KARATE-DO: From Perception to Path

There’s a famous Indian parable that made its way to Japan in the 11th century:

A group of six blind men heard that a strange animal, called an elephant, had been brought to the town. Unfamiliar with its shape or form, they said: “We must inspect and know it by touch….” When they found the beast, the first man placed his hand on its trunk and said, “this is a thick snake.” A second reached for an ear and announced, “it’s a fan”, while a third felt its leg and described it as a “tree trunk.” Resting his hand on the animal’s side, a fourth man announced, “the elephant is a wall”, while a fifth pronounced it “a rope” as he stroked its tail.  Finally, touching the tusk, the sixth man said “it’s a spear or a musical instrument like a trumpet.”

Perception shapes our view of the world and for karate-ka, influences how we see our practice. Is it a martial art or vehicle for personal discovery and development?  Should it be categorized as a physical, mental, spiritual or social discipline?

As we shift from perception to “path” (do), Karate-do is often all-of-the-above:

Physical – junbi-undo (warm-up and conditioning exercises), kihon (basics), kata (forms), kumite (sparring) and other elements of Karate-do practice can improve your fitness level, boost the immune system and deliver significant health benefits and when coupled with better lifestyle choices, enrich your quality of life.

Mental – in addition to the joy and excitement of learning a new skill, Karate-do training helps practitioners manage stress, reducing cortisol production (associated with increased risk for dementia), lessening atrophy in the hippocampus, and strengthening the brain’s protective tissues.  Furthermore, as we age, experts recommend participating in activities that incorporate repetition and memorization drills to enhance cognitive performance.

Spiritual- Karate-do is regarded as a form of moving meditation.  By quieting the mind, karate-ka can increase cortical thickness and grey matter…and keep their brains young.  On a deeper, more divine level, human beings need to develop inner wisdom and create a personal path toward self-discovery.   Once we embark on this journey, Karate-do can be a powerful spiritual resource.

Social – as a home away from home, the Karate dojo epitomizes community.  Spending time with like-minded individuals affords a sense of belonging and purpose shared with a second family who will sweat, cry, laugh and celebrate with you every day.

Like a blind seeker, the new Karate-do student reaches out to embrace the unknown, challenging their perceptions and in the process, embarking on a journey of self-discovery. Where it leads is largely up to the individual.

‘We must make the decisions and choices that enable us to fulfill the deepest capacities of our real selves.’ – Rev. Thomas Merton

‘Our choices come from within. Do not seek it without.’ – Siddhārtha Gautama, a.k.a. the Buddha.

‘What you seek, you will find.’ – Cezar Borkowski