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Martial Arts: A History of Misconception

Kendall Haines English 1102 October 17, 2013

Introduction: How I Fit In When looking for inspiration for the conflict in the field of karate and martial arts in general, I recalled the many detractors of karate who merely viewed the form as flashy and impractical. These same people were of the school of thought that MMA (mixed martial arts) was the most effective and varied form of hand to hand combat therefore making it the superior art to study. From my three and a half years of experience training in Shotokan karate, to be specific, I am more knowledgeable than most when it comes to traditional martial arts as compared to new aged mixed arts. In order to make the comparison between the two different schools of thought between traditional and new martial arts, one must first delve into the origins and forming of the arts in questions; so for instance Shotokan karate and its founding needs to be deeply and fully understood just as much as MMA and its forming as a sport in mainstream performance culture. It is important to learn the history of these two fighting forms so that one can understand why some techniques are used and others arent, also to help grasp the overall goals and concepts of the arts as they pertain to fighting. To the untrained eye of someone that is interested in finding the best way to defend them, MMA seems like the logical choice since most of the fights resemble that of a street fight, or so they seem, in reality these fighters are highly trained in multiple art forms and are extremely conditioned to compete at the highest level. While on the other hand, karate offers a rigid and fairly easy to learn system of self-defense that does not require peak physical conditioning to be proficient with. Shotokan Karate in particular uses an array of quick, powerful blocks and strikes to the mid-section with either the hand or the foot; many other forms of Asian martial arts make use of more flashy jumping and spinning kicks to the head and much fewer punches to the mid-section, although these arts generally have

more fluidity in their motion. Karate in itself can also be a very demanding art form mentally depending on the dedication of those who train in it. The more specific elements of the two forms of martial arts that I want to delve into are both the formation of these arts, and a comparison of their practicality and usefulness in actual fights. First and foremost it must be noted that I am not an avid follower of MMA fights or fighters and had very little first-hand experience before conducting research into this topic. When it comes to karate, I have many years of experience training in the form of Shotokan Karate and have competed on many different levels while doing so. This insight into martial arts is not an attempt to devalue one form or another, but simply a manifestation of contemporary beliefs of these forms and the actuality of their practice and use. Literature Review: The History of the Arts Many of the people today that watch and closely follow MMA and its fighters do not quite comprehend the conception of MMA or how ancient it really is. Greek Pankration was introduced into the Olympic Games in 648 B.C. The Roman gladiators were first practitioners of pankration (a martial sport that combined boxing and wrestling techniques),
( As it is commonly believed that MMA is a very new and modern approach to martial arts, in reality civilizations have been performing these types of arts for thousands of years not only for real combat, but as forms of entertainment too. Fighting is one of the oldest sports around, though only in recent years has it brought fortune along with the fame associated with being a fighter. Modern MMA however came about due to the migration of martial arts masters to different parts of the world to study new forms to improve their own. Eventually this lead to formal competitions between these masters and their enhanced arts to see who was superior; many of these mixed styles and competitions began in Japan in the 1980s, ( The first UFC fight in the United States did not take place until the mid-

4 1990s, and due to the very few rules in the fights, it was quickly outlawed by most of the states. Hair pulling and eye jabbing were allowed making the fights very brutal, although they were a huge overnight pay-per-view success. Eventual rule changes were made to create a safer environment for the fighters and since most states have allowed UFC fights to be held within their borders with the exception of a few states. Shotokan Karate in itself is not a very old form of karate, although it developed over many hundreds of years until Master Funakoshi finalized it into the art that it is today. While many would believe that it came from Japan, in reality it is a specialized form of karate that blended all of the major karate forms of the time developed in Okinawa and was introduced to Japan in 1916 by Gichin Funakoshi, ( Shotokan Karate became a very popular form of martial art and quickly spread around the world solidifying Funakoshi as the father of modern karate. Due to its slow development over many hundreds of years, karate has maintained a very traditional aspect along with the fighting technique; this traditional and very respect oriented system was intended to not only better the students physically, but to also make them better people in general as karate is not an offensive style but a defensive one. The regimented and character developing aspect of karate was handed down from its predecessors in Chinese martial arts that were formed much earlier than the Japanese arts, ( Literature Review: Misconceptions among the Arts Unfortunately in our society many people seem to believe that traditional karate is not effective as a form of self-defense or even useful for competitive purposes due to its flashy nature and restrictions brought about from strong traditional roots. However, karate was bred by its founders to be extremely efficient and effective if used properly and practiced with intensity, If a practitioner trains in karate, the way its intended and gets in bunkai along with the

katas and true applications of the different techniques (counters and all), then youve definitely got a formidable art style thats rooted with a very old (all the more impressive), kinesiologically

sound/accurate setup, ( Karate was designed to use the entire body as a weapon so that one does not need to be overly strong to be effective in its use, so long as the techniques are drilled and practiced properly. A lot of dojos unfortunately limit their students overall understanding of how Shotokan works, because what they do tell them, they dont necessarily practice, ( The quality and purpose of training in karate in most dojos in this day and age is usually subpar, even if the techniques are taught appropriately, there are many students who do not intend to use their knowledge to fight but merely want to appreciate the cultural and mental aspect of such a traditional art. There are ways of demonstrating the proper use and effectiveness of karate through a visual art known as bunkai without actually sparring or participating in full contact bouts. Bunkai is a choreographed walkthrough of how the different blocks, kicks, punches, and counters are to be properly used in the situations that deem them necessary, ( As far as the competitive side of Shotokan Karate, there are no multi-million dollar payper view events held with big name fighters in some sort of grudge match. Instead, karate tournaments a more low-key, not to say there is no money involved, and used as live demonstrations of the art rather than as a sporting spectacle. Unfortunately with traditional Shotokan Karate, many of the fights can be tiresome to watch due to the very defensive nature of the art. However, it is this defensive mindset that is instilled that makes karate such a good art for the use of self-defense; powerful, jarring blocks are used to knock opponents off balance which are followed up by swift and precise counters in an attempt to finish of an attacker quickly and efficiently. As far as kicks are concerned, most are comprised of powerful front, side, and roundhouse kicks to the midsection to wear an opponent down, with the occasional low kick to the knees and leg sweep, not unlike MMA.

MMA is seen by many to be merely kickboxing with the added twist of a ground aspect usually in the form of Brazilian jiu jitsu, and that some fighters sprinkle in bits and pieces from a few other disciplines of martial arts from round the world to vary their fighting style. Most MMA fighters are actually extensively trained in many forms of fighting from Muay Thai, wrestling, karate, taekwondo, judo, and many other martial arts forms, ( Lyoto Machida, an MMA fighter, integrates many of the precision and full body punches and kicks from Shotokan karate into his own fighting style which has led him to some success in the ring. MMA also gets a bad reputation for being dirty fighting due to its initial run in the 1990s with little to no rules or regulations; new rules and very careful matchups are now made in order to avoid as much serious injury as possible to the fighters while they are closely monitored by trained medical staff before during and after fights. Due to this misconception made by many lawmakers, it is illegal to hold MMA fights in some states even though most have now made it legal, mostly due to the large source of revenue to be made off of the events, ( With MMA and the UFC now much more popular in the United States than boxing is, it would seem logical that such events would be welcomed into large cities in all states so that local businesses could benefit from the spectators along with the state governments from tax revenue, but I fear that it will take some time still before MMA is totally accepted by our citizens and government. It can also be noted that there are many competitive karate associations and tournaments held by them that are very competitive with highly skilled athletes that go largely unnoticed by the general public. The ignorance to these events does not surprise me since the only big names in karate are now older movie stars that are past their prime, and the biggest reason of all is that

the money surrounding MMA is simply not present at these karate tournaments. Therefore, MMA has become the focal point of the fighting culture here in America in these modern times. Enter the Conversation: My purpose in this essay was never to try and convince someone that karate was superior to MMA or vice versa, but instead that karate is just as valuable of a tool when used for selfdefense and even competition fighting as most forms of MMA. In some cases karate is even better than MMA when it comes to defense, although it is hard to argue against the brutal effectiveness of MMA in the ring. In order to do this I feel it must be necessary to describe a few terms to those that are not literate in the field of martial arts. Terms: Bunkai: This is a prearranged set of movements including blocks, punches, and kicks, known as a kata, which is performed to show the proper use of the techniques involved. It usually consists of one person performing the kata with multiple people attacking that person from all sides in a choreographed manner. These are normally practiced and carried out with nearly the same intensity as a normal fight to prepare the body for a real life situation. Pankration: An ancient Greek combination of boxing and wrestling that was performed for entertainment and sport, along with the purpose of keeping their warriors in shape during times of peace. This form of sport fighting was introduced into the Olympic Games in 648 B.C. and was also later used by Romans in gladiator duels. Pankration is derived from the Greek pan meaning all, and kratos meaning powers, (

MMA: Mixed Martial Arts has been around since ancient times, but has only truly flourished in the last thirty years; is a system by which martial artists master multiple forms of fighting in order to morph their own style into an indomitable fusion of fighting styles. MMA usually consists of the two phases of stand-up fighting and ground fighting therefore emphasizing the need for variety and a necessity to be able to grapple. Enter the Conversation: The Argument Based on my four years of experience in the field of karate, and my three days of observation from Assignment One, it has become apparent that one of the detractors from karate is very true. Even if a dojo does take the time to go through every technique and the proper way to perform them, and has a very strong emphasis on learning to fight it is still up to the motivation and purpose of the students as to what they bring away from class. Many of the older students in class were not learning karate to defend their person, but merely to stay active and lose weight as they became older. The younger students too, had a different motivation thinking that karate was cool but had no real intention of ever using it outside of class. Finally there is the student such as myself and a few other young men that were in class who trained to be the best fighter they could be, and I feel as though we took away much more than a basic understanding of karate from class. We were able to train our bodies to act swiftly and decisively with power and conviction in our movements, which will serve us well not only in competition fights but out in the real world as well. My chosen article about the UFC fighter that incorporated elements of Shotokan Karate into his fights describes this point very well, ( MMA was intended to emulate that of a street fight in a ring, which is why it has such high appeal in this day and age to younger audiences that can relate to such fights in a way that is

closer to home than a traditional karate fight. Due to its street fighting nature, and the very conditioned and powerful nature of the athletes who compete in MMA I would say that it could also be used as an effective form of self-defense. The ability to fight on the ground is one particularly useful advantage of practicing MMA as a means of self-defense, and is not taught in many forms of karate. However, to become proficient enough in MMA to be truly effective in a fight requires years of training in multiples disciplines of fighting along with grueling workouts to toughen the body. Impracticality is the word that comes to mind when I think of the average person attempting to use MMA in a real fight, when instead karate offers some very basic and simple techniques that utilize the entire body to make blows more powerful. Such techniques are not hard to master and allow people of small stature and of relatively weak strength to hold their own against much larger opponents. Also learning karate teaches a moral aspect as well, compared to the brutal nature of MMA, and seems to justify the concerns of the stats that have banned organized MMA from within their borders, ( Even though, I find it hard to justify banning a combat sport when already many other far more dangerous sports and played such as Football, and stock car racing, even in the states that ban MMA. Conclusion: The negative stigma associated with karate as a practical art form, should have a revealing light shed on it in order to project the truth about the martial art as a true form of combat. Karate offers a less strenuous regime of workouts and training than MMA with equal or greater benefit when it comes to self-defense, although MMA is top notch when it comes to prize fighting. I believe that further research into MMA as a form of self-defense would prove beneficial to those that would use it as such, not only this, but it is important for practitioners of both forms of martial arts delve into the history behind these forms to gain a better understanding


of their use and practicality. It would also be beneficial to research on average how many MMA fighters incorporate large portions of karate into their fighting style compared to how many use nearly no form of Asian martial arts. So what? Why is this even important? Well, the egos of many athletes and martial arts masters have been tested time and time again with arguments over what the best form of hand to hand fighting is, and as it turns out, they are all equally important and successful. MMA has been dubbed the king of the ring and rightfully so with top athletes competing at the highest level with multiple forms of martial arts under their belts. On the other hand karate offers a solid foundation for self-defense and also a very deep and rich cultural heritage that may be learned and enjoyed by those who practice it.


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