Speak to karate practitioners, and by and large, they will tell you that there has been a recent marked reduction in the number of people partaking in martial arts. Two karate clubs from my hometown have shut during my time at university, as has our own Kodo Ryu Karate Dojo at SUSU, three years ago now. However, statistics released to the Wessex Scene by the Athletics Union show that the picture is somewhat more complex, at least at Southampton University.
On average, martial arts clubs at the Union are growing, but this is no surprise given that student intake has skyrocketed. The archetypal martial arts (karate, kung fu and the like) are experiencing mixed fortunes, but the big powerhouses are those martial arts which have in their possession a large competition. These are boxing, muay thai, and tae kwon do. This isn’t to say other clubs aren’t growing- aikido has seen respectable gains this year, but the big three mentioned have seen astounding growth.
As stated, these clubs seem to have competitions to thank for their standing. Muay thai features heavily in the ring of competitions like UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), and everyone can name at least one boxer (think Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, Joe Calzaghe and Muhammed Ali). Taekwondo, being the only eastern martial art with a global governance, sits proud in the Olympics. This kind of publicity cannot be undermined in martial arts. Real working examples and the incentive of glory.
Meanwhile other martial arts seem fractured by rival styles (there are at least three remaining karate clubs at the union) and lack big names to back them in competitions like UFC. If the practitioners of these arts want to see success, they need to gather governance or stature for their martial arts. Alternatively, they could always start up a Brazilian Ju-Jitsu club…