Sunday 1 July 2007

Mental Discipline

By André Bertel

This article was originally featured in my dojo newsletter (in Christchurch, New Zealand) during 2006. It was specifically aimed at 10th kyu students, after I started a new beginners class. It is also of value to advanced karateka, who wish to maximise their potential. My belief is that karate training time cannot be measured in years, but rather in minutes. Too many people say ''I have trained for 25 years'' but how much 'training' have they really done in that time? If they have trained properly it will reflect in their technical skill and 'mental focus'. There is no excuse for lame technique or weak fighting spirit. These results are just a product of incorrect and/or insufficient training. My advice, besides always physically training, is to use 'each minute' in your practice time, 'to the maximum'. Otherwise you are wasting your time, as you will never develop truly devastating techniques, which authenticate ones karate (always remember that dan grades, tournament titles, attaching yourself to Japanese organisations/famous instructors, and so forth, does not make your karate authentic). This style of karate training is directly related to ones psychological approach to the art, and inseperable from this, is mental discipline.


In karate-do, when the Sensei (teacher) is talking, or we are waiting to perform a drill or exercise, we must learn to stand still, like a statue, and stare straight ahead or focus on the sensei. It is essential to not move or twitch at all, in a state of zanshin (awareness or preparedness) to react to the command of the sensei. This maximises our training as it makes us mentally stronger and more alert. In traditional budo (martial arts) a delayed reaction, or lack of poise during a class, will always result in punishment from a competent instructor. In shiai (competition), it will result in defeat if you are fighting an equal, or even less competent but more disciplined opponent. In a real life confrontation, it may result in serious injury, or perhaps even death. Without this element in your karate, your training is wasted time and no more than aerobics or a dance.

Lines must always be perfectly straight, and formed very-quickly, as to train ones awareness, focus, decisiveness, and desire to maximise training time. Anything less will result in a class punishment, or the punishment of the individual who acted indecisively. Karatedo is a discipline, therefore laziness and inattentiveness means that harsh consequences are inevitable. If this system is not used in the dojo (training hall), mental discipline will not be attained, and the karateka will always be overcome by those psychologically stronger than themselves.

Budo (karatedo, judo, kendo, aikido etc.) is a way to develop not only physical power, but obviously mental power as well. However, unless training is structured in the strict traditional manner, we can only offer lip-service to the mental discipline of the art. Physical power alone, when seriously tested, will always fail without the discipline of mind. This discipline of the mind results in `osu no seishin’ (the spirit perseverance).

Without the development of this psychological power, and with only external technique, ones karate will not work in self-defence, nor have technical brilliance, and will not benefit our daily lives. By disciplining the mind we can make kime-waza (decisive techniques) which are effective and aesthetically beautiful to observe.

A karate dojo without the above mentioned strictness, is one I am not interested in. Even as a roku-dan (sixth degree black belt) I submit myself to this type of discipline, even when classes are taken by my kohai (juniors). For me it is very sad when students in the dojo call me `André, as opposed to `Sensei’ or `André Sensei’ (in saying that I have never demanded to be called ‘Sensei’). Or simply walk onto the floor in the middle of the class without waiting in seiza (the kneeling position).

One of Funakoshi Sensei’s favourite sayings was ``Karatedo begins and ends with courtesy’’. The founder of Shotokan, and father of modern day karate was adamant that one could not be followers of karatedo without paying close attention to reigi-saho (etiquette). Reigi-saho not only in the dojo, but everyday in our lives. This obviously requires much self-discipline, but is something that is no doubt a righteous aim. I hope this little article further develops our dojo, and more importantly, each and every member. A disciplined structure is something each and every person in our dojo can be proud of, and is typical worldwide, amongst traditional Shotokan groups.

© André Bertel, Japan 2007

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