Does Karate Really Help Longevity? Why Does Data Not Support It Across 118 Masters

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There has now been a study done on the issue of longevity across karate styles in concert with data crunching by a University of South Australia academic. It was done as karate is perceived by practitioners as lifespan extending, however the sport and art is unique in a number of ways given its injury rate, life-long stresses and training culture. So given that the vast majority of karate-ka that have been polled over the years believe that the art fosters a long life, highlighting the stereotype of a ‘Yoda’ like old and wise master, it was worth re-visiting as this may not in fact be the reality.

The study involved:

– multiple doctors spanning medical research, clinicians a psychologist & karate practitioners

– data that shows that lifelong karate practice in different styles has different effects on lifespan, including:

– regional effects (East, West, post WWII until today & comparisons to karate-ka born in the 1800s)

– differing types of inflammation and how it possibly ties to karate longevity

– sparring, drills, ude tanren and kata like sanchin how do each of them really impact longevity

– dojo cultural considerations

– the effect of the developed karate persona & combative environments on longevity

In particular the data shows that all karate styles’ masters, on average, die young since WWII. However the exploration of the many variables and links to style types as well as noting some differences is key (and evidence based practice approach by region, style and era). For example, the data for the masters who lived in the 1800s is somewhat unique, and attributes of training today provides possibilities as to why that it is the case. Data spanned 118 karate masters (8th dans, style founders, style successors etc.) to analyse the links to shortened lifespan in karate styles and factored in: injury rates, diets in regions, psychology and combative factors and stance/practice types.

In some ways the general idea of this existed in the 1800s despite today’s almost universal spin that martial arts results in long-term health as a core theme. Supporting this are some interesting statements on the topic by passed masters such as Itosu of the 1800s, Shito-ryu’s Mabuni, Asai of Shotokan who openly stated health may not go hand-in-hand with budo.

Understanding the pluses and minuses for certain ways of doing karate inside all of the styles from Shotokan, Goju to Shito-ryu, is key for many who have health as a central theme.

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