Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Lessons From Martial Arts for Writers

Wednesday Flash Fiction will return next week. Today, I had a strong inspiration to write on this topic, so I hope you enjoy it.

Two things have been constant in my life for the last few years - karate training and writing. I often think about how the two are similar in their philosophies and teachings, and in how a karate-ka and a writer develop themselves and their art. Here's a few of my thoughts on the topic.

Out of the 20 principles of Gichin Funakoshi (founder of modern karate), I believe the following apply beautifully to writing.

#5. Spirit first, technique second.
Writing application: As in martial arts, the spirit is of utmost importance to a writer. It is because we have the passion for writing and the spirit and discipline to actually sit down and write and to work at it that we begin to call ourselves "writers" in the first place. We may not know all the writer "techniques" or fine points of our craft when we start, but we're willing to try anyway - and we're willing to learn. We can teach ourselves certain aspects and techniques - but without the passion and the spirit for doing it, we will not produce good work. Clean technique will come with time and experience. Cultivate your spirit and passion for writing first.

#6. Always be ready to release your mind.
Writing application: If we don't open our mind and are not willing to experiencing and try new things, we become stuck, which makes us weaker and more vulnerable. We have to be able to let go of preconceptions and see new possibilities to become really good at what we do. We have to remain fluid and able to see everything in our environment, even as we focus on our opponent (or our writing, as the case may be).
There are many rules out there for writers - many of them are good, many are there to be broken. I would say they are more guidelines in most cases. We can't have develop a narrow vision of never straying away from them and trying new ways to improve our writing.

#8. Do not think that karate training is only in the dojo.
Writing application: Similarly, do think of writing as only something to be done at the desk. A writer's mind is always active. Even when we're not actually typing up the words, we are thinking about what we want to write. We should be keen observers of our environment, no matter where we are. There's a potentially limitless supply of inspiration out there in the world. Observe people in conversation or sitting in silence, observe animal behaviors, observe the rush of traffic and the beauty of a garden in the spring. Then go back to your desk and write.

#9. It will take your entire life to learn karate; there is no limit.
Writing application: This is one of my favorites. There really is no limit to studying martial arts - or to studying the writing craft. There's always something new to learn and there's always something new to try in our writing. Never forget that. You can never become complacent about what you know - always have the mindset that there's still much more to know. It makes life more interesting and it hones us into dedicated, disciplined and interesting writers.

#10. Put your everyday living into karate and you will find "Myo" (subtle secrets).
Writing application: Writing is very personal, no matter what we write about. We all bring a little bit (or a lot) of ourselves and our experiences into out writing. That is what makes each of our stories unique and different.

#11. Karate is like boiling water. If you do not heat it constantly, it will cool.
Writing application:This is another favorite of mine. This applies to writing so beautifully, and it's so simple! If we don't write all the time, it'll be harder and harder for us to get back to it. I'm sure many of you  have experienced this phenomena at some point or other. Keep writing. Even if you're really busy, even if something is taking you away from your writing for a period of time, write at least a little bit. Don't let your writing passion and spirit cool.

#13. Victory depends on your ability to distinguish vulnerable points from invulnerable ones.
Writing application: As with everything else we do, it is important to know what our weak and strong points are. If we know that, we can utilize our strong points to the best advantage, and we can work on making our weak points stronger. In martial arts, it is also about knowing your opponents vulnerable and invulnerable points to beat him. In writing, you and your writing are your opponent.

There's also a famous saying by Gichin Funakoshi:

"The ultimate aim of karate lies not in victory nor defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants"

Writing application: For writers, this applies as much! Yes, many of us want to be published and recognized for our work. However, for most of us, it's also not the end-all. We love writing - that's why we do it. Through writing, we find out more about ourselves, we figure out our strengths and weaknesses, and hopefully we become better people and writers.

Here's a couple more:

"A one sided martial artist is a blind martial artist." -unknown 
Writing application: A one sided writer is a blind writer. Learn from others. Read novels in your own genre, as well as others - you can find a wealth of techniques and inspiration in reading.

"Victory is reserved for those who are willing to pay it's price." - Sun Tzu
Writing application: Again, as in martial arts, writers have to be willing to pay the price to achieve success. We have to be disciplined, work hard and make certain adjustments in our life to do what we love.

What have you learned from being a writer? What advice would you give others about writing? Did you ever apply an advice from another area of your life to writing?


  1. The two disciplines correlate nicely.

  2. Wonderful post, I enjoyed it thoroughly. I'm sure that these principles can be applied to almost every part of daily life.

    1. Rebecca, you're absolutely right, most of these can be applied to just about anything in life.
      I'm glad you enjoyed the post!

  3. Great analogy. I like the thoughts and the thought you put into it to share.

    1. Thank you, Michael! I got really inspired to write this :)

  4. You're kind of brilliant, have I told you that lately? This post gave me chills because it's so spot on.

    1. Awww, you are too sweet! I'm glad you enjoyed the post :)

  5. They don't call karate a martial art for nothing. Writing is an art form, karate - although for self defense - is also an art form. So many of the principles in each discipline can be applied to the other. I agree with Heather - you are brilliant. Beautifully written.

  6. I love this post! Id love to learn martial arts.


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