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Karate Lost in Translation

Updated: Dec 5, 2021

I constantly bring up that the problem with Modern/3K karate is poor translation of the languages. As I research the older forms of sparring I understand more why there was so much confusion.


Karate is the original mixed martial art. Striking techniques pretty much all came from China (Toudi). The wrestling techniques come from Okinawa (Tegumi) and the throws and locks come from Japanese Samurai (Jujitsu). Than random techniques came from sailors that washed ashore in Tomari village which found their way into the arts.


This is a real basic overview of how and where karate techniques came from. If you look at all the different languages there are, and then add to it that Okinawa is a chain of islands where each island language has their own dialect... translation causes confusion.

Another problem is when Karate was introduced into Japan. Since the Japanese hated everything Chinese and didn’t think much of Okinawa either, Gichin Funakoshi started changing the names of katas and techniques into Japanese names so the Japanese people would except the art.

There is not much written about karate and what is written, was created in kanji (a phonetic and picture based language). Even though they used a lot of the same symbols, they had different meanings to each culture.


Over time, the West started to influence Karate which again added to the confusion. Modernization of the art began to blur what karate truly means. In World War II, territories are taken over by allies, which consists primarily of the United States. Soldiers start to learn karate from locals. We know now that most where intentionally taught wrong because of the war, hate and resentment of the West. The names and terms stayed the same, but techniques where taught incorrectly. The final part of the problem was that the soldiers where there for only a 12-18 month tour of duty. They were not there long enough to understand the art even if they had a good teacher! So when the soldiers retuned home from war, they had no written books in their language, videos, internet or teachers to refer to.


So far we have only focused on the language barriers. Commercialization and the sporting aspects of karate played a major role in how the West continued to redefine karate. After the war, the American occupation of Japan banned martial arts. Over time katas and techniques were lost when teachers would die without passing on their knowledge.


After all of this, it is amazing to me that karate survived at all! I also see why Katas themselves where used to define the art of karate instead of spoken language or written word.


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