Let me tell you about Sophia. Sophia is a beautiful young teen with long brown hair, a dark complexion, and a bright smile that will melt your heart if you are fortunate enough to catch it. She is tall and seemingly mature for her age so she often attends the adult class after sweating it out in the youth class before it. She is a skilled martial artist with a gentle soul. Her soft-spoken nature allows her to blend into the background without being noticed should she choose to do so – a social ninja if you will.
A little while ago, our Sensei commented about what a model student Sophia is as she goes quietly about her business but with such confidence and skill. The quote in the image above immediately jumped to mind. I had read it once in the Bible … or was it on a Bazooka Gum wrapper? I don’t remember. At any rate, my mind began a wandering pondering about the role of confidence in karate and the role karate can play in building confidence. Answering “what is confidence”, and “how, or even if, one can achieve it through studying the martial arts” are much deeper topics than they first appear.
Until I started writing this post, one of my favorite karate posters involved a tiny bird perched on a katana (sword) that was attached to a samurai’s waist area. The quote read “Never think that because I am peaceful that I have forgotten how to be violent.” Way cool … Definitely need to hang that one in my home dojo … After cringing at the fact that I had just written the term “way cool,” I also felt some embarrassment about thinking so highly of the poster. Neither confidence nor strength were being depicted. The ugly faces of arrogance and insecurity lurked beneath a false veil of nobility. … Huh? … Let me offer a more concrete and obvious example.
Centuries ago when I was just starting karate, I read a disturbing forum comment made by a former high ranking practitioner from our Federation. The comment basically reflected the author’s feeling that one of the current United States Directors (at that time) was not particularly skilled and would not last very long in a real fight. I’ll never forget the wording and tone of my Sensei’s response as I conveyed how the forum commenter basically stated that studying under the referenced director was a waste of time and that the black belts who trained under the person commenting could easily kick the patooties of any and all the black belts who trained under the Director.
My Sensei’s response … “Who cares?”
Now, I know you weren’t there, so let me clarify what my Sensei meant by “who cares.” Yes, a student should seek training from a qualified instructor. Yes, an instructor should care about being well-versed in the areas in which he or she provides instruction. Yes, all involved should care about possessing a common understanding of the goals of training and the methods to be used to achieve said goals.
BUT … and this is a BIG BUT (insert joke here about those, like myself, who are gravitationally challenged). But, other than during a tournament or if you are a MMA professional, who cares if a student from one dojo can consistently beat a student from another. The standard of “who can beat up who” is not one employed in our Federation. Expressing one’s capacity to harm and control others is not a display of confidence. It reflects insecurity – the need for external validation of some twisted value … Never think that because I am peaceful that I have forgotten how to be violent translates into yes, I am cool, calm, and collected, confident and peaceful. Go ahead and dare to challenge my self-grandiosity and see what happens. Arrogance – yep. Insecurity – you bet. Confidence – no.
Confidence gained through the martial arts is:
- feeling security in possessing skills to protect one’s self and those one loves
- feelings of enhanced control of one’s thoughs and body gained through hard work and practice
- an inner peace generated by knowing that one possesses the inner strength to withstand any physical, spiritual, or emotional challenge life throws one’s way
- the ability to watch videos of three to five year old karateka and truly appreciate the beauty of the crispness and perfection in their technique
- observing and appreciating a fellow karateka or a coworker do something amazing and not feel inferior
- believing you have knowledge or skills worthy of being shared
In a nutshell, confidence is possessing positive feelings of self-worth and self-efficacy, but feeling no need to prove that worthiness to others.
As martial artists, we must actively rebut arguments that equate confidence with perceptions of superiority relative to another’s skill level or rank. Confidence most certainly should never be defined by threat potential, nor maintained by implied threat or ability to control another.
And so we are brought back to the lovely and talented Sophia. I am so honored to have the opportunity to watch you grow as a martial artist and a human being. I’ll never be able to balance as well as you my young friend. Perhaps someday you can teach me how you do it so well. In the meantime, know with certainty that I consider you, and our other dojo members, family. Whether you like the attention or not, you, and the others like you, will continue to be watched … supported … guided … protected. I do hope, however, that you will freely share all your emerging skills and gifts with the world. I am sorry that it has taken me a year from when I first warned you it was coming to finish this blog post. I pray that you will never have to use the lethal skills we help you understand. Regardless, it gives me such hope for our planet’s future to watch you and the other young karateka benefit in body and spirit in the way my son and my family have.
Indeed, in quietness and in confidence, we ALL possess strength.