Wir wissen alle, dass Sensei als „Ausbilder“, oder „Lehrer“ übersetzt wird. Diese Übersetzung ist korrekt, also besteht darin kein Problem.
Ich bekomme einige Fragen bezüglich der Qualifikationen, welche einen Sensei ausmachen. Hier scheint es einen unerwähnten, oder unerklärten Bereich zu geben, welcher für Rätsel im Karatetraining sorgt. Ich mag Rätsel nicht, deshalb werde ich mein Verständnis für den Begriff „Sensei“ mit Ihnen teilen. Ich hoffe, dass es Ihnen bei der Beurteilung, oder auf der Suche nach einem Lehrer helfen wird.
Lassen Sie uns zuerst die Schriftzeichen für „Sensei“ betrachten (先生), welche uns zu einem besseren Verständnis dieses Begriffes verhelfen könnten. Vielleicht erinnern Sie sich an unsere Betrachtung des Zeichens „先“ in dem Wort „Senpai“: Es bedeutet „fortgeschritten“, „voraus“, „älter“, „zuerst“ usw. Aber was ist mit „生“? Dieses bedeutet „Geburt“, oder „Leben“. Insofern bedeutet es wörtlich, dass jemand früher geboren wurde. In anderen Worten heißt es, dass dies eine ältere Person ist, als Sie selbst. Es verrät jedoch nichts über das Alter, oder die Fähigkeiten dieser Person. Interessant, nicht wahr? Die japanische Auffassung besteht also darin, dass man von denjenigen lernt, die älter sind als man selbst, da sie angeblich mehr Erfahrung haben und daher sind sie weiser. Diese Auffassung dürfte nicht allzu sehr überraschend sein, wenn Sie sich an die japanische Vorstellung des zeitlichen Vorranges erinnern, unabhängig davon, ob Sie damit einverstanden sind, oder nicht.
Nun sagen Sie: „OK, ich bin 50 Jahre alt und mein Ausbilder erst 25, also genau halb so alt wie ich. Kann er mein Lehrer sein?“
Um diese Frage zu beantworten, müssen wir die Auffassung von Zeit auf Karate-Verhältnisse umstellen. Nehmen wir an er hatte vor zehn Jahren mit Karate begonnen und Sie erst vor fünf Jahren. Er ist Ihr Senpai im Karate. Wenn er regelmäßig in Ihrem Dojo unterrichtet, dann ist er Ihr Sensei. In einem Dojo zählt der Altersunterschied nicht und der zeitliche Vorrang hängt davon ab, wann man mit Karate angefangen hat. Ob dieser Sensei reif genug ist, um geachtet zu werden und in der Lage ist, Sie auf einem Weg im Leben zu führen, ist eine andere Geschichte.
Eine weitere Person fragte mich: „Mein Lehrer ist erst Nidan. Ich dachte, dass ein echter Lehrer Yondan, oder höher sein sollte. Als was sollte ich ihn nun ansehen?“
Meine Antwort ist: „Er ist Ihr Sensei.“
Jeder, der im Unterricht vorne steht und diesen leitet, gilt als Lehrer, unabhängig von seinem Grad. Ob dieser qualifiziert ist, zu unterrichten (durch ein Zertifikat berechtigt), oder nicht, ist eine andere Frage. Außerdem macht eine Lizenz zum Unterrichten nicht sofort einen guten Sensei aus. Ich kenne einen Nidan, der diesen Grad seit 30 Jahren trägt. Sein Training und seine Unterrichtserfahrung übersteigen womöglich die eines jungen Yondan. Ich habe auch schlecht geplante Anweisungen von älteren Leitern (7. und 8. Dan) gesehen. Der entscheidende Punkt besteht darin, dass der Lehrer begeistert genug ist, um das Wissen und die Kenntnisse, die er besitzt, zu teilen. Wenn Sie etwas von ihm lernen können, dann ist er Ihr Sensei. Wenn Sie kein Bisschen von ihm lernen, dann können Sie jederzeit das Dojo verlassen und sich ein anderes Dojo, oder einen anderen Sensei suchen.
Wir erwarten von unserem Sensei mehr zu sein, als jemand, der uns nur beibringt wie man schlägt und tritt. Das ist wahr, denn der Karate-Do ist mehr als nur Schlagen und Treten. Sie haben Glück, wenn Ihr Sensei Ihnen mehr als das beibringen kann. Können wir das von einem Sensei erwarten, der 25, oder 30 Jahre alt ist? Manche könnten sehr reif sein und viele Jahre des Trainings hinter sich haben, doch die Meisten davon sind zu jung und ihnen mangelt es an diesen Eigenschaften. Haben Sie also keine falschen Erwartungen von einem jungen Sensei. Seine minimalen Verpflichtungen als Übungsleiter bestehen darin in der Lage zu sein Karate-Techniken beibringen zu können. Das bedeutet, dass er diese Techniken zeigen und erklären kann. Auf der anderen Seite besitzen nicht alle fortgeschrittenen und älteren Lehrer diese Eigenschaften und Qualifikationen. Reife und Weisheit kommen nicht unbedingt mit dem Alter. Viele von ihnen verlieren ihre Form. Wenn ein Übungsleiter übergewichtig und nicht in Form ist, um eine Technik vorzuführen, dann betrachte ich diesen nicht als verantwortungsvoll.
Mir gefällt das, was Musashi vor einigen Jahrhunderten sagte. Er sagte, dass jeder, außer ihm selbst, ein Lehrer für ihn ist. Ich folge dieser Idee. Meine eigentlichen Lehrer (Sugano und Asai) sind tot und beerdigt. Ich glaube aber, dass mein jetziger Lehrer jeder ist, der in meinem Leben auftaucht, egal ob er eine Kampfkunst ausübt, oder nicht. Ich möchte etwas von jeder Person und allen Erfahrungen in meinem Leben lernen (sei es gut, oder schlecht). Das ist meine Philosophie und ich erwarte von den Lesern nicht, dass sie mit dieser einverstanden sind, oder sie akzeptieren.
Wie Sie sich Ihren Sensei aussuchen ist Ihnen überlassen. Jeder von uns hat unterschiedliche Erwartungen und Zielsetzungen im Training. Ich hoffe, dass Sie einen Sensei haben, mit dem Sie zufrieden sind. Wenn nicht, dann hoffe ich, dass Sie einen finden, mit dem Sie zufrieden sein werden und von dem Sie eine Menge lernen können.
Wenn Sie ein Sensei in einem Dojo sind, dann ist die minimale Anforderung an Sie die korrekte Lehre der Karate-Techniken. Das bedeutet, dass Sie in Form sein sollten, um die Techniken, die Sie unterrichten, nicht nur erklären, sondern auch vorführen zu können. Ergänzend dazu hoffe ich, dass Sie mehr als nur die Karate-Techniken aufbieten. Viele Ihrer Schüler erwarten dies von Ihnen.
Optional disclaimer about the genders:
Yokota-Sensei verwendete in dem englischen Original die geschlechtsunterscheidenden Begriffe „he/she“ im Bezug auf den Lehrer. Im Englischen ist das machbar, doch im Deutschen wird es durch die zahlreichen Artikel und Wortendungen zusätzlich erschwert und führt zu einem schwer lesbaren Text mit vielen Schrägstrichen und Klammern. Ich habe mich in der Übersetzung dazu entschlossen, den Begriff „Lehrer“ auf das männliche Geschlecht zu reduzieren, was keineswegs zu einer Dezimierung des weiblichen Geschlechtes führen, sondern lediglich dem Zweck der Textkürzung und Lesbarkeit dienen sollte.
When I posted a photo of Master Asai (right) on Facebook, someone commented that Master Asai’s butt sticks out. The same person commented that Master Kase (France JKA) also had the same posture. I cannot write about Master Kase as I know almost nothing about him and his karate. But I believe I can present my theory on Master Asai. I will, hopefully, be able to shed some light on why he stands that way. I believe there is a good explanation for his posture. I have studied Asai karate for over 10 years and had a very close training relationship with him for the last few years of his life, between 2003 and 2006, the year he passed.
Before I go into my theory, I would like to take this opportunity to introduce Tetsuhiko Asai. Of course, most of the readers already know who Master Asai was. He was a world renowned Shotokan master who traveled around the world and awed everyone with his almost magical techniques. I am well aware of his abilities but I want to speak about Master Asai because I have a compelling reason. This will also explain as to why I started my organization, ASAI. Some people have blamed me for taking advantage of his fame by naming the organization using his name. On the surface indeed it does appear so. Hopefully by reading my explanation the readers will understand that I have a much deeper motivation to keep his name and his karate alive. Let me explain…without any exaggeration he saved my karate and in essence my karate life (I will explain the details later). I owe him so much and now it is my turn to pay it back to the karate world since I cannot do so to him. It became my conviction to spread and share the karate I learned from Master Asai. As long as I live I do not want anyone to forget about Master Asai. I want the name of Asai to be remembered. This is the exact reason why I created the organization, ASAI (Asai Shotokan Association Interantional). We are not an organization that just happened to pick up a famous name or to be part of a fad, we are an organization that intends to do the following:
Give everyone access to the Asai Karate System
Provide a home for karate ronins
Make the dan grade examination available to all organizations and styles
Unite all karate practitioners regardless of the organizational differences
Improve the karate skills of all members
Preserve the discipline of Dojo Kun
Pass the legacy of Master Asai on to the next generation
Let’s look at the history of Master Asai from his birth to his last day. I could write something from my memory but I think it is more accurate and complete to quote from the page of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tetsuhiko_Asai
Here is the direct quote from the Asai page (I took out the reference numbers, under bar and different font colors):
Asai was born on June 7, 1935, in Ehime Prefecture (on the island of Shikoku), Japan. He was the eldest of seven children. As a boy, he trained in sumo. In addition, his father (a policeman) taught him judo, kendo and sojutsu. When he was 12 years old, he witnessed a fight between a boxer and a karateka (practitioner of karate); the karate combatant was able to disable his opponent with a kick, and Asai was impressed.
In 1958, Asai graduated from Takushoku University, where he had trained in karate under Gichin Funakoshi, Masatoshi Nakayama, and Teruyuki Okazaki. He trained hard and was allowed to sleep in the karate dormitory. At Nakayama’s recommendation, he entered the JKA instructor training program and graduated from the course three years later.Asai won the JKA championship in kumite (sparring) in 1961, and in kata (patterns) in 1963. He was overall JKA champion in 1961, having come in first in kumite and second in kata that year. Asai became the first instructor to introduce karate to Taiwan. Through the second half of the 1960s, he taught karate in Hawaii for five years, among his students included Kenneth Funakoshi.
Over the years, Asai advanced within the JKA, and was appointed as Technical Director. Following Nakayama’s death, the JKA experienced political troubles and divided; Asai and colleagues (including Keigo Abe and Mikio Yahara) formed one group, while Nakahara Nobuyuki and colleagues formed another group—which in 1999 was officially recognized as the JKA. In 2000, he founded the International Japan Martial Arts Karate Asai-ryu and the Japan Karate Shoto-Renmei. Apart from the ranking of 10th dan in Shotokan karate, he also held the ranks of 3rd dan in jodo, 2nd dan in judo, 2nd dan in jukendo, and 2nd dan in kendo.
Reflecting on relations between JKA instructors who had graduated from Takushoku University, Asai said, “We all pretty much get on nowadays, contrary to our official stances and federations. In saying that, some of us don’t, but isn’t that life? … I am happy to say that most of the deep rooted rivalry has gone amongst my peers. I think that the passing of Mr. Enoeda, Mr. Kase, Mr. Tabata and Mr. Shoji and so forth has brought many of us back to reality. Obviously this is not limited to Takushoku University, it is all about us international karate pioneers getting very old.”
Asai’s health deteriorated with age, and he underwent liver surgery on February 10, 2006.He died at 2:50 PM on August 15, 2006, leaving behind his wife, Keiko Asai, and their daughter, Hoshimi Asai. More than 2,000 people attended his funeral, which was held on September 1, 2006, at Gokokuji Temple in Tokyo. Asai received the rank of 10th dan posthumously from the JKS, and was succeeded as President of the IJKA by his widow. Since that time, IJKA in Europe has apparently separated from K. Asai’s IJKA. In 2013, Asai Shotokan Association International (ASAI) was formed by a former student of Asai, Kousaku Yokota, to teach Asai’s style of Shotokan. http://asaikarate.com/
In the past I have already written about how Master Asai saved my karate life. I suspect that many readers may have not read it yet so I would like to share my short explanation here.
I had been a lifetime member of the JKA and I was a godan in the mid 90’s after having practiced shotokan karate for more than 30 years and my age was approaching 50. At that moment I keenly felt that I had reached my plateau with my karate training and I could not find any challenge or pleasure in any further training. I visited different senseis and went to seminars given by the masters such as Kanazawa and Tanaka but none of them could inspire me. As a result I decided to retire from karate in 1997. This was a big move as I had always believed karate was part of my life. But I decided to do so because I could not find a way to improve myself any more. So, I decided to study Ki and hoped I could find a solution in this art.
I found a job in Tokyo where I lived for 2 and a half years and during this period I did not wear my gi, not even once. I entered a famous Ki school called Nishino ryu Ki dojo in Shibuya. To make a long story short I could not find my answer in Ki training. I came back to California in 2000 and decided to teach karate in San Jose. At that time I had already given up on improving my own karate. In 2001 Asai sensei was giving a seminar in the area and I participated. Of course, I knew Asai sensei from my JKA time and had met him several times in the past. I also had witnessed, with my own eyes, the impressive demonstration he performed in the JKA’s All Japan Championship (1981 and 1982). But until I participated in this seminar in 2001 I only considered him as one of the shotokan famous instructors and nothing more. This seminar event happened 5 years before his passing so he was in his mid 60’s. By observing his techniques and moves very closely I was simply dumbfounded by his agility, flexibility and speed. I knew immediately that he was the answer to my question of “how can I improve my karate when I am in my 60’s?” It took me a year before I finally left the JKA and became a follower of Master Asai. My close association with Master Asai was only five years before he left us all too young. He knew so much and I just did not have enough time or occasions to ask all the questions I had. I can never claim that I learned all of his techniques. He knew more than 100 katas and I have only learned 25 Asai katas. Despite this I feel I learned enough that I can share this knowledge and the techniques with all shotokan practitioners especially the advanced (technically and age wise) karateka. His karate was different and my karate became different from the standard shotokan karate. It is different because I feel my moves are more natural and smoother. I guess I have to ask the readers to watch me either in person or in the video performance to see if they think that this is true. I am convinced that the benefits to the karateka of all styles and all ages are great. I can never replace or duplicate all of Asai sensei’s techniques but it is my lifetime mission to share what I know and what I can do. This year I am 66 years old and I plan to do this for at least the next 34 years (God willing) so I will be around and so will ASAI. OK that is enough about my karate life.
If you know Master Asai’s karate you agree that his karate was not only great but it was different. You can see him in action and right away you will see the definite differences. His moves and techniques are more circular and smoother compared to the linear and somewhat ridged techniques that many Shotokan practitioners exhibit. You may ask “why his karate was so different?” this is quite difficult to explain. How did he develop his karate? The answer to this question will give you a hint to the original question regarding his butt position.
He became the Technical Director of the JKA in the 80’s but before that time, there was a very important stage of his karate life, specifically between 1965 and 1975. The JKA had dispatched him overseas to teach karate starting in Hawaii. After completing his assignment in Hawaii he went to Taiwan in late 60’s. I heard that Master Asai had some exposure to other styles of karate and even to some kung fu styles while he was in Hawaii. He was always looking for something new to try and to learn so it is easy to guess that the diversified martial arts found in the islands of Hawaii would have given him many opportunities. However, when he was sent to Taiwan he got into an intensive training with a kung fu (White Crane) style. He became a close friend with a kung fu expert, Master Chen whose sister would eventually become his wife. Master Asai was already a karate expert so Master Chen did not treat him like a student but a martial arts partner. I heard from his widow that they exchanged their techniques all the time whenever they met. Master Chen would show a new or an interesting technique one day then Master Asai would master that technique almost instantaneously which impressed Master Chen greatly. Obviously he received a lot of influence from White Crane kung fu.
OK so you may ask “what has this got to do with the butt of Asai sensei?” I believe there is a strong relationship and let me share this new idea with you.
There is an interesting finding I made as I did research into the martial arts of Japan and China. What I found is that there is a difference in the pelvis positioning between the two categories. In other words, among the Japanese martial arts the correct pelvis position is to tucked up or the tail bone to point downward. On the other hand, in the Chinese martial arts the pelvis is positioned upward or pushed out. The visible difference is minor but if you examine closely you can see the difference.
Let’s look at the photos of Judo, Kendo and Iaido.
What do you see? Can you detect the pelvis positioning? Especially in the Judo photo (far left), we can see the tucked under pelvis position. By the way, this photo is one of the rare historical ones of Jigoro Kano, the founder of Kodokan Judo (on the right, taken early in the 20th century).
Not convinced? Look at the two photos of Sumo. Even though those sumo wrestlers are big and “fat” their pelvis position is down and tucked under. I put fat om quotation marks because the fat contents of many of the sumo wrestlers is much lower than we think and they are medically not fat. Regardless of this point, I hope you can see the pelvis position better as they are without any clothes except for their mawashi.
Next, let’s look at the photos from the Chinese martial arts and see if we can detect any differences. Here are three typical kung fu photos that are in horse stance or a similar stance.
By checking the pelvis positioning of these female performers do you agree that all three are sticking their pelvis backward and not tucked in? Of course, I showed you only a few photos so you may not see the clear differences between the Japanese and the Chinese. However, the difference is a common knowledge among the senior martial artists in Japan. I am afraid not enough research has been done yet to investigate why there is a difference in the basic concept of the pelvis positioning between the two groups.
Now what I dare to present here is my hypothesis for the difference. The base of the Japanese martial arts is kenjutsu, the sword fencing. Unlike some of the light weight kung fu swords a Japanese katana is quite heavy. If you happen to practice Iaido you know what I am talking about. Obviously, it will be very difficult to swing it around quickly let alone jump with it. Therefore, the fighting style of the samurai was almost with no moving around. The posture was very straight with their legs almost fully extended and the backbone straight to support the weight of the sword. You may have seen this in a Japanese samurai movie in which two samurai face each other in a duel with almost no moving until the decisive attack at the end. In this situation, it makes sense to keep the pelvis tucked under to support the body weight and to assist the forward movement (remember the first move in Bassai dai?). Judo and Sumo are also the same. In those arts kicking is prohibited and there are almost no jumping techniques in these arts. They need to stand firmly on the floor rather than jumping around thus the tucked under pelvis gives more balance and stability in their stance. On the other hand, in kung fu, especially the Northern styles there are a lot of kicks and jumps. To jump and to rotate the body quickly from the low kiba dachi stance I find it easier to do so with the pelvis pushed back. Please try it and see if what I am saying makes sense.
Another thing I need to bring to your attention is the difference we see in zenkutsu dachi between karate and kung fu. The first two photos are from kung fu and the last one on the right is by Yoshiharu Osaka, JKA instructor. You can clearly see the pelvis is pushed backward in kung fu front stance while Osaka sensei had definitely tucked in his pelvis.
This again comes from the difference in the concept or the use of the stance. In other words, in kung fu the moves are not always to the forward but can be to the side, back or in rotation. As you can see with the very Shotokan technique of Osaka it is a strong oi zuki going straight forward. For this move tucking the pelvis in and aligning the fist with the rear foot with the straight backbone bring the most powerful technique. Karate punch is “ikken hissatsu” or one punch one kill while kung fu attacks are multiple and each punch or an attack may not be a “sure kill” technique.
As a bonus, I will share with you another interesting point. Take a look at the photos below.
The first two photos are from Okinawan Shorin ryu. Master Chibana, the first photo, doing Bassai is somewhat keeping his pelvis tucked, but the second one shows that the pelvis is positioned more toward the back. Regardless of the pelvis position, you notice that both of them are leaning forward similar to the kung fu practitioners shown earlier. The next two photos, third and the fourth, are showing a technique from Bassai dai. They are by Shito ryu and by Shotokan respectively.
You can assume that the original Okinawan karate kept some of the Chinese influence but when karate was introduced to Japan it changed with the influence of the Japanese martial arts. In the Japanese martial arts such as kendo and even in karate we are taught to have our upper body always straight and never to crouch forward or lean to the sides. I suspect the influence to our karate in our posture came mainly from Jujitsu and Kendo. The posture of Judo practitioners has changed drastically after it was inducted in Olympics in 1964 but that is a different subject that is not related here directly so I will not discuss it here though it is a very interesting subject to think about.
So, you can probably easily guess what my theory for Master Asai’s posture is. You probably want to conclude that the kung fu influence he received in Taiwan changed his posture. However, maybe to your surprise my theory is slightly different. Master Asai was known for his Tenshin (body rotation) techniques but at the same time he was known for high and low techniques. Low means a technique he ducked for example under a kick. High means he jumps around the opponent and hit him while he is still in the air (see the photo below).
I do not believe he learned those techniques from White Crane kung fu or any other styles. The characteristics of White Crane kung fu is the open hand techniques and whipping techniques (coming from the fast wing flapping). I can easily suspect that he took those techniques in and made them into his signature techniques. However, jumping and ducking under, I believe, were his own creation.
Look at the famous photo (right) of him fighting Mikami sensei (JKA Louisiana) in the JKA’s All Japan Championship in 1961. Mikami (left) is delivering a beautiful long distance Oi zuki, very much a Shotokan technique. To this attack you can see Asai on the right jumped to dodge it (I wish I could have been there to watch it). This shows he was already jumping in his early karate career (he was 26 years old in 1961). He was a very creative martial artist and I understand that he has always tried different things and ideas that would work for him. He was a small man, even for a Japanese, (a little over 160cm and less than 50kg) so he needed the techniques that would overcome his “handicap”. He found the jumping and Tenshin techniques. To jump and to rotate his body quickly having his pelvis not tucked in worked better for him. He probably developed his unique posture early in his karate career but his peculiar pelvis position was not that noticeable then. With many years of training including the kung fu techniques his posture became more prominent and noticeable.
Finally, here are two more photos (below) of Master Asai at two different stages of his karate life. One on the left is a young Asai in his 20’s and the right one is a legend in his 60’s.
What do you think? It is true that he went to Taiwan and he had a close encounter with White Crane kung fu, but there were, I assume, many other Shotokan practitioners who went to China and Taiwan. In fact Master Nakayama was stationed in China for several years during WWII. Only Asai picked up many ideas and techniques from the Chinese styles. This proves my point that his body was far more adaptable to the Chinese method because of his own unique training and his own style.
I am not sure if my theory about his pelvis position has successfully convinced you but one thing I can tell you confidently is this. Master Asai needed his pelvis position in that specific way to deliver his unique and fast techniques. He was the one and only true master of Asai-ryu karate and his posture is a signature of his style.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas especially if you are a sports scientist or your expertise is in kinesiology.
(Se você não leu a Parte 1, por favor, leia-a antes de ler a parte 2.)
Ok, então você pode estar se perguntando por que o desenvolvimento do Ki tem algo a ver com a respiração, e particularmente com respirar profundamente. Em primeiro lugar, vamos ver se a respiração profunda também é considerada benéfica no mundo ocidental. Acredite ou não, se você pesquisar no Google, você verá muitos artigos e sites sobre o assunto. Um desses sites, chamado Uma Palavra Poderosa [no original, One Powerful Word – N. do T.], é voltado para a motivação e conscientização do público, e lista 18 benefícios da respiração profunda:
Respirar desintoxica e libera as toxinas
Respirar libera a tensão
Respirar relaxa a mente/corpo e traz clareza
Respirar alivia problemas emocionais
Respirar alivia a dor
Respirar massageia seus órgãos
Respirar aumenta os músculos
Respirar fortalece o sistema imunológico
Respirar melhora a postura
Respirar melhora a qualidade do sangue
Respirar aumenta a digestão e a absorção de alimentos
Respirar melhora o sistema nervoso
Respirar fortalece os pulmões
Respirar adequadamente torna o coração mais forte
Respirar adequadamente auxilia no controle do peso
Respirar estimula os níveis de energia e melhora o vigor
Respirar melhora a regeneração celular
Respirar melhora o humor
São benefícios suficientes? Para o artigo inteiro, acesse aqui:
É verdade que o editor desse site não é da área médica. Então vamos conferir o que os especialistas médicos dizem sobre respirar profundamente. Eu vou postar apenas um deles aqui, mas você pode procurar na internet e encontrar muitos outros sites similares. O site a que eu estou me referindo chama-se “Mulheres para mulheres; Mudar a saúde das mulheres – naturalmente” por Marcelle Pick, Enfermeira Especializada em Obst./Ginec. [no original: “Women to women; Changing women’s health – naturally by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP” – N. do T.]. Em uma página, ela escreveu: “Em uma revista e análise de vários estudos de 2005, Richard Brown e Patricia Gerbarg, Doutores em Medicina, informaram que as técnicas de respiração profunda de yoga foram extremamente eficazes no tratamento da depressão, ansiedade e transtornos relacionados ao estresse. Essas técnicas podem servir como um excelente complemento para o tratamento médico convencional – ou, em alguns casos, como um substituto adequado – no tratamento de incontáveis distúrbios psicológicos, bem como distúrbios alimentares e obesidade”.
Se você estiver interessado, você pode ler o artigo inteiro aqui:
Assim, a sociedade médica moderna também reconhece os benefícios da respiração profunda. É uma pena que não é popular entre as pessoas comuns, incluindo os atletas. É ainda mais lamentável que poucos instrutores de karate enfatizem a importância da respiração profunda e a incorporem em seu currículo. De qualquer modo, os povos asiáticos conheciam esses benefícios por séculos e incorporaram a respiração profunda em diferentes métodos de treinamento. Nós acreditamos que a energia Ki deve ser ativada e distribuída através do nosso corpo para produzir resultados positivos, e é por isso que o método de respiração profunda foi usado para energizar a circulação. É como quando você ferve a água em uma chaleira. Conforme o fundo da chaleira recebe calor, a água sobe numa trajetória circular, e desce em seguida. Você pode formar essa imagem com seu Ki em seu corpo. A respiração exerce duas tarefas. Um é ajudar a energia Ki a circular (interna). A outra é fornecer a fonte de energia (ar) para as partes distantes do seu corpo (externa). Esta última é realizada pela circulação sanguínea, sendo que a respiração profunda auxilia aumentando a inalação de oxigênio e a liberação de dióxido de carbono.
OK, então você se perguntaria por onde a energia Ki viaja em nosso corpo. Os especialistas chineses desenvolveram um diagrama de meridianos chamado Keiraku (経絡), para mostrar os caminhos exatos e o sistema (veja a ilustração). Existe muito debate entre os médicos ocidentais sobre a existência de tais caminhos ou rotas porque nenhum órgão físico que cuide disso é visível ou detectável, enquanto os dos sistemas circulatório e nervoso são. O diagrama Keiraku foi desenvolvido pelas experiências físicas realizadas pelos especialistas da acupuntura e da moxa ao longo de milhares de anos.
O fluxo suave de seu Ki é a chave para a sua saúde e força vital. A respiração lenta e profunda coordenada com o movimento físico lento auxilia e promove a circulação. Repito que é por isso que eu mencionei que o Tai Chi Chuan é um dos melhores métodos, de todos os sistemas de artes marciais (contanto que você concorde em incluí-lo nessa categoria), para desenvolver o seu Ki. Então naturalmente você vai querer saber como fica o karate nesse contexto. Sim, é hora de falar sobre o nosso treinamento de karate, mas o que você acha? Infelizmente, exercícios específicos de respiração ou treinamento especial para respirar são incluídos no currículo de poucos dojôs de Shotokan. E é assim, então você pensa no treinamento que você faz com seu kata. Infelizmente, mais uma vez, nenhum dos katas é ensinado com instruções adequadas com relação à respiração, e poucos instrutores sabem como harmonizar a respiração com os movimentos do kata. O único kata com respiração evidente que nós temos no Shotokan, ou seja, o Hangetsu, perdeu seu método de ensino de respiração há muitos anos. O sensei Kanazawa e eu somos os únicos que realizamos esse tipo de ensino. Além disso, este kata não só quase perdeu o seu método de respiração, mas também o ponto-chave mais importante da base Hangetsu dachi. Eu escrevi sobre isso em meu livro Shotokan Myths (capítulo “Hangetsu”) para que os leitores possam lembrar-se. Eu pretendo colocar um vídeo instrucional do Hangetsu na sessão de vídeos do site Karate Coaching (www.karatecoaching.com), onde vou explicar como se deve fazer, incluindo alguns métodos de respiração diferentes.
Você está familiarizado com Ki-ai (気合), que você pratica frequentemente durante nos seus treinos. Ele significa literalmente reunir ou coletar Ki. E isso não ajuda a desenvolver o Ki? Como é irônico! O uso constante ou excessivo de ki-ai, acredite ou não, impede que o Ki flua. Pode ser uma declaração chocante, mas é verdade. Um ki-ai barulhento corresponde a uma perda de energia, e interrompe o fluxo de Ki uma vez que o seu corpo precisa contrair-se. É como um som forte quando uma bomba explode. Esse som não acrescenta à energia, e em vez disso ela é desperdiçada, já que é uma energia que se dissipa. Assim, se um som vem de uma técnica poderosa, então está tudo bem (como um som alto de uma explosão de dinamite), mas se você faz um ki-ai alto só por fazer, você está simplesmente desperdiçando sua energia. Talvez isso seja aceitável para aulas para crianças, para que possam desenvolver o espírito ou liberar sua energia, já que elas são cheias de energia. Eu também escrevi em meu livro Shotokan Myths (capítulo “Ki-ai”) que não existia ki-ai nos katas antigos e durante os treinamentos em Okinawa antes do século XX. Até mesmo Funakoshi não enfatizava o ki-ai, e emitir um ou dois ki-ai em um kata era opcional (talvez você queira reler o Karate-do Kyohan). Tudo mudou quando kata tornou-se um evento de competição, onde são necessárias algumas regras rígidas para avaliar os competidores. Todos os ki-ai são ruins? Não, como eu disse antes, está tudo bem se for praticado corretamente. Ele pode trazer um poder extraordinário de uma técnica e eu não estou falando de um poder mágico. É difícil explicar em palavras, mas um ki-ai correto atua como um ponto de ligação que reúne toda a energia muscular harmoniosamente a partir das diferentes partes do corpo. É por isso que a tensão do corpo, ou kime, deve durar um centésimo ou mesmo um milésimo de segundo. Este é o verdadeiro kime e ele pode ser visto em Hakkei (発剄), que é traduzido apenas como poder explosivo, e seria considerado uma espécie de técnica secreta ou definitiva de treinamento de kung fu. Esta é a energia utilizada no soco de uma polegada. Você pode ver a minha demonstração do soco de uma polegada na sessão de vídeos do site Karate Coaching.
Então, e quanto à respiração ibuki (息吹き) usada no Goju-ryu e outros estilos de Okinawa? Eu tenho apenas uma experiência limitada com treinamento de Goju-ryu, então eu não sou um especialista neste estilo, e por isso contribuições de pessoas mais experientes em Goju são bem-vindas. O meu entendimento é que existem duas partes para os objetivos da respiração ibuki. Uma é usada no kata Sanchin, e visa coordenar os movimentos do corpo com a respiração. O conceito é semelhante ao Tai Chi, mas há uma grande diferença, no fato de que no Tai Chi a ideia é relaxar os músculos, enquanto no Goju o praticante aprende a tensionar seu corpo. Assim, os braços que bloqueiam e socam no kata Sanchin (三戦) movem-se lentamente, mas parece haver muita tensão em todo o corpo, de modo a desacelerar a circulação do Ki. O objetivo deste kata e do Hangetsu original não era auxiliar a circulação, mas talvez apenas fortalecer o Ki local. O outro aspecto do treinamento da respiração ibuki é exercitado enquanto um praticante fica parado realizando essa respiração pesada (inspiração rápida e expiração lenta e forçada). O instrutor irá verificar a tensão do praticante socando-o e chutando-o com força. A ideia que eu entendo é que o praticante de Goju vai preparar o seu corpo para suportar os golpes e chutes de um oponente. Obviamente esse conceito vem de um método de luta de curta distância e com base na situação de luta desarmada. Em Okinawa todas as armas (espadas, facas, etc.) foram proibidas por centenas de anos, então esse conceito pode ser considerado. O Shurite, incluindo o Shorin-ryu e o Shotokan, foi baseado em um método de luta de longa distância, o que significa lutar contra um adversário com uma arma. Esta é uma das razões pelas quais Funakoshi não adotou o treinamento de respiração Ibuki e deixou de enfatizar essa respiração no kata Hangetsu.
O outro motivo foi a forma como ele é praticado: parte superior do corpo nua. Funakoshi sabia que isso não combinava muito bem com a cultura japonesa, já que apenas os trabalhadores braçais tiravam a parte de cima de sua roupa. Ele queria introduzir karate para o Japão como a arte marcial de samurais ou de cavalheiros. Um grande benefício da respiração ibuki, no entanto, é o treinamento do diafragma. Durante a prática do ibuki você tem que prestar muita atenção ao seu diafragma e ao comportamento dele. Você vai aprender a “empurrar” e “puxar” o diafragma, enquanto controla e administra a sua respiração. No entanto, este exercício também é praticado em Yoga. Eu gosto mais do exercício desta última, pois ele é feito com muito menos tensão. Além disso, o seu treinamento é incorporado ao movimento dos órgãos internos (para cima e para baixo ou numa direção circular), juntamente com a respiração profunda. Esse exercício é excelente para fazer circular o seu Ki e irá lhe ajudar com a sua saúde. Eu recomendo fortemente esse exercício e espero que os leitores experimentem-no.
De volta ao kime. O kime estendido ou tensão muscular não é bom para o fluxo de Ki, e você pode ler sobre isso no capítulo “Kime” do Shotokan Myths. Para desenvolver o fluxo de ki no seu treinamento de karate, você precisa aprender a relaxar mais enquanto está treinando. Se você gosta da tensão no seu treinamento, então eu recomendo que você tenha uma sessão separada para exercício de respiração. Eu expliquei como praticar a respiração longa e profunda anteriormente no meu blog. Existem outras formas de desenvolver o Ki, e eu as incluirei em um artigo mais longo sobre o assunto.
Agora que você sabe como exercitar um método de respiração longa e profunda, deixe-me concluir este artigo com os benefícios de mais alto nível que vêm quando se possui um Ki forte e um fluxo de Ki saudável desenvolvido com exercícios de respiração profunda.
Você será capaz de controlar os batimentos do seu coração e sua pressão sanguínea. Você terá um sistema imunológico mais forte. O que isso significa? O resultado é que você terá uma vida muito saudável. Funakoshi gabava-se quando estava na casa dos 70 anos e no início de seus 80 anos do fato de nunca ter ficado doente. Ele atribuía isso ao treinamento de karate, o que eu considero correto. Ele viveu até os 88 anos, o que era uma longevidade surpreendente naquela época. Ele até mesmo atravessou o período de guerra em Tóquio onde a comida estava escassa e o saneamento era extremamente precário na década de 40. Eu concordo com o Mestre Funakoshi, e eu escreverei um artigo separado sobre como o treinamento de karate pode produzir boa saúde. Quanto mais eu pratico karate, eu percebo como o ser humano foi criado de maneira maravilhosa e que o nosso potencial é quase ilimitado. Então, você não ficaria feliz se você simplesmente não adoecesse mesmo quando estivesse na casa dos 70 ou 80 anos? Você pode alcançar essa saúde com a respiração profunda e o treinamento de karate.
Você também será capaz de controlar as suas ondas cerebrais e seus estados emocionais muito melhor que as pessoas não treinadas. Em situações de grande estresse ou em uma emergência, você não gostaria de ter uma habilidade de manter-se calmo e controlado? Você pode fazer isso se puder manter suas ondas cerebrais em modo relaxado. Tendo um Ki forte, você não ficará deprimido e será menos influenciado pelas notícias ou incidentes ruins. Isso certamente irá capacitá-lo a ter uma vida mais feliz.
A sua atenção mental vai melhorar com respiração melhor e Ki mais forte. O que isso significa? Você será capaz de evitar os acidentes enquanto anda, corre, conduz uma bicicleta, dirige e em quaisquer outras atividades que você realizar. De todos os acidentes que podem acontecer com você, um acidente de automóvel pode ser o mais perigoso, um que você quer evitar ao máximo. Eu escreverei outro artigo especificamente sobre esse assunto e vou compartilhá-lo com você no futuro. O título do artigo é Jidosha Dojo (Dojô de Automóvel), como praticar karate enquanto você está dirigindo seu carro.
Eu espero ter abordado tudo o que pretendia sobre Ki e o seu relacionamento com a respiração profunda. Este artigo tornou-se muito mais longo do que eu previa, então eu ficarei por aqui. Eu aguardo as contribuições e as perguntas dos leitores.
Este é um assunto profundo e complexo. Há um grande número de livros escritos em japonês sobre o assunto, mas infelizmente os artigos e os livros em inglês ou outras línguas (não-chinesas) são raros. Tenho pensado em escrever um artigo sobre esse assunto por muito tempo, mas sempre hesitei, pois ele é muito intrincado. Eu pretendo escrever um artigo mais longo e mais abrangente no futuro, mas para este blog vou cobrir principalmente a parte que está relacionada ao karate e sua relação com a respiração.
OK, vamos começar. Para muitos dos leitores, Ki pode ser um conceito misterioso e possivelmente duvidoso vindo da Ásia, mas esse não é realmente o caso, e eu gostaria de lançar um pouco de luz sobre o assunto hoje. Em essência, Ki é “a fonte ou a energia que dá a vida”. Em outras palavras, é algo que está nos permitindo viver. Enquanto você estiver vivo, você terá Ki em você como um ser vivo. Quando você morrer, acredita-se que o seu Ki retorna à natureza. Todas as coisas vivas, como animais, insetos e plantas que estão vivos têm o seu próprio Ki. Na verdade, nós japoneses acreditamos que até mesmo matérias não-vivas e objetos na natureza, como pedras, montanhas, lagos, rios, chuva, relâmpago, nuvem, estrelas, etc., têm o seu próprio Ki dentro deles. É por isso que temos feng shui (風水), um sistema chinês de geomancia que busca usar as leis do Céu (astronomia chinesa) e da Terra para ajudar a melhorar a vida ao receber qi ou chi positivo. O termo feng shui se traduz literalmente como “vento-água” em português. Se você estiver interessado nesta arte, você pode conferir na Wikipédia, onde se explicam a sua história e as teorias. O conceito básico vem de diferentes fatores naturais, como por exemplo a ideia de que as direções, e coisas tais como montanhas, rios, etc., possuem diferentes energias. Combinações diferentes têm um impacto positivo ou negativo nas pessoas. Os orientais, particularmente os chineses, levam isso muito a sério, e o feng shui torna-se um dos fatores decisivos quando escolhem uma casa. Isso é muito popular mesmo com os chineses que vivem nos EUA e provavelmente também na Europa.
De qualquer modo, acreditamos que tudo tem a sua própria energia e sua vibração única (波動) chamada Ki (氣). Este é um conceito profundo, considerando que a física moderna (relatividade especial e geral) veio a perceber apenas um século atrás que tudo no universo é constituído de energia, e a estrutura fundamental assume a forma de vibrações (ondas) criadas pela energia. Mesmo se você não sabe física quântica, você conhece a famosa fórmula de energia de Einstein, E = MC², que ele anunciou em 1905. A equivalência massa-energia é o conceito de que a massa de um corpo é uma medida do seu conteúdo de energia. Neste conceito, a massa é uma propriedade de toda a energia, a energia é uma propriedade de toda a massa, e as duas propriedades estão ligadas por uma constante. Assim, o conceito chinês de 3000 anos não pode ser considerado totalmente infundado ou inacreditável.
Embora o conceito de Ki estenda-se a tudo no universo, vamos olhar apenas para o Ki que está relacionado a nós, as pessoas aqui neste artigo.
Quando olhamos para o nosso corpo, encontramos ondas e padrões diferentes. Os mais óbvios que todos conhecemos são nossas ondas cerebrais. Outro é a pressão sanguínea, que muda em padrões gerais ao longo de um dia. Há outras condições físicas não tão visíveis ou perceptíveis, como a temperatura do corpo e o nível hormonal, que também variam durante um dia. Um ritmo circadiano é algo que você vai notar somente quando viajar uma longa distância cobrindo diferentes fusos horários. Segundo a Wikipédia, um ritmo circadiano é qualquer processo biológico que exiba uma oscilação endógena, induzível por fatores externos [no original em inglês: entrainable oscilation – N. do T.], por cerca de 24 horas. Esses ritmos são conduzidos por um relógio circadiano, e ritmos têm sido amplamente observados nas plantas, animais e cianobactérias. O nível hormonal de uma pessoa muda ao longo das horas e é ligado a um ritmo circadiano, e você pode precisar de uma ajuda de comprimidos de melatonina para ser capaz de dormir durante as suas viagens ao exterior. A maioria desses ciclos e ondas estão intimamente ligados às marés, e ao fato de termos dia e noite.
Assim, Ki é a fonte de energia em nosso corpo que pode afetar as ondas e os ciclos de nossas funções corporais. Todo mundo tem seu Ki, então como podemos aumentá-lo? Na verdade, existem duas maneiras de aumentar a energia em seu corpo. Uma delas é o que todas as pessoas fazem todos os dias, comendo e bebendo. É uma fonte externa. É por isso que sua dieta é importante para a sua saúde. A outra fonte é interna, e trata-se do Ki, que foi descoberto ou reconhecido alguns milhares de anos atrás na China. No mundo ocidental, o Ki não foi descoberto ou reconhecido. Em vez disso, os tratamentos na área mental foram desenvolvidos pela psicologia moderna, notavelmente por Freud e Jung. Ela surgiu apenas a partir de meados do século XIX. Se você sofrer de depressão, o seu médico lhe dirá que você está com uma disfunção na sua química cerebral, então ele recomendará que você tome uma medicação para melhorar o seu humor. Por outro lado, um mestre ou médico em Ki lhe dirá que o seu Ki está fraco (e apontará uma ou mais áreas específicas do seu corpo onde falta o Ki, ou onde o fluxo de Ki está lento ou bloqueado. Ele pode sugerir tratamento com acupuntura ou moxabustão, juntamente com exercícios respiratórios. Esses tratamentos estimularão o Ki local e isso proporcionará um fluxo melhor por todo o corpo. O médico de Ki também pode dar-lhe alguns medicamentos, mas não constituídos por produtos químicos, e sim principalmente por ervas e ingredientes naturais. Esse tipo de remédio é tomado em forma de chá ou sopa.
A diferença entre os tratamentos e diagnósticos das duas escolas ocorre não apenas na saúde mental, mas também na física. Quando você tem dor nas costas ou se você sofre algum tipo de alergia, você pode recorrer à acupuntura, moxabustão e/ou tratamentos com ervas. A acupuntura (針) é famosa mesmo no mundo ocidental. O cautério de moxa ou simplesmente moxa (灸) é provavelmente menos conhecido, mas é um tratamento médico muito popular para muitas doenças na Ásia. Lembro que minha avó costumava colocar uma boa quantidade de moxa sobre os ombros e costas para aliviar suas dores de cabeça, nas costas e as causadas pela artrite. Caso você não conheça a moxa, você coloca fogo em peças que se parecem um pouco com uma vareta de incenso. Ela queima muito lentamente, e na verdade chega a queimar a sua pele, e esses estímulos dão um choque ou injetam uma energia para o ponto de Ki que precisava dessa energia. Eu já experimentei, então eu sei que queima. Eu também experimentei acupuntura, e eu prefiro esta em relação à moxa. De qualquer modo, existem tratamentos médicos mais radicais utilizando Ki. Um deles é a anestesia de Ki e o outro é a operação de Ki. Você pode ter visto os vídeos sobre esses tratamentos. Eles são todos relacionados com Ki e seu fluxo. Eu não vou entrar nesses tratamentos específicos, pois eu não tenho nenhuma experiência com eles e o meu foco neste artigo não é nas aplicações médicas do Ki. Existem alguns relatos extraordinários desses tratamentos, então você pode procurar os vídeos e outros relatos caso esteja interessado.
Eu acredito muito na medicina ocidental moderna e em suas conquistas, então eu não pretendo desconsiderar ou falar mal dos seus tratamentos. Para encontrar um sintoma de câncer, você deve ir a um hospital e tirar um raio-X. No entanto, na área da prevenção, em doenças leves e, especialmente, numa fase inicial da doença, eu acredito, tratamentos naturais e treinamento de Ki podem ser uma escolha melhor e que faria mais sentido adotar. Eu quero enfatizar que eu não sou um médico, então eu não estou qualificado para dar um conselho ou recomendação nessa área.
Acreditamos que nosso corpo é conduzido ou preenchido por ondas e ciclos. Quando eles estão fora de sintonia ou desequilibrados, nós entramos em uma situação ou condição chamada de doença ou enfermidade (física e mental). Assim, os povos antigos criaram várias formas de fortalecer o Ki e manter os padrões estáveis e em equilíbrio. Os métodos incluem o Chi-gong ou Kiko (気功), Yoga, meditação Zen (座禅), Tai chi chuan ou Taijiquan (太極拳), juntamente com alguns estilos de kung fu e algumas outras artes marciais, como o Aikido (合気道).
Eu pratiquei Kiko estilo Nishino em Tóquio durante três anos (1997 – 1999). Eu incluí as experiências que tive no dojô Nishino no meu livro recente, Shotokan Mysteries, por isso não vou repeti-las aqui. Digo apenas que o treinamento envolvia principalmente relaxar os músculos com exercícios de respiração profunda. Permitam-me observar que o Tai Chi pode ser um excelente sistema de construção Ki, mas só quando é ensinado o seu método de respiração correto. Trata-se de uma arte marcial interna praticada tanto pelo seu treinamento de defesa quanto por seus benefícios para a saúde, mas apenas mover-se lentamente não vai garantir a construção de Ki. Isso deve ser feito com um exercício de respiração adequado e em harmonia com os movimentos corporais. Na verdade, considerando apenas o objetivo de construção de Ki, o Tai Chi é um método melhor do que o treinamento de karate. Vou explicar mais adiante por que eu digo isso.
Chi-gong, Yoga, meditação Zen e Tai chi chuan são em essência os exercícios de movimentos lentos que estão intimamente ligados à respiração profunda. Você pode se perguntar por que eu incluo a meditação Zen na construção de Ki. Eu percebo o sentido do questionamento, já que não há ações corporais na meditação Zen. Pode parecer que não há movimentos uma vez que os braços e as pernas ficam parados. No entanto, a meditação Zen, se praticada com respiração profunda, requer uma grande quantidade de movimentos com o seu pulmão, diafragma, músculos abdominais e músculos internos. Ao respirar profundamente você vai fortalecer o diafragma e os músculos internos na região abdominal inferior chamada de Tanden (丹田), que é considerada fonte de energia ou armazenamento de Ki.
I assume the readers already know that there are some categorization measures in martial arts. Each one shows the characteristics that supposedly differentiate one style from another, but the fact is that all the styles contain different amounts of the characteristics of both opposing personalities. The categorization of a style itself will not bring any positive effect or a merit. The benefit comes only when we understand better about our style and to be able to include some training that will make our style more effective and meaningful.
So, let us start with a few popular categorization methods. The most common one is probably the differentiation by the long distance 遠距離and short distance 近距離 fighting styles. Shotokan is a good example of the long distance fighting system and Goju-ryu, on the other side, is of the short distance system. Asai ryu karate is based on the standard Shotokan, a long distance fighting method, with an addition of the techniques from a short distance fighting system; White Crane kung fu was incorporated by Master Tetsuhiko Asai. This categorization method is rather obvious and comparatively easy to grasp. I do not believe it needs further explanation on this categorization method.
Another popular categorization in karate is Shorin 松林system and Shorei 昭靈system. Shorin represents the system with the light and fast techniques and this is exemplified by kata such as Enpi, Kanku, Gankaku and Unsu. Shorei is, on the other hand, the system supposedly designed for the larger built karate-ka for the powerful movements and the slower techniques. Jion, Jutte and Sochin are the typical kata of Shorei style. This categorization has been explained by many other writers in the past. I have my doubts on the legitimacy of this categorization method but I will not touch on it in this article.
One other popular categorization in karate is Naha-te 那覇手and Shuri-te 首里手. Naha and Shuri both indicate the particular regions of Okinawa where the different styles of karate were developed and practiced. Shotokan belongs to Shuri-te as our style came from the most popular Shuri-te style of Shorin-ryu 松林流. The most popular Naha-te styles are Goju-ryu and Uechi-ryu.
The categorization I wish to focus on in this article is called Internal System and External System. As far as I know this categorization method has not been explained too well to the Shotokan practitioners in the past. Among the Chinese martial arts this categorization method is as popular as the Northern Style and the Southern Style. The Internal System and the External System are written in kanji as 内家拳 and 外家拳 which literally means “inside house (or family) fist” and “outside house (family) fist”. Most of the practitioners now explain the meaning of “inside (family) house” as the internal workings of our body such as breathing and the mental aspect of a martial art. However, it originally meant “not staying with the family” or “not living in one’s house” but living in a Buddhist temple. Therefore, a famous Shaolin Temple kung fu (Photo below) and its derivative styles (literally hundreds of them) are called 外家拳, “outside house fist”.
Shaolin kung fu 少林拳法 refers to a collection of Chinese martial arts that claim affiliation with the Shaolin Monastery and the style generally emphasize long range techniques, quick advances and retreats, wide stances, kicking and leaping techniques, whirling circular blocks, quickness, agility, and aggressive attacks. Due to numerous Hong Kong movies, Shaolin Kung Fu is well known in the western world. However, there seems to be a lot of misconceptions and false beliefs about this fighting style. I suggest that the readers will learn more about it by reading the Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaolin_Kung_Fu
The other group, “inside (family) house” or staying with the family means that a practitioner is not a professional monk. This is a group of the fighting methods that are not linked to the Shaolin Monastery. The famous three styles of the Internal System are Tai chi Chuan 太極拳, Xing Yi Quan 形意拳 and Ba Gua Zhang 八卦掌. They are classified as “inside house” fist.
Tai Chi Chuan (photo right) is a slow-motion and meditative exercise for relaxation, health and to a lesser degree self-defense. Tai Chi has gained enormous popularity throughout the world for its health benefits. In Chinese philosophy Tai Chi means the ultimate source and limit of reality, from which spring yin and yang and all of creation.
There are many different styles of Tai Chi from a popular slow motion style mainly for a relaxation and health purpose to a style that has some explosive moves that is better fit for self-defense training. To learn more about Tai Chi Chuan check the Wikipedia page here:
Xing Yi Quan or Hsing I Chuan (photo below) may be a lesser known Internal System or 内家拳 to the karate world but it is one of the best known internal martial arts and is recognized as the most effective fighting style. Xing Yi means “Shape Mind”, and Quan means “Fist”. The name derives from the style’s imitation of the movements and inner characteristics of twelve animals (dragon, tiger, eagle, bear, chicken, hawk, horse, monkey, snake, phoenix, swallow and alligator). The style was created by Marshal Yeuh Fei, a famous general of the Chinese Song Dynasty. One of the purposes of Xingyiquan training, like Taijiquan is aimed to improve Qi or Ki circulation in the body and to maintain health. The training is supposed to build up a level of internal Qi and this leads to the strengthening of both the physical body and the mental body.
For more information on Xing Yi Quan read the chapter in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xing_Yi_Quan
Ba Gua Zhang is one of the three orthodox “internal” styles and the name literally translates to Eight Trigrams Palm. These trigrams are symbols which are used to represent all of the natural phenomena as described in the ancient Chinese text of divination, the Book of Changes (Yi Jing). Zhang means palm as Ba Gua Zhang emphasizes the use of the open hand in preference to the closed fist. Ba Gua Zhang is based on the theory of continuously changing in response to the situation at hand in order to overcome an opponent with the circular and smooth skill rather than brute force. Its embusen is very unique as it is built on complex circular lines and the techniques are delivered not to the direction of the moves but mainly to the center of a circle or a side of a performer (photo right). I personally like this style as its foot work is based on normal walking steps which I really think makes sense. The performer walks with fast steps in circular lines and deliver the techniques while he is “walking”.
To learn more about Ba Gua or Pa-kua, read the chapter in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baguazhang
Also, there are many good video clips of Ba Gua kata performance by some elder masters. Here is a link to my favorite Ba Gua kata called “The old 8 mother palm” performed by Master Sun: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n8agvbyMDkU
OK these are all Chinese style martial arts so you may ask “What is the relationship to our karate? “ We need to look at the other interpretation of Internal System and External System. You will see the relationship as we go over the key points of the Internal and External systems according to the second interpretation. I am aware each martial art and karate style has a characteristic of all the categories and the categorization including Internal and External System method any categorization does not clearly divide the styles. By learning the categories and the characteristics I wish to present the general nature of Shotokan and to show the whole perspective so that the readers can understand where our style sits. With this exercise I hope we can identify the strength of Shotokan as well as the possible areas where it is lacking. The ultimate goal of this article is the knowledge and the better understanding of Shotokan karate and the possible improvement in training as the knowledge would, hopefully, reflect in the training menu.
Let us start with Internal System or styles. This system’s focus is on the practice of such elements as awareness of the spirit, mind, qi (breath, or energy flow) and the use of relaxed leverage rather than brutal muscular tension. While the principles that distinguish internal styles from the external were described at least as early as the 18th century.
Components of internal training includes stance training, stretching and strengthening of muscles, as well as on empty hand and weapon forms. In addition to the solo practice of the forms, many internal styles have basic two-person training, such as pushing hands. A notable characteristic of internal styles is that the forms are generally performed at a slow or normal pace. This is thought to improve coordination and balance by increasing the work load by moving slowly in low stances, and to require the practitioners to pay close attention to their whole body and its weight as they perform a technique. In some styles, for example Chen style of Tai Chi and Ba Gua, there are forms that include sudden outbursts of explosive movements. At an advanced level, the techniques are performed quickly. The ultimate goal is to learn to manage and control the entire body in every movement keeping relaxed with deep, controlled breathing, and to coordinate the body movements and the breathing accurately while maintaining perfect balance.
Let’s look at External styles or System next. External System is characterized by fast and explosive movements. Its focus is on physical strength and agility. External System includes both the traditional styles focusing on application and actual fighting, as well as the modern styles adapted for competition. Shaolin quan have many Wushu (martial arts) forms both with and without weapons that include the aerial techniques and explosive attacks. External styles begin with a focus on muscular power, speed and application. They generally integrate their qigong (Ki training) aspects in advanced training, after the excellent physical level has been reached.
From these definitions to which group do you think that Shotokan belongs? I guess the answer is easy. Shotokan definitely has many characteristics of the External System. By learning more about the characteristics of the other system, we can identify the area where Shotokan may be lacking. I hope you can make your karate training more comprehensive by adding some exercises to supplement the missing area. So, where are the areas in Shotokan that are possibly missing? They are probably Ki or Qi training, the breathing exercises and the softer movements. Can you identify if any of these may be missing from your training syllabus?
For the breathing training Hangetsu is an excellent kata through which you can learn to coordinate the kata techniques with breathing. However, you may complain that this is the only kata that was designed for such training in Shotokan. You are correct about this, but once you learn the breathing training idea of this kata, you can apply it to any kata you may know. The best kata to practice the breathing method from the JKA kata line up may be Jion, Jutte, Nijushiho, Meikyo, Sochin to name a few. Regarding the breathing exercise and method, I have written an article on this subject so you are welcome to refer to that article which can be found earlier in this same blog.
One other training that I consider missing in the standard Shotokan syllabus is Ki or Chi training. This is an important subject that needs to be understood by all the senior karate practitioners. It is also a deep subject that requires a lot of explanation. I also have written about this subject previously (What is “Ki”? and Ki exchange with a tree). If you are interested in the subject I suggest that you will read those articles that can be found in this blog. One more thing I wish to call your attention here, is that deep breathing is closely linked and is critically necessary to Ki training and exercise. Even if you do not understand anything about Ki, when you do your deep breathing exercise, believe it or not, you would be strengthening your Ki at the same time.
As Asai sensei introduced a short distance fighting method to the standard Shotokan karate to make it more effective, you can add the exercises of the Internal System to your Shotokan training syllabus. By doing so, you will be expanding your karate system beyond the standard Shotokan into something more comprehensive that you can call an Internal and External System. I hope this article has raised enough interest in the readers and that you will go out of the box and consider to invest some time and energy to make your karate “better”.
The big knuckles a karate-ka has developed on his hands are called “ken-dako, 拳ダコ” in Japanese. They are typically developed on the index and middle fingers. Typically, the young karate-ka would proudly show off the bulging and discolored knuckles as a proof of their “hard” training. It is almost like a war medal or a qualification badge. We all know how these knuckles were developed. They became big from the ponding, thousands of times on the piece of karate training equipment called a makiwara. The question I bring up today is if these big knuckles are really necessary for a karate-ka to be called an expert. The thoughts I share with you are purely my own personal opinions. I do not claim what I am proposing is correct but one thing I can say is that I have a very strong opinion about this subject. A makiwara has become an iconic training tool of karate. It seems that every dojo must have at least one makiwara post to claim its legitimacy. Most of the sensei of dojos I have visited almost always showed me their makiwara posts very enthusiastically. A makiwara comes in various heights, thicknesses, . and of many different kinds. I have already written a chapter on training with a makiwara in my book, Shotokan Myths. If you are interested in this subject please refer to Chapter 4 in my book (available through Amazon and Kindle). In fact, I must say that makiwara training is one of the most popular topics that the karate-ka wishes to discuss. I am the main contributor of Karate Coaching (www.karatecoaching.com), the worlds most advanced and comprehensive online karate instruction service provider. The editor told me that the demonstration clip of my makiwara training received the most attention. As a conclusion in Chapter 4 of Shotokan Myths, I wrote in essence that the senior yudansha need to graduate from makiwara training and move to the next level of training. I almost wanted to write that makiwara training was no longer needed for the senior practitioners but I decided not to. I was afraid my true meaning would be misunderstood by such a comment. It is true that many senior instructors including the world famous ones are believers of makiwara training. Those instructors include Funakoshi, Shotokan founder, Mas Oyama, Kyokushinkai founder, Tetsuhiko Asai, Asai-ryu karate founder and Higaonna, 10th dan Goju-ryu. It is well known that Master Oyama and Higaonna both have huge knuckles. I am not completely against makiwara training. Those masters are professionals as well as karate experts so those knuckles are well fitting and there is nothing wrong with that. After having written that I would still say “no” to the original question; “Do we need big knuckles?” I am sure many readers will wonder why I say this. Probably many of you will argue that by having big knuckles the practitioner’s effectiveness (destruction power) of his fists will increase. One karate-ka told me, “Sensei, a fist with big knuckles is like having a 44 magnum gun. If you have the untrained knuckles you cannot break the bricks or 10 tiles. A fist with the small knuckles would be a 22 pistol.” Even though I am not sure if the analogy is quite accurate, in essence I agree to what he was trying to tell me. Even then I still say we do not need a set of big knuckles in order to be qualified as a senior karate-ka. You do not need more than a 22 pistol to kill an assailant in a standard self-defense circumstance. Let me explain why I claim that we do not need big knuckles. • The biggest myth with huge knuckles is the following. The big knuckles are toughened to the point a fist with those knuckles can knock out any opponent. However, I must say that simply having big knuckles does not necessarily translate into a destructive or scary punch. In the case of a magnum gun it does have tremendous fire power no matter who shoots it. But you must remember it is a gun and a punch is a totally different story. In order to have an effective or devastating punch, one must learn how to punch correctly. A big and toughened fist can be a good tool or at least a scary looking one but it must be backed up by a punching technique to make it work or effective. If your punch is slow or delivered poorly then it will not matter regardless of the size or the hardness of your fist. In fact, if you want something for your self protection it is better or more useful if you would carry a baseball bat or a stick. If you are a professional karate-ka who can train 4 or more hours daily then it is not a problem to punch a makiwara for 15 minutes or even longer . However, I assume that the most of the readers can only train 2 or 3 times a week and each training period must be 90 minutes or shorter. In this situation I hate to see a practitioner spend the valuable 15 minutes pounding on a makiwara. Don’t you think spending that time on kihon or kata is better or more productive for your karate improvement? • Secondly, I do not think the idea of showing off the deformed knuckles bodes well with one of the karate-do values called humbleness. This is the same idea of not showing off one’s blackbelt to the public. When I was in a business meeting in Japan I used to hide or position my hands so that the discolored knuckles would not be visible. It was not because I was embrassed with the fists or felt ashamed of karate training. In Japan the people would easily know what my fists mean and I did not want to intimidate anyone. I may sound as if I’m exaggerating but it would be like placing a knife on a negotiation table. I do not think the sight of big knuckles will bring any pleasure to anyone who are non karate-ka. • The third reason is most important. As we advance in the skill level of karate we need to graduate from the crude punching and overt techniques to more advanced techniques. They are less visible and more like piercing or tapping techniques that are mainly aimed at the kyusho, the critical parts of thebody. The kyusho such as eyes, neck, ears and groin are typically soft and the toughened fits and hands are not necessary to deliver an effective attack. At those targets a fist, a knife hand, the finger tips and a wrist are all effective even if they are not toughened. In addition, once you learn the one-inch-punch technique you no longer need to smash your fist into an opponent to knock him down. Of course this is an ultimate technique but it is not magic and anyone can learn it. • Another reason why I discourage anyone from developing big knuckles is the ill consequence it may cause. I am afraid the deformed knuckles could result in an arthritis symptom when a practitioner gets old. I do not have the medical expertise nor scientific data on this so I would like to receive the input from the readers on this. • Lastly, I am sort of a romanticist. Frankly, I hate to see our fists deformed and making them look like those of a zombie (see the photo below). This is far from beauty and I detest it. Earlier I explained that the toughened fists are not necessary to deliver an effective karate technique. So, why would you want to deform your fists? Karate is the genetleman’s art and this is exactly what Funakoshi wanted. For those reasons listed above it is my strong belief that the ugly fists do not fit in the art of karate-do. These are my personal opinions and the feelings I have towards Kendako. You are welcome to leave your opinions and thoughts on this subject.
In the past I have received questions from many people, in essence asking something like this; “When we turn, what part of our foot should we use as a pivoting point?” They specifically asked if they should turn on the ball or on the heel of the foot when they make a body rotation. We all know it is very important for all karate practitioners to be able to turn quickly and smoothly. In fact, I consider this an independent technique. Today I will attempt to provide a short essay to describe my understanding of this technique. I would like to hear back from the readers whether they agree or disagree or don’t care.
Now before we talk about turning, we need to pay attention to and understand two important concepts; “center of mass” and “center of gravity”. They are different but for our discussion they are interchangeable. I will quote some parts from Wikipedia to explain the definitions of the center of mass and the center of gravity.
In physics, the center of mass, of a distribution of mass in space is the unique point where the weighted relative position of the distributed mass sums to zero. The distribution of mass is balanced around the center of mass and the average of the weighted position coordinates of the distributed mass defines its coordinates. Calculations in mechanics are simplified when formulated with respect to the center of mass. In the case of a single rigid body, the center of mass is fixed in relation to the body, and if the body has uniform density, it will be located at the centroid. The center of mass may be located outside the physical body, as is sometimes the case for hollow or open-shaped objects, such as a horseshoe.
A center of gravity (Wikipedia again):
In physics, a center of gravity of a material body is a point that may be used for a summary description of gravitational interactions. In a uniform gravitational field, the center of massserves as the center of gravity. This is a very good approximation for smaller bodies near the surface of Earth, so there is no practical need to distinguish “center of gravity” from “center of mass” in most applications, such as engineering and medicine.
So I have a choice for the term and I will use the center of gravity in my discussion. To shift the body even to take a simple step, you need to shift the center of gravity. Believe it or not, you cannot simply stand up from a chair if your head is prevented from shifting forward. Try the following experiment; have your friend sit up straight in a chair and you place the tip of your index finger on his forehead and prevent him from leaning forward. Challenge him to stand up and see if he can. You will find that it is impossible for him to stand up normally until you let go of his forehead.
First of all, do you know exactly how your foot is constructed? If you don’t know how your racing car is constructed you will never be a world class race car driver. The principle is the same with our body though our body construction is much more complex and precise than a racing car or even the most advanced jet fighter. Here is an illustration of our foot. You probably had some idea that the bone structure of your foot looked like this. However, I suspect you have not paid close attention to the finer details of the bones that make up this precise mechanism called the foot. The human foot and ankle is a complex mechanical structure containing 26 bones, 33 joints, 19 muscles and tendons, and 107 ligaments. The precise numbers are not important. What is important is the you realize that your foot is made of a very complex construction. The muscles and the ligaments are around these bones so that you can make numerous precise movements with your foot. One of those precise movements is walking. It is not possible to do a simple walk without the harmonious workings of the muscles, tendons and ligaments of our feet. I am always so impressed and truly thankful whenever I study the mechanism of our body. Don’t you agree that it is really a work of a genius and that our body, indeed, is a master piece?
Believe it or not the first human like robot that could walk like us became possible only in the year 2000. A robot called ASIMO (Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility, photo right) was designed by Honda and introduced in October 2000. I wanted to mention this because the precise mechanism of bi-pedal walking is unique. Bi-pedal walking (and leaving the front legs or hands free) was necessary for the Homo sapiens to set themselves apart from the other primates. Bi-pedal walking can be easily perceived as a simple body movement but it is incredibly complex and difficult to be imitated by a machine. I have covered this topic in one of my books so I will not repeat it in this article. The point I want to emphasize is that we must never think light of the abilities of our body that were given to us.
Back to the original question…What part of our foot do we use when we turn? My answer is that there are basically three different ways to turn and the part you will use will depend on the situation. One situation is a turn in position or an in place bodily rotation (photo left). In this case you will line up the center of gravity through one leg (pivoting leg), hips, torso, and shoulder area and all the way up to the center of your head. If you can line up all these parts as straight as possible then your turn can be smooth and fast. This turn is often used in dancing, figure skating and gymnastics to name a few. A body rotation technique can be found in various karate katas such as; Kanku dai, Gankaku, Junro Yondan, etc to name a few. If you are familiar with these katas you will know which parts of the kata require the rotation. In these cases, you need to use the part that is directly below your shin bones. Again take a look at the illustration of a foot (below).
You may have a misconception that the lower legs were made up of only one bone. Actually, there are two bones; the tibia and fibula. There are two so that you can rotate and move your foot just the same as we have two bones in our forearm to move and rotate our hand. As shown in the illustration they are not positioned in the center of your foot. The ankle is the point where these bones are connected and we now know the ankle is located nearer to the heel than to the toes. We also notice that there is an arch and that the foot is concaved inward in the midsection of the foot. This means there is no protruding point directly under the ankle to turn on. This makes it extremely difficult to turn at the best point, directly underneath the ankle. So most dancers use the heel part or the contact point of the bone called calcaneus. However, it is difficult to keep the balance if the rotation is complex or multiple, so as an alternative they can use the ball of the foot, the area underneath the third joints of the toes. Turning on the ball of the foot requires much more precision but we have the tools (joints and muscles) to control the turn and balance with the front part of the foot. The area of the ball of foot is rather large (illustration below).
The senior professional dancers would use only one spot (the best spot will be under the middle toe though some may choose under the big toe because it is usually the strongest toe) but the inexperienced dancers may float the spinning point across the foot which results a slower and a poorly balanced turn.
For an in-place rotation, the area underneath the ankle is the most recommended spot as it gives the best balance for the simple rotations that are found in most of the kata. However, we have discussed and pointed out that this method is the most challenging and most difficult one to use. I propose to the readers as the best alternative is to use the heel. I recommend the readers should try to bring the turning point as close to the spot directly under the ankle.
Sorry to have started with the most challenging technique. There are two other turning methods that are easier and you are probably already doing them. To turn as you are moving forward (for instance the left gedan barai move after the first ki-ai in Heian Shodan), you will want to use the ball of the foot. As I have mentioned earlier the center of the foot (third joint) is the best specific pivoting part in the foot. In a standard Shotokan dojo I suspect that you were taught to keep our body up right when you shift your body. As you advanced in your training, you might have found that it is better to lean your upper body slightly to the direction of your turn. By doing this you found that you can move faster and smoother. The first move of Bassai dai may be an excellent example. Even though an excessive amount of incline would be counterproductive, you want to incline slightly towards the turning side. Let’s take an example of the move I mentioned above in Heian Shodan after the first ki-ai. You want to incline slightly to the right as you turn from the right zenkutsu to left zenkutsu gedan barai. In this turning you may use a different part of your foot. It is still the ball of the foot area but maybe closer to or at the edge of the right foot. This requirement is the same with any other physical activities such as football. See the player in the photo right. He is inclining to his right as he makes a quick right turn. If you can expand the right foot area of the photo you can see that the runner is turning on the ball of the right foot and at the little toe side of his foot. Football has much more complex running and foot movement requirements in its play than in the karate kata. Thus, we cannot adopt the steep incline they use but the concept or objective of quick and smooth turn is the same. This will require a fine aligning of your foot to the leg bones. You may ask why. Take a look at the illustration of the leg bones (left). Just to line up the leg you have to pay attention first to the hip joint, then the knee joint and the ankle in addition to the numerous other small joints in your foot. This is only in your leg. For the entire body, you have the joints of many other parts of your body but for our discussion let’s focus on the leg area alone. What is the key for a good turn? Simply put, the fewer joints you use in your body alignment the easier you can keep the balance and turn smoothly. It does not take a rocket scientist to understand this logic. Let’s look at a top which you must have played with when you were a child. It can demonstrate a beautiful spin or rotation. As you know the axis is straight and short. But imagine if the axis was long and made of several pieces that were not lined up straight. How about if those pieces are not firmly connected? Can such a top spin? That is almost how our body is constructed. Now you know why it is difficult for us to spin. Look at the illustration of the foot again and you can see that the bone structure of the heel area is much simpler. The front area that covers the toes is much more complex. This is natural as we normally walk forward and less frequently backward. Then, can we do a turn moving forward using the heel part of our foot? Yes, it is possible so you can. You may feel more stable by turning on the heel, however, turning on the ball of the foot will give you a much faster turn.
Then what is the third method? You can easily guess that it is a turn as you move backward. Remember the third move of Heian Shodan? After the second move (right chudan oizuki) you will step back with your right leg and turn 180 degrees to make right zenkutsu with right gedan barai. What part of your foot do you think that you will use to do this turn? Yes, this was an easy question. Most of you probably said “heel”. As you step back it is natural and easy to shift the center of gravity to the heel. One word of caution on a heel use. The heel area (calcaneus) is a simple bone structure and it is a blessing in one way. At the same time, it can make your turn more challenging. The heel area is simple without the joints and ligaments. This means you are unable to do the fine tuning that can be done with the ball of the foot area. To master the heel area turning, you will need to do a lot of practicing and learn how to be stable and well balanced during the turn.
To be able to execute the most effective body turns in your karate, you need to be able to manage all three different turning methods. A turn may look simple but the mechanism to deliver the most effective turn certainly is not. A good turn is important in all athletic games. So I’m sure you’ll agree that it is also extremely important in karate if you happen to be serious with perfecting your techniques. Shotokan is labeled as a linear or straight movement martial art. If you look at our kihon it may look linear but when you observe the expert Shotokan practitioners perform we all witness our karate is filled with circular techniques and body movements. Asai ryu karate is a great example of this as it adopts many tenshin (body rotation) techniques.
Did I give you too much information? Maybe so, but it will make more sense to you as you read this article several times. You may think this information was written only for the advanced practitioners or the instructors. Even though I want the instructors to read the information written here, I was also thinking of the beginner and the intermediate level practitioners. It is better for the beginners to learn the techniques correctly at the early stage of their training. As you known once you form a habit it will be very difficult to change or correct later. The ability to turn correctly is much more important than most practitioners give a credit for. When you play basketball, football or tennis, isn’t a superior turning ability important and necessary? If so, then why not in karate? To improve your karate you know that you need to practice all three K elements of karate; kihon, kata and kumite. Regardless of which K element you may be practicing, one of the key requirements for your improvement is that you master the techniques of perfect turning. Good training.
Today I will discuss about the art of shaving. I am not joking about the art part of this activity most men need to engage in it daily. Yes, I am very serious that there is an art to the handling of a razor. If you happen to use an electric razor then this may not apply as well as a regular blade razor. One high ranking western sensei commented after he heard about my idea, said that “Shaving is only shaving and there is no art in it”. I am afraid he does not understand the depth of the art that could extend to small actions such as shaving. Here is a photo of my razor (left). It is a popular brand and an inexpensive two blade razor. I do not know how long you can keep using the same razor but a friend of mine told me his razor lasts barely one month before he tosses it. Believe it or not, mine lasts for more than two years (yes “years”) and I suspect that is probably longer than the time of most if not all of the readers. The razor I am showing here on the left is more than a year old now and is a little dirty but it will continue to give me a nice shave at least one more year. My beard is stiff and coarse so my razor gets normal use. I use the same razor for a long time, certainly not because I am stingy. I do throw one away, but only when it stops giving me a good shave. Any razor can last that long if you use it correctly. Needless to say that I am not sharing the art of perfect shaving so that you can save money. I am sure that may not motivate you enough to read this article. Then, why am I doing this? Let me tell you that the techniques that are used in a perfect shaving are connected to the core concept and the techniques of martial arts, certainly including karate. Now I hope this statement will capture your attention. My claim may be difficult for some of you to believe right now so I ask that you continue to read till the end of this article. At the end you can decide if what I am telling you makes sense or if it is a bunch of BS.
Obviously the razor I have is something I bought in a common drug store and it must be very similar to the ones you use. So the difference is not the tool itself, but it is the method or the technique that is different. The first secret of perfect shaving rests in how you hold a razor. Pic 1 (left) shows a standard holding method which I suspect similar to how you hold yours. The way I hold my razor is shown in Pic 2 (two finger method, below right). I hold the end of the handle only with my thumb and the index finger. This is an expert holding method and I know it will be very difficult for you to get any shaving done with this method. To start the perfect shaving lesson I recommend that you hold the razor as depicted in Pic. 3 (three finger method, below left) where you will hold the end of the handle with your thumb and the middle finger and put a small pressure on the back of the handle with the index finger. Once you get used to this method of holding the razor, believe it or not, you will have a better control of the razor with this method. Just try it!
Before we go into the actual technique of shaving, let us look at other arts and physical activities that are both Japanese and non-Japanese. Here I wish to elaborate the correlation of the holding techniques between the razor and other tools.
The first one is the Japanese writing brush. After looking at some of the artistic Chinese writing I am sure you agree that you will see an art when you look at the brush writing with beautiful strokes (an example on the right).
So, how do you hold a brush? Onestandard holding method is shown with Pic A. You keep the brush vertically and write the letters. The holding method here is similar to how you hold a pen or a pencil so you are not surprised with this. However, when you go into more artistic or sophisticated writing an artist may hold a brush in the way shown with Pic B. Isn’t this similar to the holding method of a razor I suggested earlier? Interesting, isn’t it? （Pic A left, Pic B right)
Many of the readers probably like Japanese food such as sushi and tempura, and you may frequent Japanese restaurants. There you have an option to eat with a knife and fork or a pair of chop sticks, hashi or ohashi.
Pic C Pic D Pic E
The degree of skillfulness with chopsticks seems to indicate how much a person likes the Japanese food. If you are a first time visitor you may have to resort to a crude method (Pic C) so you can eat (survival mode, I guess). Eventually you will develop the skill of holding a pair of ohashi in an acceptable manner (Pic D). Take a look at another photo (Pic E); this is a photo of a Japanese tempura chef, a professional in the art of Japanese food. Notice that he holds the very top part of the chop sticks. We just saw the way to hold a brush pen and here is a way with a pair of chop sticks. Wouldn’t you agree that to do a fine job with a small tool it is better to hold it at the end and work it from the end? I hope so but it is ok if you are still not fully convinced. You can experiment with a pair of chop sticks, a brush pen or a razor. They are all cheap and very common so the experiments are easy to do.
While you are experimenting with these small tools I want to move on to other tools that are somewhat larger and heavier. As I am trying to tie this subject to the martial arts let’s look at a Japanese sword, the katana.
Now I confess that I have never learned Iaido or Kenjutsu. Thus, I am not an expert in this matter. However, I have trained with Kobudo weapons such as Sai, Nunchaku, Tonfa, etc. thus I know that the fundamental method of holding a weapon is similar. Here is a photo showing how to hold a sword. Notice the front hand (photo right). Pay very close attention to the thumb and the index finger. As you can see they are not holding tightly, a key point. By the way, do you remember when you first learned how to make a fist when you joined a karate club? If the instructor taught you correctly he must have told you to start bending the little finger first and tightly, then the ring finger then middle finger (see hand photo, left). After those three fingers are held tightly you will bend your index finger last then complete a fist by placing the thumb over the index finger lightly. I hope the instructor told you to squeeze the little finger and the ring finger tightly but not so tightly with the middle finger and even loser with the index finger and the thumb. Of course, this is a fist you make at kamae or yoi. When you punch an opponent or a makiwara you will tighten all the fingers but only at the impact time and the fist will be held loosely again after the impact. The concept here should be similar or the same when handling a sword. Hold a sword tightly with the little finger and the ring finger. The middle finger is here to give support. The index finger and the thumb are used for managing or handling the sword. If you are a kenjutsu or iaido expert and if my understanding of a sword holding is incorrect please let me know. However, I assume I am correct as that is the way in my kobudo training.
I want to bring in another interesting fact with a very popular sport called golf. The photo (right) shows how to hold a golf club. I am not an expert in this sport either. I suspect some of the readers may be very experienced in it and they can tell me if what I am saying here is correct or not. I understand that you are supposed to hold the club tightly with your left hand but not as tightly with the right one. As you can see in the photo, you are to hold the club ever so gently with your right hand. Take note that your thumb and the index finger are positioned very similarly to the right hand that holds a sword (photo shown earlier). Is this a coincidence? No, I don’t think so. Though the motion of the arms are quite different between those two arts (I am daring to call golf an art as it can be), the basic concept of holding the tools, a sword and a golf club is the same. This suggests an art of swinging a long object in a precise manner requires the same physical positioning and control.
I believe the basic concept of holding other long objects, such as cue stick (billiards), a violin and cello bow must be the same or similar as the mechanism of our body is the same no matter what activities we may do (see the photo left). Here the little finger is not used much to hold the bow as it is not heavy. I suspect it is used more for a balance and the control of the bow. If you are a violin or a cello player maybe you can send me your comments if my understanding is correct or incorrect.
As the golf swing is totally different from a sword handling let me bring out another art (?), Chopping wood or cutting. I believe this will be an excellent comparison as its mechanism quite resembles that of sword cutting. The wood cutting activity is not very popular in the warm regions of the US such as California but I understand that it is a very popular and important part of normal life activity in the cold countries such as Canada, Norway and Sweden. I love to hear feedback from those who chop wood regularly after reading my article.
So here is the tool, an ax (right). The weight distribution is different but its average weight is closer to a real sword than a bokken (wooden sword) or shinai (bamboo sword) used in kendo. A while ago I had thought this might be an interesting subject to investigate if there is any co-relationship of this activity to kenjutsu, the art of Japanese sword. So, here is what I found. The wood cutting I am discussing here is not used to cut down a tree but to chop a large wood piece into the smaller pieces for a wood burning purpose.
After identifying the tool, we need to discuss how to hold the tool which is a part of the art and I have mentioned this before. It is important as it will help you get the best or, should I say, the most efficient cut by holding the tool correctly. What do I mean by “best” and “most efficient” cut? It means you hit the center of a wood piece every time and cut it in one strike. Of course, you will not miss any chop as it is a waste of your energy. “Best” also means that you will not get tired even if you continue to cut the wood all day long and moreover the efficient activity does not give you a sore back, shoulders, legs and arms. If you can do this then you can say that you raised this activity to an art level and it will no longer be a chore but something you will enjoy doing. OK so you understand the objective. Let’s go back to holding an ax. Some people hold it above a shoulder like the photo above. The stance shown in the photo right is called hasso no kamae, one of the main kamae in kenjutsu. So, you may want to believe that holding an ax in a similar way is the best. I am sorry but I do not believe that is the case for chopping wood.
It is very obvious when you think of how you will cut the opponent with a sword. The typical sword cutting line is diagonal. Why? Obviously it is better to cut one’s neck than hit him right on top of the head. So, in most tameshi giri (cutting demonstration) you see the bamboo stick or a bounded straw stick positioned in a vertical manner and the demonstrator cuts it diagonally (Photo left). But do they not have a tameshi giri with the sword cutting straight down? Yes, in fact at one of the shrines in Japan, Nakamura Jinja, a demonstrator cuts a cinder block (Photo below right).
OK if you cut it straight down how would you hold a sword? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that you hold it straight up above your head. In one of the famous kenjutsu styles, Jigen ryu (popular in Kyushu), they practice the sword swing by striking a log like we punch a makiwara. The only difference is the log is held horizontally (Illustration left) while our makiwara is up vertically as you know. (Note: this kenjutsu training method is believed to be the origin of makiwara that was invented in Okinawa.) Now notice the position of the sword in the drawing (left) as it is important and I wish to go further on this particular subject. If the kamae of kenjutsu is in this manner, am I suggesting that we should hold an ax in the same way? Yes, that is exactly what I am proposing. I know it is a daring proposal as I am not a sword expert but also have never studied kenjutsu in my life before. In addition, my experience in cutting wood is very limited. Then, how can a person of an amateur background in these fields like myself propose something like this?
Am I just guessing or BSing? I certainly hope not. I am quite confident about this and I am explaining how it should be performed from the understanding of kinesiology as well as the budo requirement that demands the most effective body movements. What do I mean by the most effective body movements? It simply means a technique must not only be fast, powerful and accurate but also it must also be most energy efficient. In other words, swinging a sword only with a brutal force is not considered a budo approved movement. The beauty or the art part of kenjutsu comes from an efficient body movement that utilizes the minimum amount of muscle power leveraged by the help of gravity and balance/off balance mechanism. I have already written a separate article on balance/off balance mechanism under the title of Unstable Balance so I will not go into this area at this time.
Here let us look at some of the examples of the inefficient or poor wood cutting techniques. First, look at the photo on the right and compare to the illustration above; how a Jigen ryu sword practitioner would hold a sword. Very similar, isn’t it? Let’s examine this guy’s kamae on the right. The stance is good as the feet are placed about a kiba dachi distance. However, holding position of the ax is not the most desirable as it is not held straight up and the handle is leaning backward. Why is this bad? From this position he needs to lift the ax to the highest level before he can bring down the ax to the wood which is an unnecessary move. He needs to use the muscles of the shoulders, back, arms and all other related body parts. Therefore, he needs to hold the ax upright like a kenjutsu drawing (earlier illustration). This is a very accurate drawing as it shows the man holding his sword vertically. The sword itself is quite heavy despite it is not top heavy like an ax. Holding it vertically like this is most efficient.
If you look at the next photo, Pic F (a young guy on the left), you quickly realize why this kamae is not in accordance with budo method. You can easily guess that this person will run out of his energy after 30 minutes of wood chopping. In addition he will probably wake up next morning with soreness in his shoulders, arms and back. OK what is wrong with the guy in Pic G (below)? It is obvious as you can guess he will have a sore back. As he chopped he leaned his upper body forward. He was in fact too far away from the wood piece. He used lot of his arms, shoulders and back muscles to bring the ax down. After one hour of this exercise he will have a bad pain in his lower back and possibly in his right shoulder when he gets up the very next morning. Let’s look at Pic H (a lady with a hat). How is she doing? She is doing much better, isn’t she? I assume at her kamae she had the legs stretched and she brought the ax down using its weight and she went into a shiko dachi as the ax hit the wood piece. Comparingher to the man in Pic G her right arm is much closer to her body (good point #1) and her hands were closer to each other (good point #2). Of course, I do not know if she held the ax straight up at her kamae but her chopping action is much more effective and energy efficient. If she did not bend her back that much I would call her wood chopping art an expert level. If she continued chopping all day she will have the pain in the lower back the next day. In addition, her feet are pointing outward (shiko dachi) which means the falling energy would dissipate to the other direction instead of focused to the target, the wood piece. Apparently she is not a Shotokan practitioner so unfortunately she did not know the benefit of kiba dachi.
In the photo (Pic I on the left) you can see an excellent kamae with a naihanchi stance (a bit shorter than kiba dachi) with the knees slightly squeezed inward and the ax handle seems to be held up very vertically. The hands are held with some distance but I assume she will bring them closer as she drops the ax down. Yes, she will almost literally drop the ax as she will not use too much of her arms and shoulders muscles when she chops the wood piece. In other words, what she will do is to just let the ax fall towards the wood piece. During the process she will use her hands and arms only to guide the ax so that it will hit the wood piece accurately. The photo on the right (Pic J) shows exactly how you want to drive the ax through the wood by bending your knees deeply as you can see in this photo. You notice that the wood cutter’s stance looks like an excellent kiba dachi. You also notice that his back is not bent forward too much and that his hands are held closely together. I can assume he just did an expert level of wood cutting by leveraging the gravity of the ax. As a result he used a minimum amount of his strength or his energy. Using this method he can probably cut the wood pieces all day long without getting ever tired and he will not have any back or shoulder aches the next morning.
When you become a real expert you can get down to this depth shown in Pic K (on the left) and use the full gravity of the ax as well as the body weight. Look how straight his back is. He will not have any backache afterwards for sure. He can continue to chop all day long without getting tired. Of course you must have the strong legs to do the expert level of Pic K but most people can develop their technique to Pic I and J level.
What do you think of this method? If you regularly cut wood I would like you to try this and get back to me if this method made any difference in your activity.
The budo method of efficient moves can apply to almost all the bodily functions in our daily life. I suggest that you will re-evaluate how you walk, sit, drive (read my article of “Jidosha Dojo”), play golf, play any musical instrument, etc. and see if your moves are in accordance with the budo method. Wouldn’t you agree that most of the time we can tell if a driver is an experienced one or a student driver by looking at the way he sits and holds a steering wheel?
We have digressed a lot so let’s go back to the art of perfect shaving. You heard that the method of holding a tool is important. You saw the pictures of how a razor can or should be held but you would wonder if this is the end of the technique. No, I have not covered the actual technique of perfect shaving yet. Holding a razor correctly is only a start.
Finally, let me explain the shaving method. Not to disappoint you but it is quite simple. You remember that you need to hold your razor very lightly with two or three fingers. Now here is the secret. You will go over your face with it like you would pet your face with a feather. It almost sounds like a commercial. In fact, there is a company with that very name that produces razor blades for the older type razor (right). Using “Feather” for the company name, I suspect that the founder of that company must have known how to shave correctly. However, you may complain that you can’t shave your beard well if you do it as I explained. That is true but that is exactly what is expected. The idea here is not to chop the beard from the root with one stroke. You are expected to go over the face surface many times and to cut the beard little by little in a gradual manner. Why is this necessary?
Both shaving methods; crude or artful will give you a shave but the artful method will not cut your face. After shaving have you ever had to put the pieces of tissue on your face to stop the bleeding? I suspect you have. Now is this a big deal? It should be if you claim yourself a martial artist. I do not know about you but I consider it as a part of self-defense. Maybe my definition of self-defense is much broader than yours but it includes preventing or avoiding all accidents from a simple shaving cut to a serious car accident. I also include avoiding sickness and illness as a part of my self-defense objectives. From this perspective, a perfect shaving will not draw blood and moreover it will not give you a skin irritation or a rash after shaving. If you shave close to your skin with much force the blade will shave not only your beard but also your skin. Even if you do not shave off your skin the root of your beard will be pulled with your shaving action and that causes an irritation as your face skin is very sensitive. You can check this by applying some after shave on your face. If it burns your face skin then you shaved too hard.
Even if you do not agree on the self-defense part, just think of a consequence of having the cuts and the rashes on your face daily. I certainly think that will age your face skin much faster. I guarantee that a perfect shaving will help you stay looking young and healthy. It is up to you to decide if this benefit is good enough to motivate you to learn the art of perfect shaving.
This is about a small mystery that some western instructors have wondered about in the past, so I want to share my thoughts on this unique point in Heian Shodan.
The question is the 4th movement, migi jodan tate mawashi kentsui uchi. No, I am not talking about its bunkai. The question is why we do not have this technique after the first gedan barai, the first movement. In other words, some of these western instructors thought an identical technique of jodan kentsui uchi was missing between move #1, left gedan barai and #2, right chudan oi zuki. By having this technique here Heian Shodan would become truly symmetrical and complete, wouldn’t it? So, was this technique forgotten or taken out by mistake? Let us check the old textbook, Funakoshi’s Karatedo Kyohan 空手道教範. I am sure you will find the same result; this “missing” technique is not there. Let us check Pinan Nidan (our Heian Shodan) in Shito-ryu and Shorin-ryu. I find that the questioned technique is not there either. We must conclude that this kata was created that way by Master Itosu 糸洲 (in the late 19th century). If this is the case, then there is a bigger puzzle. Why did he purposely skip or neglect a technique there and made this kata unbalanced? A hint is the key word of “symmetry”. This is a very western concept of beauty, correctness or completeness. On the other hand, in Japan, believe it or not, we consider it totally opposite.
The Japanese people do not consider symmetry and perfectly balanced geometry correct or beautiful. They even consider them wrong and ugly. I know most of the readers will have an issue with my statement and perhaps disagree with it.
Let me show you some examples.
Pic 1 Pic 2
One of the Japanese arts that has been exported to the world is Ikebana 生け花(the art of flower arrangement). Picture 1 is not a diagram of kata enbusen. Would you believe this is from a textbook of Ikebana? It is to show the basic structure of the flowers or how they should look when they are arranged. Pic 2 shows the actual flowers and the arrangement and you can see the arranger has used the off balanced and unsymmetrical format as instructed in a textbook. I do not know anything about Ikebana and I have never taken any lessons but I can explain to you why this must be this way as I know the mentality or the sense of beauty the Japanese perceive. We know that nothing in nature or anything natural in this world is symmetrical. In other words, anything that is symmetrical is artificial which the Japanese consider imperfect and not pretty. Ikebana, the flower arrangement is an artificial decoration using the thing of nature, the flowers. Of course, the flowers themselves are beautiful and the flower arrangement, the artificial deed, must not destroy or decrease the beauty. To keep the beauty of the flowers the Japanese choose to arrange them in an off balanced and unsymmetrical way. Does that make sense?
Here is another example. Take a look at the tea cups below. Another famous Japanese art is Sanoyu, the traditional tea ceremony.
Pic 3 is a tea cup used in Sado 茶道. See how the shape is purposely uneven and not round and far from symmetry? Even the design or coloring looks almost like it was done with some errors. I do not have the price list on this but I am sure it is as expensive if not more than a perfectly shaped Royal Worcester tea cup shown in Pic 4.
Pic 3 Pic 4
The concept of beauty is the same. We cherish what is natural and not artificial or perfect looking shape. I am not comparing the beauty here or who (Japanese or westerners) are right or better. I am simply showing you the different concept of the Japanese that is deeply embedded in their hearts and even in their life style.
Here are two photos of kimonos. One on the left has a general design of natural scene. The flowers on the left and right sleeves are designed differently. Look at the design of the photo on the right. The imbalance or difference between left and right is very significant. I believe this concept is quite different from that of the western world particularly that of the traditional concept.
Interestingly, the ukiyoe 浮世絵 (photo below) the artists of the Edo period (17th and 18th centuries Japan) such as Utamaro and Sharaku had much influence on the western artists who are classified as the impressionists of the 19th century.
Some of these famous painters include Monet, Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse, Pissaro, Gogh and many more. The academic painting method was to draw as accurately as it is perceived by a painter but the impressionists “violated” the rules as they put more emphasis on the feelings and the impressions they get from the real objects and scenes. I assume, these painters came to realize that it was impossible to copy the reality perfectly with their brushes. The Japanese artists knew this for many centuries and they perfected their impressionist painting style in the Edo period.
I can go on and show you many more examples from the Japanese culture but let me share with you only a few more examples that are much bigger than a flower arrangement or a tea cup. When you visit Japan many of you wish to visit some exotic Shinto shrines as they look very Japanese and the pictures of yourself ina gi in front of a shrine looks great (though the Japanese visitors may not appreciate it). Almost all of you are not visiting there to pray but just to marvel at the beauty of the structure and maybe the famous statues of A-un 阿吽. I would say this is a perfect example of showing the concept of ying and yang. A-un literally means an inhalation (阿) and exhalation (吽) of breathing. The term is also used in Shinto and Buddhist architecture to describe the paired statues common in Japanese religious settings, the Nio 仁王 (photo right) and the komainu 狛犬 (guardian lions, left).
The concept of A-un is very interesting and deep. If you wish to learn more, read on this subject in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A-un
The concept of imbalance or unsymmetrical extends to the concept of building a large structure such as a shrine. Here is a blue print of a shrine that was built more than half a century ago (Pic 5). The main part of the building is symmetrical but you can tell the whole building is not as you take a look at the structures that extend to both sides of the main building. The right structure is completely different from that of the left. Let’s take a look at a blue print of a church (Pic 6) and see how it is planned to be built. Here is one from Saint Thomas More Church in Darien, Connecticut. I thought it was an interesting coincidence that the Japanese shrine’s name is Dairen and the location of the Church is in the town of Darien Connecticut. The similarity certainly stops there. If you can find the original photo on the web, you can expand the blue print of the church. Even from the photo below you can see that it is beautifully symmetrical. The right side structure is almost a perfect copy of the left or vice versa. The only difference is probably the restrooms (one on the left is the Men’s and the one on the right is the Women’s).
Pic 5 Pic 6
Now, do you agree with my conclusion for the imperfection of Heian kata that it was placed on purpose?
I can almost feel how Itosu felt when he created Heian Shodan more than 100 years ago. It would had been a very boring kata if it did not have that one particular technique, jodan kentsui uchi. In other words, that move was a little spice to this kata. In fact, you will find, if you examine Heian closely, that some of the key techniques are being practiced only on one side (for instance, chudan nukite in Nidan and Sandan). You will find this not only in Heian but in all kata. You may want to review all the kata you know from this perspective and you will discover that none of them are perfectly symmetrical. You would probably think, “OK I understand the concept of the beauty by the Japanese people, but this is karate kata. Shouldn’t the kata being designed so that we can practice these techniques on both sides?” This is true, isn’t it? Your puzzled thought is understandable but the Okinawan masters had the answer. Master Itosu and other masters created kata purposely unsymmetrical to remind us that the students must practice gyaku kata (mirror image). Unfortunately, the practicing gyaku kata has not been exercised by all Shotokan dojos. In my dojo all brown belts are required to practice gyaku Heian kata and one of those kata will be required at their kyu exam. I also ask the black belts in my dojo to practice gyaku kata of all 16 Shotokan kata. Tekki may not be too challenging but try Bassai dai and Kanku dai in a mirror image. If practicing gyaku kata is not a part of your training syllabus, wouldn’t you want to include at least gyaku Heian kata and get the most out of these kata?