Good day to you!

My foot’s nearly back to full health, I’ve been getting up early to do my workouts, and I’m feeling pretty good. This week I’d like to talk about a hopeless mishmash of philosophy and character traits that I feel are related to the martial arts.

I’ll begin with a quote from Gichin Funakoshi (the founder of Shotokan Karate) which I may have mentioned in this blog before: “The ultimate aim of Karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants.” For a silly, media-based example, in the original Karate Kid, the deuteragonist (ooh fancy-talk for the secondary protagonist), Mr. Miyagi shows himself to be a superior martial artist to the secondary antagonist, John Kreese (the Cobra-Kai Sensei). Mr. Miyagi’s character is contemplative, serene and kind-hearted, while Kreese is a short-tempered, underhanded sadist. We see that the iconic Karate film equates the true path of the Karate-ka with developing a strong spirit and a strong body, rather than the body on its own. While this is a good example of what I feel to be part of the true philosophy of Karate, Hollywood is rife with poor examples, so let us dwell no further on media representation.

As part of graduation requirements for Kyu belts at Black Belt Schools (and similarly at other dojos), each student must complete an act of charity to receive one of their stripes. This can be organizing a fundraiser or participating in one, but it must involve a sacrifice on the part of the student for the benefit of others. Thus, even the most talented martial artist, if unwilling to be charitable, will never progress, while a less talented student with a kind heart will learn more and go further.

Training in Karate is at best difficult, and at worst gruelling, and will force you to confront and push through your mental and physical boundaries. This may involve changing one’s attitude, improving one’s physical health, or going back to the beginning of a technique to understand it further, and more often than not all of these. For example, I began my training in Kempo Karate, which emphasizes very deep and wide stances. This is an excellent way to improve one’s leg strength, and taught a great deal of perseverance while sitting in a deep horse stance (wallsit – wall) for 3 to 5 minutes. However, in beginning Goju-Ryu, I had to adjust to much higher more practical stances, which gave better stability and balance. While this was less demanding, physically, it required me to completely change my attitude to my stance and realize that at the end of the day, the techniques should be practical rather than showy. This is a significant mental barrier that I had to overcome. I’m sure I’ll push through a few physical barriers too before my grading is over.

Another character trait that the martial arts develops is fearlessness. I’d like to illustrate by paraphrasing a story I recently read:

An officer was speaking with his superior about the regiment he was in charge of. He said that one of the soldiers (Samurai) was completely fearless. The superior claimed that no man is fearless and went to see for himself. They found the man training with his regiment, and told him to commit Seppuku (honorable, ritual suicide). The man immediately kneeled and began making preparations. He unsheathed his sword, and just before he could plunge it into his stomach, the superior told him to stop. He asked why he had shown no fear. The man’s response was that a long time ago he had decided to conquer fear inside himself. He tied a very weak string to a very sharp sword and hung the sword over his bed, just inches from his throat. At first, he found it very difficult to sleep, as he was afraid of death, but eventually he grew to accept that death was immediately present, sword or not, and he learned to sleep soundly. There was nothing to fear from a sword in his own hand when compared to one hanging above his throat.

It is this fearlessness that a martial artists seeks. The martial arts are inherently violent, but in facing this violence, one learns to find peace in it. People often say, after hearing that you’ve trained in some martial art, “I guess I’d better not make you mad,” when in reality, somebody that has trained seriously will understand the impact of using violence and is the least likely to hurt another out of anger (though the occasional one slips through: see Cobra-Kai Sensei).

In the end, I feel, that the martial arts are a preparation for death. This may sound odd, or even offensive at first, however it should not be. I read an interview with a master of Karate, who said something similar to, “No matter what, be courageous. For then, even if a boulder falls out of the sky and crushes your body, nothing will ever crush your spirit.” Much of what we as humans do shows our preoccupation with our own death: keeping healthy, leaving a mark on the world, penance. The martial arts are no different. We hope that in learning to be truly courageous, we shall keep this courage even in death, and that we can face our final moments, not with fear and struggle, but with the quiet dignity befitting a fearless Samurai.

And now for a word from our sponsor, the Weekly Recap!

Monday:

  • 160 Push ups
  • 160 Sit ups
  • 16 rounds of Seipai
  • 20 minutes meditation
  • 10 acts of kindness

Tuesday:

  • 160 Push ups
  • 160 Sit ups
  • 16 rounds of Seipai
  • 30 minutes meditation
  • 9 acts of kindness

Wednesday:

  • 160 Push ups
  • 160 Sit ups
  • 16 rounds of Seipai
  • 30 minutes meditation
  • 10 acts of kindness

Thursday:

  • 160 Push ups
  • 160 Sit ups
  • 16 rounds of Seipai
  • 30 minutes meditation
  • 9 acts of kindness
  • 10 rounds of sparring

Friday:

  • 160 Push ups
  • 160 Sit ups
  • 16 rounds of Seipai
  • 20 minutes meditation
  • 9 acts of kindness

Saturday:

  • 160 Push ups
  • 160 Sit ups
  • 16 rounds of Seipai
  • 8 acts of kindness

Sunday:

  • 160 Push ups
  • 160 Sit ups
  • 16 rounds of Seipai
  • 8 acts of kindness
  • 10 km jogging

So for Week 6, I did 1120 push ups, 1120 sit ups, 112 rounds of seipai, 130 minutes of meditation, 63 acts of kindness (record), 10 rounds of sparring, and 10 km of jogging. I’m pretty content with how things are going. Still need to do a bit more meditation, but I’m right on track with everything else. Except jogging. But who likes jogging anyways…

Cumulatively, I’m at: 5890 push ups, 5720 sit ups, 573 rounds of Seipai, 645 minutes meditation, 263 acts of kindness, 55 rounds of sparring, and 30 km of jogging. So yes, I need to jog more. I guess that’s one of those physical barriers to push through… Anyways, new goal for finishing is the 19th of December, which will give me some time to pull together the Break-a-thon so long as all goes according to plan. Need to write an essay in there, and interview a living hero. Anybody know of any heros?

How about this guy?

Advertisements