- LIFE ON THE
- Looking out
for the potholes
- In order to talk about life
on the karate road, I suppose the first question we need
to ask is, "where does the road start"?
- In my opinion it would be
fair to say, "the road begins for each student the
very moment they first seriously consider the possibility
that karate interests them".
- The reason why it interest
them does not matter.
- It is the thought that
- That singular instant when
all else is pushed to the back of their minds and they
truly entertain the idea of trying a karate class for the
very first time. This then is what I consider to be the
beginning of life on the karate road.
- Like all great journeys
this one will also have begun with what at first may seem
to be a somewhat insignificant event.
- A simple thought.
- Step two down this road
naturally enough, takes place when the prospective
student decides to do something physical in response to
what up until now, has only been a minor itch in the back
of their mind. So, putting one foot in front of the
other, this phase in their journey now finds them
standing in a local dojo putting pen to paper, and
signing up for what is often referred to as a "beginners
- Now at the start of their
journey down the do or way of
karate, it is impossible for any new student to grasp the
true depth of all that Shotokan karate has to offer. In
fact many students even after several years of training
can often see no further ahead than their next class, or
their next grading, let alone fathom all that this great
art has in store for them.
- The reasons are varied, but
I imagine that for many practioners of karate just
worrying about what they need to know at the moment, and
practicing what they have learnt in the past, is often
more than enough to keep them focused in the present, let
alone leave them any time to start thinking of what lies
ahead in the weeks, months, and even years to come.
- As with all things of
value, the true essence of Shotokan karate, or any other
style for that matter, is not something you acquire
overnight. Literally hundreds, upon hundreds of hours of
hard work, sweat, diligent effort, countless mind numbing
techniques, and yes, even pain, all lie ahead for any
student wishing to achieve more than just a superficial
understanding of what the term "proper technique"
- To be time well spent of
course, all of this time and effort must take place under
the guidance of a qualified Shotokan sensei, otherwise,
while a certain skill level may be obtained, the "art
of Shotokan" will not emerge, and in the end it is
really the "art" that we are seeking to
understand and to perfect.
- For those students,
however, who do remain long term in a proper Shotokan
dojo that is associated with, and under the guidance of a
skilled Master, then their journey down the karate road
will be an eye opening experience to say the least. By
the time they are ready to grade for the rank of Sho Dan
(1st degree black belt) you can be sure that the number
of hours they will have spent practicing will probably
have numbered into the thousands.
- Today given enough time,
perseverance, and the afore mentioned work ethic, the
average student can usually expect to rise through the
junior ranks, or "kyu belts", in about three to
four years time. The different kyu levels are themselves
distinguished from one another by the wearing of
different coloured belts. These belts are awarded to a
student from time to time in recognition of their new
found skills and continued their progress down the karate
road. Throughout their journey each student will come to
see their individual belt as a visible testament to their
skill, dedication, and personal level of success within
their dojo society. A certain pride on rising to a new
rank is inevitable, and for most students this alone is
enough to spur them on to even greater goals, a higher
standard of behaviour, and a strong desire to work even
harder in the months ahead.
- For some, however, a new
belt and a new rank strangely enough have exactly the
- The question is why?
- Not unexpectedly this most
often occurs in higher kyu ranks, especially as they get
closer, to their Shodan grading. Call it nerves, call it
burnout, call it what you will, it still never the less
occurs. But these possibilities alone are not the sole
reason, because it is not uncommon for a slide in the
quality of techniques, less time spent at class, and the
desire to come late and leave early to also occur in much
lower ranks as well.
- So why then would an
increase in rank and status have such an adverse effect
on a student?
- The answer is simple. For
the first time in their journey down the karate road the
student finally hit a pothole.
So now what?
You may find that the answer is
sometimes far less complicated than it first seems.
In most cases the proverbial
pothole is not really that deep, it just seems that way to the
student at that particular moment in their journey. More often
than not simply persevering through these difficult times will
make all the difference, and in the end the student will be much
wiser for having made the extra effort.
- Let's take Mark for example.
- Up until now things have
been going great for him. During the past year he breezed
through yellow belt grading, then his orange belt grading.
Red belt was next, and that goal he also achieved, once
again with what seemed like very little difficulty. But,
now all of a sudden, nothing Mark does in class seems to
be good enough for his Sensei. From Mark's point of view
his technique feels alright, and they look fine to him in
the mirrors, but oddly enough it seems that at every
class he attends he feels like his Sensei is forever
picking on him, correcting every aspect of his
techniques, criticizing the quality of his stances, and
generally tearing apart everything he thought he already
- Frustrated Mark now finds
himself wondering, "hey how come Diane can get it
and I can't"?
- In search of the answer
Mark tries everything he can think of. He suddenly
changes his training schedule. He arrives earlier, leaves
later, tries harder, reads more books, watches more
video, anything he can think of in the hopes that things
will improve. Such is not the case however, and for Mark
the pothole just keeps on getting deeper.
- Whether he realizes it or
not Mark is at this moment staring at the first crossroad
in his journey. He is in fact at a most dangerous place,
because for the very first time since embarking down the
karate road Mark is beginning to doubt his ability to go
any further and is quietly entertaining the thought of
- So what is Mark to do?
- For a person who has
dedicated himself to a regular training schedule over a
long period of time, under normal circumstances this
would be unthinkable. But these are not normal times.
Something is wrong and for the moment in Mark's eyes he
is stuck in a deep dark hole where everything seems
unfixable. What's worse is that for Mark there is no
clear answer is in sight. So doubts begin to creep in
where they never use to be, and the pothole for Mark once
again gets deeper.
- But like all problems there
is a solution.
- The trick is for Mark to
find it, and find it as soon as possible.
- In Mark's case everything
he has done up until now has been good enough to get him
where he is. Even his sensei has been more than satisfied.
The problem really lies not with what he has done to
date, but in Mark's failure to realize that at his new
rank what he has done in the past is no longer good
enough. If he wishes to move further down this road, and
up the kyu belt ladder, he must now take his training and
his techniques to a new level.
- In short now that Mark is a
red belt, and looking ahead to 6th kyu, his Sensei wants
more than he has been getting.
- You see each advancement in
Shotokan karate not only brings with it a wide variety of
rewards, it also brings with it a demand for even higher
expectations, something often over looked by the student.
You see from the Sensei's point of view, what was good
enough when Mark was an orange belt, is simply not going
to be good enough now that he is a red belt. What's more
if he wishes to become a green belt, Mark will find that
the "expectation meter" is going to be move
even higher. Because along with each increase in rank the
bar is always raised and a new standard of technique must
now be met.
- Something that so far Mark
has failed to grasp.
- All Mark's Sensei is doing
is simply pointing out to him in his own way, that
yesterday's gedan bari, jodan age uke, oi zuki, and gyaku
zuki are not longer an acceptable level of performance
based on where Mark now finds himself within his dojo
- Now while it is a fact that
the art of karate is taught to the student through a wide
variety of training methods intended to improve their
discipline, physical capabilities and basic techniques,
karate is also based upon the principal of self
development. The self development I am referring to must
start as, and continue to be throughout a persons martial
arts career, an internal skill. For only through
constantly improving, and perfecting one's own mental and
spiritual character, can any karate student ever hope to
improve their technical skills to the point where they
can honestly begin to understand all that Shotokan karate
has to offer.
- Passing over this pothole
and moving on down the karate road is simply a matter of
Mark coming to this realization. Given time and the
proper encouragement Mark may eventually come to this
realization on his own, if not undoubtedly his Sensei
will continue to point this fact out to him, the trick of
course is for Mark to overcome his personal doubts long
before the pothole swallows him up.
- This story I am pleased to
say does have a happy ending.
- Mark in the end figured out
that what is good enough for today is not always good
enough in the future. He did indeed go on to pass his
green belt exam, although he found it a lot harder than
his previous gradings. As it should be. So with the
crossroad and the pothole safely behind him, and with his
new rank in hand, I suspect that Mark will now be the one
pushing himself in every class.
- So for Mark and for the
rest of us life on the karate road goes on, egar to
learn, proud to succeed, we all go forward with little to
hold us back from reaching our goals.
- Except the next pothole.
- A winner
- and a
quiter never wins
- Part the
clouds - see the way.
objective of karate-do is to contribute to the evolution
- of the
human spirit through physical and mental training."