The first thing I learned from my Sensei was that the study of karate is about the perfection of one's character. Sure, it conveys other benefits; training keeps one in shape, learning discipline is good, the katas are beautiful, and in the event of an unavoidable altercation it's useful to know how to fight. But karate isn't fundamentally about those things.
A few years into my study, Sensei moved away. When he opened his own school, we drove south to learn from him. Every Saturday morning we piled into my car and drove the two hours to the dojo. We arrived just in time to help teach the kids' class, we took the adults' class, sometimes we lunched together, and then we drove home again.
In those days, that was my Shabbat practice. Every Saturday I tried to leave my ego at the door with my shoes, to enter into a headspace where I could be fully present. One of the foundations of our style was the (mental and physical) stance called higo dachi, I-Am-Ready; in hindsight, I can see the parallel with what my Jewish meditation teachers call hineni, the ontological Here-I-Am that's a prerequisite both for mindfulness practice and for connection with God. (Not coincidentally, it's the response Abraham gives to God in the Akedah story, which we read on the second day of Rosh Hashanah.)
My first karate class was ten years ago now; I've been away from the dojo as long as I was in it. These days, my workouts and my sacred space are separate: I go to the Y a few days a week, and I meditate and pray in shul or at home. There's still some overlap for me, though. I say the asher yatzar blessing while jogging on the treadmill, and prayer for me often means singing which is a deeply embodied act. And I've found that in both contexts, I wrangle with my ego in similar ways.
I'm often tempted to look around the weight room, to make snap judgements based on who's lifting how much weight or who's jogging at what speeds. It's hard to avoid feeling lesser when I have to adjust the weights on a Nautilus machine because I'm not as strong as the person who used it before me; it's hard to avoid feeling a smidge superior when I discover I can lift more weight than someone else. Just so, there's a temptation to compare myself with people who have a daily davvening practice, and find myself lacking; there's a temptation to compare myself with people who take less advantage of what prayer offers, and find myself superior. In other words, my ego gets in my way in both of these worlds.
In both cases, there's teshuvah work to be done. I need to stop comparing myself. How I measure up to the progress of others doesn't matter; what matters is whether my practices are helping me to be the Rachel I want to be. Because in an ideal world, everything I do would be about the perfection of my character.
Somehow, I think my Sensei would agree.