Once upon a time in my youth I thought that karate was about being able to fight. But the decades since showed me that this art is less about combat than it is about changing yourself and become more in so many different ways.
It started with blocking and punching, with a few kicks thrown in. Ichi, ni, san and so on became etched in my mind with every repetition. There was no room for error or deviation, for it was drummed into our heads that each technique must be performed to perfection according to an exacting standard passed on from teacher to student for a hundred years.
Enthusiastically I trained, learning to focus all my energy on my technique and the kiai that came with every 10th repetition.
Little did I know at the time that the real benefit I was learning had little to do with the effectiveness of the techniques, and more with all the things I had to develop in order to do them — self-discipline and perseverance being high among them.
Most of all, what I learned was a process of breaking movements (and ultimately other problems) down into their component parts so that each could be perfected in turn, then re-assembled into something better.
These lessons in bio-mechanics came in handy many times over the years, but never more so than when I had to relearn to walk after a long hospitalization. You’d think something developed in childhood would stay with you forever.
But no! Every little movement was a project that had to be perfected. Balance had to be found. Limbs needed coordinating. Muscles cried out to be strengthened and retrained. It was excruciating. But as I often said, “You can’t let the pain (or difficulty) stop you.”
Eventually I made it back. Not as good as new, but functional. I was a alive, and that had to be enough for that moment, just as COVID and lockdowns are teaching us that sometimes just being alive has to be enough at times.
If I hadn’t had my training in martial arts, I probably couldn’t have done it. I’d have fallen flat on my face and could have easily given up.
But the discipline karate instilled forced me to draw upon a source of strength inside I didn’t know I had that allowed me to go on when there was nothing left to give. Yet I did, just as many of you do, too, when you push yourself past your limits and give it one more punch, one more kick, one more repetition of that kata or combination that keeps kicking your butt.
Even more important than discipline, however, was the knowing I got that I could set my intention and see it through, and that I could become all that I had to be in order to do it.
This is perhaps the greatest benefit of training in karate or any martial art — knowing and pushing your limits so you can do and become more, better, faster.
It comes when we reach the point our minds want to give up, but something inside won’t let us. It happens by tapping into that inner mastery I talk about so much, the inner self that holds a vision for your life and fills you with the urge to make it so.
Karate set me off on a long, meandering path to where I am today, back where I started with punches and kicks but left me now filled with so much more.
I suspect you’re on a similar journey of self-discovery and exploration of what you can become. Enjoy every second of it, even the pain, struggle and sacrifice that comes with it.
Our digital dojo is a place you can make it from the comfort of home — but not the comfort of your couch.
You’ll be better off for making the effort. And best of all, you’ll become more.
Isn’t that what it’s all about?