You need all three to complete the circle
As a martial art Shotokan karate has few peers.
At the core of this style of karate lies a specific concept that is best expressed in the words of the Founder of Shotokan karate, Sensei Gichin Funakoshi, and they were, "karate ni sente nashi" or "there is no first strike in karate".
Shotokan karate is, therefore, in essence, a system of self defence that predisposes that the best course of action is a defensive one backed up when necessary by a very long list of powerful offensive techniques. This underlying belief is visible in all of the katas practiced within the Shotokan karate system, in that each kata regardless of it's seniority or complexity, begins with a defensive technique, thereby remaining true to the concept of "no first strike".
But what if there were no battles to fight? No need for offensive techniques? What if the whole world and all of mankind was at peace, what then? Would Shotokan or any other style of karate still be worth training?
In truth most quarrels would never degenerate into physical confrontation if both sides kept mutual courtesy and respect at the fore front of their agenda, but as history has shown us these two values are usually amongst the first casualties of any disagreement, followed very closely by a total lack of self discipline.
Would the world be free of conflict if everyone was a student of Shotokan karate, a nice thought, but not likely. Human nature being what it is, and man's deep seeded desire for individual control of every thing around him, makes that dream a fairy tale. In truth man lacks the one thing he needs to live in a peaceful world - total self discipline. As long as emotions rule any agenda, and they usually do, then self discipline will remain a lost cause.
So what is the answer to the question I asked a moment ago, "what if there were no battles to fight would Shotokan karate still be worth training"?
For me the answer is an unqualified, yes.
The reason is, and I am speaking strictly for my self here, for me in the end the real by-product of all my karate training has been a personal journey of self improvement. It has never been about being the fastest, the strongest, or the flashiest, or even the best. I realized very early on in my training that besides giving me skills that I could not have obtained anywhere else, karate and all the positive tenants that it espouses had slowly crept in and effected every aspect of my life, and always in a positive way.
What they say about karate building a persons character is true, something even Sensei Gichin Funakoshi believed to the point that he engrained this very concept into his dojo kun stating, "seek perfection of character". Today in a modern world of fast everything, and a growing, "I want it now" attitude amongst many young people, you would think that there would be little room for an ancient art form in which it takes most students years just to begin to truly comprehend all of the basic fundamentals.
Yet today Shotokan karate is stronger than ever before.
Each day around the world millions of students, young and old, proud and meek, fit and not so fit, enter a dojo to train in Shotokan karate. The reasons why they come to the dojo to train is not so important. That they do come to train is all that really matters. The goal of the Sensei then is to not let the student down by failing to deliver what it is they come for in the first place, even if they themselves are not really sure what it is that keeps them coming back to class again and again. Like a magician the Sensei must always keep the students interested in what is going on around them, entertaining them, teaching them, and all the while pushing them to new physical and mental limits that they would never ever reach on their own. If the Sensei can do that, if he can hold their interest and keep them training long enough, they just may make sufficient headway through Shotokan's labyrinth to finally see some "light at the end of the tunnel" and in time ultimately walk into that light and find that they are forever changed for the better, just for having made the journey.
To do this, however, they must at some point in their journey down the karate road first embrace what I call the "triangle".
The triangle as the name implies is comprised of three parts and in a specific order.
They are:
Your physical self
So where does one start. How do we go about making ourselves better students and better people through karate.
The first step is to start by training the body to accept the rigors of the art by strengthening and toughening the body through the use of good basic techniques. These are for both the upper and lower body and comprise amongst other things, low stances, strong blocks, a wide variety of kicks, and several different and powerful methods of striking with both open, and closed hands. Continual progress in this part of your karate training can only be achieved by attending class on a regular basis. At least three nights a week, any less and you will be hard pressed to hang on to what you have already been taught, let alone progress any further or with any reasonable expectation of success.
You can, and should, expect the training to be physically demanding at times, since practice drills up and down the dojo floor can cause even the strongest person in the dojo to look at their physical capacity in a new light. And there are times when you will be pushed even to the point of considering quitting. But you must not. You must percevier. If you do then each class will only make you stronger, and if you stay with Shotokan karate long enough you will start to find that while the defensive and offensive techniques are obviously a vital part this martial art, they will in fact begin to take a back seat to other aspects of your training.
Your mental self
As in life, everything you do in karate should be based on a desire to grow and develop in a positive manner.
In this a good Sensei and a good dojo will prove invaluable. None of us can grow without good leadership, positive direction, good companionship, and yes at times even harsh constructive criticism. All throughout our lives it is natural for us as human beings to look to others to evaluate our progress, and to advise us on the best course of action, always bearing in mind our ultimate goal amongst other things must always be self improvement. None of us is perfect. Our flaws are both natural as well as self made. But what you must remember is that perfection of character has little to do with just physical ability. Not all students are physically gifted. Yet often a student who finds themselves behind other students in style and technique, may find that they are well ahead of their peers in other things that are equally important, such as self discipline and mental toughness.
The next step in the triangle, therefore, is to use the drive and determination that you have developed through this physical process to help you create a strong, positive mental attitude. To recognize that the body alone can not make a technique work. In karate as in many other things, it takes a body and a mind working in perfect harmony to perform any task or technique as it was meant to be properly done. But how do you train the mind? It takes a two stages. The first is a willingness to do the work that is asked of you in class, that is the easy part. The second, and most difficult part is a willingness to suffer for five seconds longer, three seconds longer, one second longer, than you ever thought you possibly could, when at that moment in time all you want to do is stand up and give your legs a rest, or drop your arms because your shoulders are killing you. In those five, three, or even one second your mind grows in strength and with it so does your physical abilities. Trust me it is a lot harder than it sounds.
Your spiritual self
And lastly we come to your spirit.
Both of the previous requirements pale beside the need for a strong spirit. It has been said that when the body fails, the mind takes over, and when the mind fails, the spirit takes over. In karate this is indeed the truth. The spirit that an individual student or group of students put into their basics, their kata, and especially their grading, will count for far more than everything else.
Techniques may grow tired, the mind may wander, and both of these things can be overlooked and even forgiven, but if everything you do does not include a strong spirit, then you have already failed. Remember, any effort that lacks true spirit when it is called for, is in reality a waste of everything. So go to class often, train hard, sweat, kiai, punch, kick, even scream if you like, but always pack your spirit in your gi bag when leave home, and never, ever, be the first person in class to give up on what you are doing, or on yourself.
Success in karate and in life is never guaranteed to anyone, but if you have all three points of the triangle working for you in harmony then I am willing to bet that your chances are far greater than they would be if you only had two out of three.
In karate-do nothing comes to he who waits,
but nothing is with held from those who pratice.
Part the clouds - see the way.
"The objective of karate-do is to contribute to the evolution
of the human spirit through physical and mental training."
Sensei Peter Lindsay