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Karate Does Not Teach Violence

Master Richard Leasure


             Karate is widely known as the art of self-defense. The world over, people believe that karate is a program of violence and evil. The true endeavor of karate in modern practice is to develop a spiritual awareness that is only found by exploring the complete functions of the mind, body, and spirit.

            It is true that in the earliest uses of martial arts the primary focus of training was to learn to kill an enemy while reducing personal risk. After the feudal periods of Japan and China new motivation for studying the ancient arts developed. Civilized people no longer found it acceptable to search out and kill an enemy. More refined pursuits became necessary for men to resolve differences. The addition of do, meaning way or path became part of the terms for the martial arts. Therefore karate became Karate-do. This simple addition changed the entire meaning of karate. No longer acceptable as a method of killing and destroying, karate became a never-ending search for a New Harmony . The circle of Mind, Body, and Spirit became the new embodiment of the arts True self-defense is a variety of skills both physical and mental. Masters recognize the need for protection and develop the skills of self-defense. However, people of good character must also seek higher virtues. Humility and respect will give an individual the advantage of spiritual enlightenment. Self-defense includes the honor and goodwill we bring to those around us. This focus has changed the nature of karate forever.

In modern society, training in the arts brings many positive benefits to the student practitioner. Practice of the martial arts requires the student to have strong, muscles, fast reflexes, and superior coordination. A progressive training program encourages the body’s natural propensity toward fitness. Through physical training the student learns about self-discipline. The training is difiicult. Each student will have to recognize his/her limits and learn to overcome them. In this manner, the student is exposed to the ideals of growth not only in the arts but also as a total person.

            The physical aspects of the training are competitive. Stress helps people to achieve new goals. Without the possibility of failure there is no success. The competitive nature of the arts is beneficial to the student. The observer of karate practices must look for the deeper meaning. Grandmaster Nakayama, the first student of Gichin Funochoshi, the founder of modern karate says,

Deciding who is the winner and who is the loser is not the ultimate objective. Karate-do is a martial art for the development of character through training, so that the karateka can surmount any obstacle, tangible or intangible. – M. Nakayama, (Best Karate)


Mental discipline is also important to the karate student. The martial arts are complex. Within the many levels of karate training are hundreds of techniques and applications that are studied by the student and required for mastery of the art. Training to advanced levels requires superior mental discipline. Many patterns exist for the student to understand and adapt to his/her own personal goals. A primary example of the dynamics of karate training and a performance of the student’s skill exists in Kata. Kata are a series of self-defense movements that are specifically arranged to demonstrate and train students in self-defense applications. Often advanced Kata are difficult and lengthy. It takes many months for a student to learn each one and countless hours of practice to achieve skill in Kata performance. Additionally, within each Kata abides a true-life moral. The lessons students learn from Kata help begin to shape their character and teach students about the world in which they live.

Training in Kata is spiritual as well as physical. In his performance of the Kata, the karateka should exhibit boldness and confidence, but also humility, gentleness, and a sense of decorum, thus integrating mind and body in a singular discipline. As Gichin Funakoshi often reminded his students, “The spirit of karate-do is lost without courtesy.” M. Nakayama, Best Karate


The final area a student notices benefit is in the spiritual. Character development is a major focus of the Do arts. The way of the warrior is no longer to fight enemies form the outside. Now it is the focus to master oneself. This can only be accomplished by seeking the harmony between God, Creation, and Self.

When a demonstrator was in the first place capable of putting himself in “the state of grace” essential to the sincere execution of the Kata – almost as in the delivery of prayer – the effective presentation of the successive forms was nothing more than a question of application and of time. When, on the contrary, he applied himself only to detail without the determination to identify himself with the whole, then the form escaped him and the Kata was no more than a pale reflection without truth or depth.- M. Kawaishi, The Complete Seven Katas of Judo

             A true martial arts master seeks to understand the universe and his place with it. This pursuit will be the journey of the lifetime. The end result is the attainment of enlightenment that gives value and purpose to life. It is the understanding of creation and our life’s interaction with it that is the ultimate focus of the martial arts. In the understanding of our environment the students can focus their energies on the values that will benefit themselves and the people around them. In this manner the student of the martial arts is able to make the world a better place by becoming a positive influence on those who share is existence in creation.

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