Fear is an instinctive trait ingrained into the human mind as a condition necessary for survival. Fear of heights kept early man from climbing to high places and accidentally falling to their deaths. Fear of water kept man from drowning in a lake if he could not swim. Fear of fire kept him from getting burned. All of these fears assisted in the survival of the person and in the propagation of the species.
Fear and karate comes from man's early fears of fighting and getting hurt from either armed or unarmed combat early in our evolution.
Let's look at fear and how it interacts with karate and combat. By better understanding it, we can better deal with any given situation we are confronted with that may generate fear.
In combat or in confrontational situation fear causes the person's adrenaline to flow. Respiration increases, pulse rate increases, blood flow changes in the extremities, eyes widen. Strength may increase, thoughts may cloud, movement may conceptually seem to slow down. If a fighter allows fear to overcome them, they will be unable or unwilling to fight. If overcome by fear the fighter may allow themselves to be totally defenseless and at the mercy of the attacker.
The trained karateka is able to deal with fear in two different ways. The first way is that fear is totally erased from the conscious mind. The danger is acknowledged but all fear is erased from the mind and the physiologic responses of the body are not allowed to manifest themselves. The fighter remains calm, and relaxed. There is no tension in the body and the mind is focused ready to react or initiate attack with the full focused strength of the body and mind at a moment's notice. Fear can also cause hesitation in the execution of a technique. Hesitation causes the technique to not be able to be delivered effectively if at all and also creates an opening in one's defense. With the elimination of fear, hesitation is eliminated as well. Full commitment of body and mind then becomes possible.
The second way is that the power the fear generates is harnessed and controlled. The adrenaline flows and the physiologic responses manifest themselves but the mind remains focused on the attacker. A determination is made that the fighter will not retreat but will fight to his fullest capability. Time and motion may slow down and the fighter may use this to advantage to react to attacks and deliver the counter attacks quickly and powerfully. The karateka thus is able to take the physical changes and use them to strengthen their attack and defense. The mental changes are also utilized to increase mental focus. The problem with this type of response is that a huge amount of physical and mental energy is expended in this state even if no physical activity takes place. In a prolonged conflict, the fighter may not have the energy reserves to continue to fight until the threat is neutralized. If retreat is necessary, the fighter may not even have enough energy to remove himself or herself from danger.
Not all karateka are able to fully exercise the previous 2 responses. In some cases the response may be a combination of the 2. Part of the problem is that we are not placed in mortal combat situations often if at all so getting accurate knowledge of a person's response in a actual combat situation is difficult. Yet as karateka we are able to place ourselves into situations that generate fear in most people and learn to deal with it. Tournament competition is an example of this. The fear generated by fighting in front of a crowd generates many of the same responses as in combat. Fear generated by doing kata by yourself in a gymnasium full of people with all types of distractions around you is another way of exposing yourself to pressure. If you are the only one performing a kata and you have an entire gymnasium perfectly quiet with all eyes on you it can be equally unnerving.
Fear of death is another component that is a part of martial arts and karate. The samurai of ancient Japan had a philosophy regarding this matter that proved to be formidable in combat. The samurai did not fear death but instead embraced it. Death was as much a part of being a samurai warrior as was life. When a person embraced the way of the samurai they accepted death and at times already considered themselves dead already. If your consider yourself dead already and embrace your death you do not fear death. If you do not fear death you can engage in combat with the utmost effectiveness so long as you still try to preserve your life and do not take unnecessary risks. The samurai felt that death in combat was not only something not to fear but to welcome. Honorable death in combat was the ultimate sacrifice and then was considered to bring honor not only to the memory of the warrior but to the surviving family of the warrior as well. This was the mentality of the kamikaze pilot of World War II and why the Japanese pilots were more than willing to sacrifice their life for the good of their people. Personal sacrifice was the way to spiritual enlightenment for them and a way to bring honor to their country and family. This type of thinking may not make sense to the western mind but it is a tradition engrained in the hearts and souls of the Japanese people and makes for the creation of a formidable warrior.
It has been proven that many times when in a combat situation a person will reflexively do what they have been trained to do. Through karate training, the karateka learns to deal with fear and either control or harness it to his or her advantage.