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Questions & Answers

A Martial Arts Overview of Karatedo

During my 37 years of Martial Arts study, I have been repeatedly asked "what is the best way….?", or some other formulation of the same question. There are literally thousands of answers to that question, yet the answers are virtually all the same. The best way is the way that works.

I remember the frustration that I experienced during my early years as a martial arts student when I asked my Sensei should this be done this way or that and he would answer "both ways are good". Why wouldn’t he tell me the RIGHT WAY? His answer slammed me right back into the question. STUDY IT YOURSELF, YOU HAVE THE ANSWER!

There are no "secrets" in the martial arts. Martial arts are, by their nature, military arts. For our discussion, military arts on a personal level, but all military arts share the same essential goal, function. Irrespective of the particular style or system, this is the common thread, yet the most commonly overlooked path.

Why? As martial arts students, we just want to "do it right", rather that subject our efforts to the hard core scientific evaluation, does it successfully perform its function? I do not personally believe that martial arts as we have been taught are worthless. I assumed on faith that my instructor would not teach something of no value. Therefore, since it all had worth, it was my responsibility to seek and discover the value. The interesting aspect of this approach is its simplicity. Science. Proveable, repeatable, effective (functional). Now we can understand one of my favorites, "Do you know the difference between simple and easy?"

Truly understanding anything requires developing proper perspective, focus and commitment. That is not easily accomplished, because each of these items are moving targets (by virtue of your continuing growth). Example: I recall a discussion with one of my most senior students concerning machetes. As I was instructing her in its use she told me of the much larger one that her father had owned. I replied "you mean one of those giant two-handed machetes? My grandfather had one of those too! It’s the same machete, you have grown."

Since our perspective constantly changes, it will refine and alter our focus. That "answer" we are looking for will change, as we grow. Confused? So was I. It took quite a while for me to discover that there was no "answer" other than to follow the path (here read path=way or do as in karatedo, judo, kendo budo). The path is illuminated through your application of scientific principles to what you have been taught. Form follows function.

There are common elements to all systems of martial arts, yet each style approaches solution to problems from slightly different perspectives. No big secret here, every human being has a different perspective, even identical twins. Since every martial arts system has a different path, what we want to know which martial art (style) has the best path. Yep! Sign me up for that one, I’ll just pass on the other (good but slightly inferior) styles. Sorry. Back to square one, "Both ways are good."

Next question you may have is, "why are we spending time on this esoteric discussion when what I really want is to learn what you can teach me about the martial arts, you know, how do I get better and which way is the best?"

Every system has within its framework an effective path to growth. The framework is generally known as kata. Katas are the physical textbooks though which knowledge passes generation to generation. I think of them as physical chants not unlike oral traditions. Could have written them down in paper, wood or stone, but paper and wood burn, stones break and erode. Correct physical replication passes along the knowledge, even though the person passing and the person receiving may not be fully aware of the knowledge contained therein. Simply doing the kata with correct form is only the beginning, much like purchasing a tool. It is only the first step. STUDY, scientifically. I am still studying my system, but I can tell you this with confidence. My instructor taught me to look for the answers in the forms, and, during my whole martial arts career, whether furthering my personal development or teaching a student, the katas have never failed to guide me to a solution. Not once. Sometimes I realized the answer was there for me the whole time in hind sight, after I thought "I" had solved the problem. I had to dig, experiment, dig some more, but the path to removing the barrier was there. It is important to note, at this point in our discussion an important fact. I do not for a moment believe my path is the only one, but I believe absolutely that it is a true path. Some systems seem "better" or less limiting than others, but I have seen the excellent results of many systems. Success in martial arts (or any other endeavor) is simple, not easy. Do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes and you will not fail. Maintaining this mind set or mental focus is the hard part. The sweat, frustration, pain, and seemingly endless hours of work is the easy part. Don’t ever lose sight of the goal, which is, in reality, the path. Total commitment risks total failure. The fear of not accomplishing the task prevents the success before one begins. NEVER SAY CAN’T. The rest is a piece of cake.

Respectfully yours in Bushido,
Dr. Roger Greene
January, 2002