Thursday, May 11, 2006

Why Karate?

As anyone who knows me well knows, I tend to spend a lot of time practicing karate. The dojo where I takes classes is about a 45 minute away, so I get a bit of time for reflection when I'm driving home at night after class. Sometimes I wonder why this is something I am willing to spend so much time on. I spend about an hour and a half each day just on the drive alone. There are other things I could be doing, there are friends I don't see as much as I used to, other hobbies I've given up on, all in order to spend more time on this thing called karate. Which inevitably raises the question of why does this captivate my attention?

As is the case with most things in life, there is no simple straightforward answer. There are a lot of different things that contribute, some purely selfish and others that are more altruistic. On the selfish hand (hmm.. we'll make that my left hand) I find karate a constant challenge. I don't think it's something that comes easy to me and it isn't something I'm naturally good at. But, over time, with constant practice, I am making progress, and there is a sense of satisfaction that comes with that. Many years ago (when I was in college) I read an interview with Carl Sagan (that scientist who used to talk about the universe and how big it was - think "billions and billions...") and he was talking about the importance of trying to be the best you possibly can at whatever you choose to do. If you are a chemist, try to be the best chemist possible, if a teacher, try to be the best possible teacher you can. Try to basically be an expect at what you do. Don't just coast through life. For some reason this stuck with me as a good guiding principle. I tried to take that approach with my career in computer science. Wherever I was working, I always tried to be the best I could and would become the expert that others would come to for help. But computer work is something that has always come easy to me. I have a natural aptitude for it. And, over the years, it has begun to feel a bit hollow. While it is nice to be able to help out other people at work by solving difficult problems, these aren't the types of problems that have any "real world" significance. I'm not saving lives. I'm not making the world a better place for others. I'm helping companies save money by being more efficient. The bottom line is I'm increasing shareholder value for my employer. The net result is I get paid well for solving challenging technical problems, but there is no soul or spirit to the work.

Which brings me back to the subject of karate. Since starting karate, I've discovered it is not something that comes easy to me, yet it is an interesting challenge both physically and mentally. As I already mentioned, that's the selfish appeal to it. But, on the other (less selfish) hand, karate is also something that can be very beneficial both physically and mentally, and so it is something I want to be able to share with others. As I was reminded by Sensei at the dojo tonight, the best way to help others learn karate is to work on being the best you possibly can. The practice and training shouldn't be about me getting better for my own sake, however. I should be working to get better at karate so I can be a better help to others who are also trying to learn. That is why it is important to try to continually improve - so one can continually work on becoming a better help to others. And that is at the heart of why I happily spend most of my free time practicing karate.