Mirjam Widmer knows only too well that with passion also comes – sometimes – pain. Karate is her passion and she pursues it with willpower and commitment. For her karate means: “a combat against myself that makes me stronger.” That is the essence of Do. Karate, she says, keeps her going. But for Mirjam karate is not just a matter of fighting spirit. It goes deeper. Karate is about the way we all live together. For her “manners and respect are more important than a superior attitude.” Being humble and thoughtful belongs for her to the central traits of a good karateka. Have fun reading this insightful and moving interview with Mirjam Widmer. By Dr. Christian Tribowski
- Age: 48
- Karate since: 13. September 1991 … it was a Friday
- Origin and residence: Zurich, Switzerland
- (Kyu/Dan) Rank: 3rd Dan
- Dojo: Seikukan Karate Do Zurich
- JKA Instructor C / JKA Examiner D /JKA Judge D
- I opened my own Dojo called Seikukan Karate Do in Zürich in 2011
What was the reason that you started Shotokan Karate?
When I was 12, I had a neighbor who was doing Karate. He taught me the first Kata heian shodan. We played a lot of Karate outdoors. The next dojo, however, was too far away and I was not allowed to go there for training. So, unfortunately I did not start as a child. Only at the age of 20, I finally turned up at the dojo and joined the Karate Club. I still had the kata heian shodan in my mind. After the first class I knew this was what I really want to do.
The reason why I started at that time, were some problems in the office. I needed something that distracted me, on the one hand, and, on the other, reduced my aggression. So, my kime was straight away very good!
I was very keen about learning Karate. As an 8th Kyu I went to London to learn English and ended up in Enoeda Sensei’s Marshall Street dojo. It was the time when I became really addicted to karate.
What do you like about Shotokan Karate?
I love the fact that it takes all my concentration. Therefore, I have to focus my mind and train hard to get better. I like to work on myself, but in a group together with other people. And it is very important for me to follow a master and show my loyalty by doing my best. Shotokan karate is very structured what I really like. I need this. I could never do expressive dance, for instance. ☺
Is there something you do not like? What is it?
It is a pity that, beside to fantastic seminar with outstanding instructors and amazing friendships all over the world, politics in Karate always plays a big role. In my opinion, we all have our master, our source that we follow. Maybe other people have other ideas. Why should one not just respect them? Manners and respect are more important than a superior attitude. By the end, I decide for myself what is best for me. That doesn’t mean it’s the best for someone else.
What has been your greatest and your worst experience so far related to Shotokan Karate?
The greatest experience has been, of course, my time training with Enoeda Sensei and Ohta Sensei at Marshall Street in London. Enoeda Sensei formed my fighting spirit and Ohta Sensei was definitely the best for teaching the technique. I feel honored as well that I had and still have the chance to train with many charismatic instructors. I admire them with my whole karate heart.
However, there have also been sad moments. After I returned from London back to Switzerland, I got kicked out of the dojo at home. I would have changed too much, they said. Of course, I did change after all the training I did in England and maybe I also had just not enough time to arrive back home. Or my teacher at the time had not enough patience to let me settle.
However, it was my destiny. As I had no other Dojo to go and my loyalty to the JKA was so strong that I did not want to go to an other organization. Therefore, I stopped Karate for several years. But I came back – even stronger!
What do you do when the training becomes challenging? Where do you get motivation from?
As I train for myself because I don’t have a teacher here in Switzerland I have had many ups and downs. To have a sensei, who is looking after me, is very important. Even though, there is no one in my own dojo, there are many great senseis around the world that helped me a lot. My motivation is not to disappoint them by giving up. To show them that I can do better the next time, I see them in England, Berlin, Japan or any other country on a visit of a gasshuku. This motivation keeps me going.
How has Shotokan Karate changed you as a person?
It is difficult to say what I would have done different in my life without karate. But I think it gave me a structure in difficult times. Even though difficult times were often related to karate. Karate gives me the opportunity to deal with myself. It is a combat against myself that makes me stronger. However, only for a short time and then the struggle starts again. In short: it keeps me running!
Why gave Karate you a difficult time?
In one way, I had this issue when I got kicked out, followed by the struggle to start again. Today, I have my own dojo. Which is great. But, when I started to work part time to be at home early in order to teach the children classes, the financial struggle began. In addition, the place where my dojo is will be closed for two years soon. I do not have a solution yet.
For me Karate is something which just cannot be perfect. However, I must also admit that I maybe need this kind of challenges.
How has Shotokan Karate influenced your life?
Since I started karate, it has been influencing me a lot and by I have built my life around karate eventually. But I think: if I had done something else, it would have been the same. I do something it 100% or I do not do it at all. I put a lot of effort in it. However, I am never happy with the result.
Is it helping you on a daily basis with the challenges of life?
Karate is the straw to catch when things are difficult, on the one hand. On the other hand, it is pure joy when I achieve something. I guess my emotions are the engine of my karate.
How has your Shotokan Karate changed over time?
At the beginning, I wanted to be very strong. Then, I found out that a good technique is more important. Right now, I try to become more relaxed about everything. Due to the fact that I have not started as a child I never competed in tournaments a lot. My focus was always my technique and this reflects the way I teach in my dojo. I belief I became much better, since I teach. But due to the fact that I do not have have partners for kumite and there is no instructor around I cannot tell whether this is really the truth.
What are your personal Shotokan Karate short- and long-term goals?
I go to Japan to the JKA Autumn Course in October and I would like to take exam for the 4th Dan.
A long-term goal is to stabilize my dojo. I hope to have enough members to keep it up without having to a financially struggle. My dream is a small dojo with a good standard and people that not just consume and come only if they feel like. I would like people that appreciate the training and have ambition.
How should Shotokan Karate evolve in the future?
I hope that young people not just practice karate to win competitions and that elderly people recognize the benefit of karate as a whole-body workout. Karate should be practiced as an art and with together as a family: Young people, older people – but always with the mindset of killing with one blow.
I hope people stay interested in the history of karate and appreciate to learn from the legends that are part of this history.
Would you recommend Shotokan Karate to your female friends? Why?
I wished I had more female karateka in my dojo. Many women are afraid when it comes to punching and kicking. However, karate is a workout that not only strengthens the body but also builds confidence. The weapons of everyday life are not the fists. They are patience, respect, diligence, and willpower. The path of karate do is not just the physical aspect it is also the development of mental strength. Karate helps to focus on the essential values.