What karate and writing have in common

Hint: it’s not about the fancy belts.

At my kids’ karate class the other day I realized that anyone can do karate. Even small kids. However, when the sensei showed off a nunchuck kata that involved multiple backflips, I also realized that it takes a good deal of discipline to do karate really, really well. Maybe more than the amount my kids want to put in.

Options immediately began to run through my brain.

  1. They’re never going to be as great as the sensei. Pull them out immediately. (Option rejected for being reactionary.)
  2. They’re never going to be as great as the sensei. Let them do whatever they were already going to do, even if it means only practicing once per week. (Option rejected for feeling like I’m not giving my kids enough credit.)
  3. Forget how good the sensei is. My kids could be better than they are. Convince them to keep working. Add an extra practice here and there. Set a reasonable goal and work towards it, and when they reach it, set another. (We have a winner! You already knew this was where this was going, right?)

Yep, work harder. Do a little every day. See big gains from small changes. Turns out all of the advice I’ve been reading about writing (rather than actually doing the writing) also applies to karate.


A few ways writing is not like karate:

  • Fancy uniforms and cool belts (sure, you can wear them while writing, but it’s not required)
  • The amount and variety of punches (yes, sometimes writing makes me feel like punching something, but I mostly don’t)
  • There seems to be less editing in karate (though you do have to do the same thing over and over until you get it right)

A few ways writing is like karate:

  • They both require discipline
  • They both take time
  • They are both a commitment if you want to do them well

The comparison solidified for me that if you think a thing is worth doing, whether it’s a sport like karate, a passion like writing a book, a goal such as losing weight, or a long-held desire like becoming a better polka dancer, you have to spend time doing it to improve. You have to keep doing it if you’re ever going to do it better. Period.

Any thoughts on similarities and differences between writing and karate? Check in with me in the comments.

Happy [insert a hobby/goal/passion of your choice]-ing!

P.S. Yes, if you’ve been following along this whole time you know this isn’t the first post where I’ve “figured this out.” The knowledge has been in me the whole time. I just have to keep reminding myself to stay motivated. Small things. Every day. 🙂

Photo of practicing on the beach by Jason Briscoe on Unsplash
Photo of karate master wearing a black belt by Leslie Jones on Unsplash

7 thoughts on “What karate and writing have in common

  1. It’s like a loop… discipline leads to success leads to bigger goals leads to dicipline and on and on.

    Happy writing to you!

  2. Add in there qualified coaching/teaching. Read Malcom Gladwells Outliers book and I believe you’ll discover that any activity, if given the time to flourish, will reach mastery level. I believe the key to what I would call mastery is qualified coaching/teachers. You and I both know that I could put 10,000 hours in and you can put 10,000 hours in (writing) but you’ll still have the leg up on me because you have surrounded yourself with qualified coaches/teachers. A bad habit repeated 10,000 times doesn’t make it a great habit. Its still a bad habit. Just with deeper roots.

    1. Until you realize, of course, that mastery and perfection is never attainable, and still continue through that hurdle, ever growing, striving for excellence, and ultimately, reaching a level of performance that is acceptable according to the standards you hold for yourself.

  3. I disagree.

    *Fancy uniforms and cool belts (sure, you can wear them while writing, but it’s not required)

    The uniforms and the belts matter not. It’s the spirit within, the discipline visualized through belt colors, and your writing journey that matters most. What you look like means less if your prose is fire!

    *The amount and variety of punches (yes, sometimes writing makes me feel like punching something, but I mostly don’t)

    Plenty of punches in writing. But you call them ‘suspense’, ‘mystery’, and so forth. Show us your deadliest combination of words and you will have become the master that we always knew lived inside. Remember – everything you ever need to be successful in life is already within you. All you have to do is let it out…

    *There seems to be less editing in karate (though you do have to do the same thing over and over until you get it right)

    The editing is constant, at least from what I observed last night. A knife hand bent just so, and punch precisely at eye level, a block perfectly executed. And when’s it wasn’t, a sensei on the side with a guiding, gentle, affirming touch to make it just right. The editing, or teaching as I see it, is just shaping and honing what is already possible to become the most perfect imperfection possible by the human hand. It’s not doing it over and over again. It’s doing it better, and different, and becoming the best one can be. Both in strikes and punches, as in mind and body.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.