Sensei Morio Higaonna and Sensei Gichin Funakoshi said in somewhat terse terms "Karate is my life" or, Karate is a way of life.

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What did they mean by this?

Did they mean it in a Zen of philosophical sense? Or is it just like any other art form: put in the effort, interest into it, and you will grok it? Or did they refer to something occult or mystical?

I am a programmer and I started Kyokushin Karate about 3 months ago. From my personal experience, not much has changed apart from gaining a more positive outlook, one which I think I could gain from daily general meditation.

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    I think they had more experience. Anything can be a "way of life". Any art, or endeavor, that requires full integration of mind and body can have the same effects. Commented May 4, 2014 at 12:36
  • @Sardathrion Edit made to the question
    – esh
    Commented May 7, 2014 at 6:44
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    @Sardathrion In many attempts to answer the question and looking at other karateka's perspectives, I have observed that the answer is very deep seated and personal and thus has no concrete answer. It even requires a lot of research to generalize. I will remove this question if it doesn't really add quality in terms of StackExchange style of questions and answers.
    – esh
    Commented May 8, 2014 at 5:20

3 Answers 3


I agree with Juann Strauss's reply. But just to add my 2 cents...

When martial arts is the center focus of your life, you'll find yourself constantly thinking about it. You'll be walking down the street, but doing it while being "ready" for any attack at any time. You'll be opening doors by using your whole body instead of just your arm. When nobody's looking, you'll be practicing high kicks in your jeans, jeans which you've purposefully selected to be better able to kick with. When you're nervous, you'll deep breathe just like in your martial arts class. Etc.

But do you get anything deeper out of it? Is there a "way" that it's giving you that will lead you to some profound understanding of the universe?

The answer is no. Not really. If you want something that will really make you think and give you a sense of awe, you should look into philosophy, critical thinking, logical fallacies, epistemology, the scientific method, comparative religions, history, politics and current events, etc. And read books. A lot! Learn about the world. Understand stuff. But don't take yourself too seriously. Challenge your preconceptions. Admit when you don't know something. And be ready to change your mind.

That path will lead you towards wisdom. Martial arts? It might actually kindle this flame, but you need more to sustain the fire.

Hope that helps.

  • +1 this is probably the best explanation of "karate is life". I'm glad you pointed out that doing karate alone won't give you a mystical shortcut to solve all your problems. Commented May 8, 2014 at 13:10

Kyukushin is fantastic.

It's useful to remember that Karate becomes your life when your life revolves around karate. It's no more zen than that. I know things sound pretty profound and mystical when it's translated from Chinese or Japanese, but it's pretty mundane actually. Karate is life just as drag racing or trainspotting is life if you devote all your time and effort to it.

My personal advice is to find your spiritual answers in religion and get a workout at the dojo. The apostle Paul has much more life wisdom to offer than Masutatsu Oyama, but Masutatsu Oyama has more wisdom to offer when it comes to punching people in the face really hard. Both these things are valid and necessary pursuits. But you need to look for them in the right places.

  • The question was heavily edited so you might want to check that your answer still fits. Commented May 7, 2014 at 9:38
  • @SteveWeigand Could you, kind sir, reframe your comment into an answer. The community may find it useful.
    – esh
    Commented May 8, 2014 at 2:07
  • Alright, BlackFlame3. I just converted my comments into an answer. Commented May 8, 2014 at 3:36

Karate may differ from most forms of meditation in several ways:

  • Many of the earliest masters to teach outside their own families expected karate to be practiced by (and only taught to) a kind of social elite - people from "respectable" families. Those masters would teach karate with a set of expectations about the behaviour of the students - e.g. good manners in public, standing up for justice etc.. Kyokushin also has a set of tenets through which students commit to a certain way of life (e.g. sustained effort, de-emphasis on material goods, respecting seniors in the school), although it's hard to know whether the founder Sensei Mas Oyama himself - and many of his students/instructors - actually cared about such things for more than marketing purposes - there seem to have been considerable ties to yakuza gangs O_o.

    • In this sense, karate is a choice to adopt a way of life, rather than a training that inherently grants a way of life.
  • Karate training gives direct experience of physically punishing and somewhat dangerous encounters, the "survival" of which can harden practitioners to necessary suffering and conflict while making lesser trials seem relatively unimportant. You gain a preparedness to step up to a situation where you may be the underdog or certain to get battered, but make the most of it and consider it useful experience in the longer term. That perspective transforms your attitude to life somewhat. Yes you can think about and imagine such things with meditation, but there's a lot less guaranteed-meaningful stimulus and feedback to ensure progress.

  • Development of a mastery of movement and a distorted sense of time, which is a "way of life" in the sense that it modifies our fundamental relationship with our bodies and surroundings. Karate trains the kind of fast-twitch movement the body normally uses to remove a hand from unexpected heat or pricks, or when you start to slip over on say ice but instinctively throw your arms out for balance and shuffle your feet to get your centre back over them, but with a much broader and more coordinated set of movements covering a wide span of self defence situations. Karate training should enable us to transcend the normal plodding progress of time to deal with fraction-of-a-second events like lightning-fast untelegraphed jabs, or to step and attack in what feels like the blink of an eye, and isn't much longer. Very few activities cultivate this type of speed in reaction and motion - in all of sports I can only think of close-in defence against smashes in badminton and perhaps table tennis, though some hand slapping games are similar - karate still differs in requiring immense power as well as fast reactions. (In kyokushin - my current art - this aspect may be a little more buried than in say shotokan, as the de-emphasis on hand techniques to the head reduces the need for and benefit from that really extreme speed, and can even make it a liability as each movement can be more exhausting).

The above is on top of the obvious benefits shared with meditation, e.g. an advanced practitioner of karate may spend most of their time in a state of "flow" where they're constantly aware of their surroundings and potential movements of their body, their mind and body reacting comfortably and near-instantly to unexpected events of many kinds (e.g. so if a friend who saw you facing the other way came up and gave you a surprise hug from behind, in the first moments of contact you'd assess it as non-threatening and not be spooked by it, but for an actual attack you'd quickly move into a counter).

There are also myriad less obvious benefits that are shared with many other activities, though not especially meditation. That's a whole other question.

  • The question was heavily edited so you might want to check that your answer still fits. Commented May 7, 2014 at 9:37

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