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How To Be A 'Class A' Karate-ka

Posted Jan 01 2012 7:50pm
Peter Urban (l.) vs. Don Nagle in an exhibition match, New York, 1962

One of the first books written on karate to be published in the West was The Karate Dojo: Traditions and Tales of a Martial Art by Peter Urban. Urban studied Goju-ryu in Japan under Gogen Yamaguchi before establishing a school in Chinatown, New York.

First published in 1967, the reader should appreciate that this was an era of massive cultural upheaval in the US, some of it for the worse: crime and drug abuse were on the increase, in addition to an unprecedented "lack of respect for authority" as Urban saw it. One of his goals was to have authoritarians learn karate so they could command respect from their otherwise disrespectful charges.

The blackboard jungle that is all too common in American cities would cease to exist if teenagers knew that their teachers' knowledge encompassed more than history or mathematics, that they also had knowledge of the art of self-defense

Urban sought to have karate become an integral part of law enforcement training and to be taught in public schools. He felt that crime, neurosis and unhappiness would be reduced if society embraced the spiritual tenets of karate that fostered discipline, self-improvement and character.


Aside from the guidance of a competent sensei, Urban's view was that trainees should be held responsible for their own progress. He is very stern about putting karate into a sincere and proper perspective. Throughout the book we find passages relating to fearlessness, forgoing the effects of pain and how "true Karatemen" should train while on the mat and behave when out and about.

The centerpiece of the book features a section on self-examination utilizing attributes that fall into three basic classes: A, B and C. A is the stuff of black belts and masters. The B variety are hobbyists on a good day. C guys are losers or manic depressives or both.

Guideline for self-analysis

Individual Karatemen are a composite picture of the below listed characteristics. The object of the true Karateman is to achieve as many Class "A" characteristics as possible.

Harmonizes hard/softSeparates hard and softKnows no soft
Tournament fighterWon't get involvedIs afraid of competition
Seizes opportunityWastes timeHas no patience
Corrects ErrorsRationalizesDoesn't know difference
Lives Karate dailyPart-time personWill drop karate too
Acts and feels sharpOnly when in the moodHas no feelings
Lives in realityRelies on othersIs disoriented
Knows nothing is freePractices false economyLoves poverty
Blocks soft, hits hardOvercompensates with feetCan't experience anger
Self-controlledLoses controlWill fold in jiu-kumite
Knows selfMagnifies selfUnderestimates others
Works for a better lifeLives for a better workIs afraid of work
Never breaks trainingHas no futureHas no faith
Learns from everythingDoesn't listen to othersWill not read
Seeks happiness withinSeeks happiness outwardlyWaits for happiness
Relies on selfHis word means nothingHas no friends
Gets better with ageGets weaker with ageGets smaller with age

The next section that follows dispenses with philosophy and focuses on the sparring and training habits of Class A "Lightweight", "Middleweight" and "Heavyweight" trainees.

The Karate Dojo, while not the best of its genre, is still a decent book and at 145 pages is a quick read. Peter Urban was karate pioneer in the US who truly sought to bring his art to become a mainstay of American culture and society.
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