You practise Karate/Judo/Taekwondo etc, you can’t be afraid, you’re tough, are n’t you or I would n’t want to mess with you.  I’m sure many of us will have either heard these phrases or something very similar. But are they true?

As a Karate (I’ll say Karate for ease of typing, but this article applies to any Martial Art) person you must learn to be afraid.  I can hear you all saying, he’s mad, well maybe but think back to your very first grading, the first competition you went into or the first time you fought a Black Belt,  Go on tell me you won’t nervous and scared of the experience.  Bet not many of you could truthfully say you have n’t been afraid during your Karate experience. Wait until you get to black belt, that all changes, right? Wrong, at least not if you are a proper Black Belt.

Fear is something nearly every human being has to cope with. How we cope with it, defines us as a person and a martial artist.  Look at all the things we have to worry about today – Will there be a global recession, is my job safe, my pay is not rising in line with inflation, are my kids happy……………..the list goes on and on for most of, these important things make any Karate worries pale into insignificance. Learn to use your Karate to challenge the fears and beat them, both by using the relaxation and meditative aspects of it and also by the focus and determination, you should be using to move up the grade ladder.

If you are not afraid when training in Karate, you are doing it wrong. If you are not afraid when training in Karate, you are doing it wrong. Yes I did say it twice, its true and its an important point to reflect on. 

We all have comfort zones, most us live within these comfort zones. If you are happy doing this, that’s okay, but don’t expect to improve as a martial artist. Look at the instructors many of us have seen, as soon as they became an instructor, they developed the Sensei strut and stopped training in order to start teaching. They become comfortable with their new position in the dojo and being held up in esteem by their students. Firstly their skills levels are (generally) likely to decrease because they are not putting themselves in harms way enough. Consider also, that it’s a really brave Sensei, who tries something new or different with all their students watching, when they are scared that they will belittle themselves in the eyes of their students. Fancy reducing that godlike status to that of a mere mortal who and is n’t perfect and actually makes mistakes. A good instructor won’t be afraid of making these kinds of ‘mistakes’ and they will use these lessons as a good learning experience and to improve their own and their students Karate. A good instructor trains hard with the students to set them an example, he tries to do better than he did at the previous class. He falls over because he tries to kick  a little bit higher, he messes things up. He even admits to being fallible and says “I don’t know” when a student asks him something he does n’t know.  A good instructor seeks feedback from anyone who will give it to him and acts on it. a bad instructor is too scared to do these things.

What about Kumite time in class? Decide on who the best / hardest / fastest fighter in the club is and pick them out and make sure you fight them at every opportunity you can. If they are of a so much higher standard than you, that’s even better.  If you fight someone that you are better than, there is nothing to stretch your skills. Fight the best people you can and quickly your skills will improve, depending upon your partner’s skill levels, you can progress very quickly in a relatively short period of time. Are going to be out of your comfort zone, sure, will you be scared yes, will you get better at Karate, definitely, will you get hurt, maybe (you can’t make an omelette without cracking an Egg). Karate is meant to challenge you physically and mentally, if it is n’t challenging at nearly every lesson, then either the practitioner is n’t training properly or the instructor is n’t a good instructor.

Lets not even think about using Karate in self defence. If you are not used to being scared in a fight and being put under heavy pressure and then overcoming that fear/pressure, then you probably won’t be able to defend yourself well. Take comfort that anyone can learn to draw on their emotions to help them fight better, if they’ll go with it and pressure test themselves.

What about that class with a new instructor or in a different school. “I can’t go there I’m scared I’ll get hurt/humiliated/laughed at/they’ll all be better than me etc  NO NO NO. Fear is good, take yourself out of your comfort zone and you will improve. Why do people fear training elsewhere. Well you could be due to the reasons mentioned at the start of this paragraph, it might be because they are lazy or more likely that they have gotten into a rut through being in a predictable comfort zone. “I’m to far away, its too different, everyone will better than me, my Sensei won’t let me, I know all about that already”……all answers I’ve heard when I’ve invited people to train with me. Some of the time they might even be true, but most of the time, people are too scared to challenge themselves. You claim you want to get better as a Karate-ka, even one day attain the exalted status of being a black belt or for those that are black belt, a high grade black belt. If that’s really true, then change your mindset.

As an instructor are you pandering to your student’s self doubts and insecurities. Do your students get given things to do that they know how to do or are comfortable doing, do they do the things they need to do, instead of what they would like to do? Your responsibility as an instructor is to take your students to a new level, one that they did n’t think they could reach or that they even knew existed. Every student needs to be brought out of a different comfort zone, but you’re the big fish in the small pond and that’s what you are there to do. You need to teach them how to deal with fear, you need to (safely) pressure test them, you need to build them up, you need to make them into Martial Artists. Are you up for the challenge or are YOU to scared to be a good competent instructor? 

Let me be very clear. As a Karate-ka, if you are not taking yourself out of your comfort zone each and every week, then stop wasting your time and that of your instructor doing Karate. Go and do Morris Dancing or Knitting or something else where you can quite happily live in a little world of mediocrity and not have to worry about learning new skills and developing them or being taken out of your comfort zone.

 Fortune favours the brave

 The coward dies many deaths, the brave only one.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” – Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear from Dune Series by Frank Herbert

Funakoshi’s Principle 11 of 20 states – “Karate is like boiling water: if you do not keep the flame high, it turns tepid” or more bluntly use it or lose it!

Dead duck or a chicken – you decide!