“Karate is my secret” is an idea that we constantly repeat and reinforce in Shuri-Ryu Karatedo. It is largely believed to refer to the teaching of karate and that karate techniques should be kept secret. However, I believe it can more accurately be rephrased as “my karate training is my secret.”
Karate is an ambush art. A great deal of its effectiveness comes from the aggressor being unaware that his intended victim has special knowledge and skill. We are taught in karate to be humble. This has a lot to do with the spiritual aspects of the art and preventing its misuse, but it is also good tactical practice.
Karate is largely influenced by Chinese martial arts which used the study of animals for much of its doctrine. Animals use deception and ambush tactics. Animals remain hidden or disguised exposing their true nature only when necessary or to gain the most advantage. At its best, karate should work like this. When violent response is forced upon a karateka, the response should be completely unexpected.
When it comes to evaluating different martial arts, a lot of people place too much stock in mixed martial arts’ matches for their comparison. These are fights between highly trained, evenly matched and fully prepared individuals in a controlled environment without risk of third party intervention. Although deception can play a part, there is very little opportunity for ambush. MMA fighters know their opponent is trained and has skills, thus removing one of the greatest advantages karateka have on the street. MMA fighters train for long sustained fights of attrition. Karateka train for brief, unexpected encounters using the utmost force required. Once again turning to animals, predators may wait long periods until the moment is right, but once they attack, the results can be instantaneous.
Hollywood is fond of the guy that assumes a deep “karate” stance and says something to the effect, “I must warn you, I am an expert in karate.” This will only happen if the individual is bluffing, or weak minded. It is this hidden knowledge that allows true martial artists to lead humble existences. Knowing they can defend themselves against most aggressors eliminates the need to “prove” themselves or feel threatened. Only through this mental state can martial artists attain the balance sought through the “way” of martial arts and say with confidence, “karate is my secret.”