I was once told by my grandfather when I was young that only a fool will try and catch the same fish twice. The idea behind that sentiment was that if the fish managed to get away from you while using a fishing pole, you’d have to change up your approach if you hoped to get a catch. The same concept can be applied to karate. There are about a dozen mainstream styles of karate out there, without including offshoot or amalgamated styles as well as the ones who call themselves karate but really aren’t.
The point is that with all of these different styles, it stands to reason that there will be a number of different perspectives and different ways of doing the same things. Some will call a regular punch a reverse punch, while other styles will call it a back punch. Different names, different angles and different training methods are a key aspect when contemplating the differences between styles and how they train. If I take myself as an example, I spent the better part of three decades training in Uechi Ryu, an Okinawan style of karate that focuses on circular movements paired with short steps, contained movements and the concept that if it’s happening outside the line of your body, you shouldn’t need to block it.
For the past year, I’ve been training with a traditional school of Shotokan, which has been something of a culture shock for me. I use the term “culture shock,” because quite frankly, I don’t know what else to call it. The style focuses on grand movements and crossing long distances with their steps, even in fight situations. This goes against everything I’ve been taught as, it doesn’t make sense to cross ten feet to reach your opponent. If he or she is that far from you, not only can they not strike you but you’ll be unable to strike them. But in the interest of learning and adding to my overall martial arts toolbox, I’ve been taking it in and trying my best to develop.
This concept is not a new one. If we rewind the clock a few hundred years, the original founding masters would often meet and train together, learning from one another, sparring and comparing techniques and methods of fighting. There were no “styles” back then, no separate names for schools, just various people who loved karate, learning and teaching with one another in order to strengthen and improve the overall art. Even now, there’s something to learn from what they did, back then.
In the modern Western world, we hold our styles close to the chest, choosing to believe our way is the best way and shouldn’t be changed. This was certainly reflected in my dojo, where Sensei would not only decline to integrate techniques from other styles but would usually not allow students from other styles to visit and participate in classes. Although students have a tendency to have a bit more of a competitive spirit than they did in Okinawa back then, it didn’t leave much room open for learning something new.
It’s important to have an open mind and be willing to accept that your way isn’t the only way. There can be different ways of doing the same thing and, depending on the situation, it can be useful to do it differently. For example, I’ve spent decades strengthening and hardening my big toes because my style’s front kick include digging that big toe into your opponent. In Shotokan, a front kick is done using the ball of the foot. Both methods will work but one could argue that my method risks breaking the big toe. It’s all about perspective. And one’s perspective should be broadened to at least examine different views and methods. This is how growth is done. Food for thought… ☯️