Depending on your experience in Karate, this saying might or not make sense. To a casual student or beginner, the "mind" aspect of Karate may seem minimal. After all, how much intellect can be involved in punch, kick, and block? In Japan before the war, there was a perception that Karate was for troublemakers. Early Karate experts were referred to as Tekko Bushi, literally "callused knuckle warriors." The connotation was of a street fighter. That perception also exisited in Hawaii before and until after the war. We used to hear stories of Karate experts who would walk around Hotel Street (a then seedy area of town) with large bills sticking out of their shirt pockets, just waiting for a chance to test out their fighting skills.
But Chibana Sensei was well aware of this. His instructor was none other than the illustrious Anko Itosu, who was responsible for the introduction of Karate to the Okinawan school system. Chibana Sensei must have seen his share of streetfighters, yakuza, and thugs in Okinawa.
And yet, he speaks of cultivating the mind.
Karate at its most basic level is physical. The rigorous training of the body, requires a certain amount of mental activity. If Karate consisted solely of stationary basics (punches, blocks, strikes, and kicks) I do not think that the mind would be developed very much. But Okinawan Karate is kata based. Negotiating the maze of kata requires a keen mind. As a student learns the stances, basic techniques, moving basics, combinations, transitions, and techniques that make up the various kata, his mind is sharpened. This is particularly true as the student works on body dynamics and bunkai (applications of the kata movements).
In some ways, kata is like a Rubic's Cube. The colors are simple, but the combinations are practically limitless. To find order out of the confusion takes some effort.
I cannot speak for others. But for myself, I have found 33 years of Karate training to be intellectually stimulating and rewarding. I have an undergraduate degree in political science, a master's in marketing and accounting, and a law degree. Karate has been just as challenging as any of these degrees.
What makes Karate training different from most educational pursuits, is its combination of the physical and mental. Karate cannot be done on paper -- it must be practiced physically in order to be understood. You cannot practice Karate with your mouth -- it requires your body and mind working together.
This process is like fermentation. Just as grape juice, in time, can become a fine wine, so too can a Karate student, in time, become a well rounded person, both physically and intellectually. Just a Daedalus freed himself from the maze by using his intellect, so to can we unravel the deeper mysteries of Karate using our minds.
Charles C. Goodin