The notion seems counterintuitive at first glance, but intention is everything, here. One might kick and punch to exercise one’s ego and reinforce one’s inferiority complex, or conversely, one may do the same to exorcise the ego in hopes of attaining superiority over the self.
The repetitive nature of karate-do, the continual breakdown of techniques to its most elemental form and the insistence of rebuilding it with perfection, with awareness, all lends itself to becoming the ideal tool for transformation. But as with any tool, karate-do can be used to build or to destroy.
Sensei Moshfegh used to tell me, “karate is therapy…the kick and the punch, and what you see is like the surface of the ocean viewed from the beach…but the ocean isn’t what you see from the beach. The ocean is all that life and activity, deep under the surface that you cannot see, and karate is the same.”
At the time I was young and immature. When Sensei Moshfegh told me karate was therapy, my mind only fathomed physical therapy. What I pictured was my limbs, and I assumed the depth of the ocean was my, at the time undiscovered, ego driven infatuation with the depths of my sinewy muscles, which I all too often wanted others to admire! Oh what a waste of precious time!
But thank God I matured! Through karate-do, through the insistence of my Sensei, in particular Sensei Johnston, a transformation occurred. Repetition, specifically solitary repetition, where the only stimuli was internal, forced me to look at myself. One move of a kata, and more often, one part of one move of a kata was “mind numbingly” repeated to exorcise the idea that I was there to be entertained…that there was anything there other than me.
With nowhere to go but within, I began to pair the external technique with the internal feeling. For every move that Sensei made me repeat because it wasn’t good enough, I peeled away a layer of my ego, and in time…a long time, I noticed a more relaxed and humble self…a self that I began to actually like and enjoy. As Sensei pushed me to become more present and aware of technique at that moment in time, and only that moment in time, a picture began to emerge of a true me, a real me. A me that was sincere and not hiding behind a facade. A me that could transact a relationship in the moment as it unfolded, just like the technique, without preconceived notions or barriers.
As awareness of the “me” grew, awareness of “other than me” began to diminish, and reaction turned to action, hardness turned to softness and I noticed qualities in me that I had long admired in my sensei over the years.
Though the process is always ongoing, and my progress has been just a drop on the bucket, to this day I smile and debate to myself whether the repeated physical movements made me more humble, or, the discovery of my insignificance relative to the world, that made me more physically relaxed. Either way, I can most assuredly say, if the intention is right, you can kick and punch yourself to a devastatingly more softer and gentler self!