My point of view – Pt. 4: Ancient Masters and Modern Karate-Do


 A thoughtful perception of dealing with traditional Karate-do by Christian Wedewardt

My point of view – Pt. 4

The following article is a thoughtful perception of dealing with traditional Karate-do.

I am able to find quotes and pictures of ancient Karate masters implying important fundamentals of Karate on the internet more and more often these days. And what happens next? Read, liked, saved and continued as usual. But why? Why is it we don´t continue to think further? Why don´t we disengage ourselves and take a look at Karate from a different point of view?

I came to the realization that it is often refered to traditional roots without following the meaning of those traditional messages behind it, i.e. Master Funakoshi´s rules and principles for Karate-Do.

It is not my intention to address certain Karate styles but take a look at our art as a whole and only use Funakoshi´s rules as selected examples.

Formerly imported from the Japanese Karate Association´s best athletes in the 1950s to 1970s our traditional German Karate orientates itself on those training practices.

Goal of this organisation was to build and establish a world wide operating organisation rather than to export the art of Karate or passing on a certain form of self-defense. Hence we were taught what those coaches knew best: Karate as a sport. I believe there is no need for explanation that this is not the spirit of Karate rather than an uprising niche to exploit on politically to make Karate a world-wide more popular sport and being able to measure up each other in it.

But back to the real question:

Why are old basic principles often just quotes?

There is no creative handling of contents coming with Karate. The reconsideration of given methods and contents, challenging those methods and the testing of traditional techniques towards their practicability nowadays is often missing. Though Funakoshi itself once stated in his 20 rules of Karate: „Time change, the world changes, and obviously the martial arts must change too.“

I often observe that – independently wether a technique is practicable for someone regarding their physical constitution in terms of age, weight or hight – class contents have to be copied by students to a hair.

Funakoshi said: „Change depending on who´s your opponent.“
Obviously repetition is a crutial part of long-term oriented Karate practise in order to reach perfect form and technique. Yet again Funakoshi reminds the readers of his rules to be flexible and creative by saying that the beginner needs fixed rules and stances but the experienced moves free and natural.

Questions that are coming to my mind now are:

  • Why are we practicing the same techniques over and over again without any variation?
  • Why are we still expecting low stances and high body tension during higher degree black belt testing though those abilities were presented perfectly in past testings?
  • Why are we not allowing higher ranked belts to move free, in higher stances, creatively and flexible and take these abilities as a sign of change and enhancement of past presented techniques?
  • Why don´t we often apply the old saying: Higher ranked belt = the shorter the exertion must be?

I am aware that this is a highly discussed topic. But anyway…

Releasing this article I would like to point out grievances and encourage thinking towards a positive change. While the sports aspect continously grows towards being more professional, the grass-roots level keeps being stuck on old training methods and missing out on opportunities to develop towards being more modern.

I firmly believe that Funakoshi if still being alive today would not keep continuing to practice the way he did back in the days. And I further don´t belive he would expect any other country to practice Karate like that.

Why am I brave enough to make this point?

There is nothing as enduring as constant change. Because the absolute holding on to old forms – without carefully adjusting to modern day´s requirements – is a step back and therefore not to be evaluated as a positive.

I am also brave enough to say this because the ones we remember are the ones that seeked new paths, thought new things, pushed further and therefore improved Karate as a whole. We remember and refer to those who went on to new paths and did things different for Funakoshi has been one of them. He didn´t continue to do what his masters once showed him but took the best parts of what Itosu and Asato taught him and built his own style upon that. He practiced HIS Karate and I am sure he would have wanted creativeness and bravery to develope his Karate piece by piece and let it grow into new strengths.


Christian Wedewardt