The Case for Karate

By Peter J. McRae

I have led the life of a karate teacher for more than 25 years. More important, I have been a student of Okinawan karate (Uechi-Ryu Karate-Do) for 32 years. It is a dream come true to be able to earn a livelihood while pursuing my passion.

I have taught in the inner-cities as well as the affluent suburbs. I have studied with men, women and children of all races and creeds in both Asia and America. In the course of these exertions, I have come to the realization that almost anyone with the desire and determination can develop karate.

It may come as a surprise to some, but the purpose of karate training is not for killing or hurting. It is about control. In karate we learn to exercise control of our habits, feelings and emotions. It is about engaging in what Theodore Roosevelt called the “strenuous life.” A life fulfilled is a life of responsibility, adventure and risks. The easy and idle way of life must be avoided.

The serious student of karate is full of vigor and enthusiasm for today’s work. Work is what karate is all about. A day filled with purposeful activity for the betterment of oneself and others. One does not “take karate”, one studies karate. What one brings to class is as important as what one receives.

The lessons learned in karate are many. The seniority system of student, instructor and master assures integrity. Okinawa, where modern karate got its start, considers a master to be more than 65 years of age and at least 9th dan (degree). Mastery of our art comes in the manner of a perfected, although never finished, form called “kata.” Competency in the study of kata (form) and its application is tested throughout a student’s career. In karate, as in life, there is always a test.

Karate is and should always be a performing art. As a matter of practice, we perform our kata alone or in small groups for each other every day. Constant correction and critique by our peers and seniors are absolutely necessary for development. Teamwork is critical in the pursuit of proper intensity without meanness. We must learn to trust each other in order to achieve a high level of performance. To not do so would invite mayhem and court disaster.

I confess to not always sufficiently emphasizing the health benefits of this unique training. Recent studies have shown there is great promise in the value of good karate instruction. One can expect improvement with reasonable effort and a fair amount of time. Karate, like yoga, is meditation.

The difference being karate is active meditation as opposed to passive for yoga. The self-defense ability is a natural byproduct of proper training. The word “Do” in karate-do refers to the total system of mind, body and spiritual development. The daily application of traditional principles yields great results.

There is little doubt that today most people lead busy and stressful lives. Proper karate training reduces stress. The posture, breathing, concentration and movement are natural, dynamic and beautiful.

Finally, there is much discussion today with regard to teachers. It must be remembered that yes the student must always respect the teacher, but more important, the teacher must respect the student. The virtue of respect will be there the moment the student realizes the teacher occupies the high seat of abundant knowledge.