Since I love my martial art, and love discussing it with other enthusiasts, I have been known to search the web for Shotokan-related websites, along with more general martial arts sites. Since I work in internet marketing in real life, I have also been known to search the stats on this blog, because I'm always curious to see what search terms led a visitor to my little karate blog.
The results often really depress me. I have been found, numerous times, by people searching under "karate sucks". I don't happen to think karate sucks, so it's a bit unfortunate for me to attract people who do. It is for them, too, since they certainly won't find backup for their beliefs on my blog. When I look at the other search results for that term, I find a number of articles, blogs, and discussion boards. Some are tongue-in-cheek, but most are not. Almost all engage in vicious karate-bashing:
"It's not a real martial art" "Less than useless" "Totally ineffective in real life" "Totally corrupted" "All about making money for those Japanese guys who teach it" "They just make fun of you while they take your money"... and on, and on, and on.
My first reaction was a combination of shock and horror, along with a fair degree of anger. Not real, huh? Not effective? Attack me in a dark alley, I'll show you how effective it can be. All about the money? The money-grubbing Senseis make fun of us to each other? How dare you say such things about my Sensei, and about Master Yaguchi and Master Okazaki and the other wonderful instructors I've had the unparalleled privilege of training with? Less than useless? I guess if you consider something that strengthens you in body, mind and spirit useless, then you would be right... but I have no clue what you would deem worthwhile if that is the case.
At first I dismissed most of it as ignorant hot-heads, teenagers who like to be outrageous and pick a fight, who love to hear the sound of their own voice. To be fair, plenty of those articles and discussion boards blasted other forms of martial arts as well. The better known the martial art, the more abuse it came in for. And there were numerous heated arguments about which was "better", and why. Once my anger wore off, I realized sadly that many of these posts and articles were by people who truly were that disillusioned and angry themselves. I had to wonder how in the world they had gotten such a horrible experience from something so beneficial to me.
I didn't have to look very far for the answer. Right here in my town, we have several martial arts dojos that we derisively (and, yes, very disrespectfully) refer to as "Buy A Belt" dojos. One guarantees you a black belt in two years if you pay $1000.00 up front. Another one bills itself as "The Oldest and Best Traditional Karate Dojo", despite the fact that our dojo has been here more than twice as long, and not only does our instructor outrank that instructor, but 3 of our STUDENTS outrank that instructor. We have one group that specializes in "Karate for Kids", which is largely putting on a gi and playing games and running around, and when the disappointed parents bring those children over to our classes, we have to strip their blue, purple or brown belts and start them off all over again, because they know literally nothing about real karate. They get discouraged and frustrated and don't last long. And those are just the local examples. One major studio down in Denver forces their students to buy all gear through them, for a nice markup, among other things.
I can only imagine the frustration of paying a lot of money, and investing two years, to get something that really was worthless. I can only imagine the frustration of a system which makes you pay for all of your gis, all of your gloves, all of your belts, and any other gear you might use, through their own store, and charges you more than you would pay elsewhere. I can only imagine the frustration of needing to use a martial art in a real-world situation, and finding that what you learned was useless.
I feel sorry for the frustration that these people feel, and doubly lucky to have fallen, pretty much by accident, into a well-established, fully credentialed, very reputable, and incredibly educational karate system. We get our belts because we EARN them, through rigorous training and testing. And you don't always pass the tests either. If you advance, you can know that you've worked hard and achieved something new.
There will always be those who refuse to believe me or think that I am deluded somehow, there will always be those who argue that their martial art is better than mine, there will always be those who argue with me simply for the sake of arguing.
To you all I say one thing: Karate does not suck.
I will go farther: NO martial art "sucks". There are some I do not practice, and some I would not care to practice. But that is not the fault of the martial art. It is due to my personal inclination, my spirit and my approach to life. If I meet someone who practices another martial art and clearly lacks skill and control, I do not blame the martial art. I might blame the instructor, I might blame the student, if I knew enough background, or more likely I would simply shake my head and avoid them.
In karate, as in life, what you get out of it depends quite a lot on what you put into it. If you feel you are putting in a lot, and getting nothing back, then it's time you took a step back and examined your organization, your dojo, your instructor, and yourself.