In 1962 Anthony Burgess published a harrowing novel. It portrayed a society in which youths, dressed in their own peculiar style, and speaking their own special language wreaked havoc and violence upon their innocent, randomly chosen victims. In 1972 Stanley Kubrick seized upon the powerful imagery and created what was to become the classic move “A Clockwork Orange”. So horrified was Kubrick with the result that he very quickly forbade the showing of this film, and it remained banned until after his death in 1999.
All very interesting, but this is a Karate website, not Film Monthly. What’s this got to do with us? Disturbingly, I fear, an awful lot. The parallels between the Droogs’ world and the karateka’s world are not insignificant. Both groups dress in uniform, to assert their identity. Both groups deploy an otiose lexicon to describe their practices, and both groups study and practice violence for purposes of self gratification. Compare and contrast the following extracts:“They made a real pudding out of this starry veck, going crack crack crack at him with their fisty rookers, tearing his platties off then finishing up by booting his nagoy plott (this lay all krovvy-red in the grahzny mud of the gutter) and then running off very skorry.” (From “A Clockwork Orange” © A. Burgess 1962)
“Quickly strike tetsui uchi to the forearm, and firmly grasp the wrist. Pull your opponent towards you and strike sharply teisho uchi under the nose. Follow up with jodan age empi uchi, and snap in kingeri. Pull the arm towards you, striking teisho to the elbow joint. As your opponent falls, finish off with Kakatogeri to the back of the head.” (© M. Skipper 2002)
Both passages describe scenes of extreme violence. In both examples the text, to the untrained or uninitiated, would convey little of the sickening horrific nature of the event. And what makes the profoundly obscene events palatable, to both the reader and the perpetrator, is the coded language. By couching the description in jargon, or patois, we (and I mean “we” the readers and “we” the perpetrators) distance ourselves from the harsh realities of human suffering actually portrayed in the text.
In placing the embargo on UK screenings of his film, the director was reflecting not only public outrage at the apparent glorification of violence, but also his own fears of the power of this imagery to adversely affect behaviour in a minority of young people. So if Kubrick was right to be horrified by the potential for social corruption and depravity his work exposed (and I believe he was), we as karateka should be equally concerned for the potentially corruptive consequences of what we may naïvely term “art”.
So what evidence is there that profane material corrupts? Isn’t it the evil, morally bankrupt, or antisocial individual that is at fault? To use the cliché of the American Right, “Guns don’t kill, People do”. By extension this argument would claim that it is not karate that is immoral, rather that some immoral people choose to take up the practice for corrupt reasons. This may be true, but we do not exist in a moral vacuum. It is possible that, in the wrong context, otherwise morally-upright individuals may be led down a path of violence and disorder, simply by picking up the wrong messages from a well-meaning karate coach.
I suggest that there is much evidence for the notion that individuals can be profoundly influenced by such cultural stimuli as literature and movies. Worse still, the practice, of violence, real or simulated, desensitises one to the true horrors. This is why comedians and moviemakers have to resort to ever more extreme examples of profanity, violence, or sexually explicit material. The more the public is exposed to, the harder it is to shock, titillate or gratify. Thus we find ourselves in an increasing spiral of violence and moral degradation.
By extension, martial arts teachers, anxious to sell their product in a competitive market to a hungry public, feed such desires with such hooks as “Total Fight”, “Street Practical”, “Effective”, “Destructive”, and allusions to ancient warriors and the like.
Don’t think for a minute that this has no effect on the students’ minds. How many of you deny the power of such concepts as “Mind Over Matter”, Ki, “Animal Instinct” or whatever you call it in your training? These concepts all underline the importance of the power of the psychological over the physical. Modern athletes and athletic coaches embrace this wholeheartedly. The difference between winning and losing is often a matter of the right psychological training.
A well-established coaching device is visualisation. This involves mentally “going through the motions” of a successful sporting execution. This is designed to prepare the mind and body for the task ahead. It is proven to yield results, for whatever reason, but its effectiveness should leave the reader in no doubt that those factors which affect the mind can have a profound effect on the psyche. The extension of this is that those factors that may deprave or corrupt can have a lasting effect on the person, and therefore on society.
Thus it I believe that external influences can affect the psychological make-up of individuals, and, by extension, society as a whole. People are malleable, and the herd instinct translates to peer group, to communities and potentially on to whole societies.
So, as Kubrick was justified, on the grounds of social responsibility, in withdrawing “A Clockwork Orange” from public distribution we must take responsibility for the moral ramifications of what we do & teach.
First of all we must ask ourselves why we practice karate, and what we hope to achieve from it. Then we must answer truthfully the question why do we teach, and what do we hope to impart to our students. Finally and equally importantly, we must consider our student’s interpretations of our teaching. We may impart a strong moral message to the class but if the thugs ignore the message, and just learn the dirty, violent bits, we cannot deny our responsibility.
So before we pull on our karategi, we have a profound obligation to consider the social and moral ramifications of our actions. Whether you like it or not, the image, and therefore the social effects of karate are the responsibility of all of us.© Martyn Skipper 2001