Monday 28 June 2010

Why Karate?

One question I have been asked by so many people over the years, and many times recently, is “Why do you do practice karate?” This is especially the case, here in Japan, as Japanese people are often surprised that I do a traditional Japanese martial art.
On the subject of sports rather than budo, coming from “consistently” the strongest rugby province in New Zealand (Canterbury), and the nation of the All-Blacks, it must seem certain that growing up would automatically include the acquisition of ‘cauliflower ears’. Fortunately for me, and my ears, my mother put me into Shotokan karate at five years old for my discipline. Why? Because she was rightfully impressed by Japanese reigi-saho (etiquette) and the physical balance of karate (as an unparalleled physical art and means of self-defense). So as it turned out, I found myself in the dojo engaging in jiyu-kumite, as opposed to tackling people, or being in a scrum.
THE REAL QUESTION! “Why are you still doing Shotokan karate well into your 30’s?” Here are the first six points which immediately come to mind. These are the core things that have kept me motivated for three decades, and continue to do so:
(1) Youthful looks and range of motion/flexibility: Karate training keeps people young looking and allows them to improve their suppleness. This results in flexible movement throughout life, which also combats "stiffening up at the hinges so to speak". I don’t know about you but I like looking young and hope to be moving like Asai Sensei when he was 70!

(2) Sculpted muscles and physical strength: Karate strengthens and beautifully tones the entire body in a balanced and systematic manner. Whilst you won’t ‘bulk up’ or start looking like a bodybuilder, with consistent training, your body is tightened and chiseled. Thus you look, and feel better. The strength that you gain is karate specific, enabling you to effectively apply your techniques. Call it vanity, but keeping in good shape is highly motivational (if you don't already, tap into this 'energy' to motivate yourself). One’s technical skill and physique reflects their training. Proper karate will get, and keep you in good shape, and if it doesn’t, it is lacking the physical intensity needed to be an effective martial art.
(3) Effective self-defense regardless of size: Karate is ideal for everyone who wishes to develop effective self-defense skills. This is because it utilizes highly refined techniques, as opposed to merely applying brute force (or requiring practitioners to be physically big or to “become fighters”). This comes from the fact that fundamental Shotokan uses the power of the entire body, in particular that of the waist/hips (maximum horizontal torque) and the legs (maximum vertical compression). Wasted motion is eradicated, therefore, “all of this collective power goes in” and king-hits on the opponent. This is the physical trademark of authentic Shotokan karate technique, which is known as “ichigeki-hissatsu” (to finish the adversary with a single blow).

(4) Mental well-being: Karate combats psychological problems such as stress, anxiety and depression. By practicing karate, people’s self-esteem is greatly enhanced, and therefore they do better in their daily lives. Related to this is the fact that training also results in increased physical energy, enhanced concentration and better sleeping patterns.
(5) The combination of fitness and art form: Karate is not merely exercise, it is also a traditional Japanese art form, which requires a lifetime of study to perfect. This means that the body (movement and breathing) and mind are completely engaged, and therefore it never becomes boring. Trying my best to perfect kihon (the fundamentals) and kata (formal exercises) is a never ending challenge. This by itself is extremely motivational.

(6) Lifetime activity: You can train all of your life in karate and keep physically improving yourself!” Compare this to say rugby, football, gymnastics and other physical activities. A great example of this is my late teacher Shuseki Shihan Tetsuhiko Asai, who reached his physical peak in his late 60’s!

One word which comes to mind about Karate-Do is HARMONY. Karate as an activity is all about the harmony of physical movement, breathing and self-control of the mind. These elements can be used for the bettering of the individual, both physically and mentally, whilst perfecting a powerful martial art of self-defense. So I reply, to anyone who asks me “Why do you practice karate?” by politely asking “Why don’t you!?”

© André Bertel, Japan (2010).

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