Category Archives: History

Anything related to the history of budo, especially karate.

Link: Frank Gotch’s 1908 “Wrestling and How to Train”

Follow the link for a transcript of Gotch’s classic wrestling manual, Wrestling and How to Train.

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Evidence Based Practice in the Fighting Arts: Appraisal and Suggestions

The practice of martial arts has come to be diverse in terms of the wide range of  arts and schools available and in terms of the population that is involved. Physical fitness and talent may only be required to a small degree, or they may be paramount to success. Students may be dedicated about conditioning, or they may be “weekend-warriors” whose primary physical activity is a class.  An instructor may be qualified in a technical realm but not be a good source of information in others, such as the nature of violence. The need for Evidence Based Practice (EBP) is just as high as in any other vigorous physical activity, yet appeals to tradition, history and authority and “experts” often lead students and practitioners to accept dubious information or ignore new information, which can have consequences on a number of levels. For this discussion, the practice of the various martial arts can be divided into two realms: non-competitive recreational (i.e., oriented at self defense, fitness, cultural pursuit, etc.) and competitive (amateur or professional competition). Most of this discussion will focus on the recreational realm.

What is EBP?

Briefly, evidence-based practice can be seen as a tool for:

  • finding evidence to support decision making and for analyzing the quality of the available evidence
  • distinguishing low quality sources of qualitative and quantitative information from high quality sources
  • promoting critical thinking and synthesis of the literature
  • recognizing that best evidence may change over time

Evidence-based practice is a key feature in modern medical education. In the above diagram of EBP components, it doesn’t take much effort to exchange “patient” for student and “clinical expertise” for instructional expertise

It’s also important to recognize what EBP is not:

  • A cookbook approach to training and decision making
  • Not based solely on hard evidence- empirical experience, intuition and active experimentation have a role. EBP considers personal experience, judgment, values, etc. alongside information from objective, quality sources.
  • Not restricted to RCT’s and meta-analyses

Failures of EBP in the Fighting Arts

An extreme example of a lack of critical thinking and evidence-based practice can be found in  the cult of personality that has developed around Ueshiba Morihei, founder of the Japanese art of Aikido.

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Who's This Stuff For?

It is always a good exercise to take account of our motivations as karate teachers and practitioners. Why do we continue on, year after year, teaching and practicing karate? Yes there are a lot of easy, canned answers: cultivation of character, preserving the traditions of the past, to learn to be able to defend oneself, to confront our responses to violence, force of habit. I am sure I am leaving many out.

I don’t think most people scrutinize this carefully. For a variety of reasons, answering this requires us to consider who makes up the community of people to whom we are responsible towards. When the answer is ambiguous it becomes nearly impossible to understand the extent of our responsibilities, and thus what it is we should be doing. The ‘why’ question becomes easier to address when we are clear about what we are doing, and equally important, about what we are not/ should not be doing.

There are those who regard themselves as hard-core ‘traditionalists’ for whom preserving tradition seems to be the ultimate objective. To these people the most important obligation is to ones predecessors in these arts. Of course it is useful and proper to give credit where it is due. We have an obligation to make sure our historical claims are accurate, but that seems like the extent of our obligation to the dead.

Many times in the thirty-plus years I have been involved with martial arts, I have seen abusive and insensitive behavior justified by appeals to tradition.

As a younger black-belt level instructor, I remember struggling with ethical dilemmas that should not have been complicated, however, my judgment was clouded by the imagined relevance of some mumbo jumbo associated with tradition.

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Linked Article: The significance of the Matsuyama study group

Garry Lever has posted an excellent discussion on the roots of Goju Ryu over at the Goju Kenkyukai blog. This is one of the more sober looks at the history of any karate group out there. Karate in general suffers from the effects of unnecessary myth-making and mysticism; as a result the histories of different practices and individuals are badly garbled and left open to some pretty silly stuff.  I think Garry hits this one head on- forget trying to pin down direct sources and secret transmissions; it’s more likely that Goju Ryu has it’s roots with a bunch of guys who knew a few things about fighting skills, getting together in the park to train. Hmmm…now why does that seem so familiar?

Check it out there

More for the Anatomy freaks: Historical Anatomies on the Web

Follow the link for a veritable treasure trove of historical anatomy texts from around the globe. Some of them are amazingly detailed and accurate while others give some insight into how different people in different times and cultures perceived the human body.

Historical Anatomies on the Web

More on Bettelheim: Gospel Translations, Rubbings of Original Monument

Last year I posted a link to a research piece on Dr. Bernard J. Bettelheim, the crazed European missionary and troublemaker extraordinaire who spent several years living in Naha, Okinawa. In that piece, I mentioned that Bettelheim spent considerable time translating the canonical Gospels into katakana and phonetic script of the local Hogen dialect.

Although Bettelheim records his success in translating the Gospels into katakana and the native Hogen, we can only speculate upon what he was actually able to get across in these attempts.

While looking online for more of Bettelheim’s diary, I came across copies of his translation of the Gospels of Luke and St. John, digitally archived at the University of Hawaii’s Japan Collection:

Treasures of Okinawa, Frank Hawley Collection

Some time after the Doctor’s departure from Okinawa (something that the Ryukyuan government tried to arrange from the moment he set foot on the island), a monument was erected in his memory by a group of foreign and Japanese Protestants. Like many, many other historically significant artifacts, this monument was destroyed in the bombardment of Okinawa during World War II. While looking at the link above I came across a digitally archived rubbing of the original monument, hosted by the university of Hawaii’s Okinawa Collection:

Sakamaki Hawley collection, Hakutokurei Kinento Takuhon (Rubbing of Monument to Bettelheim). It’s the 4th item down.

Linked Article: Nahate Heresy

Mario McKenna has posted some very salient observations on the growing trend of slapping dubious historical connections and illustrious names together in order to sell a place/school as “the” origin of this type of karate or that. Give it a look for a very clear-headed perspective on the recent effort to increase tourism in Fuzhou by hyping it up as the birthplace of Goju Ryu.

Nahate Heresy