Why “Martial Art” and not “Karate”?

This post may well become Part 1 of a series. I’ll do my best to keep it brief and to-the-point.

The term “martial art” refers to any practice or exercise of warlike nature. This would include: learning empty-handed self-defense (which, as the basis of all martial arts, is sometimes erroneously thought to epitomize martial art training), all sorts of weapons training (historical [sword, spear, club, etc.], and modern [knife, gun, chemical, biological, etc.]), tactics, first aid, recovery,  strength, endurance, and flexibility.

Karate is a specific style of martial art that originated with the people of Okinawa (an island near Japan, Taiwan, Korea, and China.) Being simple people, they didn’t have a warrior class and had to learn to protect themselves. As happens when one culture occupies another, the invaders outlawed weapons and martial training. Farmers and fishermen learned to use their empty hands, feet, and the tools of their trade to defend themselves from the atrocities that armies commit. This martial art style later became embraced by Japan (who had incorporated the Island of Okinawa into their country) and even taught in their schools. There are many different styles of Karate taught in Japan and all over the world, but they have their roots in the basic self-defense of the common people of Okinawa. Even with all the different styles of Karate practiced, that is just one type of Japanese martial art. There are lots more.

As a traditional Korean martial art, Kuk Sool Won includes many of the before mentioned aspects of martial art training. It has a very broad focus and is literally more than just kicking and punching. Under black-belt level (that is, for about the first four years or so of training) Kuk Sool artists focus on empty hand training, strength, flexibility, endurance, and so on. They do begin to learn how to handle a staff (about a six-foot long rod, usually of flexible rattan) as an exercise and to learn how to allow the staff to move around their body. After black-belt, there is more and more time spent learning various traditional weapons including staffs of various lengths, sword, knife, fans, ropes, spears, etc.

To call our art “Karate” is incorrect. The word “karate” has become a generic term for any martial art. While it is true that the basics of kicking and punching are similar, the stylistic differences are huge. It might not be immediately apparent to the casual observer, but to practitioners of either art, it is very obvious. And while it may seem an innocent and harmless mistake, it is probably insulting to practitioners of Karate and Kuk Sool Won alike. Martial artists usually love their respective arts and work to be as good at them as possible. When people don’t take the time to respect that work and either use the name of their art generically or lazily use an incorrect name for their art, you might excuse them for taking some offense.

I used to run a website devoted to giving highlights from all the schools in the area, what their styles were like, and what their teaching styles were like, to give people looking into martial art training the chance to see the different schools compared side by side. Not very many of the other school owners were willing to take part in that attempt however. Still, there is a huge amount of information available online about the different styles that are taught.

If you are looking for a martial art school and the thought of lots of competition interests you, you will probably be unhappy with my school. Shoot me an email though and I can help you find a school that would be a good fit for you.

If you are looking for a school that focuses more on fitness, self-defense, and the science behind martial art training, we might be what you are looking for. Send me an email to set up a time to view a class or join our Trial Membership Class. There are no commitments; if you decide at any time that it’s not for you, we part ways as friends and hopefully you continue training somewhere else.

Next time I’ll talk more about Kuk Sool Won of Muncie and how it differs from some of the other martial art offerings in the area. Hopefully it will help you make a more informed decision about where you will train in the martial arts.