Times seem to have changed plentiful since when I started Shotokan karate over 20 odd years ago. Back then in the Karate Union of Great Britiain (KUGB), head guards were unheard of, let alone mitts. Why then the change over the years to how karate looks to be heading? Or is this the segregation and introduction of a karate sport that has driven wedges between traditional kareteka and “new wave” practitioners of the martial art.
I cannot say that I definitely know the answer, but do have an opinion on the matter. Over the years in my opinion we have adopted some negative traits from our American friends across the pond, one being a suing culture, which has spread to the UK like wildfire. If you turn on the TV nowadays you have little or no chance of watching a programme without seeing some compensation no win no fee, injury lawyer advert, which I believe has had a negative impact on our culture. The trouble is that I see a lot of these companies as driving out the very worst in our human nature. A chance for a solicitor business to make money and hone in on individuals prompting them to act in a way that is very much money orientated and that makes me sad. Call me an idealist, but trying to see the very best in people makes it difficult when temptation of money through false claims are so transparently advertised and splashed all across the media. Now I’m not saying that all cases aren’t genuine, some are. However if we genuinely feel that we need compensation for loss of earnings through ill health resulted in an accident that isn’t our own then I don’t believe we need to have such forceful advertising campaigns being pushed on to our telly sets.
What has this got to do with karate?! I hear you ask. Well this very culture of suing has transformed the way karate instructors have to operate in order to cover their own backs. This transformation in the sport of karate with regards to safety has come in to place to directly protect instructors teaching their pupils. What is ironic about this is that the formation of a good teacher pupil relationship is based on that very thing, trust. Unfortunately the safeguards being put in place almost seems as though that trust bond has immediately started on the wrong foot as every instructor is compelled to protect themselves from a financial claim.
For me personally all this health and safety has taken a negative impact on the way I feel. I understand that times change and adaptations need to be put in place to progress with these changing times, but this change has been built entirely on the very worst in human nature.
Looking from the other side; Are these changes in fact a good idea? Am I being too judgmental personally and seeing the very worst in people? Maybe it is a case of safety implementations making karate more accessible to all. The chance to give parents another option when choosing a martial art for their children to say “Hey! Look! We’ll make sure your child learns to defend themselves in a safe environment.” This may very well be true and helps to lower the fear threshold of people looking to take up karate. All I can say is that when I started I was still kept safe, techniques were and still are semi contact. It has worked for hundreds of thousands of people all over the world up until now so why the need for change? It’s not to say I’ve never been caught and injured slightly with a little bit too much lack of control with a side serving of my fault, however I can count the amount of times that has happened on one hand. Incidentally, the three I can think of in 22 years has also taught me some of my most valuable lessons and has changed the way I do certain things in karate forever.
In conclusion there are various factors that have brought around this change. When looking at it from one perspective it looks detrimental to the art, the other gives it a more accessible, karate for all outlook promoting inclusion. To me though karate is, and always will be a fighting art. That is was it is and one should take it up with the understanding that you may very, very occasionally get hurt. If you don’t like it then there are many other sports out there to choose from.
I look forward to hearing everyone’s views on this.