What Karate Means To Me

by Shawn               24 June 2011

The art of karate has a physical, psychological and emotional affect, although we may be
only seeking one specific benefit. On the conscious level, an individual chooses to
become a karate-ka for such reasons as seeking better physical shape, self-defense,
social interaction, and a challenging goal. Although one may only seek one of these goals
the karate-ka is also benefiting from the others. Therefore, I believe that although each
individual may have their own personal reasons for becoming a karate-ka, all karate-ka
receive the same additional benefits. For many, the thought of ‘karate’ engenders merely
thoughts of self-defense, but this self-defense is a result of the many aspects of karate.
As for myself, I now reflect to determine the conscious reason I had chosen this art while
also determining the additional subsequent benefits.

I believe it is important to remain active, both physically and mentally, and this goal I have
always strived for. Prior to joining karate I remained active in a physical way, but in a way
in which it was me, the individual, in my separate world, setting my own goals, and
achieving these goals within ‘my world.’ The goal was usually to simply stay in some
reasonable physical shape. As one who was introduced to karate by observation of others
for a prolonged time, I came to realize that karate not only offered a physical benefit, but
also an environment in which a group together seeks both common and unique goals
through the same program while providing support for one another. The beauty of karate
is that it offers not only this social support/interaction environment, but also provides kata,
which offers a challenge and exercise form that can be performed individually. But it is the
requirement of group practice and performance that has pulled me further from my shell
and has allowed me to jointly strive for a similar goal while achieving personal goals.

Another aspect of karate that I have come to realize, is that for many, including myself, we
tend to doubt ourselves, we lack a level of self-confidence that can bleed into other
aspects of our lives. Within karate we are challenged to build our self-confidence, we are
challenged to perform with others and in front of others. This very aspect is a reason I
continue; if I quit because of this challenge then I would not be satisfied with myself. I have
found that a good karate instructor knows when to motivate a student in this regard, and a
good group of fellow students knows how to support others in this challenge. I try to be
conscious that others may need support. When we provided support within a group the
group supports us.

An obvious benefit of karate to many is the physical and self-defense aspect.  But there’s
more to it than meets the eye. Karate provides a unique situation in the world of sports in
which one must perform in front of others both individually and with partners; thus, a
requirment to practice by oneself and with others. I personally have found the need to
practice and perform on both a group and individual basis causes me to push myself by
myself and with a group. Often in life we find ourselves suddenly becoming interested in
something, sometimes very interested, and before we know it we are no longer doing what
we were interested in; often something pulls our attention away, even for a short time and
we find ourselves suddenly going down a different path. This often happends with gym
memberships as an example. We are motivated at times, then not so much at other times.
Perhaps the inability to remain focused and overcome obsticles is what prevents most of
us from achieving our higher goals. I have found within karate, when my attention is side-
tracked or interest ebbs, I’m motivated to continue by the existence of a group and
instructor, though it may be a subconscious subtle motivation.

I came to karate, like many others, expecting the primary focus and benefit to be self-
defense through merely a physical means, I did not realize that the path of karate can be
started by anyone. I expected self-defense to be merely comprised of learning how to
achieve fancy hits and kicks, with blocks thrown in when needed. And though a primary  
focus is on the physical ability of self-defense, this self-defense is not only comprised of
physical endurance or abilities such as the hit, the block and the kick, it is also comprised
of self-confidence, psychological endurance, control and the ability to be relaxed and
focus and think clearly in a stressful situation.

I see the goal within karate not merely as one single goal, such as a big ‘final game,’ or
winning a specific metal. For me, karate is a life-time goal of enjoying and trying, of
working with others while achieving. A great aspect of karate that I have come to realize is
that this life-time goal--that has no limit, no ceiling, no finish-line--has been broken down
into small parts with small separte goals, like that of a ladder with each belt representing a
different rung on the ladder. Although there may be a limited number of steps on this
ladder, you can never reach perfection in this art, and thus one always has a goal. But I
have realized above all else when setting these goals: It’s not important that we have
achieved a particular goal before or after another person; the quest to improve ourselves
utilizing these steps in this ladder is our own personal path and is not to be compared with
others. We should not judge nor be judged by the pace in which we achieve these steps
on this ladder. In regards to goals, one must first be able to push him/her self, but just
importantly, we must allow and accept that we need to be pushed.

For myself, the psychological aspect of karate has had an affect. As I’m  required to
interact, achieve goals within a group, and deal with different personalities, I have learned
that one must not take things personally. It is the ’ego’ that causes us to have conflict with
others. I have learned that patients is required when dealing with others because many
are not aware that their ego has consumed them. This can lead to unspoken competition
between students in addition to various conflicts. I have learned personally that karate is
about seeking enjoyment through excersise, goals, social interactions and personal goals,
it’s not about competition with others since we are all on different paths, it’s not about who
can achieve a certain rank first, it’s about achievements with oneself.  With the primary
focus on these things, the rank of the belt will follow.

To many that have not participated in karate, or even some within karate, believe that with
self-defense abilities and belt rank comes a lack of humbleness. My experience has been
otherwise. I have learned and realized that as one goes up in belt rank, it should be an
indicator of not only physical achievements but also of a propionate level of humbleness.
Rank is to receive respect and is to reciprocate humbleness.

To me karate has many meanings, many attributes; to say that karate is merely one thing
is to not understand all the aspects. Although I began my travel down this path expecting
an increase in self-confidence and self-defense, I now realize there’s also the social/group
interaction aspect; the breaking down of a life-time goal into small goals and the working
to achieve with both oneself and others. For me, the most important in anything is to seek
to enjoy it, to seek it with self-confidence, otherwise the path becomes steep.