Karate is open mindedness.
Karate is humility.
Karate is learning.
Karate is sweat, endurance, excellence.
Yes, Karate is a martial art. Those of us who practice Karate-Do think it is the best of them, distilled by great masters from millennia of personal development to the efficiently focused power that is available to us today. We are invited to train hard; I've never seen a martial art practiced with more intensity than ours. We hone basic techniques with tens of thousands of repetitions. We then strive to bring that level of quality to actual encounters with challenging opponents.
Finally, we gather these concepts of focus and intensity during combat against many when we practice Kata. Through these processes of technique, conditioning, and clarity of mind, we continually reach new heights unimagined in earlier awareness. This experience is as available to newcomers as it is to senior students, which is one reason why the only people impressed with a newly-appointed Black Belt are people who are not yet Black Belts themselves. Karate is the practice of beginning, the bringing forth of the truth: that we are all beginners.
Happily, there are also things that Karate is not.
It is not arrogant.
It is not bigoted.
Karate is not stubborn or aggrandizing or violent.
Those who bring these qualities into the dojo are not practicing Karate while they're there. There is no place in Karate for these things. Karate is good exercise, positive discipline, and productive camaraderie. Most of all, Karate is the search for perfection of character.
The Zen of Giving Service
All that you've read prior to this point exists simply to guide you through the gateway to your experience with the martial arts. Perhaps you've already realized that these guidelines apply metaphorically to gateways in many areas of your life.
There was a time in my early adulthood when I thought I understood my place as an American consumer. I thought that if I blessed a business with my patronage, that I should pay my money — as little of it as possible — and receive my goods or services in perfect condition. This seemed so simple and logical that my frustration was abundant when a merchant's performance was less than what I deemed appropriate. I remain a cost-conscious consumer. But now I understand that the "You Get What You Pay For" story runs more deeply than what can be measured by my ledger book.
Would you expect the same dining experience from two completely different types of restaurants? Imagine the difference between a family-run trattoria and a large, fast-food chain franchise. The latter, brilliantly designed to fatten us with alacrity, is almost vacant of any need of etiquette. It's instantly obvious how to use the place and its faceless, uniformed cashiers when entering for the first time.
An intimate bistro with six tables, however, requires joyful care in gastronomic couture and human interaction. There I can imagine happily hurrying to assist the stout matron struggling with a serving tray piled with pasta, later tipping her based more on intent than completed service, paying triple what I would at a Wendy's, and considering it a superior experience.
What I understand now, that I wouldn't have 25 years ago, is that it is I who help make the experience superior. In that instance, I did so with my attitude of giving service toward Strega Nona's struggle. This is the Zen of dining out.
I learned this lesson in a Dojo. I was told early on, as all beginning students were, that it was my personal responsibility to keep the Dojo clean. The floor was to be swept before every class. If I didn't see anyone else doing it, I was to take it upon myself to get the dust mop and sweep the floor. I was paying to attend the place, but I took great pleasure in hustling to keep it clean. If I saw a Sempai sweeping or cleaning the floor — or cleaning anything else, for that matter — I felt it my duty to insist on grabbing the broom handle from him or her and taking over. If they said, "that's okay," I'd bow, describe the squat kicks Sensei would otherwise have me doing, and insist again. It was Zen and the art of Dojo maintenance.
It is, in fact, the Zen of everything. The more effort you put into the Universe, the more that the Universe will give to you, and those around you, unbidden. I encourage you to select areas of your life that are worth extra efforts, and I further encourage you to consider your Dojo a gymnasium for the exercise and development of your own Attitude of Giving Service.
This begins with paying your tuition happily, diligently, and always before it comes due. Then, taking it upon yourself to fix this fixture, or help administer that process, will bring benefits to you beyond the immediate completion of a task.
(Unconsciously but invariably, it is the volunteer group at my school who receive extra attention, time, and friendship.) It will raise your esteem in others and, through your very humility, provide leadership by example. You'll find potential for this throughout your school.
Another place for Giving Service is the acquisition of uniforms, books, equipment, and other accouterments of our art. It is likely that you could purchase a given book or uniform less expensively elsewhere than if you bought it through your Sensei. Even the largest martial arts schools, with students numbering in the thousands, have inferior purchasing power to internet companies and would be hard pressed to provide you with the best attainable cost/product ratio. But those extra dollars go directly to bolstering the establishment from which you derive so much. The facilities and people of your greatest passion require abundant generosity, not frugality.
In conclusion, I invite you to do all you can to support your Karate school, and to those other areas of your life where you find great reward — families, learning institutions, spiritual centers, close friends. Choose them carefully, then once you have, jump in with both feet and an open heart. Your reward will be a rich life.
DOJO ETIQUETTE GUIDE
Etiquette is prerequisite to learning. Commit to its mastery.
BEFORE ARRIVAL AT THE DOJO
- Practice good personal hygiene. Be clean and odor-free.
- Keep fingernails and toenails trimmed.
- Clean your gi.
AT THE DOJO, BEFORE CLASS BEGINS
- Remove your shoes.
- Register your attendance.
- Change quickly. Remove all jewelry. Restrict long hair.
- Be in uniform and ready to train at least 10 minutes early.
- Bow to Shomeni upon entering or exiting the Dojo floor.
- Participate in cleaning and preparing the Dojo for training.
- If given no instruction, remain in Shizen Tai (natural stance) with your eyes on your imaginary opponent or, if he is offering an explanation, on Sensei.
- Catch your mind when it wanders. Return to the clarity of the present moment.
- Keep silent throughout class unless asked to do otherwise.
- Move quickly when asked to do so. Run.
- Learn the Dojo Kun quickly and thoroughly.
- If you arrive late, wait respectfully to be invited into class.
- Seek every opportunity to contribute to the organization and maintenance of your Dojo.
The above is an excerpt from Welcome To Karate: Unlocking the Wisdom of the Beginner's Mind by Bruce Costa, Publication date YMAA Publication Center, September 1, 2021, ISBN 978-1-59439-841-4.