The other week I found myself explaining the origins of an exercise my DART students were doing to one of my Shotokan white belts (a cross training Ju Jutsu practitioner), who for that moment in the class I was pairing with a similarly sized DART student because of the class dynamics. The exercise itself was a positional control mobility flow drill and I explained its origins in Catch Wrestling and how it had come to me through my links with HAVOC JKD and their wrestling program.
The next day while walking my dog I was reviewing aspects of my lesson and I asked myself why I had wasted time giving such a detailed explanation. I learned the exercise indirectly from Jay Cooper of HAVOC with on-site physical coaching from HAVOC instructor Simon Sheridan, and I have had feedback from both on my execution of the same. Most of my students learned the drill directly from me, but at least a quarter of them have also had direct coaching in it from a HAVOC Instructor. But beyond that my students have been doing the exercise for over a year and many are now seamlessly interlacing the principles and positions it teaches with the other ground drills I have taught them.
The thought occurred to me that those older ground drills have been core parts of my DART syllabus for over a decade. They owe their origins to my combining my striking base with cross training with various BJJ, JJJ, Judo and wrestling instructors over the years and lots of pressure testing in class (as well as pressure testing against some extremely experienced ground-based guys over the years). The newer HAVOC drills now sit integrated with those old drills and are assessed in senior gradings and will be officially on the 2020 syllabus.
So far as I am concerned I am a karateka. The first discipline I graded in was Shotokan Karate and it was in Shotokan Karate that I received my first Dan grade certification. I may have cross-trained regularly with people from other systems for 28 years, and even trained for long enough in other systems to gain grades and instructor certifications, but the lens of my focus has always been karate. By coincidence Robert Davis recently mentioned my name in one of his blog posts and wondered if I regard the new DART kata that I practice and teach (alongside two more traditional kata) as karate. The answer is yes. When I teach DART I do so as a Karateka and I regard my DART, like my Shotokan, as Karate. It therefore logically follows that my students are Karateka and that the syllabus they follow is Karate. It might be different to that of other people, but such differences are common and that’s one of the reasons diverse schools of Karate have a variety of names – becoming ‘styles’ even though they are all still Karate.
This might come as a shock to some people. There are some governing bodies and perhaps senior graded Karateka that might reject this viewpoint, but Karate is not and has never been a limited or fixed entity, it is continuously changing. When what we think of as Karate adopted kata such as Kusanku and Wansu it did not stop being Karate because it was now incorporating movements from Chinese martial artists. When Choki Motobu commented to Anko Itosu that he had changed the Pinan/Channan kata since he had last observed them, it did not mean that what Itosu was teaching was no longer Karate. When side snap kick, side thrust kick and the roundhouse kick were added into Karate kihon (and in some instances kata) in the twentieth century the incorporation of new material did not mean that what was being done was no longer Karate. When Shotokan dropped the regular practice and assessment of the grappling and throwing techniques demonstrated in Gichin Funakoshi’s Kyohan text it did not stop being Karate. When Gichin Funakoshi kept adding kata to the syllabus of his school beyond those he had learned from his original teachers, he did not change the school name. When Hironori Otsuka registered his school with the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai it was called Wado Ryu Karate JuJutsu and is now known as Karate. When Hirokazu Kanazawa further expanded the kata repertoire of his own organisation it did not stop being Shotokan. When Enshin Karate developed their own new kata related more closely to their kumite drills they did not stop being Karate. The recent creation and existence of the World Karate Federation does not mean that non-affiliated Karate groups are not Karate.
I made the decision to start using the term DART Karate in 2006 because because I had by then diverged so far from the pedagogy and syllabus of Shotokan that using that name was both nonsensical and misleading. I did not want to adopt a Japanese name because I am not Japanese, but I did want to choose a term that not only summed up what I taught but also had appropriate connotations, hence DART (Defence, Attack and Resolution Tactics), dart (a swift movement), dart (a fold of material to make something fit better), and dart (a weapon). I currently teach both DART Karate and Shotokan Karate to different groups (usually in the same time slot and often with cross-style pairings) in addition to my more generic Karate and Self Protection seminars worldwide. My regular Shotokan classes and syllabus may differ in syllabus kumite, kihon and kata practices from many other Shotokan groups, but such differences are common between multiple Shotokan associations (as we should expect of a style of such age and size), and what is taught is very recognisably Shotokan to anyone that knows the kata.
Karate is a name given to schools that trace their lineage to Okinawa, but it refers to something that is continuously changing. Not only are there now huge numbers of ‘styles’ and diverse lineages, but it is also very hard to find identical syllabi or pedagogies, even within the same associations in a particular ‘style’. Some people want things to stay the same, and I respect that choice. They have the right to try to keep what they do as close to how they learned it as possible in their own associations and schools. They in turn need to acknowledge and respect the right of others to follow the long tradition of change and to adjust what they teach, or change how they teach it. We all need to accept that the term ‘Karate’ is a broad church that encompasses a global ever-changing range of practices and that it cannot be fixed to represent various arbitrary points in what is and will be a history and future of change.