My instructor can kick your instructor’s ass!
Sound familiar? How many times have you heard somebody argue that karate is better than TaeKwonDo because sweeps are allowed in karate. Or TaeKwonDo is better than Karate because in TaeKwonDo kicks can be full contact to the head. Have you ever felt the need to defend your martial art in an argument with somebody training in a different style? Have you ever looked at another style and thought my way is better? I have to admit that I have been that soldier and I’m sure if all of you guys are 100% honest, you’ll no doubt have ridiculed (albeit in the privacy of your inner thoughts) another style as impractical, unrealistic or weak. If you can, hand-on-heart, deny ever looking down on another style, well then you my friend are ahead of your time and I strive to be more like you. But for the vast majority of us, we tend to get sucked in to thinking of our style like an exclusive club being threatened by another exclusive club across the road. Why do we do that? How is it that a large group of people who all share an interest in personal improvement through fighting skills can sub divide into groups that look down their noses at each other. In the immortal words of Homer J Simpson: “Why can’t we all just get along?” or in the words of a famous golfer “When I’m asked what race is Tiger Woods, I reply ‘the human race’!” We’re all martial artists so what’s the problem?
Of course, like all political environments, it’s not quite as simple as that. And yes, I did say ‘political’! There are many organisations out there attempting to tackle the problem of inter-club, inter-country or inter-style rivalry by saying that they are ‘non-political’. The sentiment is good but unfortunately, the idea is flawed. If you’ve got more than 1 member, then you are a political organisation since politics is simply the art of ‘getting along’ and co-existing with others in a common space. Amongst your political tools are emotional intelligence, patience, acceptance and tolerance. For some martial arts style… you need more tolerance than others! Is that me slipping into Rivalry mode again?
Before going any further, I must clarify that by rivalry, I mean the bitter type; the type that can get personal and affect friendships; the type that can cause the next generation on either side to never become friends in the first place. Competitive rivalry between clubs or styles from a tournament point of view is a positive catalyst and can help improve standards on both sides; as long as it does not turn into “Your club can’t fight because you’ve all got one leg shorter than the other!” (or something like that!???)
Here are some of the reasons I have seen that cause rivalry:
1. Ego (too many chiefs and not enough Indians)
Some people are leaders and some are followers. Although, all of us can follow a strong leader who knows what they’re talking about, disagreement between strong personalities festering over long periods of time can lead to fall outs and disputes. Often, this results in two clubs or styles forming in close proximity to each other each looking to develop their membership and thus hissing at each other – probably still smouldering from years of arguments.
Such a dispute is one of the main reasons for the fractured state of Shotokan karate nowadays. In the 1960 and up the late 80’s the JKA (Japan Karate Association) under the leadership of Nakayama Sensei was united and the one main association that every club worldwide aspired to be affiliated with. Following the death of Nakayama, the next generation of instructors were all chiefs and no one strong leader stepped up to hold them all together. As a result, different factions formed. Two factions had a decade long court case to decide which one could keep the name JKA and other factions just started afresh with new worldwide campaigns.
Note: Here’s more detailed history of the JKA split. Scroll to the end of the page.
Nowadays, you can have your pick of a dozen Worldwide associations, none of which really recognises the other and most of which don’t talk to each other. And all that within just one of the many styles of karate.
Here’s a sample of the ones I’m aware of:
JKA, JKS, SKIF, WSKF, ITKF, WTKA, WKF, WUKO, ISKF, IKA, FSKA, WSKA, ASK, JKF, WBF… I could go on and on. These are all Shotokan Karate Associations. Same style, same art, same insane contempt for one another! Each has its own National, Continental and World Championships every year. How can that be good for Shotokan karate?
2. Territory & negative campaigning
Martial arts students choose to do martial arts. Often, they could have chosen a range of other hobbies or sports. In some communities, they can choose from a range of different martial arts clubs. Therefore, just like any shop or gym, a club has a limited catchment area. For example, if a club is situated in an area with 10,000 people living within 2 miles, then perhaps they can achieve a membership of 100 students. If 2 clubs are set up in the same community, that’s 50 each or 80/20 if one club has a better reputation. If you’re involved in a club, of course, you’ll talk your club up. If you’re feeling nasty, you’ll probably talk the other club down also. There’s a fine line between taking pride in your club and unfairly influencing the reputation of a neighbouring club. Most of us live right on the edge. Some can’t even see the line anymore!
Note: Here’s an example of a bit of territorial argument in Cork that happened recently online. You’ll need to read through a few post but the majority of the action is on page 2 & 3 You’ll have to make you own mind if this is negative campaigning or not! But there’s no denying it’s territorial!
3. Insecurity about one’s own abilities
Unfortunately, this is still happening. An instructor (who’s secretly ashamed of his/her standard and that of his/her students) might forbid students from cross training with neighbouring clubs or styles for fear that they will be found out. To discourage students straying to the ‘dark side’, they may talk down at other clubs or styles.
4. Outrageous claims
Just like any sport, martial arts have been documented and highlighted in various marketing campaigns down through the years. In some cases, especially with the Eastern Fighting styles, like this one that you can use your voice to disable an opponent. As a martial artist from a traditional background, I cringe when I see stuff like this. I just think of a boxer watching it and thinking “huh! Those karate fellas think they can knock me out with grammar!” Even though, it’s not karate, to someone from another martial art, the lines or separation are blurred and we’re all tarred with one brush. If you make outrageous claims like these and can’t back them up, you’re just asking for ridicule and yes, I’m aware, I am ridiculing a particular style here but come on! Give me a break! Knocking someone out with your voice? Even it he said he could knock someone out with his bad breath, that would have been more plausible!
5. Second Generation Rivalry
This is perhaps the most prolific and unfortunate of the rivalries – the next generation of students coming through following their instructor’s lead. For example, as a teenager, I trained with a club in Blackrock in Cork. The instructor there had a falling out with another instructor who set up another dojo less than a mile away. I felt myself despising the members of the other club even though I had never met them or even seen them! Same style, same village and not an ounce of cooperation or camaraderie; In fact, we didn’t even meet in tournaments because we were part of different National Associations. Ridiculous or what!?
We are living in an exciting time in History. Internet and Social networking is bringing knowledge and information to audiences faster and in more places than ever before. We can all quickly learn from those who can demonstrate and argue their points on Youtube videos or web blog’s. We can decide for ourselves which style of martial arts best suit us before ever entering a local dojo and we can all decide for ourselves who our friends are.
There should be no reason for negative rivalry between clubs, styles or associations. However, there’s a long history of disputes, arguments & differences. We can’t solve them all but you can help in your own small way by opening your mind and not becoming part of the problem.
That’s my own personal goal with this blog. I hope to bridge as many gaps as I can and bring various styles together. I hope to become an ambassador for my style – Shotokan Karate and earn respect for it amongst boxers, Judo players, TaeKwonDo students, MMA fighters and any other style that welcomes me to their gym or dojo.
In the last 12 months, I’ve sweated and trained in martial artists classes such as Karate, Judo, MMA, Kickboxing, Boxing, Muay Thai, Jiu Jitsu, BJJ, Escrima, Tai Chi and Koryo Uchinadi. Incidentally, I was asked to leave 1 gym and I’m still trying to find out why but that’s another blog post! In the next 12 months, I want to try more of all of those, along with Capoeira, Taekwondo, Krav Maga and maybe some Kung Fu. In an extension to all of that, I’d like to continue blogging about my experiences to raise awareness about the various good instructors that are out there. And finally, I promise not to look down on or ridicule a martial art… unless you tell me you can knock me out with your voice or that your skills have magic in them – in that case, your ass is mine!
I’d like to hear your story. What rivalries have you encountered? Would you admit to looking down on another martial art style? What style would you like to try but have felt intimidated to walk into the local club? What steps are you taking to make sure you don’t become part of the rivalry? Are some rivalries warranted?
Add your voice and be part of the discussion. Use the comment section below.