The Best Martial Art

Posted by Jeffrey Brooks, Mountain Karate

We love our training. We know what it is, and what we get from it. Not everyone does. So from time to time, we run into people who criticize karate. They say it is not as aggressive as this martial art, not as esoteric as that martial art, not as practical as this other martial art.

We don’t spend time criticizing other arts, because ours is deep and great and gives us what we want – strength and speed, flexibility and endurance, mental clarity and confidence, practical self-defense skill and more. 

But since the articles here on this site are mainly for the practitioners of Yamabayashi Shorin Ryu I want to address this issue. Of course, there are other people who read what is on this site. But not too many. According to the site’s recent metrics there were nearly 8 billion people in the world who don’t. So, it’s safe to assume that the readers are a pretty tight-knit, well-informed group. 

So here we go:

Not all karate is the same. There is a lot of poor quality karate out there. If at some point in their lives someone went in search of a martial art and looked at a karate place with poor quality, they might assume that all karate was like that. It isn’t. But, like any other stereotyped prejudice, it is not so easy to overcome a bad first impression. Especially when that impression is reinforced in their own mind by the art they took up. Many arts say “We are the best martial art. All other martial arts suck.” This is not true. It can’t be. Since they all say it, they can’t all be right. 

There is a wide variety of quality in any style. And specific styles and individual dojos change over time.

One issue is that many modern martial arts want to grow big. So, standards drop and people get ranks and have some fun and whatever. Only a few idealistic and strong people really plumb the depths of possibility in martial arts and approach the ideal and the potential that is available through martial practice.

You can do that.

A style may benefit from the reputation of one or a handful of great practitioners. But you can’t grow a big style holding every new member to the standard of that elite.  Which is why martial arts trend up and then decline, and why they sometimes recover and return to their former glory.

True karate has risen and declined over the years, many times. Those changes have been based in the lives of the people who practiced it and the conditions of the societies and cultures in which they lived. But the name ‘karate” didn’t change. It was applied, in different times and different places, to very different arts.

Our style, Yamabayashi Ryu, is built on long-existing knowledge and techniques, transmitted from China and Japan as well as from Okinawa.  It is unique in some ways. It may not resemble the karate people have encountered before – in strip malls and storefronts, Y’s and campuses, rec centers, old mills, and schools around the world.

It has the fresh vitality of practical experience and deep traditional practice, built by hand, by dedicated people around the world, whose lives depend on getting it right. 

It is not our role to criticize others. That brings no benefit. Let people enjoy their arts and their lives. But don’t accept their criticism of some generic “karate” as accurate, as about us, or as reflecting at all on what we do. 

All we need to do is train hard, continue to challenge ourselves and each other, extend the boundaries of what we know and what we can do, and share that spirit and knowledge wherever it will do some good.


Post by Jeff Brooks, author of the influential book True Karate Dō, instructor, Yamabayashi Ryu, Mountain Karate, Saluda, NC

Post Copyright© 2022 by Jeffrey Brooks 

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