A plaque hung upon the Dojo wall “Karate is a Lifelong Battle, You Verses Yourself, There is No One Else”. The words were there for all who entered to take in and learn from. I always found this to be a sentiment that was both inspiring and kind of a reminder that I could neither rely on or blame anyone else for my shortcomings. Be it not turning up to the Dojo regularly, the same for putting little effort in and being lazy. I certainly couldn’t blame anyone else for my poor performances of technique or Kata, plus any flaws in character were my very own too. Yes, all the challenges and battles to be faced whilst studying Karate and in life itself were personal ones that lay firmly at my own feet, so if I wished to fully understand both this Art and myself then I really had to give it my all or nothing…
Selfishness is not a good trait to have in life, with giving something back being a good way of understanding Budo a little deeper. However, I do feel that many Karate Ka these days have lost sight of one of the most basic founding fundamental concepts of the Martial Arts, which is to improve on and understand ones very own shortcomings first. For many though Karate has become just a group activity whereby training is mainly done when in the comfort of being surrounded by others, or/and there is way too much concentration on what others are doing. There is also much focus on teaching and talking so called good Karate instead of time better spent deeply studying and practising regularly and hard in a physical way alone.
So, is Karate then just a solo pursuit? Certainly not! You need a Sensei of deep understanding to both guide you and keep you level headed, just as much as you need to be a part of a good Dojo that surrounds you with serious likeminded training partners of worth. Of course you do!! What I have learned over the years though is that the most singular component that separates the deeper understanding Karate Ka with ability in comparison to the norm or average, is their aptitude to practise and train regularly alone. For me personally it is this single factor that will set you on your way to achieving the higher levels and gaining the most rewards from practising the Art of Karate. There is a famous saying by the renowned Karate teacher Choki Motobu “There are No Karate Men on Okinawa who do not use the Makiwara” but more similar and what many forget is this “There are No Karate men on Okinawa who do not practise regularly alone”.
I constantly drill home to students the message that they must always take responsibility for their own Karate, with training alone regularly being a must. And all for good reason, but primarily it shows maturity. Your wise old father or Sensei is there to help you and offer guidance regardless of age or years of training. However, there should be no holding the hands of adults when it comes to Karate. How can Karate be your own if you’re not training alone? You may recall and know Andy Whitehouse, a student, friend and Dan grade Karate Ka who has accompanied myself to Okinawa on many occasions, including last year in February and November too. Anyway, a couple of weeks ago now he was involved in an unprovoked and unexpected confrontation.
Andy parked his motorcycle outside the local supermarket just has he’d done on many occasions before, he’d grabbed a few items, then stood there patiently in the queue waiting to be served. As he looks up he starts to watch the events on the screen and cctv footage that are playing out in front of him. A group have surrounded his motorcycle and are now trying to start/steal it. Realising this he puts his grocery items down and runs out of the doors and the front of the store. Shouting “Oiiiiiii”… The group startled but then opened up. Now, this is where most don’t understand confrontation and inner-city rules. Rational thinking would make you think that these idiots had been caught up to no good, they were also identifiable being on cctv. So of course, they would now back off and move on to get up to no good somewhere else!? No No No! It doesn’t work like that, it’s as much about front as it is saving face.
“What the F— are you going to do about it”!? Came the shout. With that two of them picked up a shopping trolley and threw it through the air just missing Andy’s head as he moved to the side. This is where your head and heart go into overdrive. You have two choices, you stand your ground and if needs be fight, or you back well off and seek safety even if you must lose face. You have to weigh things up quickly as in seconds, either way there isn’t always a right or wrong decision as a pack like this can kill you in an instant. The daily murders and stabbings presently going on in the inner cities of the U.K. needs no introduction here…
The cctv footage shows that there were more than a dozen of them ranging from teenagers to early twenties. Andy is now surrounded by the looks of about eight of them who are after his blood. The first one comes in so Andy takes the initiative and hits him straight on the jaw. He goes down… But, now they all wade in with force… What now happens is a trade-off of blows, 1 against 8. Then 1 against 4 as they start to back off and retreat, it’s surprising what happens when people get hit back.
Now, I could go into more detail on things but that’s not my intentions here. The point being is that when it comes to it you really do have to fight your battles alone. Because, despite there being lots of people around do you know how many people came to help him out? You’ve got it, None!! Oh, and the police were called immediately but took over 30 minutes to arrive so they were no help either.
Do you know what saved him from both serious injury and defeat? The understanding that battles at times have to be faced alone. Whilst then having the ability to dig in deep and stand his ground alone under stress and punishment. To keep moving forward and push through all that is thrown at you. All being achieved through regular hard Karate training that is not reliant on others or talk.
Please do not think that I tell you this to boast, far from it in fact. My point is that when it comes down to it the battles to be faced within Karate are always your very own. And as I told Andy it’s a good job he didn’t go down or that one of them was harmed. But he did ok, and before you all ask, apart from a broken and blooded nose and a few bruises he’s fine. Nothing worse than he hasn’t received before in the Dojo I’m sure…