Karate Aesthetics: The Art and Spiritual Nature of karate
Thesis Requirement for Rokudan, Isshinryu Karate Do
Sensei John H. Gagnon, Rokudan
Some definitions of art and the forms which art takes
Art is defined as “1. the quality, production, expression, or realm of what is beautiful....” (Random House Dictionary) or “a reinterpretation of reality by the use of symbols (colors, lines, shading, gesture, movement, rhythms, tones, shapes, compositions, rhymes, spaces of nothingness, written prose etc.) which not only hold meaning for the creator but also have meaning for the performer (as in the case of dance or music) as well as the observer (audience of the particular art form)” (Arieti ). In a sense, for many artists, art is another means of expression - like telling a story about oneself - which employs symbols to convey the desired expression. Obviously, since life contains moments of ugliness as well as beauty, art must embrace that which is also NOT beautiful. I, therefore, disagree totally with the Random House definition above. Art has also grown to also mean the “tasks necessary to perform a given craft, skill or profession” (Random House), but this is not the primary definition of art, the definition with which I wish to examine karate, and, applicably therefore, other martial arts.
Art produces clarity and order without arrogance. It is genuinely an expression of the one who produces the art and that individual's experience of the world and the various meanings within that world. Some of these are unique to the artist. Some of these are dependent upon the culture from which the artist comes and the home experiences which surrounded him/her in their youth. Obviously, therefore, different arts produced in different cultures and in different periods of history will reflect the predetermined requirements of that culture as well as the desire for expression of meaning inherent in the individual. In addition, I want to add that many artists consider the deepest expression of their true selves as synonymous with “contacting that which is the soul or spirit of the self.” In this respect, art at its highest level may even be a spiritual experience, a contact with God or the Higher Self or whatever one may wish to call “that which is the One.” Interestingly, the founder of Isshinryu Karate (“One Heart Method of the Empty Handed Path”) was very spiritual and even stated in the Principles of the Dojo that one comes to know God through karate.
Most of us “spend most of our lifetime `performing' instead of `living' and use most of our energy denying our fear of knowing ourselves and each other deeply and wholly.” (Rhyne) We become trapped within the system of education, development, religion, attitudes, beliefs, etc. from which we come, to the disregard for our experience of life in the very most present of moments. Life in general, nor karate in particular, is not performed in some historical past nor is it utilized in some abstract future. Life consists of a multiplicity of experiences to which we are exposed and which require one or more responses of us in order for us to have lived within that life. Mere rote repetition of another person's need for expression or another person's perception of the efficacy of a particular musical phrase over another may or may not meet the needs of any individual artist within the instant the artist is called upon to perform the movements and techniques which the moment demands. This is what separates the truly creative artist from the recreative artist. It actually determines the process of learning in all of the art forms.
The painter is required to begin training with sketching, using lines and gesture-drawings to accomplish the task of representing what he or she sees displayed before them in as realistic a manner as possible. The pear and the apple in the fruit bowl are there to be sketched as most like the actual pear and apple in reality. No interpretations of the pear and the apple are necessary for the artist at this point in his/her training. He/she is required to mimic or duplicate with basic skill that which the instructor places in front of them. This is the simple-reproduction phase of learning in art.
After a while, the artist begins to “play” with line quality, making parts of the sketch thick lined and other parts thin lined. A sense of “pearness” and “appleness” begin to emerge. This is enhanced further in the use of color and shading until the artist has rendered a photorealistic complex-reproduction of the artistic object(s). Portraiture and figure art are similar. Eventually, the artist begins to develop his/her own interpretation of figural expressions based upon a more personal and individual, internal template. The journey of the visual artist is no different than that of the dancer.
In movement, one comes into touch with the body. It is the body which tells us what we feel at any particular moment because we do not have any feeling in our mind. If you think about this, you will see, clearly, how true this is. When I am feeling sad, I have certain sensations in my body: a tightness in my throat, a pressure behind my eyes, a roiling in my stomach, a sinking sensation in the chest, etc. which I have learned to call, “sadness.” If I had been taught that some other combination of sensations was called, “anger,” then I would simply refer to those bodily experiences (tightening in the jaw or back, etc.) as “anger” and I would always know that I am angry by those bodily sensa-tions, and so forth. We cannot have a complete experience of our bodies without, therefore, coming into contact with our inner feelings at the same time.
The beginning dancer learns from an instructor who teaches the various movements which typify the style of dance which the individual has chosen to learn. In ballet, the posture is erect, the head over the spinal column. The arms move freely from the shoulder and are carried in distinct ways (port de bras) which are permitted in classical ballet. The legs, as well, are taught to bend and be lifted in certain, classical patterns that are known to ballet and the result is a dancer who has learned to mimic the way in which this form of dance was designed.
The advanced dancer and choreographer, takes the movements of the beginning student and molds, shapes and modifies them to fit the theme or feelings or meanings which that person wishes to convey to an audience. The most advanced of the creative performers are those who do improvisational dance. In this form of dance, one learns to “read” what is going on in the other dancers on the stage and to perform complimentary or contrapuntal movements or rhythmic patterns to create the total “picture” of a story, theme or emotional meaning for the viewer as well as for each performer. The similarities go on in writing and poetry.
The novice writer strives to find a story or plot to develop. Char-acters are selected and given certain characteristics so that the plot “makes sense” and the characters are “developed” within the context of a coherent story line. The rules for writing are culturally based and each written form abides by these rules. Poetry is one form of writing which illustrates this concept.
In the Elizabethan Sonnet, the writer uses a format which may, let's say, consist of 6 metric sound forms known, each, as an iamb. In iambic meter, the accent for words or phrases occurs on the second of each syllable or new set of words. For example, the following is a phrase of iambic hexameter (6 pieces of iamb): “The good is oft the wished-for goal of those who act.” In the Sonnet, one uses alternating rhymes for 12 lines of iambic hexameter, e.g.:
The good is oft the wished-for goal of those who act
Upon Bushido's path, their lives to walk alone,
And measured steps, do gently, Evil counteract,
As Evil yields before Bushido's cornerstone.
[+ 8 more lines]
with the last two (13th and 14th) lines also of iambic hexameter but with their own “end-rhyme,” thusly:
Karateka, beware the lure of power great.
`Tis naught but ego's folly to miscalculate.
The total poem, therefore, would, if given a rhyme structure signified by the letters of the alphabet, be: ABAB, CDCD, EFEF, GG and anyone writing an Elizabethan Sonnet is bound within the rules for that form of writing.
The advanced writer of this type of sonnet is, merely, more clever in finding interesting and more complex constructions of phrases and words which continue to employ the basic metric structure and rules.
In Haiku we find 4 lines of poetry which seek, in a Zen-like manner, to concentrate the thinking of the writer and the expression of a meaningful story into as few words as possible. The fundamental requirement for a Haiku is that the lines contain 5 beats (syllables) in the first and last lines with 7 beats in the middle two lines. An example of this along the same theme which I introduced in the above sonnet might be:
Shadow brought to light:
Bushido's grace aflower.
Ego-power purloins grace,
Tao's desired path.
Again, the creative artistry of the writer is always held within the bounds of a particular rule-set just as the ability to phrase a particular piece of music is limited by certain notational constraints within the piece itself (e.g., the musician can never play the adagio like a largo. This would simply invalidate the piece altogether). The advancement of the writer/poet exists in the clarity, ability to give meaning, internal coherency etc. which that individual can provide within the limits of the form. This is also true for music.
The beginning musician must take the score of someone who has already composed the music and learn, by constant and increasingly difficult fingering and mental concentration, to reproduce this music as closely to the desired intent of the artist who created it in the first place - to follow “the rules” of music. It is only after many years of performance and practice that the artist learns how to interpret the music, to phrase the measures in such a manner as to express something of the musician while maintaining the essence of the composer.
Eventually, but not always, a musician may desire to express the tones, harmony, polyphony, rhythms and rests which he/she hears within their own mind and express this on score paper, thus creating a truly new piece of music. Let us look at music in more depth in our examination of the art of karate since I believe that it is an excellent metaphor and will illustrate my points just as easily as dance would without the direct similarity that already exists between kata and dance.
AN IN-DEPTH LOOK AT MUSIC AS A METAPHOR FOR THE ARTS
Music is said by many to be an innate expressive function of the human organism. It has been attributed etiologically to chance inflections of speech, the mating calls of animals, the songs of birds and even the cries of battle or the sounds of signaling made during the hunt. (Machlis, 1955, p.7)
Since I am a student of the Gestalt school of psychotherapy, I will rely on a definition of music which is more closely allied to the holistic view of music presented by both the phenomenologist of perceptual gestalten (where a gestalt is German for “the whole, the total, all elements, etc.”). The elements of this definition may be summarized as follows:
1. Music is made up of tones and spaces of silence arranged in various patterns or forms. Rhythm, harmony, volume and other properties of musical composition come together in particular ways to establish a singular “piece” of music. A tune “The Star Spangled Banner”, for example, is the recognizable result of a particular arrangement of musical properties.
2. Each arrangement or structure constitutes a “whole” of musical meaning and is unique to itself. “The Star Spangled Banner” differs from “Silent Night” by virtue of structure of form as well as by content.
3. Each unique arrangement may be called a “gestalt” from the German meaning, “configuration”, (although it is better translated as a whole that is more than or different from the sum of its parts - that is to say, it is non-Euclidian).
4. Any change in the properties of components of the gestalt alters the gestalt. Change in any of the notes of “The Star Spangled Banner” results in the destructuring of that particular song and the structuring of some other or the absence of further structure (if significantly altered) altogether. (Perls, L., 1982)
5. If the entire gestalt is altered such that the interrelationship of the parts of the gestalt remains unchanged, the gestalt itself stays the same. “The Star Spangled Banner” is still “The Star Spangled Banner” whether played in the key of “C” or the key of “D”.
6. Musical gestalten are expressive constructions of the composer AND the musician who renders the particular phrasing of the composer's original intentions for that piece of music. They do, therefore, represent the emotional and thematic expressions of the composer AND musician as allowed for within the rules and structure of the culture (the particular scale employed in ethnic music, for example) and for interpretive marks placed by the composer upon the musical composition (e.g. vivace (lively), largo (slowly, etc.)
7. These gestalten are recognizable by a listener as a communication of particular affects and expressions of themes by virtue of the way in which the musical structure duplicates structural characteristics of various emotions and themes in the cerebral cortex of the listener. This property of the form of music is known as “physiognomic isomorphism” (Arnheim, 1949).
Before going onto a discussion of the aesthetics in the arts, especially within music, let us look at some definitions within music to which we will refer soon and use later as metaphors for elements of karate.
Music is made up of tones arranged in a particular sequence and this distinct arrangement is called a “line of melody.” It is also defined by many other characteristics following. As already mentioned above, if we compose a simple song like “Claire de Lune”, it is the arrangement of notes in a particular way which designates the melody of this song. There is more to this arrangement of notes, however, than merely the tones themselves.
Relatedness in the frequency of the intervals between notes and in the time-phasing of those notes are only two factors constituting a possible musical composition. “Timbre” or “voice” is another. If we hear a “pure tone” such as that which might come from a tuning fork, we are hearing the most “regular” of vibratory waves possible. This is known as a Sine Wave.
But, an ordinary tone or single frequency of vibration is seldom heard in music, the “timbre” is seldom smooth.
A tuning which vibrates at 1000 times per second (or cycles per second) produces the simple tone known as “middle C,” but there are few instruments or sound-making devices which develop a pure or single vibration. Also, since frequency is a wave, a fluctuation above and below a particular central point, the shape or form of the wave can be responsible for the timbre to be heard. A “Saw Tooth Wave” produces the same note, “C” but with a “raspy quality.” The note is the same, the timbre is different. The more jagged we construct this saw-shaped wave, the more the note sounds like a buzz. The frequency, however, 1000 c/s remains the same, so the note has not changed, the timbre or voice has.
In complex instruments, the tone is further complicated by the fact that around the original note “C”, a string might also produce a note which is the multiple of 2 times the frequency of the sound, known as the second harmonic. Therefore, we actually hear the primary note, slightly out of smooth shape, plus additional harmonics of the same note coming from a violin string all at the same time. The resulting combination of overlayed notes is the voice or timbre of the instrument when playing the note, middle “C.”
Mortimer Cass in Arieti”s Creativity, The Magic Synthesis, (1976, p.238) notes:
This includes any sound, whether that of a falling leaf,
running water, footsteps, rubbing branches, an animal, a
voice, or an instrument. Timbre denotes the source of a
sound acoustically. Animals recognize timbre. To man's
, timbre must have been vital in making inferences
about the significance of external stimuli: it must have con-
stituted a universal language. In music, timbre is the chief
supplier of aural pleasure. Metaphorically expressed, the
timbre-sensitive ear “feels” the quality of the sound.
These conclusions of Cass are supported significantly by the recognizability of theme and emotion as expressed daily in the human voice.
We will find homologues for timbre and tone in karate movements as well.
Volume, or the intensity of the music, can also have very interes-ting effects upon a musical composition, effects which are not, at first, obvious. It seems that due to the inability of the human ear to make pitch discrimination over an entire range of volumes, that slight distortions in the pitch perceived can take place at different volumes of the same musical tone. If volume is likened to “power” or “force”, then the amount of force employed in creating a note, causes various perceptual distortions to occur in the listener.
Specifically, if one increases the physical intensity of a tone below 3000 c/s (holding that tone constant), a listener will report a lower pitch. This is greatest for 150-300 c/s notes. If one increases the pitch above 3000 c/s and increases the volume, the listener will report that the tone has risen. Could it be possible that a visual distortion of perception can also take place when the same karate technique is performed with differing degrees of muscular force? We shall soon see.
Tempo refers to the speed at which a particular piece of music (set of notes) is played. Machlis (1955, p.24) says about tempo:
Tempo carries emotional implications. We hurry our
speech in moments of agitation. Our bodies press forward
in eagerness, hold back in lassitude. Vigor and gaiety are
associated with a brisk gait as surely as despair demands a
slow one…. We respond to musical tempo physically and
psychologically. Our pulse, our breathing, our entire being
adjusts to the rate of movement and to the feeling engen-
dered thereby on the conscious and subconscious levels.
Western culture understandings of tempo written in Italian are as follows:
Solemn (very, very slow)…………………………..….. Grave
Broad (very slow) ……………………………….……. Largo
Quite slow……………………………………………... Adagio
A Walking Pace……………………………………….. Andante
Somewhat Faster than Andante…………………….. Andantino
Moderately Fast……………………………………….. Allegretto
Fast (Cheerful)………………………………………… Allegro
Very Fast………………………………………………. Presto
Very, Very Fast……………………………………..… Prestissimo
Obviously, there is some subjective interpretation involved in the playing of music by various tempos but musicians know well the relative meanings of these notations and can make easy transition from one of these tempos to another.
Karate requires the learning of various tempos for movements. Some are exacted slowly for a particular reason as others are required to be performed with amazing speed.
Timed elements of the melody give us another singular characteristic of each tune produced. Significant spaces called “rests” in the line alter the distance in time between parts of the music. If we vary the time or placement of these rests in the song, “Claire de Lune”, the tune will simply not be the same. A similar case also holds true for the length of time for which each tone is held.
This length of time is determined by relative notations in Western music. “Whole notes” are held for twice as long as “half notes”, and “quarter” notes” are held four times as long as “sixteenth notes.” Also, it takes four quarter notes to produce the same duration of time for a single tone as a whole note. The combined effect of these time-phased elements of note duration and rests give us the characteristic “rhythm” of a piece of music. Therefore, both the frequency interval (tone difference) between notes as well as the rhythm of the melodic line are fixed (or only slightly variable) for each musical melody formed. Relatedness in music comes from the proximity of various structural elements. Again, homologues for rhythm exist in the execution of karate moves, individually as well as within the more extensive kata.
Phrasing is the manner in which a “master” musician is allowed to break with the traditional exactitude which a particular piece of music might have demanded of him/her as written by the composer. It is through phrasing or “accenting” a particular segment of a movement in a larger body of music that the musician gets to make minor “rewrites” of the original piece. This can also be found in karate when a master seeks to alter or emphasize a particular part of a kata. It must be done, however, with a profound knowledge of and respect for the intentionality of the original “composer” of that kata. Too much alteration may render a different kata entirely and require a consequent name change.
I have been a psychotherapist for over 30 years. During this time, for several years, I made it my focus to work with musicians and other performing artists. I was exceedingly curious about whether or not I could “hear the neurosis” of a musician by the way in which he/she played or phrased or reconstructed someone else's musical composition. I discovered, to a significant degree, that I could do this and more, I could do the entire therapy of the musician employing that person's instrument as the communicative voice of the individual. I could help the musician change their neurosis, alter their relationship to the rest of the world, to spouses, etc. by altering their music in ways which helped to heal the psychological issue which was being metaphorized in the way in which the musician was playing his/her music.
One of things that I found to be a universal problem with musicians was stage fright, the act of “predicting the future about some catastrophic event(s) that would occur once they stepped out on stage.” On the contrary to their self-predictions they often did not make such catastrophic errors BUT, they did make significant errors BECAUSE they had the mind set that something bad was going to happen. They were, in effect, trying to control the future and they were controlling the future by imagining the worse thing that could happen. They were then frightening themselves with this imagined future.
One of the ways in which I work with this common phenomenon was to have the musician stay absolutely “in the present moment.” Good or bad, the musician had to give up trying to control the future. In all instances where musicians were able to stay precisely in the present dur-ing their walk onto the stage, during their lifting the instrument up to play (or sitting at the instrument), during their first sight of the musical score, during the first touch of the fret board or the keys, during each moment of the performance, there was a significant decrease (and in some instances, cessation) of errors. This corresponds to Heijoshin and other forms of mind which the karateka must maintain to perform karate well (see below).
All Art Forms
All art forms begin, then, with the essential elements or rules agreed upon for that art form and then each form evolves into a potentially infinite number of personal interpretations of an equally infinite variety of thematic or emotional meanings as made possible when the artist dares to allow “the Self to Escape into the Open.” (F. Perls) However, all art is not “good” art. All music is not “acceptable” to listeners. This discrimination towards music as either well designed or not is known as the aesthetics of art. It behooves us to examine this property of creative development as well.
AESTHETICS: “GOOD” VS. “BAD” ART
(Related to Music)
Langer (1942, p.165) remarks:
What distinguishes a work of art from a `mere' artifact?
What distinguishes the Greek vase, as an artistic achievement
from the hand-made bean pot of New England, or the wooden
bucket, which cannot be classified as a work of art?... To re-
ply, `It's beauty' is simply to beg the question, since artistic
value is beauty in the broadest sense. Bean pots and wooden
buckets often have what artists call `a good shape', i.e., they
are in no way offensive to the eye. Yet, without being at all ugly,
they are insignificant, commonplace, non-artistic rather than
inartistic. What do they lack, that a work of art - even a hum-
ble domestic Greek vase - possesses?
This is a question which has plagued aestheticists in the arts for centuries. For some, the answer was rather simple and romantic. St. John Chrysostom (In Green, 1978, p.9) following the philosophical stance of Aristotle on the aesthetics of music notes:
Nothing so uplifts the mind giving it wings and freeing it
from earth, releasing it from the chains of the body, affecting
it with love of wisdom and causing it to scorn all things pertain-
ing to this life, as modulated melody and the Divine chant com-
posed of number.
As we know from history, however, the diabolus in musica of one age is the consonant high point of another, and an ordinary folk song of St. Chysostom's day, while not “Divine chant” is certainly prized today among musical historians.
In general, a listener is moved to some aesthetic experience, whether good or bad, by the sequential arrangement and composition of musical tones. It has well been established that what constitutes a memorable and enjoyable experience of music is inexorably connected to the manner in which the elements of musical composition are put together (Kreitler and Kreitler, 1972) and there are several worthy theories about the nature of “good” music which merit discussion.
Unlike the visual arts, music does not by line and form attempt to present to the observer an easily distinguishable representation of every day life. A “still-life” for example, accomplishes this task so well that what is drawn to resemble an apple, is quickly recognized as such and is enjoyed or not, depending on the picture's ability to form a pleasant or unpleasant recognition. Abstract art is not experienced as “good”, however, due to easy recognizability, and unlike abstract art, music is often constructed along the lines of well established and precise theory. There are, in each generation, and in each culture, what might be referred to as “rules” or “laws” for acceptable, hence aesthetically “good”, musical composition and a violation of these metarules is often labeled avant garde or simply unacceptable. (Kurth, 1947)
Within our culture (US), the most obvious rules exist with that quality of music known as harmony. Both the formation of chords and the interrelation between chords in a piece of music are governed by these structural guidelines. Consonance is defined as a pleasant, restful and satisfying vertical arrangement of notes or tones, and the contrary, dissonance is experienced as “harsh and unpleasant... incomplete and without finality” (W.S. Pratt, 1944, p.40), while consonant chords offer “completion and relief” (Pratt, 1944, p.40).
Aesthetic theoreticians have, down through the ages, offered explanations of how “good” harmony in music takes place. Leibnitz in the 17th century noted that the bimodal chord of the octave (do and the next highest do) is a naturally pleasant combination as was the fifth (do and sol) because of the ability of the “soul to count the vibrations or frequency of such combinations” and to appreciate certain mathematical relationships between two or more tones. The mathematical combinations (2 to 1 or 3 to 2) were considered natural consonant and others like the third (do and mi) were heard as dissonant, unpleasant and aesthetically “bad”. The Church of the day referred to such tonal combinations as the third as “diaboli in musica, and they forbade their followers to sing these discords in their religious music.
Helmholtz (1912) believed that it was the phenomenon of “beats” or the way in which two tones struck simultaneously produced vibrations that were the mathematical difference in the two frequencies which determined consonance and dissonance. For Stumpf (1883-1890) it was the “fusion” ability of the tones to sound like one tone which gave rise to consonant chords. Dissonant ones simply did not “fuse” well. And for Lipps (1926) and Shonberd (1922) it was the way in which two or more notes of a chord “affected the nerves” of the listener which resulted in a corresponding pleasant or uncomfortable experience of the music. “Good” music, then, for Lipps and Schonberg, is simply pleasurable.
Significance in Music
Clive Bell (1914) answers the aesthetic question with the less biologically, (pleasure-oriented) concept: “significant form”. For Bell, great art is not always pleasurable nor beautiful, nor transcultural. It is merely significant, that is, it holds a symbolic value, a meaning, at once aesthetically interesting for the listener in such a way that the meaning of a piece of music transcends the commonplace and simple, physical descriptions of it (frequency, rhythms, tempos, and the like) explained in Chapter 3 above).
Meyer (1965) considers significance in terms of familiarity and expectation. For Meyer, the power of good music lies in the ability of the piece to evoke an affective response in the listener based upon its meeting certain significant expectations and disrupting others. A certain amount of disruption would render the piece unfamiliar to the point of discomfort. Meyer (1956, p.30) calls expectation, “a product of the habit responses developed in connection with particular musical styles and of the modes of human perception, cognition and response.”
Both Bell and Meyer disagree with any view of good music as “pleasurable” or “sensuous” alone. These views are espoused by Hemholtz, Wundt, and Stumpf in Langer (1942). It becomes clear when listening to contemporary, punk music that what is significant may not be a direct sensuous pleasure but may, as with all other arts, be significant by virtue of its repulsiveness, ugliness, disorder, disharmony, or even caricature. Green notes (1978, p.14):
In Paris, Erik Satie questioned the idea of seriousness
in music - his caricature may, however, get closer to musi-
cal `truth' if ever such a state exists. It was not just the span
of German's composers from Beethoven to Wagner that he
was opposing, but also German philosophy; the idea of `great-
ness' so much a part of Wagner's “zeitgeist' was held up to
Musical compositions, then, may not be value-determined by a quality of pleasantness as such, but rather by a sense of significance or interest or attraction in the listener.
Kotsmeyer (1975, in Green, 1978, p.13) also notes, “we respond more not to the pleasantness of art as to its power, or profundity, or pain.”
Again, Langer (1948, pp. 165-199) comments:
Music is preeminently non-representative even in its clas-
sical productions, its highest attainments. It exhibits pure form
not as an embellishment, but as its very essence.... There is no
obvious, literal content in our way... the content has been sym-
bolized for us and what it invites is... insight.... It is a limited
idiom [however] like an artificial language, only even less suc-
cessful, for music at its highest, though clearly a symbolic form,
is an unconsummated symbol.
By “unconsummated symbol” Langer means that music has meaning by the significance of its pure form, but that this form is absolutely not to be found in definable symbols. Langer sees the meaning of music as above the personal, abstracted symbolic meaning which a perceiver might give to it, and would, also, disagree that music has any innate properties which convey any quasi-linguistic information in distinct symbolic form (as in spoken language, for example). For Langer, the aesthetic properties of a piece of music, therefore, result from the value which the listener gives the unconsummated symbol when he or she consummates it. This requires an act of meaning dependent upon the function of consummation where that function is a less than conscious interpretation of the symbol by some fundamental need within the individual listener.
Davies (1978, p.16) concurs:
Regardless of what critics or experts say about the way a
piece of music `is', it is, in fact, all things to all men...
Berlyne (1971, 1972) also states that writings in the area of aesthetics often serve the desire of the author to show that he can be a person of cultured taste and can tell the difference between “good” or “bad” music. Berlyne adds that “goodness” or “badness” simply cannot be determined. He does, however, discuss the significance of music on the basis of “good form” or significant structure, a view which closely approximates that of Gestalt aestheticists whose theories agree most closely with mine when I examine music as a representative art form and Karate as an art form. I want to say a bit more about this Gestalt perspective.
Levi (1979) concludes that music does in fact convey symbolic information to the perceiver through its form or structure. For Levi, a “good” piece of music is one which has a form that easily conveys this information. In karate, therefore, one would expect that the form, the kata of the Karate Do, must easily convey the symbolic information of the “meaning of a particular kata” to the practitioner of that kata for it to be performed in an aesthetically correct or pleasant manner. We shall talk about this shortly.
KARATE DO AS ART
Just as we began our discussion of music with a number of definitions, I would like to begin the presentation of karate as an art form by giving you some definitions of elements of karate which cannot be ignored in its study.
You already know that karate is actually two words which mean, “empty hand.” The word Do, however, changes the meaning from simply, “a way to fight without a weapon” to “a way of life based upon having no weapon in your hand.” This is an important distinction because to be a student of a Do is to make the content and meaning of that study the very center of how to live your life. In Karate Do, as you will see in each of its aspects as an art form, there is a concomitant and accompanying set of guidelines, philosophical constructs and even spiritual principles by which a student must live in order to be a true practitioner of karate. This is less true in a sport, consequently, I will never refer to karate as a sport.
In Isshinryu Karate Do, some of the principles for living one's life are embodied in the Karate Code, which is given in 6 lines as follows:
A person's heart is the same as Heaven and Earth.
The blood circulating is similar to the Sun and Moon.
The manner of drinking and spitting can be either hard or soft.
A person's unbalance is the same as a weight.
The body must be able to change directions at any time.
The time to strike is when the opportunity presents itself.
The eyes must see all sides.
The ears must listen in all directions.
The meaning of these principles is deep and complex. I will leave their explanation, therefore, to Chapter 7 below.
Karate begins with formality and its tradition is steeped in hundreds of years of mentoring. Respecting the instructor or other students is merely one aspect of this formality. Another is the Kamai.
Each style of karate, kung fu, tang soo do, etc. has traditional ways of bowing in at the beginning and end of practices as well as bowing at the opening of the kata about to be performed. This traditional set of movements which correspond to a kind of meaningful pose (the meaning differs between styles) is known as the Kamai.
In Pai Lum Kung Fu, we held our hands beneath the chin in a prayerful manner. We then nodded our heads toward the opponent, then we stepped back, executing a large sweeping gesture with both hands with the right hand (as a hammer fist) slapping into the open palm of the left hand, followed by another bow or nod of the head and then the first pose of the kata (like a Praying Mantis pose).
Corresponding to music, the manner in which one performs the Kamai is one of the elements of “mind set.” That is, if my eyes must be forward and looking into the eyes of the opponent, then I am experiencing a “lack of trust” of the other. In Isshinryu among other karate forms, the eyes are always cast downward, thus setting the beginning of encounter as grounded in trust and respect.
Similarly, in Isshinryu Karate the Kamai begins with a right fist lowered into the open, left palm signifying “battle.” The hands are then rotated over so that the left palm covers the right fist, thus signifying the desire for “peace over battle.” In Japanese, the phrase “Karate Ni Sente Nashi,” or “Karate never strikes first,” indicates this mindset which underlies ALL else done in karate practice, sparring, kata, etc.
The beginning student of karate must learn various techniques. These include Te Waza (hand techniques or movements) and Geri Waza (or leg techniques or movements). The student also learns how to move from one of these techniques into another through a “choreographed” set of movements known as the kata.
Kata may very well be the singularly most important thing to learn on the physical level in karate. Each style has its own kata but in any one style, the path of learning the very simplest of kata to the most com-plex corresponds to the level of proficiency associated to the belt-rank of the student. A white belt performs the easier kata and a black belt must perform the most difficult and complex of kata.
Kata are uniquely beautiful art forms. Each one represents a com-position by a great master of karate and the transition from one technique to another in the kata is as important as the connection of movements in a well choreographed ballet.
A kata can be seen as corresponding to the “musical composition,” at noted in our artistic metaphor for karate. Each musical composition contains distinctive elements which define the way in which the composition is performed. In kata we find all of the artistic elements that constitute the art of karate. The first of these is Kime.
In Karate Do, kime means the complete concentration of one's mental, physical and spiritual energy (Ki or Chi) to a single point in a singular moment of time. When punching or striking or kicking, each karateka (practitioner of karate) must be able to instantaneously become a conduit for his/her Ki or Chi to a particular technique. Further, the karateka must be able to arrange the body in such a manner that it forms a strong foundation or “root” for the technique. Lastly, the target must be clearly determined in space and time so that what is the intentionality of the karateka is brought into realization.
An example of Kime is the momentary awareness of the opponent's drop of the left hand to guard the hip and an opening on the back at the level of the kidney. Instantaneously, the karateka shifts weight to the left, rear foot in Migi Neko Ashi Dachi (the “right foot forward cat stance” with most of the weight on the rear leg and the front foot supported on the ball) while lifting the right foot. Ki flows from the hara (stomach), along the right leg to the foot at the moment when the karateka executes the Mawashi Geri (round house kick) to the left kidney of the opponent. If the opponent, in this case, is another student in a dojo, the karateka performs the kick with all of the intensity which he/she would deliver to a real enemy in a street fight. However, the focal point for all of the kick energy culminates at approximately 1 to 2 inches from the back of the opponent.
Another example, from Tamishiwara (the art of breaking things) is when one wishes to execute a right lunge punch to the center of a stack of three, one-inch boards. The stance, let us say, is Zenkutsu Dachi. Here the karateka is leaning forward with 70% of his/her weight over the front leg. The Ki is sent from the Hara up the chest, through the pectoral muscles, down the triceps all the way to the first two knuckles of the fist. As the fist comes out, the hand is becoming harder and harder so that at the moment of contact, it will be as hard as an iron pipe. The focal point for the technique in this case is just behind the three inches of wood. This is an important focal point because unless the karateka puts the Ki to the backside of the boards, nothing will break. The intentionality is to have one's fist three inches through the boards. Upon contact with the boards, the Ki of the karateka continues through the boards for the first inch and a shock wave from the initial contact with the first board travels (at the speed of sound) back down the arm, through the rigid shoulder, through the rigid backbone, through the rear leg which conducts this shock wave into the pavement. That shock wave bounces off the pavement, and before the fist has completed its course through the three boards, returns to, and adds its energy to the Ki. This combined force is not the result of Ki alone but Ki + the shock wave which can only be utilized if one is in a rooted stance.
The combination of rooted stance, flow of the Ki to the part of the body that will perform the technique and concentration of all energy on a particular point in space creates Kime. It is a metaphor of controlled Intensity in music. Musicians do not play their loudest at all times but modulate the intensity to that exactly required amount for each musical phrase.
Street fighters land more punches, karatekas can immobilize a fighter with one punch because of Kime and also, beginning students hurt one another in sparring much more than do advanced students because the beginner has not yet developed a good sense of Kime.
Kime is essential to the control of what is learned in any martial art and reaches its highest test in the ability of a Samurai to split an apple resting on the back of the neck of another swordsman without touching the skin of the neck at all. This is ART, not violence.
Practice Kime by standing in front of an immovable object while executing your punches, kicks and strikes with all the force you are able. Try to come closer and closer to the object so that the total energy of your technique stops within a few inches from the object. You will avoid hurting yourself when you do this correctly and also you will be the Master of where and how you want your techniques to land. When Kime is done correctly, you should hear an audible snap of the energy in the air. Some persons think that the snap comes from the sleeve of the uniform which we wear when practicing karate (the gi). It does not. You can roll up the sleeves of your gi jacket and still hear the snap in the air when Kime is performed in the correct manner. The snap is actually a shock wave that occurs at the very end of the hand when it ceases to move (much like the crack of a whip), and is properly connoted by the term, Chinkuchi.
While kime describes the judgment about the distance and accu-racy which the practitioner employs in the execution of one or more techniques, Chinkuchi describes a particular manner in which the move-ment is “phrased” by the practitioner from the beginning of a movement to its completion - like a passage of music. With Chinkuchi, the student of karate learns how to prevent him/herself from forcing the technique with the muscles of the body. The technique is first begun lightly, and rapidly, only attaining its “power” at the moment before the technique reaches its target. This is Chinkuchi. In a practical way I can describe it as follows:
If I throw a punch at a bag with all of the muscles of my body, the punch will have a particular force upon the bag which is the result of the combination of the strength inherent in the arithmetic sum of the strength of each of muscles added together. If I throw the punch as fast as I can without regard to strength but with all of the speed which I can muster and then, at a precise moment in time and space, lock all of the muscles of my body so that the punch, traveling at x miles/hour is suddenly a piece of concrete traveling at x miles/hour then the force which equals mass times acceleration of the moving object, will be much greater. It is Chikuchi which describes this accelerating of the entire body toward the Kime point and the sudden locking of all muscles into a heavy, tight, mass. Again, as in physics, the overall effect or force in this case is the result, not of muscle power alone, but the product of the resulting mass times the acceleration of the limb toward the Kime point.
When Chinkuchi is performed with exemplary Kime, the result can be the breaking of masses of concrete slabs, bricks, roofing tiles, feet of ice blocks or over a dozen inches of hardwood. Chinkuchi is not magic, it is simple physics. It does, explain, however, why karate has often been seen as being magical in its abilities.
While not described in these terms, everyone in a given style of karate understands that a particular kata has one tempo for learners, another for the moderate or daily practice of the kata and still another for the use of that kata in a competition.
Seasoned karateka know the exact difference between one tempo much as musicians understand the difference between Largo and Vivace. The master karateka “knows” when to do the kata at which tempo for what reason. Sometimes, it is wise to re-study the exact way in with the individual components of the kata are performed lest, their execution be-comes sloppy by hurried movement. At these times, the karateka will do the kata in a slower tempo with a concentration on his/her individual techniques and the meanings of these techniques in terms of an invisible opponent.
Some kata like Sanchin (described below), are performed in a very slow and deliberate tempo, regardless of karate style in which this kata is performed.
When the kata is well understood, the tempo increases so that it is performed as fast as possible overall (even though individual elements may be performed very, very slowly (see Rhythm of a Kata, to follow)).
Rhythm of a Kata
Again, this is not a term used in karate. It is, however, well under-stood by the practitioner. Each kata has elements which are performed in a very hurried manner. In fact, eventually, most of the kata are done in this way except for Sanchin (which will be described in detail below). At times, and in different kata, however, there is a contrast of timing set up by the introduction of very slowly performed techniques.
One can argue this slowing of one or more parts of the kata from different perspectives:
It allows the karateka the control of experiencing the kata in a more rhythmic manner rather than as a race from start to finish.
It may actually teach the karateka that when in a real fight, the slowing of a technique acts like the pitching of a slow ball in baseball, throwing off the batter, throwing off the attacker in this case so that the karateka can then execute the faster tech-nique. It may, in other words, serve as a feint.
It may simply be a more aesthetic arrangement of the parts so that the observer of the kata witnesses a thing of “phrased beauty” rather than simply a blazing set of “notes played as fast as possible.” Imagine listening to Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata played as fast as the pianist could play it. It would cease to be the “Sonata” and become a wild, insane dance. The beauty of the Sonata or a particular kata exists, at times, in the remarkable contrast between blazing fast techniques inter-spersed with slow, deliberate motions (often with a particular kind of breath control called Ibuki-Nogari breathing).
One example (among many) of a kata which contains fast and slow elements is the first kata of Isshinryu Karate Do, Seisan. One performs the Kamai (or the introductory bow) with staccato clarity, each move well defined. Once the kata is begun, with a left middle inside forearm block, the 3 punching-block techniques proceed rapidly through a double rising block and a rotation of 180 degrees into a left Seisan stance with two downward knife hand blocks. This ends the speedy part of the kata for a while. Each of three following techniques is performed with deliberate slow, powerful movements of locked muscles (the opposite of Chinkuchi). Throughout each of these movements, one breathes in rapidly through the nose (Ibuki) and then exhales slowly and with a rasping sound, ending in a clip of the breath when ~ 60 percent of the air has left the lungs (Nogari). This stylistic way of moving cannot be said to be of use in a street fight but it is beautiful. It does break the kata into some slowed-up movements before continuing at a very fast pace through to the end, at which point a “closing kamai” is used to finish the kata.
The one, consistent aspect of the origins of Seisan are its foundation on the number “13.” This may refer to the number of hand techniques or to 13 fists or even 13 steps executed during the performance of the original kata. Kinjo Akio, an Okinawan Sensei and researcher has spent a great deal of time in China, studying the original form of Seisan. He says that it originally consisted totally of 13 techniques (Kinjo, 1999). Further, he says that the Okinawan version of this kata descended from a White Crane Kung Fu style of Southern China in Fujian Province (Joe Swift, 2000).
An entire kata, Sanchin, which appears, in one form or another, in most karates, utilizes slow, muscularly stiff movements with Ibuki and Nogari breathing throughout. It, in no way, is a rehearsal for a street fight. It is, however, a beautiful, strong, exercise meant to isometrically toughen all of the muscles of the body through the use of tension. In Isshinryu Karate Do, it is taught as the time when a student is preparing for the first rank of brown belt (actually called, 3rd belt, as the ranks below black belt are counted backwards. In Japanese this is called, Sankyu). However, in many individual dojos, it is taught as an exercise from the time a student begins to practice in that dojo. It is simply a very good isometric, body-building exercise and its aesthetic beauty is in the slow, powerfully-tight way in which it is performed. To do this same kata with fast, chinkuchi strikes, etc. would simply be wrong. It would not be the intentionality of the composer of Sanchin.
Oddly enough, there is a strong belief that Sanchin is one of the true, original exercises which Boddhidarma taught to his monks in India and later at Shaolin Monastery in Northern China. Since the original Sanchin was created, various Soges and Senseis have altered it to fit the movements of their particular style. It actually has a central core of techniques which are common to all forms of this kata, regardless of style.
Another commonality among the various forms of Sanchin performed in Japanese, Okinawan, Korean or Chinese styles is that they all employ the strength and tightness of movement coupled with Ibuki and Nogari breathing.
Such a good exercise is this kata, that Higashionna, an Okinawan student of Xie Zhong Xiang who taught this kata in Southern China, had his students spend years doing ONLY Sanchin. Some say that Higashionna was the Original Sensei who made Sanchin the slow-moving exercise form that it is today (Higaonna, 1981; Murakami, 1991). Others say that Chojun Miyagi (one of the teachers of the founder of Isshinryu Karate Do, Master Shimabuku) was responsible for the exercise kata complete with Ibuki and Nogari breathing (Kinjo, 1999).
In an article by Joe Swift, a great modern Sensei who has practiced and studied a number of karate styles, and is a researcher of original literature on the origins of Okinawan and Japanese karates (2000), Joe mentions an account which touts the singular importance which Sanchin held for Higashionna:
When I was still a child, I wanted to see the karate of
the famous Higashionna Sensei, even if only once. So, I went
to the place where he was teaching. However, no matter when
I went, I never saw Higashionna Sensei perform karate
[meaning the individual techniques familiar to karate train-
ing]. His students were practicing only Sanchin with all
their might, and Higashionna Sensei was instructing them.
([sic], Murakami, 1991, pp. 133)
Within the kata Sanchin, we can conclude that the tempo is Largo and regular with very little (depending on the karate style) rhythmic variation.
Karate has other characteristics, like rhythm and tempo, which lend artistic beauty to its movements. “Goju”, a sense of the polarity (Taoist principle) is one of these.
Meaning, “hard-soft”, goju describes something similar to chinkuchi but it is actually quite different. Throughout all movements as a human being we shift weight from foot to foot or orient our center of balance to correspond with the various kind of weight which one or both hands may be occupied lifting. So, from our earliest steps we learned how to become “soft” in our movement and stance (as when lifting a leg off of the floor) or “hard” in our movement and stance (as when stiffening our leg to support lifting a suitcase into the truck of our car.) This constant shift from being “soft” to being “hard” is what makes us both supple as well as strong. In karate, the only difference is that the application of soft and hard are defined quite clearly by the techniques to be practiced and not by an intuitive, natural sense of how to soften or harden our bodies in various movements. Karate is not learned from birth and, so, goju must be taught.
An example of goju can be given on an individual technique. We will use the Yoko Geri (the side, snap kick) for illustration.
If I wish to perform a right kick directly out to the side of my body so that the force of the kick rises up from the ground in a rapid acceleration to the target, finds its kime and then locks (chinkuchi) into a stiff rod of “iron” at the moment of impact then I have got to perform the following individual acts of kinesiology:
I turn my head ever so slightly so that I am not looking directly at the target of kime, as this would “telegraph” the technique. This is a swift but soft movement of the sternoclytomastoid muscles. My ocular muscles only turn my eyes slightly to the side and I employ “peripheral vision” to find the kime point.
I soften the quadracep muscle of my left leg so that my center of balance drops ever so slightly onto the left leg, taking weight off of the right leg.
Without making the movement obvious, I quickly lift the right leg from the ground (soft), whip it up to a temporary “chamber” position alongside of the left knee but continue onward at a new angle, tightening muscles of the hip to execute this “lift” of the side kick along its trajectory.
Rapidly tightening the quadriceps of my right leg, I whip the leg outward toward the final contact with the kime point.
Near the moment of impact, my tendons in the shin harden while the gastrocnemeous muscle in the calf isometrically opposes this tightening so that the toes come around in a curve toward the shin leaving the outside edge of the foot pointed at the kime point.
At impact, the entire leg stiffens with the hamstring muscles in direct opposition to the quadriceps and the force of acceleration times mass develops the resulting power of the kick (chinkuchi).
Notice that the act of executing the side kick was one of many shifts from soft to hard to soft to hard throughout the execution of the kick. The same description can be more easily for a block and punch.
Say that my eyes see the movement of a fist from its chamber posi-tion on the right hip ascending toward my chest. In an instant, and with a sense of intersecting trajectories, I execute a very soft, right palm-heel block against the rising fist, deflecting it away from its intended kime point to outside my body. I am now safe from the technique.
Without stopping, my soft palm heel now transforms into an ever tightening fist with the first knuckles bent over and the wrist arched. This will become (but is not yet) the Uraken or back-fist strike. As my hand is transforming into this technique, I employ soft acceleration to propel the ever-hardening fist toward the kime point ½ inch from the side of the head of the opponent. Before the opponent can react with his/her right or left hands, the soft, speedy whip of my arm becomes the strong, hard back-fist strike to the temple and I have executed, artistically, the desired movement. Chinkuchi is the final tightening of the entire arm and fist so that, again, force = mass times acceleration, but throughout this defensive into offensive action, my hand has moved from a totally soft, rapid deflection into a very hard, fast strike. I will not even begin to describe all of the activity that occurs in the chest, hips and legs during the arm maneuvers described above. Suffice to say, however, that the soft-hard principles apply here as well. No one can do karate well if not soft enough. No one can do karate well if not hard enough.
Often the meaning of a kata is the “whole or gestalt” which results from the non-Euclidian sum of all of the parts of that kata. Euclid stated that the “whole is equal to the sum of its parts.” In terms of meaning, however, the whole is much greater than the arithmetic sum of parts. Each kata has a particular meaning and part of that meaning is derived from the bunkai (the offensive movements of imaginary opponents which apply to that kata specifically). In the Master's bunkai, exists the raison d'être for the construction of the kata in a particular manner, eg, having a knife hand block (shuto uke) become a spear-hand thrust (nukite tzuki), become a shift in stance to kagi dachi (crossed stance) with a seiken tzuki (fist punch) to the direct side (from a kata known as Wansu.)
The master/originator saw in his/her mind's eye the movements of one or more imaginary opponents and in doing so was able to formulate a reasonable series of techniques to counter those movements as they unfolded. Therefore, while each of us can imagine another way for someone to attack which might result in our performing a particular series of techniques (like those described in Wansu Kata, above), there can only be ONE original imagined bunkai of the master. Rediscovering that bunkai is not easy if one has not studied with the master directly. Sometimes the obvious bunkai is not the original and through Gokui - the study of hidden techniques - one learns a more practical explanation for his/her strike at a particular moment in a kata.
In my style, Isshinryu, there are several master Senseis who have spent direct and lengthy time with Master Shimabuku. Advincula Sensei is one of these individuals. His memory, therefore, of the original intentions of Shimabuku Tatsuo Sensei's learning of kata Wansu are probably more accurate than those of a karateka who only studied with the master for a few months during a tour of duty in Okinawa (many of Shimabuku's students were Marines who studied with him in the 50's). While Advincula Sensei was one of those Marines, he returned again and again over four decades of study to learn the true meanings of Shimabuku's intentionality for each of his phrasings of the katas. I say “phrasing” here because, as in music, the original kata from China became reinterpreted by Shimabuku from student to master. The original intentionality of the Chinese composer is not likely to be retained in precisely the same manner. Shimabuku's knowledgeable of the kinesiology of Okinawans as well as traditional ways of Okinawan movement would have emphasized one or more aspects or techniques of any particular kata from the way they were originated in China or even passed down through Kyan, Motobu or Miyagi Senseis.
In styles where the kata has been significantly changed from the original to become something other than the original, the kata has often been renamed (it is, after all, a different kata). For example, one side-moving kata, named Naihanchi in Okinawan is called Naihanji Chodan Hyung in Korea (quite similar) but is changed significantly by the Japanese to be named Tekki Shodan with two sister kata, Tekki Nidan and Tekki Sandan all of which move sideways but each of which does not represent only Naihanchi kata. The Japanese stylists in Shotokan, Gojukai, etc., had the good sense to rename the kata since to change the original piece of art of the composer is to destruct that original piece and to reconstruct another entirely. While some similarities exist between Tekki Shodan and the Shorinryu version of Naihanchi, I do appreciate the new name given to this kata by the Japanese when they altered it from the Okinawan Naihanchi. Part of the significant alteration which changed the meaning of the kata was in the bunkai.
On another note, low grade black belts who teach Isshinryu katas with too many personal alterations should consider changing the style under which they teach since their alterations do not represent phrasing of knowledgeable and lengthy study of Isshinryu. Instead they use personal preference, application to modern street-fighting, or their own stiffness of their bodies to alter the kata to fit themselves, thus ruining the learning of their students. I suppose they should just call their schools, “Joe's Karate,” or something similar. While Mozart studied other composers, he never called a work of his which was inspired by another composer by the same name. Many composers write Catholic Masses. There are many different-sounding Masses by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, etc. but, they all retain the Latin of the original Mass and are composed in the same order as the Latinate Mass was conducted. Their own interpretation of the Mass required them to attach their own name to the piece, eg. Mozart's Requium, however, since to simply call the piece “The Mass” would misrepresent the alterations of tones, melody, tempo, rhythm, etc. which defined each Master's version of the Mass. Like Naihanchi or Tekki Shodan of different styles, it was still the Mass, but it was also a different version of the Mass.
Much debate still exists about the “meaning” of form or kata. The leaders and high belts in the various styles, however, tend to agree that, except for phrasing (emphasis on one or several techniques) within their style's kata that the kata should be practiced in one way, as nearly as possible to the original Soge's intention.
One legitimate excuse for alteration of a kata is the “loss” of knowledge by the death of “one who knew” and the failure for the knowledge to have been passed on. This has obviously occurred in many of the lesser styles which faded from existence and whose techniques at which we can only guess. Our so-called “passed down” knowledge about these styles actually consists of something akin to “oral tradition” in literature or folk music, where in the retelling of the “story” or the music, something is either lost or introduced which did not exist in the original composition.
I played in a Cajun band for nearly a decade. One of the difficult tasks of our band, Bayou Midnight, was to copy the music and words as closely as possible by going down to Louisiana and studying with the elder members of the Cajun Music community before they passed on. We met, befriended, and laid to rest many musicians in our 8 years as a band, but we did win the compliment of the Cajun French Music Association by being made an “ambassadorial band” for the accuracy which we lent to the tunes we played and words we sang which the community at large recognized at authentically Cajun. We are proud of our high degree of study and persistence.
I would hope that any karateka would want to emulate the original intentionality of the master of his/her style and not necessarily that of his instructor alone. I recommend, therefore, that one always make as scholarly a study of the history of his/her style as possible to be assured that one's own Sensei has made the effort to preserve the intention of the style's originator. I also recommend that one studies with different Senseis of the same style during that karateka's learning process. I believe that this experience will promote a deeper understanding of the style as a whole.
Another, required reason for changing one or a few techniques within a kata is the inherent problem encountered by the physiology, kinesiology or handicap of a particular student. This requires the ability of the sensei to know the “proper” manner in which to perform his/her kata (according to style) but also the ability to assess each individual student with regard to his/her particular inhibitions to the performance of the kata in its original form due to uncorrectable stretching of tendons, muscles, better stance, etc. Part of the insistence of an instructor to stick tenaciously to only “one way” is not an example of having the knowledge of the teachings of a great master as it is and example of “ego.” It is also the result of inter-style prejudice.
Open Mindedness & Lack of Prejudice (Mental Attitudes)
One of the experiences which I have had with various schools of martial arts is their insistence on the “only way” or “one way” to do a particular technique or the singular efficacy of their entire style over that of another martial art. Over the years, having taken or witnessed the training of students in Isshinryu, Isshindo, Shaolin Tsu, Tang Soo Do, Moo Duk Kwan, Shotokai, Kyokoshinkai, Shotokan, Gojuryu, Gojukai, Pai Lum Kung Fu, Tae-kwando and Aikido, Judo and Kendo, I can say that all of these styles of martial art form have something to offer various body-types, flexibilities of body or personalities and temperaments of various students. Let us return to talking about karate alone and the way in which various body types or karate styles deal with different techniques or fighting situations. Let us begin with the simplest of examples.
Females have better hip joints for high side kicks than do male students. This is an anatomical fact which is based upon the way in which the female hip joint is formed. This is not a matter of laziness or unwillingness nor lack of discipline on the part of the male student. Therefore, the practice of karate kicks can be held to traditional lines for the sake of learning various kata or ways of performing a particular kick in a traditional manner, but then the Sensei MUST shape the various techniques to the body and ability of each particular student. Males will have to kick lower with more thrust and females will kick higher with more snap.
Some karate instructors are unwilling to be flexible / open minded about their styles, resulting in the numerous physical injuries and immeasurable, psychological insecurities developed in some karate students. Students who have limitations of physical development, especially handicapped students, and who are forced to perform each technique in only one, traditional manner, may experience failure and attribute this to laziness or some other issue of personality. These students will begin to feel insecure and that insecurity may pervade other things that they try to do in their style. Eventually, some of these students will drop out of taking karate altogether and will also have a lowered sense of self esteem about themselves which may last the rest of their lives. All of this is avoidable if instructors look to the strengths and abilities of each student as unique and treat each student with a personal adaptation of technique to fit that student's physiological needs.
In some schools, instructors will shape a style to THEIR own bodies, thus creating their own “brand” of karate. Of course, as soon as they have created a “new” karate, they can elevate themselves immediately to the highest rank of Soge or Shihan in their system. But these instructors will still not allow their student to develop techniques suited to the student's physiology and muscular kinesiology because the instructor is now invested in his/her “new” style. Since, part of ranking in the martial arts is determined by the performance of kata or individual techniques in the manner taught by an individual dojo (as if this is the BEST way to perform these techniques), the individual talents of a karateka is lost in the process as each strains to adapt his/her body to the instructor's body type. Everyone can benefit from an increased range of motion, that is, being able to stretch their tendons and kick higher or reach farther, etc. But NOT ALL STUDENTS have the SAME BODIES. Let's look at another example.
Smaller frames allow for quickness of leg maneuvers while tall frames have slower kicks but longer arm reaches and tend to be better at punching. In karate, students with shorter frames want to “get in” on the opponent quickly and use lots of kicks because they are fast. These kicks will end up in the middle (Chudan) strike zone of the opponent if this opponent is of average height. Tall karatekas will try to use their legs to keep opponents at a distance but, since the fulcrum of the leg (the hip joint) is farther away and it will take longer to execute a kick, an average height opponent will try to come in and use hand techniques . The taller karateka, however, can also use hand techniques and will have the advantage of arm length. An opposite problem with body frame length can occur in other martial arts. Let me take a small departure from karate for a moment.
In Judo, eg., taller, longer boned practitioners do better in compe-tition if they use leg sweeps and leg throws as opposed to trying to swing around for a complete hip throw or one-arm, shoulder throw, while the smaller, lower judoka can get hip throws much easier and even performs the full Ogoshi (major hip throw) much better because of the lower center of gravity and ease of hip rotation with short legs.
These matters of anatomy are genetic givens. They cannot be changed by the student. Therefore, it is remarkable that there are still instructors today who tout the advantages of learning THEIR style and their movements over that of any another school.
Imagine how silly it would be if those musicians who enjoyed Jazz said that Classical musicians are “untalented” or “ineffectual” in the performance of their music. Each style of music is different and has certain followers, but no particular style of music is “better” than another except where one wants a particular “mood.” For example, Classical sonatas lend themselves to easy listening during dining while heavy, rhythmic Rock music lends itself to movement and dancing.
In fact, martial arts styles also have ideal uses based upon their own focus on particular ways of doing things but different fighting experiences make each type of technique useful at different times depending upon the situation.
Every soft kung fu or hard Japanese style has its strengths and weaknesses in direct application to street fighting. What is most important is for the individual student to learn, with the guidance of the instructor, how to adapt that style to his/her individual temperament and how to adapt the techniques to his/her individual body type in order to come out with a fighting style which best suits that individual student. Let us look at some particulars of style which may best be suited for certain situations of fighting.
Some techniques are better executed over a short distance but other techniques obtain their optimum effect if executed over a long distance, in a low stance. An argument about the efficacy of one distance over the other rages over the natural postured stance and vertical punch of Isshinryu vs. the use of the deep, forward leaning stance with a cork-screw punch from Shotokan/kai, Gojukai and most of the Japanese schools.
Some Isshinryu instructors say that the cork-screw punch (Seiken Choku Tzuki) combined with such a long stance (Zenkutsu Dachi) has no more force than does a high stance (Seisan) coupled with a fast, vertical punch (Seiken Tsuki). Some Shotokan instructors insist that there is no “Seisan” stance but that the Zenkutsu stance is the ONLY ONE TO LEARN to fight adequately. They insist that only “lazy” students do not learn this low stance and that all kicking can be done as easily from this stance as from any other stance. Hogwash to both arguments.
The fencing student knows that the leap into the thrusting move, (balaistra) allows the sword point to strike its opponent faster and over a greater distance than a fleche move from a high stance. Since force equals mass times acceleration, then the vertical punch, being delivered quickly (lets say that it is as much as twice as fast as a “corkscrew punch”) from a more erect position seems to have more force because of acceleration BUT, the mass added by the thrusting body of the Zenkutsu stance practitioner is much greater than the stationary mass of the Isshinryu student, therefore, the increase in mass (perhaps as much as ten or twenty times) more than compensates for the only slight increase in acceleration produced in the more erect stance. Shotokan punches, therefore ARE more powerful than are the Isshinryu ones when those Japanese punches are executed from Zenkutsu Dachi.
After the fencer performs the balaistra, he/she quickly returns to the higher and more flexible side-facing, horse-like stance. Many Shotokan/kai students are taught to fight from Zenkutsu instead of only using it for lunge punching. This is an obvious error of loyalty to the dojo sensei and is not only unscientific, it does not represent the spirit of Shotokan. In fact, Shotokan practitioners have many, fine stances from which to execute techniques. While Isshinryu practitioners do tend to utilize higher, natural stances (such as Seisan) more than the Shotokan/ kai student with less punch strength, Zenkutsu Dachi is available to the Isshinryu student and good instructors will teach this stance to Isshinryu students as well as the Seisan stance, demonstrating when to use which.
Another illustration of stance use is the following: Seisan Dachi is much easier to kick from than is Zenkutsu Dachi. This is simple physics again and has to do with the shorter distance between two points being the SHORTER, straight line. If velocity is equal, than the Isshinryu kicker, having a shorter distance to cover, performs the same front kick (Mae Geri) faster from Seisan Dachi than does the Gojukai student, who, like the Shotokan student, might be oversold on Zenkutsu Dachi.
Korean students, especially Tae Kwan Do artists spend a great deal of time learning to kick to the head. They stretch and stretch and can be very proud of how high they kick. It is also aesthetically beautiful to witness the height of their kicks. However, in tournaments, it is often the faster, Japanese or Okinawan styles that, disregarding other differences, beat the high kickers. It takes longer to kick to the head than it does to kick to the ribs and gain a point. I will eschew trying to apply these various styles to street fighting because, as you are already aware, I am not really interested.
The Kung Fu instructors teach a more delicate and complex series of movements in their art. A student of Kung Fu, who thinks that his minor, circular deflections are going to cause any significant damage to the punching arms of their opponents compared to the heavy, pummeling blocks of Japanese or Chinese Kenpo practitioners are kidding themselves. However, for a Japanese student to use a middle inside forearm block (Chudan Ude Uke) when a simple deflection will do the same thing before executing a devastating punch to the face, is simply wasting time in the fight. Again, it is a misunderstanding to think that the Chinese styles do not have hard techniques. They do. It is the Sifus of the various Chinese styles who may overemphasize soft deflections only who do their students a disservice. (As a parenthetical note, it must be remembered that Kung Fu is more knowledgeable of Bubushi points or the strike points on the body which can be hit easily but effect great damage. Therefore, the “soft” hits of Kung Fu are not really so soft.)
The list goes on. Each style presents us with a potentially infinite number of ways to perform a punch, kick, strike, or block from an equally infinite number of different levels of stances. Should the “compleat” karateka, therefore, be one who is schooled in ALL possible ways of performing ALL possible techniques in order to meet the needs of ALL possible fighting situations in competition? NOPE!
An alternative way to train a practitioner is to focus on the individual ways in which this person already tends to move and to use these “natural phrasings” to develop an application of style in which the person will execute the most effective technique for the MOMENT. Responsivity, therefore, is the one, single ingredient of all martial arts which must be developed.
Gogen Yamaguchi of Gojukai Karate Do says that the best karate student needs to learn only three things: one effective stance, one perfect block and one excellent punch. Yamaguchi errs, however when he names these techniques as: the hour-glass stance (Sanchin Dachi), the cork-screw punch (Seiken Choku Tzuki) and the middle, inside forearm block (Ude Uke). What I say is that the successful karateka needs to learn how to move his/her body in whatever manner is dictated by the moment and all karate training should be dedicated to helping the student be appropriately responsive in the exact moment that a technique is executed at him/her. To do this well, the student must learn how to live, and how to live properly, “in the moment.”
Throughout all of the martial arts there exists a corresponding, spiritual philosophy which allows the martial artist to understand the deeper, life-inspiring qualities which are embodied in his/her training. Bushido is the word which describes this “spiritual philosophy of martial arts.” In this section I will address the meaning of Heijoshin within Bushido.
This concept is made up, in the kanji script, of three characters or ideograms. They are Hei (peace or calm), Jo (perpetual), and Shin (heart, spirit, inner being). The karateka (practioner of that form of Bushido called karate) seeks to attain the state of Heijoshin at all times but most especially when things around the external self are unpleasant, painful, dangerous, etc. It is not a state of denial, nor repression, nor subjugation of feelings, nor of an avoidance of awareness. Rather, Heijoshin is that state of mind which allows us to experience the “correctness” of each moment, regardless of the qualities, themes and feelings which that moment brings to us. In the state of Heijoshin, we embrace the day, in this sense.
Carpe Diem is a Latin phrase which means “seize the day.” Heijoshin means a similar thing but it does not mean, “live impulsively and self centeredly now, for tomorrow we die.” Carpe diem and Heijoshin both mean to be totally at peace with whatever the present moment is handing us, to be accepting, comfortable with the various conditions and themes with which as a human being, living a life in a real world, we must experience. Heijoshin does not want us to avoid anything but, rather, to accept it all: joy, sunshine, wind, rain, happiness, pain, sadness, laughter, embracing, feeling alone, etc.
When the karateka truly knows the frailty and ephemeral nature of being, then he/she can truly enjoy and take pleasure in the minutiae of existence. Most people believe that having more makes one happy. In the spirit of Heijoshin, BEING MORE is what brings peace.
What would you do if you learned that you had only one week to live. Would you give all your possessions to charity (very noble) or would you want to spend quality time with your loved ones (very sensitive) or would you want to party it up (very hedonistic) OR would you simply keep doing what you are already doing. If your answer is the last one, then you are in the state of Heijoshin, perpetual peace of the heart.
Remember the musicians with stage fright. They ceased to become so self-frightened the more they were able to accept themselves in the exact here and now (Witgenstein, ).
Mushin and Mizo no Kokoro
Like Heijoshin, Mushin (no mind) and Mizo no Kokoro (mind like the surface of water undisturbed by the wind) describe ways of mentally approaching a situation which is of benefit to the student of karate. Think of Mushin as the extended end point of Mizo no Kokoro. If, on a scale from 1-10, I hope to achieve the ability to have a mind which is to-tally unperturbed by the surroundings, then along this scale I achieve some degree of mizo no kokoro, my mind remains like the surface of water undisturbed by the wind. This is not to say that my mind does not react to circumstances or that I am in a trance. Rather, it is a heightened state of awareness in which my conscious mind is nearly non-existent and my unconscious mind (which controls all of my behaviors, anyway) is in full control of my body and its movements. We find this state of subconscious control during hypnosis when the conscious mind releases its filtering hold on the body and one can be directed to act in new ways because the subconscious mind does not have the same kind of filtering discrimination which the conscious mind has. It is as if we are returned once again to the mind of a child. “Unless ye become as children, ye shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” spake Jesus, a great master.
Unless you do not return to the mind of simplicity where the sub-conscious can react to movement much faster - without thought - you will never be a great karateka, nor a great musician.
The more that any artist becomes self-conscious instead of automatic in his/her movements, the more stilted, slowed and error-ridden is the performance. The master karateka, like the master musician, learns to rid the mind of interfering thoughts (like, “here comes that 12 note interval leap on the fingerboard” or “I should try to do a round house kick followed by a side kick this time”) the more swiftly and accurately the karateka or musician responds to the exact needs/requirements of the moment/piece of music.
The Sight of a Karateka
A karateka does not see things in an ordinary way. He/she trains the mind and spirit to process perception in a highly refined manner. Karatekas distinguish 5 levels of sight. Training and diligence takes us to the highest of these levels where we perceive the truest nature of what we see. (“The eyes must see all sides,” is a maxim of the Karate Code in Isshinryu.) Let us examine the 5 levels of sight:
1. Nikugen (the naked eye): this is no more than an object received on the retina of the eye, devoid of any mental or emotional process. Husserl, the German philosopher called this “phenomenological sight.” It is merely descriptive as, “I see a white material with black lines on it in various shapes” (a Nikugen statement regarding this text). Nikugen is useless to the karateka.
2. Tengen (neutral perspective): is sight not bound by one's own point of view. With tengen, one sees things as if from a different vantage point, as if outside of the experience. Seeing that the line-symbols on this page are recognizable words of another (the absent but imagined writer of the words) is an example. Seeing yourself holding the page as you read it is one more example of Tengen.
3. Egen (interpretive sight): is anticipatory sight based upon prior experience of things. Knowing that you will reach the end of this single page and will have read all that is on it is an example of Egen. Knowing that you will probably learn a more complex form of “seeing” by the 5th level, below, is another example. Egen demands a sense of “cause and effect” or “sequence in time” whereas in Tengen, one needs to only see the present statement without understanding where each of the levels is going.
4. Shingen (compassionate eye): In Egen, you have the ability to step outside of yourself and to imagine what is likely to happen next. But, Egen vision is detached and dispassionate and befits the work of scientists. Shingen adds the most vital ingredient of all to sight, compassion. Compassion motivates the karateka to take the sensitive action in a particular situation. He/she “sees” the confusion or fear of the opponent. He/she knows that hurting the opponent will not be necessary. He/she knows that a particular strike of the opponent will not hurt him/her and does not try to waste energy defending against it. He/she sees a nearly infinite number of ways to respond to any situation and can instantly choose the most appropriate one.
5. Hogen (law sight): is really the universal perspective. It maintains an equal compassion for all beings in the world and believes in a natural order in the world as well. It is natural for one to be angry, so, anger is accepted and not opposed by the karateka. Mistakes are natural and accepted by the Master of karate. With Hogen, one sees the law behind the behavior of the heart of another and one can then base action on the most beneficial outcome for all beings involved. It is a much higher than Shingen in that it is a view of the entire gestalt of self / other / environment / feelings / conditions / and more... all at the same time. It, therefore, sees the “correct” action to be taken in a given situation. It is the sight of the most wise person. At the same time, and most importantly, it exists within the subconscious of the master, so it is not a sight requiring the energic thinking processes of the conscious mind. It becomes subconsciously Mushin, instinctual.
If you remember, above, I said that music exhibits an interesting phenomenon when played at different volumes. A sound heard below 3000 c/s with an increasing volume is thought to be going down in pitch whereas, a note above 3000 c/s which is increased in intensity is heard to go up in pitch. These are physical phenomena of the organ of hearing.
In using the simple organ of sight, one only experiences the simple fact of the intensity of anger of the opponent and may “desire” to react with much, unnecessary violence to this intensity (all forms of sight up through Egen). Interpretation is based upon prior experience and therefore misperception may be the result. There is a great story about Ueshiba which illustrates the difference in perception created, not by the external behavior of the opponent, but rather by the internal clarity of perception of the martial artist. It is told like this:
Morehei Ueshiba and a black-belt student of his were
riding home on the subway in Tokyo following a practice of
Aikido. At one of the stops, a large, hulking man, covered
with sweat stumbled into the subway car. He had obviously
been drinking. He was cursing various passengers and finally
approached an elderly woman who was sitting across from
Ueshiba and his student. The disturbed man immediately
reached down to the collar of the woman and lifted her like a
sack of potatoes from her seat, pushing her against the wall of
the subway car. He took her place.
Seeing this, the young, black-belt student of Aikido felt
his anger rise. He also felt the pride he had at knowing Aikido
and his ability to defeat this man easily by throwing him to
the ground and giving the elderly woman back her seat.
Being able to read the thoughts of his student, Ueshiba
gently reached upward to the sleeve of the student's coat as
he rose to meet his opponent. Ueshiba's touch was almost
imperceptible but it was clear in meaning and the student re-
took his seat next to his master.
Ueshiba then leaned forward and spoke to the disorderly
man. “You have been drinking?” In his own unique manner
the man answered in the positive to this question. From this
the master understood more about the man and asked him, “Is
it Sake that you have been drinking?”
The man leaned forward, as if sharing a secret, and said
in a slow, slurred voice, “hi,” meaning “yes.” A conversation
over the merits of one kind of Sake over another ensued much
to the dismay of passengers and the Aikido student alike. Why
was the master wasting so much time instead of simply throw-
ing the man to the ground?
Eventually, knowing the exact moment for this verbal
chinkuchi and the exact kime, Ueshiba said, “yes, I love to
have Sake in the evening when my wife comes to me in the
tiny garden by our house. I love to have her sit by me as we
drink together. We have loved one another a very long time
now.” At these words, the hulking man seemed to crumble.
His entire body slumped forward to his knees and he began
to weep, not a high-pitched, whining sound, but a low, rhy-
mic sobbing that came from the belly. The man spoke these
words softly to Ueshiba, “I have just lost my wife of 15 years
to cancer and I don't know I will live without her…”
The black-belt student had to leave the subway car two
stops before Ueshiba would get off. He remembers looking
back at his master, now sitting on the same side, near to the
large man, holding the man's great, dirty head in his hands,
comforting him for his loss of his wife.
(Anonymous - oral tradition from Sensei M. Shiwara)
This is the true meaning of Hogen. Ueshiba's mind did not consciously process this entire event. He simply “knew” the larger picture and learned more about it in his discussion with the man. Ueshiba could be seen as using soft techniques to totally “defeat the man.” I suppose that would be one interpretation. But, another, more exact meaning is that Ueshiba already knew that the man did not need to be defeated. The master saw the entire “whole, or gestalt” all at once, without thinking about it.
When the truth became evident, Ueshiba did not have to think about what to do or what to say. These things came as natural to him as did his Aikido techniques in and outside the studio/dojo.
Hogen is not easy to come by. It takes many, many years of practice in observing the truth about life without using the intervening perceptual errors of the eye (or even the memory) to make decisions or formulate behaviors. Hogen-response is not a formulation at all. It is an exact and immediate understanding of truth.
It also embodies love. All artists love the art they do and love themselves as artists and others as witnesses to art. Loving, leads a person to peace, not to war. Ueshiba was a true martial artist. He wrote a book which I recommend to all martial arts students at whatever their level of training. It is entitled, “The Art of Peace.” For now, let us look further into loving.
The Art of Loving
The following is a tale of events as recounted by Sensei Heather
Zeigler to me upon the opening of my new dojo in Stamford, CT. in 2001. I quote it here for its value to us all, artists as well as karatekas.
A ninety-one year old woman died after living a long,
dignified life. When she met God she asked him something
that had long bothered her.
“If Man was created in God's image, and if all men are
created equal,” she queried, “why do people treat each other
God replied that each person who enters our life has a
unique lesson to teach us, “…and it is only through these les-
sons that we learn about life, people, relationships and God.”
This confused the woman, so God began to explain,
“When someone lies to you, it teaches you that things are not
always, as they seem. The truth is often far beneath the sur-
face. Look beyond the masks people wear if you want to know
their heart, and remove your own masks to let people know
God went on, “When someone steals from you, it teaches
you that nothing is forever. Always appreciate what you have,
for you never know when you might lose it, and never, ever take
your friends and family for granted because today is the only
guarantee you have. When someone inflicts an injury upon you,
it teaches you that the human state is a fragile one.”
Then God said, “Protect and take care of the truth as best
you can, it is the only thing you are sure to have forever. When
someone mocks you, it teaches you that no two people are alike.
When you encounter people who are different from you, do not
judge them by how they look or act; instead base your opinion
on the contents of their heart.”
The woman seemed to begin to understand, but God had
more to give her: “When someone breaks your heart it teaches
you that loving someone does not always mean that person will
love you back, but do not turn your back on love because when
you find the right person, the joy that one person brings will
make up for all the past hurts put together times ten.”
“What about grudges,” asked the woman, to which God
smiled and said, “When someone holds a grudge against
you it teaches you that everyone makes mistakes. When
you are wronged, the most virtuous thing you can do is
forgive the offender without pretense. Forgiving those
who have hurt usis the most difficult and courageous thing
a man or woman can do.”
“And of faithfulness?” she questioned.
God replied, “When a loved one is unfaithful to
you it teaches you that resisting temptation is Man's greatest
challenge. Be vigilant in your resistance against all temp-
tation. By doing so you will be rewarded with an enduring
sense of satisfaction far greater than the temporary pleasure
by which you were tempted. When someone cheats you,
it teaches you that greed is the root of all evil.”
“Aspire to make your dreams come true, no matter
how lofty they may be. Do not feel guilty about your success,
but never let an obsession with achieving your goals lead
you to engage in malevolent activities. When someone ridi-
cules you it teaches you that nobody is perfect.”
“Accept people for their merits and be tolerant of their
flaws. Do not ever reject someone for imperfections over
which they, nor you, have no control.”
Upon hearing the Lord's wisdom, the old woman be-
Came concerned that there were no lessons to be learned
from Man's good deeds.
God replied, “Man's capacity to love is the greatest
gift he has. At the root of all kindness is love, and each act
of love also teaches us a lesson.”
The woman's curiosity deepening, God once again
began to explain, “When someone loves us it teaches us
that love, kindness, charity, honesty, humility, forgiveness
and acceptance can counteract all the evil in the world. For
every good deed, there is one less evil deed. Man alone has
the power to control the balance between good and evil, but
because the lessons of love are not taught often enough, the
power is too often abused.”
“When you enter someone's life, whether by plan,
chance or coincidence, consider what your lesson will be.
Will you teach love or a harsh lesson of reality? When you
die will your life have resulted in more loving or hurting?
More comfort or pain? More joy or sadness?”
Then God said, “Each one of us has power over the
balance of love in the world. Use it wisely. Do not miss an
opportunity to nudge the world's scale in the right direction.
Pass this lesson of love on to those you love and to those you
have hurt. For each person who receives this, there will be a
little less evil in the world and a little more love.”
This parable does not represent the sappy ramblings of a misguided budoka but is, rather, the very lesson which all of us must learn from karate, for the good of karate and the overall good of the world of which we are a part. Love is part of our Do, our path, as karateka. Our art is complex and like all art invades the very soul of the individual artist, the very heart of all those whom our art touches. We can be street fighters, or we can be Martial Artists. The choice is ours. The ramifications of our choices are world-wide in scope, however.
We will deal with the spiritual as well as other benefits of seeing karate as an art in Chapter 7, below.
THE AESTHETICS OF KARATE DO
As noted in Chapter 4, there are many levels to the art of karate. Whether or not one practices the art with a sense of aesthetics determines the difference between “good” or “bad” karate as seen from an artistic point of view. Remember, if we are measuring karate simply by its ability to “kick butt” on the street, then our task is simple:
Get several students from every style of karate presently known.
Put them in similar street situations where their possessions or their lives are at stake.
Measure the efficacy (in numbers of opponents hurt, maimed or murdered by the karatekas).
Determine which of the styles has the highest hurt/maim/kill ratio per karateka.
Declare that karate style as the “best.”
Ok. So pardon me, but I do not want to measure karate aesthetics in any such manner. would rather utilize the same determinants of “good” or “bad” as we used when examining music, above under the heading, “Significance.”
For example, during “open” tournaments in which practitioners come from every style imaginable to participate in competitions against one another, the Referees for sparring and the Judges for kata competetion represent a wide cross-section of styles. On a panel of judges, for instance, there may be a 6th degree black belt in Tang Soo Do, a 4th degree black belt in Shotokan, a 5th degree in Isshinryu, a Red Sash (master) in White Crane Kung Fu and a 6th degree in Gojukai Karate.
Students from the following styles might present to perform kata:
Gojuryu (Okinawan but different than Isshinryu)
Shorinryu (Okinawan but different than Isshinryu)
Shotokai (Japanese but different than Shotokan)
Northern Praying Mantis Kung Fu (Chinese, not White Crane)
Tae Kwan Do (Korean but different than Tang Soo Do)
One student each of Tang Soo Do, Shotokan, Isshinryu, White Crane Kung Fu, and Gojukai.
How on Earth can this panel of judges do justice to evaluating the correct performance of those students whose styles are not the same as their own. How can a Gojukai or Isshinryu judge be fair to a Gojuryu student? How can a Shotokan judge be fair to a Shotokai student?
The answer is that, each judge in such an open, invitational tournament has an intrinsic, aesthetic ability to sense the performance based upon the internal coherency of the individual techniques within the con-text (gestalt) of the entire kata as performed by ANY style of student. Such characteristics of performance as:
An overall sense of graceful flow AND powerful movements at appropriate times throughout the kata.
A “tempo” which seems to fit the movements of the kata.
An internal consistency of techniques which represent the same “meaning” within the kata, being performed in exactly the same manner each time the technique is demonstrated.
The ability to apply Chinkuchi as required of the technique.
The use of Kime to come to the precise place in space toward which the technique is aimed (if at the “head” then the same height as the student's head at the correct distance from the student doing the kata.)
An aesthetic (pleasurable and significant) mixture of “hard” and “soft” techniques, giving a “pleasant
phrasing” to the kata as opposed to a sense of “rushing” through it. The correct and appropriate
turning of the head prior to the execution of a technique in a new direction, thus giving the viewer a
sense of “what is going on” in the kata with respect to multiple opponents.
A sense of timbre or “roughness” or “smoothness” as befits a particular technique as it follows other
techniques in a particular sequence.
While a Japanese judge, one of Shotokan Karate Do, for example, might be more knowledgeable of the correct performance of a kata by Shotokai standards, it is in the significance of the kata to portray to judges of all styles: the ability, grace, strength, power, commitment, phrasing, focus, chinkuchi, and balance of the student as well as the internal consistency of the kata as demonstrated by the student; that the judges are able to reach their decision about who is the tournament's best kata practitioner for that day.
We, in martial arts, seldom talk about the aesthetics of karate, but it is because of aesthetics that martial art judges have the ability to be unprejudiced about the performance of kata that are not from their style. I further assert that is because of a resistance to aesthetics in certain senseis, that a conflict develops when black belts of different traditions within the same style come together to share their phrasing of a kata and are totally disregarded by those senseis who insist only on the applicability of the kata to be used in a street fight as its measure of its worth.
I have experienced this latter condition in Isshinryu Karate Do where there are at least 5 different variations on “the only true way to perform kata as taught by Shimabuku Sensei” and at least 25 different phrasings of kata as taught by very high belts in the Isshinryu system in the United States. I have been personally insulted by a leading Sensei who believes that my training under three well-respected senseis in Isshinryu was “wrong” and that I “should forget what I studied with them and learn the `right way' [his way] to do Isshinryu.” I stayed with this Sensei for over a year to learn what I could from him. Since he never respected me for what I learned and appreciated as beautiful from other senseis, however, I began to lose my sense of grace and power in my katas.
Back in my own dojo, I then returned to doing kata the way in which I was taught originally and began to feel, once again, my grace and power as a karateka, as a true black belt. Recommendations about form is one thing, insulting degradation is unwarranted and is actually a violation of dojo rules as established by our system, Isshinryu Karate Do, “the student must show respect at all times to the Sensei and the Sensei shows respect at all times to the student.” Disrespect exists in all styles, however, and represents a prejudiced investment in budo, without respect for karate aesthetics or for individual physiological differences.
SPIRITUAL ART IN KARATE DO
We have already addressed in this book the times when ethical principles are of the utmost importance. We have not talked about the ramifications which these ethical principles have upon the entire world and to which we contribute as karateka. The following is a quote from a testimonial speech given by Soshin Nagamine , a great karateka and a Zen priest, in 1996 in Hawaii, at the acknowledgement of his Zen realization - Ken Zen Ichinyo (Karate and Zen in Oneness) from Arch-bishop of Daihonzan Chozen-ji Tanouye Rotaishi, the 84th Dharma Successor of Rinzai Zen. Translated by Hideyuki Takahashi, it is entitled, “Okinawa Karate and World Peace.” But, it could have been written as, “Karate and World Peace.”
[From] The Introduction
….I cannot help thinking that post war martial arts in Japan,
possibly because of the influence of occupation policies, have turned
into just martial technique and have lost their substance. Martial art
students tend to be overly concerned with wins and losses and only
seek reputation and awards. I am truly concerned with the fact that
we have forgotten the way of mind - shin-zen-bi (truth, honesty and
beauty) and lost the essence of the martial way.
In recognizing the contemporary trend, Okinawa being consi-
dered the Mecca of karate-do, I would like to take advantage of this
opportunity to discuss the origin of Okinawa karate in reference to the
history of Okinawa, its legends as well as its traditional folk songs and
I truly believe that it is the duty of Okinawa karate people to
adapt the principle of shin-gi-tai-ichinyo, (oneness of mind-
technique-body), to the modern world, to pursue the traditional spirit
of shin-zen-bi (truth, honesty and beauty), and to proudly transfer
karate-do to future generations.
Kokoro (Spirit) of Okinawa (Ryukyu)
Mr. Kazuo Tatsuo, an editor of Asahi Shimbun newspaper, has
an essay titled "Ryukyu Islands." In this essay, he states: I had a chance
to ask Mr. Shuncho Hiki, an excellent historian from Okinawa, what is
the Kokoro or spirit of Okinawa (Ryukyu). Mr. Hiki responded that it
was guchoku, or being simple and pure. Mr. Hiki further explained that
Okinawans are simple and pure but have deep inner strength. Because
of this, they have difficulty in changing or adapting to circumstances.
Mr. Hiki added "I have lived for over 90 years. I have not been good
at adapting to circumstances, because of which I have incurred losses.
However, I feel this is acceptable for me."
In Okinawa, there is a saying, "your mind does not get distur-
bed by being beaten up, but by (you) beating up others." Simply
speaking, it means that Okinawans prefer or accept the life style
of being tricked and being taken advantage of, rather than hurt-
ing other people or asserting tricks on them. This saying expresses
the typical Okinawan spirit of being simple and pure.
The idea of being simple is not the thought of those control-
ling or governing other people; or those who cunningly adapt to
circumstances to be controlled; or of subjects just giving into the
fate of being governed.
I believe the kokoro or spirit of Okinawa is one which shows
an extreme non-resisting resistance action, beyond our ima-
gination, when someone is cornered and/or when standing up
What was brought about from banning weapons
Shoshin-O was enthroned at the age of thirteen. He, a be-
liever of Buddhism, had many temples built in various areas. He
stripped the local lords of weapons such as swords and spears and
had them put away in warehouses inside Shuri Castle. He then de-
clared that weapons should be used only to defend the nation and
forbade the people from using any weapons for personal struggles.
Moreover, he relocated the local lords to Shuri Castle and had them
appointed as representatives to govern their territory. This was the
way Shoshin-O eliminated the possibilities of fighting and stripped
the lords of any means of revolting.
Chusan Kingdom, thanks to wisdom of Shoshin-O, could
enjoy peaceful years until the invasion of Satsuma in 1609. It was
a well known story that Napoleon could not help exclaiming "What?
How could such peaceful islands exist in this world without any
weapons!" when he was informed of Ryukyu Islands by a visiting
British naval officer.
It is ironic that the people of this peaceful island, not having
any weapons, were put under a hellish misery by the ruling Satsuma.
Ryukyu people, under the tyrannical governance of Satsuma, bearing
the mind-set of being simple and pure, eventually expressed an ex-
treme action of rejection, and created te (karate), and various other
splendid cultural arts through the spirit of non-resisting resistance.
History indicates that people of Ryukyu have developed, without
holding arms, an honorable and peaceful kingdom of culture for
over 300 years.
View of death…
There once existed a custom of attendants setting them-
selves on fire following the death of their master. This custom
was stopped by Shoshin-O who forbade people from committing
immolation approximately 500 years ago in 1477. One day,
Shoshin-O, who had just lost his mother, was deep in sorrow.
He noticed a boy crying out loud. After inquiring the reason
from the boy, he was informed that the boy had been ordered to
immolate himself. The boy said, "My mother does not know that
I was ordered to immolate myself. How deeply saddened she will
be when she finds out that I am dead!" Deeply disturbed by the
severe fate of being immolated and sympathizing with the de-
pressed feeling of the boy, Shoshin-O decided to ban immolation.
This historical episode reveals how much the Ryukyu people re-
There is a Ryukyu chant which reads:
"In a world full of conflict and strife, do not cry over the
condition of the world, your life is the treasure."
This chant, composed by well known Ryukyu artist,
Yamazato Nagayoshi, was written to describe the feeling of
Shotai-O, the last king of the Shuri Clan, as he was evacuating
his castle. Ryukyu people sublimed their respect of life, begin-
ning with the ban on immolation, up to the stage of reverence.
A Ryukyu proverb describing the mind of a Ryukyu
warrior says, "even if you lose your glory, you should never give
up your life." In other words, this proverb means that even if you
lose your class or rank because of a new regime, you should not
waste your life but try your best to survive the worst and then
stand up again.
The most precious treasure in this world is your life. It is
because without your life, you cannot accomplish anything.
The order banning immolation was issued by the Edo
Bakuhu government in 1663. Let me discuss the viewpoint towards
life from the Japanese bushido (Yamato Damashi-Spirit).
Miyamoto Musashi is a well known sword master. He
was a master who, through training of Japanese swordsmanship,
comprehended and mastered philosophy, religion, values and arts.
He left a book titled Gorin-No-Sho (Book of Five Rings) to his
followers. A distillation of Musashi's ideas was contained in Doku-
Ko-Do, (Principles of Going Alone). Doku-Ko Do consisted of 21
articles, which he drafted to give to one of his senior disciples,
Terao Magonojyo, on May 12, 1654. In Article 20, he wrote Mi
o sutetemo myori wa sutezu - "Even though you may have to
sacrifice yourself, you should not throw away your honor."
In other words, he meant that if and when you disregard your
honor, you are failing to follow do, principles, and gi, justice.
In short, we should try to defend our honor even though we
may need to sacrifice our life.
I would like to talk about Hagakure Bushido, Haga-
kure Principles of Samurai or Japanese Warrior. Yamamoto
Tsunetomo, the sage narrator of Hagakure, was born at the
castle town of Saga in 1659 and died at the age of 61 in 1719.
Hagakure, a dictation of his philosophy, was published in 1716.
Hagakure was adopted as a sole text book to instruct bushido
to the samurai of the Saga clan. The spirit of Hagakure is sum-
marized in the following four oaths:
In bushido, never be left behind.
Always be ready to serve your master.
Be dutiful to your parents.
Be merciful at all time and assist other people.
The Hagakure stated that if you pray these four oaths to
Buddha and the Heavens every morning, then you will be able to
receive their energy.
The Japanese military, who led the Japanese people into
World War II, claimed that it was a sacred war not only to the
Japanese but to the world and emphasized the essence of Haga-
kure Bushido as "always be ready to die". They claimed that
Hagakure was the same as the military way of thinking, taking
the lives of soldiers very lightly and leading millions of people
In the post war era of Japan, we are in the wave of Koku-
saika or internationalization. The people of the world are more
interested in knowing the traditional culture of Japan which has
been the fundamental basis of the Japanese economic growth.
However, many of the Japanese are not confident enough to ex-
plain our culture to outsiders. Taking advantage of strength in
the Japanese economy, more than ten million Japanese are visit-
ing abroad and having opportunities to meet many foreign people.
I am very concerned that the foreigners will form a misunderstand-
ing that the Japanese culture is economically based and consists
of only people with money.
In the historical perspective, a key factor of a nation being
able to enjoy a healthy growth has been to maintain culture in one
hand and martial arts in the other hand. That is, maintaining both
of the above was critical in governing a nation.
True bushido could be explained in the following saying,
"the best victory is the one attained without a battle."
A group of us were deeply concerned that in the post war era,
this supreme spirit has been lost. In 1993, we decided to
establish Butoku Gakkai (Warriors' Virtue Association)
under the leadership of Mr. Saburo Ishimoto, President of
Chuo-Gakuin, and several other prominent people. At the
beginning of our charter, it is declared that:
Martial arts and virtue must be unified as one.
Martial arts without virtue is simply violence.
Martial arts with virtue will purify society and culture
Karate master, Matsumura Shokon, who was born in
Shuri, Ryukyu in 1809, taught three consecutive kings seven
virtues to serve as guidelines for karate which contributed to
maintenance of Ryukyu as a peaceful kingdom.
We, the people of Ryukyu, have learned the importance
of human life through the banning of immolation. We also have
learned human piety from the governance of religion and poli-
tics together. Moreover, we have created a spirit of mutual assis-
tance. Through these lessons, island people, in peace without
any weapons, have formulated an unprecedented and income-
parable philosophy of karate ni sente nashi or "fists that does
not strike first."
Translator's note: Literally translated karate ni sente
nashi says "fists that does not strike first" or "not hitting first".
A deeper extension of the translation is "the fists that give life".
As written in Nagamine Sensei's Okinawa no Karate-Do:
"As a karate-ka, the kokoro (spirit/mind) of shin-gi-tai (mind-
technique-body) is attained through spiritual forging in zazen.
When oneness of the three, shin-gi-tai, is attained through
spiritual forging, a true katsu jin ken (the fist of a person who
gives life) emerges and for the first time one is able to win
without a fight. Then one will truly understand karate ni sente
Ryukyu has overcome the tyranny of Satsuma which
had lasted over 300 years since its invasion by adopting the
extremely strong philosophy of resistance without resistance,
as was described by Hiki Shuncho.
Karate, primarily a martial technique of self defense,
has formulated a philosophy of karate ni sente nashi which
still exists today. This philosophy could not be understood
by the people based on the distorted interpretation of bushido
spirit which took human life lightly. In a time when all
the people but yourself are enemies, it was considered a
matter of fact that you, holding swords on your side and
carrying guns that were ready at all times, have to kill others
to save your own life. The Pearl Harbor attack is one good
example. I cannot help but admire the philosophy of karate
ni sente nashi formulated by our predecessors whenever I
see people in the world who are put in the midst of anguish
because of weapons.
I truly believe that exercising the philosophy of
karate ni sente nashi is the basis of true peace in the world.
I have learned it from the history of Ryukyu in which they
showed their respect toward human life and created a peace-
ful and wealthy kingdom of Ryukyu.
I would like to emphasize here that Ryukyu people's
resistance with respect to the issue of scaling down the size
of United States armed forces in Okinawa is a good example
of exercising the supreme right destined to Ryukyu people
from the Heavens. The people of Okinawa would never be
pushed back even if governing people try to force the issue.
In the end, the resolve of the people will surface and press
the governments of Japan and the United States into a corner
by forcing a popular vote by the people. I have to say that
both governments should be fully aware of this. People will
not be fooled by a short term political solution.
I truly hope that the people in the world would change
their mind-set of aggression and first-strike to a philosophy of
karate ni sente nashi. It is only through this philosophy that
world peace will be achieved.
Part of Nagamine Sensei's argument for the peacefulness of Karate and the idea that to be a karateka IS to foster World Peace, is also supported by the idea, Shingi O Omonzuru, Stand for Righteousness.
True Martial arts and true martial artists are rooted in a tradition of righteousness. Martial arts are a means of preserving peace and overcoming ill intention. This foundation allows the martial artist to develop shinnen, an unflagging strength of conviction which is a powerful motivation.
In battle, however, the karateka, eg., will often find himself pitted against jado (literally, “the Way of Evil”) embodied in those who hold to the belief that greed is justifiable. Jado practitioners will use any means to win their fight with you and you must be ready to counter “sand in the face”, spitting, biting, all manner of “fighting dirty.” You must be prepared for this and not surprised. Know that the degenerate fighter uses degenerate energy and has a perverse outlook toward life in general.
In effect, he approaches and applies the ki or chi in negative ways: misdeeds influence one's speech and ideals, leading to increasingly hostile behavior and an amoral, self-centered attitude.
In addition to its degenerative effects, jado is also inherently weaker than righteous ki. There are few people so depraved that their body does not betray them when they are using underhanded ways of fighting.
On the other hand, the karateka with Shingi O Omonzuru has a powerful union between mind, heart, body and spirit. This literally leads to an increase in the ki used in a fight and the physical power behind each technique.
Be true in your heart to the Hogen of each situation (see the whole) and if action needs to be taken, follow your heart to the correction solution to the problem. Your sense of fairness and compassion as well as your sense of what is right in a situation will make you more powerful than any common thug.
This is not just a “bible story” to make you feel better about your ability. It has been tested over and over again by bujin down through the ages and found to be absolutely the case. In other words, the strength of karate can only be maintained when the karateka stands for that which is the most moral and righteous.
Arguments about religion, race, ethnicity, difference in beliefs are of no concern to the karateka who embraces and desires peace. A bully can never become a true karateka and can never possess the power and strength of a karateka because his body will betray him because on the subconscious level, it will never lend all of his chi or ki to the execution of an immoral purpose.
I know, you may think that I have really gone overboard this time. Maybe karate is art, but it will never succeed just because it is noble. Again, I say, if success means to maim, injure and kill, then karate will never succeed. If, however, success means to achieve an atmosphere of peace that pervades all of life, that overcomes evil in its righteousness, that is better focused because it has no covert intentions, that has more chi because no part of the body or mind is conflicted over the outcome, then karate will and must always succeed.
The Advantages of Karate Practiced as an Art Form
First, I need to say what I say to all of my psychotherapy patients. I tell them, “life is art, not science. There are no `cookbook' solutions for life's problems, but with a good sense of the principles of living life, one can become a better and better artist.” With this in mind…
Let us say that I find my body going out of shape. I am getting older, developing a pot-belly, finding myself easily out of breath and having some arthritis. I can always improve these conditions by taking up an exercise program. I can go to a gym and work out for 20 minutes, 3 times / week and I will feel better, improve my stamina, lose weight and increase my range of motion.
If I want to improve my mind because I am becoming less mentally agile, I can do crossword puzzles each day, and keep up interesting and erudite conversations with others, and my mental acuity will improve.
If I need to get back some of the flexibility I had when I was younger, then I can study Hatha Yoga.
If my religious beliefs are in question then I can return to my church, talk to my pastor, attend other churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, etc. and explore other belief systems until I find religious principles which satisfy me.
If I want to be able to defend myself most effectively in the street when attacked by someone who wants to steal my personal possessions or means harm to my body or means to take my life, then I can get a concealed-weapon permit and carry a loaded handgun at all times.
If I only want to be inspired by the art of others then I can go to a museum, attend a concert or poetry reading, watch a dance performance or visit a gallery.
If I desire to pursue a lifestyle which is based upon an art, I can study music, dance, poetry, writing, painting, sculpture or manuscript-illumination.
If, however, I desire to base my life upon an ART which embodies the discipline and form to exercise like a dancer, to make my mind swift and present, to stretch my tendons and muscles, to give me a moral system of values which benefit myself and all of the rest of existence, to give me the self-confidence to carry myself in such a manner as to render me unassaultable by others, and to lift my aesthetic spirits in a daily practice of that ART, then I will take karate.
Let us revisit the Isshinryu Code of Karate to see how those simple eight principles apply to every aspect of being alive. Remember that they are:
A person's heart is the same as Heaven and Earth.
The blood circulating is similar to Sun and Moon.
The manner of drinking and spitting can be either hard or soft.
A person's unbalance is the same as a weight.
The body must be able to change directions at any time.
The time to strike is when the opportunity presents itself.
The eyes must see all sides.
The ears must listen in all directions.
First, we hear that “a person's heart (the center of one's being on
the metaphysical level) contains all of the elements of existence known to human beings (and also those which are unknown to human minds but are known by the human soul, the connection with the Universal). In other words, there is nothing in Heaven or Earth not known by the Heart of a person.
In Jungian terms, all that is known as good behaviors (the light side of the force, so to speak) and all that is known as evil behaviors (the dark side of the force) exist in every single human. For Walt Whitman, we all contain “all of the animals in the zoo, and I am the `keeper' of that zoo.” It is within the Heart of our being that we know everything and then choose our behaviors accordingly. If “Deus est Ubique” (God is everywhere) as the Latin dictum says, then our Heart's equality to all that exists is also a Divine connection as well. If I follow the first principle of the Karate Code, I become aware of my place within the connected web of existence. I see, with Hogen sight, what I must do to live morally and correctly within the context of the greater totality. I also am a part of that which is greater than myself, God.
In artistic terms, I am one with my art. The painter is one with the painting. The musician is one with his/her instrument and the music expressed. This Zen concept is a fact of good art and shows the unity of human being with the organic and inorganic environment.
The blood circulating is similar to Sun and Moon
The blood flows in a cycle. It goes from the heart to the Aorta to the arteries to the arterioles to the capillaries (in the big toe, for example) to the veinules to the veins to the inferior Vena Cava back to the heart (a trip through 50,000 miles of pipes in the entire body) in less than one minute. Throughout the life of its owner, this remarkable organ func-tions on the principles of timing and rhythm. When timing or rhythm are incorrect for the heart, it becomes inefficient and can even cease to func-tion altogether. The owner of this wonderful muscle will then die.
The Sun and Moon appear to rise and set each day as the earth rotates on its axis. This is a daily experience (even during the New Moon) which depends on certain rhythms and cycles. The moon travels around the earth each 28 days thus producing an appearance of going from Full Moon to Waxing Gibbous to New Moon to Waning Gibbous to Full Moon again. If the moon were struck by a major meteorite, it might alter its rhythm and consequently its effect upon us. A woman's menses (and men's cyclothymic behaviors and feelings) are governed by the periodicity of the moon. Mental patients and thieves are moved to act out during the Full Moon. This is not an urban legend, it is a fact of gravity and its effect upon us.
Insects come and go in 7 year cycles, some crops will grow best in certain years, the seasons of the earth are generally the same for one spot on the earth (except for global warming and the changes in the Ozone layer).
The stages of psychological and physical development for the infant, child and adult are the same over and over again for all human beings. The “passages” of life from birth to death are the same for humans throughout all of time, since we first walked upon this planet until we pass from it. Even human improvement is cyclic…
“Growth is coming back to the same place and seeing it for the first time” ( ).
All of us have experienced a time during the day (afternoon) when the blood sugar (glucose) level drops and one feels tired enough to fall to sleep. Efficiency decreases at this time and is inevitable. Some persons in some cultures even provide a time for sleep (Siesta) in the afternoon because it would be less productive to do otherwise.
Without timing and rhythm, the heart does not run, the Sun and Moon do not rotate or revolve, life does not go on, psychology does not exist, nothing we know about nature would be predictable.
In fact, in the martial arts, it is said that there are particular points on the body (Bubishi points) which can be struck or acupunctured (or pressured) to produce damaging or healing results depending upon when, where and in what manner they are used. This was recently described in a conversation held by two black belts of the Isshinkai discussion group on the internet.
In this discussion, they were saying that the vulnerability of various points along the meridians (lines which can be drawn between points of susceptibility) changes approximately every 3 hours during the day. Therefore, if one wished to strike a particular “damage point”, one would have to know what time of day it was. Readers and practitioners of Dim Mak (the skill of striking damaging points) know very well the importance of timing as well as of accuracy. Again, as noted above, only great masters of this skill can be effective and it takes many, many years of study to become a great master.
Contact and withdrawal are important aspects of the cycle of life for each of us during the day, regardless of what we are doing. In fact, this cycle requires 7 steps from start to completion in order for us to achieve or accomplish anything at all. They are:
1. The aware of a sensation to do or have something (like the feeling of hunger).
2. The ability to name the sensation (knowing that I am hungry).
3. The awareness of the environment to support the need (is there food here?).
4. The mobilization of energy toward the object(s) of desire (moving toward a
5. Contact with the object of desire (putting the food in my mouth).
6. The assimilation of the experience (knowing that I have eaten and no longer wishing
to have any more food).
7. Withdrawal from the need altogether (moving on to the next need or wish interest).
Persons who have difficulties in these 7 steps will prevent them-selves from having that which they need or desire. For example, if one interrupts the Organismic Self-Regulatory Cycle between checking out the environment and mobilization of energy, then the person will sit there waiting for the object to come to him/her. People who are socially afraid of rejection do this when dating and approach the person next to the one in which they actually have the interest. They have not mobilized their energy correctly. If, on the other hand, one refuses to experience that they have washed their hands (assimilation) then they might wash them over and over again in an effort to actually get them clean in the first place (obsessive-compulsive behavior). Every step in this daily cycle of living is necessary for movement to the next step and difficulties in completing one or more of the steps cause most of our neurotic or psychotic problems.
Lastly, in the arts, rhythm and timing are essential to the production of a piece of music. Without a good sense of rhythm and timing, the musician will cause the listener to feel uncomfortable with the tones and the listener will realize an inability to dance or move to those tones. Tones without rhythm and timing are not music. They may be noise.
The manner of drinking and spitting can be either hard or soft
While this may be a funny-sounding principle in the Karate Code, it is no less a valuable metaphor for all of life. What it means is literally that the way in which I take something into myself or let something out of myself may be done in a hard (go) or soft (ju) manner. Of course, there is a continuum along the line between the two polarities as well.
If I only love in a soft way (tender, sweet, soft holding and words) then I will not be good sexually (pushing, aggressive, passionate, etc.). If I only work in a hard way (with pick and shovel, tilling the soil) then I cannot grow plants (softly laying the seeds in the furrow, covering each seed, gently watering the tender sprouts, etc.). If I only think in a soft way (peace, openness at all times, etc.) then I will never develop new ideas (aggression against and destructuring of an old belief in order to replace it with a new one). The list goes on.
Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament tells us that there is a time “for all things under heaven.” This biblical passage lists many polar aspects of life thus supporting that there is a time for hard things and a time for soft things.
Taoism, in fact, concludes that there would be no softness were it not for hardness (each pole creates the existence of the opposite). There could be no love without hatred (fear). There would be no cold without hot. There would be no good without evil. There would be no up without down. There would be no long without short, etc. All things and qualities of things lead us to the knowledge of the opposite quality of other things.
Therefore, the way in which I take in energy or your opinions of things or the manner in which I dispense my experience of life or put out my energy can always be hard or soft.
In music, hardness or softness can correspond to volume or intensity. Think of how boring a piece of music would be if it did not have this contrast. Furthermore, over the many genres of music, rock (hard) is a music which makes my body want to move while a sonata (soft) may help me to digest my food.
A person's unbalance is the same as a weight
This statement can be taken literally if one is only considering the concepts of Judo and Aikido about the unbalancing of the body of the other individual. In other words, if I can get a person to lean over in some way then the weight of the head (roughly 16 pounds) will become the weight that serves to pull down the individual in the direction of his unbalance.
On another level, however, this principle describes the importance of “balance” in all of life. The 12 step programs of A.A., N.A., O.A., etc., all tout the importance of balance. If I go in the direction of pleasure all or most of the time, eg., then I will have to experience the feeling of unhappiness. Such is the need of the body to reestablish balance in the body. Mania is the opposite of depression because, in these labile individuals, the farther the mood swing goes in the positive direction is roughly (not always) equal to the mood swing will have to go in the negative direction (weighing the person down as, once, they were uplifted.)
If I try to act “nice” to people all of the time (a codependent trait) then I will feel increasingly more resentful (weighed down) and may explode with disproportionate anger at the slightest insult.
“All work and no play makes John a dull boy.” (Anon.) I will add, “All play and no work makes John a non-contributing man.”
If I do not allow myself to interact with a “greater than self” as in the classical relationship one has with one's God or Spiritual Belief, then I will be shallow and self-centered.
If I sit all day on the couch and watch TV, then I will lose the tonus of my muscles (atrophy), decrease in stamina and gain more fat deposits around my waist, for example. Whereas, if I balance my need to rest with a need for exercise, my body will remain healthy (genetics notwithstanding) and toned.
If I only eat brown rice (the middle of the Yin-Yang balance for Macrobiotic diets) then I will develop all manner of diseases since I will have left out the wide variety of nutrients and proteins which my body requires to rebuild protoplasm (body tissues). Macrobiotic diets, there-fore, encourage the practitioner to eat foods from the Yin AND the Yang categories, thus ensuring the correct amount of nutrients from each of these categories. Paella, made with clams, shrimp, etc. is also a perfect Yin-Yang balance, but it is also in balance with the body's needs for foods from the seven basic groups.
Every one of our human emotions and needs to act in a particular manner is balanced by another feeling or way of behaving. People who repress one or more of their feelings may find these feelings surfacing at the most unwanted and undesirable times. If I try to prevent my grieving the loss of someone important to me, I may start crying when I drop my bread, jelly side down, in the morning. The need to balance ourselves out is always there, pressing on us to respond in one way or another to the way in which we and the environment interact with one another.
In music, if I play the entire composition loudly, you will hear nothing but loudness. Upon leaving the concert, I may desire softer sounds or even total quiet. If I mix louder and quieter moments in a piece of music, then the whole of the composition will take on a more balanced and complete quality and I will feel correspondingly complete in listening to it.
We are weighed down by all of the times when we permit ourselves to go out of balance, emotionally, physically or spiritually.
The body must be able to change directions at any time
In the martial arts, we can take this statement to mean that “in order to fight multiple opponents, it is necessary to be able to turn instantly to face them or at least execute a proper technique in their direction.” This, however, would make the statement literal and without its deepest meaning.
What is meant here is applicable to life in its totality. It refers to the fact that we must be flexible, able to change directions as the circum-stances of our lives requires/demands. This statement upholds the notion of responsibility or rather, “response-ability,” the ability to respond.
Fritz Perls, Ralph Hefferline and Paul Goodman, in their book, Gestalt Theory, refer to the act of growing as a human being as “an ability to respond to the environment.” They see all of life as a series of responses to that which life presents, not to a purely self-directed goal or set of goals. While they are balanced in their regard for goals, they do not ignore that “the best laid plans of mice and men may…” fail without the ability to change directions and adopt new ways of dealing with the twists and turns which life places in our paths.
An individual who cannot “bend with the wind” is a rigid and in-flexible person who can be destroyed by the whims of life. Since nothing ever goes as exactly planned, such a rigid person will be left behind when things deviate from his/her imagined journey and outcome.
It is only through “turning in any direction” that we can survive the idiosyncracies of existence, deal with an unexpected pregnancy, manage in the face of a down-turned stock market, rebound from being laid-off from an important job, deal with the death of a loved one, survive divorce, or even grow old gracefully.
In music, this ability to turn in any direction is demanded, not of the composer, but of the musical performer who must have the versatility to finger a large interval transition easily when, flipping the page, he/she finds him/herself confronted with such a demand by the composer, or cover a mistake with an impromptu few notes until the musician has found his/her way back to the score.
A true story is told of Horowitz who, in his declining years, actually performed a concert at Carnegie Hall and totally forgot the Andante to the piece of music which he was playing. Let us say that the music was a composition by Bach. At any rate, he completely crafted the Andante improvisationally and then returned to the composition smoothly when he had to enter the next part of the score, perhaps an Allegro. Afterwards, great musicians as well as lay audience gave him a standing ovation. They were applauding, not only his talent as a pianist, but also his ability to “turn in a new direction” in the style of Bach when he needed to cover his loss of memory.
All spontaneity in life is an example of “turning in a new direction” which is totally congruent with the ability of the environment to support that turn. In terms of the organismic self regulatory cycle, above, the individual has seen what is available in the environment, knows his/her needs and mobilizes energy accordingly and appropriate-ly. People, acting thusly, are said to “think on their feet” when they respond verbally or behaviorly to difficult questions or situations.
The time to strike is when the opportunity presents itself
While this may seem like another example of a statement designed for karate alone, it is another guide for living life. In karate, it obviously means that when an opening occurs, one should then strike and not strike before that opening (not try to plan striking).
In the larger sense, this statement is a corollary to the above suggestion to be flexible. In this statement, however, the suggestion is to live totally IN THE PRESENT moment. It also suggests that life is not lived in the past or the future, but only in the present. (Wittgenstein, xxx)
When I am living in the present moment, I am “all there.” No part of me is distracted by the similarities that this moment has to the past (no two moments are ever exactly the same) nor am I distracted by fantasies of a future which is only based upon probabilities and not knowledge. The only things over which I have complete control and to which I can uniquely respond (bend) are to be found in this moment here. Prior, similar moments will always be seen in my subconscious mind as a guide for shaping my response in the present but, in truth, nothing from the past can prepare me totally for the uniqueness of a particular moment in the present.
When a husband or wife thinks that their spouse is totally predicttable, they fail to see the uniqueness of that person in the present from moment to moment and the marriage becomes “stale.”
If I think that I can prescribe the same, exact medication for this patient with the same success that I had on a former patient, then I am a mechanic, not a doctor. I must be able to see that each person has subtle nuances of physiology which demands trying several medications until the one which suits the physiology of my patient is found. Medicine is a “practice” and all good physicians know this. Only arrogant or lazy doctors use the same meds with all patients having the same disease or illness to the detriment of most of them.
If I think that I can plant the same flowers in any piece of soil in the State of Connecticut then I have grossly misunderstood what is meant by the “territory of a plant” vs. the unique requirements for that plant in a particular kind of soil with just the right nutrients, nitrogen, and other chemicals, pH, etc. needed by that plant.
If I play the stock market without any sense of the timing required to successfully “buy and put” stocks, then I will come to financial ruin.
People who are “discovered” and become great actors are said to “be in the right place at the right time.” I would suggest that they DID the right things at the right time in that place and they were noticed by someone who could help them with their career. If they did not continue to do the right things throughout their early testing, they would never have come to success as actors.
In music, the time to phrase is when the moment feels correct for the musician and for anyone playing along with that musician (as in quintets, chamber groups, etc.). Jazz artists recognize this and give and take leads to various musicians as the moments in the music seem correct. This “feeling” for the correct moment is not disagreed upon by different musicians of a genre. Rather, they all seem to “know” exactly when that moment should happen. I have played in bands for years, and I know this experience very well.
The eyes must see all sides
On the surface, this statement seems to mean that “a karateka must be able to see any threat which is to his front or sides,” but it is not that simplistic. Again, remember, these are codes for a Do, a path or way of life.
On the deeper level, therefore, we come to understand that a person must be able to instantly see “all sides” of a situation before acting. As described, above, in the section on Hogen - the sight which knows what is required of a moment in time - one must be able to see that which is advantageous, not just for the self, but is good for the greatest number of living things.
In this sense, it may be propitious to throw oneself upon a grenade to protect the other soldiers in a foxhole. This giving up of the self to save the lives of many others is the ability to “see” the larger picture.
All too often in our culture, we are self-centered and self-oriented. This is a mistake. Psychology has not helped in this matter since it often focuses on what the individual is feeling and thinking and not on how that person's feeling and thinking affects those around him/her.
In marital and family therapy we learn that the behaviors and affect of one member of the family create changes in all members of the family system. This proves itself over and over again and shows us that we do not stand alone in life but are part of a complex web of other people and living things.
If I use my ability to “see all sides,” then I will not pollute a particular river just to get rid of the toxic wastes which are a necessary byproduct of the saleable materials which I am manufacturing. I will build a processing plant which will render the waste harmless to other creatures which must depend upon that river for their existence.
If I a karateka who has been challenged into a fight by some drunken man in a bar, I may seek to avoid all forms of conflict even if it makes me appear as weak. After all, the object of karate is to escape and avoid confrontation, not to seek it. My ego might make me want to hurt the offending drunk but my better sense of the situation knows that I don't need to and that my life is not is danger. I can simply leave the bar without any fight taking place. My self-esteem does not care if the patrons believe that I am a coward. I am the judge of my self and who I am, not others.
Buddhist philosophy tends toward this way of living. Most Buddhists will avoid doing anything which will do harm to others or other life forms. Also, Jainist Hindus use peacock feathers to dust off the path in front of them to avoid harming insects that may lie in the dust ahead. They do not “need” to kill these insects and see the role of the insects in the greater scheme of things (as natural food for birds, eg.)
If I “see all sides,” I will not be greedy in my dealings with others. I will always practice financial fairness so that they as well as I can benefit from our business relationship. This seldom happens in our culture, much to the chagrin of the middle and lower classes. Many com-panies are profit oriented and as such are willing to turn out an inferior product as long as they make plenty of money from it. They harm the customers upon which they depend and they do it for the sake of profit.
In some “mom and pop” stores, with doctors and psychotherapists who charge on sliding fee scales and with
others who are willing to adjust their prices to meet the financial needs of those they serve, there is a higher level of sight being used. These people “see all sides,” and have the empathy for the financial plight of others. They are willing to “share the wealth,” and are more moral for it.
In music, seeing all sides is the ability to “take and give focus” in performance. The violin or lead guitarist rises above the others for a lead part and then recedes into the background to give focus to another musician. Another way to give focus is to gaze at the lead musician as he/she plays. This directs the eyes of the audience to the lead and pre-vents unnecessary distractions (or “upstaging”).
The result of a performance in which musicians give and take leads is a pleasant experience for the audience who get to “hear” the “voices” of many alternately dominant instruments. When one ego-centric musician dominates, the result is less interesting even if the person is a virtuoso.
The ears must listen in all directions
As one of my Sensei, Heather Zeigler likes to say, “the ears are the eyes behind the heart.” By this Sensei Zeigler means that where the eyes cannot see, another sense must be used and that sense can be hearing or feeling vibrations or smelling or tasting something in the air.
A blind man does not use his eyes to know what is happening in his environment. He depends on all of his other senses to tell his “heart” what he must do.
There have been several movies and one series on TV in which a blind martial artist defeated all of the other “evil” attackers without ever seeing them. In fact, he was only able to intuit their position by the force of the air compressing toward him or the sound of their movements as they shuffled their feet, or the smell of their sweat as they came closer. Sighted martial artists have the disadvantage of trying to see too much with their eyes and not using all of their senses.
The heart or the “knowing part” of a person uses far more than the eyes to process data. We use all of our senses whether we realize it or not.
In psychodrama, a form of psychotherapy in which individuals get to heal their present neurosis by “going back” in a dramatic way to events in their past life which require rectification, other actors are chosen to play their parents or friends or significant others as the “scene” requires. Interestingly enough, when this group of strangers is “deroled” at the end of a psychodrama, each person chosen will admit that he or she has the exact characteristics of the person whom they were asked to play. This may suggest that they take a better look at themselves and the impact they have on others who interact with them.
Marital partners usually chose one another by virtue of issues remaining in the family of origin. A woman who was physically abused as a child chooses a man who is an abuser and ends up hitting her whenever they have arguments. Did she consciously select him on the criterion of being an abuser? No, of course not, but her “heart” knew that she needed to complete something about abuse from her childhood and made her select this man who during the dating period seemed, “gentle and kind, generous and gifted.” How did she “read” that he was an abuser? She used her intuition which is the hearts way of “seeing” another person using all of the senses we have available to us.
When we are aware of how we chose friends or lovers by virtue of our childhood experiences, we then have the present-centered option of not doing so, of choosing more healthy persons with whom to live. Therapy helps us to heal ourselves and to live more healthy, inter-personal lives with others.
Musicians use hearing, and tactile sensation of the vibrations of base instruments to “know” what to do next in the performance, especially if it is improvisational. It takes a great deal of sensitivity of these musicians to play well with one another and to sense the correct moment to end a piece of aleatory music. Time and again, however, they can perform improvisation and end simultaneously because of their ability to “sense one another in their hearts.”
Living the Code
While this Code for Isshinryu Karate embodies all of the principles upon which an individual can live life to its fullest; in the present moment, and with an awareness of one's surroundings; for the good of the whole, few persons outside of karate (or even in certain, commercial studios) are knowledgeable, or even familiar with how to live its tenets on a daily basis.
Not everyone wants to study karate. But, the reason is often that these persons misunderstand the reasons for learning it. They believe what they see on television and in the movies: that karate is a violent, activity used by evil and good alike to destroy, maim, mutilate, and kill. They may believe that karateka can “fly” or “run up walls” as Jackie Chan orchestrates with a great deal of stunt work, wires, etc. They may believe that karateka can avoid bullets (Jackie Chan, Keanu Reeves in The Matrix, other ridiculous martial arts movies).
What people do not realize is that karatekas are artists. They do not fly, nor have super-human powers, nor do they go around looking for fights, nor do they “end up” in all kinds of fighting situations with other, evil karatekas, etc. Karate practitioners adapt the tenets of discipline, organismic self-regulation, self control, accepting their polarities, understanding organic rhythms, knowing about the importance of balance, present-centered awareness and the use of all senses with moral and ethical guidance for their behavior by constant and life-long practice.
The growth of the karateka begins with the “white belt.” He/she is “pure/naïve/innocent” and will now begin the process of learning karate. The beginning student learns respect for those who know more than he/she does. This respect is a quality of learning which is all but absent in modern day society and modern educational settings. Karate returns its learners to a time when respect was an integral part of the educational and growth process, given to elders, to parents, to teachers of all kinds. Karate begins with establishing a place for the student within a healthy and functional social order in which respect is always present but in which it is also earned by years and years of dedicated study and living experience.
No student in karate should ever be promoted because of the amount of practices or the amount of money they have spent to learn it. In some commercial schools, this is not the case and persons undeserving of rank are given the next belt color solely because they attended the required number of practice sessions. They do not have to have learned that which is represented by the new color of belt.
Different karate systems use different belt colors to designate the way in which a student is recognized for meritorious advancement based upon real learning and mastery of skills, attitudes of maturity and corresponding behaviors. In some schools the colors change across a spectrum from white to yellow to orange, green, blue, purple, red, brown, and black. Interestingly, the black belt in many systems also changes colors.
A 1st degree black belt wears a simple, black belt. The second may wear the belt with one red stripe, as the third wears the belt with two red stripes. The fourth may be permitted to test for Renshi (an honored rank of accomplishment within black belt) and if so granted, is permitted to wear a red and white belt which has one half of the long direction of the belt red while the other is white. At 6th degree, any black belt can wear the red and white belt which has alternating blocks of red and white along its length. The 10th degree may wear a red belt or a white belt with black trim (I like the idea of this last rank since it shows that the “last shall be first and the first last.”)
In Isshinryu Karate as I studied it, our dojo had two ranks of white belt, two of yellow, three of green, three of brown and the black belt. Under Sensei Advincula and Sensei Calandra, both of with whom I study, no black belt wears any stripes or markings on their belts to distinguish them from any other black belt. This has the quality of equalizing students above the first black belt rank and shows a kind of humility for earning higher ranks but not marking the belt or changing the color to correspond to these ranks.
In the Chinese system of Pai Lum Kung Fu which I studied, there were only white sashes without any marking between grades of white sash (each connoting another rank of student) and then the red sash (Sifu / master / teacher). That was it. White or Red. Student or Teacher. This has its advantages on a spiritual level of learning that is admirable.
American students, however, really love the colors of ranks and often take karate for the ability to get promoted to the next rank. This, however, is the worst reason for taking or staying in karate. It is not about rank. It is about a way of life based upon solid, healthy principles. Those individuals who come to understand this do not work towards any goal whatsoever.
Any good artist understands this principle. Leonardo D'Vinci did not make the Mona Lisa in a few weeks or months. It took him years. Actually, x-rays of the painting show us that Senor D'Vinci painted several versions of the Mona Lisa before he was satisfied with the way that his painting was “working” (an artistic word for “achieving the correct internal consistency of meaning”). Great musicians write and rewrite their compositions until the entire work has the internal qualities of consistency and thematic cohesion that makes the piece of music a whole, a total gestalt of meaning. The object of the activity of the painter or composer, however, is not the finished product. This would be nothing more than a race to get something finished. The finished product is actually relatively unsatisfying for very long if a person lives in this goal-directed mode. No, the artist of any medium works in the process. It is within the process of doing something, of continuing in the dialogic interaction between oneself and the artistic medium that the pleasure is to be derived.
Similarly, it is through the focus on the artistic refinement of karate movements, the kata, etc. that the student derives the pleasure of achieving his/her own internal best. When the student has shown to the instructor that the student has learned that which is represented by a particular rank or color of belt, then it may be time for the instructor to give the student a new rank. I say, “may be,” because some students need to be held back in order to learn humility about their rank and not to see rank as a product but rather as a reward for living in the process.
Life is no different than karate or art. As a psychotherapist, I have often said to my patients/clients/couples/families that “life is an art, not a science,” meaning that to live a life well, one must live it as an artist, appreciating the challenges of “this day here.” One must use the skills one has learned in an experimental and present-centered manner to develop a new language of emotional expression and behavior to meet similar situations in the future.
Life begins with simple, organismic self-regulation. As an infant, one becomes aware of a feeling, labels the feeling as “discomfort” (though the word, “discomfort” does not exist for the infant, the concept certainly does), checks out the environment for mommy or daddy, cries or “mobilized energy” to get the needed result (food), makes contact with the object of choice (nipple), ingests the food and experiences the satiation of having been fed, withdraws from the nipple and feels the “need” to sleep. There are always 7 steps to this cycle regardless of the activity.
Organismic self-regulation, therefore, is the equivalent of the white belt in the martial arts. It is the mastery of self-awareness and it is a simple and basic process which must and will be repeated throughout life in order to get one's own needs met. It is not the highest level of development (unlike the beliefs of hedonists). It is rather primitive and devoid of “appropriateness.” We teach the infant, eg., not to defecate in its pants as a process of socialization and “fitting in” to a world of other people who have learned not to defecate in their pants.
All along the way, from infancy through senescence, we are in a learning process. It does not end when one becomes elderly. The adage, “you can't teach an old dog new tricks” was probably written by someone who observed that when people “give up” on living and rigidify their thinking, experiencing and behavior, that they seem unable to learn “new tricks”.
Hogwash! Grandma Moses BEGAN painting in her 60's and became a living legend before her death. She began learning a whole, new artistic activity at an advanced age and became famous at it. Wow, is this a freak of nature, or can an “old dog” really learn new tricks?
How many times have you read in a newspaper that so-and-so finally graduated from college or medical school at an advanced age of 70 or 80. These articles are few and far between but they prove that it is within the human capacity to “live until we die,” and not to give up living so we can die.
Karate teaches me to live life to the fullest with an eye on moral and ethical outcomes. It teaches me that I will never become a “master” in the absolute sense and that learning and training and trying and doing are something that lasts until the very final breath escapes my body.
Karate teaches me that I only live in the present and that I live to achieve my personal best, not some abstract sense of “best.”
Karate teaches me that there are NO 10th degree human beings just as the 10th degree rank in karate is actually a mythical rank given to the master by his/her students after many years of the master's development of a unique approach to a martial art form. (Again, and unfortunately, many persons who are rank-hungry believe that they deserve the 10th degree rank. In Isshinryu Karate alone, there are presently 32 individuals in the United States who consider themselves to be 10th degree black belts. This is not only impossible because the founder, alone (Master Shimabuku), is the 10th degree of the system but also because even Tatsuo Shimabuku would have been the last person to declare that he had stopped growing or developing his karate right up to the end of his life. People who actually studied with him know that he spent many years changing various techniques in kata so that they would “feel more right” as he did them. He was ever evolving Isshinryu karate which is why so many different and divergent kata exist (persons studied with him at different times in his development).)
So… if there is no 10th degree for me to achieve, then I will always be on a journey, a learning quest, an adventure, an artistically oriented life path. I must live a process. If some students ever called me a 10th degree, it would not stop me from wanting to grow and learn.
Karate teaches me to consider the largest, global outcome of a behavior. How often in life do we see that entire companies will put themselves and their investors on a course to destruction because the CEO's want to increase their own salaries at all costs. If these persons lived the Karate Do code then they would have Hogen sight. They would see the “larger picture” of their behaviors and would not be focused upon their own, personal gain. They would, rather, see their moral duties to their investors, their employees, the environment in which they build their companies, etc. In short, they would have a simple ethic which sees that the greater good is that which benefits the greatest numbers of persons, animals, and plants. They would not fire employees while pulling down 10 million dollar salaries. They would not pollute the environment because that would harm the future of all life on this planet. They would not sell worthless stock to drive up the value of a non-product for their own, personal benefit. ETC.
Karate teaches me to live in balance. As in the wisdom of Ecclesiastes, karate teaches us to take the time to consider all of the aspects of life which, notwithstanding some minor differences of opinion, would probably include:
Hard, strenuous work - physical and/or mental - (musical practice)
Hard, strenuous play - aerobic and anaerobic exercise (musical performance)
Eight hours (on average) of sleep (withdrawal from musical practice)
Three nutritious and healthy meals / day (physical support for the musician)
Nutritious snacks (fruit, fiber, eg.) (same as 4. for the musician)
Additional, supplemental nutrients as required (vitamins, minerals, amino acids, etc.) (same as 4. for the musician)
Mental stimulation - reading, doing crossword puzzles, solving brain teasers, etc. (keeping the musician's mental acuity sharp)
Emotional acceptance and experience of:
Joy (9th Symphony, last movement, by Beethoven)
Happiness (“Tuilleries” in Pictures at an exhibition by Mussorgsky)
Ecstasy (complex chord at “von Gott” in the choral part of the 9th Symphony)
Sadness (Missa Solemnus by Palestrina and parts of The Requiem by Mozart)
Reverence (B Minor Mass by Bach)
Awe (Faust upon seeing Margaritte in Faust by Gounod)
Anger (many examples in operatic arias)
Sexuality (Le Sacre du Printemps by Debussy)
Fear (Night on Bald Mountain, theme from Jaws)
Love (Canon by Pachbel)
Sacred, transcendent feelings (“Thus Spake Zarathustra” by XXX)
Hatred and the “dark feelings” (Parts of Mephistopheles by XXX as well as a great deal of heavy, metal, mosh-pit music)
(…allowing the musician to express the full range of human affect and themes).
Socialization - healthy and productively interactive relationships (playing in ensemble, chamber group, or orchestra)
Being Moral - while accepting “dark-side feelings”, eschewing dark, evil behaviors (hating the conductor but not messing up the performance to “get even”)
Prosocial Behavior - doing that which improves the lot of the world / Gaia (using music to improve the lives of others, to entertain, to enliven, to provide catharsis. Bob Hope, eg. used musical and other entertainment to improve the morale of US troops abroad. Band Aid raised millions for the homeless.)
Creativity - bringing forth that which is new, unique (musical phrasing)
Having periods of being a “couch potato” - being rigid and uninterested (resting after performance)
Exploration of the surrounding environment (being aware of the effect of acoustics on performance)
Self awareness and self monitoring (knowing how one's hands make a particular chord on the keyboard or interval transition on the fret board)
Awareness of that which is not the Self (knowing what is happening with other musicians and playing “with them”, especially in aleatory / improvisational music)
Meditation and nothingness, loss of the Self (non-Atman, Mu) (going into the “void” of withdrawal from all self-attachment to the piece being performed)
Finding rich and satisfying meaning in the smallest elements of daily life (enjoying the experience of making a trill well)
Experiencing the loss of, or absence of, meaning altogether (existential experiments with musical composition by John Cage, eg.)
Accepting pleasure whenever we receive or make it within ourselves (composing)
Accepting pain / the vicissitudes of life: emotional, physical & spiritual pain (losing a master teacher)
Not creating suffering or despair in the presence of loss or pain (grieving and using one's music to express the grief but not going into psychotic depression)
Experiencing our foolish suffering and despair when we fall in that hole (seeing that we are becoming depressed by holding in grief)
Not shaming ourselves for our humanity (accepting our falling in a hole and climbing out)
Organismic self regulation (completing the 7 steps of OSR to accomplish all tasks in the playing of a piece of music)
Will, self discipline, self control (not improvising or even phrasing when it would confuse others)
Willingness to lose control over ourselves and even over our lives (giving up to the intentionality of the composer)
Unwillingness to GIVE away the control of our lives for evil reasons (refusal to go along with the whimsy of a poor conductor)
Living life to its fullest - being interesting to others (not isolating oneself as a musician)
Dullness - doing nothing at all -- bringing forth nothing (seeing the need for total withdrawal from music at times)
Having money - enjoying the money one earns (being paid for performance)
Not living in order to “have money” (being an artist who loves the music MORE than the salary for playing in an orchestra)
Self acceptance, self love (avoidance of shaming oneself for mistakes made during a performance)
Self security - creating a good reputation, savings, insurance, etc. (not destroying one's reputation by womanizing, nor becoming an alcoholic, etc.)
Making mistakes and accepting our humanity (especially important to a performing artist)
Divinity - finding that “all to which we aspire”, which we call “God” or the divine or the transcendent, does exist (experiencing transcendent moments in performance)
Learning that there are no coincidences (seeing that repeated errors can teach me something as a musician)
Finding the lessons in the things which “seem to happen” in our lives (learning those lessons and not remaining ignorant)
Doing all things in moderation (knowing the meaning of vivace vs largo in a piece of music)
Wisdom - as the prayer says, “to know” when to do what and for how long (finding and depending upon the “internal guidance system” to guide my life as a musician)
Unlike Ecclesiastes, however, karate does not define the separate elements of balance but, rather, teaches us to discover these truths ourselves. We discover all of the many elements of living listed above through the daily practice and application of the Codes of karate. The Codes ARE the embodiment of all that is the full and rich life.
The musician, the painter, the writer, the dancer, AND the advanced karateka all know the way to live the spiritually artistic life. It is the purpose of this thesis to make the student of karate more interested in karate as a spiritually artistic, life-enabling form. It is my hope that you will want to explore the artistic aspects of karate to their fullest and in doing so, to enjoy the richness of life which you deserve and which was intended by the original Soges of martial arts.
Rokudan, Isshinryu Karate Do, Renshi, OKF