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 "Self-Control in the Martial Arts"


By Donald Bohan (1989)


There is an old adage, "Learn to control your emotions, or they will certainly control you.  " This is the true essence of the Martial Arts.  A Karate-ka may perform with the utmost power and focus, but without mastering their own self-control, they will be empty, superficial and without direction. 


To control emotion, is to control destiny.  Developing the ability to "burn through" anger, contempt, and frustration while accomplishing your goals is a truest of moral fiber.  Master Shimabuku taught that "A person's unbalance is the same as a weight.  " This is to say that an emotional unbalance is detrimental because being at war with one's self means an inability to focus or control. 


Self-control is evident not only in the dojo, but into everyday life as well.  As a Sensei, every phrase and move are examples to the students.  The Sensei is not afforded the privilege of two life styles.  Emotion is one of the most basic, volatile and deep rooted characteristics of a human being.  Physical and mental disciplines that are learned through the Martial Arts assist in over riding human emotion. 


For instance, what Sensei has received an "accidental" full power strike at the hands of a novice practitioner and did not think of retribution? Who among us has pondered the ramifications of a ridge hand to the head of an overzealous sparring partner? Who really knows how to meditate and prepare for a class mentally as well as physically? While embracing the Martial Arts, Americans have often times forgotten several true aspects developed by its founding fathers? Why then is respect, honor, and
tradition pounded so deeply ingrained in our spirits? The answer to those questions is an inherent need for self-control.  The Japanese Karate-kas are not in a hurry to develop their skills like their American counterparts.  They view the Martial Arts as a life long pursuit, while Americans perceive it as a means of physical fitness or weight control.  There comes a time, where developing Martial Artists must pause and evaluate themselves.  Are they "walking it like they talk it," or is it just physical exercise? Have they made the commitment to excellence? Are they living their lives according to Bushido? Self-control is essential to karate development.  There is a great deal of difference, for instance between a novices's self control and that of a master with 30 years experience.  This is not to say that this level cannot be obtained; however everyone is different and must therefore overcome their inherent emotional nature. 


Novices, because of their simple skill level possess a minimum of self-control.  As the Karate-ka progresses through the ranks and achieves Sho-Dan, self-control must parallel the skill level.  Sho-Dans realize that with rank and skill comes responsibility.  At the Sensei level, an instructor is usually instructing other Black Belts, and therefore must maintain self-control to develop with his peers.  The Sensei level is also significant in that the San-Dan can now promote to Black Belt.  As the progression continues to the Master level, self-control is paramount.  At this point, a Master becomes not only an instructor, but a symbol of the art.  Self-control transverses the limits of combat and instruction, and approaches a much more personal level.  Words at this level must be carefully selected and presented, because they are double edged swords that could be devastating to others.  Very few of us can parallel the life of a true Martial Artist.  After all, Karate was developed to compliment their life style of Zen, whereas physical aspects were acquired later verse sooner.  The three aspects of Karate, "Mind, Body, and Spirit" are of deep consequence.  The body or physical aspect is easily comparable and qualitative, while the mind and spirit are much more difficult to separate. 


While the mind refers to concentration, knowledge, and cognitive thought processes, it still embodies a degree of emotion.  The spiritual aspect includes emotion, motivation, enthusiasm and determination.  Many times in a Martial Artist's career, a paradox emerges.  There is a realization that with acquired proficiency, there is less desire to display that proficiency.  In other words, I have the potential to destroy, but choose not to destroy. 


The spiritual aspect if Karate is difficult to control and develop, because it is emotion.  Therefore there is an inherent need to control this emotion before truly growing in the Martial Arts.  The need to grow may come to each of us as a mare in the night, or in the form of a real life conflict. 


The means by which you deal with self-control is your own demon.  Each of us has the ability to look deep into ourselves and deal with a situation.  Choosing not to contend with self-control is a bad decision, because the problem will only compound and emerge later. 


Meet the problem head on and be prepared to evaluate yourself honestly.  The first step towards growth as a person and as a Martial Artist occurs after coming to terms with one's own limitations.  As the Master Shimabuku once said, "fall down seven times, get up eight.  "


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