There was a very good video blog post recently from Iain Abernethy discussing his take on the difference between so called 3K’s karate (a.k.a. “Traditional” karate in some quarters) and the modern (or ancient, depending on your viewpoint 🙂 ) styles of pragmatic or applied karate trained specifically with the aim of practical self-protection skills. He is at pains to point out that his definition is “and never the 3 shall meet” as that does change the context of what he is saying.
Iain goes into some detail of his understanding of the differences and I have to admit that it reflects my view almost entirely and is very much the reason why I train the way I do.
After having been through the (not uncommon) bout of zealotry that occurs after making the change from “traditional” training to the more holistic pragmatic approach I have (sort of) settled into my path without feeling the need to educate those who think differently (and yes I know that sounds a bit rich coming from someone writing a blog for public consumption 🙂 ).
What I mean by that is that if you have spent many years training in one direction and suddenly have your eyes opened to the world of wonder that lays outside what is the very narrow focus of “traditional” training it is very easy to assume that everyone else is still living in the dark and it’s your duty to shine the light for them.
The truth is that the majority of karate students neither know nor care about your brave new world and are not waiting to be enlightened, rather they wish you’d stop banging on about it and just go away and let them get on with what they are perfectly happy doing.
I came to terms with that notion some time back and realised that I was not everyone’s Dad and that as adults they were perfectly capable of making their own decisions (and even if they were not it was not my responsibility to make them on their behalf 🙂 ).
So there are now two distinct forms of training (and a thousand minor variations) calling themselves “Karate”, there is the 3 K’s tradition and the pragmatic or applied path.
Although one has to be very careful about what the clear distinction between those two actually is as myself (and pretty well all the practical instructors I know) still teach the 3 K’s, Kihon, Kata and Kumite as part of our training, although we may have a difference in priority and the way we train them.
The distinction comes from the “and never the three shall meet” part of the quote as, from our point of view, it is the link that is broken in traditional karate rather than the parts per se, although the focus on long range duelling techniques (in 3k’s) is a fundamental difference in approach and goal.
There is however now a third path appearing and it is one to be aware of and have the conversation about.
Despite the way it may appear sometimes, I don’t deliberately set out to annoy people (it’s just a gift 🙂 ) but I do feel that if we are to progress we should be able to discuss things like adults without fear of causing offence or being shouted down because we don’t “understand the way!”.
It’s a nice idea but it doesn’t always work so just be aware that these are only my opinions.
The third way I see increasingly appearing is the study of what looks to be applied karate but with a 3 K’s mind-set, by which I mean that people are starting to study the drills and practices of applied karate but with the mind-set that “sensei says this is what we do” so we learn the drills and the syllabus without the need to understand of the underlying concepts or question the results of what we are doing.
This is pretty much what has happened in traditional karate which is what has lead it to where it currently is and there is certainly some evidence that this trend is starting to translate to applied karate as well.
This almost certainly isn’t the aim of the instructors. I have had many conversations with my peers regarding the fundamental aim of generating students who are “thinkers” rather than “followers” however this isn’t always as easy as you’d hope. I think it was Graham Palmer who said recently “there are Tigers and Tea Cups”, those who go out and actively hunt (for knowledge) and those who just wait to be filled up.
This is always going to be an issue when you bring your training down to drills.
Don’t get me wrong, drills are fundamental to good training, it’s how you present both the technical side and the underlying principles that drive the functionality of what you are trying to teach.
However this is where it starts to get difficult (particularly in a world of wide seminar availability and social media access where students can dip in and out).
The problem with drills is that they are portable, that is the point of them really, you can break the training down into chunks that teach a specific lesson and let the student take them away to learn. You (as an instructor) are trusting that the student will listen to all that you say and learn the lesson you are imparting.
Unfortunately there are always a percentage for whom the “learning of the drill” is the focus of their effort rather than the underlying lesson (it is very possible to do as we have seen from the way 3k’s has developed since the 1940’s). The drill becomes a “goal” rather than a “tool” and correct performance of the drill becomes a priority.
This is the “3k’s mind set”, it’s a combination of “sensei says” so I don’t need to think for myself 🙂 and “correct form at all times” because my measure of how well I am doing is how close do I look to the original, and once you start testing to how well does a student perform the drill as opposed to how effectively does the student apply the drill you have lost.
This only really becomes an issue as we start to move on now to second or third generation applied instructors (and this is where it starts to sound pompous) who have missed the point but are competent enough in the drills to go out and teach on their own.
It is (hopefully) an avoidable issue but it is one we have to be constantly aware of and not afraid to talk about as, as soon as we start with “don’t say anything as you might cause offence” you start to enable this behaviour.
Yes I am aware that is not the same as “just say anything and to hell if people take offence” (I try very hard not to do that, sometimes I even succeed 🙂 ).