This page is a discussion page about philosophical aspects of Martial Arts, if you wish to comment on any of the points raised, please contact us at SHUKO.
When I am asked "what does Karate mean ?", I give the translations I have heard,one is empty hand another is open hand a third meaning I came across was from a Japanese business colleague of my Fathers who suggested it might be without weapon as Karaoke means without orchestra. Well take your pick, in my eyes it is just one Japanese translation for Martial Arts as Kung Fu, Tae Kwon do, Muay Thai, Tai Chi are other translations for essentially the same thing.
There is an endless variation of styles and formats for training in the Martial Arts with individual instructors changing and evolving systems as time goes by.
I personally do not agree with the training systems of certain styles. Why after five thousand years of evolution, would an instructor stick his head in the sand and say 'well this is what Sensei Funakoshi or Sensei Miyagi or Bruce Lee taught and that is that.'
Well I personally think that change is inevitable and something to be embraced and I certainly do not consider my self disrespectful towards the great masters of the past, but life is different now and as such Martial arts is different.
I believe that around eighty years ago in Naha the capital of Okinawa the birth place of Karate, there were three very different fighting systems taught by three very different men Sensei Miyagi (Goju -Ryu),Sensei Funakoshi (Shotokan) and Sensei Mabuni (Shito Ryu). So even in the birth place of Karate people had very different views & ideas to training and of course each of these Karate Masters absorbed influences from their Masters and peers when they began training. With a personal imput from these Masters, these early influences have been translated, later in life, into a new style.
Therefore if we look at karate in this light, is it true to say that a style that refuses to change is traditional, when the whole history and tradition in Martial Arts is to build on prior teachings. Well I personally think not. Equally when an instructor adds two influences together to form a new style, is this Cross training or just the continuation of a very old tradition of building on the past. SHUKO
Shown right is a rare photograph of Sensei Funakoshi Gichin (The founder of Shotokan Karate) and his students, taken in 1921. I noticed the collection of young Karate fighters with their instructor, who are just about to perform a demonstration in front of Prince Hirohito of Japan, are all wearing tee-shirts.
As if what you wear makes any difference to the quality of the fighter or the quality of the man. Surely it is more important what is on the inside rather than what is on the outside.
At Shuko Freestyle we wear both gis and teeshirts depending on personal, choice.
What does it take to become a good Martial Artist
1. Full commitment to training, showing up regularly and training hard.
2. Respect the rules, instructors and officials, even when officials may seem incompetent.
3. Respect the social conventions. Bowing to opponent and club, shaking hands and touching gloves.
4. Respect and concern for your opponent. Respect your opponent without fear or arrogance, look after their personal safety even when training with full contact techniques. Never take advantage of opponents injuries or weaknesses within a sparring enviroment.
5. Avoid poor attitides towards participation, avoid the win at all costs approach. Do not compete for trophies and prizes. Try your best, but accept mistakes and defeat with dignity.
6. Show repect and concern for your community
The importance of honesty
me as an Instructor, the one of the most important aspect of running a Martial arts club is honesty. The world in general and particularly the world of martial arts is full of instructors and fighters talking rubbish. We are what we are, a Thai boxer training regularly in a brutal enviroment for many years is going to be a different animal than a Traditional karate fighter practicing kata twice a week. Neither one better than the other, but different. I wish we could just accept the truth about ourselves. I honestly feel I am a good instructor who treats his fighters with respect and friendship and gets the best out of them for this reason, but I can not claim to be the greatest technician in the world. Which skill would I choose, if given the choice, well in the past definetly the physical ability, but as I get older good inter-personal skills and coaching ability seems to be growing in its importance to me.
False claims are all to common in our sports, for example British Champion - well this can mean many things. I could hold a competition only open to Shuko Freestyle members, ten people might take part and we could end up with four British champions out of the bunch, not really a great advert for the quality of martial artists. I believe there should be a governing body within Martial arts that looks at the eligibility of tournaments. Judo has got it right, unified under one flag, that's why Judo is an Olympic sport and karate isn't. Traditional karate against Freestyle well I personally believe we should unify the tournament system. At the end of the day what does Traditional actually mean, I'm not actually sure. I have trained with Sensei Vic Charles and took my Dan Grade under Sensei Alfie Lewis and had the chance to spar with him. They were both great fighters, both around at the same time, both World champions, both British, so why couldn't the powers that be work out a format of competition that could have made it possible to allow these two fighters to compete - pride, money, politics, three words that quickly spring to mind. We at Shuko Freestyle have done our little bit to break down barriers, our All Styles sparring night is fantastic. We have had Sensei Steve Fenwick from Knockdown Karate sparring with Instructor Alastair Hall from Protea Kickboxing, Instructor Steve Wilkinson Muay Thai world title contender knocking the shit out of everybody, Chloe from Protea who is about ten sparring with me, well you might as well pick the difficult fights I say. Seriously though it is a fantastic melting pot of martial arts, but the only reason it is a success is that I insist fighters leave their pride at the door and fight to improve technique, testing skills against all styles, but being responsible - fighting at the right level for your opponent. I don't think Chloe would appreciate a full on shin kick.
Getting back to the rubbish talked in our sport, I remember being on a weekend course with Sensei Roy Stanhope many years ago and one of the attending fighters asked whether Roy could beat Mike Tyson in a fight. Well, the young man must have got the idea from somebody, that Martial arts instructors are a different species to the rest of the population. Unfortunately this misguided view had been given to him by us. Us being the Martial arts world. It's about time we started telling young people the truth, there are few people at the age of eighty who can walk up the stairs without stopping for breath, never mind defeating fit young men in mortal combat. We offer a service to the community that takes many guises - fitness, fun, traditional values and respect, aggression, self cofidence building, self defence training and on occassion in some very unprofessional clubs violence.
I feel I should go on to tell the truth about myself and Shuko freestyle karate. I am 38 years old, I train probably twice or three times a week, I would like to train more, but I have a family to support and Martial arts is not my whole life, but I do love it. I train hard and work to improve as a Martial artist. I work to improve my style, my technique, my strength, my conditioning and above all my effectiveness as a fighter. I still enter competitions, to maintain my sharpness and willingness to face an opponent, but I know I am too old, too short, too inflexible to have much chance of winning anything, although i did win Silver in the Veteran catagory at The West Coast Classic, an open tournament held in Blackpool. I can also confirm that I know people who have only been training for two, three and four years, who have worked extremely hard and entered the ring to fight in full contact competitions who could quite honestly squish me. I wouldn't make it easy for them, but in a sport situation I am out classed. In the Real world who knows and at the end of the day what is this Reality thing. Reality is being hit when you are not looking, being attacked by groups of young men, threatened or attacked with knives - you can keep the real world, I am happy training for sport and inner development, I know I have taken from Martial arts and then going home to my family. All this posturing - huh! Saying that however, Shuko Freestyle Karate spends alot of its energy practicing self defence movements, but before every session we always remind fighters that these movements, if they are effective work 8 or 9 times out of 10. If you are defending yourself against a knife attacker, these are not good odds, so we always remind people to avoid trouble if at all possible. We spend a large amount of time sparring, as we believe that it is an effective way of building skills and highlighting weakness, particularly at our All Styles Sparring Night, where Karate fighters touch gloves with Kickboxers, Thai Fighters, Jeet Kune Do fighters and any responsible person who wishes to join the class. We feel it is really good fun too. So don't believe the hype offered at some clubs and by some instructors, for professional, open minded training we believe we offer a good service.
Comment to SHUKO
Why Different styles of fighting evolved.
I was thinking recently about the evolution of Martial arts and why certain styles used different kicks and strikes, in particular in Karate. I concidered why Okinawan Karate is full of finger strikes, one knuckle punches, chops and kicks with the ball of the foot, including the roundhouse kick. I then combined this with the advice I give to women in particular, but small people generally which is, 'if you are in a violent situation with no possible way out apart than to fight, you have to be vicious. Poke the attacker in the eyes or kick him in the crutch etc, etc'. I then combined these two thoughts and came to the conclusion that the Okinawans have evolved this type of fighting due to there small size. I am sure that things have changed due to better diet etc, but in the past I believe the Japanese were a small race, and as anybody who has watched the lighter weight boxers knows, knockouts are rare and often they can keep punching for ten rounds without a KO. In a self defence situation this is not ideal, therefore punches and kicks would have to become more targetted and vulnerable points attacked. I believe this is wgy strikes to the neck, temple, solar plexus, genitals, eyes are all strike areas within Kata. I also believe this is why Boxers, Kickboxers and other western based styles have gone away from this type of strike, one reason obviously is the lethal nature of the strikes, another being the conditioning necesarry to the areas of the body such as the fingers and knuckles which can mutilate the Martial artist is not pratical in a modern world, but mainly that westerners often have the pysical size when combined with training to knock an attacker down.
Comment to SHUKO

As an Instructor I obviously wish to see Shuko Freestyle Karate grow and become a thriving club and maybe in the future as fighters mature and become Instructors themselves, hopefully become a vibrant and exciting association.
I hope our fighters have loyalty to the club and they respect me, as I respect them. I don't believe in fighters bowing to me as an Instructor, I personally don't think I deserve any more repect than any body else. So we form a, usually haphazard circle and bow to
the centre to suggest mutual respect

I watched a series on Channel 4, about the formation of the Commando unit in the 2nd World War. I was facinated with their philosophy. It was based around the following principles.
Who ever you were, what ever your rank you started at the bottom of the pile. All ranks trained together and did the same training. They use first names within ranks and the only reason to have ranks at all was to maintain a cohisive chain of Command and pass on their knowledge. They tried to double the speed of the regular Army, if the regulars reached the summit of a mountain in six hours the Commandos would attempt it in three, and their training was generally harder than the regulars and instilled a sense of self reliance.
We try emmulate these ethics within Shuko Freestyle. I am not suggesting we train twice as hard as any other club, although I do think we train harder than most. It is more that we are training together, what a junior fighter suffers, so do the seniors and visaversa. I try to keep up with the sixteen and seventeen year olds on a fitness basis, even though fitness has never been my strong point, but equally I encourage juniors to train as hard as the seniors. We sparr together from day one and help juniors to develop speed, timing and skill as soon as possible. When practicing self defence we don't expect our partner to make it easy to practice a technique. By doing this, weaknesses in the technique are highlighted and adjustments can be made. It is a little late to discover weaknesses on the street.

At Shuko Freestyle we actively encourage fighters to try other clubs and styles. Although I do get pangs of an emotion similar to jealousy, when my students tell me they train else where. I quickly put those emotions to one side and genuinely ask about the club and techniques and we often try anything interesting out in the club. I myself trained at many different clubs and still do. Steve Wilkinson kindly lets me train at Macclesfield Thai boxing gym with his fighters who are generally of a very high standard. I think Martial Arts should learn and progress by interacting with each other. I have many friends who are instructors and we train together regularly, particularly at our All Styles sparring night. Last year we ran a multi style charity event called 'Martial arts fighting cancer' we raised £3000 and it was a fantastic event.
The picture opposite shows myself with Ben from traditional Kenshinkan karate and Carl from Muay Thai and for me sums up for the best things about martial arts.
If you would like to see more photos form the event click

Macclesfield Martial arts Fighting Cancer 2001

If we go back through history to the very beginning of Martial Arts and we guess that a date approximately five thousand years ago was around the time when monks in Northern India or Southern China first began a structured exercise system with its roots in self defence. What was it that made these exercises, Martial arts rather than simply, practicing fighting skills.
To me it is philosophy, the essential heart of Martial arts. Those early monks had discovered something, perhaps it was an inner confidence, allowing them to think and behave freely or the mental calm that can comes after training hard. Was it a primeval release valve that allowed the aggression we all hold in our personalities to flow out in a positive way, or maybe it was a combination of all these factors, but either way something changed and Martial arts was born.
In the hectic life we lead today, fast food, fast cars, fast communications, we need all the help we can get, to help cope with the stresses and strains our lives put upon us. I hope that Shuko Freestyle Karate can help me become a more relaxed person and hopefully, becoming more relaxed will make me a better fighter.
We at Shuko freestyle invite you to join us, to help deal with our modern life. Please read on as Sensei Jon Tilley explores modern Martial Arts.
(Shown left- a painting of Bodhidharma, the Buddhist monk who established an exercise program, based in self defence at the Shaolin temple. Central china)