Written by Dr Ioanna Nixon

“What is karate?, asked wee Jack.
Karate is a way of being and understanding oneself, Dr Betty said. I will tell you why…”

I thought I should write a blog about martial arts, especially karate, as this is what I am learning with my kids. I think this blog is timely as martial arts can support anyone in their personal growth through better understanding of their own self, strengths and limitations, teaching discipline, patience, and focus. All above are life skills, valuable to any child (and adult!). I have heard many thinking “I am too old to start karate!”, or “I fear my child will get hurt”.  Does this sound familiar? This blog is about myths on karate and some of the deep learning and gains any student, no matter how young or old, small, or big, tall or short, of any colour, size, and age can concur. 

Fact 1: Dojo is a place of enlightenment 
In martial arts, “do” means “the way”, or more fully, “the way to enlightenment”.  It is the way to self-realisation and understanding. If we think of a “dojo”, this is a microcosmos, a miniature cosmos, where we gain experiences. In the dojo we can make contact with our boundaries, fears, anxieties, self-beliefs, actions and reactions. 

In a dojo we get to understand quite a lot in a short period of time. This learning is hugely helpful in dealing with all that life throws on us outside the “dojo”, in the real world. School, exams, friendships, heartaches…you name it! In our work life, family life, personal life! In a dojo, a child and an adult can learn: 

No 1: Managing Conflict 
What happens with conflict? Conflict is something that many people, of any age, feel uncomfortable with. So, Conflict in a dojo is confined. Our opponents are not enemies. They are partners who help us better understand or indeed fully understand ourselves. 

No 2: Learning Discipline 
In a dojo discipline, respect, concentration are required. These skills are applicable to our daily lives. They are being practiced at the dojo, helping children to build on these skills. 

Fact 2: sensei, the master of the dojo means “the man who was born before you”.
“Sen” means “before”. “Sei” means “born”. The sense is the person who is far ahead in the way of knowledge and oath to enlightenment. They are your teacher. 

No 3: Equality and Diversity
In a dojo, there is diversity in the level of knowledge and skills. The ones that know more are obliged to transfer knowledge and support the ones who are younger in the journey. This has nothing to do with age. You may be taught by someone far younger than you! 

No 4: Perseverance and dedication, acknowledging own limitations 
In a dojo anyone is encouraged to work despite their limitations. A mentality to focus on what you can do and your strengths, allows the child to grow to the point their capabilities exceed their limitations, improve their string points to outweigh their weaknesses.

No 5: Emptying your cup
In karate and martial arts to become good at you need to “empty your cup”, unlearn what you have been taught already. This way you are open to new learning. This gradually teaches you how to keep an open mind about the world, open to feedback, and improvement. 
Can’t help but with my executive coach hat on draw some parallels with leadership! Yes, emptying your cup and be open and ready to explore new ideas is key for change, improvement, and innovation!

All above on top of the obvious: improving physical through exercising!

Through my personal journey, I find karate a fantastic opportunity for myself and my two children to learn together, explore and have fun! 
It teaches us self-defence and, some of the best talks I have heard on bullying was by our sensei, David Campbell. Karate isn’t teaching kids to be violent, become bullies and show off through fighting. It teaches them the exact opposite and helps them to understand zen and inner balance. 

To all moms and dads out there and anyone who may think they are too old about it, there is no such thing. It is all in our mind and they will be surprised at the dojo they will be the “younger” ones in their learning and very much welcomed! 

This blog was inspired by own experiences and the book “zen in the martial arts” by Joe Hyams.

Ioanna Nixon, Consultant Oncologist, executive Coach, and author.

Dr Ioanna Nixon is a senior oncologist in Glasgow, UK. She specialises in sarcomas and her research focuses on novel cancer therapies, quality of life and clinical innovations. She has led the Scottish Sarcoma Network since 2015 till early 2022and is the Cancer Innovation Lead for the West of Scotland. She is an honorary clinical senior lecturer at Glasgow University and an academic at Strathclyde Business School, researching on health policy and leadership. She is also an executive coach, specialising on resilience, leadership and wellness.

To contact Ioanna: Twitter, LinkedIn 

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