Karate's in Me

Recently an old friend from high school, a fella I hadn't seen in 23 years, approached me in a restaurant where I was eating dinner with my wife. Following the obligatory pleasantries of reaquaintance and introductions all around, he lightly punched the front of my shoulder and asked, “You still in karate?”

I looked at him and thought a moment about how, around the time we had last seen each other, I was a young teenager struggling to learn the secrets of the ancient masters, and how over the twenty some odd years spent studying the martial arts since then, I had learned and done so much. I looked him in the eye, and told him, “No. I'm not in karate anymore. Karate is in me.”

You see I don't do martial arts anymore. I am martial arts. It is what I eat, sleep and breathe. Having said that, allow me a few lines of observation I made at a tournament recently.

It was time to discover whom the black belt forms grand champion was going to be. A friend of mine, another man I've known for over 20 years, came and stood beside me and began to tell me about this one particular competitor of Chinese heritage he was very excited about. They had been friends for a long time, and my friend seemed to know everything about him. He performs a style of Gung Fu, I was told, handed down to him by his father, and his father before him, and so on. I was very impressed by this story.

His performance was absolutely brilliant! He took my breath away. Here, performing only a few feet away from me was a man whose Gung Fu was obviously inside him. He was not doing his form, he was his form. Subtle explosive power executed with an internal intensity rarely seen in open competition. And all the while as his passion for his art moved me, my friend expounded quietly on the spiritual virtues of this man's style and teachings, and I continued to be impressed.

The next competitor, a much younger man, was a Japanese stylist. Although dynamic in his execution of technique, he did not exude the martial aura of an ancient master, as did the previous competitor. His technique was purely physical, relying simply on his youthful vigor and his ability to perform by rote, a series of techniques committed only to memory. I witnessed very little heart here.

However, this young Japanese stylist did possess one of those ancient secret techniques I spoke of earlier, and his use of it was flawless, impressing the judges to the point of awarding him the grand championship trophy. The technique that impressed the judges? Dare I speak it? The dreaded back flip…

Till next time, stay sharp.

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