Karate; is it a sport, a self-defence regime or an art? Or is it a sport, a self-defence regime and an art? The answer to these questions would depend on whom you ask. For the current, ever increasing numbers of karate students, or karateka, who began their training with the intention of competing in, what has now become, an Olympic sport; I have little doubt that their answer would be similar to the one that I received from a ‘would be’ student: “It’s a sport, of course, but it’s a martial art, so I suppose it’s also an art, and you can use it for self-defence too. So it must be all three.”
Asking myself the same questions (is karate a sport, a self-defence regime or an art? Or is it all three?) takes me considerably longer to answer.
For this thesis I am taking on the full bag of tricks, so to speak; my intention is to give a broad analysis of the essence of karate-do: its history, its function in today’s society and how it has intersected with my life. I will also comment on the proliferation of the martial arts, karate in particular, and my modest contribution to that propagation; and, according to my humble understanding of course, I will attempt to explain its simple yet profound message.
I will attempt through this thesis ‒ quoting facts and hypotheses, using analogies and anecdotes ‒ to explain my understanding of karate-do (a way of life). I will be focusing mainly on karate, in fact, mostly Shotokan Karate; however, I will delve briefly into various martial arts as they impinge pertinently with the karate narrative and, specifically, where they intersect with my life and my own martial odyssey. I will also be discussing the sport versus the art, and the Olympic karate dream; pros and cons.
So where to begin? I can hear a voice in my head saying, ‘the beginning maybe…’ but from what beginning? From my first karate class perhaps; or maybe from my first involvement with the martial arts in general? Although we would have to define what exactly signifies a martial art.
Martial Art, quite literally, is the art of war; but any form of fighting, or fighting art, is now termed a martial art. So I would forward the proposition that the act of fighting or combat, or else training or planning for the said act, in any shape or form, is in fact a martial art. In those terms, my martial arts began when I was only four years old, so I will certainly be moving back and forth to explain relevance et cetera. However I will begin this thesis at the point when I first realised that karate would become an integral part of my life.
At that time, not really knowing anything about it, karate was the term I used, karate-do was not even in my vocabulary. The Dō (with an inflection over the ō to make the oh sound) in karate-do means ‘the way/ the path,’ karate-dō implies that karate is a total way of life that goes well beyond the self-defense, the sport, or the art of war....