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Controlling the Temper

In Karate, we often say that the student must be able to control his temper. One reason for this is so that the student can hold back, and not unnecessarily harm other people. A hot headed student is much more likely to initiate or be drawn into fights.

Karate is a self defense art. It is not offensive. But it is not quickly defensive either. Students should not be looking for reasons to defend themselves. They should want to avoid the use of the destructive aspects of Karate unless it is truly the last resort -- not the next to the last resort.

I mentioned the "destructive aspects of Karate" because there are many techniques that can be used without unduly harming the attacker. Escape is a technique. Dodging and slipping an attack are techniques. Not all techniques involve the use of deadly or crippling force.

Getting back to the temper issue, rage also clouds the student's judgment and ability to think clearly. Like an enraged bull, an angry student is more likely to miss things (like the facts that the attacker is carrying a weapon or has friends lurking nearby) and rush into a bad situation. A cool headed student is better able to evaluate the situation and react with the best defense.

So a student should learn to control his temper. If someone bumps into him, this is not a reason to get mad. If someone says an unkind thing or yells, the student should learn to keep his temper in check. When he feels his face getting red, his blood rushing, and his heart pounding, he must learn to slow his breathing and remain alert.

A student should learn to control his temper.

But also, as a student matures things should not bother him as much. It is not just that his temper is controlled -- it is that the student becomes more calm. It should be harder and harder for someone to upset and anger the student.

One reason for this is that with time, the student will have seen more and more ridiculous situations. What used to make him angry when he was young will seem trivial with the benefit of time and experience.

An advanced student does not have to control his temper as much because he is a more calm person -- cool and calm.

Personally, I would rather deal with an angry attacker than one who is cool, calm, and focused on harming me. The same applies in defense.

When a student is young, petty thing might seem more important. People sometimes get into Karate fights over silly things: your teacher is no good, you did not earn your rank, you are a fake, you made a bad call in judging.... It all sounds like a bad Kung Fu movie where the lackey says, "you insulted my Master!"

Students should learn to control their tempers. With time, they should learn to become so calm that the temper does not rise up, or does so only in very serious situations.

The next time something or someone makes you really mad, try to see if you can remain calm. Maybe you will succeed, maybe you will not. But the effort is useful. With practice, you will get better at it. And with time and experience, things that made you mad will start to seem less and less important.

Please do not get me wrong. In a life and death situation I am not suggesting that the student should not react. I am saying that he should act in a determined and controlled manner -- not in a blind or uncontrolled rage.

By the way, this also applies in business. If an employee gets mad at his boss or client, he will most likely lose his job. An employee needs to be able to keep his temper in check and act professionally and courteously. If the student can learn to control his temper and cultivate a calm manner in Karate, he can also apply this in the business world and his social interactions.


Charles C. Goodin