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Shotokan Karate's Guide to Life

Shotokan Karate’s Guide to Life

White streaks surround me on all sides, striking as lightning at shadow targets at the left, the right, moving with an unsurpassed intensity to reach an undetectable target. My hands move instantly to the beat of an unheard drum to dodge an incoming rocket. Bullets fly at me from the front; I twist and the bullets are replaced by fists. The rocket becomes a leg, hurled at me from a shape in a white uniform. The shape comes into focus as I plant my feet to reveal a smiling face. “Good block,” I hear as I recover from my stance and look ahead. A feeling of elation spreads through me as I realize how glad I am to have made it to karate training on Thursday!

Shotokan Karate

Started in the 1930’s by Gichin Funakoshi, Shotokan karate has become one of the most recognized and popular martial arts in the world, combining characteristics of its predecessors to create a system which emphasizes balance and self-defense. The true lessons of the art, however, stretch far beyond the realm of the dojo and are not limited to the physical training each karate-ka endures; the guiding principles, or tenets, of Shotokan karate, which are repeated at the conclusion of each training, are the true keepsakes. For the fifteen years that I have recited those five phrases, they have helped me to transcend the drilling of stances, punches, and blocks and develop myself mentally, emotionally, and spiritually after the training has come to an end.

The first, and arguably most important of these principles, urges everyone to seek perfection of character. Undeniably a worthy prospect, the search for betterment usually gets lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, work, kids, and occupations you can find out more. People forget to find ways to develop, to become better, and eventually stop growing. In this sense, this tenet provides a constant purpose, a consistent quest to simply improve a little bit each day. It is not meant to make grand claims that those who study karate are better people for it; in fact, many of them have simply found out how to beat someone up correctly, but those who take this principle to heart learn to make little changes that have an enormous positive contribution in their lives. Whether it is simply holding back an angry word or being more courteous to strangers, seeking perfection of character can make a big difference in one’s life.

The second principle argues for being faithful. This can mean a multitude of different things to different people, but whether it is remaining loyal to one’s friends, standing up for what one believes in, or simply finding a spiritual path, it is an important lesson. Everyone needs faith in their life, and it can show itself in myriad ways. A person does not have to go to church every Sunday to be faithful if he remains a devoted friend, but karate argues for people to develop each aspect of their faith in the hopes that it will help them to lead a better life.

The third principle is only one word: endeavor. This is my favorite tenet of Shotokan karate because it just urges people to try. Karate has been said to be a study that takes several lifetimes to complete because one never stops learning; however, it is most important to simply try one’s best and keep an open mind, perhaps be open to new experiences and welcome these pursuits into one’s life. Argued for inside the dojo to new trainees, this principle stretches far beyond to encourage people to live more interesting and exciting lives.

The fourth and fifth principles for me go hand-in-hand because they advocate respecting others and refraining from violent behavior; this is the Golden Rule at its finest. Respecting others through bowing inside the dojo transcends to being kind to people outside of it. By learning how to punch and kick, one actually learns that violence is a last resort in any situation, that it is always better to walk away.

These five phrases are by no means a guiding force for each individual. They are in no way a perfect prescription for leading an amazing life; however, they can be guidelines that help those who know them to become better people and develop themselves. Karate does not have to be just about punching and blocking. It can be another way that people learn and grow.