‘From one thing, know ten thousand things.’ – Musashi, Go Rin no Sho (Book of Five Rings)
It is hard to describe the true experience of kata (‘set forms’ / ‘formal movements’ in various Japanese arts) with words, in the way it is hard to describe a symphony with sheet music alone. Similarly, it is difficult to understand the true way of karate after having practiced kata only a few times. Life is in the living – swimming is in the water – karate is in the empty hand. Karate is not in the clenched fist, but in the open mind and tempered spirit. This is the true path of budo.
Much practice and study of technique are required for its digestion and understanding. In this way we slowly come to view the true path. While we may begin with ‘a way’, a style of technique, this gives us the foundation to find ‘the way’. What we call our style is simply a symbol for what we practice and absorb, and should not be confused with the true way. However, practicing a well-taught style may teach us many things. In diligent, proper training, we find the flexibility and focus of not just our bodies, but also our minds. A tempered spirit is a tool that solves according to internal principle, and guides technique. In light of this, listed below are a few general factors that we should train in ourselves, for others, along the martial path.
Power and endurance: Explosive strength is a must in the performance of athletic skill. Ways to develop power include (but are not necessarily limited to) plyometrics, body weight exercises (with or without partners), cardiovascular training, and stance training. One must also have mental fortitude to press on past the comfort zone. Spiritual development occurs as a natural result. Every day provides fresh lessons.
Rhythm, timing, distance: Fighting and music have often been compared to one another. If you understand rhythm, you will know how to break your own – and find your opponent’s. Timing, then, is a necessary consideration in employing the use of rhythm and broken rhythm. To develop rhythm, we may start with kata, then understand bunkai (application of kata), and then learn how to adapt naturally. In this way, one may control the distance between oneself and one’s opponent – both physically and mentally. Many different sparring drills may be employed. The serious study of rhythm and timing may provide many lessons on understanding the ebb and tide of life’s many seasons.
Awareness and adaptability: While we by nature depend highly on vision, we may train ourselves to more fully use our senses. Knowledge is nothing without being mentally aware of its application, or the spiritual flexibility to adapt to change in a positive fashion. Let us train diligently so that we may do our best, and be prepared for the worst.
In this way, we can see that disciplining our bodies develops our mental clarity. In cutting away the inessential, we develop our mental focus and begin to see the true path. Thus, we make progress in our spiritual perception. In this way, we will take a positive direction spiritually and morally, as we have already done mentally and physically. Thus, we will make a positive effect on the world around us.
This article is a part of the author’s concise guide to karate. Be sure to visit Johnston Karate Home Page to view the guide as well as many other free resources.