Karate: A Modern Philosophy

In writing or reading any literature about karate, what becomes immediately apparent is that karate is different things to different people. How a person views karate is based primarily on their karate goals and on the level of commitment that they have decided to devote to the art.

At its simplest, karate is an uncomplicated yet effective method of defending oneself from the physical attack of another person or persons.

At its deepest, karate is an art that creates a harmonious union between mind and body; that helps develops the mentality of a “peaceful warrior”; and when practised in its purest sense, can be a method of lethal and dynamic meditation that can train the mind to experience the sense of timelessness and clarity that is only obtainable in the present moment. Wow, sounds pretty deep, doesn’t it???

In this day and age, the “Western” philosophy of karate falls somewhere in between these 2 extremes and is often criticised for “de-spiritualizing” the art. The formation and evolution of karate, however, took place in vastly different religious, social and economic times to those that you and I experience today and as such, I feel there is room for its values and beliefs to be left open to each person’s interpretation. Your attitude towards training, therefore, can be as deep or as simple as you like – neither way is wrong – it is just your way!

One thing’s for sure though, the more you put in to your training the more you will get out of it! There is indeed much to gain from being a karate practitioner but you will not find what you aren’t looking for!!

My advice is to embrace and appreciate karate-do for all that it is! In doing so you will feel the full force of its strengths both mental and physical and before long you will begin to notice some significant changes in your life both in and out of the dojo! It has multiple benefits unlike any other sport or discipline and for the many people that I have seen achieve the grade of black belt, the level of “personal growth” can be life-changing.

So if I’m encouraging you all here to see karate for “everything that it is” then what is there to see?:

Fitness – Karate training provides you with a unique combination of both aerobic and anaerobic exercise. It trains the muscles for both endurance and explosiveness. Its strong emphasis on tension and breathing can create the “abs of steel” that many people pursue as well as result in a general all over body muscle-toning. I have also trained and spoken with dozens of students over the years who have seen ailments such as asthma, back pain and arthritis symptoms ease off dramatically as a result of regular karate training and stretching. Better still, for as many people there are claiming these particular benefits, there are probably 3 times as many who have a great karate weight- loss story to tell! Karate for fitness, you bet!!

Character Development – In my opinion the greatest area of benefit! When assessing this category, it is best to separate adults from children when observing the impact that karate can have:

Children

It is probably fair to say that children potentially have the most to gain out of training in karate. Having trained with and taught hundreds of children (and being a parent myself), I sometimes get the feeling that it’s not all that easy being a kid at school these days (was it ever??). Whether we’re talking about 1st or 2nd graders here or early to late teens, growing up and interacting with peers can be intimidating and distressing and I believe that karate can help equip a child or teen with an inner strength to help confront these challenges. Statistically, the 4 most common hurdles that a child has to try and deal with at school are:

  • Peer group pressure
  • Bullying
  • Fear of Failure (especially public failure)
  • Low self-esteem in general

When practiced in the right environment and with the right attitude, karate’s training and principles can provide a child/teen with:

A sense of morality, independence and self-control to resist peer pressure.

Feelings of self-confidence and inner security that in most cases takes them off the bully’s “radar”! Bullies tend to look for vulnerable, easy targets but with time and training, even a young karate-ka will naturally tend to exude a sense of strength and confidence that will subconsciously repel a bully’s attention.

The opportunity to face fears and confronting situations in a positive and encouraging environment. Whether it be putting your mitts and pads on for the first time, going for a grading, entering a tournament or just learning a new technique, the prospect of failure is always near. Children training in karate get to learn that the only true failure is in not trying or in quitting, and an attitude like that will get them much further in school and in life than those to whom fear is a stop sign. A child’s timidity can diminish with each class.

A healthy self-esteem for all the reasons just mentioned!

Adults

Self-esteem Clearly, children and teens do not have a monopoly on low self-esteem and self-image, nor are they the only ones who sometimes get pushed around in life by others. Adults too are victims of attack both physical and psychological and – like children – struggle to combat the stress it causes. Of course, training in karate by itself will not make the ‘bully’ in your life change, but it provides you with a physical and mental arsenal to help solve or outlast them – an achievement which in itself creates greater self-confidence.

Humility – A healthy self-esteem allows for a humble attitude to emerge. This, in turn, helps to kick down the doors of stubbornness and ego that prevent many people – both young and old – from learning anything new about themselves. People with big ego’s rarely allowed constructive criticism to reach their ears and they subsequently stay ignorant and close-minded! The dojo environment with its basic etiquette and traditions demands a humble and edifying attitude and it is this facet of the training that allows a student to “be taught” and progress up through the ranks.

  • Respect and Courtesy
  • Discipline
  • Mental and Physical Co-ordination

The list goes on….! As you can see karate is a lot more than just punches, blocks and kicks. Its benefits are practical and far-reaching and the achievement of a black belt is possibly one of the most respected achievements that an individual can attain.

People will sometimes ask us why we continue training in karate if we’re probably never going to use it. What they don’t understand is that we are using it every day in some way!!

by Shihan Gavin Samin

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