BUDO’S NON PHYSICAL ASPECTS – A FEW THOUGHTS ON THE SUBJECT.
Karate is a discipline, not just the practice of Kihon, Kumite and Kata. It is a tool for training the mind, body, and spirit -in preparation not just for battle, but for life itself! This training requires the karate-ka to employ intense concentration, commitment, and effort; it is a lifetime journey.
Our Saiko-Shihan, Makoto Gima stated:
“Three years for the peach and chestnut to ripen Eight years for the persimmon to ripen A lifetime for karate. Having begun karate, one continues for his entire life.”
We know that Karate is steeped in Okinawa and Japanese roots. But do we know what the essence of that culture is? Do we comprehend the very essence that permeates Japanese Budo?
I am talking about ‘Reihō’, ‘Sahō’, ‘Wa’ and the notion of Ku (Kara).
The Karate Dojo is not a ‘gym’ or training hall, it’s a place where ‘Do'(Chinese read ‘Tao’) or the ‘Way’ is taught, practiced and assimilated.
“(In Chinese philosophy) the absolute principle underlying the universe, combining within itself the principles of yin and yang and signifying the way, or code of behavior, that is in harmony with the natural order.”
In Karate ‘Do’ or ‘Michi’ is the ‘path’ to learning and understanding the correct attitude of respect, sincerity, and modesty.
Since Karate is a martial art, etiquette, and Dojo rules are essential to the safety of everyone. But, we must look beyond that!
Gima sensei stated:
“Through hard training, karate seeks to foster a spirit that strives for truth and respect for others. It aspires to a complete and rounded character. In Okinawa, the Karate expert is called Bushi, namely a person of character, pure and noble, who has mastered the mysteries of the true art.”
Budo, Japanese harmony -reliant upon truth and respect for others. The complete and rounded character! We can call this training a ‘culture’ that is meant to create safety and discipline – and ‘Harmony!’ A culture that is meant to assist in the betterment of society and of life.
Not surprisingly these concepts continue through Japanese society, from behaviour in the home, setting up a room for special occasions, conduct in meetings; indeed in everyday life!
Our manners, behaviour, and demeanour, both inside and outside the dojo is of great importance. Funakoshi Sensei once said:
“Dojo nomino Karate to omou na”, essentially ‘do not forget that karate is also outside the dojo!
From Feudal/Samurai times correct etiquette and manners have been pivotal to Japanese culture and life.
Again referring to the teaching of Gima Sensei:
“Right actions comes from a good heart. With hard work and diligent training, one may achieve a certain level of skill, however, one might struggle for his entire life without being able to attain a certain spiritual level. Since everything comes from the heart; if the heart is in the right place, so will be the form. If the heart is warped, so will be the form.”
The heart! The spirit! The feeling, being aware of the environment, all contribute to harmony!
WA – HARMONY
Before the advent of Covid, we saw Japanese people wearing masks, in public, on trains, in meetings, so as not to infect others with their colds and sicknesses etc. Such is the reserved culture prevalent in Japan, The Japanese people can be gregarious, hospitable, and jovial, but there is an underlying concept of fitting into society and judgement. Some people may use the masks as a way of creating a separation between themselves and society. Almost trying to be non-existent in order not to upset the harmony and balance. Not to stand out. Of course, others use them to prevent the spread of sickness. As there is that use, the other (hidden usage) is not as obvious.
Japan as a whole act for the whole. Thus harmony is key.
It can be found everywhere from architecture to behaviour, the way a meal is laid out, or a room is set. The Japanese call this ‘wa’ (harmony). “Wa’ is critical to Japanese culture. ‘Wa’ stresses interdependence over independence, cooperation over dissent, and patience over resistance.
REIHŌ (THE BOWING ETIQUETTE)
” First, don’t forget, Karate begins and ends with respect. “Hitotsu -Karate-do wa rei ni hajimari rei ni owaru koto a wasaru na! 一、空手道は礼に始まり礼に終る事を忘るな
This can be seen when we bow on entering the dojo, from the deep bow towards Shomen, to the Sensei, and to each other. Two individuals bow together out of respect (and an almost ‘we will look after each other’ attitude) before engaging in practice. We may liken this to the ‘Tōrei’ (bowing to the sword) with the Katana. We bow to sword, deep and sincere respect must be shown; but we equally ask that sword to look after us!
The angle of the bow in society is indicative of respect and status. The back of the neck should not be shown beneath the Keikogi etc. Manners, etiquette, and respect for culture. We do not sit sprawled or with the sole of our feet showing. When we listen to instruction we don’t fold our arms or lean against the wall. We listen politely, intently, and with respect.
Respect! From the beginning to end of Keiko we show it. It is here, that very Reihō, that helps us to stay human and put aside our ego. It is here where we create an art, not a sport, a way of life not a club for fighting.
SAHŌ – ETIQUETTE
Sahō refers customs via actions, ceremonies or dealing with everyday matters and routines.
Most restaurants take pride in the presentation of their meals, the patrons expect it. The Chado (tea ceremony) is extremely details and intricate in custom but simple and elegant. The concept of both would be to create an experience for the customer.
Sahō is also reflected within room decoration, how Omiyage (gifts) are wrapped and presented, even how meishi (business cards) are exchanged. How the dogi is worn, the obi is tired. Certificate presentations – all reflect the Sahō.
Sahō keeps order and consistency, therefore helps create the concept of ‘Wa’.
Etiquette and Manners are where all Karatedo begins (and ends), thus there are rules indicating the proper and polite way to behave both inside and outside the Dojo.
Whether it’s in the context of Budo (Martial Art) or in daily life, Japan follows a strict, formal, disciplined etiquette quite rigorously. Etiquette gives us protocol and orderly ways to behave, it teaches us respect and courtesy, but ultimately, etiquette is about training your mind. Within the Dojo this is of paramount importance.
It can be said that Budo training is austere, and attached in some way to violent activity therefore, Reihō helps to develop habits allowing us to stay human during training, and in life. Terms Satu Jinken and Katsu Jinken come to mind:
“The sword that kills is also the sword that gives life”
Karate without Reihō and Sahō cannot be Karate-Do; it is just fighting; just Jutsu.
KU/MUSHIN – EMPTINESS/VOID
We all hear about Zanshin (Lingering mind) and of course Mushin (the empty mind). Both are critical elements. It is Mushin that allows us to react naturally in conflict. Mushin we refer to as ‘no mind’. Clearly a mind that is devoid or worry is capable of processing and reaction. Think of ‘Tsuki no Kokoro’ and ‘Mizu no Kokoro’. These allow a natural and instinctive response. Reaction to causation before thought process hinder response.
“If the mind congeals in one place and remains with one thing, it is like frozen water and is unable to be used freely: ice that can wash neither hands nor feet. When the mind is melted and is used like water, extending throughout the body, it can be sent wherever one wants to send it.”
Referring once more to Gima Sensei:
‘Kara in karate means zero or emptiness. Contrary to what one would expect, the state of emptiness is the place where all things come together.’
Going back to his senior Gichin Funakoshi also stated:
“Just as an empty valley can carry a resounding voice, so must the person who follows the Way of Karate make himself void or empty by ridding himself or all self-centeredness and greed. Make yourself empty within, but upright without. This is the real meaning of the ’empty’ in Karate.”
He also stated in his book Karate Do Nyumon:
“Once one has perceived the infinity of forms and elements in the universe, one returns to emptiness, to the void. In other words, emptiness is none other than the true form of the universe.”
All the above relates to harmony of the individual to the universe. Karate, and other Budo is a way of understanding and utilising these principles.
We must remember -Karate begins with a bow and finishes with a bow! Karate relies on respect, etiquette, manners, sincerity. The society we live in relies on harmony.
Karate is part of the ‘way’, part of the harmony of mankind, and therefore part of the universe.
The brief period from 8th-1414 November 2022 saw two from the UK and one from Norway, conduct what was in effect a whirlwind 5 day trip to Japan in order to attend essential meetings with our Japanese Shihan(s) and other meetings with Nagaoka City Officials.
On the Wednesday (9th November), after a gruelling 14.5 hour flight to Hong Kong, we found we were severely delayed. A 20 minute dash through the airport saw us embark the plane for another 3.5 flight to Haneda. (I think I will revert to going via Narita again).
U.K. Kodansha Carl Gigg and I were met at Haneda Airport by Shihan Narumi Hidetada 8th Dan (Kyoshi). He was in good spirits, and most gracious even after enduring a wait due to our plane delay! Introductions to Carl re- made, and then the monorail was taken to Tokyo Station.
A lightening fast check into the Toyoko Inn Hotel at Shinagawa allowed us to dump our baggage, but time was running short for a critical visit to The Sengakuji Temple.
The quick taxi trip to Sengakuji (Temple famed for the 47 Ronin) saw our arrival about 30 minutes before they were about to close; our timing was good, We visited the important graves and I was able to provide a quick narrative to Carl. Neither Narumi Sensei nor Carl had visited there previously, thus it was a great opportunity to pay homage to the ‘Budo’ souls of Japan.
Carl was introduced to the Izakaya. Japan Web Magazinedescribes the quintessential Japanese after work hang-out as:
Izakaya (居酒屋) is composed of three kanjis: “be/stay”(居), “alcohol”(酒) and “shop” (屋). But an izakaya is not only a place to go to drink, but also where to go to eat. Wouldn’t that be a restaurant then? No. If I had to explain it simply, I would say that in a restaurant the main objective is food and drinks accompany the dishes, and in an izakaya it’s the other way around.
Narumi Sensei, Carl and I enjoyed the food – Sashimi, Yakitori, Tempura, Aji, Saba and other delicacies, and of course the bustling ambience. The ice-breaker of course was the Nihon- Shu (Ō Sake 日本酒) Sho- Chu (焼 酎). Carl can be quite conservative, but soon became a chatter-box and life of the party!
The walk back to the hotel was a little less smooth than the walk there!
We arrived to the hotel, to find a stranger lurking in the lobby, Dr. Chandra Mohan Murugaiah from Trondheim, Norway was playing detective, looking for us. (He soon learned that in the future he needed to go to the nearest Izakaya to find us`).
Thursday 10th November was a day for a morning’s sightseeing then a quick Shinkansen to Nagaoka. Oh, how plans go awry!
The four of us conducted a morning trip to Engakuji (Temple in Kita Kamakura where the Funakoshi Memorial stone lays) and the Dai Butsu (The Great Buddha Statue).
The Shinkansen journey Northwest took the wrong fork at Takasaki. We had boarded the wrong train! We were forced to return to Tokyo, and then re-trace the correct route. Arriving in Nagaoka some 5 hours later – all was taken with good humour that of course dissipated with a visit to a very nice Izakaya, little more food and the by now staple – Narumi no Sho-Chu. Watching him pour the drink and make it for us was endearing for the students – who essentially lived in fear of the reputation I had created within them over the years.
Friday 11th was the day of the essential meetings. ‘Booted and suited’ we attended the three meetings with the Deputy-Mayor of Nagaoka city – Mr. Otaki Yasushi and his team, , the chief of police for Nagaoka city – Mr. Tanaka Ryo, and the editor of the Niigata Daily News – Mr. Otsuka Seiichiro. These were pleasant but intensive meetings, and bonds were made. Their interest in Karate and why Westerners had such interest was charming. Their questions quite deep as they were truly interested. At times the questions were challenging, but luckily 54 years of immersion into Japanese Budo Culture allowed me to throw back some challenging retorts in response. All in great humour, even the visits were formal.
We later attended the Kobukai Dojo of Shihan Mistunori Kobayashi (Hanshi). A walk to Shihan Kobayashi’s temple (Shihan Kobayashi is the 27th successor to the family temple). He is also an Alderman of Ojiya-she Council and Ojiya and Buddhist priest of Jyosho-Ji from Kyoto. This sect are sometimes referred to as the “Six Victorious Temples” (六勝寺, Rokushō-ji) of the Emperor Shirakawa’s Hosshō-ji.
The following link shows the Kyoto temple:
We enjoyed a Tendon meal in the office area of the dojo, had a chat, tea, then it was time to train! Three hours of training under the watchful eyes of my two Shihan could be intimidating. The fact that we trained together as a group, and that I was ‘competing’ against my own Sensei made the training ‘fly by’. Admittedly the next day our bodies were sore.
Saturday 12th November saw two members taking an unplanned Shinsa (Grading examinations). Congratulations to Carl Gigg Sensei on achieving Godan and to Chandra Mohan Murugaiah Senpai on achieving Nidan.
Other information will be released in due course.
Sunday 13th November saw us attend, as dignitaries, the 69th Nagaoka City Karate Championships. Whilst there other encounters were held with Mitsuke City Council Member – Mrs Erahi Misako and Mr. Mohammed Elahi, Hachidan Hanshi of the ~World International Toryu Karate-Do Seishin Kai, along with the Chairman of the Niigata Sports Association for the Disabled – Mr. Tachikawa Kotaro. They were wonderful people, and seemed pleased to practice their English language!
After the tournament Kobayashi Hanshi hosted a farewell dinner for 6 of us. Mr. Yuki Isa, Chandra, Carl, Narumi Kyoshi, Kobayashi Hanshi and I were treated to various delicacies, inclusive of the dreaded Fugu!
Much conversation, laughter, and learning took place. We asked questions of the past and were regaled with great stories and memories!
It needs mentioning that prior to the tournament Shihan Kobayashi (Gima-Ha International Karate-Do Federation – Kaicho) presented the Dan certificates from the previous day’s Shinsa to Carl and Chandra. Congratulations, and well deserved guys! Luckily, regular training saw them well- prepared, and able to perform under pressure.
This intimate and incredible venture ended all too soon. It was enjoyable. It was chaotic. It was Karate!
Unfortunately we were unable to spend any real time in Tokyo, Kamakura or sightseeing. I can only thank our Japanese friends for their immense hospitality. We hope to return soon.
The return trip from Haneda to Hong Kong too some 4.5 hours, then a 4 or 5 hour stop-off, the 13.5 hour trip to London Heathrow. A train journey later, 31.5 hours had passed and I walked into a house with a broken boiler. It turns out that Susan had lived for the 8 days without heat! The phone call to authorities may have been a little heated.
Nihon to watashitachi no yuujin, hontoni arigato gozai imashita!
My good (Budo/Iaido) friend Dr. Anil Sahal has written a fantastic article that resonates to Karate just as equally as it does to (his/our) Iaido and other Japanese Martial Arts .
The article can be found on the Tozando Blog. (See below)
DR SAHAL’S ESSAY
Are Budo and Sports Complimentary?
After training in the dojo and over a glass of beer, there are often discussions between martial artists about the relationship between budo and sport. Those who see themselves as ‘traditionalists’ express a disdain for martial arts being used in the sporting context feeling that the ego-massaging effects of winning shiny medals and titles, demeans the seriousness of an art forged in the furnace of real combat and spiritual training.
Others might suggest ‘sport martial arts’ are a means of attracting new member to our dwindling dojo and keeping the arts vibrant, alive and current. But are these opposing views really valid? Do these differing perspectives really have no overlap?
The term ‘Budo’ maybe defined in many ways, ranging from the literal and physically-orientated ‘martial ways’ to a rather more convoluted, Zen-flavoured definition of ‘the way of spiritual improvement through the ways of the Japanese martial arts’ and any particular definition will be held dear to one practitioner or another, depending upon their own motivations and perspectives.
The former definition is aligned more toward ‘bujutsu’ where the physical use of weapons, bodily or otherwise, is the central theme and ‘combat effectiveness’, the ultimate goal. The latter definition points directly to the Zen-suffused idea that through physical and mental discipline, through the attempt of direct perfection and absorption of the techniques of the martial ways, one is able lift one’s consciousness and allow the practitioner to pass through the gates of non-duality, bringing new and permanent perspectives on reality, much in the same manner as Zazen. Both of these definitions have the connotation of a long-term ‘inner endeavour’, one in which one may transcend the self, one’s ego, such that spiritual emancipation can be achieved.
Sport, on the other hand, is variously defined as, ‘an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.’ Thus a baseball player will spend many hours swinging their bat at awkwardly pitched balls, throwing, running and sliding to maximise the efficiency of their motor patterns within the boundaries of the game and thus maximise the probability of beating an opposing side, win trophies, tournaments and the accolades of an adoring crowd. You may notice this is more of an ‘outer endeavour’ in which entertainment of others is the ultimate aim. Undoubtedly, there will be a subtle, inner game in pursuing a sporting pastime, but medals, trophies, monetary prizes, prestige and a place in sporting history, are sport’s long term goals. Sport feeds the ego.
Ostensibly budo and sports appear to have diametrically opposed objectives to one another, not least because elite sporting ability tends to have a limited shelf-life whereas budo tends to be practised all one’s life. Thus it might appear that budo and sports are so different that they are mutually exclusive: you may follow one path or the other but never both. But this is almost certainly not the case or indeed even possible.
When an Iaidoka practises a kata, they aim to push their performance asymptotically toward an idealised, ‘perfect’ form. This performance must of course, also be infused with intent, vigour and spice! A Kendoka practises their cutting, and footwork to produce maximum efficiency of movement and utility in the art of fencing, pushing themselves to physical and thus mental extremes. A Karateka pares away extraneous movements with many repetitions, so that a punch becomes as efficient as is possible and a kick become an efficient kick capable to inflicting much damage. But is there not, within this utilitarian practise, an outward beauty? Is this beauty something that may be appreciated and indeed enjoyed, by an audience? Can this innergame of perfection of movement, of spirit and character not be placed in a sporting context for the pleasure of others? I personally think it can. Whatever the practitioner’s motivation is in practising budo, there is no reason why these techniques, these displays of beauty infused with martial intent, cannot be used as entertainment. In the case of an aesthetic art such as Iaido, in a sporting context, these movements are aimed at an invisible enemy, leading to judge-awarded points in which one competitor shows they have not only come the closer to the model kata than the other, but have also demonstrated a ‘living performance’ with combative meaning, aggressive intent (but not aggression) and fighting spirit. When the practitioner of another art is able to apply their skills directly to an opposing competitor in competition combat and use their highly developed skills to score points relatively objectively against their adversary, the results can be dazzling, enthralling and indeed thrilling to anyone watching. They can have all the outward characteristics of a sport and still retain the inneraspects of budo in acquiring them and without any contradiction. Sometimes there is a tendency to make techniques used in the sporting arena more flamboyant and indeed, flashy, perhaps reducing their martial effectiveness, but this is a moot point and is not an issue provided these ostentatious displays do not find their way back into grass roots training.
One final thought, regarding my own art, Iaido, as a sport. There is a question of whether using techniques, derived and honed in combat, where people were maimed or died, for the entertainment of others is morally acceptable, but again, that is a debate for another day.
Thus, it would appear that budo and sport can happily co-exist despite the obvious outward differences. Indeed, it could be argued that the use of modern training methods devised by sport scientists, can effectively be applied to budo, enhancing and hastening the acquisition of the necessary skills and showing, definitively that budo and sports can be complimentary.
Shotokan Karateka, and perhaps most styles, are often obsessed, even fixated, with ‘power’, and the magic word called ‘Kime’.
Firstly we need to fully comprehend the concept and science of ‘Kime’; but I am often left wondering if we do really understand its real relevance?
Is ‘Kime’ just an ideology?
Is it a creation of Nakayama Masatoshi’s halcyon days of the JKA?
‘Kime’ is often seen as the full body and muscular transaction at one instant of time, unifying the mind and the body at the exact moment of completion of a technique.
Since most Shotokan Kihon, Kata, and Kumite make ‘Kime’ into the thin air (here we can read ‘Sun Dome’) is it real?
Does it differ to the necessity of ‘connection’ and real contact? Must we actually hit an opponent to really realise the real idea of ’Kime’?
Many instructors in Karate Dojo use the English language term ‘focus’. Yet we see, especially in more modern Kata tournaments, that there is a prevalence of looking as though they use ‘Kime’ as a moment of ‘dramatic exaggeration’ to emphasis a point in their ‘kata’; i.e., ‘the photo moment!’. “Quick, get it now, I am in the perfect position!”
If we think of ‘Kime’ as a moment of ‘unity of technique and body’ (we can perhaps read Ki Ken Tai Ichi), it makes sense. But the word ‘focus’ seems to often invoke a moment where the Karateka ‘freezes with power at the end movement, describing ‘decisiveness’.
The Japanese verb Kimeru (決める) essentially means to ‘decide’. The web page jlearn.net gives possible meanings of Kimeru as:
to make up one’s mind,
to set one’s heart on,
to settle, to arrange,
to clinch (a victory),
to decide (the outcome of a match)
All can these readily fit the standard Shotokan interpretation of ‘Kime’.
Some Karateka will perform ‘focus’ that effective becomes a totally dead and exaggerated stop; others will have a more concise, sharper, finite moment of focus that allows a ‘living stop’- capable of moving immediately into another movement, yet with immense power at the moment of impact.
We know that ‘Kime’ can only occur if the stances ‘Tachi-kata’, foot work “Unsoku, and correct use of both internal and external forces allow the correct ‘downward pressure into the ground’ (i.e., lower of the gravity and downward compression of the stomach muscles) augmented by the ‘sharp contraction of the Musculo-skeletal system’ in an instant.
Newtons 2nd Law states ‘the net force on an object is equal to the mass of the object multiplied by the acceleration of the object. It also states ‘force equals mass times acceleration’.
Therefore, our moment of ‘Kime’ or ‘focus’ once achieved, must see/feel all the elements in the waza ‘peak’ and achieve ‘maximum speed/acceleration/momentum’ at the ‘instant of impact’.
It is necessary to augment maximum acceleration/speed with sharp ‘contraction of the muscles’, and breath control, without shortening or change in distance between its origin and insertion into the target. Trying to apply focus too soon will slow down the technique at the last instant, and that deceleration will cause a loss of the power.
Traditionally we are taught that at the moment of ‘Kime’ there should be no extraneous movement, else we lose the line of energy that the technique intended to create.
We need to try and know the difference between a dead stop and a living stop. The Latter allows the explosive technique to immediately flow to another. The first is a stand-alone technique that need a restart to continue any Renzoku Kogeki Waza (combination technique).
Looking at Combinations it is evident that there must be ‘Kime’ but equally rhythm, we need to find an amalgamation of correct waza, acceleration, power, relaxation, and the ability to stop in an instant, but triggers are firing to set a follow up technique.
Of course all this must be augmented with correct ‘Kokyu’ (breath control).
As an exercise try to perform a ‘chapter’ of a kata in one breath. Is it possible? Can you be decisive and sharp? Can you apply the concept of ‘Jo Ha Kyu’ into that flow, and move from one ‘Kime’ point to another seamlessly?
I wrote this missive back in 2009. Having re-read it, I still feel that it has validity. Perhaps more so now than previously.
The future of karate-do?
There can be little doubt that Karate-do has drastically changed over the past five decades. It has gone from the traditional one-to-one (sensei to student, or very few students) of the non-commercial dojo in Okinawa, to the trend of enthusiastic Karate-ka best represented in the Japanese university ‘Bu’ , and on to the more public face of karate, in the form of often confusing dojos and styles in almost every town and city world-wide.
Karate-do has truly become what can only described as an ‘art ‘ or ‘hobby’ (of whichever description) for everyone.
It is this cross section of society, children, adults and a harder core section of those wishing to pursue the path of Budo, which ensures the continued growth of Karate. It is my contention that Karate-do will continue to thrive if the elements above co-exist in harmony, and can be inextricably linked by correct fusion.
There is little doubt that the stars of the future, those who will carry the mantle of Karate forward are from the younger generation, but they need the guidance and maturity that their seniors offer to ensure that Karate-do continues in the correct direction.
For Karate to survive there needs to be a fusion of Karate-do (Budo karate and its values) and sport Karate (Kyogi Karate) that offers something for all. There is much that can be done to ensure the continued progression of Karate-do, as opposed to the emerging sport trend of Karate as a competitive and spectator ‘sport’. I believe that Karate is not a sport, but an art, and when looked at below the surface, a life long pursuit of excellence.
Sport Karate (Kyogi Karate)
Since Kyogi Karate (competition Karate) is a major influence for many starting their journey, I will start with this element of Karate that is perhaps the public face of our art.
It is said that circa 1950 the Nihon Karate Kyokai (Japan Karate Association) began developing the practice of Jiyu Kumite as an integral element of their style, complimented by their Kihon syllabus. This practice was possibly developed with the intention of establishing ‘a competitive attitude’ in Karate. This very sportification of Karate captured the imagination of the younger Japanese, and doubtless spurred the thriving University Karate Bu to greater heights.
There is little doubt that part of the ‘globalisation’ of Karate lays within the promoting a set of competitive rules and beginning ‘competitive’ or ‘sport Karate’.
Of course the contrary sentiment of Master Funakoshi Gichin advocated:
For Karate-do to continue and flourish as an art it must not degenerate purely into a sport where the aim is solely to win and where karate success is based on the amount of medals a person has won. Kyogi Karate has its place in the continued growth of Karate, providing the rules do not create an empty shell of gymnastic technique, losing the true spirit of the martial art.
To explore this, I will split Kyogi Karate into its two categories: Kumite and Kata.
I believe that there should be two separate and distinct Kyogi Karate Takai (tournament) systems. For children a system where points are gained, and a winner can be clearly seen. This is within the remit of safety and sport. The child would use Karate techniques to gain the points, based on clean execution, good use of speed, ma, and ma-ai. As safety is the paramount concern, the lack of fighting spirit is not overly destructive to the Budo ethos. The child would learn sportsmanship, manners, and the necessity of hard work to provide results.
Core karate skills such as:
Kime (decision, sharpness, positive end to the waza),
Go no Sen (allowing the opponent to attack then utilising your counter),
Sen no Sen (attacking at the same time),
Sen Sen no Sen (presumptive attack),
Sasoi Waza (the created opening by ‘inviting’ an attack),
Kyo (unpreparedness following an attack at the moment of ‘off guard’),
Ma/Hyoshi (timing, distance in time),
Kuzushi Waza (breaking of the balance – mental or physical)
Shikake Waza (set up techniques)
Ma-ai (position and distance between opponents);
are demonstrated and tested, showing the development and application of concepts such ‘issoku itto no ma-ai’ (strike or avoid in one step), and ‘Todome’ or ‘Ikken Hisatsu’.
This would enable a spirit of Budo to remain within the competitive environment in kumite as the sense of ‘live or die’ so that we can truly learn the effectiveness of our technique, and ‘ichigo ichie’ one meeting one chance’, can remain.
Ippon Shobu and its finality necessitate the building of Fudoshin (an unhindered mind) as opposed to Fushin (a hindered or stopped mind full of doubt fear etc). Kyogi Karate can still retain the concept of ‘todome’ or ‘ikken hisatsu’.
Whilst it can be said that Kata competition is more subjective than Kumite, and that a clear winner is not always readily visible to spectators, or the novice within Karate-do; but, there is little doubt that the true spirit of Budo can still be seen.
Kyogi Karate Kata should be more than physical technique alone, where the flexible and athletic prevail. Kata must develop and demonstrate true Budo Ideals. I will discuss various points that Kyogi Kata should demonstrate:
From the point scoring point of view certain technical elements need to be shown such as:
Zanshin, (retain state of preparation after completion of move. metsuke, seme
Ikita kata (the kata is alive performed with feel and purpose).
Inen (the kata is practised with spirit)
Chikara no kyojaku (relative power and strength)
Waza no kankyu (timing correct fast or slow)
Tai no shinshuku (expansion and contraction, elasticity of the body)
Kisoku no Dento (correct rhythm of breathing)
Muda waza (no wasted movement)
Kime (decisive and sharpness in movement, positive ending to waza)
Shisei (posture and balanced control at all times)
Seishi (techniques should show what is referred to as a living stop as opposed to a total and dead stop).
On a deeper level the Kata shows the Budo elements of:
Ki gamae (the state of body, alertness, showing the fighting awareness of being ready to act in a moment).
Ki-Seme (pressure or placing a sense of danger towards the imaginary opponent during the performance of kata). If there is no feeling of danger or threat in the waza then it was a Muda Waza a wasted technique. Even a minor adjustment at the end of a technique, of the head, the hand, eyes equal a loss of seme.
Kigurai (bearing and demeanour).
Kasso Teki (the imaginary opponent, karate-ka must adapt accordingly in reaction to the opponent if he was real). The karate-ka must show they know where the opponent is. The movement in the kata should give a sense that the karate-ka understands “Teki ni yotte tenka seyo” or ‘change depending on your opponent’.
Imperturbability (the karate-ka should not waver in concentration even if they have made a mistake).
Metsuke and Mesen (the gaze, eyes). The eyes should not be fixed in one place. A sense of ‘enzan no metsuke’ or looking at distant mountains, focus in the distance, seeing all equally should be shown.
Jo Ha Kyu (beginning, middle, end of technique). Movement should be calm at the beginning, complex in middle, and fast on conclusion. Like a stream becomes a river, which in turn becomes a waterfall, and then settles into a still pond. All techniques can demonstrate this concept.
The Karate-ka can display the above concepts and skills in their Kata, and retain a sense of Budo, as opposed to a display of athletic techniques that are beautiful but devoid of spirit.
By ensuring that sport Kumite and Kata retain these principles we can continue to see Karate-Do as a Budo art, and not purely a competitive sport.
Kenko Karate for health and lifestyle
I will now address Kenko Karate, in particular the practise of Karate for good health, mental calmness, and lifestyle. Clive W Nicol (in his book) once made the analogy that Karate was ‘moving Zen.’ Whilst this is not strictly true there is little doubt that the combination of physical activity and total mental immersion necessary to perform karate to a high level, places the karate-ka in a state of mind that is tranquil and calm. Physical output in Karate is both aerobic and anaerobic giving the Karate-ka a total and fully rounded body workout. The heart, and muscles are placed under heavy stress and are strengthened. The sinews and ligaments are stretched making the body more flexible and mobile. These lead to a healthier body, a stronger mind, and a person less likely to succumb to illnesses and the effects of premature ageing. Aside from the obvious health benefits of a rounded fitness regime, the mental aspects of karate are equally good for the human being.
Karate-do can help a person calm the mind and de-stress in everyday situations, by teaching and creating the understanding of Heijo-Shin (the everyday mind).
A stressful day at work is forgotten once the Karate-ka dons his or her do-gi. An immersion into a different world ensues, where the mind is cleared of everyday problems and becomes clear devoid negative thoughts.
Goshin-do is often a drawing factor for Karate dojos, and in the fast paced world we now live in the ability to perceive danger, avoid danger, or correctly react to it is augmented by the core skills of defence that Karate offers.
It must be said that Karate-do training offers a complete ‘health package’ for its participants, in particular – lifestyle enhancement. Kenko Karate cannot be overlooked in association or dojo marketing, and we must remember that once we bring a student into the dojo looking for Kenko Karate, the opportunities open for them to become Karate-ka in the traditional sense, perhaps first trying Kyogi Karate and ultimately – Budo Karate.
Budo Karate can be separated into two factors, the first being the psychological and mental training offered to Karate-ka/Budo-ka, and the second the mechanical and physical skills learned by rigorous and realistic practise.
Aside from Kihon, Kata and Kumite that is standard practise in dojos, deeper study of the Bunkai in the kata offers the skills of Shime-waza (strangling/choking), Nage-waza (throwing techniques – for example Tsubame-gaeshi, Yari-dama, Koma-nage, Byobu-daoshi, Ude-wa), Ne-waza (groundfighting) and Kansetsu-waza (joint locks/manipulation). Whilst many will correlate this to Goshin-waza, the realism offered by such hand-on practise takes the karate-ka back to an older time, bringing the realism and danger (albeit controlled) back to training.
For me the attraction to Karate has been the Budo element. I have discussed much about Budo in the section on Kyogi karate, but this was only scratching the surface as it can be applied to sport Karate (Taikai).
Budo runs deeper than the above analogies, it runs through the veins of every serious Karate-ka. It is the backbone of serious martial arts. I believe wholeheartedly that it is the Budo element of Karate is the spirit, the soul of Karate, and what will ultimately take keep the true identity of Karate.
Karate enjoys a position of ‘Gendai Budo’ teaching traditional martial ways during peacetime, or ‘peaceful combat’ as a means to achieving perfection of the self. Karate-do follows the essence of ‘do’ the ‘michi’ or path of life learning, the battle against one’s self, the voyage of discovery that brings wisdom, truth, the understanding of the self and knowing the limitations and strengths of one’s own spirit.
Karate-do gives the practitioner a total rounded character. Karate-do gives the Karate-ka more than just physical techniques and applications it transforms all aspects of life. A dedicated follower of Budo Karate does not study for ‘fun’, competition, or as a ‘fad’.
To attain a true understanding, one must seek the goal of ‘self-perfection’ (Jinkaku kansei ni tsutomuru koto) that requires significant time and effort; it is a long-term passage, and not one which can be attained with speed. Budo will become apparent to the Karate-ka (or any other martial art) who is dedicated, exerting their minds and bodies through rigorous training.
Master Gima Makoto said on the occasion of his 88th birthday:
Master Gima also stated:
Master Yamaguchi Gogen stated:
To my mind this is the true ideal of Karate-do. The fostering of a strong spirit, that strives for truth and respect. I believe that Karate-do is a lifelong pursuit, a ‘Shugyo’, long and rigorous training in the pursuit of higher levels of understanding of the self and consciousness.
A Karate-ka embarking on the journey of Karate-do as a Budo must train his/her body with purpose, sometimes enduring physical hardships. The Karate-ka must reflect introspectively, fighting their inner demons and fears, and grow as a person.
Via Budo we can really begin to understand the concepts such as Zanshin, and Heijo Shin, particularly how they reflect on daily life.
For example, Zanshin can often be taught to Karate-ka as ‘awareness’ of what surrounds us, threats, dangers, obstacles etc. But once we understand Budo we become concerned with the state of mind, before, during and after we have made an action or commitment. In our kumite, kata and waza we can show zanshin (externally) through our kamae or shisei (posture); we can show seme, we can project our ki and ‘calmness’. We can continue this through to daily life, and begin to understand why the samurai during the Senkoku period and beyond placed importance on the concept of Heijo shin koro michi. Through rigorous training and commitment we can truly begin to understand ourselves, and our own limitations; we can achieve Mushin and heijo shin (everyday mind).
The Budo karate-ka can learn to keep his/her mind balanced, keeping calm in moments of stress in order to think clearly and react in a calm manner without fear and tension.
Heijo shin clearly refers to the state of mind that is not fixed in any direction, but in a balanced state. The everyday mind, the mind that is not clouded, the clear mind that sees things with clarity and reacts accordingly.
Master Funakoshi Gichin wrote:
Heijo shin and its meaning is the cornerstone of classical Budo. Stability, control (of the self), calmness, even in the face of adversity or the enemy, whether on the battlefield or normal life.
At this moment of understanding it becomes truly possible to block or counter-strike immediately without hesitation.
A Karate-ka is in effect a Shugyo-sha and must extend their concentration and mind to all aspects of their life.
Kobudo in karate.
One of the main bones of contention those who criticise the modern methodology of Karate-do profess is that it karate has become the ‘empty shell’ of its former self. This may well be true in the sense that the modern practice is largely concerned with safety of its practitioners. Contact is kept to a minimum, and the normal syllabus utilises only Kihon Ippon, Jiyu Ippon and Jiyu kumite where ‘control’ is the order. Gima-ha Shotokan-Ryu takes the karate-ka one step closer to ‘realism’ by the introduction of and testing under the extreme kumite we refer to as ‘Jissen’.
Another means of bringing effectiveness, realism, and ‘feeling’ in Karate-do is the addition of Kobudo into the syllabus. The weapons are constructed out of hard material such as metal and wood. This instantly brings the effect of reality into our hands. Nunchaku, Kama, Tonfa, Bo, Sai etc. all would cause serious damage if used incorrectly. The Karate-ka using the weapons of Kobudo soon realises the ‘danger’ that is in their hands. The correlation between Kobudo and the empty hand skills in Karate also becomes evident.
Again Gima-ha Shotokan-Ryu has the foresight to include Kobudo into the grading syllabus; being one of the few Shotokan based organisations to offer the Karate-ka this ‘reality’ in Karate-do.
Kobudo is the one facet that offers a true connection to the Ryukyu Karate of old. It gives the Karate-ka a sense of the old world. It also focuses the mind, utilising zanshin, seme and ‘ki ken tai’ (in this sense ken refers to the weapon and not the traditional meaning as in sword or fist) instilling a sense of Budo.
I believe the future of Karate-do lays in the way those associations and dojos make the correlation between Budo, Sport, Kenko karate, and Kobudo; particularly in the way that we instil this fusion into our younger Karate-ka. They may commence karate training for Kyogi karate, but by careful nurturing and systematic training of Budo principles integrated into their syllabus, they will mature and develop into the Karate-ka of the future. As they mature their understanding and appreciation of the Budo elements will increase.
Karate-do will continue to thrive and progress, if its teachers pass on its true spirit.
As stated in a post from January 2022, I recall a weekend that I once spent with Chinen Teruo Sensei of Judokan Goju-Ryu. Due to the fact that he knew (my at that time previous instructor) Sensei Narumi Hidetada, I had a unique opportunity to have deep conversations with him. I learned that they had a close relationship with the Yoyogi dojo in Tokyo.
I did not know about Yoyogi as a young Karateka. I sincerely wish that I did as it is woven into the very fabric of my Karate. So, co-incidentally for my lineage, Gima Makoto Sensei and his students also used the Yoyogi Dojo as their base where both ‘Shoto’ and ‘Goju’ were being taught.
The internet will tell us that the famous Goju-Ryu Sensei, Higaonna Morio moved from Okinawa to Tokyo both to study at Taku-Dai (Takushoku University) and whilst in Japan he made huge efforts to propagate Karate-do both in Japan and overseas. Higaonna sensei was to become a feature in the notorious Yoyogi Dojo. A dojo legendary for its arduous training sessions.
In his book Karate do History and Philosophy, Takao Nakaya, JSS Publishing. P. 176-177. 6th edition, 2018 writes:
“SHOTO-RYU – 松涛流– 1968
He supported the Karatedo society for a long time. After Gima passed away, this style was no longer practiced openly. I have a personal interest in Gima’s Karatedo life, so I tried to find his students, which resulted in locating Ikuo Higuchi (11/2/1941 – ), Mitsunori Kobayashi (2/25/1944), and Hidetada Narumi (4/27/1944). Kobayashi – Sensei (Mitsunori Kobayashi) related the following story. A few years after Gima’s death, they created Gima-Ha Shoto-Ryu. Then five or six years later they changed the name to Gima-Ha Shotokan-Ryu”. So, it was around 1996 that they used the style, “Gima-Ha (Gima-sect) Shotokan-Ryu = 儀間派松涛館流.” Currently, they have organised a group “Gima-Ha Shotokan-Ryu Karatedo Association), and Higuchi is the chief instructor.
Higuchi-Sensei related that one Okinawan schoolteacher, Ryujo Arakaki, wanted to popularise Karatedo. After he retired, he moved to Tokyo and bought some property in the metropolitan area (Yoyogi) of Tokyo to use as a Karatedo dojo.
Arakaki was not a Karatedoka, so he asked Seiken Shukumine to teach. Shukumine agreed to teach there, but later quit.
Afterwards, Arakaki contacted Gima, and Gima began teaching in the 1950s, but Gima did not teach every day. So later, Seikichi Toguchi, who was a Goju-Ryu instructor, taught the other days at the same time. Toguchi moved to Tokyo in 1960 and stayed for a decade. After Toguchi left, several other people taught at the dojo.
The following names came from Kobayashi-Sensei, but some are not certain:
Mitsuhiro Tsuchiya 2/26/1933 – ),
Hideharu Ogawa (7/24/1932- ),
Teruo Chinen (6/8/1941 – 9/9/2015), and
After Gima retired, his student Ikuo Higuchi taught.
Kobayashi -Sensei told me that Gima’s first son, Hideo, and Hideo’s first son, Katsuhiko were not known as Karatedoka. They might never have learned Karatedo. Gima’s wife was Yaeko. I must thank Gima-Sensei who left an invaluable book “Kindai Karatedo no Rekiushi wo Kataru” with Ryozo Fujiwara to help me research Karatedo’s history. There are so many valuable materials in this book.”
One of my senior instructors, Higuchi Ikuo Sensei , wrote in Gima Sensei Beiju Celebration booklet:
“Because at this time I was very young, I was much more interested in kumite than kata. It seemed more important to me to actually practice my form than to understand it. At that time doing 1000 practice punches and 1000 practice kicks was like nothing; I would do 10,000. At this time, we had a senior instructor called T. Kobayashi; he was very uncompromising and strict.
The training was so severe that today’s young karate students would probably give up in less than three days. This training was designed to enable us to take on and defeat 10-15 enemies at a time. Only people with great physical and spiritual strength could handle this training. Throughout all this training, Master M. Gima’s calm theoretical training gave us the spirit to continue in spite of the severity. As I rose through the ranks (perhaps because I was very enthusiastic), Master Gima taught me all that he knew. One day he told me “Higuchi, I’m going to teach you all I know”, which he did. Also, he taught me Sensei Funakoshi’s karate throwing techniques. I was the first student to get a qualification in Gima Style Karate. For this reason, I decided to make karate my career, and have continued polishing my style and gathering disciples over the years. Among the many katas that Master Gima taught me, Gojushiho is my favourite kata and I often show it at karate tournaments and displays. I call it “Gima-ha Gojushiho” because of my appreciation to him and the forte of his karate.”
Another note (I cannot find the author), in the booklet wrote:
“The All Japan Shisei-Kai Federation was founded in Showa 46 (1972) with Higuchi Ikuo Sensei as its centre, who instructed. Higuchi Sensei was a master of the Shotokan-Ryu karate, which was winning fame at the time as a prominent dojo even in Japan. In fact, the dojo was in Yoyogi Dojo of the Okinawa Karatedo Association.
At the time, for that reason, with Yoyogi Dojo disciples forming the core, we went from Ikebukuro’s parks Blue Sky Dojo we used Suginamiku’s Myoheiji gymnasium as a place to train.”
Yet another of my senior instructors, Kobayashi Mitsunori Sensei, recently wrote to me stating:
Then I know (knew) Gojyu Master Mr. Higaonnna , Mr. Chinen and Mr. Suzuki well.
Especially I was taught important technique by Mr. Suzuki when I was in Kyoto.”
And I had a chance of studying Shito Ryu by Mr. Ryushou Sakagami ( Itosu-kai). I think It is important to study the movement of circle. And we must not rely on my (our) power. We must study how to reduce the power of the opponent”.
So, Yoyogi, Goju-Ryu, Shito-Ryu, Shoto-Ryu (Shotokan-Ryu) all have major connections to my lineage (and therefore Gima-Ha UK) and experience. This I find to be fascinating and still research and study as much as I can on the subject and the styles.
From the get-go I need to state that I was never a great ‘Kumite’ exponent, and for that very reason, plus participating in instructor training sessions I learned the theories and tools that assisted me along my journey. I grew up in the ‘blood and guts’ era of karate where pads were forbidden (other than a groin guard), and ‘control’ (of sorts) was expected. Contact was quite heavy, there were no mats, just hard floors, and falling victim to ‘ashi barai’ not only lost you the fight but often hurt. Blood injuries were usually only awarded a penalty ‘Chui’, and we were expected to just get on with it. Sometimes I would hear ‘it is better to get disqualified than lose’, not a sporting sentiment, but the reality of the 60s/70s Karate tournament era.
The small treatise below is an attempt at explaining some of the tools and strategies we need to understand.
Within traditional Japanese Budo we use words that relate to both concepts and/or strategy, inter alia, ‘ma-ai’(the interval o distance/gap between objects – either moving closer or further apart), ‘hyoshi, or ‘ma’‘ (timing), ‘suki’ (a ‘rupture’ or ‘gap’ in the opponents defence or movement), ‘kyo’ (the opportunity created when a person’s state of mind is off-guard or they are physically unbalanced), and ‘jitsu’ (being ‘focused’ or having concentration, i.e. a maximum state of readiness of both mental and physical conditions). It is worth noting that ‘ma’ 間 can relate to timing/rhythm and space/distance. (Co-incidentally, and off subject, this is the second character in Gima Sensei’s name, 儀間. The ‘Gi’ can mean ‘ceremony’ or ‘matter’.
I would recommend reading Takuan Soho’s (1573–1645), The Unfettered Mind. That book, like Go Rin No Sho (Miyamoto Musashi), is a book of advice on swordsmanship (to Yagyu Munenori) and the cultivation of ‘right mind and intention’ in ‘Budo’.
Following is a quote from Musashi about ‘Hyoshi’ (‘ma’) from (an English translation) of his book on strategy, Go Rin No Sho (The Book of Five Rings):
These terms relate equally to the both the combative ‘kumite’ and ‘kata’ where they may appear in as the dropping of ‘zanshin’, weak ‘tachikata’, weak ‘kamae’, or a mistake in timing etc. ‘Kumite’ is of course easier for us to relate to, but we can practice timing using various methods such as playing tennis, hitting the speed bag etc. Within our ‘kata’ we practice ‘waza no kankyu’ (rhythm), i.e., speed or slowness of movement in each technique within the ‘kata’.
Returning to ‘kumite’ we practice various forms of basic sparring (One, three, five semi-free etc.) up to practicing ‘shiai kumite’, often with vigour (the best/only way for some!). ‘Ma-ai’ and ‘hyoshi’ are often the difference between winning and losing. In ‘jissen kumite’ or ‘shinken shobu’ the consequences of failure to use them do not bare thinking about.
My romanticism takes me to the duel on Funa-Jima (now called Ganryu Island) between Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro. It is said that the oar Musashi carved (whilst travelling across the water to the island) and wielded in the duel was slightly longer than the known length of Sasaki’s famous ‘nodachi’. Musashi is said to have turned Sasaki’s known advantage of reach against him. The thin distance/difference between the two weapons favoured Musashi as he knew his weapon was longer than Sasaki’s. Strategy and ‘ma-ai’ united in an instant of time.
This brings me to the subject of will or ‘intent’, which requires skilful use of ‘ma-ai’, ‘hyoshi’, and ‘suki’. Firstly, we need to deal with our own will or intention. In order to form it we need to ensure that we are in ‘jitsu’ and not ‘kyo’; and that the formation of our intent does not place us in ‘kyo’ or create that ‘suki’ (gap) the opponent is looking to capitalise upon. This is a skill that needs consideration, understanding, and development.
We need to fully comprehend our full range of technique distance, surrounding our whole-body area, and control our own space (call it a bubble shield, or even of ‘force field’ if you like). We must ensure that our ‘kamae’ , tachikata’, use of ‘unsoku’ etc. creates both our offensive and defensive effective ranges. We should strive to use our ‘ma-ai’ and ‘seme-te’ to control the opponent. This must be effective in the form of attack or pressuring the opponent into making a mistake. In other words, we are the ‘puppeteer’ controlling our opponent’s actions and reactions! Effectively we need to extend our space in order that part of our ‘bubble’ or ‘area’ needs to enter into their ‘area’.
Once we achieve the above, fully comprehending both ‘jitsu’ and ‘ma-ai’, we know that we need to enter the opponent’s space with offensive technique. Some may say we need to pass through the ‘danger zone’ to reach the ‘sweet spot’. This can be within a single motion or using ‘renzoku kogeki waza (combinations of techniques)’; the necessity is speed, timing, and effectiveness.
We need to understand the use of ‘kake waza’, and ‘oji waza’. We strike when the opponent shows ‘kyo’, (‘kake waza’); or we use ‘sen’ timing as ‘oji waza’ (responding to the opponent’s technique at the moment of their ‘kyo’. We know that it is difficult to defend when focused solely on attack, and that will be a moment that we can exploit. The ‘kyo’ is often created by an overly focused mind – paying the attention to the leaf, and not the tree!
Consider this quote:
If we understand our body, our distance, and our capabilities and are skilful in the use of ‘ma-ai’ and ‘hyoshi’ we can explore the concept of ‘shikake waza’, that is setting up the opponent! We can invite them to attack us by making a purposeful ‘suki’ or feint, our use of ‘sen’ must be skilful and well executed (‘sasoi waza’).
We can use ‘ kuzushi’ such as a sweep or throw (‘ashi barai’ or ‘nage waza’) to physically unbalance the opponent, again putting them into ‘kyo’, or ‘renzoku kogeki waza’ using combinations or continuous attacks to break their mental or physical balance (‘kyo’).
The above may be in the ‘perfect world’ for ‘kumite’ but they must the tools in our toolbox that we need to acquire and know how to utilise.
A skilful opponent will always have a moment of time to adapt and adjust to our attacks. For this reason, alone we need to employ usage of good ‘ma-ai’ and ensure that our ‘ma’ (timing) is efficient in order to achieve successful range/reach.
Many today still talk about the ‘old days’ when Kanazawa, Enoeda, Shirai, Abe, Yahara, Kagawa senseis and so many other played ‘cat and mouse’. To my mind these are perfect examples of the employment of ‘kyo’, suki’, ‘ma-ai’, ‘intent’, ‘sen’ oji waza’, ‘shikake waza’ etc.
The matches were akin to ‘cat and mouse’ and a win was often achieved in the blink of an eye. Movements co-ordinated, in and out, back, and forth, stalking, waiting, then the mistake (opportunity) spotted and the Ippon scored! ‘Ma-ai’, ‘kyo’, ‘jitsu’, ‘sen’ and ‘suki’ were the tools of the match, not just ‘waza’, with flailing arms and legs.
There is reality in that Ippon Shobu ‘Kumite’; a controlled reality, yet the realisation that a devastating technique was being restrained! To me, this is karate as a ‘Budo’ and not a ‘sport’.
Here, I include an essay written by one of our Nidan Instructors Paul Jefferies. It is a thoughtful article on Kata and its necessity. Gima-Ha students are required to submit an essay on this subject to Japan for consideration of Nidan before, or immediately after, their physical grading.
In this essay I intend to explore what Kata is in relation to Karate and martial arts in general, it’s origins, where it fits into the training system of Karate, and why it is a necessary, if not an essential, part of Karatedo.
Most readers should be familiar with the education system’s concept of the “Three Rs’” representing the fundamental skills of Reading, Writing and Arithmetic that the rest of learning is built upon. Without Reading one cannot write, without Reading and Writing one cannot apply arithmetic; and without all three you cannot further progress in your education. Well in Karatedo we have a similar concept of the “Three Ks’” comprising Kihon, Kata and Kumite.
Kihon, meaning Basics, is concerned with the basic fundamental building blocks of the style, which in Karate are our stances, kicks, punches, blocks, strikes, etc. It is very important to constantly practice all the Kihon diligently; continually honing each individual building block (technique) into the correct “shape” so they can be executed instinctively and so that they can fit together properly with all of the other techniques naturally.
Kata, meaning Form, are sequences of the individual Kihon organised as a pattern that must be memorised by the karateka. In Karate, Kata are solo-performances where the student must not only demonstrate the correct kihon, but also these combined with other elements like direction, speed, power and rhythm. The pattern of each kata follow useful scenarios of defence and attack against one, or more, opponents. There are many kata forms in each karate style’s syllabus that karateka must learn one by one, starting with the simplest form then working up the kata ladder, each new kata incrementally introducing new techniques and requiring a higher skill level.
The core kata in Shotokan karate are:
Kumite, means Sparring with a partner. Through Kumite karateka are able to apply their attacking and defensive techniques and movements against another person. Initially students learn pre-set training drills in which they must again show good Kihon, as you would expect, but now also enables them to develop and demonstrate other elements like: correct distance (Maai), timing, control and body-shifting (Taisabaki). At the lower skill levels, the prescribed drill sequences are quite rigid and could in themselves be considered a Kata, albeit a two-man kata. As the karateka’s skill level progresses their Kumite drills become increasingly more difficult, less prescribed and with a greater element of surprise.
These “Three Ks” of Karate are in fact a more modern development of the Karate training system. Originally, in Okinawa, when Karate was simply known as ‘te’ (hand) there wasn’t any formalized or documented style for students to learn from, because at that time the practice of ‘te’ had to be done in secret because the Japanese rulers made it illegal for the Okinawans to possess weapons or practice any martial arts, therefore training in dojos like we are familiar with now did not happen. Instead teachers only had one or a few students that they trained in secret, or private locations.
Also in that time, kata was the only way they practiced their karate techniques. It was later on, in more modern times that the Kihon were taken out from the kata, the kumite sparring exercises were developed, and then organised into the style of training commonly seen today.
One important aspect of katas is that they have also served as an un-written catalogue, or syllabus if you like, of a particular Karate Master or lineage. Remembering that at that time, all karate training had to be done in secret, so no documentation of kata could exist otherwise, if discovered, it would be evidence to the crime. Aside from documentation being risky from a crime perspective, if it did exist it may actually have had little practical use in that day and age, when you consider that karate was generally practiced by ordinary people (i.e. farmers, etc) who would not necessarily have been literate. Therefore, the kata were passed down between generations directly from master to student, as such the origins of many of the kata are unknown.
One kata whose origin is known, and provides a good example of how some of the other kata may have been created, is Gankaku, which was renamed from ‘Chinto’ in Shotokan.
Chinto kata is named after a Chinese sailor with the same name, who was shipwrecked on Okinawa during the 19th century. Chinto found shelter in a cave, and to survive he started stealing food and livestock from the locals. Chinto’s crimes were reported to the Okinawan king who sent Sokon Matsumura to deal with the problem. Matsumura, in his own right, was a well-known karate master who was serving as chief bodyguard to the king.
Matsumura was a very skilled fighter who normally had no problems defeating his opponents easily. However, he met his equal match when he found himself pitched against Chinto, who was also well practiced in Chinese martial arts. Matsumura realised he could learn more skills from Chinto, so they made a deal where Matsumura would take care of Chinto if he would teach him his new fighting skills. Eventually Chinto returned to China, so Matsumura formulated the ‘Chinto’ kata to preserve Chinto’s methods in a form that was recorded and passed on to future generations. Many other kata we know, were also developed by an individual’s students in order to record what they had been taught (i.e. Kushanku kata and Wanshu kata are also both named after Chinese martial artists who visited Okinawa).
While each individual kata has its own characteristic features; there are ten essential elements that are required to be able to successfully perform it. These ten elements are:
Preparation of the mind – Yoi No Kisin
Awareness of attack and defence – Inyo
Balancing of power – Chikara No Kyojaku
Correct speed – Waza No Kankyu
Expand and contract – Tai No Shinshuku
Breathing and posture control – Kokyu
Understanding the target – Tyakugan
Demonstration of Martial spirit – Kiai
Stance and movement – Keitai No Hoji
Remaining completely aware – Zanshin
In order to incorporate all of these elements into their kata, a student cannot just focus on the individual techniques, and sequences of techniques, as basic kihon against imaginary opponents, but they must also study how they are applied in real combat situations. This area of study is called Karate Bunkai, which essentially means practicing and understanding how those techniques, and sequences, are actually applied against a real opponent.
Many of the Bunkai from kata, are simply unsafe to practice correctly with real opponents, otherwise student’s would be at risk of some very serious injuries, in not worse. Therefore, solo kata practice is the only opportunity (apart for real combat, of course) for a student to perform those applications, in preparation for use, if ever required, in self-defence.
One personal criticism I have of modern sports-orientated karate kata performances, as opposed to ‘traditional’ karate practitioners, is that they often don’t demonstrate the real fight, and focus more on kata as a styled performance and show of athleticism.
In conclusion: I believe Kata is at the core of Karatedo, because without the various kata forms developed and handed down through the centuries, there cannot have been such a complete syllabus of techniques available to karateka today.
After a Myocardial Infarction and suffering from severe arthritis I took up another Japanese Budo to augment the Shōtōkan-Ryu that I have practiced since childhood. As I have now been involved with Karate-Do for some 54 years, and the Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu Iaido that I have studied for the past 13 years I can see the ‘points’ where both cross and augment each other. In some ways I could say I have learned a lot about my Karate from my Iaido.
Below is an essay that I wrote some years ago that was eventually published in issue 3 of The British Kendo Associations Kihaku Magazine. It is an essay on Iaido but equally it is an essay on Kata!
I am reproducing the essay here, as the inferences and comparisons to our Karate Kata are undeniable.
Hopefully it may open a door for some, and assist in better understanding their journey in Karate-do allowing a deeper study of the value of Kata.
The enemy within (the need for visualisation in Kata)
Whether one is an inexperienced or experienced Iaidoka a question that may often cross the mind is that of reality: is Iaido a realistic martial art? How can Iaido be made more representational as a Budo?
Most Japanese styles of Karate-Do have Kihon (basic waza), Kata and Kumite (engagement match). In Kendo, the effective practice of Kihon and Kata is tested in Jigeiko (free play). By comparison, Iaido appears to many as being largely Kihon– and Kata-centric: some students may think there is no feeling of reality because there cannot safely be a ‘steel-on-steel’ contest, that is Shinken Shobu (serious match – usually to the death!).
The majority of other Japanese Budo will see the lack of a real Teki (opponent) as a hindrance to learning correct ma (timing) and ma-ai(combative distancing). They have physical practice including ‘paired set movements’ (“yakusoku kumite” or “sohtai dosa”) and “free play” – such as jiyu kumite and, of course, jigeiko.
Tachiuchi-no Kurai, Sumiai-no Kurai and other paired kata are performed with bokken/bokuto, under great control; something which may appease purists, but which – to the first-time observer – might mean that Iaido risks losing out in a comparison with the more “glamorous” and directly-combative martial arts.
Some of these observers may draw the conclusion that the typical Iaido kata is just a “dance with a sword”, featuring repetitive and apparently stylised movements, the Iaito or Katana merely slicing through thin air: their mistaken belief being that there seems no obvious Tamashi (spirit or soul) displayed within the art.
As a result, there are some who find it difficult to think of Iaido as a true martial art: the first-time observer might choose a different martial discipline to follow, and beginners may find that their interest is waning.
To understand Iaido Kata we must understand Kasso Teki – the imaginary opponent and his/her purpose within Iaido – a difficult concept; but if we think of him/her as “the enemy within”, then it comes within our grasp.
The obvious answer: each and every performance of kata must be “real”.
The father of modern Japanese karate Funakoshi Gichin stated in his Niju Kun (20 precepts) “Hitotsu, tekki ni yotte tenka seyo” – “Make adjustments according to your opponent”. Similar sentiments are quoted within Iaido even though that opponent is imaginary– the “bottom line” is that kasso teki’s intent and movements must be clearly visualised by the Iaidoka whose response must be accurate (the cut made where the opponent is supposed to be) with focused intent.
Are we just playing the game?
In his book “Martial Arts America (A Western approach to Eastern Arts)” [North American Press, 1998], the author Bob Orlando states:
“Studying martial arts as art forms sounds a little like practising basketball just for the sake of ‘the game’. Doesn’t a person practise basketball to ‘play the game?’ True, we cannot go about beating people (playing our game), but we can participate in a variety of exercises that bring us closer to that reality.”
Since we are unable to practice Iaido within the mentality of Shinken Shobu [serious fight/duel], we too – as Orlando states – participate in a variety of exercises, called kata.
How can we try harder to make kata real?
In his article from the 2009 compilation “Iaido Shinsa-in no Me” (“[Through] The Eyes of the Iaido Grading Panelist”), Ishido Shizufumi Hanshi states:
“If somebody were to ask me if I can visualise my imaginary opponents, I would reply No; but whether it be sitting or standing forms, my Maai is correct, so that I cut with my Monouchi. If possible, I would like you and the members of your Dojo to work in pairs using Bokuto to determine Maai.”
Whilst Ishido sensei clearly offers a practical method for teaching Ma and Ma-ai, many dojo do not follow this advice; instead retaining solely the practice of kihon– and kata-centric activity.
Our instructors will have given us a workable scenario and bunkai in order to understand the kata; however, always it is down to our own imagination – our conscious visualisation – to supply an ‘enemy’ for us to focus upon. Our actions then become proper responses to that opponent!
This opponent must become solidified as part of our mind-set!
The main issue, of course, is that in our scenarios we will always be the victor. Hence there is the danger that – because we know that we will win – the kata lacks necessary depth or tamashi.
Consider the following questions for a moment, reflect, and then give yourself an honest answer:
How do we put the feeling into any Iaido kata?
How do we make a kata real?
How do we make it come alive?
How can we make it so that the ri-ai [the “logic”,“reasoning”] are readily available to any person watching the kata?
Now consider what is written below. Therein, I believe, we can find the answers to bringing reality into our kata.
Visualisation as taught by Chihiro Kishimoto Hanshi
Kishimoto Chihiro Hanshi expresses progression in effective visualisation during Iaido kata in three distinct levels: –
• Level 1 A Weak Opponent Easily Defeated
• Level 2 A Well-Matched Opponent of Equal Skill
• Level 3 A Stronger Opponent with Superior Technique
At level 1 we will always win, even if we execute a poorly-timed or angled cut, or a badly executed block. We can “walk through the kata” utilising a simple scenario in which we win, regardless. This allows the beginner to gain confidence; and as our skills increase, we can begin to explore the scenarios offered by the kata.
At Level 2 there is a lot more reality, because the opponent is equal to the task. Our imagination must create an opponent who continues to be more difficult to conquer. She/he matches our own abilities, and so grows with us. Our technique must continue to become sharper, natural, and more instantaneous.
At Level 3 we must create an opponent who instills a sense of trepidation! This opponent must become one that is more and more difficult to fight and conquer. She/he will have better abilities than we do. From the outset, when our mind clears ready to perform the kata, we must realise that any presentation of kyo [“an unguarded moment”], loss of zanshin [“awareness”] or wandering of the mind will result in us receiving a possibly fatal blow.
This is a real fight – a momentous battle. This is our toughest opponent yet!
When we look at high level of embu displayed by Hanshi, Kyoshi, Renshi and other senseis, we don’t need to ask – “How do they do that?” We know that the answer lies within their “mind-set”, their visualisation of the enemy.
Samurai Spirit personified.
To increase riai (reasoning, story) and give real substance to our technique we need to take on board Kishimoto sensei’s theory of visualisation.
If you have seen the episode in the series “Samurai Spirit” [documentary series, NHK World 2008-9] in which Kishimoto sensei faces host Nicholas Pettas with Fukuro Shinai in hand, we have seen a moment when Iaido is challenged to become more than just kata, and returns to its root as a true jutsu.
You can find it (with added Spanish subtitles!) at 2.12 here: https://youtu.be/e_ dqf3qH9so?t=2m15s
We see two men in seiza, Fukaro Shinai held at their hip.
Kishimoto sensei (an Iaidoka) becomes very quickly calm and relaxed; Pettas (an experienced Kyokushin Kai fighter) appears deep in thought perhaps forming a strategy. At this point I believe that Kishimoto sensei is demonstrating the Ni-Ku, San-Ke that Ishido sensei was describing in his article: the ability to calm the mind and body (ochitsu-ku) at the earliest stage of potential combat (haya-ku).
An almost imperceptible twitch or movement – ??? intent from Pettas, and Kishimoto sensei explodes into action. His metsuke – “observation” – had clearly been very acute; and the nukitsuke – the “draw-and-cut” – was undeniable!
A final thought from Shizufumi Ishido Hanshi
In his article Ishido sensei also states:-
“Take for example the phrase “Kisen wo seishite (to get a jump ahead of)” . What condition does this refer to? How would you like to deal with your opponent? What will you do when you become aware of your opponent’s ill- intent? Will you draw before your opponent starts to move? What does it mean to draw with Jo- Ha-Kyu? This refers to the draw starting slowly, gradually increasing in speed, then finally reaching its fastest speed the moment the swords leaves the scabbard. It is not good to blindly draw quickly, but rather to draw in accordance with your imaginary opponent’s movement. I am sure that everybody knows this, but it is still important to repeatedly read the manual and confirm this point.”
To repeat: it is not good to blindly draw quickly, but rather to draw in accordance with your imaginary opponent’s movement. Therefore our “imagination” provides us with a tangible opponent.
“…One should be clearly able to demonstrate the riai, (story logic) and actions accurately while performing katas, showing a correct response to the various enemy’s location, distance, timing and intentions. “
Is your opponent real?
To my mind, the following quotation sums up the solitary practice of kata very well.
From the Yaegaki Kai website [http:// www.yaegaki-kai.be/your-first- nukitsuke-reflects-your-training-years], with the translation corrected: –
“Is your Kasso Teki as strong as you are?”
“One should be clearly able to demonstrate the riai, (story logic) and actions accurately while performing katas, showing a correct response to the various enemy’s location, distance, timing and intentions. Through this one will be able to visualise the enemy’s presence. It is important to remember that even if the enemy is “virtual”, we should try by our attitude and determination to show the reality of the fight and the effectiveness of our technique as a Budo.”
Iaido and Karate-Do kata will always contain at least one analysis or breakdown (bunkai) of the scenario, i.e. the causation and reaction that the kata portrays. The scenario may only be a “play” unfolding; but the content and feel must be real – otherwise we revert to that “dance with swords”: without life, without soul, and without purpose!
We must use our minds to create a formidable opponent, and then defeat him/her.
The old adage goes something like this: “If you are a good iaidoka then you can see your opponent while doing kata; but if you are a great iaidoka you can make others see him too.”
There is no doubt that we can “see” the opponents of the great masters we so wish to emulate!
Hence visualisation is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal if we know how to use it. A weak or negative visualisation in our kata still creates a kasso teki, but at the same time always allows that opponent to defeat us! Therefore, positive visualisation is vital: it must become ingrained as part of the kata performance, at which point our Iaido will take on life!
Essay on the subject of mental attitude and technical knowledge as a karate instructor , by Carl Gigg, Yondan.
A positive mind set will keep a group of students more motivated than a raft of negativity. Although errors need to be addressed, the affirmation of a technique performed well will more than balance the few comments of a more negative nature. Even if there is little to be celebrated, it is good to find something, to keep a student’s mood lifted.
Use your positivity to find an area of a student’s technique to praise to keep their energy level up. Sometimes it is not the student you want to improve that you will give the good feedback to, but someone performing well. This can also raise the mood and the level of effort around the dojo floor. This positive attitude is also for your own motivation. You have to believe in yourself, your ability and what you are trying to achieve. You also have to believe in your students. To want to push them, to be the best they can be and for you to be the best for them.
Along with a positive attitude, the instructor must be determined and resilient. You need the determination, to keep pushing, yours and your student’s abilities and understanding. Resilience will help you with the knock backs. The days where it seems none of them are listening, or interested in what you are trying to teach. Another part of your mental attitude is to be understanding. You have to understand that students learn at different rates. Understanding that sometimes students have external influences affecting them. Maybe a student has a personal issue, but by being there despite it, is showing strength of character and determination themselves. Accepting this is a good step forward.
Aside from the mental attitude, technical knowledge is paramount. To teach something correctly, you must first understand it. Not just the technique or the form, but the feel of it. You have to live it and experience it. Know how it feels from the beginning, how to build it. Push yourself to execute any technique effectively. If a technique is long, strong and low, then it must be understood as such and demonstrated as such. The technique is the technique. It should be learnt and taught accurately. Not altered to suit you. Save that for making your karate fit yourself.
When teaching, it is important to keep the technique pure, as it is intended and has been passed down from Sensei to Sensei. A good instructor will demonstrate with skill and enthusiasm. More students will learn by visibly seeing the technique than it being verbally explained to them.
So, although you maybe the person in the position to stand at the front and teach, you need to push your own development. To constantly expand your understanding and ability to perform the art effectively. As you expand your knowledge of techniques, you must also keep faithful to the basics.