TOUGH LOVE by Elaine Johnston


It is very difficult to get good honest Karate training these days and even more difficult to get good honest Karate training that provides ongoing advancement and inspiration.
Karate isn’t just a physical endeavour, it has a deep underlying spiritual element that facilitates and underpins the physical aspect. It is a tool for developing the psyche (soul).
Without the correct mindset one will not have the inner fortitude to develop the strong physical mechanisms that give Karate its speed, power and dynamics which are the necessary requisites for the one hit kill. It is not within normal conditioning to already have these built in; these physical mechanisms have to be developed. They are paramount to ones healthy and progressive Karate development. One needs courage and bravery to develop a strong mind as real genuine Karate is not for the faint hearted.
The psychological aspect of Karate has its roots in the Zen philosophy. Zen was the religion of the Samurai Warrior class in Japan. I suppose one could say the Samurai turned death into an art form. The Samurai could strike without regret and die without fear, a necessity as a single doubt or fear could cause a lack in concentration that could prove fatal, also having to live with the thought of impending death every day needed a spiritually philosophical strategy.
We do not need to be like the Samurai today. We do not need to prepare our minds for death. What we do need however is to prepare our minds to “live”. We need to bring our consciousness out of atrophy and train our minds to fight against our own self doubts and self imposed limitations and become stronger more able individuals. Whilst it is not every student’s ambition to learn the one hit kill, it should be every student’s requirement to develop the skills that will lead onto developing a better standard of living.
easy training will not accomplish this and nether will an instructor that’s only interested in student fees because to start building strength into the character means one has to be pushed, challenged and tested and this method of training is not popular amongst the meek and the mild, although it seems these days everybody wants to wear the label of the warrior!!!
The commercialisation and profit market for Karate today has misled the majority of its practitioners into believing that what they are practicing is of a genuine nature when in fact it is not. How can it be? With the amount of martial arts schools and instructors out in the world and the amount of people that are training or have trained at some point in their lives, one would think that the majority of nations would be full of strong minded, well balanced, dignified people who are quietly assertive, follow impeccable codes of moral conduct, never give up in the face of adversity and who never compromise their high standards and integrity for the benefit of others, but are willing to pass on and teach others how to attain these standards for themselves (the way of a true Karate-Ka). Imagine a world full of people with these high codes of conduct, wouldn’t that be wonderful? And wouldn’t the world be a wonderful place to live in? The fact that this is not so is evidence that it is all work in progress.
It is a day and age whereby Karate and Martial Arts in general has absorbed itself into society creating a wide and diverse spectrum of extremes across the board. The level, ability and knowledge of instructors ranges from below average to exceptional and yes it seems that everybody is “kung -fu fighting”. I was once told by a very inspiring colleague “when the student is ready the Master will come”. If the spectrum and range of Instructors is so extreme in both directions then maybe that is because there is demand for them in these extremes. After all not everyone will have the mental capacity or the fortitude to be trained on a regular basis by a top Instructor because not everyone has that mentality or that certain type of aggression that enables a student to flourish in a martial environment. I like to use physics when I translate my Karate to my ideas and theories. One of the basic laws in physics is “like attracts like” so there is definitely an Instructor out there for every level of human capability from the below average to the exceptional. This inspires a very positive outlook if one is able to view the situation from a slightly different perspective. If almost all people are training in Karate or other Martial Art, those that have been well trained will know that within the training is “The Code” the code that teaches us about ourselves and how to behave correctly. All students/ people have got to start somewhere, even if it is on the bottom rung of the ladder. It is really up to each and every individual student to learn how to step up to the mark and progress forward and upwards and when the student is ready the master will come.
Training the psyche (soul) can face one with emotionally painful difficulties. Self doubt and self imposed limitations are inherent in all humans at varying degrees, it is these traits that actually hinder and restrain natural creativity. It is natural inner creativity that gives us our individuality and unique expression. The human disposition is to avoid any kind of pain physical or psychological, so it is very necessary to have a trusted teacher who is capable of pushing a student to the limits. It cannot be stressed enough how important these lesson’s are and how beneficial they are to an individual in the long term. A genuine and knowledgeable Karate Instructor knows this because he himself has had to learn them from his teacher, but many students unfortunately are too shy to be able to make it through to the beneficial stages, which can only materialise inside the mind of the student after they have faced and conquered many of their inner fears, self imposed limitations and doubts, giving them a sense of real well being, strength of character and inner calm. This can be very difficult to attain, though it should be every students ultimate goal to work towards attaining “Self Enlightenment” after all what are we all here for if it isn’t to ultimately realise our full potential and true nature. It is much easier to be tempted into going down the road to the brightly coloured and well promoted local McDojo or go to an unethical Instructor whose ego has not been humbled. Such Instructors are not able to push their students because they themselves haven’t developed the right kind of character to be able to do this correctly. Pushing a student to test the boundaries of their emotional limits can only really be done if the student has complete and utter trust in his/her Instructor. This kind of trust cannot really be achieved from an Instructor whose motives are distorted and/or ill guided because on a subconscious level this underlying negative influence impedes the students trust and their growth. How can the above two types of Instructor possibly provide the correct type of training coming at it from such distorted perspectives. A lesser trained and less experienced Instructor can still be of a great benefit so by all means go somewhere where the training is easier if that suits but make sure that the Instructor has your interest at heart and not his own. A good Instructor is one who has integrity not necessarily one who has superior knowledge.
The most knowledgeable Instructors are undoubtedly the most challenging to train under because their knowledge involves so much dynamic content in each individual technique and so many complex mechanisms for a student to get their head and body around. A good and seasoned Sensei will gradually add the content and complexity into the students Karate so as not to over complicate things. It should be the student’s goal to be able to learn how to hold thought and technique in all its complexity without having any autonomous body parts!! I call this “autonomous karate tourettes” whereby you are practicing a technique, Kata or combination and a stray body part is off doing something completely on its own accord and you have no knowledge of its wild adventure until your instructor pulls you up on it which usually comes as a surprise!!. Students should have the feeling of holding all states of awareness together in a controlled but fluid manner through each transition of movement, giving the techniques mindfulness, intention and accuracy. This brings Karate to life and trains the body and the soul.
There has to be love in your art. Love is infinitely detailed and extraordinarily complex in its nature. A student who is putting love into his/her art is able to connect to it on a much deeper level and on those levels learn how to control and hold a complex myriad of thought processes and dynamic physical mechanisms together thus being able to translate this into Karate technique developing power, beauty and expression. Love in the art will help a student through those tough times when it’s hard to carry on. Thoughtful Karate training builds spirit because it is building the psyche (another word for Soul) this is the kind of spirit training that I prefer because building a greater spirit teaches me how to act without conscience and this gives me my peace of mind. Some Instructors perceive hard training as a physical endeavour requiring lots of stamina and body strength which can also be said to build spirit, although I think that this type of training is building a different sense of spirit. Lots of stamina building drills are OK and necessary for sport Karate but if it’s the one hit kill that is being trained for, which I believe to be the fundamental aspect of Shotokan Karate, then it is paramount to have the mindset and the physical power inbuilt, which I believe is attained from training the psyche. My Instructor once told me that conflict was 90% mental and 10% physical so in training the psyche I also have my conflict resolution. Maybe this method of training the psyche suits me because I’m a woman in a male dominated arena and this is how I’ve fashioned my art to be of most benefit to me.

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