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A View of Globalisation from its Margin: Searching for Karate’s Budo Roots in Contemporary Egypt

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Duration: 0:41:09 | Added: 11 Dec 2017
Dr Hatsuki Aishima (National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka) gives a talk for the Middle East Studies Centre seminar series.

This paper explores karate as a cultural practice of Egyptian middle classes in which they experiment on a variety of ways to be 'global'. They perceive karate as a means to join the global community, which is a rare opportunity for citizens who are situated at the margins of international political economy. I will focus on the aspirations of Egyptian Traditional Karate Federation (ETKF) members to reinstitute Japanese 'traditions' of karate by searching for its budo roots. ETKF was established shortly after the January 25 Revolution of 2011 which ousted President Hosni Mubarak. In their view 'traditional karate (karate taqlidi)' should be distinguished from the World Karate Federation style 'karate riyadi (sport karate)' which has become a mere competitive sport. Their goal is to spread “educational karate (karate tarbawi)” which is derived from what they perceive as the original ethos of budo that 'karate must be a lifestyle'.
Although karate is the second most popular sports in Egypt after football, most practitioners are unaware of its Japanese or Okinawan origin. Alluding to Egyptian national team’s victories at international competitions, some asserted that “Karate might have come from Japan but it has become fully Egyptian”. It was the ETKF founder, an Egyptian karate master who has been residing Paris since the 1980s, that reintroduced the notion of budo to contemporary Egyptians. When budo means “the way of warrior” in Japanese, he defines the term as 'martial arts', using the English expression rather than its Arabic equivalent, funun al-qataliya. In other words, in Egyptian ears, budo sounds doubly foreign - Japanese and English, yet somewhat modern due to its English rendering. This complex genealogy of Egyptian karate illustrates the ways in which globalisation flows. Although the West ceased to be the colonial power, they continue to mediate and shape Egyptian images of Japan.

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