by Sensei Neil Prime
June, 1997

It may seem a strange and mystifying sport to the unknowing, but Karate can be invigorating to people for many different reasons. When you hear about the claims that Karate brings forth, have you ever wondered how or why people feel this about the sport?

Karate can be physically and mentally stimulating.

Karate can build self-confidence and self-control.

Karate can teach you discipline and self-defence.

Some of these declarations may seem straight-forward while others will perhaps make you wonder how.

Before I go to far into some of my personal reasoning as to how or why these declarations are true, be aware that when I make these statements I do make a point of adding the word "can". This puts a little bit of onus on the parties involved, for both instructors and students.

Building confidence seems to be very high on the list of reasons why people take karate. There are a number of ways this can be accomplished. For most of us when we start learning karate it can be rather uncomfortable performing what some may consider the most basic techniques - like a punch. Most people don't like the notion of hitting others (I hope) or especially having someone hit them, so why wouldn't this be unnatural? We first learn the very basic techniques by practising in line with imaginary opponents before we work up to practising in line with other karateka and before we even think of sparring freely.

Think about the first time your partner punched towards your face. Even though you thought you trusted your classmate to pull the technique before hitting you, it was probably very difficult not to flinch or blink or even turn away while watching that hand race speedily towards your nose. This will in time and with practice, get more comfortable as we go along.

Once we learn our distancing and learn to watch a punch we can start to learn how to safely block that technique, knowing that you have a greater chance blocking if you can see it coming, rather than having your eyes closed!

Kata is a confidence builder for very similar reasoning. In kata you perform by yourself. There is no one to pass a ball to, there is no one to set you up for the goal. You can only depend on yourself to get through it.

I personally don't remember doing kata in front of the class for the first time. Not because it was so long ago, but because my mind went completely flush. I'm told I made it through, so I take the word of my classmates as truth. I have since learned to take kata as a personal challenge. I don't know that I'll ever be totally happy with the way I perform kata, but I know that I have the confidence to get up in front of people and show them what I have learned so far. This is what is important. The fact that I am not satisfied with my personal performance of kata is like an ongoing challenge within myself. This helps drive me to continue. It also reminds us that even though we might not be perfect, people will still respect us for trying our best.

Karate can also fill us with positive stimulation by knowing that it is an individual effort. In competitive team sports some will not make the cut or end up sitting on the bench. In karate, although there is stimulation from other karateka around you, you are allowed to go at your own pace. If you do not work at 100% efficiency you are the only one it is hurting and only you can honestly determine that.

In retrospect, karate provides goals through its' ranking system. Everybody looks forward to their next rank. It's something that you earn and you are recognized for it. The ranking system is also something of a pecking order. A person with higher rank should be recognized as having more experience, therefore should also be looked up to by other karateka. However, there is also responsibility of rank. If someone of higher rank uses that stature incorrectly they will lose respect of those below them. This rule and structure is applied everywhere in life and if you learn to relate the two then respect becomes mutual.

Maturing your thought process through karate can be a humbling experience, especially for those who may be a little over-assertive when first beginning. I can't keep track of the number of times I have seen 2 karateka square off in kumite with the larger (ego) of the 2 thinking about victory before the match has begun. Suddenly they find themselves sitting at the side of the ring watching that opponent spar in the next round of competition. Remember, confidence is good, over confidence can be dangerous.

Karate may also aid in school or work. Focusing on technique, especially while doing kata, can be painfully hard at times. Keeping in a low stance and punching and kicking at imaginary opponents requires imagination and concentration. Some people have a hard time concentrating on getting through a 1 hour class when they first start karate. This can be especially difficult for some of the younger karateka. Many experts in the field of child psychiatry will attest that the martial arts have been linked to better grades in school as a result of a longer attention span developed through these exercises.

When you add up the benefits that karate can bring you can see karate can be very positive. Karate is unlike the misconceptions derived from the film and entertainment industry that tends to portray the combat aspect of the art for the purpose of theatrical glamour and showmanship (eg. No holds barred competitions). In most cases these examples only fuel the fire as to why people should avoid the martial arts.

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