What Karate Means To Me
By nature I have probably always been an inquisitive person, but over the past few years I have found myself increasingly curious about and drawn to subjects like philosophy, theology and other matters to do with spirituality. I suspect that this is in part because in class these are the sorts of subjects which are discussed, and in part because the act of training in karate itself is increasingly causing me to explore and question such matters
I think that I am the result of each of my experiences in life; my efforts, successes and failures, and my memories, reflections, observations and thoughts. To me, Shúshin Kai, its members and my teachers, and karate more broadly are some of the sources of such experiences. I think it is for this reason that I have always found it so difficult to clearly articulate what karate means to me. I don’t think it is possible to attribute exclusively any successes, self-growth or development, to karate. Outside of karate I have a full life and I don’t think that that the influence of those experiences can be discounted, nor indeed considered in isolation from those attained through karate. Rather than attempting to reach any definitive, principled answer, I have chosen to instead simply consider some of my more significant and memorable experiences and thoughts about karate.
I think that Shihan Graeme and Sensei Lincoln give to Shúshin Kai more than mere knowledge and competence; I think they are artists, in both karate and in life, and that this is reflected in everything they teach. Through their instruction and intuitive guidance I am required to continually (strive to) push myself to my absolute physical, intellectual and emotional limits.
I have learnt just as much from the example Shihan provides through his leadership, strength of character, the tolerance, patience, kindness, compassion and understanding he shows each of his students, his unwavering commitment to Shúshin Kai and the personal sacrifices he has made for karate, and everything else that he is, as I have from Shihan’s direct instruction. I feel very lucky to be a member of Shúshin Kai; before even words are spoken there are lessons to be learnt.
Underpinning everything Shihan teaches is good manners, etiquette, propriety, respect and courtesy. This is the example of our teachers and this is what is expected of us. From the very beginning I have observed at Shúshin Kai a strong sense of community, built on these virtues. I recall being warmly welcomed into Shúshin Kai, I remember being shown kindness and patience from the very start, and have been encouraged and supported all the way through what has been an extraordinarily difficult endeavour.
I am certain I have grown as a person since joining Shúshin Kai. I think this is particularly true because of the high degree of attention Shihan Graeme and Sensei Lincoln insist that we pay at all times to our form and technique, Shihan Graeme’s constant efforts to provide context and perspective for what we are learning, explain its purpose and always draw our minds to the bigger picture, and lessons on matters outside of the physical aspect of karate, including lessons on zen, meditation, chi-kung and other matters of spirituality, and discussions that touch on topics including psychology, physiology, philosophy, morality and ethics.
More frequently, I am turning my mind to matters to do with who I am, what is important to me and what I believe. There are skills that I am developing simply because this is what training in karate requires of me. I am (slowly) learning to control my mind and body, I am becoming stronger and fitter, and I am improving my ability to focus, think critically, reflect and contemplate. And I am learning to become more patient and tolerant, particularly with myself.
In preparation for this essay, I read over the emails Shihan and I have exchanged over these last few years. I know I’ve always been hard on myself, but even I was surprised at the self-doubt and the degree of self-criticism in what I’d written. In every response, Shihan was kind, patient, nurturing and always with exactly the advice, anecdotes and other wise words that were needed to point me back in the right direction. I think it is also so interesting to now see how these emails to Shihan have become increasingly less frequent; I believe this is a testament to the sort of mentor Shihan is and how I’ve grown as a person as a result.
By nature I have probably always been an inquisitive person, but over the past few years I have found myself increasingly curious about and drawn to subjects like philosophy, theology and other matters to do with spirituality. I suspect that this is in part because in class these are the sorts of subjects which are discussed, and in part because the act of training in karate itself is increasingly causing me to explore and question such matters.
I am only too happy to laugh and joke about how incredibly awful I was when I first started karate. I recall once becoming so frustrated with myself for not being able to perform what was an ostensibly simple task, that I burst into tears in the dojo. I remember not wanting to tell Shihan that I’d been practicing on the weekend because my karate was so awful that I felt embarrassed to admit that it was the product of extra training. On a couple of occasions over these last few years, Shihan has filmed me performing kata and has made me a DVD copy. When I watch myself, I cringe. When I think about how I performed my kata and bunkai last night, I cringe. I am still incredibly awful at karate, but I am very proud to say that I am considerably less so than when I first started. Nothing in karate has ever come easily or naturally to me - every skill attained has been through my own perseverance, and notwithstanding how truly awful I still am, I am proud of my efforts to date.
On a couple of recent occasions, Shihan has asked me to assist students junior to me, and it has been my absolute pleasure and honour to do so. I am absolutely indebted Shihan Graeme, Sensei Lincoln and Shúshin Kai, and am just so pleased to have progressed to a point where I can finally begin to give something back. I look forward to many more such opportunities to repay.
I think I am finally beginning to know and understand myself. I am beginning to more clearly formulate ideas about what I care about and what’s important to me, and I am becoming more confident in myself, my choices and my abilities. I think it is for these reasons that I am feeling less confused and unsure of everything that has passed, and more prepared for, ready and able to keep my focus and meet everything that is yet to come.
Karate has come to mean a great many things to me. Certainly, it is more than something I simply do. I think that somewhere along the way, I have begun to internalise everything that karate is, and now, rather than something I do, it feels more accurate to describe it as something I am. I think it is quite remarkable that this has been my experience over this relatively short period of time, and I really marvel and what is ahead.
Kimberley Johston began training Goju Ryu with Shushin Kai on 12th October, 2008, at age 24 years. She was graded to Shodan on 8th October 2011.