So, I keep arguing that you need to become this Karate Nerd™ thing.
Most of you, hopefully, kind of, sort of, perhaps, maybe get what I mean. Some of you think I’m just being funny, and the rest don’t really care.
But I’m dead serious.
You, dear reader, need to become a full-fledged Karate Nerd™.
And, judging by the e-mails I keep getting, too few of you have really understood what I mean. So let this post clear up the confusion by allowing me to break down the definition of a true Karate Nerd™ for a moment. I’ll try my best, and then we’ll work from there, mmkay?
To begin with, you need to acknowledge the fact that our modern world is practically run by nerds.
Google, Facebook, Apple, Wikileaks, Twitter… together they know more about you than you can possibly imagine. As we are gradually sucked deeper into the pit of George Orwells dystopian 1984-society, somewhere, somehow, a nerd is most certainly watching your every move as you read this. Like Bill Gates once so famously said: “Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.”
Which is true.
The thing is, today’s rapidly evolving society leaves practically no room for old-school bureaucracy thinking if you want to cut through the clutter. You’ve got to expand. This holds equally true for everything; from technology, marketing, media and economy to – yes – the martial arts.
Karate in particular.
In this day and age where Karate is considered such a sleeping pill that even the remake of the legendary Karate Kid movie is about kung-fu (!), it’s hard to not act surprised when you hear that Karate is lagging behind the other, modern, martial arts out there. Because it is. In practically every aspect imaginable. Coolness especially. And, since NERD is the new COOL, this is just the tip of iceberg when speaking of reasons why to become a Karate Nerd™.
Nerd = Rockstar.
K-1, UFC, ADCC, MMA, BJJ, ADHD… the number of abbreviations in modern martial arts promotions are growing faster than ever. At a meteoric rate. And new ones are being added every day. In twenty years, I seriously believe MMA will be the world’s biggest sport. Not the world’s biggest martial art, but sport. Across all disciplines. It’s like someone once said: “If you are standing on a field, and you see some guys playing football, some guys playing soccer, some guys playing frisbee and some guys fighting – where will the crowd gather?”
Not around the frisbee players, for sure.
And definitely not around some wacky headband wearing Karate guy in the corner practicing his no-touch KO.
Because that’s the sad truth.
Karate is simply not cool anymore.
Even in Okinawa – the friggin’ birthplace of Karate – it’s not cool. Believe me when I say there’s barely a handful of sensei who can make a living from their native fighting art, cultural heritage, of Karate. And these guys are supposed to be the best in the world. Crème de la crème. Training since they were five. Holder of numerous belts, awards and achievements. Real ones, not bought online.
Yet, almost all of them need to have an extra hustle on the side – just to get food on the table!
In what other “profession” do the best in the world need to do that?
You don’t have to answer, because we both already know it. Clearly, if you ask any business man, most Karate teachers are not successful at all. At least when success equals gold.
But perhaps success can be defined in different ways?
Doing what you truly love, steadily feeling a sense of improvement, learning new and awesome stuff, sharing knowledge with fun people, evolving both spiritually, mentally and physically, while enjoying this whole incredible process to such a degree that you can barely pull yourself back to “normal” life again – perhaps that’s success?!
Sounds good to me.
If not, I need you to stop right here.
Because I’m going to teach you, right here, right now, how to achieve this kind of success.
Through a vehicle known as Karate.
By embracing your inner Karate Nerd™.
Simply by realizing that the true strength of Karate lies not in necessarily imitating the other modern martial arts and their popular commercial setup (again, what a business man might consider success), but by taking advantage of, and hacking, the very aspect that has been keeping us apart in Karate for so long. The thing that has been holding us back through all the years when the other, modern, martial arts were racing past us.
We all know how the conversations go: “My style is better than yours, this technique sucks, that sensei rocks, this dojo does this, that dojo does that…” and sure, while this can be seen as something negative, as the case most often is, it can also be one of your biggest assets, assuming that you use it right.
The incredible diversity of Karate is a double edged sword for sure.
All you need to know is how to wield it.
What am I talking about, exactly? Let me explain:
Is Karate physical fitness? An exotic hobby? An exciting sport? A form of self-defense? And what is most important of the physical parts? Kata? Kumite? Bunkai? Kihon? Hojo-undo? What about the theoretical parts? Philosophy? History? Okinawan culture? Etiquette? Japanese language? Don’t forget Kobudo!
Karate is such a vast field that we have historically always had to divide it into distinct schools and styles, that only focus on certain aspects of clearly defined areas in Karate. This is the default mode. Thus, to make stuff happen, we need to change that.
Simply put, we need to learn it all.
You, dear friend, need to embrace the incredible diversity of Karate.
Because, frankly speaking, we can’t afford to be one-dimensional anymore.
Now sure, the devout specialist will always be fond of labeling the impetuous learner (Da Vinci and Ben Franklin being just two forgotten examples) a ”jack of all trades, master of none”. In Japan they even say, “the hunter who chases two rabbits catches none“. So the chorus unites: In the modern world, it is he who specializes who survives and thrives. There is no place for Renaissance men or women anymore.
Or is there?
If you ask me, it is entirely possible to be a jack of all trades, master of many. Why? Because “specialist” always overestimate the time needed to “master” a skill, by confusing “master” with “perfect”. And this is super important to know for aspiring Karate Nerds™.
Smart people like you recognize that the famous 80/20 principle (Pareto’s principle) applies to all skills, Karate being no exception. For those who haven’t heard about this principle, it can be applied to everything in life. Like, 20% of a language’s vocabulary will enable you to communicate and understand at least 80% of the language, 20% of the moves in a sport account for 80% of the scoring, 20% of companies own 80% of the world’s resources et cetera.
It’s a very universal law.
Which means what?
That if you plan on doing something for a long time (which I hope you plan for Karate), you’ll have a much more pleasant time becoming really good in several aspects of your chosen pursuit rather than being bullheaded and limiting yourself to merely one area of expertise.
So, is this settling for mediocre?
Not at all.
Smart people like you will simply take the condensed study of your chosen areas in Karate up to, but never beyond, the point of rapidly diminishing returns.
See, you need to become a “specialist” at Karate, sure.
But Karate is so many things!
It’s so diverse.
So diverse that you can – and should – study it all.
Indeed, there is a reason military “generals” are called such…
And that’s the basic premise of being a Karate Nerd™.
Because in the world of dogmatic specialists, it’s always the generalist who ends up running the show.
Which we are already seeing in the modern martial arts; cross-training for breakfast, YouTube videos for lunch, and open mat training sessions for dinner (when was the last time you saw an open mat training session for Karate?!)
Is a CEO a better accountant than the CPA? Is Steve Jobs a better programmer than the iTunes VP of Engineering? No, but he has a broad range of skills and sees the unseen interconnectedness. As technology becomes a commodity with the democratization of information, it’s the big-picture generalists in all fields who will predict, innovate, and rise to power fastest.
Just like Karate has not risen.
Now, before you go all new-agey on me, let me remind you that all Karate pioneers of the old said the exact same thing.
“It is not possible to become a great martial artist without an education. The serious karateka should study anatomy and physiology, grappling, swordsmanship, horsemanship, archery and strategic tactice, etc. Cross training & study must balance your training in order to master the way…”
– Funakoshi Gichin (1868-1957)
Interesting, isn’t it, that the old masters seemed to understand something most of us seem to have forgotten today? That the compartmentalized study of what’s been laid out in front of you by a single sensei simply doesn’t cut it anymore – as more Karate-ka around the world are realizing that a wider understanding of Karate and its related practises is seriously required in order to stand up against not only the mainstream martial arts surrounding us but against the modern society as a whole.
Perhaps the old masters also understood that boredom is failure?
Because that’s another great benefit of becoming a Karate Nerd™.
You’ll never experience boredom again.
Greatness comes from having fun, and diversity is the most funnest of all.
“There is no such thing as discipline. There is only love… you are the result of what you love most.”
Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but when you were a child, you ran around all day, played catch, climbed trees, swam, danced around, jumped rope, hopscotched and bounced off walls until you passed out. Day in and day out. Back then, you called it play and you loved it.
But now you call it exercise…
…and you loathe it.
Which is bad on so many levels I can’t even count them.
So shift your mindset away from the futility of the pure “physical efficiency” model of exercise and back to the mind-engaging ambrosia of play. Play Karate. Immerse yourself in everything exciting, no matter what the label, as long as it is in the Karate direction. In fact, this should be some kind of golden rule:
You know you’re doing something wrong when it’s not fun anymore.
Oh, I’m sorry, what’s that? You’re aiming to become the next Muhammad Ali?
“I hated every minute of training, but I said, “don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.”
– Muhammad Ali, boxing masochist
Well pardon me.
For the rest of us, who are content with a simple happy life and the good ol’ feeling of waking up to sweet success (remember our definition) every day, let’s keep making Karate fun, by embracing its diversity. Ali can keep his quote.
You must never allow Karate to become boring.
Because that’s the day you’ll start doubting.
Just keep taking advantage of Karate’s diversity by always learning fresh stuff.
In a first-world economy where we have the physical necessities covered with even low-class income, Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs drives us to need more for any measure of comparative “success.” Lack of intellectual stimulation, not superlative material wealth, is what drives us to depression and emotional bankruptcy. Generalizing and experimenting prevents this, while over- specialization guarantees it.
Which is great news for all of us.
See, you don’t need to specialize in anything, except “Karate” itself.
Because Karate contains so much.
There’s that word again:
The Karate Nerd™ maximizes his number of peak experiences and learns to enjoy the pursuit of excellence unrelated to material gain, all while finding the few things he is truly uniquely suited to dominate in Karate. Whatever those may be.
The specialist, on the other hand, who imprisons himself in self-inflicted one-dimensionality, cleverly disguised as “tradition”, “respect” or “loyalty” — pursuing an unhealthy perfection in some specific “style”— spends decades stagnant or making imperceptible incremental improvements while the curious generalist (you!) consistently measures improvement in quantum leaps. Ha!
Needless to say, it is only the latter who enjoys the process of truly pursuing excellence… in Karate as a WHOLE.
Which to me, undoubtedly, is the key to thriving in today’s ever-evolving world of modern combat sports – whether you’re a student or teacher.
Don’t put on experiential blinders in the name of specializing.
Be too complex to categorize.
Be a Karate Nerd™
Like Albert Einstein once so famously said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” It’s time for a change.
And change starts with the man in the mirror.
“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”
– Henry David Thoreau
* PS. When a Pan-American Champion, World Champion and World Games Champion tweets the following, you know we’re headed in the right direction: