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Is Karate a Vehicle for Philosophy?

2020.06.05

It’s been said that Karate can be a ‘way of life’ or a philosophy for living. My teacher agrees with this but I must ponder it myself. The basic moral code of Karate is that it’s for defense only. This is a good thing. It also teaches us to remain in good physical condition and practice daily. This is another good thing.

I think where I start to trip up is when I try to compare Karate to something like Stoicism. While there are similarities, Karate seeks to calm the mind and keep focus, it does not necessarily seek to impassive. One of its codes is to"Strike when the opportunity presents itself.” That does not sound like impassivity.

Philosophy is “The study of the nature, causes, or principles of reality, knowledge, or values, based on logical reasoning” and perhaps Karate and Stoicism are not in opposition but rather just an offshoot from the same tree.

In this video below, Shotokan Karateka Claire Bouchard talks about the calm mind and the focus in Kata and Kumite. She then tells the audience that those learned skills are useful in daily life, and I agree with her.

After this video, I watched this on Bruce Lee and his philosophical thoughts. I did not know that he studied philosophy at college, but I do know that he’s often thought of as a ‘warrior monk.’ His famous quote:

“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.”

It definitely very Eastern philosophy and quasi Sun Tzu. It has broad applications in my humble opinion, it does not have to apply to just the Martial Arts, but it can be applied to your daily life.

I’m not sure if I agree with him on stripping away any study of Kata. He does make a valid point that Kata makes things too rigid and flexibility is key to Martial Arts and I do agree with these thoughts on the ‘no mind’ where you strike, block, or react without thinking. Still, Kata in my mind is a framework for development and good set instructions to build yourself into the Martial Arts. Even my Teacher has studied the art of Chin Na (to seize and control) which is very different than Karate.

I must ponder all this some more.