- THE DASH
- The tie
- There was a
wonderful email being circulated not long ago and I was
fortunate that a copy of it came my way from a dear
friend of mine. When I first saw his tag line that
morning in amongst a bunch of business related emails I
immediately opened his message first, since I already
knew from past experience that whatever he sent me was
usually well worth reading.
opening his email I quickly realized that this was going
to be a rather long read, and since at that moment my day
was already off to a hectic start I set the email aside,
planning to finish it at a time when I could give it my
undivided attention. Later that afternoon when my desk
was finally clear, I once again opened my friend's email,
and this time I read it from start to finish.
- When I was
done I realized that while the story was unrelated to
karate in anyway, it had never the less set me to
thinking about what I had just read in precisely those
- The story
was called "The Dash".
- Perhaps you
have seen it.
- If not, and
to make a long story short, the email I received was in
essence about a man who had recently passed away, and at
his funeral he was being eulogized by a very close friend.
The friend's eulogy centred primarily around the man's
newly carved head stone, and in particular the two dates
that were inscribed on it representing the span of the
man's life, for example 1910 - 2003.
- This friend
went on to say that while it was obvious from these two
dates that this man had indeed lived a long life, the
numbers in and of themselves did not tell the whole story.
The real story of the man's life; who he was as a person,
what he managed to accomplish during those years, what
impact his life had on his family, his friends, his
business associates, or for that matter the rest of
humanity; everything about him his friend said, was
really represented by the small little dash that lay in
between those two specific dates.
- The sad
part his friend went on to say, was that for most people
that small little dash was simply an appropriate
punctuation mark, carved about half an inch deep into a
marble head stone. As such he declared, the dash's true
secrets would always remain well hidden from those who
never knew the man, never to be discovered unless someone
took the time and made the effort to look closely and
- So what
does this story have to do with karate you might be
asking yourself right about now, well I will tell you.
- Every day
throughout the world in more countries than I can think
of, students of all ages, faiths, and nationalities,
enter a dojo to practice one of the various styles of
karate, or as it is also commonly referred to, "karate-do".
Now as you are
probably aware the word "karate-do" when
written in Japanese is actually made up of three distinct
characters. One character for the word "kara"
which mean "empty", one character for the word
"te" which means "hand" and one
character for the word "do" which means "way".
When these three characters are combined they form the
word "karate-do" which then literally
translates as "the empty handed way". It is
when it is used in this context that karate in reality
ceases to be merely a form of combat and instead becomes
an art form with a much deeper connotation.
- Now it has been said that
all of the major styles of traditional karate practiced
in the world today Shotokan karate is the most widely
spread, and the most popular. Like most styles Shotokan
can trace it's earliest roots back to China and beyond.
It was, however, on the small island of Okinawa that
Shotokan unknowingly took the first step in what was
about to become a global journey. Taught in secret, and
then only to the most trusted of individuals, Okinawan te
(hand) or Chinese te (hand) as it was sometimes referred
to back in the late 1800's was something that few
islanders knew of, or for that matter, ever came in
contact with. Yet here on this small island which had
been fought over by nations for centuries, a man named
Gichin Funakoshi was born in the year 1868, and it was to
be through him that the art of karate-do would finally
see the clear light of day in the early 1920's. A school
teacher by profession, it was because of his skill and
reputation within the martial arts community that he was
one day asked to travel to Japan to lecture on, and
demonstrate, the art of Okinawan Karate-do at the First
National Athletic Exhibition. This was to be a historic
occasion indeed since this would be the first time that
karate-do had been publicly demonstrated outside of
- As fate would have it after
his demonstration Sensei Funakoshi was asked to remain in
Japan for a while longer in order to give further
demonstrations, and he agreed. As a result of that
seemingly casual decision his destiny was sealed, and he
subsequently remained in Japan for the rest of his life
teaching and spreading the art of karate-do to people
from all walks of Japanese society, right up until his
death in 1957. As a result of his life long dedication,
today Sensei Funakoshi is known world wide as The Father
of Modern Karate.
- Shortly after the death of
Sensei Funakoshi a plan for the globalization of karate-do
started to take place under the guidance of his most
senior students. The first tentative steps in this plan
took place when through their organization, known as the
JKA, or the Japan Karate Association, the decision was
made to start sending skilled instructors from Japan to
the West as a means of spreading karate-do to the rest of
the world. During these past forty odd years since that
day, the growth of Shotokan karate-do has been
unprecedented, and today it is practiced in almost every
country in the world, with many of the largest Shotokan
karate organizations still being headed up by Masters
trained by the JKA. I do think, however, that it is fair
to say that today regardless of whether a person studies
Shotokan or some other traditional style of karate, in
many respects the art of karate-do is no longer based
solely on the values and the principles to which Sensei
Gichin Funakoshi and the other Masters of his time were
so truly devoted.
- The simple fact of the
matter is that like all things karate has changed and
evolved, and it has done so to the point where today
karate can really be divided into two main categories,
"sport karate" and "traditional karate-do".
- Now at
first it may appear to many outsiders, as well as to some
students, that these two approaches to karate are one and
the same. This, however, could not be further from the
truth. Despite their many similarities there is in fact a
huge fundamental difference between "sport karate"
- The difference for the most
part can be defined as follows :
- "sport karate has at
it's core, the ultimate goal of victory over all others
- While on the other hand,
- "traditional karate-do
has at it's core, the ultimate goal of victory over one's
self through the "way" of karate".
- You see sport karate, in
effect revolves around public competitions where each
competitor performs a kata that usually contain a large
number of gymnastics, and other acrobatic skills that are
performed in concert with a wide variety of karate
movements and/or weapons, such as the bo, sai, kama,
spear, and sword. These modern, and sometimes personally
made up katas are often performed to music, and are
usually designed to be "crowd pleasers", while
at the same having been exclusively crafted to fit the
skill level and athleticism of one individual, and no one
else. In fact many competitors include in each of their
modern katas unique movements that often come to be known
as their personal "signature move" and that
over time they alone become identified with at each
tournament. Of course since each competitor is always
looking to out do his or her opponent, the need to be
even more creative often means that many of these modern
katas develop into contests of flash and speed with
countless spins, tosses, and twirls being the order of
the day. While it is self evident that these modern katas
obviously require a very high degree of skill and
physical fitness and need to be combined with a great
many hours, months, and years of training on the part of
the competitors, "sport karate" at it's heart
lacks two things that more than anything else set it
apart from "traditional karate-do".
- First, "sport karate"
has no true historical connection to any past Master.
- Secondly, because each of
the katas is "made up" and so unique to that
individual, it makes passing on these katas to all other
students virtually impossible, since the aerobic
movements, are usually well beyond the capabilities of
the average person.
karate-do, however, unlike "sport karate" is
based on katas that in some cases are hundreds of years
old and can often be traced back through history to a
specific Master and they are performed primarily for the
personal physical, mental and spiritual development of
the individual. Secondly, and more importantly though,
under proper supervision these traditional katas can over
a reasonable short period of time be taught and handed
down to thousands of people of all ages, shapes, and
sizes, including children, since by the nature of their
design, almost of the movements can be performed without
any other specialized training.
- It is for
these two reasons more than any others, that traditional
karate-do as survived and prospered throughout the years
and it is this continuity that lies at the heart of what
those that do karate for sport, and those that do karate
- So you see
the dash that joins the dates on the man's head stone to create a lifetime, and the
joins the two words "karate" and "do"
into "the way of karate" is really the tie that
- It is the dash that holds
the details and the essence that make both the man, and
the art of karate-do worth knowing, treasuring, and
passing on in turn to those who choose to follow in their
- So the next
time someone asks you to explain what type of karate you
study, think carefully before answering, and if you feel
it is appropriate, be sure you put in that small little
things make a big difference.
- Part the
clouds - see the way.
objective of karate-do is to contribute to the evolution
- of the
human spirit through physical and mental training."