In a world of instant gratification, fast pain relief medication, fast order and delivery, get quick slim teas and so much more, it is rare to find people who volunteer themselves to learn, practice and teach others the art of discipline. That is exactly what karate does.
Ibiene decides to probe the mind of Amakiri Oruamabo, a karate instructor in Nigeria on his journey so far in helping to shape the mind and body of people through karate.
Here is how the conversation went.
Ibiene: We’re told that Karate promotes peace and character building. Please explain how that is possible?
Amakiri: That is the paradox of karate. There’s a famous Japanese quote where a teacher tells his student; “It’s better to be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in the time of war.” So basically, karate promotes peace because it teaches you respect. Respect is actually the pinnacle for peace. Respect for self, respect for others. The first step of karate is that karate begins with a bow and ends with a bow. So, you respect others and because you respect others, you’re going to be courteous towards people you respect. So, that’s how karate actually promotes peace.
It helps you do away with ego. Ego is actually our biggest enemy. Infact, most of the strife that we have is because of ego and an indepth karate practice helps you do away with ego. The things you usually get upset about is because of ego and not you as a person. When you practice karate and add meditation, you’ll begin to see that after a while, you’re not going to get upset as usual.
Ibiene: What made you venture into the world of Karate?
Amakiri: The interesting point about me venturing into karate was that I never really had a choice. While I was 12 years old, playing on my chess board, my mom just walked in one day from work, called my name and said she has signed me up for karate, I and my brother, we had at that time lived close to the campus. For her, the basic issue was self- defence. She wanted us to be able to defend ourselves. That was exactly how my karate journey started and interestingly I still trained under the instructor, Shihan Charles Mezie-Okoye till like two years ago. That was from like 1988. A 32-year experience!
Through the years, it is actually phenomenal how it has helped me adapt to the situations on ground because karate strengthens you mentally which is why we talk about character building in karate. It keeps you in a state of perseverance. It builds you to know that life revolves around a reward structure. It builds you in such a way that you’re resilient when challenges come your way. That’s how much karate has helped me over the years.
But let me let you in on a secret, our trainer back then was hard on me. I and my brother were taught traditional karate. My brother was muscular and I was lanky and because of the difficulty in training, I came home one day and told my mom that I was not going back to that class. Of course, my mom is not one person you say no to. She just looked at me and said “you’re going back.” It was actually a tough training back then.
Ibiene: What were the reaction of friends and family when you announced to them that you were taking karate to the next level?
Amakiri: (Laughs) Actually it was mixed. But the luck I had was that my family had always supported me in everything I’ve done. So, I’ve never had that challenge from the family. Also, I’ve never really had a crazy set of friends. You see, the friends I have are the ones I’ve had since the 80’s. We’ve always known each other and have always had a support system for each other. So, from them, it was encouraging.
But I could see some anxiety in some other friends of mine. They were most times indirectly asking “Is this what you will use to build a career?” “Hope he knows what he’s doing?” I could sense the silent anxiety. But with time as I continued, people came to realize that “well, maybe he does have a point there.”
When I started with the plan to teach people karate, it was something just by the side. What kept me going were my three daughters. One day, something happened to one of my daughters and she began to cry. So, I said to myself never to put her in a vulnerable position like that. So, I began to teach her. Infact, I began to teach the three of them.
In the process of doing that, I began to teach other people as well and teaching other people about karate birthed the social entrepreneurship mantle in me. So, then I believed I could teach karate and influence behavior in the society and maybe turn around things. Everybody is running away from the area because they say it is not progressive. But if we can strengthen the people, work on their minds, social re-engineering we can turn things around. That’s what I saw that made me take karate to the next level. That’s actually the path that I’m on now which is completely different from the path I was on when I started it.
Ibiene: Take us through some of the transformative experiences some of your students have had that gives you joy.
Amakiri: There are a lot of them, both the younger and the older ones. Sometimes, after the class some parents will walk up to me and say “What you are doing here is great.” I remember, a Law Maker in a neighbouring state in Nigeria. When his son started, he was pretty lanky and didn’t have that much confidence in himself. He commended us even on social media on how his child has been transformed and is actually more confident in himself. You can imagine when we started the training, we were pushing him in the direction that he didn’t want to go. So, that is one of many feedbacks.
For the adult class, I find it very interesting. At the initial stage, they ask “are you sure this is what I can do?” Most of them come in with a mindset stuck to their limitations. Guess what? In no time after doing a pit of practice, they began to do things that they never thought they could do. I look at such progress and I smile. When I see how their bodies have transformed, how they can adapt and do things that they initially thought was impossible, I smile because I have made an impact in their lives.
Ibiene: At what point does one get too old to learn karate?
Amakiri: It is never too late to learn karate. The most important thing to do at any time you begin is to get your body moving. With karate such a person will begin to make use of the muscles that they don’t get to use on a regular basis. At an older age, you’re not expected to do the high/flying kick as you see people do in the movies. You just do enough to get your body moving and you get to do that on a regular training session. I actually have a student who is 62!
Ibiene: Tell us some of these wise sayings in karate and what they mean in relation to how people can use them daily in their lives.
Amakiri: Okay let’s break it into two. We talk about the Dojo Kun, the karate pledge which we recite four times either at the beginning or at the end of each training session where we say “I shall strive for the perfection of character. I shall defend the path of truth. I shall foster the spirit of effort. I shall honour the principles of etiquette and I shall guard against impetuous courage.”
The one that struck a chord for me is striving for the perfection of character. I internalise it, I make my kids do so too. This means trying to give it your best, do your best in everything you do. This is how I internalize it with my kids; you’re walking in the house and you see something that is not well placed, you stop and put it back where it is meant to be. Do the right thing and from doing that thing, it translates into every other thing you’re doing.
Another one that struck me was what I read from a magazine, one of the ones I collected from my instructor then in 1991 “the iron ore considers itself senselessly tortured in the blast furnace. The tempered still blade looks back and knows better. This Japanese saying left a huge impression on my mind even as I was growing up. It made me realize that anytime you’re going through anything that is considered stressful, you just have to hold on and persevere. Look at how others have passed through it and are better for it. So, don’t ever think that anything that is tough or uncomfortable for the time being is a punishment. It’s just a process.
Ibiene: Let’s talk about meditation. How easy can one meditate these days with so much noise around?
Amakiri: Sadly enough, we live in a noisy society. But, one of the first things you need to do is to get up early. For me, I actually wake up at 04:30am on a regular day. Here’s one thing people get wrong when they begin to meditate; they try to block out all the thoughts. Truth be told, it is almost impossible!
For a start, when you wake up early and you get yourself seated in the right position, count your breath. For instance inhale and exhale makes one. Do this till you count get to ten. The whole idea of doing that is to get your mind busy. When you get your mind busy, it becomes free of other thoughts. So, a thought can come in. Don’t follow it. Just concentrate on your breathing. You’re going to experience a brief moment of solitude.
The whole idea of meditation is so that you can expand that brief moment of solitude and have it for longer. So, for a longer experience, you count to ten and then start again from one and on and on.
Mindfulness is also something that can guide you too. When you practice mindfulness, the noise doesn’t disturb you. Mindfulness is simply being aware of your breath. It brings your mind back to where it ought to be.
Ibiene: Let’s clear the air about misconceptions on meditation. Some see it as importing far eastern culture and making it a lifestyle here. What is your response to that?
Amakiri: Anyone who says that actually has a point but the truth of the matter is that as Africans, we had our own connection to nature but we lost that connection. We borrowed language, clothing, religion, culture and made them our lifestyle. The funny thing here is that, whatever the soul desires, the soul must get. So, if the soul can’t get it from an existing culture, it will look out to somewhere else it can get it from. This is because nature on its own abhors vacuum. But the beautiful thing is that everything goes round in a circle. A time will come when it will come back to Africa and when it does, if we can, we should connect again to our own gifts. So, till we get ours, we have no option but to borrow because what the soul wants, the soul will get. Every culture has its own gifts and all these gifts are given by God.
Ibiene: What is your coping mechanism during trying times like this?
Amakiri: There are natural laws that govern everything we do. Where there is a negative, there is a positive. You can either look at the situation from one perspective. This is the best time for people to do what they’ve always wanted to do. Look at this situation from the positive side. If you have more time on your hands now, learn a new skill because the post covid-19 world is going to be different from what we are used to. Focus on the good and prepare yourself for what is coming.
Sensei Amakiri Oruamabo 3rd Dan is a Chief Instructor Zen Budo Karate and also a member of the Nigerian Karate Association (NKA) and the Zensyokan Karate Organization. Under the Zensyokan Karate Organization, he learnt Zen Meditation under the Founder, Zen Master Milan Komyo a Zen & Karate Master.
Do you have any question for Amakiri Oruamabo, please share in the comment section.