The karate practitioner must first and foremost understand that karate is not about winning. It is about not losing, to anything.
Although the outcome of both approaches towards the art might sound similar, one must understand that there are many circumstances in life where one will not be able to win because there is nothing to win. For example, one might experience the sudden death of a close relative. In such a situation there are no winning possibilities but does that mean that such a situation has nothing to do with karate? Karate is a way of life and should be applied to everything we do. In such a situation a karate attitude of not losing might help the individual overcome or face difficulties.
So how does one go about karate? Well, the simplest and cleanest answer would be to always put the effort into training karate. There is no easy way out, no short-cuts. No one will walk the path for you. One must always be ready to give his utmost in karate to reach his limits and then try to go a step further.
What other practitioners are capable of, and how much endurance they have is beside the point. It is irrelevant to your path in karate and should only work to encourage you to push further to be the best you can, rather than discourage you and cause you to give up.
Eventually one must understand that there will/should never be a time when training is easy. Karate is there to teach you to stand back up every time you fall, to never give up in life and in order for karate to instil this principle in you, it must put you at your limits. Week after week, training should be a continuous effort. There will be times when you might feel that Karate is too hard for you, that it is pushing you too much and requiring too much effort. But that is exactly what Karate should be doing. The problem does not lie within Karate, the problem lies within you. You either let the difficulties surmount you or you just simply and plainly keep doing your best and face the difficulties.
This is obviously also true for any sensei. The further one progresses in karate, the tougher (and lonelier) the path will get. If one harbours the idea of training until reaching 1st Dan, 2nd Dan or 3rd Dan and then takes it easy, then he has understood nothing of Karate. Apart from the fact that one should be setting an example to lower belts, the plainly obvious truth is that the higher the level at which the practitioner is, the more demanding and more continuous his training should be. Not the other way round! One should aim to practice Karate for life, not until 2nd Dan or until the age of 40 years is reached or until your training buddy is still there with you. These things should be made clear at an early stage in one’s training.
Furthermore, though the dojo training is essential in one’s Karate, it is by no means the only place where Karate is practised. We must strive to make the practice of Karate part of our everyday lives. From the way we talk and interact with people to what we eat. Our posture and our commitment towards responsibilities are all part of our Karate and should be given as much importance as anything else.
Traditional Karate has been around for many years. It has been developed in times of great strife when a martial art HAD to work. So it is very stupid and naïve to suddenly try to change it or parts of it because of your personal preferences or opinion on the subject. If you think it doesn’t work as it is, then you are simply doing it wrong. Karate is fine as it is. Millions have done it before you and so should you. Trying to change something is equivalent to saying ‘I give up’ in following the true way.
This is also true for your attitude towards your sensei. If you do not understand what your sensei is saying, do not conclude that your sensei is wrong. It is you who are still a child and your Karate must mature. From the beginning, one must RESOLVE to the simple fact that Sensei knows what he is doing. He knows the way, he is your guide and you must follow him. If you disagree with what your sensei is saying, then you just haven’t got to that level of understanding yet.
So are all senseis good in attitude and do all of them follow true Karate? Sadly no, and if you (unluckily or by mistake) happen to start your Karate training under one such sensei, you might be right to question things. But you must understand this; once you start questioning and mistrusting your sensei, then he is your sensei no more. Something didn’t work out. But you cannot call him sensei and then not follow his lead. You either have complete faith in your sensei or you have none. There is no halfway. A true sensei knows the way and one must resolve to follow him blindly.
As for sports Karate, It is not about life. It is just a game of who is the fastest. It is just one leaf of just one twig of just one branch of the huge trunk of the tree that Karate is. A tree which is made up not only of the visible trunk, branches and leaves, but which also includes a solid base of roots. Focusing only on one leaf of the tree is for those who do not want to see the whole picture.
In true Karate, you must learn to get hit. You must accept that you will be hit, repeatedly if necessary, and then fight back. Tagging people and shouting a 2 second long Kiai is a disgrace, no matter how good you are at it. In a real fight, there will not be any referees to stop, warn or disqualify the assailant. There won’t be any mubobis. The won’t be any guards or a 4m by 4m sparring area free of any hindrances. Most probably there will not be only one opponent and there will not be a 3-minute time limit or a point threshold after which the fight ends automatically. If you are continuously hitting him and he is still standing, there is something seriously wrong with your Karate. If you hit him he must go down and although that might not always be the case, that is what one should be aiming to achieve in a real life or death situation and therefore that is what Karate should be teaching you. If one thinks that he can simply practice tagging people week after week and then one fine day when the need arises his sports karate will simply switch and pay off, then he understands nothing of karate. Simply put, you reap what you sow.
So are all competitions wrong? No, they aren’t, but one must understand the simple fact that you use competitions to develop your Karate and not the other way round. You do not practice Karate to win your competition. Karate is not a sport. It is a way of life. It is not practised for the sole purpose of entertainment or for money. Karate is there to teach you to endure hardships, to persevere in your aims in life and to never give up or give in.
Article was written for S.K.A. by Mr David Salem Rizzo, 3rd Dan Shotokan Karate – SKA, JKA WF, who is a teacher of graphical communication at a secondary school level.