The Three Standard Lies about Karate

Hidden truths about karate.
Forum rules
You may visit as a guest and read everything. You may register and post messages. I reserve the right to control site content. -- Hanshi Clayton

The Three Standard Lies about Karate

Postby HanshiClayton » Fri Dec 19, 2008 10:15 am

Chapter 2 of Shotokan's Secret, Expanded Edition begins with a discussion of honne and tatemae, which are the “truth” and the “official truth,” respectively. I went into some detail about the Japanese tendency to substitute a self-serving official story for the actual truth. It springs from their Confucian heritage. The truth isn't really important, they believe. It is better for the student to proceed in confident and untroubled ignorance.

In karate history, there are three "standard" lies that are told to keep the students comfortably ignorant. We should never take them at face value.

    Standard Lie #1: When asked the origins of the art, the first standard response is, “It came from ancient China.” We also see this claim in this form: "It came from the Shaolin (Shorin) Temple."

This springs from intense national rivalries, to put it mildly. Koreans deny that Taekwondo began in Shotokan dojos in Japan. They have been to a lot of trouble to conceal this. Japanese didn’t like the fact that (hard style) karate was invented by Okinawans. Okinawans, in turn, deny that much of their art is derived from jujutsu from Japan. Everybody points to ancient China instead.

    Standard Lie #2:When a traditional sensei invents a new technique (such as the sudden appearance of nunchaku katas in the 1920’s) he will declaim authorship with this statement: “I learned it from my grandfather.”
Traditional sensei venerate the ancient and are suspicious of the new. They like to invent new techniques, but they don't like to admit it. Their recourse is to claim that they are revealing a family secret, taught to them by their (dead) grandfather. They never point to a living grandfather. When we encounter this claim in the karate literature, it means "I made it up."

    Standard Lie #3: Masters who change existing katas generally don’t admit it. Confronted by the fact that their katas don’t match the katas of other schools they reply, “I teach the original version. Those other guys are wrong.”
This was Chotoku Kyan’s explanation of his dramatic revision of Itosu’s Pinan (Heian) katas. All teachers claim to be performing "the original version" unchanged from the dawn of time. Don't believe them.

Consider the phrase "Shorin Ryu." "Shorin" is the Japanese corruption of "Shaolin," for the Shaolin Temple, seat of legendary Chinese martial arts. There must be a hundred Shorin Ryu styles, many of them very different from one another. They use the "Shorin" label because it implies Standard Lie #1 (it came from China) and also Standard Lie #3 (this is the original version) in one word. The label "Shorin" is so overused that it actually tells you nothing about the content of the school.

When I studied taekwondo in the 1970s, we practiced pinan (heian) kata that were almost identical to those of shotokan, including the signature H-shaped floor pattern. Then one day it was forbidden to mention them. We had to learn the new palgue forms instead. It was clear to us that the palgue forms were a hash of techniques from the taikyoku and heian kata, with some pieces of jion and kanku dai thrown in for flavoring. The H-shaped pattern was still there underfoot. When we asked about this similarity, we were curtly told, “These are the original forms! They came from ancient China, and were kept secret for generations!” We got all three lies in one breath!

”It came from China.” “I learned it from my grandfather.” “I teach the original version.” We should recognize these statements the same way we recognize “The check is in the mail.”
Bruce D. Clayton, Ph.D.
Copyright © 2012, All Rights Reserved.
This forum is supported by the sales of Shotokan's Secret, Expanded Edition
Site Founder
Site Founder
Posts: 298
Joined: Thu Dec 18, 2008 5:45 pm

Return to Essays about Karate

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest

Hit Counter by Digits