Under The Surface

You may train for a long, long time, but if you merely move your hands and feet and jump up and down like a puppet, learning karate is not much different from learning to dance. You will never have reached the heart of the matter; you will have failed to grasp the quintessence of karate-do.

Gichin Funakoshi was the creator of Shotokan karate and is considered by the majority of martial artists to be the founder of modern karate. Much has been written about the man and his legacy to the martial arts in general and specifically karate. To be quite honest, I am no different and he is one of my heroes.

The preceding quote from Funakoshi has deep meanings to martial artists and non-martial artists alike.

It has long been my philosophy that karate has much deeper meanings than just punching and kicking. People often only see the surface of something. They only see what they allow themselves to see and in doing so, form prejudiced and uniformed opinions.

Karate IS physical. Karate was created in the beginning as a means for an unarmed person to defend themselves from larger, stronger, or even armed attackers. When a person sees a karate class for the first time they usually think of the students being there to learn and train themselves in the art of fighting. Over the many years since its creation karate has come to mean so much more.

After the feudal era of ancient Japan ended many martial arts found themselves with no real purpose or meaning. Training to be a warrior was no longer a real necessity in the new world they found themselves in. Masters of these styles knew that there was much more than just this to their “art”. So changes began to occur with the philosophies behind the styles. They began teaching that the style not only molded the body into a weapon but it also molded the spirit; making the individual a better and more rounded person. Much Taoist and Buddhist philosophy already was a part of the Japanese arts. With the focus subtly shifting to a more spiritual nature even the names began to change. The Japanese word Do was a direct translation of the Chinese word Tao which in English means The Way. The essence of Do was directly related to spiritual and philosophical aspects. Karate became Karate-Do. Jujitsu became Judo. Bujitsu became Bushido (the way of the warrior).

Funakoshi, along with Miyagi, Mabuni, and many more, began teaching a more spiritual path in their arts. Some people believe that this actually softened karate. I disagree. In my opinion the attitude actually strengthened the arts and gave them credence as actual arts. The physical aspects were still very much there.

The amazing thing about karate is that the philosophy behind it is so ironic. We practice to perform the perfect technique. We strive and strive for the perfect block, the perfect kick, the perfect punch. Yet we are the first to admit that nothing or no one is perfect. For example: it is said in karate that “The perfect technique cannot be blocked”. What if the perfect attack is met with a perfect block? Yet we continue to strive for that perfection. We spend years doing the same things each time trying to make them better. The underlying lesson is that even though we are not perfect as human beings, it is wise to strive for perfection. Will we ever achieve that goal? That question in itself cannot be answered. Many people of many different religions have attempted to answer; yet in the end all we can do is try.

My techniques are not perfect. I’m a third degree black belt. I have trained in Shito-Ryu for16 years. I have practiced the martial arts in one form or another since I was 16 years old. My kicks are not what they were when I was 25. I get hurt easier these days and it takes longer to heal. Yet I continue to practice, to strive for the perfect technique.

Nor am I a perfect person. I have flaws just like everyone else does. I make mistakes. I am human. Yet I still strive to be the best man I can be. In helping the community, in giving children something they can be proud of in their karate, in helping women find confidence and strength in my self-defense classes I try every day to make myself a better person and to make this a better world in some small way.

This is why I believe in what I do. It is why I believe in karate and the martial arts. I have seen the positive things that result from the training. I have witnessed hours of blood, sweat, and tears in the dojo mold people into better human beings. I know in my heart that what Funakoshi said was true. If you think it is just about what you see on the surface, you will never get it.

  1. May 11, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    I applaud and totally agree with all you say here, sensei. Karate was certainly a major tool in strengthening my son from being a stammerer (starting at around age 4) into being a very confident senior engineer and team lead on the world stage, giving presentations to heads of state and CEOs of global financial institutions,among many other types who many of us would define as potentially intimidating. He had no qualms about walking on a university campus bordering public housing in a major metropolis, either, because of his physical skills with karate. I really applaud everything you are doing –and BEING! Bowing to you!

  2. May 11, 2012 at 9:43 pm

    Grannbee, thank you so very much. And please don’t bow. Your words, comments, and wisdom honor me enough.

  3. May 17, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    Whoops! I was wondering where you’ve been and I checked my settings and it was set to a different setting. 🙂 Sorry! I wasn’t getting your emails.!

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