Has Karate to be one?

Italiano ♦ English

In the 90s suddenly came, and winds still with us, a strange desire. To reset the styles and unify Karate. Why should we go on with this incessant and foolish fragmentation of our discipline, with the styles rivaling each other, with techniques and katas differing up till making the same form, except for its name, almost unrecognizable when performed by a karateka from a different school? Would not it be better to give it a rest? To sit down around a table and decide to gather all of us under the same roof, unify the curricula and ensure synergy, all working for the same, common goal, in the same way? That was, I think, the basic idea. But is it still really a good idea?

Gichin Funakoshi, creatore dello stile Shotokan
Gichin Funakoshi – Shotokan

Put it this way. No matter our personal opinion, no matter how we actually respond to the question. Karate is already one and only one. When they ask me what is the sport I practice (okay, I know, I always shudder at the word sport and I’d like to point out saying «discipline, please», but I can’t stay always there to point out everything) I don’t say «Wado-ryu». I answer: «Karate». Doing so, my interlocutor immediately understands what I’m talking about, because in his mind Karate exists, while Wadoryu, Shotokan, Goju and Shito-ryu probably doesn’t. And it is quite understandable.

If you were abducted by aliens, brought to live on the fourth M-class planet orbiting Alpha Centauri and a new indigenous acquaintance, a few years later, were asking you where do you come from, you probably wouldn’t answer «from Rome» or «from Italy», but: «from the planet Earth». And that’s not enough. If we’d ask ourselves: «Is the world actually one?» what would we answer? «Yes, of course». Yet on Earth, there are an endless variety of different worlds and cultures. Take, for example, the languages. On our planet, there are seven thousand of idioms, and all serve the same purpose: to communicate between us. Okay. But then, wouldn’t it be better, for this purpose, that we all speak the same? Guys, this is where things get complicated. Because in order to answer to this question we need to think a little, and think carefully.

Hironori Otsuka - Wado-ryu
Hironori Otsuka – Wado-ryu

When we translate a text from one language to another we realize that some shades of meaning are irreproducible. Something goes invariably lost. They call it lost in translation. It happens because communication is not a mere act of transfer of information, but a deep spiritual and delicate process of sharing, creation and composition that takes many years of attention and interaction, in order to effectively and successfully establish. Each language influence the way the people think. And each language produces, in its own literature, something unique and unrepeatable that wouldn’t be possible in different cultures and idioms. Here it is. And now we are ready to go back to Karate.

Think of Karate as the world. The world in which all of us karatekas live. The world is one – and Karate is one. If we spoke with someone who is not from our own world, and he or she were asking us where do we come from, we would now know very well what to answer. Nevertheless, we also know that in our world there are many languages, that is different styles, that is different ways to do the same thing. And each of these styles aims to practice the same thing (Karate), pursuing the same goal. So why not unify them? Answer: because we’d lose something precious. Something immeasurably important, unique, irreproducible. Something expressible only within a specific style.

Kenwa Mabuni – Shito-ryu

Should we maybe adopt that attitude of humility that we’ve been taught to be the foundation of Karate and Budo, letting nature, even that of Karate, run its course freely, like a river flowing from the mountains to the sea? Experience suggests the goodness of this way. The early good sports results, where there was the unification (for example, in Italy), seem now to be challenged by the powerful return, in other nations, of the traditional Karate spirit with a new specific work in progress on the styles, even in the competitive contexts. In the traditional contexts, instead, the attempts to bring Karate to its origins, to the mythical Golden Okinawan Age when the very true (and secret!) Karate was thaught and practiced, made through a sort of historical research without any written sources and with a very few, contradictory and imaginative oral testimony (indirect, moreover) it’s producing even worse results, sometimes challenging the common sense of the ridiculous. The myths of human culture and the whole human history both teach us that any forced unification invariably brings to a failure (think of the universal artificial language of Esperanto: just a few hundreds  of people in the world know it and use it).

Miyagi Chojun – Goju-ryu

An act of arrogance has made us erect the Tower of Babel, and the result was the dispersion of all of us in different and countless cultures and languages. Trough a new act of arrogance we now aim to put them together, annihilating every particularity, every uniqueness, every difference. Proving ourselves that we haven’t still understood how that apparent divine punishment was, actually, a blessing. The blessing of the plurality of branching, which every plant and tree know so well. None of them would survive long if instead of the countless twisted and ramified roots they had a single linear stump plunged into the earth.

And, as I see it, not even Karate. ♦ Leggilo in italiano

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