A word heard often when speaking about Karate.
Traditional values. Traditional techniques. Traditional etiquette. Traditional…. you get the point.
Let me take an example: In our classes we practise with “focus pads“. You know, the type that boxers or kick/thai-boxers usually use. We train strikes, kicks, punches, knees and other techniques on them.
It’s great for cardio, strength, impact/resistance training, and simply adds a whole new dimension to “punching in the air” that many Karate schools seem to worship. And don’t get me wrong, punching in the air is a valid exercise, even thaiboxers spend hours and hours on shadow boxing. I simply believe they go hand in hand.
Now, here comes the million dollar question: Is this a traditional way of training Karate? Hitting pads?
Most people would say no.
Before I comment this, let’s take another example:
Many “traditional” Karate schools use old-style strength training equipment. Like jars filled with sand (nigiri game) and wooden sticks in a stone (chi ishi). They are great, and training with them really helps in building strength in the specific muscle groups involved in Karate. Plus, they add a high degree of exoticism to the training!
If you didn’t understand my messy explanation, here’s a picture.
In our dojo we don’t have these. What do we have? We have kettlebells, barbells, dumbbells and other “modern inventions”. They are great for strength training, and not hard to get, like the old-style versions.
Now, do we train traditional Karate strength training?
Most people would say no.
I say “Yes” to example one, and “Yes” to example two.
Because tradition is not about preserving the ashes – It’s about keeping the flame lit.
In other words, it’s not about stepping in the footsteps of the old masters. But rather to seek what they sought.
I know that the old way is to not use focus pads. Because they weren’t even invented then. I know that the old way is to not use modern gym equipment. Because neither did they have that.
But if they had focus pads and modern gym equipment, I’m absolutely sure they would use it. They wouldn’t have any seconds thoughts about it.
Before you could blink, Motobu would be standing there with focus pads, perfecting his devastating elbow strikes, while Funakoshi and Miyagi would be comparing their kettlebell-swing technique with each other. Mabuni would be standing in a corner explaining to some critics why the old-style training equipment is no longer needed with these new grat inventions.
But they didn’t. Not because they didn’t want to. But because they couldn’t. Sport science and the sporting industry was barely invented at that time. They just didn’t have the knowledge or material to make a pad, even if they wanted to!
So, when we train with pads and modern gym equipment, we train the traditional way. We seek the same goals they did. To make our Karate more effective by using equipment, but without being stuck in time.
I am actually going so far that I will say that if you only use the old style equipment, and neglect the modern inventions, you are going AGAINST tradition.
Because tradition is about keeping the flame lit.
You are just sitting there with your ashes.