large numbers. Belts and stripes and promotions took over training and “having fun,” replaced “learning technique.” However, no one really cared because…
1) They were “progressing” in the sense that their belt changed colour.
2) No one really had to defend themselves because saying “I know karate” was the equivalent to “I have a gun.”
NOTE: No, you NEVER had to register your hands as lethal weapons. Perhaps I should write a book on debunking Martial Arts myths.
… and then, in the 90’s, something changed.
UFC 1 came out… and someone bumped the DJ table.
What’s this Jiujitsu thing? Who’s this skinny guy choking people unconscious? How come that guy’s striking is so sloppy?
It was like hearing that Santa wasn’t real but at an adult level, you just couldn’t understand what you were seeing.
After that day, the bug had been planted in so many minds, including George St. Pierre, a young karate guy my age at the time, who eventually started taking Gracie Jiujitsu and eventually would become the most prestigious champion of the UFC and the MMA World Globally.
Karate was starting its exit from being considered the best martial art globally to now sitting against the wall at the dance, waiting for someone to ask them. Karate became uncool. Karate was misunderstood. If only the cool kids asked Karate to dance, they would show them that there was still something to see!
… and yet, just like Facebook, Karate was too old to be young, cool, and hip.
… and just like this advertisement in the mall, although good, it offered the same old stuff: birthday parties, confidence, self-esteem, you know “kid’s stuff.” Words that look good to Mom wanting her child to be respectful and well-rounded but make their teenager “cringe.”
…and, it didn’t mention learning anything about self-defense or techniques.
You see, this is what people associate karate with now: a Martial Arts themed daycare for kids. Which is sad… but what is even sadder is, it can be true most times.
George St. Pierre, one of the best to ever compete in MMA, considered to be one of the best Wrestlers in MMA credits his winning strategy to one martial art: Karate
“That’s what I use for my takedown, the shoot, that people see, it’s zero wrestling. It has nothing to do with my wrestling. My wrestling is once I get that leg, I’ll finish the takedown. But how I get in and out is because of karate. People are like, ‘no way, Karate, no.’ And I’m like, ‘yes.’ Karate allows me to cut the distance and take the people down. I have a very good single, a very good double and very good penetration. It’s because of my leg, the way I do it, and the timing is because of my karate. I wrestle, too, but my karate is primary. Before I started wrestling, I was a karate guy pure.”
Like George, I too like to use Karate as a tool to highlight aspects of fighting techniques and often karate uses and mixes techniques from all traditional schools of training; karate is essentially the first “mixed martial art.”
Don’t take my word for it, it is historical fact. Starting as “ti” or “Tode” Okinawan “Hand” or boxing started with rough and raw beginnings. However, after the Chinese began to trade with the Okinawans, they too also shared martial arts teaches and thus, the great beginnings of “Karate” started and were refined for generations on the beaches late at night, away from the prying eyes of the Japanese officials who had taken over and governed the Island. Matches were held and techniques were shared freely.
You see, Karate was and still is a fighting art for self-defense and for growth both physically and mentally.
However, not all of us who teach it understand the complexity of it all. Maybe that is the part that is the saddest.
Nothing against this academy or what they do, you have to do what you do best and stay in that lane.
After speaking with my wife, we agreed the advertisement was nice but ultimately, not what we wanted to promote our academy or our karate.
What do you want to promote our academy and karate? Well, that is the million-dollar question, isn’t it?
How do you make Karate Kool Again? You may never.
But remember: Cool is just a fad but a “classic” never goes out of style.