One of my students came to me recently, concerned because she read a number of posts online that slammed karate for being "a less effective form of fighting/self-defense."

How crude.

Now, I'm trying REALLY hard not to sound like an elitist karate snob here (Okay, I admit it, I am an elitist karate snob!), but I must say that those who doubt karate's effectiveness as a fighting art have never "really" studied it — at least not in any depth. In the same breath though, I'll also willingly say that EVERY art has its strengths and weaknesses. As the saying goes, "there are no superior martial arts, only superior martial artists."

Although I've studied karate for a very long time, I think I'm "just now" starting to get the hang of it. And so I've also familiarized myself with other complimentary martial arts to help fill in some of the tactical gaps that karate doesn't cover very well. That's exactly what a martial artist SHOULD do, don't you think? The mixed martial arts craze that's sweeping the nation is proof that the weaknesses of those who specialize in a single martial art (be they grapplers or strikers) will eventually be exposed in the ring — usually in a very unflattering, embarrassing, and painful manner!

There are a lot of misconceptions about what karate is and what it isn't — I'll readily agree with anyone who says you CAN'T do a kata on someone, or that the "crane technique" from the Karate Kid WILL NOT WORK. (duh!) But, the "hidden" techniques that are taught as part of our karate training process (joint locks, eye strikes, throws, etc.) can be particularly effective "out there on the street" — if you've trained, and if you're actually willing to use them.

But, I digress... While developing fighting skill is certainly part of our training, I'm pretty sure that most of my students are not "primarily" interested in fighting. If they were, I suspect (I hope!) that they would have left our dojo a long, LONG time ago. In fact, there's a great place right down the street that I can recommend — especially for those who are into fighting, bruises, and broken teeth.

Here's what I would ask anyone interested in joining my dojo:

Why do you want to train in this Asian anachronism known as "karate"? Aside from learning how to break things and hurt people, what do you expect and want to learn while you are here? Are you willing to learn fighting spirit? Are you willing to develop indomitable will? And are you willing to apply these things outside of the dojo? What meaning will you find by putting on white pajamas a couple of times each week, yelling and running around in your bare feet? Are you willing to stare your own ego in the face? (Your ego, after all, is the opponent I really want you to defeat.)

We train hard and seriously at our dojo. We get cuts, and scrapes, and bumps, and bruises, too — no paper tigers, please! And if push ever came to shove, I'm confident that when properly applied, the techniques we learn and practice on the mat will work "out there on the street." So if you're interested in learning self-defense (and some art and culture and history along the way), I can help with that.

But if you're only interested in fighting, I'll be forced to admit that I'm not really interested in teaching you… unless you're going to use what you learn at my dojo to fight (take a stand) against injustice, ignorance, crime, racism, poverty, or hunger, or to fight for peace, the environment, better education, reconciliation, or some other worthy cause or ideal.

You see, karate is the disguise I use to try to teach people how to become more confident, respectful, cognizant, engaged, responsible, fearless, contributing, caring, and enlightened global citizens. Instead of creating fighters, I hope I'm producing compassionate human beings through the culturally rich training methods of traditional karate. My students are developing as amazing and inspiring people. People who just so happen to know how to throw and land (and take) a decent punch!

Some closing thoughts —

Karate first teaches you how to FIGHT,
Then, Karate teaches you how to DIE,
Ultimately, Karate teaches you how to LIVE.

Author's Bio: 

Jason Gould is the founder of Emerald Necklace Budo Martial Arts. He is a 3rd degree black belt in Shorin-ji ryu karate, and he has been studying the martial arts for over 20 years. Sensei Gould has been certified as a martial arts instructor by the American Council on Martial Arts. He is currently studying to earn a Specialist in Martial Arts Conditioning (SMAC) certificate from the International Sports Sciences Association. Sensei Gould is a certified instructor for the radKIDS personal empowerment and safety education program for children and the R.A.D. Basic Physical Defense program for women. He maintains his CPR certification through the American Red Cross. Sensei Gould is a Boston University graduate and former United States Marine Corps officer. He currently lives in Allston, MA where he is active in the local community. In 2002, city officials recognized the Neighborhood Crime Watch he helped start in Mission Hill and Jamaica Plain as one of the Top Ten crime watches in Boston. Mr. Gould is currently a Crime Watch Coordinator for the Ringer Park Crime Watch Group in Allston. This group was recognized as a Top Ten Crime Watch in 2004.