Karate as a counselling technique and for personal development.
Most people have a basic knowledge of Karate, usually derived from their portrayal in the cinema. Karate chops, flying kicks, funny noises and wise old men. And it is general accepted or understood that Karate is good for
(1)Self defence – True Karate training practices each technique to make each one lethal.
(2)Physical fitness – All parts of the body and muscle groups are used.
(3)Sport – Competitions have developed with different rules ranging from “no-contact” to “full-contact”.
What is less recognised outside of the martial arts world the fact that Karate is a
(4) “Do” or a way of life.
True practitioners of the art of karate (and it is an art), recognise that, similarly to Yoga or Meditation, Karate is something that improves the quality of your life, and should be trained for the duration of your life. It is this aspect of the art which I wish to talk about and explain how the proper teaching of karate can be an effective tool in counselling and/or personal development.
The aim of true karate practice
With the number of knives and guns in society today, defending oneself by hand is becoming less and less practical as a means of survival, and very few people actually want or need to engage in fighting on a daily basis. Violence is an ugly thing, and unless you have a psychotic personality, you will not walk out of a violent altercation without suffering some psychological or emotional damage. Joining a running club is a far more effective ways of defending yourself these days. Avoidance is the best policy. So why then spend years training and learning to fight, especially if you plan to go years hopefully without every using it. Stress management, mind control, self-confidence, self-discipline, mind-fullness and relaxation are all other reasons for practising as well as the above mentioned self defence, fitness and as a sport.
In his book Karate-do by Tatsuo Suzuki (1967), he states the true meaning of “Karate is basically a training to bring a person back to the natural state of mind he was born with, dispelling delusions”. Delusions such as; doubt, fear, attachment, and anger,
“An example of this would be; a baby does not have a complex of fear. A person who narrowly escapes being run over by a car will remain motionless, his limbs frozen by fear. But a baby would continue to move innocently, because he has no fear complex.”
One way this is developed within a Karate class is students are encouraged to be open or honest in the training. Open/honest as a beginner in trying new techniques, without fear of failing, or falling over, open to correction of instructors not dismissing their corrections out of some ego centred sense of righteousness, open to acknowledge the good and bad points of your personality.
One emphasis of karate therefore is to develop and maintain a healthy mind. “That inborn, pure mind unsoiled by evil thought and impressions through the experiences of life.” Life can wear you down, proper traditional Karate training teaches a student life skills and a code of conduct (more of which later) which benefits the life outside the dojo (Training Hall).
Training develops the character
In a traditional Karate class, which is what I teach, your every movement is controlled from start to finish. You are told how to stand, sit and move. This allows the training of many difference aspects of Karate. Unlike sitting in front of a TV, this allows you to focus your concentration for the duration of the session. One full session with a focused concentrated mind is ideally suited for relieving stress, in the same way that reading a book, it better at reducing stress then television. After a training session your mind and body are relaxed and calm with a laser like focus in your mind.
Because everyone is doing the exact same thing simultaneously it allows students to be less self conscious about their bodies. A student with low self confidence can act confidently for the duration of the class, while a student with a large ego can train humbly, meaning each student is training their mind for their own purposes. In karate we have a basic stance called “Yoi Stance”. In this stance your feet are shoulder width apart, in line with each other, toes turned slightly but natural outwards, shoulders relaxed, arms loose in front of your body, fist loosely clenched. This physical position clearly reflects the similarities between the physical position and the mental state. From this position all possible movements exist, one can move in any direction, use any technique, attack, defend, all possibilities exist, if one has the right mindset. Relaxed, poised, focused, determined.
Another rather obvious benefit of Karate training is anger management. The simple effort of kicking, punching and striking expends a lot of energy and pent up frustration, leaving the student more relaxed after training. The long term benefits of regular, hard training, allows those student with anger issues to learn self control and manager their anger in a positive way.
Case Study 1
I had a student, an 11 year old boy, suffering very badly with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), who trained under me for a year, when his mother, a single parent, told me that prior to taking up Karate, she had been at her wits end, as she could not control her son, and was close to having a breakdown and was running out of resources to help her. One year later she had removed completely two separate medications from her son’s life and had reduced his Ritalin dosage by half. All because of the Karate training he’d received from me, needless to say I was very moved by her story.
Case Study 2
Another case study, based on personal experience that comes to mind, is a 10 year old male student who suffered with Asperger’s Syndrome, which may mean sufferers generally lack inborn social skills and have delayed motor development. One day the student’s school principle saw his student in my class and he was visibly shocked to see the development of this particular child’s motor skills etc. What made this story even more memorable was the principle claimed that the student was socially isolated and lacked friends and would often be seen alone in the school yard. In my class the student was one of the most popular and if he ever missed a class, there were always another 5-6 students who asked where he was.
Through the techniques and training methods used in Karate along with the most important the correct mental attitude and fighting spirit, the training can lead to improvements in students self esteem and confidence. A strange phenomenon occurs when people join a proper karate club, many students initial reasons for starting was to learn how to defeat others, but after a years of training, students come to learn that the true battle is with themselves. Freeing ourselves from attachments to the idea of hardship or pain in practice we overcome ourselves. Michelangelo once said of his famous statue “David”, that the statue was always there, and all he (Michelangelo) did was chip away the pieces of rock to reveal the beautiful masterpiece within the stone. This is the effect the techniques and training practices within Karate have on ones soul. In Karate we strive to strip away the attachments, the negative, the opinions, to reveal the beauty of the person inside,
With the self confidence that comes from being fitter, stronger and having the knowledge how to defend yourself, one of the first thing to go in relation to fighting is any ego or sense to prove oneself. I have the knowledge that I can kill a person with a single blow or strike, so to quote Spiderman “with great power comes great responsibility”. It would be a misuse of my power and my own pacifism for me to harm/kill another person. This misuse is even greater still if the person I fought was loaded up with “Dutch courage” or drunk. When you have overcome yourself or realise that the real battle is only with yourself, ego leaves you with no desire to beat others.
So it is this mind set of Karate that we aim to achieve in training. A mindset that when achieved is exactly the same as the mindset in meditation, hence sometimes Karate is called moving meditation.
“Research has shown that Meditation can contribute to an individual’s psychological and physiological well-being. This is accomplished as Meditation brings the brainwave pattern into an alpha state, which is a level of consciousness that promotes the healing state”. (http://www.psychologytoday.com 12th October 2010)
Psychological Benefits (Taken from same webpage as above quote)
Increased brain wave coherence. Harmony of brain wave activity in different parts of the brain is associated with greater creativity, improved moral reasoning, and higher IQ.
Decreased irritability and moodiness.
Improved learning ability and memory.
Increased feelings of vitality and rejuvenation.
Increased emotional stability.
“Neuroscientists have found that those who meditate “shift their brain activity to different areas of the cortex – brain waves in the stress-prone right frontal cortex move to the calmer left frontal cortex. This mental shift decreases the negative effects of stress, mild depression and anxiety. There is also less activity in the amygdale, where the brain processes fear.”
Karate is a complex art form and while it shares many similarities with meditation but also shares a many aspects of modern day psychology. In his book “Theory and practice of Counselling and Psychotherapy” (Corey 1996), Corey states that the two goals of Freudian psychotherapy
“Are to make the unconscious conscious and to strength the ego so that behaviour is based more on reality and less on instinctual cravings. Successful analysis is believed to result in significant modifications of the individual’s personality and character structure.”
What psychoanalysis tries to achieve through conscious reconstruction, discussion, interpretation and analysis, karate achieves in a unconscious process using physical and mental training drills, in order to (Corey 1996) “develop the level of understanding that is assumed to be necessary for a change in character”. Basically true Karate works as a kind of psychoanalysis without the talking.
But it is not only with Freudian psychotherapy that karate shares characteristics, Karate also reflects an Alderian Therapy approach in that it is “holistic, social, goal-oriented and humanistic”. (Corey 1996 page 135)
“Alder stress that striving for perfection and coping with inferiority by seeking mastery are innate”. (Adler, 1979, p. 29) The perfection of technique is the physical aim of karate. Karate also satisfies Adler’s most significant and distinctive concept, that of social interest. Through the shared activity a student is given a sense of belonging and of contributing through mutual respect for all members of the karate club.
Within Karate also the roles between Sensei (instructor) and student reflect a Person-centred Therapy approach, this relationship or bond in Karate is vital. For a student to progress well in Karate they must find good instructor. The Sensei interacts with each student in an individual humanistic approach, if they “attitudes and personal characteristics of the Therapist (Sensei) and the quality of the client (student) relationship as the prime determinants of the outcome of the therapeutic process (Karate process)” (Corey 1996 p. 198) the goals of Karate being dispelling delusions and achieving greater physical/mental/spiritual strength.
This strength reflects Zen teachings of mindfulness, living in the present, and seeing the world as it really is and not true our own perceived prejudices, this goal of greater awareness and learning to appreciate and fully experience the present movement is very much a main principle of Zen, Karate and Gestalt Therapy.
Therefore because Karate is a way of life, similar to a religion, it teaches students a code of ethics and beliefs in which to live their lives. It is often said that Karate begins and ends with courtesy. Respect for your opponent, respect for oneself, respect for life as well as honour, humility, trust, perseverance, motivation, dedication, loyalty among others are all virtues of a black belt. These morals and beliefs define a code of conduct and outlook of life that encompasses the student’s whole life, chief of which is the 1st rule of karate, “Karate Ni Sentenashi”, there is no 1st attack in Karate, whether physically or mentally. The 2nd rule of Karate is often whimsical taught at “learn rule No. 1”.
So in conclusion I’d firstly like to say that I hoped you enjoyed this presentation and found it somewhat stimulating. And secondly that I have opened your eyes to what real Karate is about and maybe convinced you that it is deeper then maybe you thought and that with the correct instructor who knows his art that Karate can lead to profound personal development and change. And can be considered as an unconscious counselling technique.