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Interesting Letters
Taken from:
By Mark Groenewold.
(interesting parts from the page: Your Letters - Open Letter 6: New Beginnings)

" Hello Sensei Mark,

I am writing to you to consult your opinion on/and also to share with you an article which I read in a karate magazine from Italy called the 'Shotokan di dimensioni'. There was an interesting article in it by someone called Gianni Zini which you may find interesting. The following is the article in its entirety which I will try my best to translate from Italian.

"(...) I am writing to express my views on an issue that's been bothering me for some time. Whilst I have tremendous respect for the teaching/training methods of the Japanese senseis (and some western teachers as well), I believe that often, in their earnestness to promote karate, they often lose sight of karate's heritage and do not give credit where its due.

Its my humble opinion that karate should be called `Japanese kung fu' or even just `kung fu'. Shotokan karate was founded by Funakoshi whose lineage can be traced directly to a Ming dynasty Chinese boxer. Furthermore, Funakoshi's Okinawan teachers' also obtained their martial knowledge exclusively from the Chinese. As such, karate is essentially kung fu and it belongs to the Chinese.

A McDonalds restaurant in Japan is still called McDonalds and an Italian restaurant in Japan still has an Italian name (even though it may have some Japanese flavour). So why should the Japanese be allowed the audacity to change the name of kung fu and even claim that this `karate' is their contribution to the world? Kung Fu was imported into Japan just like McDonalds. If it sounds ridiculous to assert that McDonalds is the Japanese's gift to the world, it is equally ridiculous to say that karate is. I believe that this is a gross injustice which should be addressed by martial art practitioners in the west. (Certainly, we should not continue to promote this misconception even though we have high respect for our teachers.)

Some may claim that its just a name and all this talk is insignificant. Well, I think it is relevant. Most of us in the west learn karate as a martial art and not just as another sport. `Karate' is a Japanese word. Along with the physical techniques, we are often also indoctrinated with the Japanese traditions and philosophy that comes with it. For the Japanese to claim that karate belongs to them and that karate is their creation is a sham and this attitude is hypocritical. Our Japanese senseis are being patriotic when they say that karate is solely Japanese and I can understand that they have a vested interest in continuing to do so. But we are not Japanese and I see no necessity for us to mislead our fellow men"

Well, this is just my two cents worth. Naturally, this article is not meant to incite or cause any offence (although I suspect that it would). Well, this is his article in its entirety. Of course, these aren't my views although I find that its food for thought. I will appreciate any comments which you may have.

Looking for to your response to my `karate punch' question and in the meantime, keep up the good work!

All the best.

Kind regards
Gianni Mancini"

"Hello Gianni,

Thanks for the great letter. Very interesting stuff. I think that the article that you have kindly translated has some very interesting points. I don't agree with much of the article, and I hope to express my thoughts clearly on this matter. I also realize that the opinions expressed in the article may or may not mirror your own, and that my objections (or yours) may or may not be related. Thanks a lot for the hard work in doing a complete translation. I really appreciate it.

Ok, first of all, I don't buy the argument that we should call modern Shotokan karate “Japanese kung-fu”, or “Chinese-rooted karate”, or any other such term. What we have in modern Shotokan is radically different than what we see in Okinawan karate. Yes, there are connections between them. Yes, there are similarities in technique and training. And yes, there are some shared philosophical and theoretical connections as well. Even so, there is enough that is different between them that merit different designations of “style” or “school”. We can find all kinds of connections between all kinds of fighting arts. We can find connections between aikido and judo, karate and judo, karate and kendo, kendo and iaido, boxing and karate, TKD and karate, kung fu and TKD, and on and on.

But the Shotokan style, the style defined in many ways by Master Nakayama, is markedly different than what we would consider “Okinawan”. Shotokan karate, like Goju-ryu, Wado-ryu, or Shito-ryu karate has its own approaches, emphasis, training methods, and “culture”. But what we have in karate, its approach to singular effective devastating technique also marks it different than other martial traditions. Kung fu, with its multiple attacks and artistic elements, looks much different than karate. And not to qualify which is “better”, both have very different approaches to developing the fighting man.

As for the McDonald's analogy, I am not sure how to proceed. Yes, it is true that Big Macs are the same everywhere (as far as I have experienced them anyway). But there are some horrifyingly Japanese things that are served at McDonald's that involve sunny-side up eggs, seaweed, and green tea. Bleech! I will leave the mixture of karate and McDonald's to the authoritative voices found in other on-line publications. It is something I would just like to leave alone altogether.

Thanks Gianni for providing us with this very interesting translation. It was most interesting, and although I disagree with the author, most thought provoking. (...)

Best regards,


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