At its core, karate is about dealing with conflict. Through our training, we learn not only how to defend ourselves from attacks, but also how to recognize a potential threat and, if possible, avoid a physical altercation.
So, how can karate teach us to avoid conflict? To help explain, let me first share a story about my friend, who for the purpose of this story, I will call Frank.
Frank was out for coffee on a busy afternoon – so busy the coffee shop had a line going out the door. The man in front of him was becoming irritated with the wait and physically began to show it. He began to tap his foot loudly, he started sighing and grunting with exasperation. With his arms crossed he began to pace within the small confines of the line divider.
After their orders had finally been placed Frank and the man stood side by side waiting for their orders. The man continued his impatient show, while my friend watched him patiently and curiously. Soon Frank’s order was called.
The other man took it as his own and grabbed it hurriedly. Noticing the mistake at once, Frank casually informed the man that he had the wrong order. Red faced, and furious, the man turned to face him. In an instant he threw the coffee to ground, got inches from Frank’s face, and began to yell obscenities, go on about how busy he was, and yell how he didn’t have time to get told what to do by a younger man.
The entire coffee shop fell into silence. You could only hear the heavy breathing of the man and the quite bubbling of brewing coffee.
Frank knew he could take the man if it came down to a fight. He had been training for over half his life in karate. Instead, Frank took a deep breath, stood his ground calmly and looked at the man. He then smiled, looked at the barista, and asked, “Can I have another coffee please?” He calmly looked back at the man, looked him in the eyes, and said, “Sorry about that. I hope you have a better day.”
The man was baffled. You could tell by his confused face and awkward movement that he didn’t know what to do from here. He was expecting a different reaction from the young man, but he didn’t get it. Instead he soon left the coffee shop shamed by a youth half his age.
Now, how did Frank use his karate training to avoid a fight?
- He recognized a potentially dangerous situation. Karate training heightens awareness and teaches us to recognize the signs of possible danger. Frank witnessed a highly impatient and agitated man who was progressively losing control over his actions. He kept his eye on him and kept his distance when possible.
- He took a deep breath. Karate teaches you how to breathe to develop power in your technique. It also teaches you to continue to breathe when under pressure. When you hold your breath the body tenses and it is harder to think straight. When breathing, more options become available to you.
- He communicated with confidence and respect. These are two key components of the mental aspect of karate training. If Frank had not been confident with his body posture or his eye contact the man could have felt compelled to continue to vent his frustration on him. If Frank had not talked to the man respectfully a fight would very likely have broken out. Instead, he put aside his ego, was polite, and came out better for it.
Bill Leith's training at Buzz Durkin's Karate School began in 1995. He's credited his martial arts training with improving his self-discipline, confidence, and fitness.