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Karate Fighter?

Please bear with me because I am writing about something I am unsure about.

Karate is for self-defense. It is not used for attacking, only in response to an attack, usually a surprise attack. These principles are very clear.

So is a Karate student supposed to become very good at fighting so that he will be able to fight better than an attacker? Should a Karate student become a skilled fighter?

When I think about a "fighter," I think about someone who "fights," someone who is aggressive. In my view, if someone attacks me, I would defend myself, not fight. He is fighting, I am defending. This may sound like a word game, but I feel that the difference is important.

A fighter has the attitude of a fighter. A defender has the attitude and objectives of a defender.

One who fights seeks to defeat someone. One who defends seeks to protect himself or loved ones. From a defense perspective, once the threat is ended (either by defending or escaping), the conflict is over.

Now I realize that there are many definitions of "fight." One is to resist, and self defense is a form of resistance. But in general usage, I think that when we speak about a Karate fighter, we mean a Karate student who excels at fighting skills.

Can a Karate student be a good fighter and still value and pursue peace and the avoidance of conflict? Does the process of becoming a good fighter affect the values of a Karate student?

Again, I do not know the answer to this. I am just thinking out loud.

It does seem to me that at least some Karate students (by this I mean a person who practices Karate, whether beginner, advanced or instructor), become tougher than the fighters who might attack them.

Imagine a deer. It might be attacked by a wolf. So should the deer seek to become a wolf? Of course, a deer cannot become a wolf! Its best defense is to be aware of its surroundings and threats, to hide or run when danger is present, and to kick or gouge as a last resort. A deer has pretty good defenses, but it is still a deer. It will avoid wolves and other predators.

My own view of Karate is somewhat like this -- like a deer. I do not like fighting. I do not like injuring anyone, even an attacker. I am very passive and prefer flight to fight, if it is possible. If there is no way to escape or reason with the attacker, then that is another story. Then Karate should be used as a last resort. But it is a last resort, a reluctant last choice.

I think that some Karate students are waiting for a fight, and at such time, will turn into a "fighter" rather than a defender. Some Karate students are ready, willing, and quite able to kick the... poop out of most attackers.

I remember the words of Bushi Matsumura that "Karate teaches one how not to use the hands and feet in a fight." How not to. It sounds to me that Matsumura Sensei was teaching a Karate in which students are not fighters.

I realize that becoming a good fighter creates a certain deterrent effect. Most people would not like to mess with a Karate student who is obviously good at fighting. But is this the image the student want to project?

I used to study Aikido with Sensei Sadao Yoshioka. Somehow, without remembering his exact words, I recall a feeling he projected that you cannot create peace by projecting a fighting attitude. You create peace by acting in a peaceful way. An attack represents an imbalance of sorts. You do not fight fire with fire.

And I do not quite feel that the goal of Karate is to create students who are good at fighting. I feel that the goal or Karate is create students who seek peace and possess the skill necessary to escape or terminate a fight. I wish that I could articulate this as well as Yoshioka Sensei.

In my training with Sensei Katsuhiko Shinzato, I cannot recall him saying, "if someone attacks you, this is what you can do, here is a technique." Instead, his explanation of the techniques contained in or suggested by kata is presented more in terms of something that "you might do." It is a possibility. If the situation arises, you will know what to do instinctively because of your training. But it is not exactly as if you are preparing for it.

Somehow I get this impression that in a strange way, preparing for an attack with a certain mindset invites the attack, almost creates an energy seeking to be fulfilled.

I remember what Sensei Noboru Akagi told me about drawing the sword. I studied Iaido with Akaki Sensei briefly. He said that as you begin to draw, you think, "Don't draw, don't draw, don't draw." You project the thought that you do not want the attacker to draw his sword. Only when he does and there is no other way, do you draw your sword and cut him down.

I feel this way in Karate. When I osae (press), I think "Don't hit, don't hit, don't hit."

A Karate student should not be thinking, "bring it on and I will kill you!"

My Karate is passive and negative. It is reluctant. I am not a fighter -- I am a non-fighter who, as a last resort, might kick and gouge... like a deer.


Charles C. Goodin