Thought For The Week

"Motivation & Karate"

Matt Kaplan, Yon-Dan,
Downtown Karate Dojo, Honolulu, HI

Karate practitioners often allude to the motivation-enhancing qualities of rigorous training. It is common to hear descriptions of how rigorous training has helped them find the "strength" to persevere in yet even more rigorous challenges of training, as well as in difficult jobs, relationships, and other challenges they may face off of the deck. To examine the roots of the motivation exuded by serious karate students, as they train year in and year out, a good place to start is with a definition. According to a popular "Introduction to Psychology" textbook, "motivation" is "... a need or desire that energizes and directs behavior." It would appear from the mountains of testimony provided by our (Shorin-Ryu Karate U.S.A.) deshi over the years, as though karate training does indeed enhance one's capacity for both, harnessing energy and finding direction -- on and off the deck. But this raises all sorts of questions: Is it an "automatic" process? How does one tap into this potential? Can it be taught? When will it happen to "me?"

To further this discussion (and avoid ending this "thought for the week" with question marks), it may be helpful to draw a distinction between the external and internal pathways of motivation. By "external pathways," the reference is to the dimensions of environmental influence that can energize and direct behavior. In this sense, there are innumerable motivational benefits of being a part of a strong group -- we benefit from the "electricity," momentum, intensity, and shared sense of identity that emerges on the deck when training with highly motivated others who feel like "family."

It is a somewhat more complex and elusive task to understand the "internal pathways" of motivation; i.e., the motivation displayed by an individual irrespective of what is happening in his or her surroundings. Here we are referring to the karate practitioner who continues to train when others may have ceased to do so, who finds time to train irrespective of busy schedules and the lure of popular sports and other activities, and who would persevere in his or her training should, by some bizarre twist of fate, karate become "criminalized" and marginalized as it once was in Okinawa's history. Perhaps it is this last example, which evokes images of the Okinawan masters who risked everything including their lives in their refusal to give up their art, which most readily helps us to realize a deeper level of connection between the topics of Motivation and Karate.