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Karate: A Humble Tradition

I started out calling this post "Karate: A Proud Tradition." After some thought, I decided that "Humble" better expresses the tradition.

I do feel that Karate has a proud tradition and that we should all feel very honored to be able to study the art. But when you speak to the seniors, they do not express pride as much as they express humilty. Every senior I have spoken to feels that he could have learned more and trained harder. Every senior looks up to his own sensei and feels that he still has a long way to go. Karate, to them (the seniors), is a lifelong pursuit. Daily life is the true dojo.

When you think of the Japanese samurai, pride does come to mind. Samurai were warriors and belongs to a privileged class.

Karate evolved in a different culture. While there were classes in the Ryukyu Kingdom, including a warrior class, Karate seemed to belong to the common man, particularly after the Meiji Restoration. People like Choki Motobu and Chotoku Kyan came from noble families, but by the time they were adults, their families had lost their stipends and much of their holdings.

If you are training in the samurai mold, then you have to find your place in a vertical hierarchy that goes all the way to the emporer. Whether in budo or business, a "samurai" is distinctly aware of his place and that of those below, equal to, and above him.

A Karate student can act like a samurai, just like he can act like an English knight or American Revolutionary soldier. A Karate student can act like anyone he choses. However, if the Okinawan mold is followed, the student will not act like a samurai -- he will act like an ordinary person with an extraordinary ability.

There is a phrase: "kakure bushi." This means a "hidden bushi." A kakure bushi could be hidden in a cave or mountain retreat, but more commonly he was hidden in plain sight. A kakure bushi could be the cook at the restaurant, the tax driver, your dentist. That man at the pharmacy may be a great Karate master, but you could never tell. He could even be that Mr. Miyagi-like gardener!

Karate is a humble tradition, a great humble tradition, and well kept secret. You show it by not showing it.


Charles C. Goodin