As you might recall, there is a new Karate Kid movie in the works. It was recently announced that Jackie Chan has been slated to play the mentor, aka, Mr. Miyagi.
“Jackie Chan is in final negotiations to join the Columbia Pictures remake of “The Karate Kid.”… Set in an exotic Asian locale, the new film will borrow elements of the original plot, wherein a bullied youth (Smith) learns to stand up for himself with the help of an eccentric mentor (Chan). Chris Murphy penned the screenplay.” - Variety
Let’s all get together and have a John Madden, state-the-obvious moment: “Jackie Chan…here’s a guy who’s not even Okinawan…or Japanese.”
How can you have a Chinese man playing a Karate Master? The explanation is simple – the new Karate Kid will be set in China, rather than Japan or Okinawa. In order to ramp up the far-east drama, Will Smith and Company decided to shoot in Chinese locales that will include, but will not be not limited to, Beijing.
Will Smith explained his decision making process for choosing China:
“We’re making it with the China Film Group, so it’ll be based in Beijing,” he said of where the modern version of “Karate Kid” will take place. “Mr. Miyagi was originally Japanese, so there’ll be a Chinese adaptation to it.”
On the possibility that many will question how could Karate which is a Japanese martial art be brought to China, Smith reasoned that although karate was developed in Japan, it is based on Chinese fighting style, Kenpo. “Fortunately, karate is originally a Chinese art form,” he said, “so that’s the area we’re playing around in.” – Japan Probe
Will Smith is a cool guy, but unfortunately his excitement for this project has pushed him forward before doing any deep research of the subject matter.
Despite what Will says in his quote, Mr. Miyagi was not originally Japanese. He was Okinawan. If you recall in the second movie, Miyagi and Daniel travel back to Miyagi’s home town, Tome Village. This was a small farming/fishing village found near Kadena Airbase.
Pat Morita, the ACTOR who played Miyagi, was of Japanese descent. This is an important cultural note because everyone involved in the original Karate Kid production recognized that a Japanese actor was playing an Okinawan role. There was a distinct and respected difference. Anyone who has studied asian culture for awhile will know that Chinese, Japanese, Okinawan, Korean, etc. people don’t particularly like being called something they aren’t.
Second, Will Smith states that karate is “originally a chinese art form.” This is a gross simplification of the way martial arts developed in the east. Karatedo certainly was influenced by Chinese arts, but it was not a matter of direct lineage back to China.
Satunuku “Tode” Sakugawa and Kanryo Higashionna were some of the earliest recorded martial practitioners on Okinawa, and were also instrumental in the fusion of Chinese arts into indigenous Okinawan arts (then known as Te). Sakugawa reportedly learned from a Chinese envoy named Koshokun, and eventually would travel to China itself to pursue the ways of Chinese Kempo. Upon his return he continued mixing his new found knowledge with local arts and formed Tode (hence his nickname).
Kanryo Higashionna traveled to China as well and allegedly studied under a master named Ru Ru Ko. When he returned he worked to develop a new system that combined both hard and soft elements. It eventually became known as Naha-te.
From there, more and more generations continued to learn and mix different fighting styles as masters from different countries (Japan, Korea, etc.) visited/moved to Okinawa (or conversely, Okinawans visited/moved to other countries). “Bushi” Matsumura eventually instilled a sense of Japanese Bushido in his art through Jigen Ryu swordsmanship, along with elements of chinese arts, and become instrumental in the creation of Shorin-Ryu karate.
Take this confusing mishmash and multiply it by 100. That’s the true nature of how karate was created. Karate was not, and will never be, a pure chinese art form. Therefore, making a movie in China and calling it “The Karate Kid” is insulting to the rich martial history that each of the asian countries has woven over the centuries.
Jackie Jumping On Board
When it comes to the choice of Jackie Chan in this roll…doesn’t it feel a little forced? Jackie Chan is not the only Chinese actor in the world…couldn’t we have gotten Pai Mei from Kill Bill?
Just kidding, but I did love that character.
The angle they are taking with this movie throws out all concern for subtlety in favor of box office $$. Think about how neat a period piece could have been. They could have done a movie about Kanryo Higashionna traveling to a mysterious and intimidating China and seeking out the elusive Ru Ru Ko. They could have even taken creative liberties with the story because actual details are a bit sparse. Of course, if they did that, they couldn’t have used The Karate Kid name as a vehicle for Jaden Smith.
The more I see and hear about this movie, the more it concerns me that we will eventually see a box package of the original three movies combined with the horrible Hillary Swank remake and then this.
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Disclaimer: Please do not read, absorb, or look at the above comic.
Hello, I would like to talk about kata in a serious and mature fashion. Mainly I want to focus on the use of kata as a valuable resource for physical fitness. Through all the discussions about ‘how good kata is for street combat’ and if it ‘instills warrior spirit’ (And other such arguments), we seem to overlook one very important thing – there are few singular workout machines or methods that exercise the body like kata.
Q: What makes one workout machine better than another?
A: How well it can isolate specific muscle groups and how many different muscle groups it can work out. That’s value plus usability. The movements in kata are remarkable because they tend to utilize most of the major muscle groups for extended periods of time, which makes for an extremely effective exercise regiment (for free).
The stances of traditional kata come in many varieties and are often used in combination with one another.
Imagine how going in and out of these stances would work your quadriceps, glutes (that means a**), hamstrings, calves, and other minor muscles groups in the legs.
Furthermore, the tensing and relaxing of arm techniques constantly builds up biceps, triceps, and shoulders.
Just as importantly, in order to teach the body how to move as one cohesive unit, the back, neck, and abdominal region must work to tense, release, and control the body appropriately. This promotes good overall health without cost or dangerous over-exertion.
Strength isn’t the only factor – flexibility improves as well. In order to perform proper stance and technique, students must slowly teach their body how to bend and relax. Stretching is a big part of this process, but kata is where the actual technique is performed time and again.
Ask any trainer and they’ll tell you how important proper breathing is in an exercise program. Breathing during cardiovascular training is obviously critical to success, but the same is true during strength training. Where the breath comes from, the pace, and the in-out technique (through nose, mouth, or both) are all factors to consider. Kata, especially the aptly named “breathing” kata, put extreme focus on this.
By combining breathing with the tensing and untensing of the body, one can effectively perform isometric exercises where no external weight is being pushed or pulled. When watching kata such as sanchin, the real work doesn’t come from the simple steps and hand motions; it comes from focused internal contractions (and that can be a real workout).
One of the hardest parts about exercising is simply doing it. Motivation. A lot of people (myself included) go through self arguments like “why should I even bother? It’s a little late to start…I’m already in my pajamas…I think my back is sore…” and other excuses. Kata provides a very tangible, very motivating purpose for exercise. The combination of mental focus, self defense application, and physical activity makes kata seem like a gift rather than a curse.
Unless you are extremely gifted and focused like MizFit, you (and I) need these little tricks to keep going. It is extremely easy to slide into a kata workout, starting off very soft at walking pace until eventually you can naturally kick it into a higher gear.
* * *
There are a lot of arguments for and against kata…and I’ve heard really good explanations for both sides. But one thing I’m convinced of is the value kata has in physical fitness. All we need to do is look back at the old stylists and remember that their training was based predominantly off of kata, kihon, and hojo undo (combined with good diet). Certainly we can take the hint and benefit too!
P.S. While I AM a cheerleader for kata here, I still see the value in heavy bag work, gym memberships, and the Bowflex. I’m just saying kata should get a wink and a nod for how useful it can be!
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Karate can be a board breakin, sweat drenchin, spirit shoutin kind of art. That’s all good stuff, but it’s important to remember that there is a softer side to karate. A yin to the yang, so to speak.
Soft techniques are, for some baffling reason, fairly under utilized in karate. I think it’s because they are less visually dynamic than the impact techniques for which karate is famous (the flying kick shown above is just an example). Despite that, the “soft” has been around just as long as the “hard”. Goju-Ryu, a very popular style of karate, helps illustrate this point. The name Goju-Ryu translates to “hard soft style” and is a term that Chojun Miyagi, the founder, took from an important book called The Bubishi.
Soft elements of karate can trace their roots all the way back to early Chinese influence. Chinese immigrants and traders made their way to Okinawa throughout the two countries history of commerce, and some of the earliest recorded karate exponents told stories of their trips to China both for political and combat training purposes. That being the case, and taking into consideration the strong cultural emphasis on preservation and traditionalism, it only makes sense to realize that soft elements are still to be found in karate.
This begs the question – what exactly ARE soft elements? Isn’t softness an undesirable trait when dealing with martial arts, especially percussion based arts like karate?
Softness, to the eastern mind, is not quite the same thing as it is in the west. In the east, it represents blending of force, redirection, and deflection. A soft technique can appear like it does in Aikido, where the exponent uses circular momentum to over promote the momentum of an attacker.
Don’t grab that guy’s wrist.
Softness can also appear in arts like Judo (“the gentle way”), where weight and balance are deftly manipulated.
There are many other examples, but that is the basic idea. Karate, through its transitioning of stances and crossing-uncrossing of hands, can utilize those same concepts. Although we as kareteka generally practice kihon and kata by locking into stances and techniques, we don’t necessarily HAVE to do that.
Something To Try
Here is something you might enjoy. Pick a kata you are very familiar with and run through its typical bunkai (application) once or twice. After that, try it in a “soft” way. Instead of block, strike, block, block strike…allow your techniques to flow into each other. Let your blocking movements work in a circular fashion as oppossed to hard hits. Don’t feel completely locked into stances – allow yourself to move through them as if they were just one moment in a continous string of moments. Use strikes to hit, but also to off balance, push, pull, and twist your opponent.
This is a fun way to gain a new perspective on kata, and also a method of discovering new ways to manipulate the human body. Like many things in the martial arts, not everything you discover will be correct right off the bat, and you might feel awkward for awhile. That’s ok. Self exploration is an invaluable addition to traditional means of learning; neither should exist without the other.
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