KARATE ANOMALIES
by
RENSHI Brian Berenbach, Godan
Shorinjiryu Kenryukan Karate Assn.


Webster defines an anomaly as "something different, abnormal, peculiar, or not easily classified". In this article, I will discuss things that have always struck me as kind of odd regarding Karate and perceptions about Karate. Given the proximity of the Jewish holiday Passover , I am going to paraphrase from the Passover Megillah, or story.

Passover, for those of you not familiar with the holiday, celebrates the Hebrew exodus from Egypt, and being freed from bondage. In the Passover Seder, which is a combination of dinner meal and ceremony, the youngest child asks four questions, explaining why Passover Night is different from all other nights. So the child asks "Why is this night different from all other nights? On this night we…"

So, if we assume for a minute that the population at large, and even some of the more naïve students tend to view Karate as a sport, we can ask some very interesting questions.

Question 1: Why is Karate different from other sports? In other sport, the coach is expected to teach and mentor but not participate or be better than any of the team players, but in Karate, the Sensei is expected to be both coach and best athlete.

Answer: Karate is a martial art, NOT a sport. Learning involves mental and physical topics, and there are the intricacies of many forms and weapons to learn. The sensei will know more than his students, and depending on his age, might be better. BUT, one reason that even elderly sensei's today are better than their students is because the students never made the commitment their sensei's did to single-mindedly pursue excellence at the expense of other interests.

Question 2: Why is Karate different from other sports? In other sports, players stop participating on a regular basis while still in their youth, but in Karate, players or Karate-ka practice into old age.

Answer: Karate is a martial art, NOT a sport. As the Karate-ka matures, the mysteries of kata and Zen can keep a person interested and healthy, without suffering injuries that might occur with other sports.

Question 3: Why is Karate different from other sports? In other sports a player is amateur, jr. varsity, varsity, semi-pro or pro, but in Karate there are ranks.

Answer: Karate is a martial art, NOT a sport. Earning a rank is a measure of proficiency, and is used to determine the ability of a student to become a teacher, and to place students with other students of similar skill for training purposes. The rules of sports like baseball and basketball are simple, it takes a short time to learn them, and then the rest is practice. In Karate, there is an overwhelming amount of material to learn, and like any other subject, is best learned a little bit at a time.

Question 4: Why is Karate different from other sports? In other sports a player learns the rules of the game, then plays. In Karate, a player is expected to learn history, philosophy, and possibly even a little of the Japanese language.

Answer: Karate is a martial art, NOT a sport. Understanding the philosophy and history is critical to becoming a better player. Baseball players do not ask "why use a bat to hit the ball", but Shorinjiryu Karate-ka are encouraged to ask "why do we punch with a vertical fist?".

Question 5: Why is Karate different from other sports? In other sports, referees and judges go through extensive specialized training. In the pros, they are not even ex-players. In Karate, the perception is that any black belt can judge.

Answer: Gotcha! Tournament Karate IS a sport; a subset or one activity loosely associated with the Martial art of Karate. As such, to be competent, fair and impartial, judges and referees need the same level of specialized training that is needed in other sports. For example, to referee children's baseball or basketball games, referees need a minimum of 4 3 hour clinics, plus several videotaped clinics, and then have to pass a written and oral examination, not on how to play basketball, but on how to REFEREE basketball. In addition, as the level of competition goes up, the referee needs higher level judging certifications, including a certification in CPR!

So you can see, there is a lot more to Karate than "play ball", enough even to keep the 50 and up crowd interested.

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Kaicho Watanabe's 50th Anniversary of Karate Party
September 20, 2005


This is a bit of a report on the anniversary dinner for Kaicho Watanabe that I mentioned in my previous e-mail. For one thing, it was a surprise party and Kyoshi was totally surprised. We were all wearing suits and he was dressed casual, having just come from a testing of prospective belts.

Kaicho received a custom made sword that had been ordered by Shihan Danny Hayes. The sword is incredible, and can actually be used for cutting as opposed to show swords. Around the room were videos playing, a collage from his Watanabe students [new and old], and a static display on how the sword was made.

It was a buffet dinner, and I was honored to sit at the table with the guest of honor. Seated with me were Bill Nusz, Eric Deravin, Sr. and Kyoshi Myron Lubitsch and one or two other seniors that slip my mind right now (I need Kyoshi Lubitsch to refresh my memory). It should be noted that Eric and I were sparring partners about 1964.

One thing of interest. Sempai Stephanie of Sensei Hayes Dojo made up a beautiful handout for each of the attendees. One of the small pictures was a split with two images. Sensei Hayes initially complained that my son should not be in the handout. Actually, it was a picture of me in the dojo in 1972 along side a picture of me in 2004 :).

There was also a place where people wrote messages. I requested that Kaicho Watanabe not stop, I figure as long as he is teaching, I can also.

All in all, 3 hour drive each way not withstanding, a great time was had by all.

Kaicho Watanabe is the best there is and represents all that we in Karate-do could hope to be.

Shihan Brian Berenbach
Shorinjiryu Kenryukan Karate

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