Interview with Boulder Shotokan Karate Chief Instructor Bruce Green: The Current State of Karate in America

Beginning his karate training in 1970, Bruce Green placed as a finalist in the Japanese Karate Association National Collegiate Karate Championships consecutively from 1973 to 1975. He became the chief instructor of Boulder Shotokan Karate in 1980. The following is a transcript from Spring 2019 discussing the current state of karate in America. All images provided by Bruce Green.

Martial Arts of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: Thank you for taking the time to talk about the current state of karate in America, Green Sensei.

Bruce Green: Thank you for inviting me.

MAYTT: When you first opened your dojo, Boulder Shotokan Karate, how did you acquire new students? What types of methods/outlets did you use?

BG: I am located at the local YMCA, so marketing and promotional needs are minimal. Our visual exposure helps hugely.

MAYTT: Based on your dojo’s past and current membership enrollment statistics, what has been the dominant age demographic and what has been the least? Also, what methods of advertising did you find were most successful for your age-dominant demographic?

BG-cropped copy
Bruce Green Sensei.

BG: Again, because we are at the YMCA, our demographics are diverse with a focus on family groups. Our group has grown yearly since inception, but only slowly. This is OK given that this is an avocation, not my profession.

MAYTT: Some believe that the quality of instructors has diminished over the generations and that because of improper training and instruction, both instructor and practitioner as a whole do not compare to those of old. Would you agree with such a belief?

BG: Relative to what or when? Our organization has a better and deeper instructor certification that in decades past, going all the way back to the 1960s. As a result, our instructors are better than ever!

MAYTT: With that being said for instructors, how does your dojo, Boulder Shotokan Karate address developing new/future instructors?

BG: I encourage senior students with an interest to enroll in our organization’s instructor training and certification program.

MAYTT: Over the last few years, several martial arts writers have claimed that traditional martial arts like karate have been on a steady decline since 2004. Do you agree with the assessment? Has your experience been different?

BG: Traditional martial has been challenged by MMA etc., but I believe there will always be room for traditional martial arts. MMA generally has very little appeal to older students, i.e. beyond thirty years old and with little appeal to females).

MAYTT: I see. Those same writers also contend that the eighteen to twenty-nine age group/demographic, specifically males, is almost vacant in karate as well as other traditional martial arts dojo across America. What do you think is contributing to the decline and can these traditional martial arts survive without those specific age demographics?

BG: This does not match with my experience – there are still many younger students want traditional martial arts, although MMA clearly has appeal to the younger participants.

MAYTT: In your opinion, how can traditional martial arts, such as karate, adapt to the changing modern martial arts landscape and the American business model? Is there a way for schools to maintain tradition and integrity while staying current with the times?

BG: It should not strive to adapt or change, rather, the original traditional methods, values, and purpose still has value and market appeal today.

TO and BG - 7th dan
Green Sensei with Teruyuki Okazaki, rewarding him with a nanadan certificate

MAYTT: When martial artists, particularly dojo owners, discuss the changes within the industry, many point to the rise of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) as two of the major factors. Do you feel that MMA and BJJ are contributing factors to the decline of traditional martial arts? If so, what do these arts offer in comparison to karate and other Japanese martial arts like judo and aikido?

BG: To a limited and temporary degree, yes. MMA has its own inherent limits of appeal (eighteen to thirty age, minimal females).

MAYTT: Sensei, is there something that karate offers that may not be present to MMA and BJJ that would still make it a valid choice for people?

BG: Yes, traditional values of honesty, integrity, respect, avoiding violence, loyalty, characters development as a responsible member of civil society. Beyond, this, there is the time-proven value of traditional martial art’s self-defense arsenal.

MAYTT: According to martial arts writer Jesse Enkamp, most karate schools focus on one of the three approaches “bad guys” use to take advantage of their intended victim, the “blitz.” The other two methods include the “con” and the “surprise.” In what ways can karate form a stronger self defense foundation that would include training for the other two methods and how can they be implemented for the average practitioner?

BG: I believe our standard approaches to developing and using a keen sense of situational awareness and alertness is a huge asset of traditional martial arts training.

MAYTT: In addition, martial arts Youtuber Icy Mike asserts that karate is missing many “pieces of the puzzle” that is self-defense, citing Kyokushin’s rules of no strikes to the head and the art’s emphasis on kata as two main reasons. Has this been your experience and, in your opinion, how would karate go about adding more “pieces of the self-defense puzzle?”

BG: I’m not sure who Icy Mike is but he is entitled to his opinion. He’s correct in pointing out certain sport-karate related rules. These notions don’t apply to “street” self-defense and our organization places only minimal importance on sport karate.

MAYTT: Final question, Sensei. How do you see the state of karate and other traditional martial arts being/looking in the next five to ten years? Is there a possibility that such arts could disappear?

BG: I believe there will continue to be an appealing role for traditional martial arts because of such factors as mentioned previously.

MAYTT: Thank you again Green Sensei for taking the time to talk with us.

BG: You are quite welcome!


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