by Sensei Walt Fast
October, 1995

Karateka are often asked : "Why do you train in Karate ?" Answers vary from : generalfitness, excitement, increased muscle tone and fitness. Other reasons are club atmosphere, self protection and fun. Fun covers a lot of territory. Perhaps all of the above could be included in that one short word.

How about: "Why did you first start Karate?" This answer is personal and there as manyanswers as there are Karateka. Yet there are certain similarities in these answers that I wantto discuss.

Some people start Karate to learn defence and gain self-confidence. Some may want tolearn self-discipline. Others start because they want to be like Van Damme, Stephen Segalor Wesley Snipes. Back in the early seventies Bruce Lee brought the Martial Arts to themainstream of North American culture. I used to do a lot of running, but was becoming boredwith the repetitive nature of it. My nephew had recently joined a Karate club, and asked if Iwanted to come out too. I did and was instantly hooked. I had casually opened a door andnow found myself immersed in a fascinating new world.

I've stuck with Karate over the years, and come to realize that it has changed me for thebetter. Karate is a process of self discovery and improvement. It is not magic or mystic innature as some people claim. Unfortunately there certain individuals who are taken up withhero worship, for whom the transformation to Ninja Warrior couldn't be fast enough. Equallyunfortunate is the sad fact of Martial Arts hype as seen in the Karate magazines beingflogged everywhere. These publications are replete with ads that guarantee the "Killer Touch"method of Karate. "Amaze your friends, astound your enemies" when you buy the books,videos, tapes or memberships. Become a master of all you survey for 6 easy instalments of$49.95.

Some martial arts aficionados insist that these claims are real. Perhaps people really canlevitate or disappear. Or send someone flying with a well placed thought. I've never seen it.To me it would be like believing in a secret weapon which could transform someone ordinaryinto a superman in three quick lessons. (by correspondence no less, so there must betelepathy involved as well).

As with many sports the mental aspect is crucial. Given two physically equal opponents, theone with the plan or the mental edge will prevail. The complex nature of kata force thekarateka to discipline his\her mind to control their actions. This requires introspection. Itinvolves not only the "how" of certain techniques but also the "why".

Karate training changes us because it involves more aspects than the physical. You have tothink and you have to be involved. I find it interesting that the reasons given for starting karateare often not the same reasons for keeping it up.

Why do some people quit and go to another karate school?

Answers range from a heavy academic work load, to job related time conflicts. I've heard ofrecurring injuries and an instructors negative attitude as reasons for moving or quitting. Oftenthe students' needs are not being met. A large class with too few instructors results in moretime being devoted to the beginners. Kyu belts must be involved, they get bored if they arenot challenged with new techniques or kata.

Then there are those students whose dreams aren't being realized quickly enough. It's goodto have a dream and a goal, it is another thing to expect these dreams to happenimmediately. Jumping from school to school or especially style to style to learn the "secretweapon" often leads to confusion. A half baked martial artist is no artist at all.

To learn the secret of karate or any martial art one must have persistence. Self evaluationand an open mind are a given. However the important thing is that a person get accreditedin one style first. Get a black belt, then go out and look at what interests you. There areliterally hundreds of different styles in the martial arts. Each has an individual slant on fighting,basics, kata or philosophy. My point is: a person must have a good understanding of one styleto make any sense of the others.

Karate takes a long time to learn properly. If we condense the lessons and worked every dayfor a year, the total hours would compare to a couple of years of training. It is not the samething. There is no such thing as a karate crash course. "You can't cram for a black belt".There must be a gestation period for the mind, the body and the spirit to properly learn it.

The mind first perceives the techniques and principles. The body too learns the techniqueson a deeper level. At first movements are awkward. Later movements become fluid andnatural. Later still, the body, mind and spirit work in harmony. The karateka act intuitively aswell as instinctively. Through constant practice, and the passage of time, this spontaneity ofmovement define the karatekas' own style of fighting.

Karate is a process of learning and growing. If there is a secret weapon in karate it is knowingthis well. Karate give you back what you yourself put into it tenfold.

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