Sun Dragon Martial Arts and Self Defense, NFP

Love and Karate

June 1, 2023

The Karate Code of Ethics is always up on the wall.  We talk about it in class sometimes, particularly in the kids' classes, but most of the time it's just there.  Back there in the background, serving as a reminder, a basis for aspiration, a structure for behavior, or oftentimes a forgotten poster.  But it's there.

We were talking about the sentence for Love the other day and, particularly, about karate and loving yourself.  A student correctly pointed out that you have to be able to love yourself before you can love others, which is often more of a truism than an examined truth, a ticked box on the way to how we love other people in karate, and I was all set to move on when something caused me to linger.

Maybe it's this moment in life that made me pause.  I'm feeling tender these days, there are lots of emotions out there, both in myself and the people surrounding me.  Senpai Patrick recently moved away from Austin.  I had dinner with friends the other night who are leaving Austin and though we studiously didn't allow it to become a good-bye dinner, after we parted ways, I felt the ache of their coming move from my immediate life to more of a background presence.  Vital, but distant.  My guidedaughter is graduating from high school this week.  A friend is preparing for surgery.  My folks are getting older.  Other friends are experiencing big transitions in their lives.  There are lots and lots of feelings out there.

And so I started talking about how karate helps us love ourselves.  Loving our self is not a given.  We all go through times when it's difficult to do so, whether we're struggling with depression, we've experienced losses that feel inconsolable, we've crashed and hit rock bottom, or we have a bad sense of self-worth and we feel like everything about us looks horrible.  Karate isn't a magical elixir that heals all of that, but I do think it's a tool that can help us struggle out of it.

If nothing else, karate gives us something we can feel good about in our lives.  Not that we're the GOAT, not that we're perfect, but we can always look at our karate and find things to like.  We're better than we used to be.  It's a commitment we've dedicated ourselves to and followed through on.  We can see how we've overcome specific obstacles and learned a particularly difficult technique, or we've improved over time.  Maybe we feel stronger or maybe we appreciate the calm separation from daily life when we step into the dojo.  When you're struggling, maybe that's the one thing you need--something concrete in your life you can look at that makes you feel good.

Karate's also a tool that gives us other useful tools.  It gives us the chance to repeatedly experience failure that slowly builds into success, which takes some of the edge off of failure in other areas of our lives.  In a culture where failure is considered a failure, being able to reframe it as a step to something better is a great skill to hold.  It gives us permission to look at other people as models for success, gives us license to ask questions, and encourages us to ask for help when we need it.  And it helps us learn how to remain calm on the inside, even though everything around us feels a little bit chaotic.  Of all of those, I think the encouragement to ask for help is the most important one, especially when we feel lost down a deep hole in our lives and we don't have a clue how to climb out of it.  Sometimes we just don't have the answers and we have to go to others for help.

And the thing that sets karate apart at Sun Dragon and in the wider Seido organization, karate provides us with a community of support that we can fall back on when we need something to hold us up.  We don't do tournaments and that sort of competition isn't really part of our make-up, so Sun Dragon doesn't create the sort of teamwork that comes out of a group of people competing for a shared goal.  We don't drive our shared identity by the rush of winning together or the sense of failure when we lose and maybe it was my fault.  Our community is built around understanding that the person next to me is probably in a different place in life, doesn't feel like I do today, might be at the top of their game or might be struggling to keep their head above water.  And our community thrives because we interact with each other based on that understanding.  We leave room for people who have to fight themselves to get to the dojo in the first place, people who rush to the dojo as fast as they can because it's the place they feel alive, and people who come to the dojo as a matter of course, as just the thing they do every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday.  All are welcome and supported.

Those are some ways that karate helps us love ourselves.  Karate is not the answer, it doesn't fix us, and it doesn't make everything okay.  There may be times in our lives that call for healthcare, medications, and professional assistance beyond the reach of our little karate school.  But, in those times in our lives when some things are not okay, when we feel broken, and when we're looking for answers, karate helps us to keep going to the next day, it gives us some tools for helping us find what we need, and maybe even gives us a little place in our life when we don't feel quite so broken.  Maybe it gives us the strength to ask for help that we desperately need. And that, in turn, is the basis that allows us to love the people around us.  When we see ourselves, warts and all, when we love ourselves despite those warts, we're able to more fully love the person standing next to us in class.

Since I reference it above, I thought it might be nice to include the Code of Ethics:

Love -- We work hard to build strong bodies and kind hearts.

Respect -- We respect ourselves, other people, and all living things.

Responsibility -- We take responsibility for our actions and solve conflicts as peacefully as possible.

Courage -- We stand up against hurtful words and actions to defend ourselves and others.

Strong Spirit -- We always try to do our best.