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Beginning the Journey

Beginning Karate training is the beginning of what can be a lifelong journey. There are many reasons that people start training in Karate. And there will possibly be reasons that are discovered that were not reasons in the beginning of their training. And also some of the reasons that one had when originally beginning Karate may be dismissed.

Some of the reasons may be:

  1. To get in shape and improve physical fitness

  2. To learn a martial art

  3. To improve mental concentration

  4. To learn self-defense

  5. To add to other martial arts one may have learnt

  6. To learn about and/or learn more about the culture of Japan

  7. To learn to become a future Karate champion

  8. To learn how to fight and/or hurt someone

  9. To exact revenge on someone

  10. To impress others

While some of these reasons are positive, some negative, they are nonetheless some of the reasons that people may desire to learn Karate.

Let's briefly look at these reasons.

1. To get in shape and improve physical fitness - Karate training will certainly improve one's physical fitness. When beginning training, training will start off at a slow pace and gradually increase in intensity.

One will possibly be surprised at the challenge of keeping up with the pace of a class, but also gradually will feel and notice the improvement in physical conditioning. It must also be mentioned that one of the attributes of Karate training is that in class, one must continue and cannot stop and take a break despite becoming tired, fatigued and/or out of breath.

2. To learn a martial art - Karate is indeed a martial art and will be seen as such even more the longer that one continues training. Even as a beginner, Karate will be seen as a martial art. The formalities, traditions and the detail that goes into learning and Karate training, along with the fighting skills that are learnt, yet with the emphasis on not having to employ those fighting skills unless there is no other option differentiate it from simply techniques to fight. Karate-Do is the way of Karate, emphasizing the spiritual and philosophical aspects of Karate in combination with the physical aspects. Karate-jutsu (sometimes written as jitsu) emphasizes the fighting aspects of Karate, similar to other martial arts, such as Ju-Jutsu (different from Judo), Aiki-jutsu (different from Aikido) and Kenjutsu (different from Kendo).

3. To improve mental concentration - Karate demands concentration. Classes are traditionally begun with "mokuso," a few moments of silence to calm the mind from any distractions or thoughts that may be on the mind. This is also at the end of class to physically and mentally calm down and allow the body and the mind to absorb the training and what has been experienced and learnt in the class without consciously thinking about it. In class, 100% attention must be paid at all times and 100% seriousness is required. This will help one in day-to-day life.

4. To learn self-defense - This is quite often a common reason. The key word here is defense. Children who are bullied and taunted often have this reason. Women, shy and introverted people have also been known to have this reason. Law enforcement officers also have cited this reason. However, it must be emphasized that when beginning Karate that learning specific self-defense techniques may not always be what expects and/or obvious This is also one aspect of Karate training where patience and trust must be had. Karate is not a "quick fix," and must not be thought of, nor expected to be such. It cannot be emphasized enough that Karate is only to be used in self-defense when there is absolutely no other option.

5. To add to other martial arts one may have learnt - At times, a student may have have previously trained in or currently trains in another martial art. If either of these are applicable to the student, it is of utmost importance to not compare any martial arts in terms of which one is "better." An Aikido master once said,

"Do not criticize other martial arts. Speak ill of others and it will surely come back to you. The mountain does not laugh at the river because it is lowly, nor does the river laugh at the mountain because it cannot move." - Koichi Tohei (1920-2011).

As a beginner, it is not encouraged to simultaneously train in more than one martial art. A Zen saying goes, "a hunter who chases two rabbits at the same time catches neither. However, if one has trained in another martial art at an advanced level, Karate training and the previous martial art may compliment each other as the student reaches an advanced level in Karate training.

6. To learn about and/or learn more about the culture of Japan - Karate is a Japanese martial art. While learning it and studying it, the student will gradually become to learn about and practice certain Japanese customs such as bowing. Studying Karate on a deeper and historical level, one will certainly achieve this objective gradually.

7. To learn to become a future Karate champion - While Karate may be practiced as a sport, the sport aspect should be a by-product of Karate training and should never be the entire reason one decides to learn it and practice it. This reason is very goal oriented and can lead to impatience, frustration and largely depends on natural talent and ability.

8. To learn how to fight and/or hurt someone - In the previously mentioned reason of wanting to learn Karate for self-defense, the word defense was strongly emphasized. Fighting for the sake of it and wanting to hurt someone go completely against Karate-Do. One who desires to learn Karate for either or both of these reasons will either quit training very shortly after beginning, or hopefully abandon this ill-intentioned and wrong reason.

9. To exact revenge on someone - Similar to the previously stated reason, this reason is also ill-intentioned, wrong and goes completely against the philosophy of Karate-Do. It will also lead to impatience, frustration and it is almost certain that students for this reason will also quit training shortly after beginning training. Hopefully however, it is possible that this type of student (or potential student) will lose this ill-intentioned, wrong desire and through training and learning Karate-Do will come to realize that seeking vengeance against another is neither healthy (in any sense), nor productive (in any sense).

10. To impress others - A large part of learning Karate-Do is learning, developing and having humility, including not bragging and not showing off, among other things. Suppression of the ego and ultimately discarding the ego is a must. Shying away from and not pursuing honors and also not focusing on being better than others is a must in becoming a true martial artist.

As a beginner, there will be many things to be experienced and learnt. Do not try to learn and know everything at once. Keep an open mind, listen to your instructors and sempai (students who are senior to you). It is also important to attend classes regularly attend classes, but never at the expense of things such as major family events or job commitments. Karate-Do is also about developing and having balance in one's life.

In your training, you will first learn Kihon (basic techniques). Later, you will learn Kata (pre-arranged forms against imaginary opponents). For most beginners, Kata is unlike anything done before and it may seem next to impossible to remember. This is completely natural. Do not become frustrated. Be patient and you will learn your Kata. And you will gradually learn Kumite (sparring - firstly pre-arranged sparring at different levels). You will also learn to train with a partner.

Part of Karate training is learning physical and mental control. Our style of Karate teaches proper control of techniques and safety. We do not practice what is known as full contact Karate. The style of Karate we practice is called Shotokan. While being very serious in training, do not be intimidated about Kumite and partner work. You will be taught them, practice and learn them gradually and at the right time in your training. You will only practice them when you are ready and when it is safe for you to do so.

Also, do not become overwhelmed, nor intimidated by advanced students. A large part of their responsibility as senior students is when appropriate to encourage, help and compliment students. They will know just how much to push you in an attempt to help you learn and progress.

It is also important to train at home. Take at least 10 minutes a day to train at home. You will absorb what you have been learning and your training will be self-motivated and personal.

Reading books, magazines and watching videos can be very helpful. These are also educating and inspiring.

The longer one trains, the more important it is to keep a "beginner's mind."

"In the beginner's mind there are endless possibilities, but in the expert's there are few." - Shunryu Suzuki (1904-1971)

References -

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice - Shunryu Suzuki

1970 - Shambhala Publications

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