A few years ago I started to wonder if martial arts would be something I could do and benefit from. I knew next to nothing about it except maybe some fragmented memories of scenes from the movie The Karate Kid. But I knew I wanted to be able to defend myself in case anything ever happened. I didn't really even know what "anything" was; I just knew I wanted to have more confidence.
I also thought that maybe karate would instill some much-needed discipline in me. Finally, I figured it would be a better and more interesting way to exercise than moving weights up and down at the gym and running on a treadmill like a hamster. So I took the plunge.
I signed up for Kenpo Karate at the local dojo (which literally means "place of the Way", or "place of practice"). I had no idea how many other benefits karate offered. I started to learn how to defend myself indeed, but I also learned that taking on something like karate is less a project and more a journey.
I also learned I needed some serious patience. If I thought I was going to be able to fend off a would-be mugger with a knife after a few karate sessions, I was sorely mistaken. I soon realized that if I was to expect tangible results, I was going to need to dedicate myself for a while and develop infinite patience. But it dawned on me that anything worthwhile takes hard work and time, so I hunkered down and started training regularly. I soon realized that what I thought was going to take months was really going to take years.
So my patience developed. My muscles developed too. In fact, I was sore in places that I didn't even know existed. From my thumbs to my ribs, I found muscles that hadn't ever been flexed before. After a half a year I started getting into the best shape of my life, and I had hardly noticed because I was concentrating on learning the craft.
My discipline began to grow as well. Often I just didn't want to go, but I forced myself and always felt better for it afterward, always. Our sensei (teacher) is a blackbelt and former military man, so his brand of teaching certainly involves discipline, but never more than anyone can handle. Moreover, to learn the various karate moves and forms, I began to develop discipline over every miniscule movement of my body.
And to perform each of the moves properly, you need to have supreme control over your mind as well as your body. This takes years of practice, but even the novice benefits from each attempt. My confidence continued to grow, but not just confidence in fighting, but confidence in my physical abilities, and each time I train, my confidence develops even further.
I have more faith in myself, I trust myself more. Another benefit of training in the martial arts is that one begins to grasp the difference between the goal and the journey, and why the latter is so much more important. In this day and age of hyper-consumerism and quick fixes and TV, it's easy to think that the goal is everything, regardless of how you get there. Capitalism stresses achievement and profits at the expense of the process. TV shows and commercials wrap everything up neatly and cleanly by the end, without much real struggle. And we are bombarded with advertisements of immediate relief or riches or good looks if we "just buy this product".
But what about the process? What about the journey? What about the lifestyle? Everyone's in such a rush to get somewhere or get something that many of us Westerners miss our own lives and each of the present moments because we're so concerned with the future. Training in karate slows one's life down a bit. It teaches one how to enjoy the process, not the goal.
It's a life long study, and no one reaches blackbelt status quickly. That's the way it should be. Once you learn to enjoy the process, to enjoy the intrinsic goodness of practicing and training, you begin to grasp one key to life. The journey is more important than the goal.
Jason OConnor owns and operates Oak Web Works, LLC and also runs http://www.matthewskenpo.com/. Web Design Company | Mixed Martial Arts