We live in a society of rules, with the regulation, application and enforcement of said rules being a dominant trait in the modern world. If you don’t believe me, just try to walk through a populated street without a facial covering right now. I, myself, have always been a firm advocate of following rules. But sometimes I can’t help but ask myself if the overall cost is worth the reward in relation to some rules and how they are imposed. If you live in the world of martial arts, the existence and in fact, necessity of these rules can be like swimming through murky waters without a flashlight.
I always refer to my karate as a “traditional” martial art. And what’s usually meant by this is that our students follow traditions and training methods that are as original to the style and methods of when karate was created as possible. When I used to train in Sensei’ dojo, everything was done pretty much on par with how the Okinawans developed it and how they still do it to this day (or at least as they were still doing it in 2001 when I was there, last). But as time has gone by, certain rules and regulations have become part of the martial arts world. I always like to say that it only takes one idiot to ruin things for others, and this is where I’m going to vent about some of those.
Setting aside for a moment that karate is a fighting art… Yes, it is… YES, IT IS!!! As much as I prefer to focus on the “art” aspect and not so much the fighting, the reality is that karate teaches you how to fight. And unlike most traditional sports where contact with another person CAN occur, karate is something where contact SHOULD occur. If you’re in my dojo, contact WILL occur. I bring this up because there seems to be a growing number of dojos that have abolished physical contact; and I don’t mean because of CoVID-19.
When I came up in the dojo, we used to have many practices that involved things that could be painful. Body conditioning, checking, semi-contact and full contact sparring… There were plenty of activities that had the potential to bruise, pull and crush muscle tissue. And we sometimes got injured, albeit lightly. But it was a common understanding that this is something involved with learning a combat art. Like Mr. Miyagi mentioned in the first Karate Kid movie, it’s difficult learning karate from a book. Training in a combat art without striking and/or being struck will leave definitive gaps in one’s ability to properly learn their respective art.
In recent years, there’s been a tapering of such practices, especially since society is quickly developing the inability to let things go and become offended and affronted by almost everything. In the final years before he closed his dojo, Sensei halted all body conditioning and sparring was a rare thing, except with other black belts. His reasoning was quite simple; when new students would get those first whacks on their forearms or legs, they’d soon quit. In my day, we toughed it through because the end result was worth the momentary pain.
But now, there a number of different reasons why dojos have reduced or eliminated contact with students except for the occasional sparring match with senior belts, which often and usually includes the dojo’s insurance policies. Yup, that’s right! Most modern karate schools have “sport insurance” where an injured practitioner can be compensated for specific things, based on the circumstances of the injury. I think that this is a fuckin’ joke as it relates to karate… I don’t understand how you can properly learn WITHOUT some form of injury. But I’m old school.
I once read the stipulations of a particular dojos insurance policy that read (and I’m paraphrasing) that the policy wouldn’t pay out if the injury was found to have been caused by an intentional strike. FOR A MARTIAL ARTS DOJO!!!! Every strike is intentional… So this policy was restrictive to the proper teaching of the school and would not even cover a martial arts-related injury. This is just one type of “modernization” that is slowly eroding the fabric of traditional martial arts, which makes me sad since I’ve spent my entire life training in one.
An easy comparison is to look at it this way: If you join a knitting circle, you don’t expect to get a black eye. It wouldn’t make sense, as it has nothing to do with the skills you’re practicing and using. But if you join a FIGHTING ART, the safe assumption is that you’ll be getting struck at some point. Imagine someone going into boxing with the expectation that they’ll never get hit? Same kind of dynamic. The problem is that some person at some point, made a big stink after getting struck/injured while training and it caused a shit storm from the insurance and/or liability standpoint and many modern dojos have had to adapt.
As I mentioned earlier, this kind of adapting or “modernization” is slowly killing traditional martial arts. And if it continues in this direction, “contactless” dojos may become the standard as opposed to the exception. If that happens, most arts that have seen their teachings watered down in recent decades will suffer even further. And this is one of the reasons why I’ve opted not to bother opening my own dojo where I am. I would never allow myself to teach karate in any other way than how it was meant to: unfiltered and unabridged. The last thing I would need is some snowflake suing me or my dojo because they couldn’t take a hit… ☯