This question seems like a very innocent and fun type of question to try and answer but the truth is that it is not an easy question to answer at all.
“What is karate really all about?”
Is it about learning some punches, kicks and blocks? Is it about memorizing endless forms? Is it about self-defense? Is it about health and fitness? How about making friends and socializing? What about all of those buzzwords such as self-discipline, self-confidence, self-control, self-esteem and all of those other ‘self’ prefixes that cater to our already aggrandized egos?
Some of us have already done our research on this topic to find out what karate is all about and we have found many answers. Conventional martial arts wisdom tells us that karate is about perfecting our character, being truthful and honest, never giving up, building strong spirit, trying our best at all times, adhering to strict discipline and etiquette, following “the path” or “the Way”, and reaching our potential in life.
I can guarantee that if I put this question to a room full of students that all of the above answers will be suggested and probably some more in addition.
The point of this somewhat long-winded introduction to this article is that karate is about all of the above and none of the above and it all depends on who you are talking to. The problem however is that the difference between most people’s words and actions can be quite great. For example, saying that karate is about focus and discipline and then demonstrating weak technique and bad manners while being easily distracted tells me that someone isn’t really being honest. Saying that karate is about health and fitness and then driving straight to McDonalds after class for a Big Mac meal with extra fries might not qualify you as painting that picture. And by the way, I’m not exempt from all of this hypocrisy as I’m a proponent of it too and have eaten fast food after class on more than one occasion!
So “what is karate really all about?” I’d say it’s all about YOU and it’s all about what YOU make of it. You can make it a fun and challenging hobby and family activity by participating with your family members. You can make it a really worthwhile physical activity by training hard and improving your health and fitness. You can also make it an incredibly boring and frustrating pursuit that becomes potentially harmful to both your self-confidence and character by not trying hard and feeling like you are “no good” compared to everyone else in the class. Or, as I have done, you can make it a lifelong goal to try to capitalize on the strengths that you were born with and gradually improve the weaknesses that you inherently have one day at a time through the honest and fully committed practice of karate.
Perfection of character doesn’t mean that you never make a mistake, trying to be truthful and honest doesn't mean that you never catch yourself being a hypocrite at times, and nor does trying your best mean that you’re never tired. What is most important from all of this is your self-awareness. Through the template of karate we should be able to constantly polish the stone that holds all of our skills so that we can clearly see our own reflection in all its beauty and ugliness. Gradually through consistent effort and practice, and knowledge of ourselves, we can tip the balance of our life’s scale to positive nourishment and self-improvement, in order to ultimately help others and find our place in this world. Karate, although not complete in and of itself, holds many keys towards this goal.