A student is deluded when he enters martial arts with high hopes. The first thing a competent teacher will do is dash all those hopes and aspirations to the ground. If the student can’t survive a slightly injured ego, there is no way he can survive the training to come.
In our dōjō, we strive to be supportive of students' strenuous and very sweaty efforts to learn. I am very aware of my obligation to teach to the best of my abilities, regardless of how limited they are. But we also defy the conventions of teaching outside of the dōjō, because we are not in the least concerned with making students feel good about themselves or building self-esteem. In fact, karatedō is dedicated to the very opposite: killing the ego through emptying the self.
This is difficult.
Difficulty has been praised in philosophical circles for at least decades, but the budō take the necessity of difficulty in a particularly serious way. If you are finding karate easy, then you are not doing karate. The difficulty is not just technical or corporeal, although it’s that as well; it goes far beyond how truly hard it is to master either a very advanced technique or the most basic of fundamentals. It’s the difficulty of overcoming one’s own ego, one’s own self, how that deeply personal difficulty is fused to the inevitable hardship of training.
Rod Nobuto Omoto
On and off the university campus, knowledge tends to be an unquestioned good, unless you believe in creationism or vote for Stephen Harper. The budō also value knowledge—but they see it as just a first step, as Rod Nobuto Omoto, who teaches kendō, the way of the sword, explains:
There are three types of people who practice kendō. One is the curious type. They come in and they quit, because they know the thing already. They learn men, kote, dō, tsuki, the targets of the body and how to attack them. “That’s it? Oh, I can do that.” Knowledge. They stop at knowledge. But if they keep on pounding that knowledge, it becomes an art. “Aha, now it’s an art.” Some people quit there. They know the form and the art. But some people will keep on going, keep on pounding and pounding. And then…kū—it just disappears. You can’t quit, because it becomes you.
Kū 空 is emptiness or the void. It can also be pronounced as kara, the first character of 空手道 karatedō, the emptiness regularly mistaken as referring to no more than fighting without weapons. The real kara, which is not specific to karatedō but crucial to all budō, is exactly what Omoto Sensei describes. One is obligated to gain knowledge (and to teach it), but one is also obligated not to stop there, to keep working that knowledge—to keep training—until it disappears. Training, in budō, takes up where teaching (of knowledge) leaves off. This is where Omoto Sensei’s deceptively simple formulation turns sublime, because two things happen when knowledge, pounded into art, is pounded sufficiently further in training: knowledge disappears and knowledge becomes who you are, because who you are is pounded away in the project of annihilating the self. Karatedō is the practice of one kind of emptiness on top of another, a commitment that you can’t quit because the ego has been killed.