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Karate Training Polishes The Spirit

Karate training polishes the spirit.

These five words are packed with meaning and can easily be misunderstood.

Let's start with the "spirit." For those of us in the West, we probably think of the Christian concept of a "spirit." Even among different Christian groups, the definition of "spirit" can vary greatly. But Karate was developed in the East. The concept of spirit there is not Christian.

In Japanese, the word for spirit is "kokoro." But "kokoro" has a broader meaning: spirit, heart, mind, character. In the West, we tend to separate these concepts. But the idea of kokoro encompasses the totality of one's being (in my opinion).

Next, the word "polishes" says a lot. If you think of your kokoro (or spirit) as a mirror, polishing the mirror -- cleaning off the dust and distortions - will enable it to clearly and accurately reflect the world. In the East, spiritual practices are designed to reveal the true "you", which is only imperfect because of distortions or negative things. So the spirit is polished.

Finally, the term "training" also has a special meaning. In Japanese, the appropriate word is "shugyo," which has an ascestic connotation. An ascetic renounces material comforts and leads a life of austere self-discipline. This sounds a lot like Zen which makes sense since Rinzai Zen was the path of choice of the samurai. Modern Japanese budo was based on this martial/spiritual training.

Karate training can indeed be austere and extremely rigorous. Many people feel that they are focused and purified by such training.

So let's rephrase the saying:

"The rigorous, austere training of Karate reveals the totality of one's being (heart, mind, spirit, and character)."

Is that true? I guess it depends on your own reasons for training.

I have also heard two connected things:

"Physical training in Karate develops the mind;" and
"The spirit is created when the body and mind work together."

If this is true, physical training in Karate develops the mind, and the coordination of the two creates the spirit.

Again, I cannot say whether this is true. I don't like to split aspects of the self in this way. I perfer to think of the person as a whole. And it all depends on how you view the inner and outer worlds.

I can say that dedicated Karate training strengthens the body, sharpens the mind, and helps to develop amazing self-discipline and will. It helps to build a strong person.

I think that the goal of Okinawan Karate was not exactly to "polish the spirit," which is most likely a Japanese approach. In Okinawa, I believe that Karate was to train the body and mind (with an orientation toward self-defense), with the ultimate goal of developing a cultured gentlemen. Please see: Okinawa's Bushi: Karate Gentlemen.

The point of all this is that you have to decide why you are training -- why are you practicing Karate? Are you working toward a goal? Is your training in line with that goal? If you are going to train for a year or two, your goal might be simple -- enhanced self-defense. But if you are going to train for your entire life, then your goal is extremely important.

Karate training helps you to find yourself.


Charles C. Goodin