It was at a Karate tournament at Varsity Arena in Toronto that I first witnessed Karate that knows no borders…that stretches way beyond the physical. One of those moments when what you imagined when you heard the tales of the old masters comes to life.
There was a break in the competition. The lights dimmed. The section I was sitting in, halfway up in the stands, gave me a good view of the entire arena floor.
The crowd was jittery, restless. There had been some sparring, and the adrenalin, coupled with the aggression, drifted up into the stands. When people fight, and other people watch, everybody becomes a fighter. It’s a bond that smells of musk. It’s shared to the bone. People who are only watching leave afterward as though they’ve just fought in the title match.
We were all “pumped”; the last shouts of kiai! were still ricocheting off the far walls; I could still smell the razor sharp fear of the last of the Brown Belts under attack and hear the smack of a fist against his chest.
Into this euphoria strode a single Black Belt, Tsutomu Ohshima from the United States. He was going to perform a Kata, the announcer said…a set routine of Karate movements handed down from generations of masters. A fight simulation in other words, not the “real” fighting we were hungry for.
But the buzz was already starting to lift off the nerves of the crowd. It was just the way he walked into the centre of the arena, as though every second of his life thus far had been directed toward searching forthe essence of Karate.
The crowd fell silent. I’m not sure whether all of us realized what was about to happen. But I do recall that his presence alone demanded an impeccable silence.
It might be a stretch to say that I speak for everyone in the crowd that day but when he began with his first movement, pounding his heel into the floor, the hairs on the backs of our necks stood on end. The power of his breathing seemed to fill up every part of the arena. His heart spoke through his movements. A punch, a block, a stance…these were no longer just mechanical skills. What we saw was a huge life force connecting with all of life near and far…through Karate!
When I recall Ohshima Sensei on that day, I begin to have a small understanding of the Karate ideal…you learn to fight in order not to fight.
Every breath we take should be an extraordinary event, an act of communion with the living things around us. Karate, as Ohshima embodied it on that day, is a method by which we can transcend violence. Amidst all the fighting, he reminded us that the inner beauty of Karate is peace.