The Human Side of Karate


“I am SO sorry!  Oh my gosh, are you all right?”

“Think so…”

“Hey, look at me – OK, your pupils are good.  I’ll get you an ice pack.”

black eye 2015 Joelle White
Bruises are fun!!!

Us martial artists have very interesting relationships with one another.  What other group of people will beat up their friends?  I remember once when helping to plan the Christmas party my attention wandered and I looked at each person in turn, thinking, “He’s thrashed me soundly, he’s beaten me up, so has he…”  I guess that’s what I get for visiting sister dojos so much.  And here we were working ever so nicely together to plan a wonderful social event.  We were talking about table decorations and stringing pretty colored lights!  I found this contrast to normal Karate conversation was hilarious, and fought down the giggles.

Sometimes these unusual relationships can bring to light some things we’d rather not see about ourselves, and we find out we can overcome those things.   I’ve recently written about a time when I sparred with someone who outranks me and discovered I had a “trigger” for anger.    Since then I’ve chatted a bit with him, I’ve watched him spar other karateka, and, most importantly, I sparred with him again and had fun.  I’m very pleased to be acquainted with him.

Sometimes a sparring match is a great icebreaker for us martial artists.  Once while visiting a sister dojo I chose to spar against a young man who didn’t even have a gi.  I knew he’d been training for a few weeks, so I started gently and ramped things up from there.  I couldn’t figure him out – one moment he’d be confident and giving me a run for my money, next moment he’d be uncertain and crumbling.  It didn’t take long for me to discover he liked throwing and dealing with kicks and didn’t do well with multiple punches.  I decided he needed more practice with punches.  I launched one of my favorite punch combinations and… he scooted backward and scored a kick that knocked the wind out of me.  So after class as I was walking up to him, I realized dude’s wearing a Tae Kwon Do T-shirt.  Oh…  That explained a lot!  We had a wonderful time chatting, we were joined by a saber fighter, and the three of us had a great geek fest.  I don’t know if we’d have spoken to each other had he not nailed me!  Which leads to what I’ve heard from numerous karateka of all ranks…

I have a sneaking suspicion that over half of all karateka feel like they’re awkward socially.  This based on numerous confessions from all ranks.  And yeah, me too.  Karate gives us a clear, easy to understand social system to hang out with for awhile. We don’t have to engage in mindless, awkward chitchat – in fact, most of the time chatter will earn us pushups.  There are times when we don’t have to interact with anyone at all – we can just be breath, muscle, spirit, movement…  As an introvert, I find all this to be refreshing.

Be that as it may, we don’t have to stay inside our little shells.  We do have something in common.  One can build from there when we throw ourselves together for social functions.  I’ve found questions like, “What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you were a beginner?” or “How did you get started with Karate?” are great ice breakers when I find myself sitting next to a black belt at a gathering.  Before I know it, the intimidation factor of sitting next to a (gasp) Sensei is gone.  Mind you I’m still respectful because I know I could get assigned pushups 😉

We see each other at our best and at our worst.  At the Christmas party I get to see my fellow karateka freshly showered and in nice clothes.  The complete opposite is how we all look at the end of Gasshuku, when we’re all stinky and gummy with a weekend’s worth of sweat, dust, and sunscreen and our gis are stained with grass, earth, and maybe a little blood.  We’ve seen great tournament performances and utter confusion over a drill.  We’ve seen laughter and we’ve seen tears of frustration and/or pain.  In short, we see that we’re human beings.

Author: Joelle White

I began training in Karate in June of 2014 after a 27 year hiatus.

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