In almost every class I hear someone refer to karate in a way that attempts to make it a tangible object or something that belongs to someone (usually the person speaking). All too often I hear something to the effect of
“I haven’t been practicing my karate lately”
“Your karate is getting really good”
“Oh, my karate is better than his”
At first this didn’t fire any warnings in my brain, but lately I’ve realized just how fundamentally flawed this understanding of karate is. I’ve been as guilty of this in the past as anyone else.
Karate doesn’t belong to anyone. Japanese might argue this, but modern karate has been influenced by many nationalities outside of Japan in much the same way as Christmas has been influenced by those outside of Christianity. This is a political issue, so perhaps I should instead say that karate can’t be possessed by someone. No one owns karate. Its not “my karate” or “your karate”, and its not even “everyone’s karate”. Its “karate”. It can be likened (conceptually, not in commonalities) to religion, school subjects, and philosophy. It would be equally incorrect to say “My math is better than yours.” Instead, you’d say “I’m better at math than you are.” Let me know if you hear someone say something like “Would you like to hear about my catholicism?”
If followed by some other quantifier, or by removing the posessive part completely, these statements can be made to be accurate.
“I haven’t been practicing karate lately”
“I haven’t been practicing my karate technique lately”
“Your karate abilities are getting really good”
“You are getting really good at karate”
“You are better at karate than he is”
Karate is an art, a way or life, a set of instructions, and a sport. The practice of this art is karatedo. Those practicing it are performing or exhibiting karate waza (techniques) according to instructions and principles. It is not a thing like a sword or cheese-bread. You can’t make karate disappear. You can stop practicing it and remove it from your life until you have absolutely no connections with it again and it never crosses your mind, but karate will still be there.