Less than a week ago, I wrote my first karate article. Actually, I just wanted to get my thoughts together for some friends asking about my opinion instead of replying to Facebook comments every time someone tagged me (or not). A post by a karate acquaintance gave me the fuel to write up to 80%, until I thought “nah, it’s just not worth it”.
But another friend sent a message saying she was confused with all things people were saying and wanted to know what I thought about it. I finished writing it and decided to use the blog feature (not yet activated) of my North American website. I hadn’t been using it for a while, because I am currently back in Germany, but this way I could send people a direct link. So I did it, and published “What Is Really Wrong With Olympic-Style Karate”.
And then, everything changed. I went viral.
I posted it on my Facebook, originally only visible to friends and friends of friends. Two friends liked it and shared it. And my friends have friends who have friends in the karate community. Suddenly, my lame post which still has only around 15 likes and 2 shares, had been shared by other people over 200 times in several groups and countries.
Now I have to write about what I learned from it. The end will be surprising for most people.
I like statistics, so I went through the analytics of my website after a couple of days. More than 5,000 visitors, 114 countries, all continents, 47 US states. The 30 days before that article, the whole website had only 3 visitors (as I said, activities are suspended). That’s overwhelming.
Keep this info in mind though: The article in question has over 2,5k words and should take around 10 minutes to read. The average session duration on my website (including other pages visited) last week was 1 minute. One minute!
That’s what happens when you go viral
I lost track of what was happening when people started to share the article. Suddenly, I was reading my article translated into other languages. That’s a bit scary. I lost control. Especially because my text was never intended to be popular worldwide.
I’m quite satisfied with all I wrote, but I would probably have started from a different mindset, had my goal been to write for a global audience (like now).
People know nothing about me, but I started reading a bunch of comments. Let’s start with the bad ones, which are not so scary.
Do you remember that the average time spent on the website with that 10-minute article was 1 minute, right? I saw many people commenting on the title of the article, others agreeing with things I didn’t say and others furious about things I didn’t say either. Overnight, people where saying stuff that I must be because I wrote something else. People are scary…
I had “reputable” karate teachers go to my Facebook profile and add a laughing reaction to my karate posts after I called them on the topic of respect. It’s like a toddler in the sandbox kicking a sand castle after the older kid says “you can join as long as you don’t destroy anything”. Dude, really? With that 1-minute average, I bet most “readers” never made it to the last paragraph where I say that respect should be the most important thing in karate.
Some people dug into researching who I am and found a suspicious aura of mystery because they couldn’t retrieve that much information about my background. Duh, it’s because I’m noone in the karate world and nobody bothers writing about me. Not because I wanted to hide my karate (lack of) knowledge or background.
But maybe the scariest part were the people who suddenly started to look up to me. Again, I’m just an average karate practitioner who sucks. I might have been sucking at karate for a very long time and I do read a lot about it, but I’m still nobody to look up to.
Well, but I started to be addressed by Sensei, but also Shihan, Master and so on. Because of an article that was just my opinion (originally intended for my friends) and a thin knowledge of karate history. Maybe coming a lot from a place of frustration because of how hypocritical people who preach respect can be towards fellow practitioners. But that’s all. I don’t even ask my students to call me sensei. Shihan, master, etc.? Wait until they see my tsuki or zenkutsu dachi and change their minds...
This may be unrelated to karate, but it’s one of the reasons I decided to write another article. I see a similar pattern of how people are going viral because of their comments about Covid. If I would have added to my article that corona was a WKF conspiracy to kill “traditional” karate, I could have become a celebrity for some in the martial arts community. Grandmaster Dr. Felipe Tsoy could it have been, PhD in Karatovirology...
It’s really scary how easily someone can become a specialist on the internet if people just agree with them.
Karate is about respect… towards those who agree with me
My disappointment with the mentioned part of the karate community was confirmed. Many just cared to repeat their disdain for other practitioners without reading the article or saying things that are just wrong and make no sense in this discussion. Again, remember that the average time spent on the website was 1 minute. And the topic of respect appears only in the last paragraph.
I’ve been calling those karate people Taliban for a while. I think this might not be the most appropriate term at this point of time, but it doesn’t matter what you call them. They are fundamentalists, so religiously convinced that they are the only bearers of truth and all the others are heretic beings that should not exist, that you can’t argue with them. I don’t ever want to live in their Traditional Republic of Karatistan.
A genius said he watched the competitions and could clearly see that the athletes had learned their kata by reading a book, not by training with a sensei (not that my article talked about that, but anyway...). I’ve been training longer than some of those athletes have lived and I’m not nearly as good as them. Maybe my books are too traditional and don’t work so well then. Please, I wanna buy the books they read!
Joke aside: That’s how blindly fanatic some people can become. Reality doesn't play a role in their opinions.
Luckily, I grew up with a “traditional” Japanese karate background and I do appreciate it. It helped me build my character and my personality the way I am today. I did and still train and grade in Japanese Shotokan and have enough friends in JKA, IJKA, ISKF, IKD, you name it (not mentioning HDKI, because I think we agree on this). We agree on some things, we disagree on others. But I don’t think any of them would question my integrity or my will to improve in karate. We train together, we learn from each other. We all want karate to keep getting better. But really, there’s something really wrong with some people in that community.
My lesson learned: there’s not really much you can gain in online discussions about karate.
If you are a parent, think about this
The second reason I decided to write my second and (hopefully) last article “about karate” is a reflection about how it feels to be in the spotlight on the internet. And that has nothing to do with karate. There are so many kids “creating content” or being “influencers” on the web. I’m less worried about the WKF-haters than I am about those kids.
I consider myself to be a pretty mentally stable person. I have been through real violence, I have worked in management in very stressful and adverse situations, I have written polemic opinion articles many people hated, I have been very poor, and so much more. I’ve shrugged it all off. No biggie. Keyboard warriors, talk to my hand.
But still, I found it disturbing that I had lost control over my “content”. That people were building their opinion about me (good and bad) based on a piece of writing that might represent 1% of what I think or who I am. Thank god I’m not a young hot woman. I imagine what that would have been like then.
People were looking up to me even though they shouldn’t. I don’t need to please anyone. I thought it was enough and I’m not willing to be in this game. But how many kids live with that every day? Getting likes and comments, creating “content” on a daily basis to please an audience they don’t even know.
Can you imagine what it is to be a 9, 10, 12, 15 year-old clown on the web? Everybody says “You should do it”, “It’s great”, “You can make a lot of money”. Then you strive to create (mostly) stupid videos for people to comment and like. A lot of those videos are silly dancing, pranks, borderline to erotic, smiley pics, or Q&As. Can you imagine how unhealthy it is that those child clowns do what I consider garbage and live the expectation and anticipation of what other people will think or react to?
We are not content. If a keyboard warrior says I’m a horrible person for endorsing WKF tournaments and I’ll burn in hell because the spirit of Funakoshi will beat me in the night, I’ll think “Well, maybe, but my dog likes me. So I can’t be that much of a bad person”. Does a kid have the ability to separate their content from their being? I’m thinking about that as a parent...