An interesting post over on The Critical Corner blog about Unorthodox Karate.
In this post, the author (zenhg) discusses the taboo of orthodox karate that prevents changing things – changing the kata, adding or subtracting kata from a syllabus, etc. In zenhg’s mind, most orthodox karate styles have a brick wall against anyone changing anything, once the style has been created by its founder. I am sure that this mindset is prevalent in many styles, and where thats true, I couldn’t agree more with zenhg’s comments
First of all, something that is not allowed to grow is already dead, and something that needs so much protection must be extremely fragile, toppling down like a house of cards with the slightest gust of wind; such is the price of over-rigidity.
I am a believer that one of the most important traditions in karate is that of cross-training. If you research back only 2–3 generations ago, its pretty clear that the world of karate in Okinawa was pretty small, and most of the “style founders” trained with several instructors, going beyond the boundaries of what today we call styles. They would absorb kata from various teachers and synthesise them together into their own system.
They would also adapt the various kata to suit their own systems – why else would we have multiple versions of Kusanku, Bassai, Seisan, Naihanchin and others?
The tradition of evolution seemed to stop for many styles in Japan, where karate and its kata became somewhat rigidised. The Japanese precept of “deru kugi wa utareru” (the protruding nail shall be hammered down) seems to have been realised in karate’s transition to the mainland.
So I am a believer that karate and its kata change over time. But an important point is that there are seem pretty important threshholds that should apply, IMHO, before someone has the right to change something. They should know a system inside out, fully understanding the ins and outs of its teachings before changing something. Or they should evolve beyond to form their own new system, with a new name, that will stand its own test of time.
And importantly, anyone who moves down this path shouldn’t be surprised or feel slighted when one day one of their own students does the same thing.
Change is an important tradition in karate. Evolution must continue to act to ensure that karate is relevant, and not just a cultural relic.
I’d love to hear your opinions on this topic of change in karate.