The Importance of Humanity in Karate!
© Bob McMahon, reprinted with permission

Karate was fashioned on the model provided by Kendo and Judo. It was intended to be a ‘style’ of Martial Arts in itself but this never came about, perhaps because of WW2, or there may be other reasons. In any case, the original school system spawned Shotokan-Ryu, Wado-Ryu and Shito-Ryu. Goju-Ryu was developed much later and was accepted in to the Okinawa school system many years after the original karate program of Itosu.

If there had not have been a revision of Jujutsu into Judo, and Kenjutsu into Kendo, it is possible that those arts would not have survived. They were frowned upon by the new society. Similarly, Okinawa ‘Te’ was not popular and considered a violent activity by the general community, the more refined art of karate succeeded and was responsible for the continuation of this Okinawan Martial Art, albeit in another form.

Itosu realized that education was the key and that with education came humanity and understanding, and less need for civil self-defense. Okinawa had no organized sport like we know it today so an exercise regime, such as karate, was a brilliant stroke of genius on his part. Karate was to be a community exercise program, an educational undertaking to promote humanity and a pathway back to brutal self-defense should it be necessary.

Unfortunately karate has become a sport and recreational activity taught by those of both a high and a low rank. Very few know what it is they are teaching and mainly focus on all the wrong aspects. The physical techniques are not well understood so the basics of kata are taught as the foundation of karate. The humane aspects are rarely discussed or, are taught via the dojo kun and paid lip service only.

Karate was developed in Okinawa, a small backward country at that time, with very few people involved, yet we somehow consider that they have developed a complete system that will allow one to beat of 4, 8 or more attackers. The secret of karate is common sense and a combination of physical practise and intellectual study (bunburyodo).

One of the mistakes made today is to sell Karate as a product, it is not something that can be bought and sold like a hamburger. You are paying for someone’s knowledge, skill and ability to pass on important information about how to gain health, fitness, compete in sport and defend yourself. You are paying a fee for an educational service. Apparently it's no longer important whom you learn from but at the end of the day, the only rank you hold is that of personal knowledge and ability.

How can one teach humanity? By setting standards. I don't think it can actually be taught but perhaps it can be nourished and nurtured. It’s a bit like thinking that karate builds character. If someone is of poor character then that may be impossible to change.

It is important to ensure that a sense of fairness and consideration of others is the benchmark of any karate class. If we are to allow training partners to punch, strike and kick just mm’s from our body then we must have trust in their character and faith in their humanity.

Nobody likes to be taken advantage of and we are brought up to have faith and trust in those in authority such as teachers. Hypocrisy by karate teachers destroys that trust, especially in the area of morals and ethics. Poor instruction can lead to karate damaging a person’s character. Poor role models can influence a student of any age in the wrong direction.

It is a great responsibility in teaching anything, but especially karate. If it is misused the consequences can be very serious. Certainly karate training does not make anyone invincible but it can make one dangerous to those that have no self-defense skills.

Students need to be taught with great caution about the effects of striking another human being. Many people suffer serious injury from being knocked to the ground, not from the punch but from hitting their head on the hard floor. How can you give someone a loaded gun with no instructions in the why and when, and not be responsible if another human being is maimed?

Luckily most human beings are reasonably sensible and humane. I remember a case where a karate student was convicted of killing his own unborn child by kicking it's mother in the stomach when she was pregnant! We all know of karate instructors that have been charged with crimes against children.

If karate is to be taught like an aerobics class at the gym then there is a problem. Aerobics is about health and fitness, karate may be utilized in that fashion but there is still a need for explanation and standards of behavior to be set.

Are you a karate teacher, a sports coach or a gym instructor? Is your place of instruction a dojo, a clubhouse or a gym? All are worthwhile but you should not fool yourself or others. If your level of expertise is of a low level then admit to it and don't leave others thinking you are an expert. Otherwise, unintentionally, you are giving the experts a bad name.

Karate should be enjoyable, i.e. serious fun. One cannot pretend to be a Doctor, a Dentist, a Solicitor or a karate teacher, these are all known as Sensei, someone that has reached a certain stage of understanding, not someone who has yet to pass beyond the novice stage.

A Black Belt or Black and White Belt doesn’t entitle the wearer to teach. They need to have a thorough knowledge of the content and training in the principles of teaching. If they are to teach a watered down sport version, as some suggest, then they still need to know enough so as not to cause injury to those within their duty of care.