Friday, May 2, 2014

Durango Open Karate Tournament is all about kicks, kata, and community

If you come to the Durango Open Karate Tournament, at Escalante Middle School tomorrow (Saturday, May 3 -- spectators free), then you'll get to see some of the finest martial artists in western Colorado and northwestern New Mexico -- and many others on their way to one day being among the finest -- in action.

You'll get to see an entertaining athletic competition as practitioners of a wide range of traditional styles of martial arts challenge each other -- and, most importantly, themselves -- in kata (forms), weapons kata, and kumite (point sparring). The top three winners in each of up to 35 divisions earn trophies.

It's fun, and even inspiring, to see these karateka of ages 6 to 70 or more, and range of skill levels from white belt to karate master, put it out there, to do publicly and competitively what is a really a deeply personal endeavor and practice.

But if you watch closely, you'll witness in action something else even more unique and powerful -- and much too rare in our form of society today: A true vertically integrated community.

A karate dojo is a special place -- and this, more than any other single element of the karate world, hooked me into the karate world. In a dojo, each person wrestles with their own challenges in honing both their spirit and technique. But you do it among a group of others who are facing the same challenges, so there is also a sense of team, of each practitioner getting closer to their goals because of the combined efforts of the group.

And I mean each. Because unlike almost any sport you can think of -- or most any institution we today participate in, from school to work to our social groups -- age or gender are not separating horizontal barriers. A dojo is structured naturally, defined only by achievement in the development of spirit and technique. (A saying in the dojo is, You can't fake karate.) So walk into the Durango Karate Club dojo, and you're, of course, likely to find an adult male black belt leading the class. You're also just as likely, though, to at various times find a pre-teens instructing a middle-aged man, women fighting men, kids teaching other kids, and, basically, everyone learning whatever they can from each other.

Because, when it comes to bettering yourself, physically and as a person, then everyone has something to teach. And, no matter what the rank or experience, everyone has more to learn. That's why we're always bowing to each other in the dojo: We're saying, I'm thankful for your being here, helping me better myself. 

And this vertical integration of community matters, because as I said, karate is a solely individual challenge. I remind my students all the time: You'll be as good at this as you, and you alone, make yourself. Which leads to an invaluable takeaway lesson of life: You are responsible for your journey.

It's a simple as that. But the dojo shows us the reality of a complementary fact of life -- that in each of our individual journeys, it just plain helps to have others around you. True community matter. sAnd a dojo doesn't just just remind us of that, it proves it, by giving us a place to practice the skill of community.

In true community, each individual is only as strong as the collective, and the collective only as strong as the individuals that comprise it. The betterment of each is the betterment of all. And so all have interest in developing and encouraging strong individuals. And that's also difference between each individual as a work of "art" -- hence the term "martial arts" -- in contrast to indoctrination and conformity in society.

And a collective of individuals, each helping the other seek, develop, and grow their truest individual selves, leads to honor, and respect, and self-respect. And those lead to kindness and humbleness. Which lead to caring, and caring for. And that leads to living the precepts of the dojo kuhn -- the "school rules" -- which all white belts must learn and we recite at the end of class:

Seek perfection of character
Be faithful
Endeavor to excel
Respect others
Refrain from violent behavior

And that is why among those who practice karate call their training, their art, karate-do -- the way of karate, or the way of the empty hand.

Way to what, you might ask? The way to your truest self -- which is the only thing you really need to go where ever it is you want to journey.

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