“Life the Universe & Everything” by John & Elaine Johnston


Many years ago me and a friend and student of mine used to have quite heated arguments about the purpose of Karate. His view was that it was purely for self defence but for me it was more about self development. I won’t go into the details of the various rows that we had but we do look back on those days in retrospect and laugh. He kindly acknowledges that he thinks I was right and wishes that he had listened to me more often and understood me better ..I have never publicly acknowledged that he was also right but his perspective was only part of the equation. Just to put things into context my friend is none other than Geoff Thompson, writer and self defence guru. Geoff and I are still good friends to this day. Although our martial arts have taken us in other directions. We are all aware in which direction Geoff’s took. I however have stayed true to what I believed the essence of karate to be. I use this article to illustrate my belief that karate is multi-faceted and for me it has mostly been about self development. 40 + years on, I ask myself the question, has it been successful? The true answer is, it is work in progress. I have had an eventful and colourful past to say the least and I won’t share the details with you as what happens in the past should stay in the past. However disregarding my many ups and downs, karate has remained a constant in my life. It’s been there for me during my various relationships. It was there for me whilst working on the doors and other security jobs. I competed at a relatively high level in Kata and Kumite and for over 40 years I have continued to run my own Karate Clubs. I even earn a living from Karate (just). It’s my motivation for getting up in the mornings. I get up at 6am so that I can go and do my Kata practice in the park. It helps to keep my mind sharp and my body strong, or should that be the other way round.

So let’s try and pin down in exactly what way Karate has helped me to develop and make me a better person. To me Karate is a reflection of life. You start as a beginner, stumbling along, trying to learn a whole new set of body movements. You learn to apply different mental attitudes to aid you in finding and developing coping strategies for yourself and in relationship to your fellow students and teachers. As you progress, you build on all these elements and allow them to change as you also change. Then with true endeavour in your training, your values develop and your goals and priorities change keeping you in balance with the flow and evolution of life. Honesty in your training should help you to understand yourself and others better. It should allow you to become more considerate and caring when you learn to be patient with yourself, you also learn how to be patient with others and when you open your mind to others, you are then able to help them to see things in a different light. I think that all of us Instructors know that the best way to teach our students is often by being a good example and hoping that you can inspire your students to learn the true nature of themselves, be expressive and become better human beings and if we are honest with ourselves, we could all do with being a better person in some way, shape or form.
if you would like to be treated with courtesy and respect you will need to be genuinely humble and show true courtesy and respect at all times but with human nature being the way that it is, to maintain this aspect of life is very hard, which is why for me it will always be a work in progress.

People have said that I have mellowed? I haven’t! I have matured and learnt from mine and others mistakes. Through Karate I have learnt to talk myself out of taking wrong actions and hopefully taking better ones. Perhaps not every time but a lot less than when I was younger. I believe that is what Karate should teach you, or should that be just life’s lessons.

Does Karate reflect life?

We have all seen the usual lists of attributes on martial arts posters and advertisements.

  • Get into shape
  • Gain confidence
  • Learn to defend yourself
  • A fun and friendly environment
  • Increased flexibility
  • Teaches respect and discipline
  • Relieves tension and stress

I would personally term them differently.

  • Hone your instincts
  • Sharpen reflexes and reactions
  • Speed up thought processes
  • Tone muscle and strengthen bone
  • Enhance flexibility and agility
  • Correct actions and power generation
  • Controlled emotions
  • Body and Mind Conditioning

“Karate aims to build character, improve human endeavour and cultivate modesty. However, it does not guarantee it” Yasuhiro Konishi.

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John Johnston has been my teacher for over 10 years now and I have a great respect and admiration for his teaching methods, martial ability and philosophy. But also his desire to aid his student’s progression by encouraging them to train outside his club with other instructors. I am not being biased just because he is my husband. He always shows patience, kindness and commitment towards his students and I am one of his students. He has helped me to write many published articles by being the contrast that I have needed to differentiate and evaluate all the good the bad and the ugly in the world of Karate!
Karate can be a good and honest teacher for anyone who can embrace it’s teachings. I believe that life can sometimes be rather deceptive and we live in a culture where by people’s beliefs can and often do shape the evolution of humanity. If enough people believe something then that something becomes the norm and becomes accepted as a truth even if it is not. Things do not always have to be good to be accepted as the norm either. So you can see where I’m going with this. Life cannot always be relied upon to be a good and honest teacher, nor can our parents! as not all of us have had ideal upbringings and not all influential people are good people!. Our lives bustle with people and life becomes much more pleasant and easier if we can learn how to be integrated into society in a positive and meaningful way. Good social skills and correct behavioural concepts need to be adopted to make this happen but what are good social skills?. My correct social skills and manners never came from my upbringing; they came from my Karate training. Not all Instructors are equipped to be able to set a moral compass within a student with a bad or weak attitude because they themselves are lacking but what exactly is the right kind of courtesy to hone in your students?. Being courteous is paramount when teaching someone a martial art. Is courtesy being kind and thinking about treating the other person well and respectfully? We usually associate being courteous with politeness and compassion, a manner of behaving that allows groups of people to cope with societal attitudes, maybe. The structure of a Karate class is different and the epistemology of human courtesy changes into something quite different. When I met John and started training with him I got a shock indeed. I was taught about being courteous to my training partners by not expecting them to lower their standards for me and I was taught to be courteous to them by having the courage to hit towards the target with full intention and controlled aggression so that they could protect themselves and block realistically and effectively so aiding them in learning about what is going to work and what isn’t going to work in a real situation, after all what is it we are training for if part of it is not for the preparation in dealing with a real confrontational or life threatening situation. I had to learn to attack with the intention that allowed them to be realistic. I was also not being courteous to my partner by allowing them to believe that a technique was working if it wasn’t, so no falling over to easily or allowing them to take me down to easily, or being to slow with a secondary attack to allow them time to block and defend again. To have this kind of courtesy for your training partner is very difficult because there is nowhere to hide your inexperience or your weaknesses. To be able to be courteous you have to become a better martial artist and because of the nature of the exercise you undoubtedly become a better person as it is very risky and difficult to attack full on with a bad attitude which is why John and I call it the art of self development. When I say a better person, I mean an honest person. I believe that you learn from honest students because they will reflect upon you the things that you need to improve or change. Honesty is the key to progress when it comes to being courteous for your partner’s development. This is the kind of training that taught me that pride and arrogance was a hindrance to one’s self development, I had to be humble, honest and strong enough to be able to look at the reflection of myself that it gave me without the rose tinted glasses or the self delusion and I realised that in order to be able to become a better Karate – Ka, I needed to become a better person. I think it is critical when you are training especially in partner work that you are under no illusions about your ability and you must certainly never expect your partner to lower their standards just so that you can handle them, so appreciating my inabilities was the hardest thing at first. Pride is not a good trait for a martial artist as it can cause emotional outbursts and hinder progress. I had to know how good I wasn’t if that makes sense. John has never been lenient with me in that respect (for my own development of course) with his realistic no nonsense approach to Karate which was exactly what I needed at that time. After falling off my high horse a few times and taking myself off the list of people I thought had good Karate, I began to analyse what was wrong with my art and find strategies to compensate me in the Dojo whilst I was developing new skills, courage and learning how to be humble. That was over 10 years ago and do you know what? Because my training in the Dojo is progressive and is always advancing, this is a never ending task for me. I am still in the process of developing new skills, courage and learning how to be humble..With all of the new skills I have learnt, I have become a better person, a better wife, a better mother and a better friend and the best friend I have made on this journey is myself. If you can live with yourself then others can too. These are life’s lessons but it took one good man and his Karate to teach them to me.

“I think we are going to need a bigger boat”.John & Me 1