I think every martial artist who read that title just cringed a bit.
It’s true: ask anyone who’s ever done any kind of martial art: playing is not what we say we do.
Not the kids who are having fun, not the adults who are doing it seriously, not anyone stepping onto the mats. We are not playing.
Every time someone says the phrase: “My child plays karate”, I die a little inside.
Seriously though, when was the last time you heard a black belt refer to what they do as playing? Never, right? Well, let me explain why.
The first thing kids learn in my dojo is that Karate is not a toy. It is not to be played with. If you go home and play karate with your family by punching them in the face, is it a fun game? Will your parents be okay with it if you give your siblings a black eye? No, and you will suffer consequences in karate by losing attendance or even your belt rank if you do. All of my students know this.
Karate is not a game. Learning how to throw a strong punch is not something to play with.
If someone gets into a fistfight, is it called “playing”? No: if they’re kids, they get into trouble for fighting, get sent to the principal’s office. If they’re adults, they may even get arrested.
Let’s get one thing straight: Karate isn’t fighting. It’s learning how not to fight, and the art of when to defend yourself if a fight does happen. But at the end of the day, if a fight does occur, is it playing? The answer is still no. It’s serious business that could end in injury (unless you know how to protect yourself).
Google the word “Play”. It is defined as "to engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose."
The important bit: “…rather than a serious or practical purpose”.
Why do you do karate? Why do you enroll your child? To learn something. Oftentimes, a serious skill: focus, listening, discipline. You practice focus. You work on your listening. You don’t play discipline, so why would you play karate?
All of these are reasons not to use the word 'play' when it comes to your martial art, whatever that may be.
You don't "Play" Karate. You Train Karate.
The definition of training? “Training is teaching or developing in oneself or others, any skills and knowledge or fitness that relate to specific useful competencies. Training has specific goals of improving one's capability, capacity, productivity, and performance.”
What is self-defense if not a specific useful competency?
Because at the end of the day, what we are doing isn’t playing. If you want to play, go outside. Go play soccer. Don’t come to the dojo.