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The Traditional Practice of Trying to Make Traditional Martial Arts Relevant in the Modern Era

Updated on September 9, 2016

Traditional Means the Continuing of a Tradition

A few random thoughts and notes I have compiled about training traditional karate. I have hundreds of pages of "stream of consciousness" thoughts like these that really should be edited and published one day.

The Enduring Legacy of Karate

Although the glory days of the Golden, Silver, and Bronze Ages of Karate are over, the rich history and spirit of traditional martial arts training is familiar with enough people with classical arts that schools are still able to draw in students. Yes, there are quite a number of awful and commercialized and reviled "McDojo" schools out there, but so are numerous honest schools that capture the spirit of the original intent of the martial arts.

These schools commonly offer a spiritual and moral based focus for training. Achieving personal growth and experiencing improvements in discipline are commonly mentioned traits of the martial arts.

But, can the traditional arts help the student looking to learn self-defense and gain practical skill.

Yes and no. A traditional response for questions about the traditional arts.

Bringing the Art of Karate into the Present

Certain things have to be understood about making traditional karate more functional. Whatever you learn in these classes would have to be filtered through basic self-defense scenarios in order to be adapted to be effective.

Insights into the Study of Traditional Martial Arts

As wonderful it would be to say there are no flaws with traditional martial arts training, to do so would be denies the truth. Traditional arts have to be modernized somewhat in order to make them reasonably effective for self-defense.

If you wish your martial arts studying to focus on self-defense, fun, enjoyment, hobby, and spiritual development, there is no reason why you cannot achieve all of these goals. Granted, the self-defense one is the hardest to achieve because it is neither subjective nor arbitrary.

Either what you are doing works against a resisting assailant or it doesn't. Self-defense is also based on appropriate responses to various scales of violence.

The trouble with so many traditional martial arts is they are stuck in a 1970s/1980's paradigm of going through the motions. Even in the modern era, a lot of traditional martial arts schools focus on watered down instruction focusing on endless kata without proper bunkai; one/two step sparring; a massive accumulation of techniques; point sparring; and overemphasis on various colors of belt promotions.

The lack of effective training methods is an obvious problem and the problem is compounded by a heaping amount of faulty logic found in the learning process.

Here is a perfect example of skewed logic.

"Karate is a form of self-defense. Kata training is a major part of karate. The better my kata, the better my self-defense skill will be."

Developing real skill doesn't work that way. The good news is there are ways you can make traditional ("old school") karate work in a self-defense context. The process of doing so isn't even all that hard or mysterious.

Moving Towards Modern Self-Defense Training Strategies

There are ways you can make your self-defense skills viable for you within the context of training. A person who chooses to train classical karate in a traditional manner and also learns the basics of the modern approach to "the fence" for self-defense may be able to effectively apply his/her techniques successfully in such a situation provided there is a logical way of developing the skills. Training against resistance definitely help the cause. Focusing on a small number of techniques trained well (emphasis on "well") yields good results, too.

Infusing a Modern Athletic Component into Traditional Karate Training

You also want to add a few "sportive" components to the mix. Namely, you want to engage in a mix of three sparring activities:

  • Point Sparring
  • Hard Style Shidokan Fights
  • PKA Style Kickboxing

Now, we are talking about traditional martial arts training and these are the three common sparring systems found in traditional karate. I am going to add K-1 style kickboxing which, for all intents and purposes, is a modified form of Thai boxing with clinch work added to the mix.

When really stripping down the question of whether or not a traditional art works in a self-defense context, you have to ask yourself:

  • Am I extracting basic movements and refining and practicing them over and over again until I can perform them with a high degree of skill?
  • Have I integrated modern athletic training into my preparations?
  • Am I training for common aggressive scenarios against resistance?

You really do need to answer yes to these questions or else your training is lacking.

You also have to be honest with yourself. This type of training is not elite level competition training so it is not going to make you a high caliber fighter. Being a competitive fighter is not your goal here anyway. You simply want to transfer your traditional training lessons to common self-defense scenarios. Such goals are achievable with the right approach and an understanding of your limitations.

Approach the whole process of making "old school martial arts" relevant in the modern world as a labor of love and personal achievement. Your not out to impress anyone nor do you have anything to prove.


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