Kyoshi's Journal

Kyoshi's Journal will periodically post varying thoughts and topics from Kyoshi Ames.  Please continue to look for more articles posted in the future!​

What Separates Japanese Martial Arts from MMA?  


The martial arts community of the USA has been taken by storm with the recent phenomena known as mixed martial arts or MMA. The interesting fact about this is that Okinawan, Japanese, Korean karate, Japanese jujitsu, and Chinese kung fu, to name a few, are all essentially "mixed martial arts”.           


The principles of these various systems and styles of martial arts are held within their kata or form. All of these systems embrace hand, elbow, arm, foot, knee, leg, and hand strikes as well as defends, joint locks, takedowns, throws, and a myriad of submission methods.            


There are many draws towards MMA and complaints about traditional karate. Let us begin with karate and line drill.A major complaint about karate line drill it is constant repetive boring singular movement and in MMA there is continual movement making it more interesting and fun.           


In order to understand the depth and complexity of line drill, not to mention traditional karate on the whole, we will begin with the four parts of learning. As far as the various styles of karate the author has selected Kwan Mu Kan karate.


1 - Presentation: This is the lesson as taught by the instructor.


2 - Comprehension: With the teachers presentation the student must be capable of understanding the lesson. Therefore, both presentation and comprehension go hand in glove.


3 - Absorption: This can be attained only through the painful process of repetition. It takes approximately 15,000 repetitions to hard wire a physical action into the brain.


4 - Imagination: This, unfortunately, is where so many practitioners, as well as some sensei, miss the boat. The training of line drill requires not only an incredibly deep and intensive concentration but also a lively and animated imagination. Line drill should not be a dry repetitive set of empty actions. Rather, they must come alive through the karatekas' imagination. Every kick, punch, defend, stance and turn must be seen as a defensive action against an opponent whose sole intent is the complete and total annihilation of the practitioner. If seen and trained as a life-and-death scenario boredom should not have any possibility of entering the picture.            


Partner work or wasa, which can also be done in the context of line drill, should be trained with this intensity. If a karatekas' (a practitioner of karate) training is lukewarm how can one expect high returns on low or no investment? This could also be stated that without imagination these techniques, as expected, become dry, meaningless, and of course boring!           


Further attention is necessary to be able to feel these actions internally as well as externally. The karateka must  concentrate on the external stimuli of physical action yet possess the capacity to pull inside of the mind focusing on all technique both moving and stationary. I.e. With stances; are the feet pointing in the correct direction with the heels and soles of the feet braced into the floor, are the knees bent to the correct depth not folding in or out to favor movement thereby increasing the risk of serious ankle, knee, and hip damage.           


Partner work is necessary to develop correct technique, movement, and mental inculcation, furthering a deep understanding of the movement philosophy within any given style. This training leads to  the understanding and ability of the samurai maxum "thought through action".           


What separates the system known as KwanMuKan martial arts from MMA is an understanding and adherence to principles found within both Zen, Bushido and the fact that it is a comprehensive form of not only combat or, in the case of MMA, sport but a search for perfection of character. The following quote is a summation of karate as a way of life, "Karate begins and ends with rei (bow)"  From The Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate  By: Gichin Funakoshi and Genwa Nakasone  Kodansha International Tokyo; New York; London. This bow is the manifestation of respect and is as much a part of serious training as all the rest of the style!                    


Bushido, which has a very strong influence from Zen as well as Confusianism, was the code of the Bushi or Samurai, the Knights of Japan. Prior to the Tokugawa Shogunate Bushido was the code of the Bushi, warrior class, of feudel Japan They were also refered to as Samurai, which translates as one who serves. This code was faithfully followed even after the class of the samurai was formally abolished under the Meiji restoration. The Japanese culture as a whole embraced this code stated in 7 words: rectitude (justice), courage, benevolence, courtesy, truthfulness (honesty), honor and loyalty. [The Bushido code required knowledge to be a means to the attainment of wisdom. It was never an end in itself. Knowledge was identical with its practical application in life. Wan Yang Ming was fond of saying, "to know and act are one in the same". This influential philosopher also said, "The Lord of heaven and earth, of all living beings, glowing in the heart of man, becomes his mind (kokoro); hence a mind is a living thing and is never luminous".]  Bushido The Warriors Code . Inazo Nitobe                   


Zen, simply put, is deep introspect into one's true nature. Zen has no doctrine nor does it demand adherence to any belief system. It is a search for " that which asks the question” What is Zen D. T. Suzuki. The point Dr. Suzuki makes in his essay is, that which asks the question, is no more than the questioner themselves. It is then in this sense that I pose the traditional way of karatedo (the way of the China hand) formerly karatejitsu (China hand technique).           


As the KwanMuKan student begins learning kata, predetermined movements, patterns, or form, they find themselves becoming immersed in the principles of the system though they are unaware of this. Through training kata the serious student seeks to enter a state of harmony unifying the body, mind, and spirit. This harmonious state may be referred to as " moving meditation" or joriki zen. It is difficult to remove the concepts of zen and bushido if a student of karate wishes to search for something far greater than mere combative ability.            


When a student enters the dojo (training hall) of a traditional Japanese martial art he/she bows demonstating sincerity, dedication, and respect. This is the physical manifestation of these character traits. The bow  must not be hurried, rushed, or sloppy. Once the student has put on her uniform she enters the main floor or matted area bowing once again prior to walking onto  the training area. From this point in time the student must maintain this attitude of respect for the dojo, their training mates, the sensei, and all others present in the dojo. With the proper attitude the student will eventually find self-respect as well. Respect is defined by Webster's  unabridged dictionary as "giving consideration and courtesy, having esteem for, relating to".            


A major difference to be noted between traditional Japanese karate tournaments and the MMA tournaments this author has observed, is the traditional karate tournament begins with a clearly stated bow to one's opponent, the officials, and to their opponent as a physical manifestation of respect. In addition to this the international rules of karate (WUKF and WKF) state very specifically that any behavior by the contestants coaches, managers, and anyone connected with the contestant, bringing disrepute to karate, shall result in the highest level of disqualification. Inaddition athletes are banned from any exaggerated forms of behavior such as throwing gloves on the floor, verbal comments to referees or opponents, and any other physical form demonstrating a lack of self-control. In the Japanese martial arts this is referred to as budo, the way of the warrior. Upon victory the karateka is expected to receive their award with a gentlemanly or ladylike behavior without over exuberance. The idea of animal like growls, screaming, or other barbaric behavior is regarded as obscene, rude, and entirely unacceptable.           


Through the observations of this author, in general, it appears that the MMA emphasizes not only the barbaric aspect of the fight but total vanquishing of an opponent as well. though to be fair to MMA, not all participants in this venue represent this form of behavior The rules of MMA do not appear to prohibit sensationalism. By admission, all sport martial arts emphasize this with the exception of the traditional venue. In this sense the question would be broached; can any sport aspect of martial arts be regarded as art?               


To quote the founder of the Kwan Mu Kan George E. Anderson "we are a noncompetitive system that competes". In other words our emphasis is the study of karate as a martial art with the sport being placed in the periphery. The founder of Shoto Kan karate, Gichen Funakoshi ,stated: "do not think you must win rather think you do not have to lose". This would be the thinking of a warrior, for if he thinks about winning or losing that thought will occupy their mind thereby facilitating total annihilation.  The warrior takes the field of battle and does what the warrior must do, with victory or defeat being of no purpose. The Warrior does what must be done. This, in this author's  opinion, is one of many differences between MMA and  traditional japanese martial arts. More on this thought in future.


Thank you for your time!

David S. Ames Kyoshi, EishinKai