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What Karate Means To Me

When it comes to karate, and myself, words cannot really explain what it means to me. However, doing this essay will help me express feelings that I may never have known existed. Well, I suppose the fact that I have been practicing martial arts for almost seven years, really speaks for itself. When comparing my karate life to that of others within my club, it really doesn’t seem to be so long. However, to me it has been an endeavour that I once believed that I never would or could, achieve. Due to my karate aspirations, my outlook on life has completely taken a turn for the better.

It has finally hit me that not many people stare down the barrel of a black belt. I now feel privileged just to be worthy of trying for such an achievement. I can still remember that mild autumn day that I walked through those big glass doors at Tullamarine. I had to stand at the back of the dojo with rows of students in front of me. There were many tall, older and higher grades who obscured my view of Sensei’s teachings. Well, now look at me! I am at the front of that line and cannot believe the sacrifices that it took to get me here. Just making it through those two-hour sweat sessions where day turns into night, is an achievement in its own right.

Just like every martial artist, there were stages in my life when karate became extremely boring due to the intensity of my training. I had two goals in life: do well at school and to become a brown belt. They were not interacting well. So, giving up karate was foremost in my mind. I felt it would make me do better academically at school. However, I am not the type to throw away my dreams. Failing my orange belt grading in March 1994 aggravated this tension.

In contrast to this static moment in my karate life, I managed to get one step closer to my black belt by passing my first brown belt grading. I passed one of the toughest gradings I have ever been through. Calling out one kata and performing another forced Sensei to fail me for the second time in my karate history. Fortunately, he offered me a second chance that I eagerly accepted. However, it didn’t come without a price or in this case ‘pain’. He forced me to go through all six kata in ascending order. This time I passed. Then he made me spar all six of the black belts in succession. The bruises, loss of fluid and oxygen was worth it. I still don’t know how I walk today!

I can still remember sensei telling me: " You really don’t start getting noticed till you are a brown belt." However, remaining a brown belt for a whole year, took its toll, as there was more pressure for me to perform, live up to expectations and know much more.

In late 1997, my motivation returned inspired by the words of Sensei Lincoln: " I know you’re at that stage in life where karate has become boring and very repetitive, and you have lost interest. Everyone who practices karate goes through this trying stage, it is up to you to make karate enjoyable."

I now realise that I have persevered where others didn’t. Many people come and go, but the ones that persevere, show strength of character. After seven difficult years, it is no accident that I have continued karate. Karate has given me confidence, taught me manners and respect for my peers, and helped me grow as a person through sacrifices. These days, I tend to apply things I learn in the dojo to my everyday life. Concentration learnt in the dojo can be applied to keeping focused during exams.

A lesson learnt while a blue belt remains in my mind to this day: " It is only when you become a black belt that the real journey begins. However, it is not getting the black belt that is most important, but the journey taken along the way." I now see life as a path along which I walk, overcoming every obstacle in my way.

I have also now realised that there is more to karate than just the physical side. We as martial artist grow not only physically, but mentally too. We cannot survive by just focusing on the physical side; we need to have the balance of both the physical and theoretical aspects of karate. Sensei thought this to me as being similar to the Yin and Yang concept. Without the theoretical side we cannot reach enlightenment and become a whole person.

Karate helps control one’s body, mind, and spirit. It took me seven years to find out that the dojo is where one is able to polish one’s spirit, make decisions, and learn important lessons. My purpose in life now is to continue karate and treat obstacles as a challenge, which can always be overcome.

In my karate life I have learnt many things. One that stands out the most in my mind is that I see many of my friends play sport for the love and enjoyment of it; many take it quite seriously, looking to be the best they can, and some even try to make a living from it. However, I now know, that martial artists don’t play it, they live it. Martial artists are shaped by the experiences they have, the sacrifices they are forced to make, and the things they learn and discover about their potential and limitations.

By Suraj Fernando, 9th December 1999

Suraj Fernando began training at karatedo on 19th April, 1993, aged12 years. He was graded to Shodan on 10th January, 2000, at age 18 years. He was awarded Nidan on 6th October 2007, and Sandan 4th October 2014.