Why Do Karate?

Why Do Karate?

There are many reasons that people decide to do Karate. Some practice, some train, some workout, some just “do” Karate. It is fine if the reason you do it differs from the reason someone else does. Below are some of the main reasons given, as well as some of my thoughts concerning those reasons.

Self-Defense
This is probably the most often quoted reason to do Karate and usually one of the first an instructor will mention to a prospective student. Probably, most people join Karate classes with the desire to better defend themselves being at least one of the goals. After a while, it may become apparent that there are better ways to prepare for a self-defense encounter than marching up and down the dojo floor doing basic combinations and tournament drills. Nonetheless, there is little doubt that, over the years, self-defense ability usually increases considerably for those who do Karate. More than simply learning physical skills, Karate can enable us to better understand that a threatening situation may be around the corner and allow us to avoid it. Training can also give us strength and confidence that can better ward off potential thugs from a distance, as they usually prey on those who appear weak.

As with any other goal, if self-defense is one of the reasons you do Karate, I would suggest keeping that in mind as you train. Do not think that winning a tournament or doing basic technique correctly will, in itself, prepare you effectively for an encounter on the street. It might. But it can help a lot if you train with that goal in mind.

Health/Exercise
There is no doubt that Karate is one of the best forms of exercise that exist. There may be some that are more aerobic, others that are more strenuous. But, overall, Karate ranks very high. Fortunately, one does not have to be in perfect shape to do it. That really couldn’t be said honestly about many sports that have similar status as a form of exercise.

To gain the most out of the health/exercise potential of training, again the goal should be considered often while training. Do you sufficiently warm up before stretching? Do you stretch out enough before training? Did you build up the muscular activity gradually (not just starting with jumping kicks)? Is your heart rate in its proper range? Are you going for aerobic, or anaerobic exercise? Are you drinking enough fluids? Are your body parts aligned properly to best use your muscles and protect your joints? Just mindlessly following the count may still provide you with a workout. But, just as with self-defense, keeping your mind on your goal can help you attain it.

Self-improvement
There are many facets to self-improvement. Many of them are included here in this article. There is no doubt that there is a chance at improving oneself through Karate. How and how much differ widely.

What is probably most important to realize with this concept, and something that is not often revealed by instructors to potential students, is that self-improvement is ultimately up to the individual. That is why it is called self-improvement. Karate can help to facilitate this. Ultimately, however, it is really up to you.

Character Development
This one is debatable. Some instructors will tell prospective students that their classes, especially the kids classes, aim toward developing the character of the students. While improving students’ level of politeness and helping them learn analytical and other skills besides the obvious physical skills, character may or may not be developed as a direct result of training. It may, however, be easier for those students to develop their character in the right ways, indirectly related to training. By acting more polite and analyzing situations more than their peers, the Karate students may be more receptive to enriching their characters. Kids doing Karate may listen more to their parents and other adults, having become used to listening to their Karate instructor(s), and therefore be more apt to learn good character traits from them. This is not a proven fact. But I would suspect it may be true.

As with self-improvement, character-development is really up to the individual.

Discipline
See above. Discipline to do what one is told is not necessarily a great trait to have, at least not to do things without thinking for oneself. Disciplining oneself to get to the dojo on a regular basis for class is a good trait. Discipline can be improved through, or perhaps for Karate. Disciplining yourself to keep up with a class full of younger students, to push yourself harder, to think more about reality as you train-these are ways in which Karate can facilitate discipline. But it is something that should be done individually. Instructors should encourage, not discipline. Karate is not the military, nor should it be.

“A Way of Life”
Some people try to live the “Bushido Way.” You may want to live every day like a samurai. Although this may seem noble to some, it is not all that practical in the modern world. To be ready for a self-defense encounter all the time is good. To act as though you’re ready, though, may give people the impression that you are a freak. Keep that “Samurai” inside. There is nothing wrong with devoting a large chunk of your life to Karate (I hope not; I have!). But there are other aspects of life which need to be kept in balance.

Training to Train
Some people just train to train. They need no particular reason. They like doing it. That’s all there is to it. Sometimes this is good. Sometimes one just needs to sweat it out, to forget about all the things that happened at work or school that day. While training without a specific goal is good sometimes, though, if that is the way it is every day, chances are that development is being hampered. Training without thinking may impede progression. Sometimes this is fine. Sometimes, however, we need to focus our minds on the task at hand and think about our training, not just repeating moves mindlessly.

Bad Reasons to Train
Some people train or instruct Karate to dominate or hurt others. This can be a serious problem. It may be a good idea to seek professional psychiatric help if this is why you do Karate.

Some train or teach to show off. These people usually like to explain things to everyone who will listen. Some of these people have nothing worth listening to. Not to say that everyone who displays ability or explains how they perceive Karate is bad. But if this appears to be the reason that one goes to the dojo, there may be a problem.
Some instructors teach to make money. Although I have no problem with charging for classes and even living off this money, many instructors who have money-making as the main goal of their teaching lose their love of the art and stop trying to learn more themselves. Making money through teaching Karate is fine. But that should not be the all-encompassing reason for teaching.

Why Not?
A very good friend of mine had a philosophy final exam that consisted of one question: “Why?” His answer was simply: “Why not?” Somehow, he passed. Don’t worry if you don’t have the perfect answer when people ask you why you do Karate. You don’t always need a reason to do something, especially when it’s something as good as Karate!

Copyright © 2022, Jon Keeling (originally published February 2000)