Yes, that's Karate, too.
"We must pass on our knowledge. Not just the sport and physical aspect. It is a never-ending quest and of course that’s why karate is the gift that keeps on giving." Sensei Don Owens
We’ve been challenged.
This pandemic (I cringe at even typing the word these days) has challenged us in ways we’ve never seen before. Restrictions on our freedoms, limited access to activities, places and people, and mental and emotional burdens brought on by the fears and the realities of illness.
Well, here’s another challenge: come out of this with a renewed sense of appreciation and gratefulness.
A karate person is two dimensional: body/technique and spirit/mind. We train in perpetuity to get physically adept, and building character is part of that, but do we exercise the karate spirit as it relates to society? Do we flex the muscle of comparisons and kindness often enough?
Some of you may be saying that I’m out on a limb here, but there’s something I’ve learned about every good Sensei I had had: they are good people. They care about people and society, and their wellbeing. They continue teaching through pandemic times via alternate means; they continue to teach us while going through their own health issues; they mentor us when they sometimes get little in return; and they never tire of doing the same things with the same people for years.
Why? Because karate has cultivated in them a desire to give back; a desire to share something good. Karate is a good thing both physically and emotionally and they invest themselves in the sharing of it.
Now, after all we’ve been through, having sacrificed a lot for a long time, I think it’s time for karate to refocus on the softer things. Yes, we need to train and sweat and accept the bumps and bruises (they also make us better people), but we need to embrace the Dojo Kun and the basic premise that karate is meant to shape us as people.
To be appreciative in challenging times isn’t easy: it’s like trying to enjoy an elegant meal with a raging toothache. But, I think that if we can manage our irritability in the dojo, we can do it at work or on the street. If we can bow to an opponent who just mopped the floor with us in a kumite match, we can surely have patience with the overworked cashier or the tired nurse. If we can keep smiling while teaching a white belt a back stance for the thousandth time, we can be kind to the customer support person at the other end of the phone line.
In reference to the Dojo Kun, I once heard one high-ranking karateka say ‘that’s not karate.’ Well, if the building of character and attempting to endeavor isn’t karate, then Karate is one dimensional, and there is no value in it once you reach the place where you can’t do the physical stuff.
It’s like saying that fishing is only fishing if you catch fish: ignoring its appeal and benefit as Nature’s therapist.
You just don’t fish, you experience it. You don’t just do karate, you live it.
I’ve been doing karate forever and I’m not always patient and I’m a long ways from perfect, but karate is like a sticky-note reminder: keep at it, help where you can, and be grateful for the opportunity.
Karate, I believe, offers us a few things that are rare these days: an endless opportunity for self-improvement, as well as upstanding mentors that we can look to, lean on, and learn from.
Life’s challenges will continue, and it’s up to us to decide what team we’re on: the negative and jaded, or the positive and grateful.