Martial arts is old. Very old. Like, worse than Mr. Burns or Professor Farnsworth old (if you know, you know). For that reason, it’s pretty hard to “modernize” martial arts and still keep it traditional. The world’s sensitivities and the onslaught of snowflakes in the past decades, coupled with how everyone gets offended at the smallest things these days, also poses a challenge for the martial arts teacher who still tries to teach the art in the manner that it was intended.
That being said and I’ve written about this before, it’s a bit like riding a razor’s edge in order to find that balance between teaching in a traditional manner and trying to navigate the modern world’s sensibilities. If some things are changed or taken away, it will effectively destroy the spirit in which many of these styles were founded, which ultimately means you aren’t ACTUALLY learning the style; you’re learning some watered-down bullshit meant to accommodate the student I stress of passing on the teachings. And that’s never a good thing.
So if we shouldn’t alter our teachings in order to keep up with the times, is there ANYTHING that can be done to modernize martial arts? Some would argue that no, there isn’t. However, a touch of enlightened thinking should tell any genuine practitioner of a traditional art that where there’s a will, there’s a way. here are some things that modern dojos can do to step into the 21st century without compromising the quality and traditions of their style:
1. Allow Water in the Dojo: Most dojos consider food and drink a hill worth dying on within the walls of their environment. And I totally get that. in fact, I spent my entire childhood seeing Sensei toss people out fro bringing in their coffee while watching their kids. I’ve always understood the food part; a karate dojo is not the environment to be wolfing down your Big Mac while people are trying to train. But given the benefits to fitness and the maintenance of health that proper hydration provides, allowing students to bring a water bottle into class can go a long way towards helping to keep students moving, which brings me to my next point…
2. Take Breaks: I have to admit that I’m not a big fan of this one but I have enough of an open mind to see the benefit behind it. Most traditional instructors will argue that once you bow in for the class, you don’t need, nor should you take a break until the class concludes and you bow out. I’ve always agreed with that concept, since part of point (besides learning karate) is to get a workout in. It’s hard to do that if you’re constantly stopping. That being said, even the most die-hard fitness buffs will take rest periods between sets, so why shouldn’t a karate practitioner?
3. Call in Sick or Injured: Sensei used to have a concept that even if you were injured, you could still train. Although that’s true in some respects, one needs to be mindful of one’s body and injuries and how they can be accommodated in a limited fashion. For example, if you have a sprained wrist, there’s nothing wrong with doing kick drills, practising forms, etc. But you should avoid crushing out push-ups and striking techniques until the wrist has healed. Anything is always something more than nothing, right? But if you have an illness and aren’t feeling well, sometimes it’s not only better to stay home so you don’t share your typhoid with the entire dojo, your body will sometimes require a reasonable healing period to prevent being out of the game for longer than necessary.
This is a pretty short list, if I’m being honest. The truth of the matter is if you want to learn karate, you need to be willing to learn it as it’s taught. If you don’t like or you aren’t satisfied with what’s being taught or how it is done, maybe karate isn’t the right place for you. Part of the responsibility is totally on the practitioner’s shoulders. If you don’t want something traditional and authentic, there are plenty of sports, hobbies and fitness options out there that may accommodate a person a bit better. ☯️