Monday, June 16, 2008

The Essence of Karate-Do

Chojun Miyagi Sensei had a clear vision of what Karate-Do should be. The essence of Karate-Do has often been misunderstood. What is the essence of Karate-Do? The essence of Karate is really not to become a great fighter for the sake of recognition, but rather to realize that a great fighter will understand the destructive force of his technique, and in that realization, he will be deterred from fighting. As fighting skills progress, one needs to adapt these skills to a disciplined and detailed mind-set. A great fighter who is devoid of discipline is a danger to himself and to others. That is why traditional Karate-Do kumite is phased in over time after many years of kata, bunkai, and kihon practice.

The essence of Karate-Do requires discipline and humility. These tenets are by far the most difficult to master. As one acquires more skill, the tendency is to flaunt one’s skills in public. This may be good for the ego, but deadly to the soul. Discipline and humility must always be in a state of perfect balance. Why is this so important? Genuine humility cannot take place if one does not exercise discipline. Everyone loves recognition and accolades, but although it may edify one’s ego, does it really change how you perceive yourself? Refinement of technique over time is what we all strive to achieve, but how you see yourself is what discipline and humility is all about. Humility can only be achieved if one has the desire to understand discipline. This will not happen overnight, but it is a continual process requiring a lifetime to master.

The essence of Karate-Do requires responsibility. Here in the United States, there are individuals who make Karate their livelihood. There is nothing wrong with this practice, but it is not the path that I have chosen for myself. Eiichi Miyazato Sensei of the Jundokan always placed life in the following order: family, job, and Karate. My personal order is: God, family, work, and Karate. Placing Karate above anything else is a mistake. The essence of Karate requires us to accept all of our respective responsibilities and to act upon them expeditiously. One should never proselytize in the dojo, but merely guide others to find to their own path “Do.”

The essence of Karate-Do requires us not to propagate ourselves, but to propagate the art. Why is this so important? Miyagi Sensei always stressed two things: one should not live from Karate, and Karate should be accessible to anyone who wants to learn the art. In the United States where the free enterprise system is the economic model, fortunes are often made in business on a routine basis. I have taught students who have been turned down by other reputable instructors simply because they were unable to pay. This is one of the primary reasons why I have a full-time job as a special education teacher. How can a person living the lifestyle of Karate ever turn a student away because their inability to pay for instruction? Do I make money from the martial arts? The answer is a definitive “yes.” However, I have many students who do chores around the dojo to offset the cost of their tuition. Karate should be available to anyone who wants to experience the path “Do” of Karate. Many instructors never fully understand the impact they make on their students. We serve the role of instructor, priest, psychologist, mentor, parent, and disciplinarian. Sometimes the only source of inspiration to a student is the sensei.

Lastly, the essence of Karate-Do entails the development of character. Gichin Funakoshi Sensei always said the most important aspect of Karate is the development of character. What is character in terms of the philosophy of Karate-Do? Character is simply exercising discipline, exhibiting honor, duty and self-control, and continually adhering to humility. The Japanese have an expression that says: kiritsu, ninmu, shi—discipline, duty, and death. Although this may sound feudal and archaic, it is nevertheless relevant to the modern practitioner. Without character and a strong foundation, nothing of substance can be accomplished. Winning championships is fun, having excellent technique is desirable, understanding kata and bunkai are optimal, but as wonderful as these things are, they should never replace a strong, disciplined character. Masters who have perfected character do not criticize others, nor do they seek the approval and admiration of other men, but rather exist to learn, teach, and develop in the way of karate-do.

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