Life can be hard work, and it sometimes takes its toll on our physical and mental health. I once experiencing a total meltdown and felt the world crashing down on me – I don’t think I am alone in experiencing this. Thankfully, my partner was there to pick me up, put me back together, and give me the encouragement needed to regroup, recover, and soldier on. I was (and am) lucky to have her, but I am also lucky to have other tools to help cope with difficult times.
The physical benefits of martial arts are well documented, but we must not discount the positive impact karate can have on mental health. This is largely due to the formalities inherent in traditional (or classical) Japanese training methods. As a courtesy, students entering the dojo (training hall) bow to acknowledge the training space. This simple but powerful act does two important things. First, it signals that the student is entering a special place and time where teaching, learning, and camaraderie take place. Second, it forces students to leave any emotional baggage at the door; there is no room in the dojo for egos, problems, complaints, or other issues. In short, as we enter the room, we mentally teleport to ancient Japan, where we are free of cell phones, outside responsibilities, and other distractions and interruptions.
… as we enter the room, we mentally teleport to ancient Japan
The next step in the process involves the ceremonial opening of class which includes mokuso. Mokuso is the act of silencing one’s thoughts. It is a type of meditation that invites the student to rest, breathe, take a moment of deep contemplation, and prepare to receive the teachings of the Sensei (instructor). After mokuso, training begins and karate practice takes place. This typically involves a warm-up period followed by the performance of various techniques. The rest of class is spent applying those techniques in the form of kata (patterns) and/or kumite (sparring) practice. The end of class is marked by a cool down and another session of mokuso. In this mokuso, students reflect on the training that has taken place.
Exiting the dojo at the end of class also requires students to bow to acknowledge the training space. It is now time to turn cell phones back on and return to regular responsibilities. We must collect the baggage we initially left at the door and get back to our regular lives but the hope is that the baggage is now a little lighter and easier to handle.
Karate, like life, is hard work. If it was easy, everyone would do it, and a black belt would be worthless. Physical activity, paired with mokuso, gives us the tools to increase our resilience and cope with the pressures of school, work, play, and life. To learn this practice, visit the Charles Fink Karate Dojo and join us for karate training, camaraderie, and good mental health.
Top 5 mental health tips:
You can engage in all these actions at the Dojo!