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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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The Joy of Karate Training
by Mireille Clark

My Sensei once remarked to me that I had found the elixir of youth when I started training in karate. He noticed that as soon as I entered the dojo he would see 30 years just disappear off of me, and a little girl masquerading as a 40 year old would skip joyfully into the dojo. He was correct with his assessment, I had found an activity that spoke to every part of me, and fulfilled my desires.

I loved learning new things, and in karate there is always something new to learn. There is always a special look that a Sensei will get on their face when they are about to teach you something. First, there is that gauging look of “hmmm... yep.. I believe that she’s ready to learn this”, and then that wonderful look of “Yes.. I will reveal this to her.” I always get a little thrill deep inside me at the thought that I’m ready to learn something in addition to what I’ve been working on. To me, this means that I have internalized, and achieved something in my efforts to understand the previous stage, and I feel anticipatory happiness at the thought that I have another challenge now awaiting me. I remember this one moment when Sensei was teaching me about my kata. He stopped my performance at a certain point, and started explaining the application of that movement to me. My mental excitement at learning this information translated into a quick little bopping movement of my body. I was totally unaware that I was pretty much hopping up and down as I was intently listening to Sensei’s explanations until he stopped explaining, looked at me in confusion, and asked “What are you doing?” I suddenly realized what was happening, and why.. and I must have blushed a good rainbow of colors in embarrassment. The quizzical look that Sensei gave me, and the shake of his head just accented the moment.

I learn about my strengths and weaknesses, and the revelation never fails to bring me happiness. I surprise myself at being able to do things that I never thought that I would be able to do. There is an intense joy when one keeps struggling with a difficult move with that inner persistence of “never giving up no matter what”, and finally achieving the goal.

This reminds me of a moment when I fought with myself to learn how to turn a certain way in my kata. I would try to keep my balance, and yet achieve the right momentum. Each time I turned, I felt the frustration that my body wasn’t working together as a unit. I would give myself permission to make mistakes, because that is how one learns. Already being able to do something well is knowledge acquired, being a learning student is accepting that you will be making mistakes, and gaining experience from the struggles to fix the errors. Again and again, I fought to get that turn to happen the way that I’ve seen it demonstrated. Sensei was standing off in the corner of the room watching the class. It didn’t appear like he was watching me at all. I kept patiently working on this one turn. I took it as a challenge that if this is the ONLY success that I achieve in this class, then I will be happy. Finally, I turned, and everything went smoothly into place. I felt a surge of elation within me! Suddenly I heard a loud “YES!” explode from Sensei. I looked at him to see the same joy that I was feeling within me mirrored in his face as he smiled at me.

There is a special satisfaction, and happiness that happens when I can share what I have acquired through my own efforts with someone else, and help them on their path of training. Those special moments when someone turns to me and says “What is this? How do you do that? Can you help me?” I just love to see their look of confusion turn into the same joyful feeling of understanding, and confidence that I have in me. The fact that I have helped them walk one more step on their path fills me with a deep sense of achievement.

I believe that my joy comes from being able to enjoy each moment of karate with the same intensity. I’m just as happy doing push ups as I am kicking back and forth in the dojo, or doing kata, or sparring. I feel that each part of my training is a gift to me. I can work on improving every aspect of myself: my physical, mental, and spiritual self. I am always challenged as I train. This what must be meant by training with a beginner’s mind... to be able to accept everything as a new challenge, and to appreciate it fully for the moment that you are doing it. Ever since I started karate I was encouraged to leave all of my worries, concerns, anticipations aside, and to learn from each moment, from each person that I come across. This reminds me of something that I had read in Dr. Wayne Dyer’s book “The Sky’s the Limit.” about achieving this kind of present moment centered concentration, and how it will bring one to joy:

Abraham Maslow described the Japanese Zen-based culture as far more highly evolved in the art of present-moment living than Western cultures. He used the Japanese word Muga to describe total present-moment awareness, and he has defined Muga in this way:

"This [muga] is the state in which you are doing whatever you are doing with a total wholeheartedness, without thinking of anything else, without any hesitation, without any criticism or doubt or inhibition of any kind whatsoever. It is a pure and perfect and total spontaneous acting without any blocks of any kind. This is possible only when the self is transcended or forgotten.” (Maslow, The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, Viking press, 1971) p. 243)

Achieving a Muga state in any human activity will provide you with a level of internal peace and personal satisfaction you may never have experienced before. If you can learn to concentrate all your present thought on a tennis match, a long-distance run, a sexual experience, a concert, a creative undertaking, or your life’s work, you will find yourself experiencing a joy, an ecstasy (“standing outside yourself”) that you may never have imagined possible.” (Dr. Wayne Dyer, The Sky’s the Limit, Pocket Books New York, 1980, p. 25)

I’d have to say that my “elixir of youth” is exactly the above “muga” attitude. I walk into the dojo with no expectations other than I’m going to enjoy this class as if it is the very last one that I’ll be able to train in. I enjoy every moment for what it is, and I accept every challenge placed before me as an opportunity to improve, and learn. Every class I walk out with gratitude for what I have received from my Sensei, for what I have achieved, and a feeling of satisfaction that I have done my best today. Yes.. I can confidently say that I have learned to live the joy of training in karate.