PERSONAL VIEWS ON A LIFELONG QUEST
by Sensei Mark Hannah
"Way of Peace and Harmony eh? Is that what you call your karate?... Ha! Way of Peace and Harmony through punching and kicking the daylights out of people, that's more like it. Why would you name a fighting skill such as karate the Way to Peace and Harmony? A little contradictory, don't you think?"
These are the types of statements we as karateka may hear from time to time. They are made by those who have no idea as to the true Way of Karate.
To a beginner it may be all they need to hear in order to be deterred from their studies of Wado Kai, or any other traditional style of karate for that matter.
For me, it is a very sad thing to see a member of our organization pack it in under these or similar circumstances, or to see them stop their studies before having the chance to experience something that may change their lives forever.
Where did this misunderstanding of karate begin? Perhaps through the various media channels? Maybe from the public being bombarded at the movies with seeing "heros" punching, kicking and busting up bad guys. Who really knows? But somewhere down the line the art of karate has become very misunderstood.
Many people who begin to take karate lessons do it in order to learn how to protect themselves, especially after watching "a good martial arts flick". And hey, there is nothing wrong with joining up for these reasons. After all, karate is a means of self-defence and you will learn techniques that may assist you in a future street situation.
I can remember when I first started karate. I was 12 or 13 years of age. I can remember seeing a movie called "Enter the Dragon" at the cinemas and man I thought that this was nothing short of amazing.
I signed up with a beginners karate course through one of the local high schools in St. Catharines. I can remember being told beforehand, "Oh just wait. You won't stick with it. You will end up going a couple of times then you will quit."
Part way through my beginners course the instructor had been talking to us while were all standing in our lines. He told us to look around. He said that it is most probable only one of us would stick with it and attain at least a brown belt level. For some strange reason I felt back then that he was talking about me.
After this course was completed I began to look for a place to work out. A short time later I observed an ad in the Fairview Mall in St. Catharines. It explained that Wado style karate was being taught in the basement of a restaurant within the mall by a man called Sensei Masaru Shintani.
I phoned the number that was listed on the ad and before long I was working out in Sensei Shintani's dojo at the mall.
I can remember the frustration of continuously going over basic technique after basic technique. The frustration grew after I had been there a little while and was still doing basics. When was I going to learn how to successfully "Enter the Dragon"? When would I learn spinning kicks and flying kicks?
I would hear comments coming from people outside the dojo like I have mentioned at the beginning of this article. Still I stuck with it.
I can remember many occasions sitting at a table during break with other students of all ages. We would talk with and listen to Sensei Shintani. He would talk with us at great lengths. No question was a stupid question and when he spoke, you could almost hear a pin drop. It would seem that everything this man said had a special way of implanting itself inside your mind.
Throughout these years at the Fairview Mall dojo, I made a number of friends, some of whom I still work out with to this day. No doubt many of you have worked at some point with some of these people. They are people that I hold dear in my heart. I look up to them on an ongoing basis for guidance and inspiration and I have a most sincere admiration and respect for them.
Slowly I was beginning to grasp the deeper meanings of karate. At least at that time my sub-conscious was picking it up. I eventually attained my Shodan black belt ranking. This was a time of starting all over again. Now I had the difficulty of having a vague idea of the deeper meanings of karate yet I still tried to think of the whole thing as a way to better my fighting abilities.
I realize that fighting techniques are very important to us as karateka and I think I had them down rather well. However I did not have the proper mind set as to why these techniques worked and how they were working for me in many different ways.
After receiving my Nidan black belt ranking, I began to realize more and more that true karate was not just punches and good street techniques. It was starting to hit me at a more conscious level. Things were coming together.
Now as I have mentioned earlier that while progressing through the ranks I was grasping at the sub-conscious level these deeper meanings of karate. These were presented to me on the floor while working out as well as off the floor. While off of the floor, Sensei Shintani used to mention things in passing; things that at that time seemed so irrelevant to karate. But today, they are still in my mind and hold new meaning as if I have just freshly been told them.
The fact is they have always been there with me. I know this because unfortunately I was away from the dojo for a few years. My workouts were very sporadic. I would only get out every now and then when I was able to come home.
During this time and even still to this day, I have undergone some trying and traumatic times (no need to dwell here as we all have our "crosses to bear" so to speak), but it has been made so clear to me now. Throughout all my studies, learning and commitment to Wado Kai karate, I have been able to draw great strength and tenacity to see myself through everything virtually unscathed.
What I am trying to say here is that there is a learning process in karate. Some find it sooner and some find it later. The way to Peace and Harmony I feel, is most likely a life long quest; an unending flow of learning.
Karate is indeed a means of self-defence. However what I have been able to figure out thus far is that physical self-defence is a small part of the "big picture".
From what I have learned and experienced up until now, I am of the opinion that a true Wado Kai karateka is as follows:
The karateka must be pure of heart and possess the qualities of compassion and humility. They must enjoy the rewards of respecting and accepting others. The karateka must commit to the fact that each day, each mistake and each bad or embarrassing situation holds a vast amount of learning.
I feel that a true karateka believes that the term "self-defence" is a vague term; that it not only consists in a physical manner but in an array of other areas; that the karateka must be able to defend themselves against themselves.
They must deal with their own emotions and desires.
True karateka must defend themselves from the evilness of pride and the wickedness of being boastful.
Being able to bring all they have together is in my estimation essential for a true karateka.
Karate must not just be in their fists and feet but instead be in their heads, hearts, bodies and souls.
They must strive to be ever ready and relaxed at the same time.
The karateka must know that the best method of self-defence is not to fight. Therefore they will attempt to avoid the fight. They will in my opinion, concentrate on getting out of a situation while being confident that their reactions will automatically be there, should the need present itself.
They must also strive to see the beauty of all things and without letting a day go by they must continue to seek the true meaning of their art.
Once the karateka has achieved the ability to learn and understand what they have been taught, and has been able to apply this knowledge to all aspects of their life, only then can they be truly in pursuit of the "Way to Harmony".
Will they know when they have reached it? Maybe I can tell you when I get there. Until then I will be looking forward to my next new day of learning.
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