As most of you know karate will be in the 2020 Olympics. Though this is great news for our young athletes, it causes concern for some of the traditionalists. Many of them feel this level of competition may cause catastrophic harm to the art of karate. They already feel competition is contradictory to the philosophy of karate–conquering “self” and trying to perfect technique. Competition, they believe, is succumbing to ego with the hope of receiving glory. In their opinion, Olympic competition will take these negative factors to a higher level.
Though these are legitimate concerns, I wonder if these traditionalists (Sensei) are putting this concern in the wrong place. Maybe this potential problem should not be laid at the competitor’s feet, but with the Sensei themselves. Competitors are students, they have teachers. Shouldn’t these Sensei teach their students how to combat the evil within? Shouldn’t they show them the benefits of striving to reach and hopefully participate in Olympic competition while enlightening them of the pitfalls that accompany this trip? Shouldn’t this general philosophy be taught anyway?
The Greek-speaking Stoic philosopher Epictetus once said “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.” Nothing speaks more clearly about the true philosophy of the martial arts than this statement. It’s the effort, not the glory that is important.
There is nothing wrong with students aspiring for athletic greatness. Life is short and opportunities need to be taken advantage of when presented.
We traditional practitioners believe in humility and the importance of conquering the battle within. Our youth are smart and eager, and will learn if taught properly. The responsibility of teaching the benefits of Olympic aspirations and the potential danger that accompany it resides with us teachers. Eliminating the experience is not the answer. I say, “Go for the gold, youth is Fleeting.”