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What Are The "Old Ways" of Karate?

I've been racking my brain for weeks on how best to write this first post but I realized I was giving myself analysis by paralysis so...let's just get into it.


What do I mean when I say bring back the "old ways" of karate? To answer that question, you need to go back to Okinawa before the 1920s. Before Funakoshi went to Japan and tried to make a name for himself. Before "styles" had to be registered with the government to become valid. We're talking about pockets of Okinawan villages with a history of wrestling (their version of sumo called "shima"), who were farmers, fishermen, and belonged to an island nation that had its own elite class of warriors who served their own king. I'll explain why we need to go to this time period shortly. Many people misinterpret my mission to bring back the "old ways" as going back to a more hardcore and brutish type of karate. Here's why: From an American's perspective, Karate came to the states circa the 1950s after service men returned from being stationed overseas during WWII. They brought back a simple but rugged type of karate with emphasis on hardcore training, bare knuckle sparring, calisthenics and gave karate an overall mystique and reverence. This continued to percolate through the country as a golden age of old school karate. Schools were filled with people learning how to street fight and made the general public fear karate. People saw this as huge business opportunity and started the kung fu craze of the 1960s-70s and by the time Karate Kid (1984) comes around, you've got a full blown Hollywood-fueled, martial arts money engine in the U.S.


To the Golden Age karateka, the old ways is going back to what they remember as hardcore karate. But to them, it was never a clinch-based art.


Now going back to pre-1920s Okinawa, even hundreds of years before that. You're on a island nation used as a trading post between larger nations, you see people of different races and different fighting arts come and go. You see shipwrecked masters with their own styles. And all the while, you're trying to defend a king and extend the nation's peaceful existence. You start to figure out what works and throw away what doesn't. You start to mix the shima wrestling you did in your youth with these new armed and unarmed techniques.


You continue to evolve because that's what it takes to survive. And there's the answer - the only constant in karate is evolution. The "old ways" is not a technique or way of training, it's not bringing back antiquated training methodologies to try and preserve history.


The history of karate is to stay current.


The "old ways" is a mindset to always learn and grow, to take knowledge from anyone and anything to assure your survival in combat. People call that "cross training" nowadays but it's always been around and has always been karate.


It's why I truly believe karate is the art of life or death. When you see it through that lens you will always be hungry for more and don't care where you get the knowledge from.



-Michael Nguyen



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9 Comments


Great post to start for this new platform!

A wonderful mindset that is certain to keep what we do in focus.

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This is a great mindset to have. I’m an engineer by profession and the mindset is always how we can innovate and do better.


We see the same mindset from more modern arts like BJJ and even maybe Muay Thai.


Why do you think that martial arts, specifically Karate, are “stuck” in doing what their teacher taught/said/did?


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Nick S
Nick S
Jan 28
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This is great - definitely agreed that teaching kids needs more emphasis on discipline but with adults I also enjoy it being more open discussion almost.

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