If you’re a newcomer to karate, or wondering whether karate is for you, you might be wondering what it’s all about, what you’ll learn first, or how long until you can actually do some of the things you’ve seen martial artists doing. In part one of Karate 101, you’ll learn about the most basic aspects of karate, and what you can expect in your first few karate lessons.
People of all ages take karate for a variety of reasons: children in response to being bullied, women for self-defense, men to feel stronger and more confident, among others. Karate is versatile enough to provide each person what they want and need to get out of it.
But the real benefit of the martial arts, says black belt and former karate instructor David Carrier, is that it is “deeply personal and spiritual.” Karate,” Carrier says, “not only gives you a sense of inner peace, it will also deepen your respect for life, when you realize how easy it is to injure someone; that just a small amount of effort can cause a life-altering injury.”
With that in mind, what can you expect as a newcomer to karate? The first thing you should know about karate-or any martial art-is that the mental aspect of the sport is every bit as, if not more important than, the physical. It is the blending of the physical and mental that makes karate so powerful. The basic physical skills used in karate can be learned fairly quickly, and honed with practice. The mental skills take longer and are more elusive, but can be attained.
So what is karate all about, and where do you begin?
The first thing a newcomer to karate will learn, says Carrier, is to avoid getting hit. There are two methods of doing this.
The first way to avoid being hit is to step aside. This can mean something as simple as walking away from a situation altogether, or ducking or moving to avoid contact. This is the preferred karate method of accomplishing the goal.
The second way to avoid being hit is to block the hit, and there are two ways to do this: deflect the attacking limb, or strike the attacking limb.
Deflecting a hit means guiding the attacking limb so that it misses its target (you). This can be done gently, as in taking the assailant’s arm or leg and pushing it to the side. Deflecting a hit in this manner takes very little energy in comparison to the energy it would take to actually stop the limb and the strike.
Striking the attacking limb to avoid being hit is an effective way of defending yourself, but it also requires the most precision. There are a lot of variables involved: is a kick inside or outside? Where do I want the punch to go? Quickly assessing the answers to these questions is essential in being able to avoid being hit, and is one place where the mental aspect of karate comes into play, both in making the assessment of the threat and creating a response to it.
These avoidance techniques are the skills a newcomer to karate will work on in the first two or three lessons. After these basics are acquired, the student then moves on to punching and kicking.
While the physical skills necessary to karate can come quickly, the mental skills require patience and time. Both are necessary. The physical without the mental, says Carrier, is like walking across a 12-inch-wide board on the ground, and walking across the same board stretched between two 20-story buildings. It takes the same physical skills, but a different mind-set is necessary to accomplish the latter task.
The best way to approach learning karate, then, is to be willing to commit and train your mind as well as your body. When you link them together you achieve the greatest results.
David Carrier, personal interview
David Carrier, who holds several black belts, was a former martial arts instructor, and has extensively studied behavior management and crisis communication.