After showing off a video of my less-than-perfect execution of a kata a friend of mine Maeve commented: “What is it with men and their violence?” Okay, Maeve is a Dominican nun. You’d have to expect some non-violence from a nun, but her words have stuck with me. I still intend sticking with my martial arts project, and I still see this choice as an expression of my own commitment to non-violence. I may have to explain this apparent contradiction – to myself and to the religious sisters in my life. Wearing the dogi the karateka expresses his or her commitment to the purity of peace and disciplined non-violence. Karate itself, even in its Okinawan beginnings, is a profound rejection of the violence of oppression and military aggression. With empty hand (空手 kara-té) the karateka prepares his or her defence by conquering first the mind and then the body – that in tandem both might act in a harmonious movement to preserve life and spirit rather than destroy them. Before ever the hand is trained to form a zuki (fist) all hands must be open to perform oh-tah-gah-ee nee (respectful bowing); in which the focused mind and controlled body voice their respect for the person and the art.
Why all this ritual and nonsense around a brawl? Well, because it is not a brawl. Violence is a reality of our world no matter how peaceful one might be, and in the martial arts we train to use our bodies and minds as weapons. Fewer noses are broken in hurling or camogie games where the players know what they are doing. It is the same in the practice of any martial art. When violence comes uninvited the trained karateka is better placed to ensure that harm does not come from the assault – harm to the would-be victim or to the assailant. Most of our lives, thank goodness, are not spent fending off attackers and ninjas hiding in our cupboards, and so the martial art takes on another function – its superior function. Our chief opponent is not the ‘bad guy’ but ourselves. This weapon is a two-edged sword. Discipline and control of one’s own mind and body are the objects of the training. Most of what happens in the training happens in the mind and soul of the karateka. Ask a gymnast where the movement and control came from. The answer will always be ‘the mind.’ Control of the mind and excellent discipline of the body are the spirit of the victory over self. It is perfection.
Ùr-Fhàsaidh is a Christian social justice blogger and the author of his own random public journal – the Tuppence Worth blog. If the Christian faith is to have a place in the public discussion it must first ensure that it is a source of liberation for those who are oppressed. Faith of any kind means precious little if it is not about and for people. Follow on Facebook and Twitter: