There is no doubt that karate is a traditional martial art. Our dojo are full of tradition, from the gi we wear, to the etiquette we follow, to the terminology we use. There is also no doubt that these things are important to the art and are integral parts of its cultural and historical roots. However, at the very heart of karate, there is a tradition that goes beyond these outward displays and transcends stylistic differences. It continually revitalizes the art and adapts it to the current needs of the era. It is the tradition of synthesis: combining effective martial principles, concepts, and movements into a coherent whole in order to prevail in personal combat.
The fathers of karate were part of the warrior class of the Ryukyu Kingdom. They were charged with the protection of the king, keeping order in their society, and providing security for trading missions at sea. These men had a specific purpose in their training; an original intent: to be deadlier than their opponents. These warriors were receptive to anything that might have given them an edge in combat. The Ryukyu Kingdom was the hub of a vast network of trade and travel. As a result, its warriors had a plethora of influences to draw from. They gradually combined the martial arts native to Okinawa with those of China, Japan, and others throughout the South China Sea into a holistic and coherent whole, eventually, becoming what we know today as karate.
Unfortunately, karate is often ridiculed as being obsolete and ineffective. To some cases, the naysayers are right, as much as it may hurt to admit. Without our vital tradition of synthesis, breathing life into our movements, karate is just an empty shell. Imitation will only allow for a superficial understanding of kata and the art.
For a truly deep understanding of karate and the potential of kata, one must venture beyond rote memorization of the art's movements. Apply yourself to synthesis using kata as a reference point. Seek to understand the principles, the "why", behind the movements. Search outside of the dojo for new concepts to apply to your training. Lastly, know that no one style or no one person has all the answers. Not me. Not your teachers or my teachers. As a karateka, take ownership of your training and seek out answers for yourself. Your training is only as meaningful and effective as you make it.
This is your tradition. This is your art. Keep it alive!
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