Karate,  Life


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So with all of this extra time, what am I doing?

Well, I did mention that there were a bunch of lists of a bunch of different types of things that I wanted to get done while I’m off with most of the rest of the province (by today’s press conferences, that’s being boiled down to essential services, whatever that means to our current government.

Occupying a significant place on one of those lists is martial arts. My primary art is karate. I’ve been studying it for a solid ten years now and I don’t see that changing at any point in the future regardless of my life situation. An injury might slow me down, but karate is never going away.

Warning, I’m about to get a bit philosophical about things.

I had occasion to think about the why of that in detail before a grading a few years ago and came up with the same reason I’ll never give up writing, something it took me a long time to understand about myself: that I’m often happiest when I’m creating something or learning something new.

Karate gives me the second one of those constantly and in a lot of ways. It gives me the second one, too, but that’s a bit more subtle.

For the learning, on the most simplistic level, there is always another kata or technique or drill to look forward to. A little deeper, you can always get better at whatever that kata or technique or drill is and what it’s designed to teach you. Smoother, stronger, faster. There is always something more that can be done, or some new application to be learned, discovered, or improved.

Karate gives me not just the opportunity to learn new things, but the necessity of learning them, physically and mentally. Physically is often the easier of the two. Teaching your body to do new things may mean just repeating a motion exactly over and over again until it seems natural and fluid. But this is just the beginner’s piece.

Continued practice may start to bring understanding on its own, but only in a very basic way. Reducing karate, or any martial art, to just a sequence of techniques robs it of its heart. While we can, and should, find great joy in the learning of new skills, new techniques, new kata, there’s so much more to the art. The mental and spiritual aspects are critical to any art. To paraphrase Sensei Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan, karate is not merely about self-defense and physical development, it’s a path for the improvement of the character of its students.

A little deeper, and coming at it from a different angle, karate is a Japanese art, so it borrows a lot of words and phrases beyond naming techniques and stances, concepts that come to us from the “old masters”, or earlier, things that sometimes we have a difficult time translating into English. We get things like shoshin, the beginner’s mind, mushin, no mind, and go no sen, sen no sen, sen sen no sen, frequently reduced in english to merely levels of awareness or timing. We have shu ha ri, the sometimes linear and sometimes circular stages on the path to mastery of a skill, and we have shido geiko, training or learning by teaching.

None of these things are new, but all of them are new to every student at some point in their training. In the years since I began my martial arts training, I’ve encountered all of these concepts and many more. Each of them, in its own way, has stirred excitement in my mind. There are so many perceptions, so many ways of looking at things, and I’ve really just begun to scratch the surface of any of them. If I take great joy in learning something new, or learning something deeper, karate promises to give me that joy for a lifetime.

But there’s still more.

Karate doesn’t just provide that learning, those concepts, it provides the opportunity for self-exploration and discovery

And more importantly, it also provides the opportunity to learn about the people around you, helping them find their way further along the path.

There’s a lot of satisfaction found when you see a small child finally make a fist properly, when you watch someone perform a new kata from beginning to end for the first time, when you can give another student a small piece of advice that makes a technique or kata just a little bit better, and realized that with every incremental improvement, every tiny change, they are walking farther down the path as well.

There is always progress and hope of doing better, for you and the people around you.

And that’s the beauty of karate. There’s always more to learn, always a horizon in the distance, and always more beyond the horizon that you just can’t see yet.

So, the joy in doing something new, the joy in learning something new, the joy in experiencing something new. And the joy in watching the same sensation awaken and grow in other people.

Ten years in, I recognize clearly just how little I know, and have only the vaguest idea of just how much more there might be still to learn.

And I take great joy in that recognition.

See, I told you I was going to get a bit philosophical.

We’ll talk about how karate is a creative art another day.

And then there’s kobudo.

And the bits and pieces of other arts that have found their way into my practice.

Be well, everyone.

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