Evolution Part II: The Strengthening and Expansion of Karate
Probably Karate Sakugawa's single greatest achievement was the instruction of Sokon Matsumura (1809-1899). Sokon is historically known to have fought in many duels, holding the distinction of never being defeated. He was described by his disciple Itosu Anko as blindingly fast and deceptively strong, and by the great Gichin Funakoshi as having piercing eyes with a "terrifying presence".
Matsumura spent time being educated by the Satsuma Clan in Japan in sword and Bo techniques as well, bringing them back with him to Okinawa. He was also honored with the title of Bushi, a significant achievement, and went on to serve three Okinawan Kings Sho Ko, Sho Iku, and Sho Tai as Chief Martial Arts Instructor and Bodyguard, respectively
Later in his life, he spent a great deal of time systematizing and refining Tode. By the time he was finished, the art, while much of it's early structure was based in Shaolin Kung Fu, had become totally of it's own, and eventually would be christened with the new title of Karate, or "Empty Hand" in the early 20th Century. He went on to teach several highly skilled Karate practitioners such as Itosu Anko, Yabu Kentsu, and Gichin Funakoshi.
Itosu Anko (1831-1915) is well known for many exploits and successes in Karate history, two of which standardized and propelled Karate into all of Japan, and set the stage for it to be taught globally. In 1879, Okinawa was annexed as part of the Japanese Empire. The relatively new Jujitsu based martial art of Judo had emerged from the Meiji Restoration as the standard martial art of Japan. The Japanese were rightfully very proud of their new martial art, and when they witnessed the Okinawans practicing Karate, they quickly showed their disdain for this "upstart backwater" martial art practiced by the Islanders. The local Japanese policemen whom all of which practiced Judo, quickly ordered them to stop practicing Karate and to accept Judo as the new way. The Okinawans refused, and the situation soon ended in a challenge: Karate vs Judo. The Japanese Police Chief put himself forward as the challenger, one of Kano Sensei's best fighters, with Itosu Anko answering the call to defend Karate's reputation. As the two opponents circled each other, the Chief shot in, grabbing Itosu by the sleeve and collar, attempting to throw Itosu to the ground. At the moment of contact, Itosu sank low to the ground, and with a flicker, struck the Police Chief very hard in the solar plexus, knocking him out with a single strike. Needless to say, Karate stayed in the Okinawan curriculum. In 1905, Itosu achieved Satori, and created the Pinan series of Katas. They were simplified short forms based on the older Katas, making Karate much easier to teach publicly vs. the older training "3 years per Kata" methodology. Because of this innovation, Karate was also standardized along Judo throughout the Japanese Empire. For the first time in it's storied history, Karate would be taught outside of the small tightly knit circle of practitioners.
Yabu Kentsu (1866-1937) was a very skilled fighter and prominent karate teacher. He trained at Sokon Matsumura's school, receiving much of his instruction from his senior Karate Brother, Itosu Anko. Yabu joined the Japanese military, achieving the rank of Lieutenant, quite a feat for a non Japanese in those days. He fought in the Sino-Japanese War in 1894-1895, using and perfecting his Shorinji-Ryu Karate on the battlefield. There is a relatively under reported story about Yabu from those wartime days. During this period of time, it was quite common for Japanese mainlanders in the military to bully the native Okinawans. Yabu was having none of it, fighting back, which quickly lead to a challenge match. When the challenging soldier attacked, Yabu struck him in the torso, killing him instantly. There was an official investigation into the incident, and Yabu was cleared from any wrongdoing.
His experiences in real life combat battle hardened him, and he defeated any challengers, including the mighty Choki Motobu. He was a stickler for the basics and preferred the training and fighting techniques of Nihanchi and Gojushiho Katas. He is credited for giving a much more militaristic approach to Karate, forming lines and and having his students respond by numbers. Later in his life, he traveled between the Untied States and Okinawa during the 1920's. In the midst of his travels, he stopped in Honolulu Hawaii for an extended period. There, he gave his now famous Karate demonstrations. It was during one of these demonstrations and instructional courses, where the powerful Yabu Ketsu was witnessed by a young Richard Kim.
Martial arts history and development tell you everything about sociological conditions of the time, and methods of thinking in relation to weapons systems, and political motivations of the surrounding regions. True to my normal form, while I will be laying out a timeline and characters in our Karate system, I will also touch on other martial arts such as Jiu-Jitsu and Judo when relevant. These two other Japanese arts have had several historical run-ins and a significant impact on the development of Karate as a result. I will also cover where I think all of these arts will be headed in the future.
The Beginning: Okinawan & Chinese Origins
Yara was of nobility, and spent 20 years at the Shaolin Temple in Fukien Province, China. He was educated in Shoalin Quan-Fa (Kung Fu), and the tenants of Buddha at the hands of Wong Chung Yoh. Upon returning to his home island in Okinawa, he found it in disarray. While China had official control of the island at that time, the Satsuma Clan of Japan was given control half of the year by the Chinese Government. With a lot looting and plundering afoot, Yara used his skills to defeat Samurai, and any would be challengers, both local and otherwise. His fighting skills were fearsome, and he was recruited by the officials to teach his skills to the local Okinawans. During this time, he was also trained by the renowned fighter Kushanku, who was an ambassador for the Qing Dynasty in Okinawa. Kushanku had also been trained in China by a Shaolin Monk in Shaolin Quan-Fa.
Chatan Yara's main known student was an Okinawan Monk named Takahara Peichin (1683-1760). He was a powerful Warrior, and was the first historically attributed to the principles of Do or "The Way" of Karate. Takahara's most notable student was a man named Kanga Sakugawa (1733-1815), sometimes referred to as Tode Sakugawa (Tode, meaning 'China Hand', an old name for Karate) or Karate Sakugawa. Sakugawa had sought the tutelage of Takahara after his father had died at the hands of local bullies. Takahara schooled the young Sakagawa in the art of Tode, and Sakugawa rose to become not only a skilled warrior, but a pivotal character in the development of Karate.
Evolution Part I: Karate and taking on characteristics of it's own.
At this point, the old art of Tode started to resemble the modern day art of Karate (Empty Hand) as we understand it today. Karate Sakugawa shunned the idea of being a Karate specialist in any one technique, or method. Rather, being a Generalist and having the ability to adapt to changing conditions was given priority. The reasoning for this is simple: as I referred to in the beginning, Okinawa was a popular stopping point for all ships traveling to China, the premier regional power for education and commerce. All peoples from Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, and more all passed through Okinawa on their way to China and also upon their return home. All of these travelers brought their native fighting styles with them such as, Kali, Escrima, Silat Serak, Kung Fu, and Jiu-Jitsu to name a few.
As you can imagine, plenty of confrontations broke out. Karate was made to adapt to these different fighting styles and changing conditions. As history shows, Karate was not only able to adapt to these other fighting styles it became a dominant fighting methodology, and was a closely held secret until approximately the year 1900. There were good reasons for this. All martial arts were the Fighting Technologies of their time and often determined the outcome of a battle, until the gun globally took hold as the mainstay weapon of choice.
The best part about this, is that it made the Thai Boxing Instructor happy, and me very proud. I was gratified that I was able to transmit Karate as it was meant to be. It is my hope that my student is able to do the same for another one day. It is very important that we properly maintain the fighting arts we inherit. The Fighting Arts are alive, and can only be transmitted from one human being to another. It takes a great deal of patience, character and skill to learn true Karate. To successfully learn any true martial art such as Karate, Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, Thai or Western Boxing, you must cultivate three principals:
1) Cultivate The Way of the Warrior, and have Fighting Spirit
2) Have the ability to Learn & Change
3) Believe in something Greater than yourself, such as God
These three principals will help you develop character, as the Martial Way challenges you. This path of training and testing gives way to spiritual power though discipline. As such, it is our Duty to provide Solace where there is pain, bring Positive Strength where needed, and to care for those who have less than us. This is Christmas Eve, I want to remind each you that all of us possess these treasures in our hearts. Go outward, and Be of Service.
Merry Christmas, and God Bless!
This has been an compelling year, with many challenges and surprises. As I have solidly entered into my early forties, I can say without a doubt that all my years of training have paid off in huge dividends. While training properly brings the virtue of vibrant health, the real gem is being of sound mind.
Knowing when to be quick and decisive when needed, or patient enough to wait out a situation are just some of the rewards gained and used. This is all too clear to me now, as my Sensei is getting older, as are my parents, and my daughter is in grade school. I have become the center conduit that holds all of these things together. While the pressure can be high at times, and many would stray away from training, I do the exact opposite. When the heat is on, that is when I step it up. Instead of resisting life and attempting to push it away, I find relief in the center of the storm.
"A Martial Artist bears the Unbearable!" Sensei likes to tell me. Having endured his intense discipline has given me perspective, and an ability to observe Life as it is, not what I want it to be. Having a disciplined undisturbed mind brings peace and eases the emotions. Steady practice and becoming a devout Buddhist has allowed me to have a clear mind, and to make correct choices. I have learned what it means to be a trustworthy person, a dutiful teacher, and a true friend. It is from this that I have found true joy that I have never experienced before.
This Christmas Eve, it is my hope that your training has brought you the same benefits as it has to me. I would encourage everyone to embrace Life and its challenges with an open heart and without fear. Express yourself fully, experience the marvel of the life within you in every breath. Do not waste it.
Merry Christmas, and God Bless!
When I first began training WIng Chun, I was fascinated with it's no-nonsense basic approach, and particularly it's emphasis on short power, the famous one-inch punch. Once I got past the initial phases of being wowed by the hype and more glamorous parts often touted by fans of this fighting system, regular practice and conversations with my Sifu John Kang, started to show me the more practical underpinnings of why the system worked the way it did, and most importantly, how to use it. Often, Wing Chun is referred to in cool sounding terms such as "In Fighting" or "Close Quarters Combat". The fundamental question is why would that particular strategy be dominant? There are several, but these are the major ones that really stand out to me to understanding Wing Chun Fighting Strategy:
After realizing these truths about the Wing Chun fighting system, I had a better comprehension of the nuts and bolts of the system overall, and I could now see why the masters of this system touted regular practice of the first form, or Siu Nin Tao (Little Idea). The first subsection sets a solid foundation of establishing your centerline, how your elbows are used to protect your sides and front, at what point your elbows and hands work together to project power forward, or to move back inward to absorb incoming force.
The same great masters of Wing Chun also performed Siu Nin Tao very slowly during solo practice, so I started to train the first form very slowly as well. It was difficult to do in the beginning, and tested my patience. As I started to get to the 20 minute mark, I found myself relaxing, especially in the first subsection (there are three), and my mind stopped wandering and I was able to focus with intent for prolonged periods of time. As my understanding progressed, my angles and alignments became better and I started to improve quickly, and I found that I was now understanding how the pieces from the form were coming together into a cohesive fighting style.
As demonstrated below, I am moving more slowly than you may normally see in other videos. If I was practicing alone and not doing a demo, I would be going much slower. Remember to relax, sink at your Kwa (hips), while lifting your spine and tucking the tailbone forward to engage your core. Breathe deeply into your stomach, not your chest. 4 seconds in, and 4 seconds out is a good starting point. If you feel a minor compression in the abdomen, this is good. It strengthens your abdomen and internals, as well as builds upper and lower body connection. Regular practice is key when it comes to form work. If you want results, training hard is the only way to get the desired effect. It is a skill, and while different, must be done with same intensity you would developing a knock out punch with a heavy bag. Focus on becoming mentally relaxed and aware, and don't be impatient or in a rush. There is a saying in the Martial Arts: "He who is in a rush to learn, learns very slowly indeed".
Diet & Nutrition:
This is one of the most complicated and misunderstood aspects to training and daily life. There is always some new method in the trend for “diets”. The amount of information on this subject alone is staggering. To make matters worse, it usually ends up making things more confusing.
I like to keep my eating habits simple and easy to remember. The basic ideas I follow are from my Grandmaster, O'Sensei Richard Kim: eat a large variety of foods. If 70% of what you eat is fruit and vegetables, the rest of your diet will fall in line accordingly. While not always possible, try to eat as many fresh organic foods whenever you can. Meat is fine, just be sure to source it from reliable places that raise healthy animals accordingly.
Lastly, eat foods that make you feel good. For example, pork does not suit me well. I prefer fish, such as salmon. I feel better after I eat it, and it gives me more energy. Other people may not eat meat at all. I have met several vegetarians that like the taste of meat, but they stopped eating it because of digestive issues. Intrinsically, you know what is best for you. While it is important to look at numbers on a nutritional scale, it is better to listen to your body overall.
In the information era of so many "good" and "bad" foods switching around with each new study, I just do my best to avoid my personal "Big 5" to keep it simple. In general, these are ingredients and other chemicals that should be avoided:
1) High Fructose Corn Syrup. This stuff is bad news, period. It is in everything, ranging from bread, soda pop, energy bars, and condiments. Basically in lay terms, you body recognizes it as sugar at first. It then gets mistakenly converted and stored in you cells as ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate). When you put a demand on your body, it combines oxygen molecules with ATP, which in turn releases energy. The problem is this synthesized sugar can’t be processed with oxygen at the time of demand. You body can’t identify it. It then gets stored as a toxin, which is slowly removed by the lymphatic system. This process is much slower than your metabolism. Once there is an over abundance of this Corn Syrup in your system, it is easy to see how the body begins running an energy deficit, and is filled with a toxic and unusable energy source.
2) Hydrogenated Oils of any kind. Whether partial or full, these harmful oils are designed to have a shelf life over many years. It is frequently found in peanut butter, snack bars, and different kinds of chocolate candies. The molecularly modified oils quickly find their way into your cardiac muscles, where it can take the body up to two years to purge them. No need to elaborate any further on this nasty stuff.
3) Refined Sugar in excess. Honey is a much better alternative. Both sweeteners contain glucose and fructose. However, for sugar, in the process of manufacturing, the organic acids, protein, nitrogen elements, enzymes and vitamins in the sugar cane are destroyed, whereas honey, a natural sweetener, subjects only to minimal heating. Also, honey has certain beneficial antioxidant and antimicrobial properties which are not present in table sugar.
4) GMOs. In 30 other countries around the world, including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union, there are significant restrictions or outright bans on the production of GMOs, because they are not considered proven safe. In the U.S. on the other hand, the FDA approved commercial production of GMOs based on studies conducted by the companies who created them and profit from their sale. Refuse to be a guinea pig for corporations that are concerned only with profits and maximum yield.
5) Any kind of pesticide. These contain harmful hormone disruptors that destroy the chemical controllers of the body. Often they lead to reproductive harm, birth defects, and cancer.
With this information in hand, keep in mind that eating perfectly all the time isn't going to happen. Avoid becoming too extreme, because that in itself can lead to other problems. It is important to enjoy your food as much as possible. If done thoughtfully, you can indeed "have your cake and eat it too!" I hope you have found this series educational and informative. Until then be well, and enjoy your training!
As I sat back thinking over this past year as I normally do at the closing of it, taking notes of growth, and student progress, I found that I was really happy with all of it. So many people I have taught have given so much of themselves, and now I am seeing many in the first stages of becoming a seasoned martial artist. In my endeavor as an instructor, I have pushed many to their physical limits, and challenged their mental understandings both on the practical mental plane, and the philosophical esoteric side of things. Seeing them transform into themselves is the greatest gift a teacher can ever receive, and is the the often most important aspect of the Martial Arts that media and pop culture overlook when it comes to the training.
Finding meaning within oneself is so important, and the Martial Arts unequivocally does this with the proper instruction. Modern day society has so many distractions, that it is easy to get swept up in the melee of it all. Staying grounded, and training hard makes enjoying our lifestyles so much more satisfying. More than just fitness, the Martial Arts contains a philosophy within that can bring joyfulness, and health of body and mind. Obviously what you eat has an impact on your health, and so it is with your thoughts. Thoughts also have a distinct quality, and using the discipline of the martial arts helps with the mind in this way. There are many different aspects to this, and here are a few I'd like to share with you this Christmas Eve that are taught at The Martial Arts Academy:
Take responsibility for everything you say, and everything you do --this is the beginning of true freedom. Taking this course in life is a very liberating experience.
Know the difference between right and wrong in the matters of people --the mind is for seeing, not thinking.
Never speak against yourself --your words carry power, and shape your reality.
Always speak the truth --this is especially important. Before you become any kind of thief or criminal, you must first become a liar.
The Martial Arts are not only in the Dojo --behave with Respect, Compassion, and Gratitude, no matter where you are.
A Warrior looks at everything as a challenge --this is contrary to ordinary people, that view everything as a curse or a blessing.
The Martial Arts are an auxiliary to Justice --this requires no explanation.
I feel so very thankful to those that have come to our Dojo, as do I to be sharing this with you now. It is my hope that it inspires to you begin training, or to resolve to train even more, and to become your true self. Use your body as your Brush, the World as your Canvas, you mind as your Colors, and be an Artist of Life.
Merry Christmas, and God Bless!
If you get injured in class, it is important to tell your teacher right away. If you get hurt outside of class, be sure to tell your teacher before class begins-- do not try to train normally with an injury and have it become a bigger problem. A good teacher should have some general knowledge on how to get you first aid, and to get you pointed in the right direction.
Remember, if you do get injured, get it treated right away. Seek out a medical professional you feel comfortable with in order to get your injury diagnosed for proper treatment. Too many times have I seen students and fellow practitioners wait too long, needlessly exacerbating the issue. Taking advantage of living in a metropolitan area that has many modalities available is a an opportunity too good to pass up. For my past injuries, I have found the following combination particularly effective:
1) A good Acupuncturist is invaluable. Traditional Chinese Medicine has very effective methods for treating soft tissue damage, particularly in the areas of tendons and ligaments. Additionally, acupuncture deals with treating injuries naturally. Nothing harmful to the system to worry about,
such as drugs, that often has side effects.
Click on the Link for our Excellent Local Chinese Medicine Dr. Yen Wei Choong: http://www.yellowemperormarin.com/
2) Having a knowledgeable Chiropractor really helps. Aside from spinal issues, they deal with the proper alignments of the entire skeletal system. A skilled practitioner can set any joint or bone in the body. This is an important consideration when training high impact techniques, such as throwing.
Click on the Link below for our Exellent Local Chiroprator Dr. Eckhardt. He is extremely skilled in Soft Tissue Recovery, and can set any displaced bone in you body: http://northmarinchiropractic.com/
3) Easy access to an able Body Worker that can do deep Myo Fascial massage, Trigger Point therapy, Rolfing, Tui Na, or equivalent is also important. Correcting soft tissue dysfunction is time consuming. A good massage therapist that can spend 60-90 minutes at a time has its advantages, especially when compared to the fast 20-minute session often associated with Physical Therapy appointments.
4) Learning a good Qi Gong system to maintain and balance your training regimen is a must for any serious martial artist. The ability to self heal is extremely useful. It is also important to note that Qi Gong makes the previously mentioned methods more effective. It bridges the gap between the patient’s time with the practitioner(s), and reduces the time it takes to heal. If you are hurt in a way that prevents you from training in your preferred art, Qi Gong still allows you practice in some form. A good Qi Gong system follows many underlying principals of the Martial Arts: weight shifting, movement of energies, opening and closings of the joints, stretching and strengthening of soft tissues. Once you are fully healed, it makes returning back to your regular routine easier since some basics have been maintained during your recovery period.
Although there are many methods of Qi Gong, below is a video of The Eight Brocades of Silk as practiced at The Martial Arts Academy. While the video is informative, keep in mind it is best to always find a skilled teacher that can show you the intricacies of their chosen system.
I will finish by saying the great thing about these combined modalities, is that they have a broad spectrum of uses. Please keep in mind that your mileage may vary! Use what works for you the best in the combination you see fit. Aside from being used as an effective regular maintenance program, they also work very well for treating minor injuries, as well as help speed recovery time of major things like post surgical procedures, and fractured bones. For any additional advice, or other methods you have found useful and would like to share, please comment below.
Good luck to you on your training!
Part II: The Zen of Kata
As usual, Sensei demanded that we go to our regular spot to eat: the local burger joint. Contrary to what many might imagine, sipping tea and eating a traditional Japanese meal after a hard day's training was not Sensei's forte. Sensei preferred a cheeseburger, fries, and a diet Coke. "A martial artist can have whatever he wants to eat - especially after training this hard and for this long. Reward yourself with a burger!" he liked to say. Internally, I chuckled and was happy to have something that satiating after a hard workout like we had just done. I could see that all the years he had spent in the USA had ever so slightly changed him, especially someone who was so intensely Japanese in his ways as a martial artist and a man of Zen.
Once we seated and were served our food, I charged at my food like a hungry barbarian, only to be suddenly stopped by the sight of Sensei eloquently performing his prayers to Buddha Fudo Myoo before he ate. I suddenly felt clumsy and out of sync of our mini cosmos for not doing prayer myself. Sensei immediately detected my sense of unease, and I could tell by the look on his face the brief respite from the intense training was over. Intentionally capitalizing on my exhaustion as he always did, it was time that we move from the physical into the mental testing and training portion of our day. He liked to test my resolve when tired, pushing me to see if I would continue without giving into any sort of ill-tempered responses just because I was worn out. Often times, I found this to be the hardest part of the training.
While we ate, Sensei continued on his theme of the day "Many train improperly for years. They never fully understand the martial arts and fail to fully integrate it into their lives. There is no denying fighting efficacy, but most who espouse that alone fail to understand that the fight is with life itself. That attitude is ultimately short lived, and always ends in disappointment when their youth leaves them. The problem is that they overlook the total person. Everyone eventually succumbs to old age, disease, and death - there is no escape. Therefore you must work on conquering oneself - that is a big part of what the Kata does. If you can see beyond the impermanent world and reach out to truth - then you can understand life as a whole, and rest in truth. There you can unleash your hidden potential as spiritual being. You see, the way of the Buddha is a mind training tool in effect - those that think of it as a religion almost always become lost - that is because it is about realization. Same as it is those who try to just be tough forever. It is a fools errand."
"You must do away with fixed thinking, or thinking of those illusions that you believe to be permanent - they are not! Look at the way I do Kata - I never do it the same, they are always qualitatively different from each other. The importance is that you must make the art come alive within you. This why I am stressing to you what I did - you must endure the unendurable, bear the unbearable in the Kata, feel the heat so to speak. Anything less, then your Kata becomes a dead form, and you might as well just run around flailing your arms in the air - both are equally useless. From start to finish you must keep your energy and you mind turned on. Once you do this, your Kata will work for you in Kumite, or in any fighting situation, totally spontaneous and fully functional, truly alive."
Eager to add to the lecture in agreement, " I can see what you mean here Sensei. I feel that after many years and fighting that I have come to understand."
"I don't think you do." Sensei said looking at me ever so slightly disapprovingly, "This all goes much deeper than you think Will...."
Interjecting, I said "But I have won a lot of fights, many of them for real. Sure I have lost, but I think you've trained me to be a pretty good fighter, defeating street fighters and other martial artists alike. All of this, despite what the naysayers have criticized about classic martial arts over the years."
"That is you ego talking!" Sensei said scolding me.
He continued, "Which brings me to the next point: you. Sure you've done well for yourself, and now you're seeking some kind of approval from me. A warrior does not concern himself with such indulgences such as a need for social approval. That very mechanism lies at the heart of your problems - a need to over examine things through the eyes of the intellect, then seek edification. Sure, the intellect is useful for analysis of in pre and post study, but it has no place in a fight. Fighting is emotional. The moment your flawed thinking creeps in, you're out of touch with the moment, and that is precisely when your opponent will close to strike you down. I already spoke of this earlier. You need to release yourself from this flawed concept."
"Yes Sensei." I said, visibly trying to hide my indignation.
"There is no 'good dog' while I pat you on the head in martial arts." Sensei said, "This is about fighting and realization, not good feelings. Those needs for good feelings trap you into illusion, which is not the Buddha's path".
"I'm sorry Sensei"
"No, do not apologize, or defend yourself. Be correct in thought and action. That is the true way to relief from suffering in this world." Sensei's tone began to palpably soften as he continued "You have not erred at all here Will. In fact, you had to act the way you did, otherwise you would not have needed the lesson. The only real mistake here would have been to keep.... that inside you so you would not learn the lesson." Sensei began to smile. "Yes, you have done well, but keep in mind that life defeats all challengers, and that all beings want enlightenment"
I slowly inhaled, leaning back in my chair, I began to study the backs of Sensei's hands, with scars and all telling a story of heavy bare knuckle combat. I continued my gaze, now looking at his face and seeing the lines of age and wisdom. I wondered about all the places he had been, what he experienced and what he had done, the trials he faced to achieve such and encompassing mastery of the martial arts. Nearly 30 years have past since I first met him, yet he never ceases to continually amaze me. His utter conviction of being truly alive every moment, not to waste a single breath, but to rather cherish it, yet without clinging to it has always been his message. Humbled by these thoughts, I truly questioned myself if I would ever be as good as him one day.
"Ah, I can see you're in reflection. Good!" Sensei exclaimed with a big smile on his face, "That means I have been successful in getting through to you and in you're in Kufusuru: a steady state of meditation as you move through all your daily tasks." Feeling lighter as if he stripped off some sort of heavy cloud over my mind, I bowed to him.
Today, I truly appreciate my Sensei.
Part I: The Zen of Kata
Martial arts forms, or Kata, is a method the martial artist uses to perfect, catalog, and transfer their fighting methods so that they may be preserved and refined by the next generations of fighters. The fact that we have forms still with us today that are between several hundred to over one thousand years old is an incredible testament to their genius and innovation. Improperly taught, learned, or practiced however, can lead to disastrous outcomes that can cause an entire martial art system to fall into the ash heap of history.
Over many years of training, while I have always liked Kata and all other martial art forms, only now I can say that I truly appreciate the difficulty in doing what it takes to perform them correctly. Sensei has driven that point home to me on numerous occasions, and there is one occasion I was training with him that was particularly grueling, yet very productive. We had been working on Shorinji-Ryu's Kushanku series of Katas non-stop for over two hours, and I was becoming exhausted.
Earlier in my training with Sensei, I didn't dare approach or ask him questions unless prompted to do so. Later as the years passed, he became much more open with me, taking great liberties to answer all of my questions regarding details, how fighting applications were derived from the Kata, with no stone un-turned or detail overlooked. I would soon discover that time was about to come to pass. Desperately needing a break form his intense regimen, I posed a question about one of the moves, as I didn't fully understand the fighting application behind it.
Sensei admonished me, "You have been a black belt for sometime now. Do the Kata! Then you will learn what it all means. No more questions!!"
"Yes Sensei" I replied, attempting to be indirect, as Sensei never answered direct questions, "So I hold my weighting this way before I move in Shuto?"
"You're making an attempt to intellectualize of the Kata" Sensei said. "Such attempts work to undermine your progress and will be you undoing. You see, the moment you become intellectual, you mind starts seeking proof from an opposing point of view - that creates internal conflict, at which point you are finished! Your opponent will kill you, and you will have no idea of how it happened. Save for your last view, a 360 degree pan of the world when you head flies from your body!!"
"See, you have to put yourself into the battlefield" Sensei continued, "there is no space for useless banter in your head. Kata is about precision, finesse, power, movement, and most importantly, Ki. You must Do the Kata, not practice it. There is a significant difference between the two. Now drop down in your stance, and drop your Ki down into you belly and breathe, breathe deep."
I thought I understood what he meant, as I made a failed attempt to duplicate the movements exactly as he instructed, he immediately lashed out, "No! Don't breath like you're sitting on your couch - that is death. Breath like you're alive! Use it to relax, and the pain in your legs will go away. You have to feel the Kata, understand the art in you bones, unthinking with your intellect, and reach into your sub-conscience. That is where the real you lies along with all of your true talents. Let the Kata break you, your ego. Let go, and understand what it all means without attempting to grasp at it, lest it will escape you."
All in that moment I understood what he was saying, but more importantly, I could feel what he was imparting. As I continued through the Kata, Sensei continued his lecture, as he expected me to perform Kata while absorbing his words at the same time during certain points. "The problem with most is that many say 'Kata is no good, Kumite is better' - what they are really saying is they are not up to the task of doing Kata properly. Then there are those who practice it, and never get anywhere. That is because they weren't listening to their teacher, or the teacher did not understand what they were showing them. Chalk it all up, it is no wonder the state of Karate has eroded over the years."
I continued my training with renewed enthusiasm and energy. As we moved toward the end of our third hour I became completely spent. As I attempted to move from an extremely low stance into a higher one, my legs gave out and I stumbled over. "Why did you do that?!?" Sensei shouted, then he realized in the same moment "Oh, ah ha - I see what's happened" he started to laugh "You're too tired to stand! Good, training is over for the day, let's get some food." I was relived to hear his words.
Happy that I was getting a break, what I did not yet know was I was about to get the real point of the day's lesson over dinner.........