A very interesting discussion started on one of Theodore Kruczek’s posts on the OKI website regarding people’s perception of traditional martial arts and how to change it. One of the things that I found interesting, and which ties into my previous post about people’s personal systems not needing to have names, was the idea of calling karate something else that would be more acceptable in our modern culture. Below is an expanded version of what I wrote in the comments of Mr. Kruczek’s post.
Names carry reputations with them in people’s minds, even when things with the same name are completely different from each other–in this case, karate as taught by a McDojo, karate as taught traditionally and karate as taught by those returning to the practical roots of karate. We may value the traditions of our arts, but we can’t deny the fact that we do not live in Japan/Okinawa, and so our culture is vastly different and our arts may need to evolve to fit in, much like when toudi became karate when it was introduced to Japan.
Mr. Kruczek says that he tends to call what he teaches “combatives”, and that he uses traditional karate to teach his combative methods. The word “combatives” is a generic term for techniques used to engage in combat, so it applies just as well as any other name that could be given to a martial system, and both “karate” and “toudi” were generic terms for martial arts to begin with so to call it “combatives” instead of “karate” would not be a far departure. If you called it “Empty Hand Combatives” I doubt most people would assume that it was anything other than a modern-military-based fighting system, but if you called it “Sentou-Waza Karate” (which means the exact same thing) you would be accused of forming your own karate style, traditional karate people might very well try to discredit you, and those outside the martial arts world would likely make the same assumptions about it as they do about a strip mall McDojo or traditional but impractically taught karate, just because you called it “karate” and gave it a fancy-sounding Japanese name.
|With or without a gi, trapping an attacker’s arm and using a spear hand works the same.|
Just like with people’s personal systems of training karate, I don’t think the name should matter–whether you call it “combatives” or “karate” doesn’t change what it is. One of Shakespeare’s most famous quotes addresses this very issue:
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet.”
It doesn’t take much work to change that phrase so that it applies to martial arts:
“What’s in a name? That which we call karate, by any other name, would teach us to fight as well.”
Regardless of what I think, however, most Western people believe that karate is for children because it has been marketed and watered down for that purpose by many instructors over the years. This means that using the word “karate” is now misleading the public, and so it may just be time for us to call it something else that is more representative of what karate really is. We can start calling it something in our native language that refers to martial arts in a general way, just like the Okinawans did, and suddenly we can make a new first impression.