About Courage

Hidden truths about karate.
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About Courage

Postby HanshiClayton » Sat Jun 26, 2010 12:13 pm

I'm sure we all meditate on the subject of courage from time to time.

The word "courage" comes from the Latin word for "heart." The general definition tends toward this idea: "The quality of a confident character not to be afraid or intimidated easily."

When I was a whitebelt, my sensei had to miss one practice, so he sent in a substitute. The other students, knowing sensei was away, took the day off. Since I was always a bit fanatical, even as a whitebelt, I showed up. That one lesson stands out in my mind as one of the most important experiences I've had in karate.

The teacher was Frank Lopes.

Sensei Lopes had been a soldier in the Korean War. He was wounded, lying on his back in a foxhole, when his position was overrun by Red Chinese soldiers. One of them stood at the edge of the foxhole and emptied his submachine gun into Frank's body. Frank should have died, then and there.

You've watched M*A*S*H? Sometimes those guys pulled off miracles. Frank lived, but they told him he'd never walk again, and he would probably never use his left arm again. The bones and joints were just too shot up. Frank wouldn't take that answer, so they fitted him with steel braces for his arm and his legs, and he started learning to walk again. Every step was pain. He fell hundreds of times.

When we bowed to each other in that class, he had been wearing those braces for 20 years. During that time he had become a nidan in Shotokan karate under the direction of Tsutomu Ohshima of Caltech. Never walk again? Frank did more with those ravaged limbs that most people even attempt.

We did a little sparring. He told me he couldn't do anything significant with his left arm, so he would hold it out in front and let his opponent look at the steel brace on his forearm. I thought, "I hope he doesn't block with that!" Meanwhile his right hand had shot in to my groin like lightning. QED. You don't really need two hands to fight.

We talked a little about the world after class. He said some people just need to have reality explained to them. I asked if he used his karate for that. He laughed. "No, I use my shotgun for that!" I thought that was very sensible of him.

So, you think karate is difficult and painful? Try doing it on legs that have been shot to pieces, with an arm that doesn't have all its bones anymore. Picture yourself clumping out to the dojo floor to do Bassai Dai with steel braces on your legs.

Then go back and meditate on courage. Whatever it is, Frank had it. He made it look easy.
Bruce D. Clayton, Ph.D.
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