True Karate

True karate is this: that in daily life one’s mind and body be trained and developed in a spirit of humility, and that in critical times, one be devoted utterly to the cause of justice. –Ginchin Funakoshi

I’m a Shotokan girl, through and through. Strong hard techniques that really work. I subscribed to the Shotokan thought process very early in my training – it really did become an integral part of my entire training. In particular, I am still struck by the depth of understanding Sensei Funakoshi had for what karate is. He was a unique man, and brilliant when it came to the art of self defense. And no, I don’t just say that because we share a birthday. (A fun little fact that delights me more than you know.)

His quote about what true karate is resonates with me on several levels. Too often the martial artists I see today negate the importance of humility and never even contemplate justice. Training and ranking up becomes about ego. A sure sign they’ll never achieve ultimate success.

Last night I was reading part of Plato’s Republic (yes, I am that nerd) with passages focused on justice. What is and what does it mean? Bringing these two men together into one understanding made me excited and happy as I thought about both of the writings. Justice. What is it?

According to interpretation from Plato’s Concept of Justice: An Analysis by D.R. Bhandari, “..justice is a ‘human virtue’ that makes a person self-consistent and good; socially, justice is a social consciousness that makes a society internally harmonious and good. According to Plato, justice is a sort of specialization.”

Digest this for a moment. “That makes a person self-consistent and good.” Follow that up with the idea that “justice is a social consciousness that makes a society internally harmonious and good”. Couple these thoughts with Sensei Funakoshi’s about being utterly devoted to the idea of justice and I think you’ll see a pattern. Martial arts is not about violence, as so many seem to think. It’s about something much larger and more important. Being a martial artist – a true martial artist – isn’t about the self as much as it is about what type of person – your character – and what you bring to your society. Its about self discipline. And helping to make society harmonious and good. See what happens when you take the ego out? Amazing.

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Ego and the Martial Artist

e·go
ˈēɡō/
noun
  1. a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance.
    “a boost to my ego”
    PSYCHOANALYSIS
    the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity.

Okay, now that we’ve defined what it means, how does the ego affect the martial artist? We all have an ego, whether we realize it or not. In this day and age, whenever ego is mentioned it’s always with a negative connotation.

A good martial artist will have an ego that allows them to understand their abilities and limitations. They will know that there is always someone bigger, stronger and more capable than they are. Part of knowing that is what fuels the martial artist to keep practicing and growing in their art. That’s the good part of the ego.

Unfortunately, all to oftenb the ugly part of the ego takes over some black belts. Its normal and natural to stand on the training floor going through your kata, moving your arms in moves such as inside blocks or punching. There’s a sad truth about most of us. We can’t recite the moves to a kata to you, we have to do them – not all out full on kata but a quieter, moving through the motions. When you see a black belt absorbed in themselves doing the moves chalk it up to them thinking part of the process through, figuring out a way to teach it or just learning a new kata. And that’s all good.

It’s the black belt who feels the need to yell and scream making sure everyone in the room is looking at them. That’s the martial artist with an overly large ego, overflowing with self-importance. I cringe every time I see it happen. I know that what could be a good karate student (we are always students) isn’t as good as he or she can be because they are looking for attention. Karate isn’t about that. Humility is the key to progressing. Always understanding that you have much to learn. If you just want to show off, my suggestion is to go and do community theatre. Come back to the dojo when you understand what being a martial artist is all about.

Humility. Sincerity. Honesty. Respect.

To Be Sincere and Honest

Once again, the dojo kun reaches into every aspect of our lives. Being a martial artist isn’t just about kicking the hardest or throwing the most powerful punch. It is so much more than that. Ask yourself this. Are you sincere and honest? Not just sometimes but in every aspect of your life. Each day I strive to be as sincere and honest as possible with all I meet and I do that to be a good human being, and the best black belt I can be.

Personally, I think humility is tied into this part of the dojo kun and being humble is an aspect of the martial arts which isn’t talked about enough in my opinion. Humility and sincerity go hand in hand. We’ve all seen them – the black belts who have to show off before or after class, trying to impress others. Especially the junior students. Look at me, their antics scream as they cavort about on the training floor. What lesson are you teaching if you do that? Certainly not humility and I’d hazard a guess that the black belt isn’t sincere and honest, either.

Being a black belt means always being on the path to learn. Sure, we teach what we’ve learned to others, but we don’t brag about how much we know. Humility and sincerity of spirit keep us in check, reminding us how much we still have to learn. If the show off were being honest, he or she wouldn’t be so braggadocious.

So many parents put their children into the martial arts to learn how to throw punches. I wish more understood the qualities karate instills into them. Qualities that will carry them through their lives, setting them apart from others. I’m proud to say all five of my children trained and learned the most important things. To be sincere. To be honest. To be humble. Being a good person is the key to a great life. At least, that’s what I think.