I like to “people watch.” I like to watch how individuals interact with others and with the world around them. I like to wonder about their lives–where they live, what they do for work, and even how they spend their free time. I suppose that “people watching” makes sense as I have made a career out of observing and noting the behaviors and the choices of others. My sons are concerned that others will think I am staring. I’m not, as my people watching is done from a place of curiosity and reflection.
I recently had the privilege of being a judge and coach for a US Karate Championship that was held in Boston. In between judging moments where my full attention was required, I “people watched.” Karate is something that I have been involved with for over 40 years. Although I haven’t competed in a long time, and my time to train is limited, it is still a huge part of who I am. Those who have trained in the martial arts for an extended amount of time will understand this, and for the rest of the readers, you will have to trust me that the principles of karate run deep within a practitioner.
I have been to many US competitions over the years, but something was different at this competition. The competitors, coaches, and judges at the competition were culturally diverse. This was confirmed by the variety of languages spoken-Portuguese, Spanish, English, Hebrew, Farsi, Japanese, and Arabic. As I “people watched” during the competition, I began to create a construct based on the following question: why are these culturally diverse cohorts drawn to traditional karate?
I came to the following three conclusions:
The first conclusion is that culturally diverse groups all hold deep-seated values of discipline, commitment, and hard work. Given the current and previous generation’s experiences, these individuals know that no one is promised anything in life without discipline, commitment, and hard work. The principles of karate mirror these cultural values.
The second conclusion is that the concepts of respect and community involvement are held in high regard. It was clear from the presence of multi-generational spectators that family support and presence are highly valued. Elder family members are included and looked after at these events, and family members of all ages join in to support competitors. Respect for founders, teachers, and committed students who are role models is a hallmark of traditional karate. At the same time, it’s common for members of dojos/martial arts schools to develop deep and meaningful relationships with one another and celebrate life events together even beyond karate..
The third conclusion is that training in traditional karate gives families an extra sense of physical and emotional safety for loved ones. Everyone wants their family to feel safe, and having the knowledge of physical techniques, along with an understanding of timing and spatial awareness is comforting. It was not lost on me that the diverse cultures represented at the tournament were from non-dominant cultures in the United States. Karate training gives families an extra layer of safety and security in a world that can be hostile and aggressive to those who are culturally different.
So, I’ll continue to “people watch” and be awfully proud to be a part of the real reasons why karate is life.