REVIEW: KARATE STUPID: A TRUE STORY OF SURVIVAL- by Scott Langley

BLURB: The Japanese Instructors’ Course is infamous in the Karate world. In 1997 it had been running for 50 years, with less than one hundred people successfully completing it – only four of which had been non-Japanese. In the same year Scott Langley was at the top of his game, a third degree black belt, captain of the British JKS National Team and JKS European and World Champion. He moved to Japan with a secret plan – to be the fifth foreigner to complete the course. This is the true story of Scott’s Journey, spanning five years, chronicling the highs and lows of facing karate’s toughest challenge and how he learnt to survive and never give in.

In Autumn 2013 Scott sent this book to his Sensei in Japan for their approval. They responded immediately declaring the book to be full of lies and misrepresentations of Japan and forbade him to publish it. He was suspended for a month and then affectively expelled in January 2014. Suddenly, his 30 year relationship with Japanese karate had abruptly come to an end. This had been major a part of his entire karate life and he had dedicated himself to its values and rules, running a karate organization in Ireland for over ten years. He never wanted to jeopardize his position or damage the reputation of the group. However, unfortunately, the sacrifices he made during this true story are nothing compared to the sacrifices he has had to make to publish it.- Amazon Books

Review: Karate Stupid is a true Hero’s Journey- Langley’s uphill battle to gain respect of his peers after a lot of of blood (always his blood), sweat and tears (as well as numerous beatings). His training was less like Mr Miyagi’s in The Karate Kid and more like Pei Mei’s boot-camp from hell in Kill Bill; the main difference between Langley’s training and Uma Thurman’s in Kill Bill Vol. 2 is that Langley’s training was far more ferocious than anything Uma Thurman’s character had to endure, and though nobody got their eye gouged out it was Langley’s knee that bore the brunt of his instructor’s wrath.

The JKS instructor’s course is famed for being extremely grueling, but even more so for a mistrusted gaijin (foreigner).It is true that the younger metropolitan generation of Japan are fascinated with Western (or more specifically, American) culture and are less invested in Japan’s customs and traditions; however, the world of Karate is ruled by old, proud men. Anyone who’s taken part in Karate (I got up to 2nd degree brown belt and then quit during my GCSEs) has heard of Japan’s reluctance towards sharing their secrets with the West. The Japanese rules of manners and politeness are famously subtle and impossible to grasp for an outsider, and this is exasperated by poor old Langley being a particularly clueless specimen. For example, you’d think that he’d have learned after being constantly beaten for inadvertently committing a social faux par in the dojo (for example, he had constantly enraged one of his sensei for reasons unknown, and it took weeks for one of the instructors to inform him it was because he didn’t bow deeply enough). However, when his classmates at a Japanese etiquette course desperately tell him to finish his food (because leaving food uneaten is extremely rude in Japanese culture), he looks at them cluelessly and tells them he’s not hungry and stares at them dully until  his panick stricken class mates clear it for him.

This isn’t just a great novel for anyone interested in martial arts, but also a foreigner who is fascinated by travel and Japanese culture. There are lot of interesting parts about Japanese culture in general from an outsider’s point of view. It For example, it gives a hilarious account of a shop where the Japanese owner wants to put signs up in English, but has no clue how to use capital letters or grammar.

‘Be who you are!’ was obviously the message he wanted to convey. However, as we know the English love to contract their language, therefore it came out as ‘Be wHO yOu’re.’ This was then followed by a message to youngest customers. In the window was a picture of a cuddly teddy bear with a speech bubble coming out of his mouth. With an arm pointing away from the door he was telling all children to ‘FuCk ofF.’

I’m sure Mr YosHiDA had no idea of the mistakes and meanings of his little signs, and with the entertainment I got every time I passed by, I wasn’t about to put him straight.

What makes this account truly worth the read is Langley’s sense of humour. Even throughout the daily beatings, cruelty, xenophobia and soul breaking decent into insanity, it never dull’s Langley’s jack-the-lad irreverent sense of British humour. It’s a well written, flowing and honest biography from start to finish and constantly made me laugh (even when he described how he was about to cry).

VERDICT: Karate Stupid is a brutally honest, harsh and very, very funny account of both the JKS instructors course and life as a gaijin in Japan. I enjoyed it from start to finish, and would recommend it to anyone curious about Karate in Japan or about travel and Japanese culture.

RATING: 5/5 strikes from a ferocious master who should not be able to hit that hard at his age

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