Defining Karate-do, Presentation and Demonstration of Karate-do at the ACE 2015 In Kobe, Japan
I am happy and somewhat relieved to tell you that I have recently had a paper on Karate-do published in the proceedings of an educational conference. The full paper titled "Finding a Place for Karate-do in Mainstream Education" can be found online:
As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, last year I was asked by the CEO of iafor, Dr. Joseph Haldane to be a featured presenter at the Asian Conference on Education (ACE) 2015, held in Kobe, Japan from October 21st ~ 25th. My presentation was to be a demonstration of Karate-do. As the theme of the conference was “Education, Power and Empowerment: Transcending Boundaries” Dr. Haldane thought a Karate-do demonstration would be very appropriate for the opening ceremonies of the conference. With the help of my good friend Nishioka Hiroshi Sensei and his students I was able to co-ordinate a very well received Karate-do demonstraion on the main stage of the 神戸芸術センター Kobe Geijutsu Senta,Kobe Arts Centre.
(Above Left. the cover of the ACE 2015 Proceedings. Below, a photo taken toward the end of the demonstration of the members of Nishioka Dojo and Dr. Haldane breaking a board. I found out later that it had been a childhood dream of his to break a board like he saw the karate masters do on TV when he was young.)
As a result of attending this conference as a featured presenter, I was also able to present my own research paper for publication in the proceedings. In keeping with the above mentioned theme and the fact that we had already demonstrated the physical part of karate-do, I decide to focus on the academic and health befits that come with long-term study and practice of this art as a result of its 文武両道 Bunbu Ryodo approach to learning (See full paper).
Some of the points made in the paper are, a brief history of karate, its close relationship with the Japanese education system, and the difference between the terms karate and karate-do and in doing so tried to provide a better definition of the term karate-do. In my opinion, these two terms should not be used interchangeably.
In this post I will share with you what I wrote in the paper regarding the definition of the term karate-do.
The Oxford Dictionary of Current English defines karate as a Japanese system of unarmed combat using hands and feet as weapons. Christopher M. Clarke in his book Okinawan Karate: A History of Styles and Masters Vol.1 (2012), he states that, “At its simplest, karate is a system of unarmed self-defense” (p.7), implying that karate is actually something more complex. Karate is indeed a self-defense system, but the discussion I wish to have deals with karate-do which requires more clarification in its definition.
In order to deepen our understanding of the terms covered in this paper we must also look at the Chinese Characters (kanji). The word karate, as we know it today, is made up of two kanji 空 and 手, Kara; Empty or vacant and Te; Hand. These two kanji combine to become ‘empty hand’ which describes this weaponless art of self-defense. The two definitions given above, while accurately defining the term karate, are lacking when we attempt to define karate-do and therefore should not be misunderstood to encompass karate-do as well.
When we add the third kanji 道 Michi or Do, often translated as Path or Way, we must begin considering a great deal more than just the aspects of self-defense as we attempt to define it. Karate-do has tremendously more depth because it is grounded in the principles and philosophies of Bushido; a Japanese “code of moral principles” (Nitobe, 1899) that positively influence peoples’ lives.
It is well known that when dealing with a different culture and a different language we need to address and attempt to understand these deeply rooted differences. However, as in the case of Eastern and Western philosophies, more often than not, the vocabulary available to translate these complex concepts is often lacking (Ames, 2009). This is especially true when we begin to look at the codes of moral principles of Asian martial arts like karate-do.
Professor Roger Ames has often stated that in an attempt to discuss the philosophies of Asia in the West people often end up forcing the vocabulary by “trying to fit the Asian foot into a Greek sandal” (Ames, 2009). We are lacking the vocabulary to effectively translate some of the more foreign concepts. Ames offers great insight and aids on the subject of understanding Eastern philosophy and Chinese philosophy in particular. I suggest that we can use similar approaches when addressing karate-do; its principles and practices, theories and concepts, and the impact they make on those involved. Obviously, I cannot address everything in this short paper. Therefore, further and more in-depth study on this and related subjects is recommended.
As Ames states, we are really trying to understand the ‘Lange’ of the Culture by using the ‘Parole’ (Saussure) to deepen our understanding of the social structure of that culture. “Langue is a vocabulary that a living culture will generate in order to articulate the importance’s of that culture” (Ames, 2009). It is, therefore, understandable that every culture will have a different Lange. We can find this in both the semantics and syntax of the language. According to Ames, when learning foreign languages, we excavate the Lange of that culture and, in doing so we discover how that culture has structured itself in ways different from our own culture. Parole allows us to express and understand the Lange of other cultures, but we are always limited by the vocabulary of our own culture.
In the case of researching the philosophical concepts of karate-do, as well as other Asian martial arts, I believe that by deconstructing the kanji we can learn a lot more about the intended meanings in a more accurate context. For example, in this case we can see that by adding the character 道 Do / Michi to the previous 空手 karate it becomes something more than just a weaponless self-defense system; michi; a way, a road, or a path, as mentioned above, indicates that there is something deeper upon which this combative system is built, a base that is rooted in its philosophy and a set of ethics that teaches a ‘way of life’ this ‘way’ is grounded in the process of self-cultivation and fosters the qualities of self-discipline and kindness toward others, the doctrine of which states that karate-do must never be used to perpetrate violence. In this respect, it may be said that karate-do is a path that guides us to peace.
(Funakoshi Gichin and Chitose Tsuyoshi, 1955)
Funakoshi Gichin, a famous pioneer of karate-do who contributed greatly to its spread from Okinawa to mainland Japan and considered by many as the ‘Father of Modern Karate-do’ was also a school teacher. He is known to have repeatedly stated that, “Karate-do begins and ends with courtesy.” This is not a definition of what the karate-do is, but it describes the path. The meaning of do is illustrated in the methods of practice and grounded in its history as it developed in and spread from Okinawa to
mainland Japan and then to the rest of the world. Although training is often done in groups, the ‘journey’ of karate-do is always a very personal one of self-cultivation and for many it becomes the thing that grounds and guides them, giving direction to their lives and over time indeed becomes their ‘way of life’.
Therefore, the following definition given by Funakoshi (1973) is more appropriate than the definitions given above, “True karate-do is this: that in daily life, one’s mind and body be trained and developed in a spirit of humility and that in critical times, one be devoted utterly to the cause of justice” (p.3). This, in my opinion, is a more accurate definition of karate-do.
(The Above, "Defining Karate-do" was published in the Asian Conference on Education Official Proceedings, Published Feb, 2016) It is in this respect we can consider karate-do to be more a path of self-cultivation than a systematic method of fighting.