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No "Do"


What is the "Do" in Karate-Do supposed to teach a student? Is it supposed to show him how to be a good person? Really? And if so, what kind of person?

Historically, the "Do" in Karate-Do was a change, designed to make the Okinawan art more acceptable to the Japanese, and more importantly, to Japanese officials who controlled the education system in Okinawa after its forced annexation. (The character for Karate was changed too, from "China or Tang Hand" to "Empty Hand.")

In the "old days", Karate was just "Karate", or "Tudi," or just "Di". There was no emphasis of a "Do" or "Tao," or "Way". In fact, it was more common for Karate to be written as "Karate Jutsu" (art or skill).

I remember once reading about how Karate students were "samurai." Really? I think that someone confused the countries. Early Karate students learned their martial art from Chinese instructors, either in China or in Okinawa. Karate generally is not derived from Japanese sources, at least not before World War II.

My point is that post War, Japanese Karate was designed to make "good" Japanese citizens at that time. I don't know about you, but I am not interested in that. I am half-Japanese by birth, but I do not practice Karate to learn to be a good Japanese person. I live in Hawaii. I speak English. I want to be a good person in the context of my life, where I live, now.

I know that this is a difficult point so let me tell a story.

A man went to a carnival. It was filled with rides, amusements, tents, balloons, and bright lights. There was food, drinks, everything you would expect to see in a carnival or amusement park. What a fun time! But after a while, he started to notice that things were "strange." The rides had religious themes and the workers were not just selling food and tickets, there were selling religious views.

All of a sudden, the carnival did not seem like such a fun place

Karate can be like that. Don't just look at the rides and bright lights. You have to ask what the workers are really selling (and why they are selling it).

If they are sharing a traditional form of self defense and self discipline, then good! But if they are selling a hidden agenda, a world or religious view, then you should be aware of it.

The "Do" in Karate-Do does not just mean "character." At least historically, it meant a certain type of character in the context of Japanese (Yamato) culture and the forced assimilation of countries such as the Ryukyu Kingdom and its people. Okinawan Karate instructors did not go along with the "Japanization" of Karate because they thought it was a good idea. I think it was more a matter of "go along or get left behind."

Please do not get me wrong, I am not saying that Karate students should be Okinawan either. I am saying that Karate students should be aware of what they are learning, and that Karate instructors should be clear about what they are teaching. You will not become skilled at Karate by acting Japanese or Okinawan. You will only become skilled at Karate by training hard, for a long time, and applying what you learn in your daily life as well. Karate training should make you "better" at being yourself, not someone else.

Anyway, that is why I just teach "Karate" and not "Karate-Do." In fact, I tend to use the term "Karate Jutsu."

Now let me clarify a point. There are many great things about Japanese culture. It is a wonderful culture and there are wonderful Japanese people. But the Okinawan culture is also excellent. The American culture is excellent. English culture, great! German, excellent! Argentina, fantastic! Korean, yay! Here4 in Hawaii, we are a melting pot of people from around the world. We celebrate each others' cultures.

There are excellent aspects of all cultures and outstanding people around the entire world. Good people are good people. If "Do" is directed toward that, then I am all for it. Help to make a student the best he can be in the context of his culture and surroundings. If you ask me, that takes practical wisdom... and real Karate skill.

Here is another story. Two instructors were comparing rank. They were the same dan level and had been promoted on the same day at exactly the same time."

"But I am Japanese!" said the first instructor.

Obviously, this does not make an ounce of difference.

Here is another story. A well known Karate instructor (Okinawan) was walking down the street when a robber ran up and kicked him in the groin.

A bystander helped the instructor up. "Did that hurt?" asked the bystander?

"I am Okinawan," said the instructor, "not Superman!" "Of course it hurt!"

We all put our pants on one leg at a time, and no matter how high we may be, we will bow down if kicked in the groin.


Charles C. Goodin