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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See it. Believe it.

I’ve been doing karate training for quite a while now, obviously. Over time I guess I’ve developed a rather unorthodox training style. Sure, I get out on the mat just like anyone else and go through the basics, going hard and strong, focused on myself and my technique. I listen to what my instructor tells me and I try to improve. That’s not the unorthodox part.

What’s different in my training style, I guess, is the way I practice outside of the dojo. Without a large open space to practice at home I’ve had to take my kata and break it into parts, doing only certain portions at a time, refining them and working on them until there is improvement. “So what?” you’re probably thinking. A lot of people do that. You’re completely right. I am sure they do. If they’re not, I hope they start. That’s really not the ‘difference’ in the way I train.

I also train in my head. No, I’m not crazy. Well, I don’t think so anyway, but that’s probably a matter for another day. Let me explain what I mean when I refer to my mind training. If I’m having a struggle with a technique or just want to improve it, tighten it up and get stronger at it I visualize myself doing it over and over again correctly. I can almost feel my muscles doing it while I play the scene over and over again in my head.

I see it. I believe it. I believe that I CAN do it. And guess what? The next time that I jump onto the mat, usually I can. And I do. It’s almost always better than the last time I practiced it in the dojo. Now, before you get all excited and think that you can just daydream all of your training, that’s not going to work. You still have to physically do it. Karate is all about dripping sweat, aching muscles, and persevering through the pain to reach a new level, a new place to start all over again, training towards perfection. A great way to get stronger and build character along the way.

The power of the mind to help you visualize and believe in yourself doing it is a pretty awesome tool to use though as a supplement to your actual karate training. It’s also really handy when you can’t sit at a stoplight and do the move. Yeah, I’m that crazy lady doing inside blocks waiting for the light to turn green. Again…that’s a whole other story for another day.

‘The Talk’

I was chatting casually with my instructor about some marketing initiatives that we were working on, some upcoming events and he was sharing some teaching tidbits and ideas with me when he ever so casually said, “I need to see you before you get out of here.” Just like that. And then he was gone.

Why all of a sudden did I feel like a teenager in trouble? “Whatever it was I didn’t do it unless I was supposed to do it, then I did it for sure”, I thought to myself. Instead that feeling of dread grew in my gut, like a tiny knot that grows and festers into a huge boulder, weighing you down and making you sweat internally overcome with emotion, just waiting until ‘The Talk’.

I taught my class and tried to remain cheery and smiling, upbeat and positive while beads of perspiration covered my brain. Inside, I was a turning into a jello person. I pretty much knew what was coming. I wasn’t ready to test. “But I have to test,” I screamed until my own ears hurt. On the outside what everyone else heard was “great job, let’s do it again. One – two – three.”

I found myself wondering if I could wimp out and escape without facing the music. Maybe if I faced it later it wouldn’t seem so bad. But no such luck. I gamely hoisted my workout bag across my shoulder and smiled, saying “goodnight” in my most pleasant, I-don’t-want-to-face-the-firing-squad voice and prepared to leave.

That’s when I saw the finger beckoning me. “Come here for just a minute. Let’s talk.”

Let’s talk. That sounded so ominous. I carefully dropped my bag on the counter, sauntering off as casually as I could to the back mat. “Okay,” I thought. “I can take this. Toughen up. Black belts don’t cry.”

After a few minutes of conversation about my teaching skills and where I was at and how I’d improved he gently said, “So, now let’s talk about your test.” I didn’t know it was possible to really feel your heart lurch and drop to your feet. It is. Mine did. The only good thing was so far I wasn’t feeling the sting of tears fluttering against my eyelashes. “Toughen up,” I reminded myself. “Black belt’s DON’T cry.”

I must have been thinking so hard about holding it together because I didn’t hear him right. “I’m thinking your test will be at the end of February. Now, here’s what we need to do, here’s what you need to work on…”

Testing? The end of February? Really?

Now, I haven’t done a somersault in a long time but tonight I think I could have. I wanted to grin uncontrollably but figured that didn’t look very sophisticated. Did black belts grin? Yeah…when they tie that belt on for the first time I think.

I slammed my brain back to reality and listened intently to what he had to say. Time to really step it up. I’d be testing on my own, no breaks, no one else to distract the Board. All me. And it would be a Shotokan test, “That’s what you want to test isn’t it?” he asked. I nodded my head almost unable to speak. I’m testing! I’m really, really testing!

How come that feeling of exhilaration when I heard those words only lasted a short while? How come the nerves kicked into high gear and anxiety took over? I didn’t really have to wonder about that. I’d seen other dan exams. Over-confidence is a bad thing. A desire to train twice as hard, that’s what helps to take you to the next level.

I have to be honest, I won’t believe it until it happens. I won’t be confident of passing until I hear those words. “Let me present our newest black belt.” Only then will I believe it. And that’s when one black belt will definitely be grinning ear-to-ear.