Shotokan should engage more in society claims our chief editor, Dr. Christian Tribowski. As the legend goes, Karate was developed as an art to liberate the common people with a strong focus on justice. To turn this claim into practice Shotokan karateka should become strong actors of the civic society.
Gichin Funakoshi’s 20 Principles of Karate-Do
“Karate stands on the side of justice.” – Principle no. 3
The Legend how Karate was Founded
The legend says: Karate was a means for the people of Okinawa to stand up against their oppressors from mainland Japan. Okinawa was occupied by Japan back in the days and only Samurai were allowed to carry weapons. According to the legend, the Japanese occupiers began to harass the people of Okinawa, who had nothing to defend themselves than their farming tools and their bare hands. Influenced by Chinese martial arts they began to develop Karate in order to fight against the Japanese occupation and to gain back their liberty.
The foundation myth of Karate is, thus, strongly related to topics like empowerment, class conflict, freedom, public disobedience, and social justice. That is the reason why, in opposite to other martial arts, Shotokan has always stressed that it serves a higher purpose. To give helpless people control over their lifes, Karate is a powerful means.
Shotokan Lacks Civil Engagement
Today, Shotokan is the most practiced style of Karate globally. With its legendary history in mind, one would expect that Shotokan would be highly engaged in finding solutions for social issues. Discourses and programs about the most urgent topics of the time would be normal. For instance:
- How could Shotokan help to lead people out of poverty?
- How could it contribute to stop violence?
- What could it do to make people more equal?
- What could it do to make the world a better place more just place?
The reality, however, is disappointing. Encouragement by big associations or grand master for civic engagement takes never place. Dojos and Dojo life revolve mainly around Karate. For the individual Karateka his practice is a private matter and not an act of emancipation. Between the sphere of Shotokan and society runs a gap most of the time. One could get the impressions that the most Dojos are seen as places where society is excluded from and blended out.
Reasons for more Civic Engagement of Shotokan
While the motivation to distinguish Shotokan and the rest of society is understandable. Because a community with like-minded people creates a sense of belonging and a shared identity. It also creates a space where the daily stress is left out and the requirements of the daily life are suspended.
However, such an approach also comes with a threat: Dojos might become retreats like monasteries for monks. While the retreat might seem to be a good remedy in the first place, it will not solve problems in the long-run. Because the surrounding society and community may deteriorate and have negative effects on the life of the retreated Karatekas. Climate-change will not stop by itself. Poverty and crime will not plummet by itself. Public health will not improve by itself. Autocratic regimes will not go away by themselves – just ask the people of Okinawa. Society, its problems, and oppressors will always come back. Eventually, to work to make society a better place must be in the very interest of Shotokan Karatekas.
The 20 Precepts of Karate Do and Civic Engagement
Beside that, their are also normative arguments, why Shotokan should engage more in society and fight for social justice. In his famous 20 guiding principles of Karate-Do Gichin Funakoshi wrote:
Gichin Funakoshi’s 20 Principles of Karate-Do
“Karate goes beyond the dojo.” – Principle no. 8
For master Funakoshi it was the very nature of Shotokan to be part of society. He understood it as a means of “justice” (principle no. 3) that must be applied “to all things” (principle no. 10).
In this understanding of Shotokan lies a deeper truth. Because the art of Shotokan does not belong to anyone exclusively. It is an art that transcends the individual. It has no owner but many founding fathers. They developed Karate and passed to other generations like master Funakoshi who turned it into Shotokan. However, he also passed it to other people so that they could gain and maintain their liberty and become empowered to take control over their own destiny.
From Okinawa to a Modern Civil Engagement of Shotokan
This historical chain of giving creates the duty of reciprocity and charity. The Shotokan Karateka is embedded in this historical context of connected giving and receiving. From this fact stems the obligation for all Shotokan practitioners to make this art accessible and to utilize it to its full potential to improve the life of others. Because it all began with the emancipating act of the people of Okinawa. Since then, Karate and Shotokan are common goods for the benefit of mankind. Social engagement of Shotokan is therefore not an option – it is an duty. Oss!