Tuesday, July 6, 2010

[Karate] Karate on the Internet

A little feast, mostly famine

There are a lot of karate enthusiasts around the world, but they pale in numbers to followers of "professional' sports like baseball, football, and soccer. As a result, the presence of the Martial Arts on the web is similarly a fraction of what you'll find about those "major" sports.

Which isn't to say there isn't good, useful information there if you know where to look.

What you'll find: I've had good luck finding descriptions and definitions of different martial arts styles and terms. I've had decent results searching for videos that break down katas step-by-step. This isn't true for all styles, however, and requires that you know about about the kata you're looking for. For instance, I know there was a fairly basic sword kata that I learned at my Aikido dojo, but I don't remember its name or much about what it looked like, so I've had no luck finding videos of it online.

What you won't find: analysis and comparisons of local dojos. There are so many of them, you'd think that somebody would break down information on styles, schedules, costs, contracts and customer reviews. There may be cities where this is true, but I can say that Syracuse isn't one of them. Granted, a side-by-side "X is better than Y" comparison would be impossible - it's too subjective both on the part of the reviewer and the potential customer. But there's ample opportunity to summarize different schools on various factors that can be reviewed without significant bias - how big are their classes? How long are their contracts? What's the facility like? Those kinds of factors certainly could be compared and would help potential students who aren't familiar with the martial arts find a place they can train happily.

Surprisingly, what you also won't find for some dojos is a useful website. And by that, I mean that they may not have a website at all, or they may have one so badly designed as to be unreadable (one that I found in this area had a background image of flames that made it impossible to read 80% of the text on the site. And consider - the guy who created that site HAD to have looked at it at some point and judged it both finished and acceptable. Gah!) or they may be missing key information, such as the days and times when classes are in session.

It's interesting, though, that for the thousands of people in even a mid-sized city like Syracuse who practice the martial arts or have an interest in them, there's no local online presence where they discuss their common interest. Nor does there seem to be such a beast on a regional, national or international level. If there's a really good, well-attended and active message board or discussion group anywhere on the internet where people come together and discuss the martial arts, I've certainly been unable to find it.

Which isn't to say that nobody has tried. There's a local Facebook group called "Syracuse Karate Enthusiasts" that's existed for about three months as of this writing. It has almost 50 members, which isn't bad. However, only about three of them have ever posted anything to it, which isn't great. It's not unusual, though.

I found a really nice site in my web searches - Lyon Karate.com. It's a traditional Okinawan Goju-Ryu dojo in Perth, Australia, that's one of the better website's I've seen anywhere. It tells you a lot about the dojo and the lead instructor's philosophy, it contains information on karate in general and even defines a long list of common karate terms. That dojo has had an online forum since 2003, which is a fairly long time in Internet terms. However, in all those years, only a few hundred total messages have been posted in that forum. Compare that to other sports where, for example, you can find extremely active forums for all aspects of participation and fandom, up to and including things like baseball cards. To be fair, it looks as if the Lyon-Karate forum owner created a sister site - All Karate.com - with its own forum and made itself arguably obsolete by doing so. The All Karate forums are the most active ones I've seen.

For my purposes, the site Black Belt at 50 was very useful because the author had uploaded videos of every LaValle's Karate kata, along with step-by-step instructions for each. Now that I'm also training at Syracuse Jundokan, the videos posted to Facebook by Paul Enfield were helpful in remembering katas like Gekisai Dai Ichi. There can be quite a bit of information on the web, but you kind of have to know where to look for it - it's not as abundant or prevalent as other sports and activities, and you're not as likely to just stumble across it as you would for football or somesuch.

The problem is that there's likely not an easy way to fix this. Communities can't be manually assembled - they have to grow somewhat organically, I think, deriving from a desire to interact socially online about a shared interest. Some shared interests just don't seem to inspire this interaction and sharing, while some - like the broad category of "parenting," spawn hundreds and hundreds of very active, popular and even lucrative websites.

It may be that at some point somebody will combine skills at web design and marketing with personal magnetism to start an internet community that actually draws large numbers of active participants and provides an outlet for information shared by martial arts enthusiasts from around the world. If it's out there now, it's hiding where I haven't found it.


  1. Mike,

    Check out this one:


    It's the best site I've been able to find with a concentration of sincere and experienced martial artists.

    I wouldn't hold your breath for a local online community unfortunately... Too many egos with too much to lose... :(

  2. Agreed on both counts, Dave. There doesn't seem to be much comity in Syracuse for various reasons. And yes, that's not a bad site compared to some I've found. Still, out of all the forums available there, only three of them have had any activity today, so it's still pretty stark compared to an awful lot of other online communities. Which is sad. :(

  3. Light on activity but heavy on quality... It is operated by Dan Djurdjevic who also has an excellent blog that I think you'll like:


  4. I think you'll find that part of the problem is that most really good people enjoying doing it and not talking about it... When discussing karate, you pretty soon run out of things to talk about and need to work it out on the dojo floor... So most forums tend to focus on history, vague opinions, etc. which can turn off the guys who really just want to train.

    Not sure - i'm thinking out loud - i could be all wrong...

  5. Yeah, that makes sense. It's just that there's no small amount of information that could/should be shared beyond technique (which is obviously best experienced in person) - debates about everything from what/how to train to equipment.

    For instance, it shouldn't be that hard for somebody to track down a kongoken. But without a network to share info, you're kind of on your own if you want one around these parts.

    Who makes the best-quality uniforms? Which ones tend to wear out faster than others? Where's a good place to buy gear that's high-quality and low-cost? Etc., etc.

    I'm pretty sure we're in general agreement on this. It's more a question of "why doesn't it exist" than "should it exist?"