Karate is changing something in me, on a level so basic that it is before-words. I don’t really understand what’s happening, on that level, but I trust it, and [Sensei], enough to let it happen. At this stage, I worry that understanding would allow me to evade the ways it’s shaping me.
Six years ago, I would’ve interpreted “not wanting to control” as “not wanting to be responsible”, but my life since then has been a practice in humility; I don’t have to control a situation to be responsible for what I do, and vice versa. Karate has continued developing that humility; to be in classes here is practice in taking constant correction from people who know more than you – correction to which there can be little response other than to seek understanding and to practice, or to quit.
This process of correction is interwoven with the kyu structure. To learn, to advance, you have to teach others – and, of course, to teach, you have to learn. Since teaching is twined with practice, practice here is intrinsically social; just being in class is communal and comfortable.
Because our interactions are formalized, I find it easier to trust people here, which is useful, because a lot of karate has involved giving up control. Giving up control of where to hold my thumbs, of how to tie my belt, of when to bow. Giving up the illusion that competence can be obtained without decades of practice. Giving up the illusion, again and again, that I could defend myself from all physical assaults now.
In my personal symbologies, karate feels like a the exacting-ness of pure math, and also like the abnegation of Catholicism. Two-in-one.
Paradox: karate is about defense of self, but it is also about how to do something bigger than yourself.
After an assault, I journaled a lot about wanting a body that could be something “other than the bait and the catch and the kill”. When kicked into fight-flight-freeze mode, my body always picks freeze. It makes me feel so helpless, that my first reaction to a threat is muscles loosening, throat dropping, thought freezing. I wasn’t sure what chance I had of ever being something other than “the kill“, with a body like that.
But karate consists of talking about assaults, and yelling, and other people yelling, and moving anyways; and doing the same drills hundreds of times so that it’s easier to move anyways, no matter what. (Because if you stay still, you’ll definitely get punched, but if you move, at least maybe you won’t, and slim odds are better than none.)
The ultimate aim of karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants.