An art that can’t be hurried. 

Some martial arts instructors can be quick to tell students to: “Give me 20 press-ups, 30 sit-ups, 40 squats, 50 star-jumps…“ before ordering them to “pair-up and free fight” (for 20 minutes or more at a time and without control). 

Those same instructors might push the class to get through combinations as quickly as possible and expect students to try to finish first.

They might place emphasis on chasing the next coloured belt too, or pressure students to enter competitions simply to win medals or trophies. 

What’s the hurry? 

The only thing students might learn from rushed, uncontrolled physical exercise and full-on sparring is that bruises are easy to come by, muscles tear, fingers and toes are fragile, and the nearest A&E has a three-hour waiting time! 

Similarly, if a bunch of people are simply running around punching/kicking/striking and shouting all at the same time, going through combinations as fast as they can, they’re only concentrating on two things: simply trying to keep pace or go faster than the next guy. As a result, the quality and effectiveness of the karate suffers, and if you’re not careful, this poor technique quickly becomes muscle memory that’s hard to re-programme.

And while Gradings are an essential part of Karate, failing one or more because you’re ill prepared (mentally or physically) is so disheartening it can easily cause students to quit training. The same is true of competitions. Hugely beneficial though they are, no one should be at a tournament under duress, or be made to feel inferior if they lose in the first round. 

Remember our guiding principle 

As our founding father, Master Funikoshi said himself: “The ultimate aim of Karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants.”)

To my knowledge, his tenet didn’t then follow with the caveat: “As quickly as possible.”  

So why is there sometimes an emphasis placed on such haste: to rush through combinations and Kata, to chase the next belt, and to enter tournaments simply to win? How does this often counter-productive mind-set arise in the first place? And why is it important for a Karate Sensei to take a more measured approach?

Well, it’s probably true that the modern world places greater demands on us all and with time at a premium, we can often feel pressured to hurry, head down, towards a goal. 

We have more expectations of life than ever before and this too can alter our perceptions of what might be realistically achieved within a given period, or within the parameters of our physical ability and age.

But there’s something else, another reason I think we’re often rushed by others (or we rush people ourselves). And although that reason is not unique to Karate, it can certainly manifest itself in our training if we’re not careful. The truth is we can all easily forget how difficult it was to learn something we were taught years ago, a task or knowledge we’ve subsequently gained many years’ experience of putting into practice. 

That’s why it’s easy for an instructor, with years of training, to perform combinations with ease at a high level. But unrealistic for them to expect students to learn and perform them perfectly too – especially in 10 seconds flat. 

Patience: a virtue

Exuberance and enthusiasm are wonderful traits in an instructor. However, it’s important to ensure they’re not the only things that influence training because when too much emphasis is placed on speed and power, technique always falls by the wayside. 

None of us can assimilate information or execute techniques properly if we’re being pushed 100% all of the time. 

And this is where an experienced Sensei will demonstrate his/her ability to ‘read’ a class. They can see if students are actually taking information in, executing moves correctly, are focussed and are able to concentrate on the important details such as correct timing, focus, breathing and facial expressions.

That Sensei will also know if people need to catch their breath, grab some water or take a short break. Sometimes it’s important to give students time to absorb something they’ve just learned, too. 

Coloured belts and gold medals

In terms of Gradings, the patience required to wait, train diligently and earn each new coloured belt is a key part of Karate’s ethos. Wiser instructors will uphold that ethos and ensure it’s a foundation of their club’s regime and culture. Smart students will understand and accept it as part of their personal development. 

Competitions can also provide an invaluable experience, and not just because you’re ‘performing’ in public. You get to feel a sense of pressure you can come to understand and better control, which is certainly an advantage if you ever have to use your Karate in the street. You also get to see and meet students from other clubs around the country, or from other parts of the world, and watch them perform – another useful and often inspiring benefit of participation.

But while every student should be encouraged and supported to supplement their training with competitions, no one should ever be unduly pressured into taking part. And shouldn’t tournament entrants of any grade always be reassured they’re winners, simply because they’ve chosen to take part? I think so.

When you play the long game, you can’t help but win 

In conclusion, taking a more holistic, studious and unhurried approach to Karate can reap the greatest rewards and provide the most fulfilling experience over a lifetime. 

So if you’re a student, this is an ethos you can seek out in a Sensei and club, as well as bring to life in your own training. And if you’re an instructor, like me, I think it’s a way of teaching we should all continually aspire to. 

More haste, less speed is a familiar phrase. And although it’s not a piece of traditional Japanese wisdom, it’s certainly an expression that’s as relevant to Karate as it is in life.   

These are extracts from an article written by Sensei Sanna which appeared in Shotokan Karate Magazine (SKM). It’s been edited by Nigel Edginton-Vigus for this website.




Karate. A gentle art

When you hear the word Karate, what images spring immediately to mind?

Most people would probably visualise violent, film-style fights, plus bricks, wood (and limbs!) being smashed and broken.

And who would be doing all that fighting, breaking and bone smashing? I expect the vast majority of us would imagine big, muscly, hard-looking…men.

But the truth is that while Karate is a martial art, it’s only as violent as the instructor teaching it. Personally (and as the principles of our art dictate), I don't believe you need to be violent to win, or succeed in defending yourself: you just need to learn the right approach in the right situation.  

Making the best of what we were born with

When teaching, I prefer to make the practitioner aware of the natural body weapons that are available to all of us, irrespective of our size, physical strength or even age. I also believe we need to understand, and be able to fully utilise, our own unique potential using as little energy as possible.

That is why I believe Karate isn’t the preserve of the clichéd ‘tough-guy’; it’s an art that’s particularly suited to women.

In my experience (and I’m not alone in this view), women often learn faster and perform better than their male counterparts. They have exceptional co-ordination and memory (which helps when having to perform lengthy combinations and complex routines).

And I think that almost all the women I’ve taught have frequently displayed more speed, grace and determination than men they’ve trained with or have competed against.

I’ve also noticed that women students pay a lot of attention to the small but vital details of technique. Men, on the other hand, can be guilty of overlooking these details as they rely more on pure physical strength. But effective technique will always beat brute force.

Effective technique, not brute force

In conclusion, the perception of Karate as being practiced only by aggressive, hairy chested blokes who like fighting is a myth.  

Our classes are geared towards learning, improving and understanding rather than fighting each other: we practice to improve our minds and bodies rather than to prove to others that we are better (or tougher than the next person). 

That’s why Karate attracts more women than you might think. And long may that continue.

These are extracts from an article written by Sensei Sanna which appeared in Shotokan Karate Magazine (SKM). It’s been edited by Nigel Edginton-Vigus for this website.