A lot of people have favorite karateka: Chuck Norris, Lyoto Machida, Rex Kwon Do.
But I propose a different person to look up to. Someone not exactly known for her martial arts prowess. Someone like Leslie Knope.
I’ll admit my choice of karate idol may seem a bit strange. But I recently finished Amy Poehler’s Yes Please and really enjoyed it. Aside from being an interesting and funny read about an interesting and funny person, it got me thinking. When Poehler reflects on her most famously played character from Parks and Recreation, she discusses how genuine, accepting and giving Leslie is. I have to agree that Leslie Knope can be as inspiring in real life as she is to Pawnee. If we all spent a little more time thinking of others and putting service before self, the world would be a better place.
But how does that apply to karate?
In a culture dominated by stripmall senseis on one end of the spectrum and world-class athletes fighting in The Octagon on the other, there’s not much room for the simple, positive aspects of martial arts as practiced by the rest of us to shine through. This is especially true of traditional karate; genuine, accepting, and giving masters are few and far between. But these are the three most essential qualities needed to keep karate alive and well.
My charge is for all karateka, to practice being more genuine, accepting, and giving.
For those unfamiliar with Parks and Recreation, here is some explanation with scenes to show you what I mean.
Not all of us who practice karate are genuine. We may boast and brag. If we don’t know something about our art, we may not admit it. If a junior student gets the better of us in some way, we may try to dismiss his or her progress to save face. Instead, we should try to be more like Leslie: wear your heart on your sleeve, share your hopes and dreams, be honest, and stay positive in the face of criticism.
Not all of us who practice karate are accepting. We may put down other styles. If someone introduces us to a new technique or idea, we may ignore it. If a student or training partner disagrees with us, we may get angry. Instead, we should try to keep our eyes, minds, and hearts open to others whom can teach us more about karate and ourselves.
Not all of us who practice karate are giving. We may refuse to train with junior ranks. If someone asks us to help teach a class, we may be “too busy”. If we have techniques or knowledge to share, we may selfishly keep them to maintain an advantage. Instead, we should be attentive to others’ needs, and we should freely give what we can to help them along The Way.
Whether you like Parks and Recreation or not, I hope you can agree that we should try to stress the positive aspects of karate more each day. Also, we shouldn’t take our art so seriously! Let’s try to be more like Leslie Knope. It may be the only way to make karate relevant to new and old students alike.
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