The Meaning of Character in Karate Do
By David Higgins
Character is defined in Webster’s dictionary as: “Strength of mind; resolution; independence and individuality” and “moral quality; the principles and motives that control the life”. Why is this important to a karate-ka? In karate-do character has two roles. A karate-ka of good character knows when to restrain himself and dreads the day he has to use his skills. The training of self defense comes with responsibility that requires people of morality and peace. The techniques are real and dangerous and it takes discernment and a clear mind to decide when and how much force to use. As Shoshin Nagamine said, “There is no first strike in karate. It must remain purely a self defense art from beginning to end.” By incorporating the ideas of peace, respect and non-violence we also see a change in the karate-ka outside of the dojo.
The Okinawan idea of peace, respect and courtesy to opponent is vital when it comes to “character” and its place in karate-do. Our style in particular, Kishaba Juku, is a true self defense art. We all bow to one another; we are polite and genuine to one another. In the dojo, we build each other up through collaboration teamwork rather than divide on competition. Karate training is a constant conflict with oneself and through that conflict everyone grows spiritually and physically together. The social aspect of Karate-do is obvious in kumite. Kumite requires complete trust in your partner. It also builds and develops self control and restraint. At any given point one person can seriously be injured or killed. This is why we want karate-ka of good moral character that will only use their skills as a last resort in self defense. Heart of a saint and fist of a devil; we want people of morality and justice guiding the use of such an art.
Strangely enough, I came from a competitive martial arts background that was based on striking first. Kishaba Juku is my first traditional style and it has completely changed my life in many different ways. I’ve dedicated myself to non-violence and the no first strike precept along with the other precepts of Matsumura. My attitude towards others has changed and I find that I am more polite. By training in kumite and kata, I handle stress differently and with a clearer mind. I am not as quick to anger and I respect all people, even if they are hateful. To me, kata is the most important aspect of any martial art. It teaches an inner peace and calm. It also, through constant repetition, builds instincts and reaction. Through diligent training in all of these characteristics I have changed how I react to life in general.
By building all of these characteristics I have become a better person over the last 6 years of training in Kishaba Juku. I respect my martial art and understand what it can do, through that I show a large amount of restraint and never get into physical confrontations at all. This comes from the teachings of respect, courtesy, honor and nonviolence. The development of my character has greatly changed because I have embraced these ideas and made them a part of my life.