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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Karate a Tool for Evil?


The other week I headed a post about the misuse of the word Sensei in Western Karate with a photo of emperor Hirohito. For those of you who are not history buffs emperor Hirohito, better know in Japan as emperor Showa, was the Japanese emperor in power during the second World War. During war times he was considered by most to be a Kami or god.

* The Japanese definition of Kami is less omnipotent than what god usually refers to in English and comes from Shinto beliefs. Shinto is a Japanese form of paganism which is much more alive today than any western forms of paganism.

The photo came from a post of the Top Ten Most Famous Evil Men. At the bottom of my post I noted that it is not only westerners who pervade the word Sensei and in this post I will elaborate on my statement.

Karate has a long and complicated history. Originating as a amalgamation of Chinese and South East Asian fighting arts practiced by Okinawan nobbles in their free time, originally called Te or Tou Te 「唐手」.

In the early 1900's it was sold to mainland Japan as tool to fuel the Japans war machine. It was during this transition that the practice went through a re-branding and came to be known as Karate mostly to avoid any animosities that could have be held towards a martial art called Chinese hand 「唐手」. This was the beginning of the more systematized Japanese Karate we know today.

Post war Karate like all forms of Budo were refashioned into peaceful more socially acceptable practices. This more socially acceptable brand of Karate become one of Japans biggest cultural exports taking the west by storm and inciting classic movies such as the first Karate Kid until the bubble burst some time after the original Ninja Turtles were taken off the air. Karate has since become a more lackluster practice which sits at the fringes of society, out shadowed by MMA, encouraging equally lackluster movies such as the most recent Karate Kid.

Every since Karates darker days of enacting nationalism, it has become firmly attached to Japanese culture. A culture that relies on a fairly rigid hierarchical systems. Senseis, of all sorts, often sit in a fairly comfortable position with in this hierarchy and are often treated with a level of unquestioned respect that I my self am not accustomed to or all that comfortable with. I believe such blind adherence can be quite dangerous. It can lead to poring your money and time into a McDojo or on a more extreme level the type of deification that allowed the Japanese to follow Emperor Hirohitoto to passionately commit many atrocities during their colonial campaigns of WW2.

I believe understanding Japanese history and language does lend its self to a better understanding of Karate but there is one part of Karate's history that is often gleamed over, Karate is a human practice. Karate was not passed down to humans by a divine force, nor was emperor Hitomi, but rather forged through a human desire to understand and optimize ones own position in the world. At times this has lead to atrocities and at other times it has lead to peaceful self realization.

Karate is a tool, bound only by human imagination, social structures and our own physiological make up. It is a tool that is not inherently good or bad. It can be reformed to accommodate many desired uses. With that being said the more you understand the tool, its histories and its possibilities the less the tool will be shrouded in mystery and the more power, responsibility and humility will be given to those who wield the tool.

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