Martial Arts Writing & Research

“Navigating Ethics and Compromise in Martial Arts”: Iain Abernethy-The Practical Application of Karate: March 15, 2017: Canada/UK
Guest Writer’s section:


“Reality-Based Self-Defense at Canterbury Community Centre”: Vistas: October 2014: Ottawa


“Foundations of Self-Defense” Ottawa Citizen: March 3, 2014: Ottawa


“Just Don’t Call MMA an Art” Ottawa Citizen: August 17, 2010: Ottawa


“The Humanistic Value of Martial Arts (Budo)” Humanist Perspectives, Spring, 2010: Canada


“Zanshin and Personal Security Concepts” Harmonizer Journal, Apr., 2010.


“A General Examination of Karate Organizations Through the Lens of Organizational Theory” Budo Journal, 1st quarter, 2006: Canada/Australia


“The Value of Karate as an Instrument of Social Justice” Tone, Jan., 2006: Ottawa

Selected Articles

Navigating Ethics and Compromise in Martial Arts

As published in: Iain Abernethy-The Practical Application of Karate: March 15, 2017

Guest Writer’s section:

The normalized commercialization of martial arts (Budo) may oblige an ambitious instructor to navigate ethical challenges and the dynamics of compromise. This applies particularly to anyone seeking financial gain from competitive martial arts; the most prolific facet of Budo. Contrary to widespread perceptions; public martial arts instruction is a fairly recent phenomenon.

For illustrative purposes, I present the example of Okinawan Karate, formerly called Te, Toudi and Kenpo. Prior to the transformative Meiji restoration of the mid-nineteenth century, all Japanese/Okinawan martial arts training was the sole preserve of the aristocracy, military and civil law enforcement classes. The new term Budo gradually came to replace the older word Bujutsu; formerly used to describe elite combat arts and law enforcement tactics. Feudal Japan’s numerous sword fighting schools, for example; were off limits to any but the samurai class.

Budo refers to the “way” of martial arts; an umbrella term to describe the delicate balance of physical, philosophical and moral facets in Japan’s modern family of revised martial arts; modified for the general public as cultural recreation and sports. A popular example is the martial sport of Judo; a gentler version of Jujutsu. Japan’s Meiji-era Bujutsu to Budo transformation also effected China and Korea; two nations destined to experience a Japanese domination that in the Korean case; influenced the nature of a modern art: Tae Known Do.

In Okinawa’s pre-war period, for example; martial art practice and instruction was conducted privately among the male members of elite families. The wholesale destruction and economic ruin wrought by the war prompted Okinawan masters to commercialize a simplified version of their complex art for the occupying American military after General MacArthur’s martial arts ban was lifted in early 1950.

The U.S. soldiers and marines were unaware that they were learning the basic Karate system taught to Okinawan school children as a form of group exercise. The children’s version intentionally deleted the combative lessons reinforced by Kata, or simulated solo combat. Both the creation of new Kata and the absence of combative context inspired haphazard interpretations that persist in today’s dojos. Not surprisingly, these Chinese-trained Okinawan experts did not reveal their deadly system of Kyusho Jutsu or pressure point fighting to outsiders. They were motivated by cultural pride, ethical concerns and a natural resentment of the foreigners occupying their ancient homeland.

Were Okinawan Karate masters of the early 20th Century magically transported to a 2016 commercial dojo in Canada; they would not likely recognize the activity before them as genuine martial art. Their concerns would extend beyond the very casual and public nature of the learning environment and they might well be puzzled about the instructors’ motives and philosophical beliefs. Questions of ethics and compromise might also arise in their minds upon noting the clever advertising and sales tactics.

Increasingly, since ethics and compromise are governed by flexible interpretations; many teachers feel free to operate commercially behind bold advertising incorporating fluid interpretations of Buddhism and Taoism. This creates contradictions and cognitive dissonance because traditional Asian martial systems are generally supported by profound spiritual and philosophical concepts like perseverance, sacrifice, patience and mutual respect. The latter notions, while not antithetical to commercial success; were developed for other purposes.

Therefore, excessive flexibility may blur the border between solid reality and commercial expediency. The subtle erosion of technical and ethical standards is eventually minimized by the considerable appeal of financial gain. Unfortunately, careful adherence to ancient spiritual philosophies may be perceived as eccentric or even foolish when such a practitioner is compared to one who employs expedient practices to create a chain of commercial schools along franchise lines.

Fortunately; a broadly-informed idealism may enhance one’s ethical perspective and increase the likelihood of lifetime participation in martial arts. Conversely, the employment of utilitarian expediency offers easy justification for any scheme and provides a weak foundation for permanence. The prevalence and normalization of ill-considered compromise and expediency makes such a course all the more tempting for those who exist within hierarchical social structures where reward and punishment is a permanent organizational dynamic under capricious leadership.

 While Asian martial arts are now ubiquitous; all nations and indigenous people with a military history have developed sophisticated martial systems supported by spiritual or religious beliefs. For example, the fighting arts of North American native tribes; along with the people of ancient Greece, Rome and India all featured a profound spiritual or ethical dimension.

Noted mixed martial arts (MMA) coach Greg Jackson offered the following comments on the value of adding traditional Budo wisdom to MMA in the June/July 2015 issue of Black Belt Magazine:

…the traditional arts teach all those intangibles that are so important to society-things like respect, humility and the appropriate use of violence. I feel that as mixed martial artists we have walked away from that, and we need to get back to it. We need to understand that traditional martial arts has a lot to teach us. For mixed martial arts to survive, it has to be socially viable.


Jackson’s thoughtful remarks were offered in the context of public misconceptions about MMA created by the negative conduct of a few noted competitors in the wake of the sport’s massive commercial success and global popularity. Perhaps the MMA world is approaching in the mature third level of organizational Shu Ha Ri; the Budo concept of life’s three developmental stages.

In his article, The Effect of Modern Marketing on Martial Arts and Traditional Martial Arts Culture, Joseph D. McNamara writes:

Marketing has redefined the role of the martial arts instructor. Martial
arts instructors do not have a familial or cultural basis of training
in the United States. This is a very different business environment from
the ancient practices of generational instructors. As a result, marketing
has sought to establish the expertise of potential instructors in the
minds of students…


Some instructors believe martial arts schools and organizations ought to collect only enough money to cover operating expenses. These purists consider deliberate profit-seeking an affront to the spirit of Budo; leading eventually to ethical and technical compromise. This model includes schools where the instructor earns their living elsewhere and the school operates like a cooperative. Such Budo organizations often use public schools and community centres to minimize costs and encourage participation by low-income students unable to pay the higher rates at fully-commercial clubs. Ironically, they are often obliged to compete within these public forums with franchise organizations offering bargain rate instruction for public relations purposes.

After considering these factors, it is still possible to realize an ethical profit as a martial arts instructor if one educates students about the reality of martial arts and the benefits of patient, methodical training. The best teachers are pleased to see students eagerly exploring the wider world of martial arts, including competition and public demonstrations. It is tempting to present one’s art as superior and comprehensive or even to discourage students from broadening their technical base through cross-training in other disciplines. This temptation is especially strong when one is financially-dependent on martial arts revenue and a well-developed “brand” that purports to answer every need.

As McNamara noted, our consumer culture encourages people to see martial arts as a business transaction where the payment of fees will automatically produce results. Therefore, it is not unreasonable for neophyte students to entertain unrealistic notions about martial arts progress. Setting high technical and behavioural standards for rank promotion tends to limit the potential for profit, depending on students’ nature and motivation level. Therefore, we witness excessively-rapid promotion and even the awarding of black belt rank to children as young as ten years. In some cases, politicians accept honorary black belts from commercial schools eager to develop beneficial relationships with power brokers.

According to the late Zen priest Kensho Furuya, noted aikido master and author of Kodo Ancient Ways:

Because of these pressures, our values have changed greatly. Teachers must now expect less from students, and students quite a bit more from their teacher-or off they go, shopping around for the next school with more to offer. Ultimately, we become so concerned with receiving more and more that we lose sight of the actual process of training and learning.


The idealized martial arts path combines a disciplined regime of meditative introspection, solo practice and regular interaction with teachers and fellows students. The vital role of a genuine teacher cannot be overstated. In response to inquiries following his resignation from the Canada Chito Kai and rumored tensions with founder Tsuyoshi Chitose; Canadian Karate pioneer Masami Tsurouka said, “I have only one sensei and I will live and die with only one.” Sensei Tsurouka was exemplifying the notion that, while he was now independent; he intended to honor the spirit of Chitose’s Karate in his future activities as a national martial arts leader.

The darker side of achieving senior Budo rank is largely ignored or minimized by those seeking such honors or playing a support role in martial arts politics. Beyond that, the significance of senior rank (fifth Dan black belt and above) and the master-level titles of Renshi, Shihan, Kyoshi and Hanshi have been diminished by ego, commerce and the global proliferation of martial arts. For instance, due to differing standards and technical requirement, one organization’s Renshi cadre may be vastly more skilled and experienced than that of another organization where the title is conferred for different, but equally valid reasons. Of course, for better or worse; such standards reflect unique traditions and the leaders’ personalities and philosophical perspectives.

Like all hierarchical structures; Budo organizations feature a stratified system of rank and associated titles designed to mark technical skill, pedagogical experience, competitive success, dedication and loyalty. Ideally, the system functions to provide balance and continuity in the intensely competitive Budo environment. Unfortunately, the rank/title system may suffer the hazards of ego-driven ambition when personal loyalty is excessively-esteemed. The unfortunate inconsistencies of nepotistic elevation encourages rank-based misconceptions and the false assumption that senior rank automatically means superior technical skills, pedagogical ability and comprehensive knowledge of relevant history and philosophy. Since the latter set of accomplishments forms the basis of a master’s competent critique of their student’s progress; genuine expertise is essential.

In Okinawan/Japanese Budo systems it often happens that lower-ranked but highly competent instructors are not taken seriously by senior ranks even when the junior-ranked instructor possesses superior technical and pedagogical skill due to the higher relative quality, intensity and consistency of their learning. Therefore, it is rare for senior martial artists to accept instruction from lower-ranked teachers either in regular classes or at seminars due to factors of ego, reputation or commercial considerations. While exceptions exist, Budo’s organizational culture tends to assume that skill automatically increases with rank and age.

The acceptance of rank and title from a senior instructor may present an ethical quandary for aspiring martial artists whose legitimate ambition forces them to acknowledge the public relations value of the status inferred by the promotion. This is particularly true when the junior rank privately acknowledges the gulf between their superior’s public and private behaviour. It is tempting for a person in such circumstances to rationalize falsely as they conduct a cost benefit analysis of continued association with said instructor. These rationalizations include a naïve belief in personal immunity to corrupting influences; the senior’s technical expertise, their affiliation with elite governing bodies and self-arguments to the effect that managing a large Budo organization requires harsh and even Machiavellian tactics.

While these factors are true to a certain extent, we are all affected and judged by our associations and it is impossible to avoid the negative consequences of habitual self-deception. Denial will surely undermine our spiritual foundations. Honest self-appraisal and correction through a clear and penetrating perception will defeat ego-driven distractions like envy and vanity. This is applies to all areas of human endeavour involving the combination of solitary and interpersonal effort. Those who tread the Budo path with persistence and humility are exemplars of realized human potential.


Bolelli, Daniele. On The Warrior’s Path: Second Edition. Blue Snake Books. Berkley, California. 2008.

Bowerbank, Andrew. The Spirit of Karate Do. Morris Marketing and Media Services Inc.

Toronto. 1997

Furuya, Kensho. Kodo Ancient Ways. Black Belt Books. Ohara Publications. Los Angeles. 1996

Hamill, Sam. Tao Te Ching – A New Translation. Shambala. Boston & London. 2007.

Jackson, Greg. “Can MMA become a Martial Art?” in Black Belt Magazine. Cruz Bay Publishing. Santa Clara, California. June-July 2015.

Kauz, Herman. A Path to Liberation. The Overlook Press. New York. 1992.

McNamara, Joseph D. The Effect of Modern Marketing on Martial Arts and Traditional Martial Arts Culture: The Sport Journal: March 14, 2008.

Ochiai, Hidy. A Way to Victory-The Annotated Book of Five Rings: Miyamoto Musashi’s Classic guide to Strategy. The Overlook Press. New York. 2001

 Foundations of Personal Safety

As published in the Ottawa Citizen: March 3, 2014

Rounding the final corner, Natalie methodically scanned the gathering darkness.  Her heart jumped slightly when a large shadow flitted across the periphery and she slowed her breathing, straightened her posture and moved to the road’s centre; cellphone in hand. Sensing no danger; Natalie relaxed slightly and mentally prepared for the evening’s self-defense class.

This scenario illustrates the common experience of women and girls who acknowledge the possibility of sexual assault and act to enhance their safety.  Of course, everyone should be free to walk in peace but until violence disappears; sensible precautions and education will reduce the possibility of sexual assault. Ottawa’s recent series of attacks against women necessitates some clarification about the reality of self-defense against human predators. The foundation of personal safety is the fact that everyone has the right to defend themselves from any and all forms of violence.

Personal security is primarily an intuitive process which may be enhanced by consistent training until the habit of situational awareness becomes automatic. Situational awareness is a trained extension of humanity’s powerful instinct for self-preservation. As well, intentionally avoiding dangerous places and people reduces the possibility of confrontation and physical violence. Physical force is actually the final stage of a self-defense continuum that involves risk acknowledgement, education, tactical training and the habitual practice of situational awareness.

Any physical assault, especially sexual assault; is violence perpetrated by predatory individuals who derive gratification from controlling, humiliating and injuring mainly women and children. These individuals may be intoxicated, mentally disturbed and physically powerful, so it is hazardous to underestimate their willingness or ability to hurt or even kill you.

Many sexual assaults are committed by men known to their victims. This familiarity complicates self-defense options because a person’s natural sense of intimacy and trust creates dangerous hesitations in situations requiring decisive action. While most sexual assaults by strangers are planned in advance; these attacks are easier to perceive as overt violence.  In such cases, the defender’s judgment is unclouded by personal sympathy and they are freer to act decisively.

Sexual predators that target strangers will employ surprise where possible;  mainly seeking distracted or vulnerable-looking people. Walking with purposeful confidence is an excellent tactic for deterring human predators. If vigilance fails and you are attacked, immediate and vigorous resistance is imperative. It is wise to assume that a person who attempts to control and sexually assault you is utterly ruthless, so surrendering is risky unless false compliance is employed for tactical advantage. Under no circumstances should you permit yourself to be bound or placed in a vehicle for removal to a secondary location.

The matter of actually using defensive techniques against an attacker is complicated by the fact that most people rarely experience the shock of physical violence. A sexual assault is not a fight but an ambush by a predator that may be experienced and determined.  The greatest liability to a person in danger is hyper-vigilance; a fear-induced state of paralysis. The risk of hyper-vigilance can be reduced by learning and practicing self-defense techniques against the sort of violent attacks that precede and facilitate sexual assault. These attacks include limb seizes and strikes, shoves, chokes, bear hugs and threats with weapons.

Martial arts schools that clearly concentrate on reality-based training are the obvious choice for practical self-defense.  Credible instructors will be open about their credentials and professional affiliations. Their curriculum and fee structure will be clear and you will usually be invited to try a free class or two before making a financial investment. Above all, you will be treated with courtesy and respect, even when the training becomes rigorous.  The classes will concentrate on gradually building your ability to confidently manage the stress of a wide variety of violent scenarios

The main advantage of long-term group training is peer support and motivation. Alternatively, taking an occasional seminar class works well for those individuals fortunate enough to have friends or family members for practice. Whether you train in a formal school or in a private setting; the key to results are realism, intensity and consistency.

 Many women carry cell phones, whistles or personal alarms because the first goal in a risky situation is to attract attention. The sexual predator is seeking a quiet, cooperative victim and the threat of exposure might be enough to deter them. Successful defenders have summoned help by shouting, whistle blasts, triggering car alarms or even breaking residential windows. Pepper spray, while certainly effective; is illegal for use on humans and weapons may be turned against you

Unlike law enforcement officers, private citizens must wait for an attacker to actually initiate an assault before physical force may be employed in self-defense. Under Canadian law, a defender’s pre-emptive strike may be considered criminal assault. Only “reasonable” force may be used to protect you or another person so, ultimately; pre-empting violence through awareness is the safest strategy.


As published in Budo Journal: 1st Quarter 2006



  1. Introduction
  2. A Comparative Analysis of a Japanese Feudal Organization (THE OKUDAIRA SAMURAI CLAN) and a Modern Bujutsu Organization Through the Lens of Elliot Jacques’  Corporate Organizational Structure
  3. The Genesis of Karate
  4. How Karate Came to the West and Particularly to Canada
  5. The Development of Karate in Canada.
  6. The National Karate Association (NKA)
  7. A Critical Analysis of the NKA Through the Ideas of the  Following Organizational Theory Schools and Selected Theorists:
  8. Modern Structural Organization Theory:

Henry Mintzberg: Five Parts of the Organization

  1. Organizational Culture and Sense Making:

Edgar Schein: Organizational Artifacts

  1. Power and Politics:

John R.P. French/Bertram Raven: The Five Bases of Power (Reward, Coercive, Legitimate, Referent, Expert)

  1. Max Weber: types of Authority
  2. Conclusion
  3. References


This essay first offers a general examination of modern Karate organizations through the lenses of  various organizational theories. In order to accomplish this goal I will provide some historical and cultural context. In spite of the ancient, feudal origins of the organizational  structure of modern Karate organizations, these modern theories are relevant and useful tools of description, comparison and analysis. I will use the ideas of various organizational theorists in my treatment of the various organizations. My main goal is to identify strengths and weaknesses in such organizations.

            The work of Elliot Jacques from the "Modern" Structural Organization School will assist me in dealing with the hierarchical nature of Japanese feudal military organizations and the structure of modern Karate organizations. Of special interest are his hierarchical charts, which are remarkably similar to the organization arrangements of traditional Japanese organizations. I will use his ideas mainly in my discussion of the historical origins of Japanese Karate organizations that have their roots in feudal Japan.

            Also from this school is Henry Mintzberg's theory of the five basic parts of the organization, which will assist me in my description, analysis and comparison of the relationships between the Canada’s National Karate Association, the Canadian Chito Ryu Karate Association, the Chito Kai organization and the Tsuruoka Karate Federation. It is a useful tool to apply to organizations that are all quite similar; ostensibly organized for similar purposes but differentiated by strong competing factions and personalities. Lastly, I also plan to employ Edgar H. Schein's artifact concept from the Organizational Culture and Sense Making School to describe the role and significance of various artifacts in the Karate world.

            It is this dynamic of strong competing factions and political struggle between personalities which interests me the most and I will use theorists from the  Power and Politics School as my main analytical and comparative tools. They include  John R .P. French Jr.'s. and Bertram Raven's five bases of social power (reward, coercive, legitimate, referent and expert) and Max Weber's ideas on traditional, charismatic and legal rational authority. It is ironic that organizations, whose original goal was to preserve and propagate a martial art that was originally intended to polish the character, have been plagued by ego and power struggles. Much of the blame for this situation may be the excessive commercialization of Karate, which has led many individuals to resort to unfortunate compromises.

A Comparative Analysis of a Japanese Feudal Organization (The Okudaira Samurai Clan) and a Modern Bujutsu Organization Through the Lens of Elliot Jaques' Corporate Organizational Structure

The history of organization in Japan reflects the requirements of a highly militarized and stratified society. As early as 710 AD, the Japanese adopted a bureaucratic model based on the Chinese system. This marked the beginning of a long and tumultuous relationship between the two countries. The martial history of the two nations is also intertwined, with military skills and training methods flowing in a reciprocal manner between the two countries.

            Of primary concern to me is the Edo, or Takugawa, Period, which lasted from 1660 to 1867. During this period, the Shoguns or warlords gained power and the Code of Bushido was authored by Yamaga Soko, a dominant Samurai scholar. This harsh code was to become the moral and social code of the Samurai warrior class. It still exists today in the Karate world, albeit in a milder form. Traditional Bushido indicated that any warrior who surrendered to the enemy was considered unworthy and thus the captors were justified in employing the cruelest tortures. This often included the practice of using live prisoners as training targets for sword, bow and spear practice. During the Battle of Hong Kong in 1941, Japanese soldiers tortured and mutilated numerous Canadian prisoners. What occured in Nanking, China previous to this battle is a matter of historical record.  Today's version of the Code of Bushido is more civilized as a result of the cultural changes that occurred at the end of the Tokugawa Period during the Meiji Restoration. I will deal with this in greater detail later in the paper. Of key importance in understanding the parallels between Feudal Japanese military organizations and modern Karate organizations is the concept of giri to ninjo. It is eloquently described by Canadian Karate founder Masami Tsuruoka writes in the introduction to Andrew Bowerbank's Spirit of Karate-do:

     Gigi to ninjo is a statement that encompasses all concepts of loyalty, dedication, respect etc., through      enforcing a sense of obligation. This obligation (giri) becomes a binding ideal dedicated to the                 betterment of humanity (ninjo) whatever the cost to the individual…. The Bushido Code that defined         the conduct of Japan's samurai class was bound by the concept of giri to nonjo. Obligation and                 commitment to the lord of the clan (Daimyo) took precedence over all other concerns…. A true                 sensei is bound by giri to ninjo, thus committing totally to the positive development of his/her students.     Students are subsequently bound by giri to ninjo, offering themselves completely… (Tsuruoka in             Bowerbank, 1997, Introduction).

 What Tsuoruka wrote in 1997 could have easily have been written by a Tokugawa Samurai in describing his relationships with his superiors and subordinates. This type of reciprocity is generally foreign to Western thinking and requires a leap of faith on the part of Westerners who place themselves under the guidance of a traditional teacher (sensei) like Tsuruoka. Perhaps the primary difference between traditional and contemporary relationships is the fact that modern Karate students are not required to perform acts of retaliatory violence in the service of their sensei. Things were much harsher during the Tokugawa Period and the lives of most Japanese were cheap; Samurai were allowed to kill commoners with impunity for the slightly offense against their rigid code of conduct. At this time Japanese society was sharply divided and stratified, with the military class occupying what Mintzberg would call the strategic apex. Also, Mintzberg's middle line could be compared to the Tokugawa imperial court and nobles. Again, I emphasize that the military class is most relevant to the structural development of Karate organizations.

            It is easy to see the structural similarity between the modern bujutsu (Japanese martial arts, including Karate) organization and a Feudal Samurai clan like the Okudaira clan. Both are roughly divided in two with senior and junior categories and they are connected by the concept of giri to ninjo or mutual obligation. A modern bujutsu organization is run along lines similar to a feudal Japanese Samurai clan but the ostensible purposes are martial fraternity, self-defence, physical fitness, sport, profit or a combination of theses motives. The Okudaira clan organized for survival and military dominance. .

            The Karate hanshi is the budo equivalent of the corporate CEO. Both the hanshi and CEO set the tone for the organization and provide overall leadership. The kyoshi ranks are the budo equivalent of the corporate executive vice presidents and presidents. The shihan and  renshi ranks are the budo equivalent of the various types of  general managers or departmental directors. Missing from the budo chart is the sempai class of third, second and first degree black belts who play the unit manager or front line manager role in the budo organization. It is of supreme importance to note that these ranks and classifications are relative to the size of the organization, the variety of black belt members and the organization's degree of adherence to budo tradition.

            As previously stated, the primarily purpose of a Samurai Clan was military dominance and survival. These priorities necessitated a harsh code of behavior, which made few allowances for mistakes or personal failings. Of specific relevance is the unquestioning loyalty shown by individual Samurai to his Daimyo or Shogun. Things are different in most modern Karate organizations but there are some instances of modern Karate masters behaving in this traditional way. The case of Canadian Karate founder Masami Tsuruoka and his sensei Chitose Tsuyoshi is a good example of this. When Tsuruoka refused to raise money for Chitose's headquarters in Japan, Chitose gave Tsuruoka's title of chief of the Canadian Chito Ryu Karate Association to Tsuruoka's senior student Shane Higashi. Chitose, the founder of the Chito Ryu style of Karate and a pioneer in teaching U.S. servicemen on Okinawa, offered no explanation. Tsuruoka's handling of this disagreeable and seemingly treacherous turn of events was sublime and more typical of a Feudal Samurai than a modern man.

He immediately telephoned Japan and asked Dr. Chitose for an explanation but was given none…. Kept independent by his strong beliefs – and in spite of the recent differences with Dr. Chitose – he would say, "I have only one sensei and I will live and die with only one." Political conflicts can never alter budo ethics in Tsuruoka Sensei's eyes. This attitude worked to further enhance his image as many karatekas from different styles came to respect and promote his ideals  (Bowerbank, 1997, p. 134).

This is how a Samurai would handle orders or a decision from his superiors. Very few modern western people possess the inner calm and confidence to deal positively with such a rejection, especially when no explanation is offered. Our individualistic culture does not encourage us to diminish our egos and look to the greatest common good.

 The Genesis of Karate

Karate as we recognize it did not come into existence until about 1900. It developed on the Japanese island of Okinawa and was initially a disorganized collection of various versions of what the natives called Te. Each village or region had its own version of the indigenous Te. These were no uniforms or organizations and operated under a code of secrecy between student and teacher.

            In 1913, an Okinawan school teacher and martial artist named Funakoshi Gichin was invited to give a martial arts performance before the Crown Prince of Japan at Shuri castle in the Okinawa Prefecture. Funakoshi had worked for many years under his teachers Itosu and Azato to modernize and harmonize the various Okinawan versions of Te. In particular, Itosu was responsible for the creation of modern Karate. He set about introducing Karate to the school system and sensibly altered the techniques of the kata to make it less dangerous. He did not teach these children the brutal self-defence techniques represented by the kata. Unfortunately, Itosu’s many of his disciples began communicating these exclusions and and alterations to their own students. Funakoshi was one of these but it is widely accepted that he knew the difference and chose to promulgate the milder version of Karate on the Japanese mainland.

            Funakoshi called this modern art  Karatedo and combined his pen name Shoto with the Japanese kan or club to name his ‘new' system. His dojo or school in Tokyo thus was the club of Shoto, or Shotokan. Incidentally, Funakoshi was instrumental in the ‘Japanization' of Okinawan Karate. It was widely felt in Okinawa that the mainland Japanese maintained a condescending attitude toward Okinawa and Okinawan culture. To pay homage to the mainland Japanese who welcomed him as a Karate teacher, Funakoshi set about creating a new name for Okinawan Te that would suit the Japanese sensibilities. He dropped the jutsu suffix and replaced it with the more Japanese “do”, which meant path or spiritual way.  Kara meant China and it also meant empty. In this way he credited the Chinese influence and also emphasized the concept of empty hand and empty (at peace) mind. Japanese martial arts practitioners believe that technique originates in the void. To simplify this rather mystical notion I interpret it as technique, polished and internalized over decades of dedicated training, occurring spontaneously in response to a threat or attack. Thus the concept of empty mind and empty hand. Later, around 1933, a group of other Okinawan Karate masters agreed to change the ideogram signifying “empty” to exclude the Chinese reference as Japan was engaged in active hostilities with China.

             The Japanese Prince was so amazed by Funakoshi's demonstration that he invited Funakoshi to teach his Karate in Japan. This was the beginning of the Japanization of Karate. In the eyes of Okinawan traditionalists, Karate would never be the same. As  martial arts scholar Hanshi Patrick McCarthy writes in Bubishi: The Bible of Karate:

…Itosu Anko established a campaign to introduce the discipline into the island's school system as a form of physical exercise…. Removing much of what was then considered too dangerous for school children, the emphasis shifted from self- defense to physical fitness…. By not teaching the hidden self-defense moves, the actual intentions (i.e., to disable, maim or even kill by traumatizing anatomically vulnerable areas if necessary) of the kata became so obscured that a new tradition developed (McCarthy, 1995, pp. 53-54).

The ‘Japanization' of Karate that McCarthy refers to was also influenced by the tendency of the mainland Japanese to impose homogeneity on their cultural possessions. As McCarthy writes, "When compared to Kendo or Judo, the humble origins of Ryukyu Kempo Karate-jutsu remained, by Japanese standards, uncultivated and without suitable organization or ‘oneness'" (Ibid., p. 54). Kendo and Judo had their origins in the aristocratic Samurai arts of Ju Jutsu and Kenjutsu and thus were considered culturally superior to an art developed by Okinawan provincials.

 How Karate came to the West and Particularly to Canada

For a brief time following the end of World War II, all martial arts practice was forbidden on Okinawa and the Japanese mainland. Karate was excluded from this ban because kata practice was misinterpreted as an Okinawan folk dance. By 1949, however, the ban was lifted and many Okinawan Karate experts began teaching this mysterious art to U.S. servicemen, albeit in a diluted form. The Okinawan masters were unwilling to share the deadly secerts of Karate with there westerners. This is no surprise considering that the Okinawan masters were also offering a diluted version of Karate to the mainland Japanese who were were much closer to them in race and culture. Eventually, some of these soldiers would return to the U.S. and open schools of their own. Often, they would also ally themselves with their Okinawan master who would visit the U.S. for testing and high level training of senior students.

One of the many notable Okinawan Karate experts who were to have a great influence in the West was Dr. Chitose Tsuyoshi. This medical doctor and former officer in the Imperial Japanese Army was one of the top teachers of U.S. military personnel on Okinawa during the 1950s, 1960s ands 1970s. Chitose died in 1983 and in the Samurai tradition, his son is now the Soke or chief of the style. He was trained by Okinawa's finest Karate and Kobujutsu ( ancient weapons) masters and he was the founder of his own style of Karate, which he called Chito Ryu. This style has a relatively small following in Japan but is one of the dominant styles in Canada. One of his top students on the Japanese mainland was Masami Tsuruoka, the future founder of Karate in Canada.

 The Further Development of Karate in Canada

When Tsuruoka opened his first dojo in Toronto in 1958, there were no other known Karate schools in Canada. The Armed Forces, RCMP and various police forces had long been aquainted with Ju Jutsu and Judo, but Karate was unknown and thus Tsuruoka experienced great difficulties in establishing himself as a Karate sensei. At first he demonstrated genuine unwillingness to even admit that he was a Karateka. When Tsuruoka finally decided to share has tremendous skill and knowledge, he made a powerful impression. His diminutive size, five feet two inches and 125 pounds, belied his seemingly superhuman skill and power generation. It is a truism that Karate feats of power and agility are seemingly superhuman. In reality, leaping six feet in the air to kick an opponent or crushing a stack of concrete blocks with one blow is merely the dramatic result of years of intense, relentless mental and technical training. Most Karate training seems like boring, uncomfortable drudgery and requires a high degree of dedication. Tsuruoka was forced to resort to a demonstration of his skills to attract his first students. A gym full of burly body-builders was amazed at Tsuruoka's Karate skill and in this way he recruited his first group of students.

            It was not until 1972 that another major Japanese Karate organization would bring its art to Canada. The Shotokan of America, under the leadership of Tsutomu Oshima, opened a branch club in Toronto during that year. Oshima was an uchi deshi of Shotokan founder Funakoshi Gichin. After Tsuruoka's split with his Sensei Chitose, Shotokan was the Karate style that interested him the most because it was more linear than the complex Chito Ryu techniques. He felt Shotokan techniques would be easier to teach to Canadians. At this time Tsuruoka began networking with master instructors from all over the world. As Andrew Bowerbank writes of Tsuruoka, "Friendships with great teachers such as Hietaka Nishiyama Sensei of the United States (Shotokan), Tatsuo Sensei of England (Wado Ryo), Stan Schmidt of South Africa (Shotokan) and Frank Hatashita of Canada (Judo) have kept O-Sensei's concepts open to constant positive influence throughout his many years of study and teaching" (Bowerbank, 1997, p. 139).

 The National Karate Association

Tsuruoka believed that style politics was the greatest danger to the survival of Karate and as a result of this belief, he was instrumental in forming the National Karate Association (NKA) in 1964. "The NKA was set up to unite all traditional Karate styles under one governing body. Each independent style would be free to develop as its history, syllabus and ideas dictated, yet at the same time would have the support of a government-sanctioned organization to assist in national and global interaction" (Ibid., p. 136.). Tsuruoka is still the honorary figurehead and holds the title of founding president. Currently, Tsuruoka's influence is waning as younger, more aggressive personalities emerge as players on the national Karate scene.

 Shortly after splitting from the Chito Kai, Tsuruoka founded his own organization, the Tsuruoka Karate Federation. With the help of key senior students, Tsuruoka's innovative approach began to spread across Canada. There are now Tsuruoka Karate schools from coast to coast. The main headquarters is the Honbu Dojo in Toronto, which was built with generous donations from the students. The dojo was built around Tsuruoka as he is considered a priceless repository of Karate lore. As Bowerbank writes,

"Over the years O-Sensei has come to embrace the roots of an art which now defines his every action. Students and instructors half his present age find his limitless energy and drive difficult if not impossible to keep up with on the dojo floor, and his innate understanding of kinetics and physiology have taken him to a level of mastery that would be difficult to match in the world today" (Ibid., p. 139). While there are no official Tsuruoka Karate Federation schools in Ottawa, most of the Karate schools in the area can trace the lineage of the instructors back to Tsuruoka.

 The Canada Chito Kai is the official governing body for Chito Ryu Karate in Canada. As mentioned earlier in the paper, it is run by Shane Higashi, Tsuruoka's first black belt student. This organization is the Canadian branch of the international Chito Kai, which is headquartered in Kumamoto, Japan, on the island of Kyushu. The Canada Chito Kai, like many others, jealously guards what Edgar Schein would call their artifacts. In the late 1960s, they threatened legal action against the now-deceased Andre Langelier, who was using their crest at his Ottawa school. Langelier, one of Tsuruoka's original students, founded the first Karate school in Ottawa in 1967, at the corner of Rideau Street and Sussex Drive. In the end, Langelier backed down and agreed to use a more generic crest. This dispute occurred after the split between Tsuruoka and Chitose and is typical of the type of territoriality which currently infects the Karate world. The next chapter will analyze the workings of these organizations

A Critical Analysis of Canadian Karate Organizations through the Ideas of the Following Organization Theory Schools and Selected Theorists

 Modern Structural Organization Theory

Henry Mintzberg: Five Parts of the Organization

All three of the above Karate organizations operate with a structure similar to Mintzberg's five basic parts of the organization. They all have a dominant leader/figurehead at the strategic apex. This person answers to those at the international level and is responsible for setting the overall tone of the organization as well as maintaining a uniformity of technical standards throughout the organization. Since the Chito Kai, the Tsuruoka Karate Federation and the NKA all operate in roughly the same way, I will concentrate on the NKA . The strategic apex of the NKA is the NKA executive, which is comprised of five people: the president, two vice-presidents, a treasurer and a secretary. These officers all serve in a voluntary capacity although they are reimbursed for travel and administrative expenses. The NKA National Council would serve as what Mintzberg refers to as the support staff and the various committees are the techno structure. Underlying this bureaucracy are the individual clubs, their instructors and students. Everyone pays dues to the organization but only a few people actually profit financially from Karate teaching. They are usually highly respected and experienced instructors, such as Tsuruoka, who receive a living allowance from their students. This is a very traditional arrangement; in the past Japanese and Okinawan martial arts teachers would often accept food or clothing in lieu of monetary payment.

Organizational Culture and Sense Making

Edgar Schein: Organizational Artifacts

The Karate world revolves around artifacts that denote style, rank, organizational affiliation and nationality. However, this was not always the case. In Karate's formative period on Okinawa no uniforms were worn and the only purpose for the belt was to hold up the trousers. The legend of the black belt may have begun in ancient times when the simple white cotton belt of the student would turn black from accumulated grime and sweat. It was never to be washed. In modern times the custom is different. The black belt is never to be washed and since it is white cotton on the inside, eventually it will fade and turn white. This process is also symbolic of the master's return to innocence as all beginners in modern Karate wear white belts. On a realistic note, this practice often receives lip service and many people wash and dry their black belts for cleanliness purposes or to hasten the sought-after “aged” look of a worn black belt.

            The variety of coloured belts and their meanings to different Karate styles is endless. I must now repeat what has been said by Tsurouka, "Style could be the one factor to defeat karate" (Ibid., p. 138). This statement reflects the endless squabbling over things such as which belt colours to use to denote rank. Fortunately, most organizations agree on the colour coding for the junior ranks:

-          White: neophyte

-          Junior

-          Yellow: first promotion

-          Orange: second promotion

-          Intermediate

-          Green: third promotion

-          Blue: fourth promotion

-          Senior

-          Brown: fifth promotion

-          Basic Expert

-          Black: sixth promotion.

Some schools use a plain black belt to denote the higher degree or dan grades of black belt rank. Others use black belts with white or gold bars and some dojos  use red and black belts or red and white belts to denote the rank of sixth dan and above. One of the most confusing practices is the presentation of a probationalry red belt to black belt candidates in some Japanese Karate systems. In Okinwawa, it is common practice for the most senior masters to wear a reddish-gold belt. Perhaps a 19 year old Canadian red belt wearer would be the recipient of odd looks at an Okinawan dojo. These customs can be confusing and it is interesting to note that it was the Japanese who adopted the coloured belt system in 1935. It as also the Japanese who created the ippon, or point system, for competitive sparring. The Okinawans and the Chinese used no such distinctions although the Japanese rank system is common on Okinawa today.

            As mentioned before in the case of Andre Langelier and the Canada Chito Kai organization, crests and badges are jealously guarded and, in the Chito Kai case, trademarked. However, no one may own a Karate style, although there are those who would pretend that it is possible. The Karate world abounds with competing egos and all the identity issues this connotes.

Power and Politics

John R.P.French / Bertram Raven: The Five Bases of Powe 

I will now apply French and Raven's five bases of power to the example of Tsuruoka's role in the Canada Chito Kai, The NKA and the Tsuoruoka Karate Federation. I refer specifically to his split with Chitose and his subsequent activities.


Chitose used his reward power to punish Tsuruoka for refusing to raise money for the main Chito Ryu headquarters in Japan. He rewarded Tsuruoka's top student with the title of Chief of the Canada Chito Kai. Tsuruoka was rewarded with the tremendous loyalty of his students, some of whom eventually built a dojo in his honor so he could carry on teaching.


Chitose used his coercive power to attempt to assert his authority over Tsuruoka and all Canadian Chito Ryu students who were part of the organization. His punitive treatment of Tsuruoka sent signals to all Canadian Chito Ryu students that he was the one wielding the power and that even a Karate man of Tsuruoka's stature could be disciplined. To his credit, Tsuruoka turned this situation to his advantage.


Tsuruoka had used his legitimate power to establish a network of allies across Canada and the rest of the world. The noble manner in which he accepted Chitose's sanction did a great deal to enhance his already excellent reputation. On the strength of this reputation, and to improve the state of affairs in the Canadian Karate scene, Tsuruoka founded the National Karate Association and aligned with international bodies. This desire to impose order and uniformity is a feature of Japanese martial arts and Japanese communal culture in general. It is a true example of classical  conservatism, subjugating individual desires for the good of the larger group. This is not to say that uniformity is always good, because it can and does sometimes lead to stagnation.


Most Karate masters are revered by their students and many are respected by their international colleagues. While Tsuruoka is widely recognized as a consummate master instructor, his humility and humanity ensure that people feel comfortable in his presence. Since he leads by example rather that by fiat, he is easy to respect. To be revered is a heavy burden for the best of people and reverence can easily be abused and turned into a vehicle for self-aggrandizement.


Karateka of  Tsuruoka's stature possess a level of expertise that transcends the merely physical. As I mentioned earlier, the truest expression of Karate technique comes from a mind of perfect calm or emptiness. In this state, technique is spontaneous and unconscious, but nevertheless hits the mark with the proper amount of force to neutralize the threat. It is a Karate truism that in order to master the softer, internal techniques, it is first essential to master the hard, external techniques. Karate and Tai Chi are aiming for the same goal: the effortless channeling of inner power or Ki in the right proportion at the right time. It could be said that Karate works from the outside to inside and Tai Chi is the opposite.

Max Weber: Types of Authority

Weber's ideas of traditional and legitimate power are intertwined as they apply to Tsuruoka and all the organizations he has been involved with. Tsuruoka's power originally derived from being a highly expert practitioner and teacher of a well-organized and traditional martial art. He had legitimate power not only because he was the Canadian representative of Chitose, a Soke or founder of an original Karate style, but also because he observed the rigid code of conduct that governs those who aspire to ascend the ranks of a traditional Japanese martial arts organization. This power dynamic is well-understood by those involved in traditional Karate and thus, Tsuruoka's rise to prominence is a good example of someone whose ascendancy has proceeded according to the highest ideals, rather than the convenience of the moment.


It is unlikely that public misconceptions about Karate being mainly a competitive sport; reinforced by the mainstream media, are likely to help the cause of traditional Karate that is mainly concerned with practical self-defence and character refinement. This public misconception is the result of the efforts of large and often dysfunctional Karate organizations. Karate organizations, like any other collective human effort are affected by the ambitions, motives and personal conduct of everyone involved. To claim that an organization is not political seems the height of naivety when one considers that any gathering of two or more people has the potential to become political in tone and scope. Perhaps the key to avoiding organizational chaos is the voluntary sublimation of ego, a Karate tenet that is not valorized in  Western culture. This might be facilitated by a balancing of organizational emphasis between competitive sport Karate and purely practical Karate. There is hope for this re-adjustment of priorities.


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