Why You Should Avoid Telling People You Practice Karate

Question:

Have you ever got into trouble for telling people you practice Karate?

That’s what I asked on my official Facebook and Twitter page recently.

The response?

Overwhelming.

Although someone jokingly replied “Only with my wife, Mrs. Karate Widow”, and Adam S. Kovacs (World Games kumite champion) replied “All the time with my parents!”, most people seemed to have gotten into genuine trouble – including physical altercations and life-or-death situations – merely by telling the wrong person, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, that they practice Karate.

Crazy.

And then we had a few people who were dumbfounded by my question:

“Jesse-san, why should it cause trouble if I tell somebody I practice Karate?”

Clap.

Clap.

Clap.

I applaud your faith in humanity.

But you’re right.

Why should it?

Because, in a perfect world, it shouldn’t.1377584_10201552088755460_1172163399_nYou should be able to tell anybody that your passion is Karate and there should be no negative consequences at all. In fact, you should be able to pursue any activity, and as long as you are not harming anyone, people should be fine with that.

Right?

Well, I don’t know how to put this, but…

We don’t live in a perfect world.

We live in a world where douchebags exist. Sad, negative, wicked people who are constantly looking for a reason to unleash their predatory instincts. People who are so trapped in themselves that they need to spew their primal judgement on you.

Now, you might think I’m over-exaggerating a bit.

I am.

But also, I’m not.

Take my story for instance:

When I was in 3rd grade, I told a kid that I knew Karate and could kick his ass. My father overheard me when he picked me up from school and said I was “a bully.”

I was flabbergasted.

I hated bullies!

Shortly thereafter, the kid died from cancer.

I vowed to never use Karate to hurt anybody emotionally again.

Years later, in 6th grade, it was my turn to get bullied instead. An obnoxious kid asked me to use Karate on him one day, but I told him I didn’t want to.

So he grabbed my wrist and yelled: “Whatchu gonna do, Karate Kid!?”

I snapped his wrist down, applied a joint lock and took him to the ground.

Big.

Mistake.

For several weeks he kept provoking me to use more Karate on him, by slapping me hard on the head. Day after day. Week after week. It never ended.

But I kept my composure.

I didn’t want to hurt him.

On the inside, I felt like sh*t though.

It all ended abruptly one day when I came home and cried to my mom. A couple of angry phone calls later, everything was smoothly solved and we became friends.

I vowed to never use Karate to hurt anybody physically again.

Now…

You might think: “Jesse-san, that’s cute, but you were unlucky. This doesn’t apply to me!”  

Clap.

Clap.

Clap.

I applaud your naïvety.

A quick glance at the response I got from my initial question on social media clearly shows that this is real folks – for many people just like you.

But don’t take my word for it.

Read yourself:

karatekidDiego_twitter_screenie
This was sent to me by @karatekidDiego on Twitter.

Arian Ryan: “When I younger, that was a guarantee of being challenged to a fight by every meathead in school. Like an invitation for weirdos to tell all about their extraordinary martial arts prowess (11th degree gold belt in ninja, etc.).

Oh, and one time I tried to practice nunchaku on the beach at sunrise, and the police drew their guns on me. But that’s a different thing.”

Jared Avery Michaels: “I started working for a private security company part-time that my roommate already worked at. When I was hired, the management already knew I had training, because I was training my roommate, and we were discussing using the office to teach out of. [..] The Ops Mgr walked up to me after I signed on for the regular work, and just said my name, then threw a punch. High wrist block and snap kick to the groin later, he tried to write me up for assaulting him.”

Ryan Banfield: “Absolutely. I’m sure that every person on here who’s practiced in their early 20’s has regretted casually mentioning you practice martial arts in a social environment, especially when liquor is present, because inevitably, the next statement will be “show me what you know…”

Brad Weston: “I have actually been refused an employment opportunity because karate is “violent”!”

Enough.

As you clearly see, there are consequences to telling people you practice Karate.

Consequences that could be positive.

Or negative.

Depending on how, where, when, how and to whom you say it.

So…

Does that mean we should never-ever-ever tell people we practice Karate? Should we walk around silent, afraid, paranoid and ashamed of our beloved martial art?

Of course not.

I think a good question to ask is: “Why do I need to tell people I practice Karate?”

  • To brag?
  • To feel good?
  • To make a statement?

Once you realize why – and for whom – you’re really practicing Karate, you’ll automatically decrease your amount of unnecessary Karate talk.

Believe me.

“An empty vessel makes the most noise.”

– The Bubishi

Karate is a highly personal journey.

And the last time I checked, you didn’t get further by talking about it. That’s why you should try to avoid telling people you practice Karate, unless they ask you.

Frankly, it’s none of their business anyway.

Karate means “empty hand” – not “empty head”.

Just do it.

38 Comments

  • It depends. I put it on my resume after a few supervisors suggested it. Turns out that being an instructor is seen as an indicator for customer service skills. However, telling violent people can be a good way to provoke them whether you mean to or not. And yet, I scared off one work bully years ago by letting him see me read a jujitsu book.Best advice I heard was that kids keep it secret and adults only mention it if it is relevant. And definitely do not mention it to the intoxicated, the violent or to those who are violent while they are intoxicated.
    • Ryan Baker
      I've been practicing karate since I was 6 years old and I have NEVER had this issue before. There are two keys. One is common sense, and the other is verbal competence. Have I had people start to cause trouble when I mentioned that I'm a karate-ka? Yes I have, but I educated that person on what that means, rather than provoking their ignorance further. That's your RESPONSIBILITY as a martial artist. You represent your dojo and you represent karate-ka as a whole. Shame on your sensei for not teaching you properly and even further shame on you for not learning better as an adult. It's not being naive or putting too much faith in humanity, it's not putting ENOUGH. Get yourself out of group situations when confronted and talk to the individuals involved one at a time in private to explain to them why you take karate and what it means to take karate. Even the worst bullies in my school, who would make fun of me for being smart, never bothered me about karate, and I was completely open about being a karate-ka.
    • Nilsosu
      I have also been adviced to put my passion for karate on my resume for the very same reason. I guess that in this world of MMA and K-1, karate doesn´t seem so violent anymore.I talk about my passion for karate as others speak of their passion for painting, football or anything like that. It´s just something that I love to do. I´m also more than happy do discuss and erase any prejudisms about karate that I happen to come across. Of course, beeing street wise and knowing when to shut up is always a valuable asset.
  • Ian
    See "Houdini, death of".It would be nice if ... all us wonderful karate-ka could be walking, talking billboards for our martial art; the calmness of our demeanour and the retrained power and gracefullness of our every movement silently promoting the virtues of our training and study.But no.People want to "test us" ... or "test themselves". Just like the mere fact of being noticeably pregnant does not give the public at large the permission to walk up and fondle a woman's tummy, so to mentioning that one practices karate does not grant permission for surprise attacks and the like.But people still do those things....Hmm ... maybe those old-timey Okinawans didn't just keep karate a secret because the samurai outlawed it ... maybe it was a more mundane and universal form of sanity-preserving tai-sebaki.
  • wow I don't know where you live, but I have no problems telling anyone, #1 that I practice Karate, and #2 that I teach Karate?I have never hard any negative results for mention it anyone!if fact I have had some of the best conversation with people when I tell them!perhaps some people are just saying it to the wrong people?example while drinking in a bar? or something dumb like that!Me my Family my friends in the martial arts community and my students, have always been proud to promote they take Karate or are practitioner's of the Martial Artsheck many walk to the school wearing there GI's and Obi (belt/sash) in the good weather and it's even brought new students too our school!I even have students that have gotten special Grants and Bursaries, because they put that they were in Karate on there applications,I also get lot's of call's asking about the Character of my students and there work ethics as lot of people use my school on there resume as a reference.I don't know if this is because I live in Toronto, Canada! but things are not like what is described above here at all! at lest not in this day and age!
  • I always had this problem. Everyone who knows that I practice karate make fun of me at least that's what I think. When I walk to my dojo in my karate gi they say "ooo he is a blue belt we should respect him or he'll kill us" I hate people who do that, they don't understand my passion for the art. Just thinking about that makes me want to break their bones but according to Funakoshi Sensei it's wrong, so I don't
    • AlexN
      I'm all for violence against violence ( I don't lie to myself and I stay true to my nature ), but... you described like 80 % of the population. Try to take the taunting and all that as a challenge or a way of exercise to improve your "defusing" skill. I live in a in country full of shitty people and I know what you are talking about. People with lives so static and untested that they try to drag you into the mud with them. You have to look at the whole thing like.... a researcher: cold, calculating and with a "it's just business" attitude ( for them it will be very personal because they have a very frail ego)
      • AlexM
        Perhaps you should examine how you look at the world around you, because referring to people as shitty and with frail egos isn't exactly the best way to view the world. Not to mention, it will be very tiring for you in the long run. Relax. Don't "research" the world around you - live in it.As for problems because of Karate or Martial Arts? None really, but I tend to only talk about it if people ask me very specifically about martial arts (and I feel it might be pertinent) or consider taking it up themselves.
  • fred
    Never had that problem, I've never braged about karate but still I talk about it sometimes to people even when going out, I think the thing is to talk about it like you would for any activity you practice. Never had a fight either, except for one friendly altercation and even then karate wasn't an issue. Well after all it's up to you to choose your audience ;)
    • Valerie
      Indeed. One of the most important things to remember about martial arts is that they teach us not only about defense, but also teach us a way of life and how is best for us to live it (being respectful and kind to others, cleaning up after oneself, being a responsible community member, etc).
  • Hisaye
    I've only recently started karate and am working on my yellow belt (I know, don't razz me), but the reactions I've gotten when mentioning this to friends and acquaintances have been funny. The first and most common one is "Aren't you afraid of getting hurt? Especially at your age?" (I'm over 50, an Asian woman who looks like a librarian. Definitely not like Michelle Yeoh or Zhang Ziyi.) The second most common reaction has been, "That's kind of a violent sport, isn't it?" usually followed by a wrinkling of the nose or a grimace. My older female friends frequently give me that one. I think, for some of us who came of age in the 60s and 70s when the antiwar movement had started, anything that resembles fighting looks "violent," even if you explain to them the philosophy behind East Asian martial arts. To my delight however, my kids, all young adults, think what I'm doing is "awesome." I've gotten similar comments from the younger students at my dojo, so maybe it's a generational thing. But I know who matters to me the most, and they approve of my taking up karate at my age.The funniest reaction I've gotten was when I made the mistake of talking about my karate class at a dinner party where a couple of people had too much to drink. The husband of one friend put an empty beer can in front of me and said, "Here, crush that!" I told him I'd do so if he put the can on his head. I was joking, of course. A little. ;-)
  • nsawa
    Totally agree, every time someone knows I practice karate they want to test me, usually:"So can you beat me?" (he'll usually be twice my size and twice my weight), my usual response is"You serious!!! look at you, fierce, scary and full of muscles, look at me, I don't stand a chance!"it usually comes with an evil little smile from my side - I think this smile does the trick with most people who aren't really going to fight but just want to test the waters, when they figure out there's something behind that smile that says - confidence, no fear - they pull back - this is mostly what martial arts give the practitioner, an aura of confidence, nothing more ;)But of course, it's quite the opposite when someone really wants to beat me, although I've never encountered any, in fact I've never really used Karate to defend myself on the street and hope I never will, I guess I'm just loved even by the ones who hate me.
  • Alex
    Great post and great discussion! I've never had an issue in part due to never putting myself in a position where mentioning it might result in challenges, and that for the 30 years before coming to study and instruct Karate (Tang Soo Do) I have studied and taught Tai Chi Ch'uan, where most of my friends/acquaintances are well aware of this or study with me.Two of my fave modern philosophers, FWIW, are Andrew Carnegie and Clint Eastwood, who respectively quipped "avoid the bars" and "a man's gotta know his limitations". The sentiments behind these words have led me well in characterizing martial arts for myself and others. My long-time teacher Leonard Tolbert's "familiarity breeds contempt" has too, but that goes down a diff path. :-)..Alex.
  • Ian
    Jesse-san, I saw your comments ...For several weeks he kept provoking me to use more Karate on him, by slapping me hard on the head. Day after day. Week after week. It never ended. But I kept my composure. I didn’t want to hurt him. On the inside, I felt like sh*t though.... and thought that this would provide a good starting-off point for another article and discussion ... the "how to's" and the "how far I haven't come yet" of making the journey from "human nature" to "enlightened karate dude" who *feels good* about a non-violent response to aggressive jerks.There is so much in human nature and popular culture that glorifies the victorious use of retaliatory violence in the face of physical attack or bullying, so how is a "good karate-ka" to avoid inappropriate violence on the one hand and on the other hand feeling like sh*t for doing so?
  • Alex
    Following the correct path, laid out by the Confucian superior man, is neither easy nor well-defined, but the rewards are limitless.A young student whose mother is just signing up for karate asked me yesterday (as he has once before) why we study karate. He, like I'm sure many of his peers, see the self-defense aspects playing a decisive role in their lives of schoolyard torment. I told him simply: for physical exercise and mental discipline.The first is easy, the second not so much. How do you explain mental discipline to an eight year old? It's like telling a young person with sudden financial windfall that while penny stocks do tend to out-accelerate more staid investments, the likelihood of finding the right pick is rather remote.I sought to explain that mental discipline is exactly not doing what he thought he could do with these new tools, that except for situations of life and death, martial arts are not to be used to settle disputes. In a schoolyard scenario, teachers and parents, however seemingly remote, must be used to adjudicate situations. At home, parents must be the arbiters if reasoning does not work. And, in the dojang, while we spar to practice our physical techniques, we do so with mutual respect and thirst for learning...Alex.
  • Lynda
    I usually end up telling people that I practise karate after a good grappling/ground work session when my arms are covered in bruises so that people don't think I'm a victim of domestic violence as my husband would rather cut his own arms off than hurt me.
  • Bryan Alstat
    After twenty years + of practicing karate, I still get the question of why? To some I just turn the question around and ask why do you still play golf, etc. They say I enjoy it and I just smile. Others are surprised that a 52 (almost 53) year old man is still doing it. I enjoy the physical, mental and spiritual aspects. I have been taunted, teased and challenged a few times. I have scared one person who while walking past his cube put his foot out quickly to try to trip me (I don't know why - I assume he was an idiot)I just did a quick "C step" (out of habit) and he spun 360 on his base foot and I just stood there looking at him when he stopped. He had that Oh Sh** look - for he knew in the time of that 360 he was helpless and could have been mine. The old American Indian tradition of "Counting Ku" (SP) is very relevent.
  • SCM
    I think its a bit different if you're female - you don't tend to get that phenomenon of blokes wanting to pick a fight with you* on a more or less recreational basis. Having said that if I'm wearing my gi to/from my dojo I always take the (brown) belt off in case some mad person sees it as a challenge. The only people I would mention doing karate to would be those who might genuinely be interested (like my colleague who does Hapkido - both being of mature years we generally commiserate over injuries!).*One dark winter night when I was young I was walking through the centre of town heavily rugged up in 'unisex' winter coat and scarf - A bloke on the other side of the road yells out 'what are you lookin at!' with a view to starting something. When I told him to 'f*** off and leave me alone' in my obviously female voice he said 'sorry I didn't realise you were a girl'. I honestly think there are a subset of guys for whom a bit of a scrap is the perfect end to a nights drinking and they assume others feel the same. Indeed my husband has even been asked politely for 'a scrap out back' in a pub by a well-oiled welshman who was bored of scrapping with all his mates. He seemed disappointed when my husband declined but didn't make anything of it. Maybe this is a UK thing?
  • Mimi
    When I was in Primary school,my mom always warned me not to tell my classmates that I practice Karate.And I did as I was told. But once my friend told them,and a boy tried to kick me so he can see if I can defend myself, and I kicked his ass then the others feared me.And I became the scary girl xD But now,I avoid talking about it,espacially after reading your artical !
  • Good Grief, everyone with all these horror story of telling people you take Karate or people finding out, you all must live in the USA! We don't have these problems up here in Canada, I don't know anyone here that has encountered these issues, when every people find out I take Karate! it has ended up being some of the most meaningful conversations, I have had and in some cases it inspires people to take up a Martial Art, my Students proudly display they take Karate, wear there Gi's to Show and tell Bring me in To talk about it! they do Projects on master gichin funakoshi, and we get great notes back from there teachers! Canadian High school and University give credits to students who taken Martial Arts, it's a Positive on University and College applications!all I can say is Move to Canada !! lol
  • Zhayynn
    When people who know that I practice Karate ask me to 'show them' some karate, I tell them that I'm doing exactly that. Just standing there, not reacting IS karate! Karate is not punches, kicks or blocks. Those are merely tools that are an external manifestation of your mind set. Karate is internal, your mind, your composure, your integrity, your inner balance. It's about calming your fears, facing your demons and not rising to the bait when goaded, because you know your ability and the consequence of demonstrating that ability. So when someone says ,"show me some karate", and I tell them that I am showing them karate at that very moment, I mean it. Simply because its true. :)
    • KarateMama
      Add an invitation to join the dojo :-)
  • KarateMama
    Lo those many years ago, I was told by my parents to never mention it, keep it secret, yada yada. That backfired horribly in junior high (at least no one ever laid a finger on me again). Even if "the situation" had never occurred, I could never have kept my karate secret in high school because all of a sudden I started running into friends from the dojo :-)
  • KarateMama
    Forgot to mention my daughter and I are running some risks at our church, but I'm pretty sure most folks are cool with it. However, if someone at our church ever disparages us for taking karate, all I have to do is point to my daughter and ask, "How many girls her age in this church are either pregnant or have toddlers?" Enough said.
  • Charlotte
    My issue usually is my friends who know that I train and tend to bring it up in conversations with people I may not necessarily know. I'm not sure whether it is to make me seem interesting or second hand bragging but I'm not someone to bring it up generally. Although I try and brush it off, I always get the 'show me a move..'
  • sven
    I'm pretty good at karate; especially fighting. I'm a very calm, relaxed person. It's not a trait you are born with - you actually have to practice your mind to be able to stay calm and not over react.I have never been involved in a real fight my entire life. Only in a controlled karate environment in a dojo or at competitions.I have been in a lot of situations that could have easily turned into a huge fight BUT I have always been able to talk and reason myself out of those situations.To me, that is the truest form of "winning". To be able to control yourself and not hurt or get hurt.Just because you can hurt people does not mean you have to :)
    • Mario
      Excelent explanation, loved it. In my, wrong toughts, Who has been training for long time would became more violent, willing practise against someone for eny reason.
  • talprofs
    Context is everything. As a student living in Scotland, it was never an issue for others to know that I practiced a Martial Art; there was a strong seam of clubs / various arts in the town where I lived, and the karate dojo where I trained had internationally renowned instructors. Neither did I have any problems when I lived in the south of Spain. But, on moving to London some years ago, I soon learned that, in a bustling city full of angry people, it paid to be discreet and keep silent on the subject. A former work colleague once let slip that I practised Karate, and it caused me no end of trouble. So, these days, only close friends and my other doki know that I train; I never disclose this fact to work colleagues. talprofs.
  • Marcus
    Perfect, as a martial arts practitioner, I avoid telling most people that I do a martial art, you never know if the guy you're talking to is that kind of jerk of thinks he can fight like Anderson Silva just because he watched some Jason Statham's movies.
  • There are no rules here...only judgement. I promote our club and style on FB, with friends, family and people I associate with all with positive effect. We have club business cards to give to people who seem interested. But I don't tell everyone and I always evaluate my motives before I do so. Doing so on an impulse is not a good idea. I have told a potential adversary on the "street" that he might want to reconsider what he's doing because I'm a "black belt". It left a very dirty taste in my mouth saying it but combined with my attitude and body posture it changed his mind about taking on someone who he saw as smaller than him. In this instance telling was better than having to show. Situational awareness...aka "Mushin"
  • Ratna
    Hello... I'm very honor to find ur website btw im so sorry for my bad english. . Its really helpfull to know about karate problem but it's doesn't work in Indonesia so far or maybe i dont know about it ... I just want to try every martial arts recently i try MMA , and now i want to try Karate but sometimes i fell shame cause my age , i'm 23 y.o btw .. and much of people start karate when they young or kid :"(
    • Pleiades
      Ratna: There is no age limit on starting any Martial Art! :-)Just try one and see if you like it. 23 seems very, very young to me (and probably to many other practitioners)!
  • Jan DiMartino
    very interesting and very informative I learned a lot
  • Noob Johnson
    Cops drew guns on you for practicing on the beach? A teacher specifically asked if anyone in your class took karate and then screamed at you? Your boss tried to punch you when he found out you practice martial arts and you "accidentally kicked his ass and got written up for assault?"Yeah none of that happened. This whole thing reads like "The whole world thinks I'm a death machine because I know karate and I kind of am LOL LOL"
    • Actually I've had similar experiences (but not as bad). Cops have followed, monitored or "questioned" me for practicing in the park or in a parking lot. People have treated me weirdly and insinuated that I am violent for studying martial arts, especially since I am "already big, so what do you need karate for!" Back in the day, someone swung at me at work after finding out my training, I think to try to deliberately provoke a recation. Yeah, people can get weird, due to their own strange insecurities, if they find out you are a martial artists.Oh well!
  • Aubrey r
    I took karate in 4th grade and went to karate dojo in 6and or seven garden some skills still retained forgot a lot brother makes fun of me

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