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A Good Heart

My first Shorin-Ryu sensei, Rodney Shimabukuro, has been my sensei for 30 years. We have watched each others children grow to adulthood. Over the decades, he has emphasized one thing more than any other -- that the most important thing in Karate is to have a good heart. He does not say "kokoro", he says heart.

We can learn etiquette for every situation, techniques for every conceivable attack, terminology and theories of movement, the minute details of Karate's history and traditions, and yet it will all be meaningless unless we have a good heart. We can have the highest rank and titles, thousands of students, a global organization, fame and fortune, but without a good heart, it will be empty.

On the other hand, we can lack all of these things and still have a good Karate life.

A student with a good heart can become the best sensei. A student with a good heart can learn etiquette, techniques, and history. Even if he is not physically talented, he can learn to move properly with time and effort. However, a student who lacks a good heart seldom changes. Everything he learns simply aggravates his underlying problem -- a lack of heart. A sensei's job is as much to cultivate the student's heart as it is to teach all other aspects of the art.

A person with a good heart is compassionate and understanding of others. He puts the needs of others ahead of his own. He does the right thing because it is right, not because it is advantageous. He can make mistakes, but can do no wrong. A good heart is like a guiding light.

Only a student with a good heart is qualified to learn the destructive aspects of Karate -- because only he can be trusted to truly use them as a last resort. See: Last Resort. He will not fight for honor, glory, petty insult, or possessions, but will only act to defend life. In the heat of conflict he will remain cool.

In thirty years, my sensei's lesson has always been the same -- the most important thing in Karate is a good heart.


Charles C. Goodin