The ancient martial art form of karate has far more meaningful health benefits than just teaching you how to pull a Karate Kid or Chuck Norris on someone in self-defence. Karate is a moving meditation that is therapeutic.
“You can do lots of other sports which are good for exercise and mental focus, but those activities will not improve character by helping you to become a better person with inner strength and compassion,” says Bert Freeman, Sensei for the Toronto Academy of Karate, Fitness and Health (YMCA Orillia dojo) in Orillia.
Karate kata (kata = “form”) is a pattern of fighting movements against imaginary opponents. It has some similarities to yoga because of the emphasis on focus, breathing, balance, posture and self-control. It’s a unique and ageless way to stay fit both mentally and physically.
“The focus is self…most learning in a dojo is done by immersing yourself. In a traditional dojo, the spirit will be around you. You get to leave outside distractions outside,” says Dan McDougall, Sensei at Barrie Karate in Barrie.
Every dojo (place of karate or martial arts practice) is different depending on the style of karate being studied. Some dojos practice full-on contact with body gear and are more competitive, but you can learn and practice karate without the need to strike an opponent (kata). Sensei Freeman teaches karate at a very high standard with a focus on technical expertise in a non-violent, authentic and inspiring environment.
“Most people are aware of the physical, mental and self-defence benefits that result from karate training. However, I have learned from 42 years of training that the most important benefit from karate is coming to understand that there is nothing in life that you cannot do!” says Sensei Freeman.
Sensei McDougall agrees karate is about mind, body and spirit. He started training at age 15 and took over his Sensei’s dojo at only age 24. There might be limitations for some people mentally and physically when studying the art of karate, but challenging one’s abilities and trying something new are two great reasons to try a beginner’s karate class.
“I didn’t start karate until I was 31-years-old…I couldn’t believe the power yet gentleness of the advanced belts…It was the best thing that had ever happened to me. It changed my life for the better,” enlightens Sensei Freeman.
At 73-years-old, Sensei Freeman says he feels proud and happy. “I tell my new students and their parents that starting karate is the most valuable gift that you can give your children to help them to live a happy and confident life!”
Both Sensei Freeman and Sensei McDougall see their karate dojos as family.
“These days karate is split in two: sport and budo. Budo means “The martial way of life,” says Sensei McDougall.
There is beauty and inner peace in the art of karate for everyone. Sensei Freeman says it keeps you motivated and committed. “You also gain this amazing community of friends who have the same goals and aspirations as you.”
Karate might be the balance between mental and physical health you’ve been looking for where you’ll feel inner fulfillment and gain self-defence skills.