The Essence of Karate
by Nestor Komar

As I was reading Sensei Shigeru Egami's book "The Way of Karate", my intention was simply to write a book review but I was struck by a number of fascinating passages which inspired me to write this article.

When we train from week to week to fight and prepare to compete in regional competitions, Shigeru suggests that we should stop thinking about winning matches. There are no winners or losers in any pairing of opponents, according to him, and we must seek to understand our opponents in order to co-exist with them. When we understand them, we will flow with them in harmony and will therefore be able to block their attacks more successfully.

He takes this philosophy (from his Sensei Funakoshi) one step further by stating that one should not raise their hand first against a (real) opponent but should block his attack. If the attack continues then "take a stance that will clearly show that it would be best for him to stop". This attitude can only be put to practice after becoming proficient in the art of karate.

The essence of karate is to be humble and not to be arrogant. Yet, we encounter very often in tournaments many a karate practitioner who openly displays arrogance, pride and lack of humility. This goes against Sensei Funakoshi's tenet of courtesy. To be humble and courteous are not a sign of weakness, they are signs of a more complete person, one who is at peace with himself. Anyone who is puffed up with pride hides an inner weakness.

One needs only to examine our own club to see that our senseis are living this essence of karate. No one can dispute their innate and learned abilities, but their collective experiences have gone further. One does not see that vain display of arrogance stemming from technical superiority in class. The senseis know that "the strong hawk hides its talons". They do not boast of their abilities but are always eager to share what they know and are the first to admit what they do not know.

Sensei Egami discusses the concept of courtesy and humility by examining the word rei. It has a number of meanings from a salutation to etiquette to courtesy to politeness. He states that every class and every kata begins and ends with rei, the bow. The person who masters the bow in effect has mastered the art of karate. It must be "neither arrogant nor servile". "Without sincerity, the bow is meaningless. Rather than be concerned about it's outwardly appearance, put your heart and soul into the bow; then it will naturally take on a good shape." Ironically, we are currently focusing some of our time in class learning to perform a better bow. Perhaps if we put more of our heart into the act, it will look better because we are sincere about it.

Sensei Egami also describes the practice of a difficult maneuver. Initially the karateka may say that the move is impossible to do successfully. His reply to this is that your ego is getting in the way of learning that new maneuver. It is your selfishness and your ego that denies you any chance of success. This is a lesson to be learned and adapted to our daily lives.

Only by humility, selflessness and sincerity can we create a harmony between our body and our soul. The sensei stresses that when that harmony is reached then you will have great power because power does not come from the body our arms and our legs but from the "complete harmony between body and soul." This is the true essence of karate.

In the course of our day to day actions we would be much easier to get along with if we discarded the self-centered practices which are the norm in today's society. If everyone treated one another with respect and sincerity we could create a more powerful force for good in our world.

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