[Conducted 8/13/2015 by Student Alexander Rozen with Sensei Adam Bellingar for a class essay on Karate. It has been modified somewhat for the website.]
Do you believe that karate practice for sport can be beneficial and hold cultural value?
Broadly speaking, sport is a cultural element of all societies. It is a way for societies to channel the “us versus them” elements in all people. Competition is a good forum for increasing performance of individuals and groups. A forum that doesn’t require us to kill each other arose as a consequence. War and violence are part of who we are. Sports create a framework for winners and losers to function with only psychological impacts. However, taken to excess, I find it to be detrimental to our individual and collective psyches. It permeates other areas, such as politics and economics, where the benefit isn’t quite as useful.
Karate began to be exported from Japan following World War II with the US military occupation and bases established throughout Japan. American G.I.s brought it home with them after being stationed in Okinawa and Japan. The high point of popularity for sport karate occurred in the US from the 1980s through the 1990s. Sport was a benefit because it spread karate all over the world. Karate on the level of sport (in my mind) can open up a doorway to a very rich next level. As the popularity of sport karate has waned with the arrival of mixed martial arts, karate practitioners have had to figure out a way to go beyond the sport level. We ended up having to go back to the roots of the training.
Do you believe that sports martial arts can benefit a person such as traditional practice does?
In all activities, you get out what you put in. A person can learn ethics, morality, hard work, and discipline in sport as well as traditional practice. So a person can benefit from sport, but it is not an underlying premise of sport in my experience and does not reflect most sport practitioners. There are a few sport organizations that do emphasize ethics, but not many.
Sport has a different focus than Traditional Karate—scoring via a punch or kick (offensive techniques) versus not losing. Winning in self-defense is not losing. We can all benefit by not losing.
How do you use your practice in everyday life, and how does it affect you and others around you?
Over time, the work in the dojo and the work in everyday life start to merge. The dojo provides a forum for self-improvement that can be applied to everyday situations… relationships, work ethic, etc. Most people don’t start out doing this, because improving yourself is extremely difficult. Over time, in order to continue to improve in the dojo, it is necessary to improve your whole life. So the practice ends up impacting everything I do. I have systematically restructured my life over time. For example, I recently gave up sugar in order to to improve my physical and mental processes. I have historically really enjoyed sweets, but I was beginning to get headaches from the sugar. It was no easy transition. Things like this have impact on all of the people in my life—especially when I have to resist ice cream on a hot summer day!
Do you believe that your practice holds cultural value in itself and in today’s society?
A key difference between traditional karate and other activities is a martial imperative. Life and death is part of being human. The warriors of old had developed techniques to prepare themselves mentally for the possibility that they could die at any moment. Acting correctly regardless of the work or sacrifice involved was a key mindset of the martial practitioner. It is a carpe diem (seize the day) perspective but with a different end result: one that does not squander human potential with self-interest and leisure only. Rest and leisure are important, but so are hard work, discipline, and perseverance. This has value, in my opinion, in our culture.