Karate training can be very much like a pine tree in many ways–it starts as a seed and develops roots that form a solid foundation for it to grow from, and as it grows it branches out, far and wide at first and narrower as it continues to grow, and it can also be swayed or, in the blink of an eye, destroyed. The similarities may seem obscure, but forcing a somewhat abstract concept (such as karate training)
No one who commits to martial arts training does so without having some spark of desire to do so. The spark is the seed of our karate tree. Without it, the tree never begins to grow, and if it is neglected then it will wither and rot. Many martial artists began their training for self defense, having had the seed planted by bullies or news stories of normal people being victimized. Others began their training for fitness, having seen celebrities, fighters and friends who have benefited in that way. Still more began to be like their idols–people like Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris or, more recently, people like Royce Gracie or Georges St. Pierre. Once the seed is planted, it must be fed and watered to make it grow. Knowledge is the food that it needs, and sweat is the water.
When someone starts training karate, they first begin to develop a basic set of skills upon which all of the techniques that they will later learn are built. Those skills are the roots of our karate tree. Those roots are constantly pulling knowledge from the soil that is the dojo, and will impact the karate tree for the rest of its existence. Even if that tree is transplanted from one dojo to another, or from one style to another, the roots are the same and all of the knowledge that they pull from the soil of that new dojo or style will be translated by the roots as the tree grows. This aspect of the tree is the simplest, but one of the most important. It is the part that is rarely seen, although we know it exists. Without developing roots the tree will fall, if it is able to grow at all.
As a karateka continues to train, the techniques that make up their roots become stronger and other techniques are built up on top of them. This process forms the trunk of our karate tree. It is a solid extension of the basics that a karateka learned while growing the roots of the karate tree, but this upward-reaching growth of the karate tree is also beginning to develop its own distinguishing characteristics–a twist in the grain, or a prominent root. As they develop their skills they begin to understand that they can utilize them in different ways and there may be more methods and techniques that could be useful to them, if only they could reach them. It as at this key point that the trunk slows its upward growth and begins reaching outward.
At a certain point, a karate practitioner may desire to learn from places outside of their dojo or their style. These explorations form the boughs of our karate tree. Even as they continue to grow upward toward perfection of our art they reach out to other sources of knowledge. As they begin to attend seminars, camps and classes they branch out far and wide and draw as much knowledge as they can back into the trunk that is made of their core art. The more a martial artist does this over time, however, they tend to branch out less and less as they develop their own focus–much like a pine tree that tapers from its wide lower branches to the top.
When a karateka has nurtured strong roots, grown a tall trunk with its own character and branched out far and wide, the karate tree matures. A tree never stops growing–it merely grows more and more slowly with the passage of time–and so, too, must our karate tree keep growing. It continues to grow taller to reach the sun that is perfection of self, while also continuing to grow outward to acquire new nutrients that are sources of knowledge. At some point during this process of growth a karateka has the opportunity to spread their art. We, as martial artists, can be both a part of a karate tree as well as the people who plant the seeds of new karate trees. Just as trees that stop dropping seeds will be the last of their kinds, so will we be the last of our kind if we do not seek to instill the desire to learn in others. The similarities may seem obscure, but forcing a somewhat abstract concept (such as karate training) to fit a more tangible object (such as a tree) makes us look at both from a different perspective and think deeply about how the things we do can reflect the things around us.