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Karate Science: A Critical Commentary about this Subculture

The picture shows a karateka and several equations. It represents Karate Science.

Karate science has become very popular in recent years. However, Jonas Correia criticizes that too many karateka focus to much on theorizing instead on training. The consequence is a constant decrease of fighting power of the Shotokan karate community.

Some weeks ago, I came across a post where someone argued the difference between kime and force when applying a certain technique to break a board. The argument in question was illustrated with the image of the profile of a board, with imaginary lines simulating the direction from which the force would come and where it would end. Beside that the picture also showed a variant of the equation that represented the antithesis.

Along with all this, the picture comprised numbers and letters , which if you were not a good student of physics classes in high school, you will never decipher. After I saw the post I had to read the comments and saw that there were some supporters of this analysis. The showed that they had also been good physics students in high school, they counter-argued that theory.  Those, who came to debate the final result based on calculations and equations, I call “Scientists of Karate”. They belong to the subculture of “Karate Science”.

Karate Science and its Origin

Every self-respecting Shotokan karateka has studied Nakayama’s books. They show scientific explanations about the human body by applying human bio-mechanics. The books analyze the relationships between bio-mechanics and karate. They are the foundation of Karate Science. This approach should guarantee the technical excellence of an art that is constantly evolving.

However, not everyone is a scientist or interested in evaluating complex calculations to reach a conclusion with no direct practical value. Some of these theories are interesting. But they do not have the power to change the training routine of a Karate community.

What causes the existence of Karate Science?

In harsher words, I regret to inform you that our habit in claiming theories around our art, has created a generation of “karate scientists” and this is even regrettable. The reason for this is due to the fact that we are always in constant competition with those who have become more learned, who read the most books. But this competition is a false hunt for more efficiency and effectiveness. It tries to legitimize fighting power of Shotokan karate in regard to other martial arts. Or karateka seek to show that their way of doing Oi-zuki this or that way is better. And some only want to show off.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a book writer and I constantly research. But I leave the study of these theories with the head instructors of the organization I belong to. My role is limited only to train, train and train.

The Negative Effects of Karate Science

However, we do not need to make Shotokan better at its boundaries. We do not need better theory. The theory is already highly developed. For the most karateka the complexity of the theories is already to high. They need handy concepts instead.

Most of the Karate Science proponents I have seen, have had a weak training routine compared to those who care little. I believe that this is the biggest reason that the Karate community may have weakened in numbers and in technical quality.

  • The picture shows Jonas Correia training in the JKA HQ. Jonas criticizes Karate Science subculture.
  • The picture shows Jonas Correia at a tournament. Jonas criticizes Karate Science subculture.
  • The picture shows Jonas Correia at a tournament. Jonas criticizes Karate Science subculture.

A good part of the practitioners theorize too much and practice less. Some have gained fame and prestige within the Karate community (mostly online), for the simple fact of knowing how to argue in an expert tone. Many of these have never even stepped on a koto in their life, or had any experience with a real fight. But they claim to have the knowledge of the most efficient way to land a punch. His followers are quick to call him a sage, a master, Shihan, or worst, Hanshi!

The Path of Pragmatism

A football player trains enough to dribble opponents and kick the ball into the post. Ready! This is enough. The player does not waste his time studying the weight of the ball in relation to the direction and strength of the wind influencing where the ball will land. Coaches and sports scientist might do that. The player, however, sees the ball and kicks it forward. Isn’t that his goal? The soccer player trains extensively, so that any influence of the wind or weight of the ball becomes an insignificant factor.

This same analysis can be used in Karate or other combat sports. You cannot theoretically prepare for keiko. Nor can you substitute vigorous and rigorous training with reading books to become able to defend yourself against one or more opponents. Of course, some theories might be better on scratch. However, one has to execute them. Therefore, serious Shotokan follows a simple rule: Pragmatism first, theory second! The truth is that no one will give you a PhD in Karate theory, so don’t break your head to long – go train!


Disclaimer: All opinions expressed by external authors are solely their current opinions and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Shotokan Times and their respective editorial staff and management. The external authors opinions are based upon information they consider reliable, but neither The Shotokan Times nor its affiliates warrant its completeness or accuracy, and it should not be relied upon as such.

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Makiwara Monday: Board Breaking with Ippei Kamae

Board Breaking at its best. Who ever questioned the reward of makiwara training should be invited to watch the following video by Ippei Kamae. Ippei is a makiwara enthusiast and trains regularly on it. This constant training has given him huge punching power combined with tough nucles.

As a result, he to break wooden board poses no challenge for him. To test his strength he accepted the challenge in the Aoyama Karate Club to break two thick wooden boards during training a few weeks ago. The thickness was judged by his cat, named Oss.

Oss judges the board, Ippei Kamae is about to break.
Oss judges the thickness of the wooden boards. “Thick enough”, he commented.

As you can see in the video, Ippei Kamae has no difficulties to break the two boards. After a brief preparation and positioning, he goes strait to the punch. Two karateka had to hold the boards so that he could break them. He punched from a very relaxed posture with a smooth gyaku-zuki. Without much force the punch hits the target with high efficiency and accuracy. His constant makiwara training has, therefore, resulted in an excellent punching technique and power.

Congratulstions, Ippei!

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What is Fighting Spirit? And how to train it!

We can see if somebody possesses fighting spirit or not. Fighting spirit seems to be ubiquitous. We all know what fighting spirit is. Until we are being asked for an explanation. By Michael Ehrenreich

Fighting Spirit: You Know It, When you See it!

When I started competing in the early 1980´s I heard a well-known German coach explaining to one of his students: “You lost the fight because your opponent had more fighting spirit”. I knew exactly what he meant. Even though I was  rather inexperienced as a competitor I  clearly saw that the other fighter wanted it  a little bit more. But what exactly was this karate expert saying? Is fighting spirit something one has and somebody else does not?

The picture shows Michael Ehrenreich during a fight with Shiina. Both show incredible fighting spirit.

Later as a black belt II understood that there is still a lot to learn. So, I went to many seminars. With all the big names. Unfortunately,  fighting spirit never really became a topic in our discussions. Many of the well-known instructors would mention that fighting spirit was the most important thing for a fighter. I believed them. However, it never went beyond these one-liners. Thus,  I researched in fields like psychology, education, neuro science, philosophy, and sport sciences. Being a sport scientist myself I came up with the following idea: Fighting spirit can be understood just like fitness.

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The Puzzle of Fighting Spirit

Fitness is a complex and very balanced combination of a variety of skills like power, speed, endurance, strength, agility, and others more. We only speak of fitness, if all those virtues are being established at a decent level. The same applies to fighting spirit. To illustrated that I have created the fighting spirit puzzle. In this puzzle, all parts are interconnected . Together they constitute our fighting spirit.

The fighting spirit puzzle has six parts: self-confidence, persistence, determination, control, risk-taking, and competitiveness. This  analytical puzzle helps us to  to target specific weaknesses in us. It enables us to reach specific goals. Like in fitness, when we want to increase our speed, we need to work on our maximum strength, do plyometric drills, and practice a specific number of karate techniques at maximum speed. When it comes to fighting spirit we would apply the same principles. We would train a specific part in order to increase our fighting spirit.

6 Different Elements of Fighting Spirit

Self-confidence

But what are the different elements of the puzzle? The first element is our self-confidence. Self-confidence is a central part of fighting spirit. It is a positive feeling, it increases our self-esteem. Self-confidence is based on our skills and our positive experiences with challenges. That means, we have self-confidence in a certain area, whereas in others we might lack self-confidence.

Think, for example, that you as a Karate expert teaches a Karate class. You have the skills, the experience, and hence the self-confidence to teach a successful and exciting class. But than you need to talk about Karate. In front of strangers, hundreds of them. This is still the same topic, but a different setting. As a result, your confidence might  be low. That is why, it is so important, to always implement specific training impulses for specific goals. You cannot increase your self-confidence for a self-defense situation by signing-up for  a kata seminar.

The picture shows Michael Ehrenreich in situation full of fighting spirit.

Persistence

The second elements persistence. With persistence I understand the virtue of standing your ground when under pressure from outside. Pressure from outside can come in all different forms: a strong opponent in a fight, a mean boss, an important test, but also pain. While we don’t have much influence on the things that hit us from the outside, we can consider the way we look at them. We can change our perspective and look for weaknesses in an opponent. We can take lessons from peers who went through the same challenge. Over time, we will get used to all kinds of pain. In doing so, we will reduce the pressure and the stress that comes with it. We will be able to deal with a challenge or threat.

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Determination

The third element  is determination. It is the skill to set a goal and then motivating oneself to reachit. No matter what is being thrown at us. Somebody determined will always be first in class or practice and the last one to leave. She focuses on the possibilities and not on the problems. If she is not satisfied with a situation, she will change it.

Control

Control is the next element of the fighting spirit puzzle. With control I allude to the control over our feelings. The understanding that showing ones’ emotions is a sign of weakness and will not help us reaching our goals. Keeping our emotions under control in times of pressure, stress, and anxiety is an important aspect of a grown-up Karateka and of fighting spirit.

Risk-Taking

Taking risk is another element of the puzzle. We live in a society where taking risks is considered something to be avoided. But in order to progress as fighters and as human beings we need to take risks. As Karateka, if we go into a Kumite class and we do not feel butterflies in our stomach, we probably will not progress much as a fighter.

Competitiveness

Competitiveness is the last element of our fighting spirit puzzle. It is closely related to risk taking. But as Karateka it includes an opponent. It makes a challenge more dynamic. For instance, if we want to increase our fighting skills, we need to fight in class. The less rules we implement the more dynamic a situation will get. It becomes more realistic. Every interaction will be different, always changing. Every interaction will be a challenge. If we find the strength to always seek out stronger opponents, we will eventually get stronger, mentally and physically.

The picture shows true fighting spirit during a JKA tournament.

How to Train Fighting Spirit?

How do we train these elements? Let us assume that we are Karate teachers and there are two young fighters particularly promising. But both do not get the results everybody is expecting from them. Both are in their early 20s. One of them has been cruising through the junior divisions, winning tournament after tournament. He was a talent from the start, picked up techniques and concepts easily, never needed much practice. Even older Karateka respected his talent.

When he was entering the senior division (over the age of 21) though, things did not go quite as smoothly anymore. He started losing, often losing against obviously less talented fighters. Eventually, he was often injured or sick, especially before competitions. The other fighter has also been successful, but not quite as impressive. He never actually won a tournament but placed second or third a few times. When he is in regular class things look very different though. There is almost nobody who can keep up with him in the Dojo. Nobody practices harder and more often than he does. Everybody is wondering, why is he not fighting in competitions the way he is in practice?

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Two Practical Examples

So, we have two young Karateka who do not show the results they could. The causes for that differ . That also means that the way to deal with those fighters needs to be different. The traditional way of treating them the same way, often by simply increasing the number of repetitions, will help neither of them.

The First: Talent Yes, Determination No

The first Karateka draws his confidence from the fact that he is talented, genetically superior. But when he enters the grown-up division, talent becomes secondary. Now quantity becomes a force to reckon with. As a result, we need to explain our student that he will have to step up the number of weekly training hours he puts into Karate. He needs to understand the relation between training hours and competition results. We will need to help him motivating himself by pointing out the benefits of a life as a competitor, fame, trophies, maybe even money. Once he is ready, we will have to teach him about the really important things in life and how success in competition can help to achieve them. This Karateka needs to work on his determination.

The Second: Low Stress Management

The second Karateka does not need to practice more often. He already practices enough. With him we need to work on stress management. We need to help him understand why he is not delivering. If he is showing world class skills in the dojo but keeps on losing the important bouts, then there is something putting too much pressure on him. This pressure results into too much stress. Stress he is not able to cope with.

So, we need to find the stressor, the coach, the parents, peers, audience, or a combination of the above. The first step is to accept the fact that it is this stressor and his inability to deal with it that is holding him back. Then we need to set-up a training program to help managing his anxiety. For instance, with meditation, with visualization, with writing about his anxiety, or/and with practices where he will progressively face his daemons. This Karateka needs to work on his persistence.

The picture shows Thomas Prediger, chair of The Shotokan Times advisory board and organizer of the kumite boot camp. He also shows a lot of fighting spirit.

Conclusion: The Complex Concept of Fighting Spirit

Fighting spirit is a very complex concept. By breaking it down into different elements, the whole issue becomes  understandable and manageable. As a result, we are now able to set-up a specific program for a specific problem or goal. Just as we do with fitness. If we don’t set specific training goals and address those with specific training measures, then Karate training is no more than a lottery. A hit and miss situation. As Karateka we are surely aiming for more.

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“A sign of character.” Thomas Prediger about Competitions and Sport Karate

Sports karate exaggerates with its focus on tournaments. However, competitions can have an educative effect. But only when they are conducted in the right way. We talked with Thomas Prediger, chair of our advisory board, about the value of competitions for karateka and how karate tournaments will evolve after the dismissal of the WKF from the Olympics 2024. By Dr. Christian Tribowski

The Competitions Against Oneself

Christian: I would like to go a little bit deeper into the educative role of competition. Do I understand your argument right: While in Sport Karate the competition is the end, in Karate Do it is just a means to an end?

Thomas: In Karate Do, tournaments are a forum or they should be a one. It is a space for experience. And it is a space where you have to be honest to yourself. Without the opportunity to compare myself I will never truly practice. Everything I have learnt in training might stay theory until I face pressure and an opponent. That not only counts for Kumite but also for Kata. Without this exposure one will lack necessary learning experiences that are highly important to develop one´s own Do.

In my opinion, even an examination is a competition: A competition against yourself. During a tournament, we add another factor of uncertainty: the opponent. That is a challenge and it creates pressure. There you have to show how strong your Do is. Are you capable to fight honestly and loss with a smile? That is a sign of character.

Without this test, Karate Do will be cheap talk. Only a test can show whether I have incorporated the Do during training.

Competitions and the Experience of Limits

Christian: So, are tournaments a compromise between “absence of violence” (Dojo kun) and the martial arts dimension of karate do?

Thomas: Yes, you need a media and forum to experience yourself. Competitions offer this option in a peaceful and regulated way. This regulated and supervised way of conflict is necessary for socialization of human beings and for the society in general. I must experience my limits and boundaries. Maybe a little bit like stones in a river. They grind each other and become round after a while. At the end, they fit perfectly together.

Thus, competition can be an integrative means. This goes also for children. They must learn to asses their own strength. If we do not open them a regulated and supervised forum, they become a factor of uncertainty in the future. Because they will not know how to handle and apply their strength in a positive and fruitful way.

Christian: How old should children be when they take part in a competition for the first time?

Thomas: I think it is not a matter of age or grade. The rules are important. Like in the JKA where Katas are executed parallel. The children have then a direct comparison. Kumite must be very formalized like Gohon, Kihon, and Jiyu Ippon Kumite. A sufficient level of certainty is necessary for children. Unexpected situations should be avoided. That is very important for them to grow and to get used to the situation.

Sports can be Karate. But Karate Do cannot be Sports!

Christian: Let us talk about the future. What do you think how will the field of competition in Karate Do evolve? This is especially interesting because Karate will become Olympic next year but was excluded from the Olympics 2024. e

Thomas: This is what I expected. The WKF did not represent the whole Karate community and it did not spend much effort to integrate the other associations. It seems as if the committee in France recognized this. In my opinion Olympic competitions would have become to elitist anyway. Only professional fighters were capable to start at the events and they would have not much in common with regular Karatekas.

I would suggest something different: We need an open tournament for all Shotokan Karate Do associations. Currently, every association – if big or small – is a silo. They all should agree upon a certain set of Shobu Ippon rules and have joint tournaments.

But we should go back to the roots. That would lead to less big competitions like Olympics. It would be better to hold a bigger number of smaller tournaments where more people could attend. The Olympics are good for the media. But for the vast majority of people it is too far away from their reality. Smaller tournaments would benefit more people. They all could make the educative experience of competitions. Big tournaments do not achieve this goal. They just monopolize the attention of the audience and the smaller structures will dry out.

In the end, Sports can be Karate. But Karate Do cannot be Sports!

Christian: Thomas Prediger, thank you very much for this interview!