What “The Way” of Karate Actually Means (Read This!)

Drip.

Drip, drip.

I open my eyes.

Another drop of sweat splashes on the floor.

All I can see are my feet, hovering in the air in front of my face.

They’re shaking… violently.

“Crap, I can’t take no more!”. My eyes are getting watery. My body hurts. I’m shutting down. That familiar voice in the back of my head is trying to convince me…

Let go.

But just as I’m about to drop my legs to the ground, giving my abs get some hard-earned rest, I hear my strength coach, Fredrik, yell in my ear:

“Jesse! Don’t give up yet. You are stronger than that! Find the interest. Look inwards, and push yourself further. Find the interest!”

Uh…

What?!

His unusual wording immediately caught my attention.

“Find the interest.”

It worked.

I suddenly became super interested in finding out how much more I could squeeze out of my useless body. My mind became the supreme commander of the piece of flesh disguised as me, and I ignored my shaking legs. I ignored the sweat dripping down my face. I ignored the whole world outside, and for one moment – just one brief moment – closed my eyes and dedicated my whole being to finding out how deep down my interest could pull me. How far out on a limb it could carry me.

Crack!

The limb snapped.

Falling flat on the floor, my “interest” quickly faded.

But I didn’t care.

I my mind’s eye, I had single-handedly conquered Mt. Everest, saved Wall Street, discovered the cure for cancer, eradicated all McDojos from earth, and killed Hitler blindfolded with a blunt bread knife – all at the same time.

I was a hero.

Because, mentally, I had died several times. But each time my spirit revived me.

My “interest”.

I guess this was what Shakespeare meant, when he once wrote:

“A coward dies a thousand deaths, a hero dies but once.”

– William Shakespeare (Act 1, Scene 2, Line 32, Julius Caesar).

You see…

The important part wasn’t that I had “died”.

(Everybody dies.)

The important part was that I had lived.

On and on.

Lived through those agonizing seconds of physical torture, where the voice in the back of my head was constantly whispering “give up”.

This voice exists in all of us.

Even you.

It’s a constant battle between the logical, smart, shiny new part of your brain (what scientists refer to as the neocortex) and the old, primal, instinctive part of your brain (known as the amygdala), located near the brain stem.

This schism comes in many forms, and we often call it:

  • Good vs. Evil
  • Right vs. Wrong
  • Brain vs. Heartheart-brain

Most suffering in life is caused by this constant struggle; between what we think is right and what we feel is right.

Sometimes they coincide.

(That’s when we are the happiest.)

Sometimes not.

(That’s when we are in pain.)

We say we want one thing, but we do another. We say we want to be successful, but we procrastinate. We say we want a second date, but we never call back. We say we want to be healthy, but we eat another donut. We say we want to be smart, but we never read that book. We say we want white teeth, but we never floss. We say we want to wake up early, but we stay up late.

We say we want to improve our Karate.

But ____________.

[Fill in the blank]

The contradictions never end.

This is the fine print at the bottom of the contract for the privilege of being human, and we all signed it.

With our life.

Ever since the first caveman realized that he could observe his own thoughts (and thus, there must exist a duality within him) – throughout every age, culture and human civilization in the history of the planet – people have known this. That’s why we have such an abundance of religion, spirituality, philosophy, ideologies, cults, morals, codes of conduct and self-help books out there.

We can’t understand ourselves.

We are, and have always been, desperately seeking a way to handle this unconditional and irrational (yet natural) conflict within us.

heartmind

It’s perplexing.

And our ancestors struggled with this just as much as we do.

But no matter how many generations pass, or how many feel-good seminars we attend, the average person still doesn’t know what to do about this.

Why?

Because…

(Read carefully now – this is what the self-help industry DOESN’T want you to know).

It can’t be stopped.

As long as you are human, your reptile brain isn’t going away.

That voice in the back of your head isn’t going to become silent anytime soon, and the dilemma of choosing between pizza today or six-pack abs tomorrow isn’t going to disappear either. Those are all just various expressions of the same battle within – and between – us and ourselves.

Solution?

Handle it.

  • Some do it physically (through movement).
  • Some do it mentally (through introspection).
  • Some do it spiritually (through beliefs).

The Way doesn’t matter, as long as you don’t stray from it.

(That’s why religion always cautions us from looking elsewhere.)

All you have to do is find a Way.

And follow it.

Like Karate-Do.

(“Do” means “Way” in Japanese.)

“Karate-do”

Nevertheless, whatever path one chooses, it will involve the act of acknowledging and accepting that there will always be this gap, or battle, or Devil, or inner voice, or Resistance, or Ego, or whatever you choose to call it, to haunt you.

So…

The question isn’t; “How do we stop this battle?” anymore.

It can’t be stopped.

The question is; “How do we bridge the gap?”

Because if we can’t, we will keep dying over and over again.

Until we can finally live.

“A coward dies a thousand deaths, a hero dies once.”

Find the interest.

Find the Way.

34 Comments

  • Andreas
    Already one of my all-time favorites of KBJ. Thanks man.
    • Thanks Andi-san. And let me know when that makiwara project is finished bro!
  • Joël
    Interesting read. When you talked about your coach saying "find the interest" I interpreted in financial terms. As in, you got the principle, now go for the bonus (i.e. the interest). Or keep it there as long as you can so you gain more interest.But "find the interest" in terms of what your passionate about is also a good interpretation.Hahaha... finding oyo bunkai in simple phrases!!!
    • You know what, Joël-san? Your financial viewpoint is pretty fascinating too. Great food for thought!
  • Artur Monteiro
    One of the best articles I've ever read!!!! Man... you are a poet!
    • Artur-san, I'm not a poet. I'm not even a writer. I'm a thinker. (That's why I never get writer's block). Writing is just a Way... ;)
  • AlexN
    Try to keep that contradiction going but do not try to observe it and separate from it. You know that feeling you get from a very challenging activity ? Very intense yet very relaxed? That's when both sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems work together - when the "magic" happens. But my reason for commenting is to congratulate on that awesome picture (yours?). Best thing I've seen this year. Never-ending conflict is what makes us grow and learn, wheter we like it or not.
    • AlexN
      Pardon my bad english.
  • Richard Lubkowski
    Excellent Jesse-san! It's not often that one finds such reflections, especially not in the world of sport and excercise! I had a letter published in Shotokan Karate Magazine a couple of issues ago responding to the question of whether a 'spiritual' element is essential to karate (as claimed by Master Funakoshi, and more recent Japanese masters). I myself am a retired priest (Episcopalian/Anglican) and welcome this issue being explored a little. My 'Way' has led me through difficult and painful life experiences and helped me to find peace and real joy in living! Karate has definitely contributed to this, as has your wonderful website and witty but wise outlook.
    • Thank you Richard-san. I appreciate your insightful feedback and reflections.
  • Isaac
    A really great article. you have a such a "way" with words. keep up the great job
  • Jesse San...thank you for an excellent article Your contributions and observations are worthwhileKeep up the excellent work Warmest
  • Careful, Jesse-san...Reveal one more brilliant insight into life and the gods may strike you down with a bolt of lightning. They're jealous like that.
  • Great article Jesse San!And a beautiful way to put it also , you must have some poet in you don't deny it.I always say something like " We are not as rational as we think, accept the animal within you and the fact that we still do a lot of thing by instinct and you'll get happier"Ypu see the same thing more or less but you put it in a much better way!
  • Lee
    Your words are so true. Please keep up the GREAT work
  • Lee Chon
    Bruce Lee said that we need to find our place between control and instinct. "Natural Unnaturalness" or "Unnatural Naturalness." Between being mechanical and being too instinctive. Or something like that.
  • Mike
    Great article. I think it simplifies and crystalizes a lot of overly complex arguments. Now if you can only link Shakespeare to carrot cake ... :)
  • David Alexander
    I LOVE this article, Jesse-San! ( I thought of calling you Jesse-Man, but I thought it'd be disrespectful) This is definitely one of my favorite articles EVER!!!!!
  • Jesse, You are right on point. We can want to be better, do more, face challenge and win; but, in order to do so we must make a concentrated effort. We must step beyond our normal self, whether physically, mentally, or spiritually. We have to push beyond discomfort or laziness or indecision in order to reach our goals. Thanks so much for memorializing a great lesson.
  • "Brain vs. Heartheart-brain Most suffering in life is caused by this constant struggle; between what we think is right and what we feel is right. Sometimes they coincide. (That’s when we are the happiest.) Sometimes not. (That’s when we are in pain.)"That's what in zen in Japan they call Shin. Shin is not "soul" separated from body, it is more "Heart", but this heart is not "our" heart oppossed to brain, but the heart of things were there is no opposition, the place when you think and feel and do the same with your entire being.That'w what we should call walking the Dô.PS: So not all religions keep you from looking around...
  • Excellent article. Couldn't agree more. I think that is why Karate makes a lot of sense to me too. The whole Zen philosophy behind it.... (even the word "shin" - like Jhonny said above)....you CAN'T separate mind body and spirit and sanchin = 3 battles - between mind body and spirit....isn't about who wins but about them cooperating equally so YOU win!).Funnily enough Karate filled a hole for me that I didn't really know was there. It was a hole that religion obviously never really filled even though previously I was fairly religious. I now actually care less about if there is a God / the importance of that than I care about living the best I can and being the best person I can and Karate helps me do that.....my husband sends me to training because he knows for a fact how it is so uplifting for me. :)
  • Randolph
    Thank you as always for sharing your inner most thoughts so eloquently Jesse-San. I am truly grateful to have you as one of the whisperers of wisdom in my life.Godspeed on the path that lays ahead...
  • Marco
    But... Which is the way of karate? There are hundreds of different Dojo kun! I understand that every karateka must read, learn and then develop their own way but, I feel that the current karate doesn't give a philosophical base concepts to start. KARATE NI SENTE NASHI maybe? Without these roots, karate is only an ephemeral interpretation. So...Which is the way of karate?
    • Ingrid
      I agree. We lost something. What is the difference between a karateka and other athletes? :P
      • Hayak
        You can find the answer in the first chapters of: karate do kyohan - Gichin Funakoshi :D Enjoy!
    • For me, the way lies in training.
    • Peter
      In my opinion Marco-San, there is no 'one way'either in karate or any other walk of life, there is only your way. It may be that you will find your Way in karate (I hope so, because I believe it is a beautiful way), but you won't find a sensei who will teach you 'The Way' (you might find some who will claim to - be careful out there!), we can only guide and encourage and help you to reveal your own path, it is for you to find the way. That is why, even in good karate classes you rarely hear much talk of philosophy and ideals - as jesse-san points out, the way is through training. Put all of yourself into your training and you will find your way - good luck!! :-)
  • Gregory A. Montoya
    Great post. An inspiration to those who are on the path and need a little more encouragement. Thanks, Jesse-san!
  • Arjun
    Nicely said Jesse, Oss
  • Thanks for linking this article in your latest..was a delight to read it again. Very impressive share of thought!
    • Thanks ThunderWiring! Glad you followed the link. :-) Keep reading!
  • Anatol
    Hi Jesse, i'm a translator and karate amateur from Poland. Thank you for resourcing me in the ideas and topical vocabulary. Cheers !
  • Culun
    This is more or less what I am going through right now. I think I finally managed to get on a new path, a new way. I am on the second half of my life and I needed a change, a new way to continue. For me this new way is Karate, which I have rediscovered after 20 years of inactivity. I got to green kyu when I was younger, and I am trying to continue from there. I certainly notice the difference in my body now, but this time I see why and understand why I walk this new path. I have a more realistic expectation of my path and it is working out quite well, maybe even better than expected. It is a pleasure receiving mails from you Jesse. You are an inspiration and a light that shines on my patch.
  • Sweta
    We say we want to improve our Karate. But we never push our limits ,we never push our self to do more. Your article reminded me of my coach telling me to show my inner quality n find my way. Thanks for all ur work.

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