Sort your own garden first
I spoke in a previous article about the role of kata in my life. I explained how my relationship with kata has evolved over the years, but upon reflection – through the process of writing the article – I actually feel my relationship with karate has also evolved.
I started karate as a pup, but unlike many karateka who have lasted the test of teenage years, girlfriends, alcohol and sex, I cannot honestly say that karate has been natural with me. I would love to say that from my first moment upon the dojo floor, I fell in love with the art and never looked back, but I would be telling a big lie that too many people could disprove. In fact, I would say that my relationship with karate has been a tumultuous one.
When I was a child, I started karate because of my cousin Sarah. Then I coasted and floated along for a bit, hating training, but as I had gone through a number of grades, my parents pushed me to stick with it and not give up. I was never a ‘natural’ talent however. In fact, I would go as far as to say that as a child at six or seven, the seniors in the class – who I am still friends with years on – have commented that they never thought I would stick with karate.
Then at some point in my very early teens, something just ‘clicked’. I must have been twelve or thirteen, and I developed a real thirst for improvement. I remember looking at a kid – Gavin, (one of Sensei Mike O’Brien’s students) a reigning champion who had beaten me, and deciding that I would beat him. Truth is, I never actually had the chance to compete against him a second time as he stopped training like so many of my peers at the time, but I remember beating him being my goal.
Karate then from fourteen onwards became very much central to my life, with competition and all its excitement becoming key. Therefore during this early stage of my life and karate career, karate went from being a ‘pain in the ass’ to being ‘central in my life’. One thing that remained unchanged however was how superficially I was training. Initially as a kid I was training to grade. Then later on I was training to compete.
At eighteen, I left home and decided to start travelling the UK, following Sensei Hazard and training with a vast array of other karateka. During this phase of my life, my relationship with karate changed immensely. I went from competing regularly, thriving off the thrill and/or disappointment of the podium result – to all of a sudden becoming a nomadic karateka, training simply for the love of learning. It was at this stage that the superficiality of my youth was replaced with me delving wholeheartedly into the profound pools of serious karate. Under the tutelage of Sensei Hazard, karate became about – without sounding corny or cliché - ‘Life and Death’. I wasn’t learning to fight for points, but to defend myself against real nasty, spiteful bastards. Partnering up with the toughies of each dojo around the UK, for example, forced me to evolve. Getting hit wasn’t the difference between losing a point or winning a point any longer, but the difference between cracked ribs or safety. The shift was immense.
In a long winded way, I have tried above to simply explain the way that karate has evolved in my life, and how now – karate is about life and death. It is about the reality of conflict – which is cruel, vicious, and terrifying. This is karate to me.
Others however, do not share the same outlook.
Over the years, I have racked up some wonderful friends - and a few enemies too it must be said – in the world of the Martial Arts. The truth is however that not all of them follow karate for the same reasons as me, and/or want to train in the same way as me.
Some of my good karate friends are involved heavily, and to a huge extent solely, within the sport aspect of the art. Their ultimate goal for themselves and/or their students is to attend every competition in the UK and Europe, win medals and get their names and faces in the newspaper the following month.
With regards to these people, many I know – including myself perhaps during my more narrow minded times – would criticize these people for bastardizing the art, exploiting it for materialistic gains, and consequently damaging the value and reputation of the art.
Ultimately however, maybe I have matured, but I now look around and think ‘who gives a toss’.
Karate does, and should mean different things to different people. Furthermore, everyone has the right to pursue karate in the way they feel is best for them. So what if someone wants their dojo to follow a sporting direction – if it doesn’t hurt me, why should I care?
If we are truthful, people practice karate for a wide array of reasons. I often teach at other dojos as a guest instructor, and members within the dojo may be there because they want their karate to be about ‘life and death’ – something I can empathise and relate to. Others perhaps want to develop physical strength. Others want to lose weight, while others may want to compete and get their face on a podium.
We are all different. When I teach for other instructors, I tend to suss out who I am teaching for, and whilst I will always be ‘me’ and teach accordingly, if I am teaching for more competitive groups, then my teaching will reflect that.
I just think – due to the divide between sport and tradition especially – people have become so cynical. Are we just too narrow minded?
In my eyes, karate is about self-fulfilment. You are trying to achieve something, and that ‘something’ will be different depending on who you are, where you are from, the background from which you have come etc. We are a product of our environment and background.
Therefore, I feel we should be allowed to pursue and view karate as we see fit. For example, there are many organisations that are top heavy on the kihon focus. Their training is all about basics, and getting their basics aesthetically perfect is their goal. SO WHAT? I hear so many bitching and complaining that what they practice is ‘shit’ and that they can’t fight etc…Who cares? I don’t. If that is their focus, if that is what they are interested in, then why should I care?
I never look over my garden wall and criticize my neighbor for how they have designed their garden. It’s their garden; let them do as they want.
This article – as you can possibly tell – is a rant. It is a rant as a consequence of a frustrating conversation I had recently with a staunch traditionalist. Don’t get me wrong, if I was forced to label karate ‘traditional’ which I hate doing, then I would sit within that category. Ultimately however, I have evolved in my karate and my mindset to the point that I no longer care what others are doing, provided they don’t negatively affect me.
So I say – live and let live, and sort your own garden before winging about someone else’s.