Dojo:   Amityville   Yin yang dojo b   Mt. Kisco

Karate-Do: A Path for Life – Part II

by Mike Visgauss

Why Part II? Because this is a re-write of an article submitted to the Dojo News years ago. Some things have changed, some have not.

Our Dojo has a new home. A little smaller, yes, but it's our home. Something Sensei said as we were moving out of our old home grabbed my attention. It put some perspective on the changes we face as a Dojo. Someone ALMOST walked on the deck with their shoes on after we had removed most of the things we are used to seeing in the Dojo. The weapons, the pictures, The "Dojo Kun"…all the physical traces that made that place our Dojo. As the student apologized for forgetting normal Dojo etiquette, Sensei said, "That's ok, this is not the Dojo anymore." It's not the things on the wall that makes any place our Dojo. Wherever Sensei teaches, wherever we practice, that's our Dojo. Amity Harbor, Mt Kisco, the beach…wherever…it doesn't matter!

Many of us have benefited from studying Karate in ways we don't even recognize. We always know when we work hard in class: we sweat, get tired, and if we work hard enough, gain a sense of accomplishment when we learn something new. We can measure ourselves against one another, but this is not being fair…We all have different capabilities and different limitations. (Take my word, if you practice long enough, time will teach you about new limitations!) Some are very fast, some are stronger, some of us are older.

When we take a test, Sensei is reviewing our work. Inside, we know how well prepared we are for our test. When we perform kata, we know when it feels right, and when we need to practice more. When we fight, we get immediate feedback on the success or failure of our techniques. The satisfaction of passing a test, the sense of accomplishment felt from performing kata properly, and the realization that we can defend ourselves competently are benefits that become obvious over time.

Other benefits exist that we don't often think about. "Karate-ka" (those who follow "The Way of Karate") often view the world a little differently than others. The persistence and dedication that must be invested in Karate to achieve satisfactory performance carry over as traits that enhance other facets of our lives.

The act of practicing kata repeatedly, to improve small details that a less focused Sensei would overlook forces an attention to detail that can only help in our everyday life. Others make mistakes when they let their minds wander from the task at hand. Karate-ka are trained to focus their attention on what they ARE doing, not what they MAY BE doing later. It is the ability to harness ones energy, intellect, and attention for a particular purpose that helps us more effectively face life's challenges.

Whenever we face an opponent, we are forced to recognize the prospect of getting bruises and losing a match. We take on this challenge willingly. Why? Because Sensei has taught us we have the capacity to succeed in ways we didn't think possible.

Our training doesn't teach us to hurt people. It teaches us control, physical and mental. It teaches us perseverance- to push hardest when we're most tired. It teaches us Humility. Kenkojuku means Strong but Humble. And yes, we know that the things we learn in the Dojo enable us to protect ourselves in the outside world, if necessary.

This gives us a sense of confidence that allows us to face daily challenges in school or business that might scare a less prepared individual. In his book, "Karate-Do Kyohan," Sensei Funakoshi gives the definition of the word "heian" (as in the Heian katas) as "peaceful mind." He states, "Having mastered these fives forms, one can be confident he is able to defend himself in most situations. The meaning of the name is to be taken in this context."

Whether we recognize it or not, this is a gift we are given from the study of Karate that can be understood only by those who follow the Path. What is the path? What is the difference between "Karate" and "Karate-Do"? The practice of "Karate" refers to techniques. "Karate-Do" refers to a guide we can follow through life. According to Sensei Funakoshi, Karate-Do strives internally to develop a clear conscience enabling one to face the world truthfully…Courtesy must be practiced, not only during the training period, but at all times in ones daily life. Those who follow Karate-Do must never forsake a humble mind and a gentle manner.

These ideas can be found throughout the writings of great Karate-Ka. In 1645, Shinmen (Miyamoto) Musashi wrote a book called Go Rin No Sho, which means "Book of Five Rings." While this text is often read as a guide to Kendo (fencing), it has more recently been recognized as a very perceptive guide to the psychology of strategy. In the first portion, Musashi writes:

This is the way for men who want to learn:

  1. Do not think dishonestly.
  2. The Way is in learning.
  3. Become acquainted with every art.
  4. Know the ways of all professions.
  5. Distinguish between gain and loss in worldly matters.
  6. Develop intuitive judgment and understanding for everything.
  7. Perceive those things that cannot be seen.
  8. Pay attention even to trifles.
  9. Do nothing which is of no use.

The emphasis on these precepts is on attaining a state of mind that will allow one to achieve victory in any field of endeavor. Throughout the history of Karate, there has been a focus on developing the mental aspects, and how to apply them to daily life. This is an idea that must be remembered and shared with those outside the Dojo.

When "newer, more current" arts are evolving (have you seen MMA-Mixed Martial Arts?) one may question the usefulness of studying such an "old" style.. It is impressive to note that the ancient studies are as relevant today as they ever were. Not that we need justification, but others may be impressed by the fact that the current UFC light heavy weight champion is 15-0 (reportedly not getting hit more than twice in any one round!). His style is described as being more defensive than most of the current crop of MMA contestants. His name is Lyoto Machida. While he has studied Sumo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, HIS FOUNDATION IS SHOTOKAN KARATE!!! He learned this from his father, listed as Shotokan Karate Master Yoshizo Machida.

We should reflect on the effects Karate has had on us. We need to measure how well we follow Karate's ideals, as expressed by the great masters. No doubt, we will all find ourselves stumbling on the path once in a while. The mark of a true Karate-ka is to re-focus, and move forward. As part of that process, we should take some time to appreciate how Karate has helped us survive life's challenges and how the martial arts help shape our lives.