The Misperception of Karate
The idea for this article has come from some interesting situations I have been in. I truly believe the general population has some preconceived notions about what karate is and why people practice and study it. There are people that have been on the journey a long time while new comers still get drawn into its rigorous, meaningful repetitions, and self discovery. There are so many things to learn and I sometimes have to remember my journey has truly just begun. Therefore I feel I must try and break the stereotype of karate.
So my story begins with my first job after being a stay at home mom. I knew I wanted to work for the school district so I could have the same schedule as my children. I was in a classroom where most of the students were rough and in gangs, or the girls were pregnant. Anyway, I had shared with the teacher that I took karate. She was courteous and asked a few questions but never really asked about it again. Sometimes as I monitored the classroom I would find myself practicing a new hand technique or stretching my wrists. There really wasn’t anything else to do. I thought about karate. After a confrontation between 2 male students, I asked her what the procedure was if there is a fight in the portable (there’s not really a quick way out of those). She looked at me and said in a stern voice, “You can’t do karate in school!”. I chuckled because I think she firmly believed that I would break into some high flying moves to subdue a student. I don’t think she really understood I knew the limitations, but I would respond only if I felt that safety had been compromised. I let that one go. It still makes me chuckle.
At a Superbowl party in January, a commercial came on for a PG rated action movie. My good friend of many years says, “that looks like it’d be a fun movie to take the girls to”. To me the movie had a little too much violence; cars blowing up, people with guns, and fighting. Not really a movie I’d be interested in taking her to, so I responded, “I think it looks too violent”. I couldn’t believe what she said next. She said “VIOLENT! How can that be violent? Miss Black Belt Karate girl!” Needless to say I wasn’t offended with her name calling as much I was about how she believes karate is violent. I let that one go.
My last encounter was recent with someone of high education in some eastern philosophies on health and well-being. As part of our conversation I needed to share with her I practiced karate. She thought that as very interesting and unusual for a woman to practice karate. She believes it to be very aggressive and violent.
‘Huh’, I think. Then I realize it’s time to explain it to her, and I’m explaining it to everyone right now and it’s my own opinion based on my experience at this time. Karate is not violent, it is not aggressive. It is beautiful. It is practiced and learned with the principal “karate ni sente” – there is no first strike in karate. Karate gives us peace of mind, keeps us strong and able, molds us into a better person. We begin to learn to resolve conflict without the fight, we learn to be calm, we learn that things can be done a different and maybe better way, and we understand we must do these things because we know what we’re capable of. Does karate teach us to hurt other people, maybe even kill them? Yes it does. Does it teach me to go out a kick some butt because I know I can? No it doesn’t, and those who dishonor karate by using it in that way are a disgrace to themselves and their teachers. It is our obligation to keep the reasons we study karate true to ourselves and to those who gave a big part of their lives practicing these techniques to hand down to us to keep pure and honorable.
Honestly, I hope I never have to use it. Do I feel better knowing that I have a better chance of protecting myself or my children? Yes I do. I believe it is my responsibility, and the responsibility of all karateka to dispel this misconception whenever possible. It is also my responsibility to make sure I am guiding future students down an honorable road of living life in a martial way. This road develops respect, courage, being non-judgemental, calm, self satisfied, and gaining new perspective. It is not for egos. It is for a better life for yourself, those around you, and society. You alone can make a difference if you keep a straight and honest path along your journey. I won’t be easy, but it’ll be worth it.
Work Hard, Train Often, Be Happy
– Sensei Laura (A.K.A – Uma)