By Mitchell Saba
There are a million ways to answer this question. And it is a question that gets asked a lot! When people (young and old) think of karate or more generally the martial arts they picture a violent sport filled with conflict and aggression. Nothing could be further from the truth, at least for true karate. It is for this reason I write this article. If you have a remote interest in karate or have to periodically answer the above question, read this article.
There are seven reasons why everyone should practice karate or at least why they do practice karate!
- Something Different
Regardless of age, this is the number one reason people are drawn to karate. Feeling safe is important to everyone, no one likes to feel unsafe. Feeling safe is equivalent with feeling empowered. While it is dangerous to feel invincible the confidence that comes with knowing how to defend yourself and your family is empowering. Learning self defense is the equivalent with saying…No More! No more will I be a victim, pushed around because I feel I have no choice. No more will I rush to my destination with my head down, a sinking feeling in my stomach. These are some of the descriptions I have heard over the years.
Self Defense is a broad term used to describe any situation when we are attacked by an agressor and choose to react with defensive measures. Guns, mace, pepper spray, screach alarms, 911, pens, fists, anything that is handy can be refered to as a self defense tool. Many find comfort in carrying some or all of these self defense tools. We must be mindful that these are only self defense tools and as such require two things. First they must be in-hand, having a can of pepper spray in your pocket when you are attacked will have no effect on your attacker if you can not use it. The second requirement, understanding and experience. Without an understanding of how the self defense tool works and some experience using it the tool is as useless as a level to someone who knows nothing about carpentry. It is important that people understand these two requirements, many self defense programs advocate the use of these tools without making these facts clear. Unless you plan on carrying your self defense tool in your hand at all times it will be of little use, since most attackers do not announce their intensions.
Enter karate. Karate is the only self defense tool that is always in hand, why because the only tools in karate are your hands and your feet. Since it is doubtful you will leave home without these you will always have them ready! That answers the first requirement of a self defense tool. What about the second requirement? The answer, Training. Anyone who takes a short self defense course and does not practice and take an occational refresher course is defensless, worse they typically don’t know it.
Self defense is a martial art. This is why karate is a good for self defense. Bear in mind there is a significant difference between a karate and self defense course. A self defense course is a crash course in basic techniques that if practiced regularly with periodic refresher courses is an excellent self defense tool. Karate is much more. A karate class provides a long term class structure designed so the student can all of the components of self defense and martial arts, theory, body mechanics, blocks, defenses, vulerabilities and mental control. A karate class is much more because the student learns the material through much repetition and practice. Karate once learned can not be forgotten, it becomes a part of who you are.
Notice in the above passage when listing the components of a karate class the use of the word defenses, not attacks. Your attention is drawn to this because self defense, karate, the martial arts are not meant for agression. To use any of these for agression is to corrupt their intended use and weaken yourself. A true karate-ka never initiates a conflict, physically, verbally, or mentally, they should and normally do however finish them. This mindset is important for true self defense.
Fitness is the second most frequent reason for practicing karate. Karate training can be intense however the beauty is that easch student can advance at their own pace. While karate is not considered an aerobic exercise (Types of Exercise) since by definition this means raising your heart rate to 70-80% capacity for 20 minutes or more, it is intense. It is a rare case that you leave the Dojo with drenching your gee. Sparring is very aerobic and many of the warm-up exercises are considered aerobic also. Most karate students augment their training with aerobic exercises like jumping rope, running and swimming. Karate is similar to swimming in that it exercises your entire body allowing you to find muscles you didn’t know you had.
Karate training will improve your stamina, strength, speed and flexibility. Because of the intensity of the training karate will improve your overall fitness and body awareness. Karate training will strengthen and develop almost every muscle in your body. Through proper dedicated training you can expect to reduce your resting heart rate and feel healthier. The question always comes up, how long will it take to…? The answer is the same regardless of the topic, it depends on how much time you put into it. Everyones motivations and needs are different, this is true for your training program too. One thing is certain, karate will get you physically fit and feeling great about yourself.
The typical student that begins karate training is somewhat subdued, quiet, and often timid. These are not the traits of confidence. This is normal for most because they are trying something new and unknown. There are new people, strange clothing, and uncomfortable exercises that make them feel foolish when they attempt them. Every student progresses at a different pace Over confidence in a new student can be dangerous as they may lack the respect of what they are learning. Many traits get mistaken for confidence it is important to understand that being outgoing is not the same as being confident.
Confidence: “the quality or state of being certain”. Karate instills confidence by teaching each of us our limitations. Karate instills confidence by helping us overcome fear. Karate instills confidence by improving our image of ourselves. Karate instills confidence by placing you in control of your body for the first time in your life. This confidence spills into every aspect of your life, making you a stronger, better person. The confidence karate instills is humble and hard won, it is free of ego. This is the secret of true confidence, knowing without having to say it.
So how does karate do ALL these things? The answer is simple, practice. Practicing karate is a demanding activity and when completed successfully leaves the student with a feeling of acomplishment. Practice helps the student learn to control their physical, emotional, and mental self, thus increasing their confidence level in any given situation. Practicing karate (training) is an individual AND a group activity. Why is this important to building confidence? There are different dynamics involved with individual and group activities that boost our confidence. Even when practicing as an individual in the Dojo there is the watchful eye of others. This scruteny forces you to become at ease in the presence of others regardless of your activity, to be confident. Group activities build your ability to communicate with others and work in a team unit. As students advance they begin to instruct new students under the supervision of ranking members. This activity forces self-confidence since the new student believes in your abilities. Confidence is built in everything we do in the martial arts, for uncertainty in one’s self will lead to defeat in every aspect of our life.
This is not one that we hear stated specifically very often, yet it deserves its own bullet. Karate training develops the students awareness of their body, how it functions and how to control it. This process leads to improving the coordination of the student. So why is this so important in the grand scheme of things? Good coordination helps to build confidence and enhance your karate performance.
Parent’s often raise this reason for beginning their children in karate. Learning karate requires that the student focus on the instructor, themselves and their surroundings. When we say focus we do not mean pay attention like in a classroom. We mean focus your consciousness, mind and body on a single task. To do this requires the student to learn to block out distractions. This does not mean the student is unaware of their surroundings, simply that they learn to only register what is important to their current focus. While sparring it is not important to know who is coming in and out of the dojo. This is not to say that you should be ignorant to your surroundings, however that information should not distract you.
Karate is a demanding discipline, only with proper focus can you master yourself and the requirements of your training. For some people focus comes easily, for others it is a hard fought battle of self control. Because of the demanding nature of karate students must focus on many minute details and technical aspects of their training in order to perfect one simple move. These demands build focus, focus calms your mind and a calm mind is more confident. Through karate training you will learn to focus and this is a powerful tool in all arenas of your life.
If karate is one thing it is structured. The structue of karate is hierarchical, their is one head instructor (Sensei) and the students exist at various levels in the heirarchy. You can not maintain structure without discipline. In karate this discipline is maintained through the respect for the head instructor. Like a military leader there can be no question of orders given. When training there will be times when you are instructed to do something that does not seem to be right. If you falter or question (before) you derespect this discipline and structure. The disipline and respect form trust and to falter or question is to break this equation. I often refer to the movie “The Karate Kid”, the student does not understand the demands of his teacher but follows. Only when the teach see it is time does he reveal the wisdom of his actions to the student…”Wax-on, Wax-off!”.
Like this movie there is no room for disobedience in karate training. Because of this the instructor is strict when dealing with such actions. He must be to preserve the discipline of the dojo, rules are not meant to be broken! The foundations of discipline in karate stem from the fact that it is a martial art. Only through discipline can we surpass our limitations. Only through discipline, trust, respect and structure can we learn to apply these same principles to our lives as self-discipline, confidence, self-respect, and control over ourselves. This is the importance of discipline.
Something different. This is the reason the searchers give for wanting to learn karate. The searchers is a term I use to describe those who have not found something they like and can stick with yet. Curiousity is sometimes another descriptor given describing the desire to try karate. It’s all good. The reason for wanting to try karate does not matter. What is important is that you stay the course and learn karate. If for no other reason then to be able to point to one thing in your life that YOU accomplished. One thing you did that was fun, rewarding and challenging. For some karate is to hard, to time consuming or to introspective. Karate takes time, but so does anything that is worthwhile.
Thank you for your interest in our club and karate. I hope to see you in class soon!