How a Conceptual-based Approach Will Save Karate’s Validity

So we are back from our first two Karate Culture seminars and we want to continue our pursuit to change the public’s perception of karate.  One such topic to address is the debate between learning concepts versus learning techniques.

One can argue that historically, instructors taught technique by technique forcing the student to memorize a laundry list of “moves” and applications.  However, I believe this is a modern phenomenon created as a means to maintain power (and money).  The genuine old masters spoke in analogies and proverbs.  One can reference the Okinawan Karate idea of muchimi or punching as if you’re punching through sticky rice (another interpretation would be the idea of sticking to your opponent).  You can explain muchimi to a hundred different karate students and each of them will visualize it differently.  That's the goal. 

Speaking conceptually allows the student to define the technique in his or her own image and this leads to my first point:

Distribution of Power

Concepts get rid of the dichotomy between an instructor and a student.

It reduces the power an individual has over a group of people and distributes knowledge to the masses.  It allows the students to become creators themselves and reduces the potential for mindlessly following someone else’s advice.   This doesn’t mean the student is always right, but that’s where the instructor can come in and guide the path rather than limit it.    

The second argument for a conceptual approach is that it: Increases Practicality

Your brain has only a limited capacity to memorize a list of techniques and applications.  But if you understand the concepts behind your movements, not only can you create your own techniques but also you wouldn’t have to memorize as much.  One thing we touched on a lot during our seminars was the idea of creating a muscle memory that fell back on concepts rather than combinations.  It’s very common to have specific sequences that you like to execute in sparring or in a fight.  However, imagine falling back on fundamental concepts rather than techniques.  This would allow your body to work more efficiently rather just spamming a combination that failed to work. 

Furthermore, learning concepts help to: Make Things Relatable.

Once you understand that all martial artists are limited by human movement and the laws of physics, you’ll see karate in everything.  The mechanics of opening a door, the torque of the hips in a backhand in tennis, the pivoting on the heels in Tai Chi, etc., they’re all related.  This will break down the barrier between different styles of fighting and different styles of karate.  Things stop becoming a “Judo” throw or a “Karate” chop but rather they become combative movements that everyone can learn.   

So then, how does one begin to create or discover concepts?

You have to learn to Play.

There is no winner when the goal is to improve everyone in the group.  This is where the uke-tori relationship is vital.  The ego wants to win; the ego wants to have power.  Once that is removed or reduced, you as an individual can grow and help others around you grow.  This doesn’t mean never to go “hard” or to always be compliant.  But if you’re drilling with the intent to hurt your training partner then something is off.  The more you play and allow things to happen, the more you will discover techniques and understand concepts.   

One last thing,

Concepts drive techniques, which reinforce concepts.  

Learning concepts without drilling specific techniques from those concepts will make you a theorist.  Drilling techniques without understanding why they work will make you fighter but not a martial artist.  Karate practitioners owe it to the art to have both practicality and understanding of theory.   

We hope a conceptual-based approach will help to unite karate styles towards the pursuit of knowledge and understanding. 

Why is it that BJJ schools around the planet can welcome students from any other academy with open arms yet a karate school belonging to one of the hundreds of different styles of karate hesitate to allow a guest from another dojo to join a class?

We need to come together and embrace our similarities rather than emphasize the differences.  A conceptual-approach to karate can be a catalyst towards that goal.