One of the more popular misconceptions about male subs is they are somehow weaklings or emasculated incapables who swoon at the sight of danger, even by those who supposedly understand the world of kink. The fact that someone gets off on submitting control under consensual conditions of trust, in order to achieve personal and sexual gratification, doesn’t seem, to me, to have any bearing on personal bravery. At least not any more than the desire to look after one’s children would.
So under these misconceptions, it may surprise some people that, until recently, I have practised karate for many years, with some gaps in between. Karate is, after all, Budō – fighting art. Punches, kicks, strikes and blocks are designed to cause pain and physically immobilise. As someone who, as it happens, is a non-confrontational person by nature, what is it that attracts me to it and is there any kink crossover? To which the answer is ‘possibly because of kink crossover’ and ‘yes’.
So the first thing to say about karate, and all martial arts, is it takes place within an environment of consent. Anything that happens in the Dōjō is done in a spirit of honest competition; no one is deliberately hurt. It is not just a room, but a state of mind. In the Dōjō there is no swearing, no disrespect, no talking out of turn. It is the place of the Sensei, and we begin each session by a complete prostrate bow to him/her, with the spoken phrase “Sensei ni rei” (‘bow to Sensei’). (I am working on the assumption you have all seen enough martial arts movies to know that Sensei means ‘teacher’ in Japanese.) The most common phrase you will hear repeatedly muttered in the Dōjō is “oss”. It has multiple meanings in Japanese, from “I see” to “please” or “with your permission” and is uttered as a ‘mirroring phrase’ to show you have understood, that you agree and that you thank Sensei for showing you something.
It’s fairly well known that karate literally means ‘empty hand’ (or, sometimes, ‘open hand’), referring to the fact it is unarmed. The use of the body as a tool has an amazing effect upon the student; for someone who has lived with body-image issues, I can attest that the self-confidence and stature gained from karate lessons is remarkable. But what keeps me coming back – and I know I will be back at some point in the future – is the fact it is learning about yourself and learning about control. The whole system of belts shows that constant learning is built into it. Constant improvement also means adapting to the way your body changes over time. The commitment to personal development means putting yourself willingly in the hands of an expert to learn new techniques of body and mind control, and trusting them not to hurt you.
A less well-known phrase is the adage that ‘there is no opening move in karate’. Strictly speaking, karate is self-defence; if two practitioners meet, there should be no fighting, because you only act in response to the other. We willingly suspend this, in order to learn and compete, but that mindset of responsive techniques, adjusting to react to someone, understanding how you can use the movement of the opponent against them gives you wonderful flexibility and mental agility, as well as the correct attitude. Mental training, correct attitude, use of mantras, phrases and ritualised chants, an environment of consent and respect, and deference to the teacher. I’m sure you are already making the connection…
Taking up karate because you like fighting, is like taking up D/s because you like pain. Yes, there are large parts you will find rewarding, exciting and stimulating, but there are also whole chunks and chapters you are missing out on. And chances are you will end up hurting yourself and others in the process unless you understand the meaning of the acts and the importance of respect and control.