What is it?
“late 14c., from O.Fr. tradicion (late 13c.), from L. traditionem (nom. traditio) “delivery, surrender, a handing down,” from traditus, pp. of tradere “deliver, hand over,” from trans- “over” + dare “to give” (see date (1)). The word is a doublet of treason (q.v.). The notion in the modern sense of the word is of things “handed down” from generation to generation.”
It is an interesting word indeed.
Mention the word “tradition” and some people will be quick to run away, covering their ears in disgust – while others will be even quicker to literally kiss your feet, begging you to repeat the word until you run out of breath.
What a word.
It wouldn’t be an understatement to claim that tradition is a big cornerstone of Karate – judging from our numerous practises, customs and beliefs – yet few people have ever stopped to think about what tradition really means, and more importantly why it is so incredibly awesome.
And not only does it rock, it also kicks ass. Major ass. Contrary to what some people believe, I love tradition. And no, not more than I love carrot cake, but still very much. Tradition is totally sweet.
But… hold on a minute.
My ninja sense is tingling.
You have an important question, right?
“Hey, Jesse-san! What is it really about tradition that is so “super” anyways? Isn’t it just for old farts?”
Okay, valid question.
This article will give you the answer(s).
So let’s cut to the chase. Without further ado, let me present to you the top 5 Simple Reasons Why You Should Love Tradition, according to me. Nothing fancy, as usual, just some ideas that you can run with. Maybe giving you a BFO (Blinding Flash of the Obvious) in the process if we’re lucky.
Starting from #5, ending with the most important reason… #1.
Let’s take a look:
#5: Tradition Makes You Feel Like You’re a Part of Something Bigger.
It is an unquestionable fact that for every extra hour you’re standing in the dojo, doing endless repetitions of punches and kicks to the screams of an old samurai sensei, the feeling of a certain connection grows stronger.
A connection to Karate history.
A connection to other Karate people.
A connection to every human being on earth who has ever trained any form of Karate, and undoubtedly shared your every hardship and/or discovery without ever meeting you in the flesh.
Tradition is the glue that holds this whole, weird, cosmic connection together.
It is what makes you feel a sense of belonging to a family bigger than you can ever fathom. It is hard to put in words, but you sense it.
The Karate family.
United by tradition.
I guess it’s one of those “larger than life”-things.
#4: Tradition Takes The Pain Away From Figuring It All Out, Again.
The simple fact that something has been handed down in generations through tradition points to one thing:
Somebody figured some stuff out, people seemed to agree that the stuff in question was good, and the stuff was eventually handed down to us in some form.
Thus, by simply following tradition you will greatly ease your pain, in the sense that you don’t have to think as hard about the following:
- What to do.
- How to do it.
- Why to do it.
- When to do it
- Where to do it.
One simple word takes care of all of the above.
By just following the blueprint of tradition, you will instantly have removed 99% of the doubts you might have about what, why, where and how to practise Karate. All you need to do (the 1%) is to slightly tweak it for our modern day environment (secretive graveyard practise might have been a great idea in ancient Okinawa, but maybe not in downtown Manhattan).
It’s all laid out for us.
By people who were probably smarter than us anyway.
No flashlight and compass needed.
Just follow the signs.
#3: Tradition Let’s You Know Your Stuff Has Withstood the Test of Time.
Like previously mentioned, if something is still around after a couple of hundreds of years, you can bet it’s thoroughly battle proven.
Over and over again.
And not only by one Karate dude, but by generations of dudes. Dudettes too.
I mean, if something does not work, it’s obviously not practised that much – so it quickly falls out of use. Hence, impractical stuff slowly stops being a part of the normal routine and eventually drops out of the tradition altogether.
This goes for everything; from physical techniques to tactics to teaching methods.
If it’s called tradition, it has most likely stood the test of time.
Which isn’t an easy test at all.
#2: Tradition Let’s You Do Things Normal People Wouldn’t Get Away With.
Running around half naked, throwing ripe tomatoes on each other? You got it! Just call it La Tomatina, and make sure it takes place in Valencia on the last Wednesday in August every year, and suddenly it’s nemas problemas. If you haven’t heard of this tradition before, it’s basically this: At the peak of the tomato season a wild battle develops in the whole town as thousands of people pelt each other with juicy tomatoes. Rivers of tomato sauce run down the streets, people are falling and flying everywhere, and after the tomato war is over everyone gathers at the town square for food and wine festivities.
All thanks to tradition.
Another example: July 7-14th is the annual Running of the Bulls festival in the city of Pamplona. A herd of furious fighting bulls are let loose onto the streets, chasing a crowd of young men. The goal? For the runners to feel the breath of the bull on their backs without getting impaled. Unfortunately lots of people get injured every year in this dangerous tradition, but the spectators seem to love it.
And what’s the excuse?
Tradition, of course.
One more: Yes, Spain again (it seems they really like their crazy traditions). Goose Day, as the locals know it, takes place in Lekeitio. A goose is hung from a rope over a harbour while men pass by on a boat and try to grab the poor animal. They are lifted up and repeatively plunged into the water until they successful pull off the neck of the goose. Absolutely horrible, utterly cruel, but guess what?
Which is the exact same reason for why you and me can jump around in a white pajama every day while kicking and punching into “thin air”, screaming loudly, wearing funny colored belts, using made up titles/ranks and speak horrible Japlish to each other.
“Hey, we’re just following tradition!”
And that’s our free pass.
You gotta love it.
One of the few sentences that let’s you get away with practically anything.
#1: If It Wasn’t For Tradition We Would Be Nowhere.
While all of the above reasons for loving tradition obviously kick ass, there is one reason that stands above all, if you ask me.
The ultimate reason for loving tradition with all your heart is the following:
- If it wasn’t for tradition, we would have have nothing to break free from.
- Thus, we would never have arrived to where we are at today.
All major breakthroughs in every field of human history were made by people who followed tradition until they couldn’t stand it no more. Until they couldn’t take it no more. They broke away from the norm, made their own rules, cut away the crap, took the best parts from tradition and incorporated it into their unique vision of the ideal future, mixing and matching tradition and invention like madmen.
Therefore, tradition is the breeding ground of evolution.
And it is here, at the crossroads of the two philosophies of “on ko chi shin” [to learn from the old is to understand the new] and “shu ha ri” [protect, detach, transcend] where, through relentless cross examination and brutal self examination, every traditionalist must eventually make a choice:
- Elevation, or
Tradition is the very foundation upon where this choice rests.
It’s either stand up, step forward and become a part of the future… or sit down, hide your head and slowly join the history books. Choose wisely. It’s one of the toughest decision you will ever make in your Karate life, for sure
If you even decide to make it, that is.
Sadly, most people happily choose the #2 choice purely by default.
But I digress.
And with those wise words I officially end this post on 5 Simple Reasons Why You Should Love Tradition, brought to you straight from the pits of my lizard infested guest house here in hot Okinawa – the birthplace of Karate.
You gotta love it <3