Although many readers may already have some knowledge about Kendo, let me provide some basic information of what Kendo is. The term literally means “Way of The Sword”, and it is the modern Japanese sport/martial art of fencing. It descended from swordsmanship, Kenjutsu (剣術) of the samurai during the feudal era (the 15th and 18th centuries). It is widely practiced within Japan and in many other nations across the world. In fact, Kendo is one of the options for the high school martial art classes (the other happens to be Judo and unfortunately Karate is not included). In olden days, during Kenjutsu practice they used a real sword but no longer and now they use a bamboo stick. I believe it transformed to Kendo when the protective armor (防具) and shinai (竹刀), or bamboo sword, were invented in the 18th century. There is another martial art, Iaido (居合道) the art of drawing the sword, where the practitioners still use the real sword in this art but their practice is typically done alone like the Karate’s kata. Because of this reason, many people have become critical that Kendo has lost the samurai spirit and that it has become a sport. I am afraid a part of this criticism is true but at the same time I believe that you can still find a samurai spirit in some of the Kendo-ka and in some of their customs and training. One is their strong effort to keep Zanshin (残心) in their training and in tournaments. They still consider it as a critical element and a competitor without Zanshin in a tournament can lose a match. I consider it as a requirement for karate also if one wishes to call the art as Budo. Many of the senior karate practitioners have heard of this term and understand it as “remaining heart or mind”, the state of strong awareness. Though it is taught by some instructors as important, I am afraid it has not been explained in-depth on what it really is, thus one can understand why it is important. I plan to write a separate article on this interesting and important subject of Zanshin in the future.
More reading on Kendo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kendo
Another element of Kendo that makes me believe that the samurai spirit still remains in Kendo is its unique training program. This program is what I am going to write about today. This training is called Tachikiri (立切 or 立ち切り), and I suspect this term may be totally new to the readers unless they have practiced Kendo. OK, it is a special training but what is Tachikiri? Tachi (立ち) means to stand, and Kiri (切り) typically means to cut, but here it means to complete or continue the fight. Thus, it means the practitioner must be standing and fighting till the end. In the western world it is called “stand all the way” training. A Tachikiri or Motodachi (the side who receives the attacks) practitioner will take on multiple opponents in succession. To be specific, a senior ranking male practitioner will face 33 or 100 different opponents depending on an event and each match lasts 5 or 2 minutes without any rest between the matches.
The opponents are not the easy ones either, and they are from the same dan ranks or even higher. The entire procession of Tachikiri lasts a period of 3 hours or longer. There is also a training menu for the female, aged and the youth practitioners. For those groups, the event period is shortened to 2 hours or less (against 22 opponents) but the basic concept of the training is same (multiple opponents in succession without rest).
The idea of this training is to push the Tachikiri practitioners to their limit, so there is no rest or stopping. When the time is up with one opponent then the next one is ready to jump in. To make the training even harder, some of the tournament banned techniques, such as pushing, body slamming and thrusting to the neck are all permitted. You normally do not see these foul plays in a Kendo tournament. A Tachikiri practitioner often gets knocked down by his opponent who may push or even run into him. I will post a video clip towards the end of this article so you can see how rough it can be.
As the training can be so strenuous the participation is not mandatory for the practitioner, so it is available only to the volunteers. When the organizations select some senior practitioners with high dan ranks (typically Godan and above but the lower ranks can also participate) they send the invitation to them asking if they wish to participate. The practitioners are not obligated to accept the invitation. They will accept the invitation only when they feel confident that they could go through with it.
For example in Aomori 青森県 prefecture, a Kendo committee selects the motodachi 元立ち (defending side). The members of the committee include kenshi (Kendo-ka) who have performed Tachikiri in the past. Essentially the committee selects people who are qualified and who they believe capable of making it through. Most of the members of the committee are nanadan (7 dan) and hachidan (8 dan). Also, the group considers carefully before they decide to send the invitation whether the person is in good health, how often he practices, and whether they believe he can successfully complete the task. The committee also assembles the list of kakarite (attacking side). Generally, unless a practitioner is godan or above, a person will not be invited to participate as a kakarite. This is a very honorable position and such an invitation is also considered very honorable.
Even though all of the invited practitioners feel honored to be a Tachikiri (Motodachi) participant, many practitioners hesitate and experience fear. Some of them even decline the invitation as they are not confident if they could go through with it. We may think just standing up for 3 hours does not seem so challenging, but consider first that the weight of the Kendo equipment is over 15 kg. Then you have to hold up the shinai all the time, which may not be heavy at first but it will feel like a ton after 3 hours of fighting. If you drop your shinai, that will be counted as a point gained by the opponent. A Motodachi is a Kendo term and it means a practitioner who typically waits for the attacks from the opponent but he also has to counter attack to gain a point. So, this training is much harder than running a marathon carrying a weight of 15 kg on your back.
In fact, once a practitioner accepts the invitation he has to make a commitment that he would go through with it even he dies. For this reason Tachikiri is also called Seigan (誓願), which means an oath or pledge. Each Seigan practitioner will wear a long cloth behind him with his name and his rank written so everyone can see that he is committed (see photo below).
The most famous Tachikiri is held in Yuzawa 湯沢市 city in Akita prefecture annually. There is another annual event in Chofu 調布市 city in Tokyo that is sponsored by Chofu city Kendo Federation in which a Tachikiri practitioner faces 100 opponents. They select 10 senior ranked Kendo-kas who will fight a Tachikiri practitioner ten times each making the total number of matches to 100. Their rules state that if a Tachikiri practitioner falls or drops his shinai, his opponent will earn a point.
The origin of this training method is not too clear but it is said to be handed down from the Edo period, the 17th century. It is documented that the training in the 19th century was much harder and it lasted from the dawn to the sunset or from the sunset to the dawn depending on the season. Nowadays, it is typically done in the winter time. In the 19th century Japan it was done in all seasons and can be found in almost all the Kendo dojos.
There is a documented record of a Tachikiri experienced by a famous samurai in the 19th century, Yamaoka Tesshu (山岡 鉄舟, July 23, 1836 – July 19, 1888) or Yamaoka Takayuki (山岡 高歩) and who was also known as Ichirakusai (一楽斎). He was a famous samurai and he played an important role in the Meiji Restoration. He is also noted as the founder of the Itto Shoden Muto-ryu (一刀正伝無刀流) swordsmanship. He was extraordinarily large for a Japanese male. He stood 188 cm (over 6′ 2”) tall and weighed 105 kg (232 pounds). It is recorded that in 1860 when he was 24 years old he did 7 successive days of 200 Tachikiri matches totaling 1,400 matches which is a record that has not been matched by anyone ever since. He learned his Kenjutsu at Genbukan (玄武館) taught by a famous samurai, Chiba Shusaku (千葉周作, 1793 – 1856): the founder of the Hokushin Itto-ryu (北辰一刀流). He also practiced under another Kenjutsu master, Asari Matahichiro (浅利又七郎), who was a teacher of Chiba Shusaku.
Yamaoka became enlightened while in meditation in 1880. This experience happened in the morning of March 30 when he was 45 years old and interestingly Morihei Ueshiba (植芝盛平) of Aikido experienced something similiar some 45 years later in 1925 when Uesihiba was 42. After this experience Yamaoka founded his swordsmanship ryuha, Muto ryu (No sword style). He named his famous dojo Shunpukan (春風館) meaning Spring Wind Hall. He, as you can expect, gave very rigorous and severe training to his students. He, of course, included Tachikiri program in his dojo. The program was called Seigan (誓願 oath) and was structured in three stages. The first stage meant one practices Kenjutsu daily without a fail for 1,000 days and the last day is concluded with a 200 opponents Tachikiri event. The second stage requires several more years of daily training and you will do 200 opponents Tachikiri for three successive days. To graduate from the school with Menkyo Kaiden (免許皆伝), or written proof that a student learned all the techniques satisfactorily, the practitioner had to pass the third stage after several more years of daily training. In the final stage one must go through the 12 hours of 200 opponents Tachikiri for seven straight days. During the Tachikiri period, one can take a very short rest to go to the toilet and to have a bowl of rice gruel. According to their record, no student has passed the third stage.
More information on Tesshu Yamaoka: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yamaoka_Tessh%C5%AB
About Shusaku Chiba: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiba_Shusaku_Narimasa
Yamaoka had many students and some became very famous in the 20th century Kendo world. One of them is Sasaburo Takano (高野佐三郎, 1862 – 1950, photo right). The rigorous training methods were adopted by the Ministry of Police at that time. Takano reported that it was the most difficult training curriculum in his training life. Here is the translation (note: my own translation) of his report on the Tachikiri experience at a police department dojo. First I post his original quote in Japanese then I will put my translation below.
高野佐三郎の述懐 (Quote of Takano Sasaburo)
“One day we had a Tachikiri practice that lasted day and night. It was a great honor to pass on this test in the Metropolitan Police Department and it meant a promotion. The promotion meant that you will become a nationwide Budo promoter. On that day they picked ten men in addition to three of us, the celebrities (Takano Sasaburo, Takahashi Kyutaro and Kawasaki Zenzaburowere already famous in the Kendo world of that time).
Tachikiri was the practice in rapid succession that started at six o’clock in the evening and ended at six o’clock next morning. We had the exam at Azumabashi station and there were many volunteers who were mostly the assistant instructors who wanted to beat us up to show they were good. Anyway, I did well in the first half of the exam but by twelve o’clock my sensory nerve just shut down. I became totally numb and my body was reaching its limit. If you stood in the middle of the dojo your opponent would run into you to knock you down so you needed stand against the wall to support yourself. In order to pass this examination you had to keep standing up until six in the morning so that was all we thought about.
Around 2AM it became so hard and painful, to be honest, I almost wanted to give up. But in the corner of my eyes, I saw 4 or 5 of us were still standing with our back to the wall so that we would not fall. The merciless opponents came and dragged us back to the middle of the dojo so that they could beat us up and knock us down. We endured that due to the great fatigue I became extremely sleepy even in the havoc. I got so dizzy I was floating like a little boat in the stormy ocean. I was impressed with the strength of our spirit because I magically regained the power and energy as soon as I heard the first cockcrow cry (there was a chicken shop next door to the police station then). It was amazing that I got my second breath and felt completely restored my power by dawn. I felt good enough that I could call those guys who beat the pulp out of me a few hours ago back to the floor and revenge.
Only three of us, the celebrities could make it through until the end and we received a lot of respect from the other participants. Though we could withstand the challenge of fighting for 12 hours straight from six o’clock in the evening till six o’clock next morning. It surely was a hell of experience. We were allowed to have a bowl of rice gruel three times and use the toilet three times during that twelve hours. I have to tell you that it took a full week to completely recoup and recover to the original condition. It is interesting to tell you that my head was alert and ‘awake’ even when I was sleeping at night. I had a dream all night long where I was fighting with my shinai. This lasted at least one week. This is not a clean story but my urine was red with blood and it lasted one week too. I still remember those days when the training was not only fierce and ferocious but also very painful.”
This is an amazing report as Takano has gone through some of the Tachikiri training at the Yamaoka’s dojo when he was younger.
If you want to know more about Sasaburo Takano:
To show you how rigorous the training at the police dojo was, I will share another report written by another celebrities, Kawasaki Zenzaburo mentioned above (photo right). He went through one Tachikiri training at an event sponsored by the Ministry of Police in the early 20th century. Here is his quote;
“The Tachikiri training at the headquarters dojo of the Metro Police. One of the Tachikiri programs was even harder than a standard one that lasted 12 hours. Believe it or not, it lasted one full day from the early morning one day till the first cockcrow cried at the dawn of the next day.” He continued with a funny report (I am sure it was not funny to him): “I remember we used to keep a rope hanging over a toilet commode because we could not stand up if we squat down there. We needed this rope to pull our body up after using the toilet.”
OK, that is enough of the police story but I needed to translate those quotes to show how ferocious their training was at a police Kendo dojo in the early 20th century. As far as I know the 12 hour Tachikiri is no longer being conducted in the present day Kendo world let alone a full day Tachikiri. As I am not a Kendo practitioner I may be ignorant about this so I ask the readers who happen to practice Kendo to tell me if I am wrong. I welcome the new information of any dojo that holds a 12 hour Tachikiri event including those located outside Japan.
As I promised earlier here is a video clip of a modern day Tachikiri event in Akita prefecture which is held annually. I need to make a short explanation of this video as it has a long commentary in it (in Japanese). The entire length of this video is 43 minutes. You are welcome to watch the entire video if you understand Japanese. I suggest you will watch it from the start to 6 min 30 seconds as it shows the Tachikiri matches (from number 1 opponent to number 9). Then the commentary and interview start and it lasts for nearly 20 minutes. I suggest you skip to a spot at 26 min. where the Tachikiri scene starts again. There was a particular reason why they made a big thing with this Kendoka, Ogata 5 dan. Let me explain. In Kendo kamae there are various positions and Ogata happened to take a jodan kamae. As all the readers know jodan means face level in Karate. In Kendo you need to swing your shinai over your head. It is a kamae to swing down your sword, a very aggressive kamae, but at the same time it is not suited for a long period of fighting. Until the year of 2005 no one had tried Tachikiri with a jodan kamae thus Ogata was the first ‘crazy’ one to try this which was never witnessed before in a challenge. You will see many rough actions to the Tachikiri practitioner and it almost looks like he is getting bullied. These type of actions may not be accepted easily in the western world but the opponents are not doing this because they hate the guy. On the contrary, they do this as they respect him so they want to make it hard for him which is expected.
Anyway, I will not take a fun from the video by telling you how he ends up. So I will not tell you the result if he made it or not, but I want to explain one more thing. At the end of the video you will see Ogata staggers to a photo of a Kendoka. This person in the photo happens to be his sensei who was killed in an accident only a few weeks before the Tachikiri event (he was only 47 years old). So, after the Tachikiri he crawls to the photo so he can bow to his sensei. It is a moving scene so be sure to watch till the end of this video. Enjoy.
Now we understand that Kendo has a ferocious training Tachikiri, do we have anything like this in Karate? In 1982 I trained Kyokushin karate for one year to supplement my Shotokan karate. This is a full contact karate founded by the famous karateka, Masutatsu Oyama or better known as Mas Oyama (大山倍達, 1923 –1994, photo left). Its formal style name is Kyokushinkaikan (極真会館) and commonly called Kyokushin karate (極真空手). When I was training in a Kyokushin dojo in Osaka I heard about an “ultimate” challenge in Kyokushin karate: Hyakunin Kumite. According to my memory Oyama had studied Yamaoka and he respected this samurai very much. To become a samurai he believed a karate-ka must be able to match this challenging event of Tachikiri practice. So he created his own challenging program called Hyakunin Kumite (百人組手). It literally means one hundred kumite and it is successive free sparring with 100 opponents. In other words, it will be 100 rounds of free sparring, each between one and two minutes in length. This means a participating karateka would be up on the floor doing jiyu kumite for up to 200 minutes or 3 hours and 20 minutes. According to Kyokushin website there are only eleven karateka (six Japanese and five non-Japanese) who cleared the challenge between 1972 and 2014. The participants also received some resting time (one guy got one hour rest two times) between the opponents so the total time they spent was more than 4 hours for some. The actual fighting time lasted for 2 hours 10 minutes, which was the shortest and 3 hours 20 minutes, being the longest.
Which is more physically challenging? It’s an interesting question but it is not easy to do. Besides it is not fair to compare without experiencing either one. The best way is to experience both yourself and compare them by your own experience. I certainly cannot nor am I able to do so I will not present my opinion except I can say both are very challenging. I have practiced Kyokushin karate only one year so I can say something about this karate. Doing kumite in Kyokushin is much similar to sparring in boxing. The snap kicks and punches that are very common and considered as the point able techniques of Shotokan karate do not have the same effect in a full contact karate (since the jodan attacks are prohibited except by kicks). In other words, you have to punch and kick through.You will have a better experience and understanding when you punch or kick into a heavy bag. The exhaustion rate in Kyokushin kumite is much higher than the one in Shotokan. For my Sandan exam in Kobe, the requirement for kumite was against 5 men (2 min each). It was not easy, but it did not kill me either (I was much younger then). I am sure I would not have been able to do a continuous boxing or full contact karate for 10 minutes as easily. Shotokan practitioners, unless experienced in a full contact fighting, will not understand the amount of exhaustion one would experience from 2 to 3 hours of Kyokushin kumite. In addition, Oyama was almost always at the 100 man kumite event and he told the challenger to be aggressive. He got upset if the challenger was just waiting and resting without making any attacks. Oyama told them to attack continuously and of course for most of them it was impossible to follow his order even if they really wanted to do. It was almost like asking a runner to run a 42 km marathon course at the speed of 100 meter sprint.
You can see how it was actually done in the following video documentary of a 100 man kumite done by Shokei Matsui in 1986. He was 23 years old and one of the Kyokushin Honbu dojo instructors in Tokyo. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I5ITw4UjmHU
For more information on Kyokushin, Oyama and Hyakunin kumite;
Mas Oyama: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mas_Oyama
Hyakunin kumite: http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E7%99%BE%E4%BA%BA%E7%B5%84%E6%89%8B
I need to share some more additional information about Tesshu Yamaoka, the samurai Oyama adored. He was excelled not only in the swordsmanship but also in his deep understanding of Zen as well as an excellent calligrapher. The people knew of his excellence in “pen(brush)-manship” so many requested him to write something for them. He never refused it and it was said, without an exaggeration, that he could have left more than a million works. He died of stomach cancer and the people believe it was caused by his strange action. He drank the black ink before he wrote his calligraphy works. The reason for this odd action was, according to his explanation, he wanted to be a part of the ink or make the in a part of himself so that he could put his spirit in his writing. Though it shortened his life (he died when he was only 52), his calligraphy works show the spirit he put in them.
The work on the left is a small one and you can see a very large one on the right below.
Yamaoka also has his own Niju Kun (山岡鉄舟二十訓), which I found to be interesting. I have translated it and has been posted in this blog. Look for “Niju kun of Yamaoka Tesshu” if you are interested.
I respect Yamaoka almost as much as I do with Master Asai. Yamaoka happened to have the same birthday as mine but that was not the reason. I want to conclude this article with one unbelievable action Yamaoka performed that made me respect him to the point I wish to model after his actions.
Let me explain what he did. In fact he did this at 9:15AM on July 19th of 1888. At that very moment he took his last breath. So what is so impressive about this episode? His last moment was witnessed by many of his relatives and reported how he died. This episode was unique and I wish to share it by quoting a report by his friend, Katsu Kaishu (勝海舟, 1823 – 1899, photo below) who happened to have visited him when he was ready to take his last breath. Katsu is a well-known historic person as he played an important role in Meiji Restoration (明治維新). He was a statesman and a senior naval officer in the position of Commissioner of the Tokugawa navy in the 19th century. He was a very unique individual himself and has many interesting stories but I will not go into them in this article.
“When Yamaoka died I (Katsu) made a visit to see him. It was July 19th of 21st year of Meiji (1888) and I remember it was a very hot day. I visited Yamaoka’s house and his son, Naoki greeted me. I asked him, ‘How is your father’s condition?’ He replied ‘He has just told us that he was about to die now.’ I went in the house and found many relatives and his students were gathered there.
I saw Yamaoka in the middle of the group doing Zazen (zen meditation). He was wearing a white kimono and a Buddhist stole. I just saw him sitting very calmly and looking very normal.
I asked him ‘How are you, Yamaoka sensei? Are you taking your last breath?’ Yamaoka opened his eyes slightly and smiled. He said ‘Oh Katsu sensei, welcome to my house. I am nearing the boarder of Nirvana right now.’ He spoke so calmly and normally thus I gave him my well wish, ‘Have a safe trip to Nirvana.’ and left his house.
I had some business to do I came home after awhile. As soon as I came home my wife said ‘I just received a message that Yamaoka had passed.’ I expected this so the message did not surprise me. I went on to my own business.
Later on I found that Yamaoka took his last breath as soon as I left his house. I also heard that he predicted the date of his last day from many days before and his prediction came true. In addition, they told me that he was chanting the Buddhism tantra with a white fan in his right hand and a rosary in his left hand. He kept his smile in front of his relatives and his students until he took his last breath very peacefully. They also told me that he kept his sitting position and did not move an inch even after he passed.”
I shared the Kendo’s special training, Tachikiri to show that Kendo still has the samurai spirit. However, the true intention with this article was to share the information on Tesshu Yamaoka and how he died. In the war period, the samurai considered the honorable way to die was to die in a fight or to do seppuku 切腹 (harakiri). However, the way Yamaoka could control his last breath was incredible and it was an honorable way to die too. This is why Yamaoka is my model. I am not a Kendoka so I did not experience Tachikiri and I did not go through a Hyakunin Kumite but I want to see how I will take my last breath. If you consider yourself a martial artist wouldn’t you like to see if it is possible to control your last breath?
If you are interested in Zen: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zen
Meiji Restoration: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meiji_Restoration
Brush drawing by a zen monk, Sengai Gibon 仙厓和尚 (1750 – 1837)
The title: 「宇宙」 （the universe）
In the past articles I have covered the explanations of Funakoshi’s Niju Kun (Twenty precepts), Wing Chun’s Doctrine of Conduct and Goju-ryu’s Kenpo Hakku. Today I want to bring up another martial art concept that was uniquely used by Morihei Ueshiba 植芝盛平 (photo right), the founder of Aikido. The concept he used to describe Aikido technique is called San Go Ichi 参合一. San 参 or 三 means three and Ichi 一 means one. Since these two words are 3 and 1, and the pronunciation of Go is same as a number five 五 thus the middle word of Go can be easily mistaken for five (5). However, the kanji for this Go is 合 which means to combine, become or unify. Though it is pronounced differently it is the first kanji, Ai 合 of Aikido 合気道 which means ‘the way of unifying Ki’. Therefore, 参合一 literally means “Three combined into one” or “Three unified into one”. So what are those three? Ueshiba used three figures; circle, triangle and square (see the brush painting above) to illustrate those three. What did he mean by them? And what is the ‘one’ that will come out from the combination of those three figures? The answers to these question are exactly what I wish to investigate and see if we can find them.
Before we jump into the subject, I believe we should have some basic idea of what Aikido is and who Ueshiba was. As I mentioned earlier Aikido 合気道 was created by Morihei Ueshiba 植芝 盛平 (December 14, 1883 – April 26, 1969) in the early 20th century. Ueshiba was often referred to Osensei 大先生, Great Teacher. Aikido is a style of one of the Japanese martial arts, Jujutsu. However, I consider Aikido very unique. It is because Ueshiba made his Budo 武道 more than a standard martial art method. According to Wikipedia, “It is considered as a synthesis of his martial studies, philosophy, and religious beliefs. Aikido is often translated as “the Way of unifying (with) life energy” or as “the Way of harmonious spirit.” Ueshiba’s goal was to create an art that practitioners could use to defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury.” The uniqueness of Aikido definitely comes from the combination of the martial art with a type of shinto religion called Oomoto or Oomotokyo 大本教.
More about Aikido: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aikido
Morihei Ueshiba: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morihei_Ueshiba
Aikido came from Jujutsu but what kind of Jujutsu did it originate from? Now we have to touch on Daito-ryu Aiki Jujutsu大東流合気柔術, one of the jujutsu styles that has a controversial history. This martial art first became known in Japan in the late 19th century by Takeda Sokaku 武田 惣角 (October 10, 1859 – April 25, 1943). Takeda had extensive training in several martial arts including Jujutsu, Kenjutsu(sword), Sojutsu (spear), Naginata (halberd), Kyujutsu (archery), horse riding and sumo. What is interesting about his style, Daito-ryu 大東流 is that there are no known documented records regarding this style before Takeda despite it is supposed to have a long historical lineage. In addition to the interesting background of his style, I wish to share some interesting facts about Takeda as he was a unique martial artist himself. He was well known in Japan as a great Jujutsu master in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of the unique things about him was that he never owned a dojo where he could train or teach his art. He also did not live in his own residence until he was 51 when he got married. It was not because he was poor (his teaching fees were extra- ordinarily high) but he chose to do so. What he did was to stay at various students’ houses as he taught the art at their houses. So, if a student wants to learn from Takeda he had to not only pay the high tuition but he also had to provide a room in his house for Takeda to stay during a teaching period of a few months as long as a half a year. Another interesting story about him is that he was quite short (barely 5 foot or 150 cm) but he was very strongly built. He was physically quite strong and some students reported that his arms were as thick as his legs. There are many other interesting stories about Takeda but I will not go into them in this article.
Daito ryu Aiki Jujutsu: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dait%C5%8D-ry%C5%AB_Aiki-j%C5%ABjutsu
Sokaku Takeda: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takeda_Sokaku
It is well known that Takeda created two famous masters in the 20th century. One is, of course, Morihei Ueshiba 植芝 盛平 and the other is Yukiyoshi Sagawa 佐川 幸義 (1902–1998, photo right). After studying their arts I found it very interesting that these two masters were both super excellent in their jujutsu skills but yet their approaches were quite different. This article is not about comparing these two masters so I will limit my analysis to a minimum. I must say that Sagawa was totally physical in his approach. He emphasized the physical training and the importance of the hips and leg strength. Here is his well known quote, “Building the legs and hips is the way to progress. This is a conclusion that I have reached through more than 50 years of training.” Sagawa’s skill level was considered by many martial artists to be better than that of Ueshiba. He lived until he was 96 years old. He trained and taught Aiki jutsu even in his 90s and, in fact, till the very last week of his life. He is not a well known Jujutsu master in the western world as he did not advertise about his dojo or his art as Ueshiba did. He also did not allow any video recordings (as far as I know) so we can only suspect how skillful he was from the photos and the experiences written by his students.
I was thoroughly impressed with Sagawa that he kept his super human skill till the last days of his life. I do not expect that you would believe that anyone could throw a strong young man as soon as the opponent touched (not grabbed but only touched) his sleeve or his foot (Sagawa demonstrated; see the photos above). Here is an article that appeared in the Aikido Journal about Sagawa and this article is an excellent one to show how capable Sagawa was:
If you are interested in learning more about his life and his training you can find it in a translated book, “Transparent Power” written by Tatsuo Kimura 木村達雄 (one of Sagawa’s senior students). This book is available from Amazon and here is the link if you wish to purchase a copy: http://www.amazon.com/Transparent-Power-Tatsuo-Kimura/dp/1893447103/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1409619899&sr=1-1&keywords=Transparent+Power
I must emphasize that Sagawa believed in the physical strength which he said was the necessary foundation for the Jujutsu techniques. Here is his quote: “People who think they can ignore training their bodies and only work on techniques are amateurs. You cannot do a technique if your body is not developed. Actually, if you don’t prepare your body properly, you have no hope of ever perfecting your technique.” I believe his statement clearly describes the main principle of his teaching.On the other hand, Ueshiba’s approach was quite different. I am sure he also encouraged the practitioners to train their body but he made an unique approach by adding the religious concepts. Thus, I agree with those who claim that Ueshiba’s art was half Budo and half Shinto religion.
To understand how Aikido came about we must touch on an unusual experience Ueshiba had. When he was 42 years old, it was reported that Ueshiba had a mystical experience. I have a copy of “Take Musu Aiki 武産合気” written by Takahashi Hideo 高橋英雄 (photo below). This book is a collection of the quotes of Ueshiba. I am not sure if there is a translated book so I will translate some of the quotes in Japanese about this incident of 1925. It will be rather long and the context is incredible so I am not sure if the readers will believe what he wrote. Despite that, I think it is important to share his experience in his words so that you may be able to understand where Ueshiba is coming from and what concept or philosophy Aikido is built on. Here is my own translation of the Ueshiba quotes so I take all the responsibility for the accuracy of the translation. “I believe it was the spring of 1925. It happened when I was taking a walk alone in the backyard. All of a sudden the earth and heaven shook and I saw the golden air (Ki) spewing out of the ground. This air wrapped around me around and I felt I also became a golden body. As soon as it happened my body and my mind became very light and I understood everything around me including what the birds were saying. At that moment, I realized that I had a clear understanding of the will of the God who created the universe. At the same time, I received the enlightenment that the foundation of Budo is God’s love and the spirit of universal love. When I realized the message was from heaven it moved me so greatly that I could not stop the tears falling from my eyes. Ever since that moment, I consider the entire earth as my home and all the stars in the universe are my family. As a result, I totally lost my interest and the desire not only for the monetary materials but also the status, honor and even the desire to win in a fight.” Ueshiba also explained about the human being and what we are. “Human beings do not exist separately as we see with our eyes. Instead we are all connected in the Ki or spirit world as all of us are created with Ki that fills the universe.” I do not know if the readers will believe what he wrote and there is no way to prove or disprove his experience. I can only say that his experience was a similar experience of opening or connecting of a Chakra that has been reported by the Yoga experts or an experience of an enlightenment by religious persons.
The above information may help in giving the readers some understanding of Ueshiba’s philosophy and beliefs behind his art. With this understanding, now let us look at the term of San Go Ichi 参合一. I need to mention first that I had great difficulty in understanding the full meanings of his explanation of these figures, though I read the book many times. Of course the reason is not the language as I am a native Japanese. His explanation and description are deeply tied to the concepts and beliefs of his religion that are unfamiliar to me. I will do my best to decipher the messages that are filled with the religious terms and hidden meanings. I hope the readers, especially the non Aikido practitioners, can understand what Ueshiba tried to teach by this term.
I have already mentioned that the first word, San 参 means three. I must mention here that the number three has a religious and mystic meaning in Japan. The number three is considered as a lucky number in the Japanese culture and religion. In the western world the number 7 is commonly considered as a lucky number. If you are interested in the concept of the belief in divine or mystical nature of figures, there is an independent school on this concept, ‘Numerology’. You may find some interesting points though you may not believe any of them.
Here is the link to ‘Numerology’: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Numerology
I will not go into the subject of Numerology any deeper in this article except that this number, three, is believed to have the creation and production character according to the Japanese religion, Shinto. Interestingly, a triangle is commonly used to describe this number three as the figure represents that one point splits (or grows) to two points.
The first figure in his concept of Aikido techniques is △ Triangle (Sankaku) then followed by O Circle (Maru), and □ Square (Shikaku). It is known that Ueshiba used these figures to represent three principles and to illustrate the techniques of Aikido so that the practitioners could understand better. However, without further explanation about these figures and by just looking at the figures, they will remain as a puzzle or a mystery. To understand those principles I will use the quotes from the book, “Take Musu Aiki” instead of describing only by guessing. I will translate the Ueshiba’s messages and I will add my comments.
“These three figures illustrate the concepts or the movements of Aikido techniques.”
[三角 (△) に 入 り 身 し 、 丸 (O) く 捌 い て 、四 角 (□） に 納 め る]
“By triangle or Sankaku one gets into the opponent with Irimi. Circle or Maru means the circular technique to block or avoid the opponent’s attacks. By square or Shikaku, you complete the defense by throwing the opponent. “
I need to comment on the irimi 入り身 (entering) technique as some of the readers may not have heard of this term. It is not typically used in shotokan karate but it is in Aikido and Kendo. Irimi is the act of entering straight into a technique, as opposed to the more indirect entrance into technique such as Tai sabaki. The direct responses to an attack are often very effective and excellent as they can unbalance your opponent easily.
To learn more about Irimi 入り身: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irimi
体を△に象りOを 中 心 に、
気により△ □ の 変 化 と気 結 び、
生み出しつつ気 魂 力を養成し、
“Aikido is based on the absolute love of the universe. Make your body in the shape of the Triangle. Make the shape of the Circle as your center. Connect (or link) the changes of Triangle and Square using your Ki. Your body must show the connection at the same time so you will develop the power of Ki. As a result, Aikido is a precise way to build the spirit and the body of total Ku (emptiness).“
I am not sure what the readers think but I am afraid the explanation sounds like a riddle to me. As this statement does not quite make sense, we need to continue with the further explanation in the book and hopefully we will have a better understanding of the teaching as we move on.
[相 手 と ム ス ビ を 作るまでの半身（三角体）の構えが△で、造化三神を 象ったものです]
My translation: “Before connecting to the opponent, you will take a Hanmi (triangular posture) this is Triangle. This kamae is the representation of Zoka Sanshin (a god of number 3).
I understand the posture of Hanmi, half face. So I understand that the triangle shape is a half face kamae. Unfortunately, I just do not understand why it is a representation of a god. I guess we just have to take it as his belief and consider it simply as naming of this kamae.
[ 宇 宙 を 和 と 統 一 に 結 ぶ の 『和 』がO, 『 統 一 』 が □ で 表されてい ます]
“Wa (harmony) and Toitsu (unification) must be linked in the universe. Wa is shown with a Circle and Toitsu is shown with a Square. ”
I can understand the symbolism for the circle which is “harmony”, however I do not understand at this time why the square can be unification. We need to read on and see if we can find the answer to this question.
[△O □ が 一体 化 とな り、そ れ が 気 の 流 れ とともに 円 転 し て ス ミ キ ル の が 合 気 道 ]
“All three shapes (△O □) become one body. Then this body rotates along with the flow of Ki and you must be able to clear (Sumikiru) which is the secret of Aikido.”
I could conceptually understand that those three shapes could combine into one form. I can also understand that one rotates his body with the flow of Ki. The most challenging word is Sumikiri. Sumi means clear and Kiru means complete, thus those two words put together mean complete clear or serene. Ueshiba says that this serene mental and physical condition can be compared to the state of a fast spinning top. When it spins very quickly the axis is very steady and the whole top looks as though it is still. So, as the body rotates the practitioner’s mind must be spinning at a high speed. By having this established, his body will look steady but at the same time it has a lot of energy inside it. Ueshiba says this state of mind and body, Sumikiri is a Gokui, essential point or a secret technique of Aikido.
[△O □ が（一体） と な っ て 、こ れ が ま た 丸 く 円 に な る こ と が 、合 気 道 の 実 行 で あ る ]
“The technique of Aikido is illustrated by those three figures, first, combined into one then it returns to a circle.“
Here is the religious symbolism of Sangen no hosoku 三元の法則 shown with the figures of △O□. This could lead to more mysticism and confusion but hopefully it will give us some idea of the complexity that is associated with these three figures. I will not translate all the characters or personalities of these three. I will put some important ones that may be related to what we are discussing here.
Triangle △ 三角、流: Heaven and fire; It is a flowing material such as liquid and gas. It flows with and by Ki which is the nature of the animals. It is also a symbol for the future, stars, sword and salt. Its color is blue or green.
Circle 〇 丸、柔: Water and flexible material, the nature of the plants. It is also a symbol for the present, jade, moon and water. Its color is red.
Square □四角、剛: Earth, solid and hard material, the nature of the minerals. It is also a symbol for the past, Sun, mirror and rice. Its color is yellow.
After reviewing these characters now I understand why the Square is unification. I believe it is the symbol for the final movement such as the throw and arm lock. It is the result of the unification of the body and mind or Ki with the opponent and the universe. You start with the Triangle then it will be linked and covered by the Circle and finally they will be unified and all positioned in the Square. The symbolism of this is shown in the illustration here.
Let me share some interesting (?) information about the one body format after the three figures are all combined within the Square, as shown in the illustration above. Where do you think this design came from? Believe it or not, this design is widely used as a part of an amulet of a very famous and highly prestigious Shinto shrine, Tsubaki Ohkami Yashiro 椿大社:
This amulet (photo left) is supposed to protect your car from the traffic accidents (this why the colors are red, green and yellow to signify the colors of a traffic signal). Most likely you do not believe in the effect of this amulet but this is not a joke. Many thousands of Japanese people who visit this shrine every month buy this amulet and hang one in their cars. When you visit Japan next time, check and see if you find this in a taxi or a bus as many taxi and bus companies buy these amulets to ‘protect’ their vehicles and their passengers. In fact, the passengers appreciate this very ‘responsible’ act by the taxi and the bus companies when they see an amulet in a vehicle they ride. Interesting thing is that if you would ask those Japanese if they really believe in the effect of the amulet, I am pretty sure 99% of them would say “no”. They say they do not believe in the superstition but they also say it is better to have one in a taxi or a bus just in case.
Let me explain further about these three figures. The idea of the three figures was, in fact, not originated by Ueshiba or Aikido. Of course, this statement does not mean to belittle Aikido’s concept or its originality. The concept of Triangle, Circle and Square has been around for hundreds of years in Japan and it has been handed down to the present day. The first photo at the very beginning of this article is a brush painting of those 3 figures written in the 18th century by a famous zen monk, Sengai Gibon 仙厓和尚 (1750 – 1837). The title was named as “The Universe 宇宙” by Daisetsu Suzuki 鈴木 大拙 (1870 – 1966), a famous author of books and essays on Buddhism and Zen. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D._T._Suzuki
Also, when you visit Kyoto, Japan next time, you may want to visit a famous zen temple, Kenninji 建仁寺: http://www.kenninji.jp/english/index.html
In fact this is the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto and it is worthwhile to visit such a historic site. In addition, you can also visit its special garden called “O△□ Garden” (photo right). So, it is interesting to know that the idea of these three figures is used not only in the Shinto teaching but can be found also in the Buddhism or at least in the Zen sect.
Let me continue with the translation of a few more quotes of Ueshiba so we may have a better understanding of his philosophy and his understanding of martial art.
[こ の 私 の 中 に 宇 宙 が あ る の で あ り ま す。
すべてがあるのであります。宇 宙 が 自 分 なのであります。
また 自 分 が 宇 宙 で あ る か ら 自 分 一 人 の み が あ る の で あ り ま す]
This one is a little riddle but also very interesting. Here is my translation; “The universe exists within my body. All the matter exists within me. In other words, the universe is myself. As I am the universe my individual existence does not exist. At the same time, I am the universe thus I exist alone.”
より大いなる 真 理 をもかちえたのである。
すなわち武 道 を通じはじめて宇 宙の 真 髄 をつかんだ時、
人間は <心> と <肉体> と、それをむすぶ <気> の三つが完全に一致し、
しかも 宇 宙 万 有 の 活 動 と 調 和 しなければいけないと 悟 ったのである]
“Through the physical training of Budo I gained its Gokui 極意 (ultimate understanding) as well as the bigger ultimate Truth. As a conclusion, I first grasped the ultimate truth of the universe through the training of Budo, then I came to understand that the three elements of the spirit, the body and the Ki must completely unify and it simultaneously must harmonize with the activities (actions) of the universe.”
“In other words, by using the ‘application of Ki’ we can harmonize the spirit and the body and more that an individual and the whole universe can be harmonized. Therefore, Aikido is the way of the Truth. The training of Aikido means the training of the Truth. By training hard, applying the techniques and perfecting the harmonization, only then you will be able to attain the ‘god’s techniques’.”
“Upon training in the following three disciplines, one can attain the ultimate power of the Truth and Immovable within his body and spirit.
* Train to harmonize one’s heart (spirit) with the activities of the universe.
* Train to harmonize one’s body with the activities of the universe.
* Train to harmonize one’s Ki that combines his body and spirit with the activities of the universe.
[こ の 三 つ を 同 時 に、理 屈 で な く、道 場 に お い て、また 平 常 の 時 々 刻 々 の 場 に お い て
“Only those who could complete those three harmonization trainings not only in the dojo but also all through in their daily life can be the true Aikido practitioners. “
[かくのごとく 熱 心 に 稽 古 の 徳 を重 ねるに至らば、相手と相 対した時にいまだ手を出さぬうちに、
すでに 相 手の 倒 れた 姿が見える。 そこでその方 向に 技をかけると、面白く投げられる]
“If one continues to train until one achieves the ultimate excellence, one can see the fallen opponent as soon as one simply stands in front of you before the fight. Once that happens you can throw the opponent without any effort whatsoever.”
I conclude that these three figures represent the three stages of a typical Aikido technique as shown below;
Stage 1 (Triangle △): Irimi 入身
Stage 2 (Circle 〇): Tenkan 転換 or Enten 円 転 (rotation)
Stage 3 (Square□): Katame 固め or Nage 投げ (throw)
Ueshiba concluded with the following statement which I found interesting.
[三 合 一 の真理 や 呼 吸 、 合 気 の 理 解 な く し て 合 気 道 を 稽 古 し て も
合 気 道 の 本 当 の 力 は 出 て こ な い だ ろ う]
“I (Ueshiba) suspect that unless you understand the true concept of San Go Ichi, breath (呼吸 kokyu) and Aiki 合気, you will not be able to achieve the true power of Aikido even if you continue to practice Aikido.”
As a conclusion he is saying that without the understanding of the religious concepts, breathing and ‘Aiki’, we cannot achieve the true Aikido. I can see and understand that with the correct breathing methods and the throwing techniques you produce the Aikido techniques. On the other hand, I also know that one can achieve such power or develop the excellent Jujutsu techniques without Aiki and the religious understanding. Take a look at Ueshiba’s teacher, Sokaku Takeda and other Jujutsu experts such as Sagawa. They have achieved the similar ability, if not better, without getting into the religious beliefs and concepts. At the same time, I am not disputing the legitimacy of his claim.
In the western world, martial arts such as fencing and sword fighting have developed but they did not come with the religious concepts. On the other hand, in Japan, it was very common in the feudal period (the 16th and 17th centuries) the swords experts such as Yagyu Sekishusai, Kami-izumi Nobutsuna, Tsukahara Bokuden, Ito Ittosai and many others tied their swordsmanship to the religious concepts and beliefs. This is a very unique part of Kenjutsu, Japanese swordsmanship. We say [殺人剣を活人剣に昇華した] which means these sword experts turned the killing skill into a higher and a morale concept that would save the people rather than just kill the people. In other words, they say that once one achieves the highest level of swordsmanship one can easily avoid the unnecessary fights to kill their opponents as he wins before the fight starts. This is exactly what Ueshiba was saying that he could see that his opponents were already fallen on the floor before they even touched him.
Interestingly, Sagawa also achieved the similar power which the students called ‘transparent power’ (it became the title of the book which I mentioned earlier). The students could not figure out or detect how the power was generated and they were thrown by Sagawa like a piece of cloth. For instance, an opponent would be thrown backward as soon as he touched Sagawa’s foot or his sleeve while Sagawa was comfortably sitting and totally relaxed in an easy chair (see the photos of this situation earlier, in them you can see that he was carrying on a casual conversation with someone who was watching the incident).
I have never practiced Aikido nor received any lessons on its philosophy in the past. Therefore, I may not be qualified to make any judgment on the religious concept part. On the other hand, I can say that I can make some judgment on the technical part of Aikido as a karate-ka or a martial artist. The concept of three stages; Irimi 入り身, Enten 円転 and Nage 投げ makes sense and it can work. In other words, by stepping in close to the opponent you can unbalance the opponent. Then by using the body circulation you can position the opponent to the point where he will have to fall on his own. The last move of Nage is the final but small move to help the opponent in his falling which will look like, to the outsiders, a throw though the throwing person hardly put any strength in his technique at all. I can picture the karate version of these stages. Irimi is the same so you step in as your opponent comes in an oizuki jodan 追突き上段. You will do jodan nagashi uke 上段流し受け with one hand to block the oizuki and with the other hand you will give a counter. In this counter punch you do not need to put any strength at all. In fact, all you have to do is to stick your fist out in front of the opponent face, then literally the opponent’s face will run into your fist. This uke 受け and kaeshi waza 返し技 combination will work even more effectively if you can add a Tenshin 転身 (body rotation) move. As this is not a “how to” article I will not explain the details but a Tenshin foot steps work simultaneously with the uke and kaeshi waza. With a Tenshin move you will be facing to the opponent in 45 to 90 degrees angle which is much more advantageous position than directly in front of the opponent. Once you become proficient with a Tenshin move, you can position yourself behind the opponent with one step and a turn.
As I end this article, I wish to add that that I consider karate as my religion and my dojo or where-ever I train my shrine or temple so I do not feel uncomfortable with the Ueshiba approach. There two main differences. One is I do not have ties or connections with any of the shinto or Buddhism sect. The other may be a bigger difference. Ueshiba had a mystical experience that took him to an ultimate level of martial art. So far I have not had any mystical experience to enlighten me. This must mean I am still far away from the ultimate level thus I will simply continue my daily training until I may have such an experience in the future.
We have studied Wing Chun’s rules of conduct in my last article. We also know that Shotokan has Funakoshi’s Niju kun (20 principles). How about the other styles? Today I wish to investigate Kenpo Hakku 拳法八句 which has been handed down in Goju-ryu. The Kenpo Hakku was a favorite poem of Miyagi Chojun, the founder of Goju-ryu. In fact, Miyagi named his style, Goju 剛柔 by taking a part of a line from one verse of Hakku 八句. You know what Kenpo means. So, what is Hakku? It means “The eight verses” that describes the eight precepts or the teachings of the kenpo or karate. Even though the teaching of Hakku was handed down only in Goju, I believe it is beneficial to all karate practitioners and that is why I decided to share it with the shotokan practitioners.
Before we go into the interpretation of the Hakku, let me introduce Goju-ryu and its founder, Chojun Miyagi for they may not be too familiar to many of the shotokan practitioners.
Goju-ru 剛柔流 is one of the major 4 traditional karate styles (Shotokan, Goju, Shito and Wado) in both Japan and Okinawa. Although it is commonly believed that the name of Goju-ryu was created by its founder, Miyagi Chojun 宮城長順 (1888 – 1953) but interestingly it was originally named by one of his top students, Shinzato Jinan 新里仁安 (1901～1945) in 1929. Miyagi, approved it later in the 30s,and Goju-ryu became the official name of his style. Goju-ryu is the representative style of Naha-te. Miyagi combined the teachings from his master Higaonna Kanryo 東恩納 寛量 (1853 – 1915) and some of his own modifications (a la, improvements). Kanryo was also known as Higaonna “West” as there was another master by the name of Higaonna Kanyu 東恩納寛裕 (1849-1922), Higaonna “East”. These two are often confused due to the same last name. We must remember that Miyagi learned from Higaonna Kanryo or “West”.
According to Wikipedia, Goju-ryu features a combination of hard and soft techniques thus the name of Goju (literally means “hard” and “soft”). Both principles, hard and soft, come from the famous martial arts book, Bubishi 武備志 used by the Okinawan masters during the 19th and 20th centuries. Go 剛, which means hard, it refers to closed hand techniques or straight linear attacks. On the other hand, Ju 柔 meaning soft, refers to open hand techniques and circular movements. Goju-ryu incorporates both circular and linear movements into its curriculum, combining hard striking attacks such as kicks and close hand punches with softer open hand circular techniques for attacking, blocking, and controlling the opponent, including locks, grappling, take-downs and throws. Major emphasis is given to a certain breathing method, Ibuki 息吹き, in all of the katas but particularly in the Sanchin 三戦 kata which is one of two core katas. The second kata is Tensho 転掌, meaning circling open hands and this kata is to teach the soft style of the system. Goju-ryu practices methods using various weights and tools, Hojo kigu 補助器具 that include body strengthening and conditioning, its basic approach isclose distance fighting (ma-ai, stickiness, power generation, etc.), and partner drills.
Goju-ryu’s 12 katasare Gekisai (1 & 2), Saifa, Seienchin, Seisan, Saifa, Shisochin, Sanseiru, Kururunfa, Sanchin, Tensho and Suparinpei.
Chojun Miyagi 宮城 長順, the founder of Goju-ryu, was born in 1888 and died in 1953 at the age of 65. It should be noted that Miyagi began his study in Shuri-te Karate at the age of eleven, in the dojo of Ryuko Aragaki (1875-1961). But at the age of 14, in 1902, he became the student of Naha-te Master Kanryo Higaonna (1851-1915). He was devoted to the teachings of Higaonna through the rest of his life. There is an interesting story that Miyagi visited Itosu, Funakoshi’s teacher, one day and asked if Miyagi could learn some karate techniques from him. Itosu, number one Shuri-te master at that time, told him that there was nothing more to teach him because Miyagi was the senior student of Higaonna and he had already mastered Naha-te karate. I am not sure if Itosu really meant it or if it was only a diplomatic comment showing the respect to Higaonna. Regardless, what is important to learn from this story is that Miyagi was open minded enough to seek teaching from a Shuri-te master.
One thing I must mention here is an important note on Bubishi 武備志.It is supposed to be the source of these eight verses, Hakku. It is said that these eight verses are found in the Chinese book, Bubishi, the poem is called “Kenpo no taiyo hakku” 「拳法之大要八句」. One fact that we must know is that there are two different Bubishi books; a Chinese version called Wubei Zhi 武備志 and an Okinawan version 沖縄伝武備志. This is not too well known even among the Goju ryu practitioners but this fact can cause some confusion. For instance, in Wikipedia (English site), it only lists the original Bubishi and there is no mention of an Okinawan version of Bubishi.
The original Bubishi written during the Ming Dynasty in the 17th century is the most comprehensive military book in Chinese history. It was edited by Mao Yuanyi 茅元儀 (1594–1640), a naval officer. This book contains 240 volumes, 10405 pages, and more than 200,000 Chinese characters. It consists of five sections. Section 1 contains military theories, Section 2 describes more than 600 specific examples of battle, Section 3 introduces different ways of training troops, Section 4 covers the contents related to wartime logistics and Section 5 covers traditional Chinese methods of divination, formation, and marine navigation. Section 3 is most interesting to us as it includes martial arts training with different weapons.
There is another Bubishi whose official title is Okinawa den Bubishi 沖縄伝武備志, Okinawa version Bubishi which is handed down by Miyagi. He supposedly had purchased a copy of Chinese version of Bubishi in 1914 when he visited southern China‘sFijian Provincewhich is closest to Okinawa. However, the karate historians now believe this version is a totally different book because its content is limited to Hakutsuru ken (White Crane kung fu). The Okinawa version book consists of approximately 100 thousand words with 72 illustrations while the original version has nearly 2 million words with about 700 illustrations. Hakutsuru ken was developed and practiced mainly in the Fijian province therefore, it is very possible that the author of Okinawa Bubishi may have taken or “borrowed” the well known name from the famous military book.
As this article is not about Bubishi I will not go any further on the subject. If you are interested in it, I recommend a book written by Patrick McCarthy, the well known martial arts historian. A copy of “The bible of karate, Bubishi” (cover page, right) can be purchased from Amazon:
Maybe in the future I may venture into writing an article on the difference between the original and the Okinawan versions but today we will focus our attention to Kenpo Hakku.
Kenpo Hakku 拳法八句
The Kenpo Hakku is said to be a vital document for Goju-ryu as it holds hidden meanings and the secrets of martial arts. Chojun Miyagi, one of world’s most influential men in history of Karate, used one of its lines to name his style – Goju-ryu. The Kenpo Hakku was written in a sentence structure of Chinese poetry. The interpretations can vary between the individuals and the practitioners. I reviewed several interpretations that are available online but I was not totally happy with them. Thus, I will put my own interpretations of each verse in this article based on the original Chinese text. I am not a Goju practitioner and I am new to these verses, so I am not sure if my interpretation is in line with what is being taught at a Goju dojo. I welcome the input and, possibly, the corrections from the senior Goju practitioners.
人心同天地: Jinshin wa Tenchi ni Onaji
The literal translation is the human spirit is the same as the sky and the earth. Two interpretations I found are, “Man is Earthly as his Spirit is Heavenly” and “The mind is one with heaven and earth.” but they do not make sense. We need to think deeper. My interpretation is that our mind is usually filled with the worldly things and worries that deter or hamper the martial art mind.
The teaching of this verse: We must be able to clear our mind so that we can unite with nature (earth and heaven) if we wish to excel and master kenpo (or karate).
血脈以日月: Ketsumyaku wa Nichigetsu ni Nitari
The literal translation is “Blood Cycle Through our Arteries and Veins is Similar to Cycle of Day and Night.” The other interpretations are; “The circulatory rhythm of the body is similar to the cycle of the sun and the moon.” and “Blood, arteries, and veins are similar to sun and moon.” These do not make sense to me. When the Asians talk about blood we mean the blood line of a family. Then how is it related to the cycle of the sun and the moon? I believe it signifies the unceasing universal program. The sun rises every morning and the moon comes up when the sun sets. And this happens every day and every night. So, this verse is saying that we must continue our karate heritage from one generation to another. Even though the relationship between the teachers and the students are not the same as families but I believe it is very common for us to consider a dojo as a family.
My interpretation of the teaching: We must continue our karate tradition and hand it down generation after generation.
法剛柔呑吐: Hou wa Gouu wo Donto Su
This verse must be the most important one for the Goju practitioners to understand. It is said that Miyagi, the founder, used this verse to name the style. The literal meaning of the verse is, “The law of strength and softness is taking inhaling and exhaling.” This is why, I suspect, Goju-ryu considers its unique breathing method, Ibuki an important exercise in its syllabus. One interpretation I found was, “To Inhale Must be Strong and To Exhale Gentle.” With due respect I disagree with this interpretation. This interpretation may be correct for the beginners, but as you practice further and understand the secret of breathing better we find that the system of breathing methods is much more complex than this. In other words, you can generate power (strong) as you exhale as well as when you inhale. We also learn that one’s breathing can be a combination of half inhale and half exhale. Then the percentage of inhalation and exhalation is not only 50/50 but rather it can be numerous. This law not only applies to the breathing but also to the application of the power as we execute the techniques.
身髄 時應変: Mi wa Toki ni Shitagai Hen ni Ozu
This one is not too complex though the meaning is deep. The literal meaning of this verse is that our actions vary according to the time and complies with the changing situation.
My interpretation: Our body must be able to move regardless of the time, situation or circumstance. To be able to do this our mind must work in harmony with our body.
手逢空則入: Te wa Ku ni Ai Sunawachi Hairu
This verse is a challenging one. The literal translation is easy but catching the true meaning is hard. When the hands meet Ku (emptiness) then they enter. Of course, this translation does not make any sense. Te means more than the hands and should be translated as the techniques. Ku, emptiness means the state of mind. Enter means the techniques are executed.
My interpretation: The teaching of this verse is that the techniques must come out naturally without any conscious thinking. Once again, it teaches the importance of the harmonious unification of the body and the mind.
碼進退離逢: Shin Tai wa Hakarite Riho Su
The literal meaning is; “Advance and retreat, part and meet” but it does not make too much sense. I figure this verse is talking about the foot work.
My interpretation for this teaching: Our body and mind must unify with the heaven and earth so that our feet can move swiftly and precisely.
目要視四向: Me wa Shihou wo Miru wo Yo Su
This one seems to be simple as the literal meaning is that our eyes must see all four directions. However, I suspect the ancient masters must have thought something deeper than the obvious.
My interpretation of the teaching: You must be able to see with more than the eyes. We must develop the eyes in your heart, thus you can sense or feel all the things around you that are more than visible.
耳能聴八方: Mimi wa Yoku Happo wo Kiku
This one is similar. The literal translation is that the ears must listen to all eight directions.
The teaching of this verse: We must listen not only with the ears but with our heart so that we will not miss anything that cannot be heard.
So what do you think of these eight verses and their teaching? I hope they are beneficial and helpful to your karate training.
For further information:
Miyagi Chojun: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%C5%8Djun_Miyagi
Goju ryu: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C5%8Dj%C5%AB-ry%C5%AB
Wubei Zhi: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wubei_Zhi
Yip Man or Ip Man葉問 (1893 – 1972) was a master of Wing Chun kung fu, 詠春拳 or 永春拳, and was most well-known for one of his students, Bruce Lee. In fact, Wing Chun was an unknown kung fu style until Lee became world famous and mentioned that Wing Chun was his martial arts background.
Today I am not going to write about Ip Man or Bruce Lee as their biographies have been written by many others who are probably much more qualified to write about them.
What I want to write about is Ip Man’s biggest contribution to the martial arts world, the introduction of Wing Chun rules of conduct. Unless you have practiced Wing Chun this Jo Fen should be new to the readers. We have studied Funakoshi’s Niju kun. I believe it is interesting and educational to learn and study this code of conducts.
But first I would like to touch on a little history and the origin of Wing Chun. The exact origin and the accurate date of this style are not known nor historically documented. Due to the particular age and period during middle of the 19th century, when this fighting art was created I suspect it was impossible to create and keep such a document. The time of creation of Wing Chun is said to be in the period after the destruction of the Southern Shaolin temple by the Qing army that attacked and burned the Monastery. According to the legend, the originator is believed to be the young woman, Yim Wing-chun 嚴詠春. She had supposedly learned a fighting style from a Buddhist nun, Ng Mui, who was one of the Shaolin Monastery survivors.
This fighting style is said to be inspired by the nun’s observations of a fight between a snake and a crane. So you can easily guess the techniques of this style. Wing Chun is a striking art, utilizing kicks, punches, elbow strikes, knee strikes and open-handed techniques, primarily used for close-range combat. It is very interesting to examine the style Lee created, Jeet Kune Do 截拳道 and compare it with the techniques of Wing Chun. You will find that there is very little resemblance to his original art. As this is not an article about Lee nor Jeet Kune Do, I will not go any further than one statement. I know there are many blind followers of Bruce Lee and my statement may not please them but I dare to reveal this because of the great respect I have for Ip Man. His deviation was not based on the technical discovery or improvement as Lee wanted us to believe. It was mainly because he needed to adapt the style to look good on the screen. This is not to blame Lee for having done this as he was a movie actor before a martial artist. It was a very natural thing to do and he was very successful with what he did. He should receive the rightful credit for what he did which was to popularize Asian martial arts around the world through the movies he starred. But I must stress that we should never blow up his image more than what he really was and create a god.
OK, let us look at Wing Chu Jo Fen that consisted of nine rules.
Ip Man’s Win Chun Rules of Conduct 葉問詠春祖訓:
We will examine each rule. I will put the original Chinese rule then the translation underneath. The rules are fairly straight forward so there will be little added explanation over the translated sentences.
Chinese writing for rule 1
Remain disciplined and uphold yourself ethically as a martial artist.
Chinese writing for rule 2
Practice courtesy and righteousness, love your country, honor your family and respect your parents.
Chinese writing for rule 3
Love your fellow students, be united and enjoy working together in a harmony.
Chinese writing for rule 4
Control your bodily desires, preserve the sound spirit and stay healthy.
Chinese writing for rule 5
Train diligently and keep practicing, keep your skills throughout your life.
Chinese writing for rule 6
Learn to develop your chi (ki), avoid the attitude of arguments and aggression.
Chinese writing for rule 7
Your character in your daily life should be always moderate, kind and gentle in your manners.
Chinese writing for rule 8
Help the weak and the disadvantaged (old and young), use your martial skill to keep the justice.
Chinese writing for rule 9
Pass on the tradition, preserve and uphold these Rules of Conduct.
In addition to these 9 rules there are three things the martial artists must refuse or avoid. I found them to be interesting so I will list them.
1. Refusal to teach government officials.
2. Refusal to teach local bullies (gangsters)
3. Must not have dis-respectable employment.
What do you think of Wing Chun rules of conduct? Can they be useful to you? By the way, Ip Man died from the throat cancer and it happened coincidentally in the same year Lee died, 1972. It is very true that Ip Man became a legend and made Wing Chun a well- known style. I also consider Wing Chun Jo Fen is a valuable teaching code and we all must respect it even if we do not practice Wing Chun. Despite all these, I must end this article with this sad fact that Ip Man was addicted to opium. One of his former students revealed that Ip used tuition money to support his opium addiction. He created many students and Wing Chun became famous but I wonder how he coped with his deviation from the rules of conduct particularly of Rule #4; “Control your bodily desires, preserve the sound spirit and stay healthy.”
Regardless, I hope you agree that all of us can learn some important teaching from Wing Chun Jo Fen and we may want to adapt it in our karate discipline to improve ourselves.
For the additional reading;
Yip/Ip Man: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yip_Man
Wing Chun: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wing_Chun
Yim Wing-chun: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yim_Wing-chun
Jeet Kune Do: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeet_Kune_Do
En el artículo presenta cada uno de los kun en japonés junto con la traducción que aparece en la versión inglesa de la Wikipedia, la cual intenta matizar. Me he encontrado que la traducción al castellano en esa misma página resulta en casi todos los casos mucho más acertada y cercana a lo que sensei Yokota comenta, por lo que me he permitido la licencia de incluir ambas traducciones. Espero que no le importe al autor.
Gichin Funakoshi creó tanto el Dojo Kun 道場訓 en el que se pueden encontrar cinco principios como el Niju Kun donde se describen 20 principios más. Sospecho que Funakoshi quiso hacer que el dojo kun solo cubriera unos pocos kun de manera que los estudiantes pudieran recitarlo a diario. Terminó con los cinco más importantes. Sin embargo, había muchas más enseñanzas que él quería establecer y así apareció el segundo Kun y originalmente se llamó Karate Niju kajo 空手二十箇条 (los 20 principios del Karate). Ahora se le conoce como Shotokan Niju kun 松濤館二十訓 o simplemente Niju kun 二十訓.
Niju significa veinte y Kun significa literalmente “enseñanza” o “lema”. El Niju Kun es una lista valiosa de 20 lemas que podemos utilizar para buscar nuestro camino en el Karate. El Niju Kun tiene una página en la wikipedia y cada kun está traducido aquí: http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nij%C5%AB_kun
Haré referencias a estas traducciones de la Wikipedia al ser las que están popularmente más aceptadas. Debo decir que las traducciones en la wikipedia de algunos kun son buenas pero encuentro en la mayoría de ellas la necesidad de una explicación mayor y de algunas correcciones. Añadiré la información adicional para completar el significado de cada kun. Tal y como se muestra en la Wikipedia, mostraré cada kun en japonés, luego en roma-ji (alfabeto) y la traducción de la Wikipedia. Al final estará mi explicación.
Es cierto que la palabra rei 礼 se puede traducir como reverencia. También es cierto que siempre comenzamos nuestros kata con una reverencia y finaliza con otra. Sin embargo, aquí creo que Funakoshi estaba intentando decir algo que es más profundo. Creo que él quería cubrir con este kun la etiqueta en general y el respeto. Podemos encontrar otra palabra en el 4º principio del Dojo Kun, Reigi 礼儀 que significa buenos modales. Así pues, el significado de este kun debe ser interpretado como que no debemos olvidar que el Karate-do significa tener siempre buenos modales, ya sea dentro o fuera del dojo.
Se suele traducir habitualmente como “No hay primer ataque en karate.” pero el significado de este kun es más profundo. Él no quería decir literalmente que no debemos lanzar el primer golpe. Él quería dar a entender que no debemos instigar o provocar una pelea. Pero una vez que es obvio o claro que nos debemos defender, debemos hacer lo que absolutamente sea necesario incluyendo golpear primero. En Okinawa hay un dicho popular “Sente hissho” que significa que el primer golpe siempre trae la victoria.
Karate wa gino tasuke
EN: “El karate se encuentra en el lado de la justicia.”
ES: “El karateka debe seguir el camino de la justicia.”
Por desgracia, la traducción de la Wikipedia nos deja un significado poco claro. Gi 義 significa rectitud o justicia. Tatsuke 補け significa complemento o suministro. De este modo, este kun da a entender que practicando karate siempre debemos acatar las leyes o hacer los que es correcto.
Funakoshi fue una persona con educación por lo que conocía a Sun Tzu 孫子 y su famoso libro, El arte de la guerra. En él, Sun dijo “Si conoces a tu enemigo y te conoces a ti mismo no necesitas temer el resultado de cien batallas.” Hay dos puntos interesantes aquí. Uno es que Funakoshi dijo “PRIMERO conócete a ti mismo” mientras que Sun mencionaba primero al enemigo. Creo que esto es extremadamente importante ya que vino de la filosofía del bushido. Otro punto interesante es que Funakoshi dijo conocer a “los demás” en vez del enemigo. Creo que la enseñanza de Funakoshi fue más exhaustiva y se puede aplicar en el día a día tanto en la paz como en la guerra. No estoy diciendo que la enseñanza de Sun tuviera menos valor. Sólo digo que la idea de Sun se centraba sólo en la guerra.
Gijitsu yori shinjitsu
EN: “Mentalidad sobre la técnica”
ES: “Antepón el espíritu a la técnica”
Esta traducción necesita una mayor explicación para comprender el profundo significado de este kun. Permitidme explicar el significado de cada palabra y esto nos ayudará a entender este importante kun. Gijutsu 技術 sifnifica técnica pero gi 技 por sí mismo también significa técnica mientras que jutsu 術 significa arte, camino, método o medio. Así pues, significaría el método técnico o el camino técnico. De este modo no no tendría que referirse a técnicas de Karate. Cuando decimos “gijutsu sha” o persona gijutsu nos referimos a ingenieros y artesanos. Independientemente, por gijutsu se referería a las técnicas de karate.
Entonces, ¿qué es shinjutsu 心術? Shin significa corazón, mente e inteligencia. Podríamos entonces traducir shinjutsu como el camino de la mente o el camino inteligente; sin embargo, esta traducción no sería exactamente lo que Funakoshi quiso dar a entender. La palabra japonesa shin 心 tiene muchos significados y se trata de una palabra muy importante para el Japonés. Shin puede significar centro o núcleo (kan 幹) e incluso estómago o entrañas (hara 腹). Los Samurai consideraban al shin y al hara el centro del espíritu o mérito samurai. Es por lo que se cortaban la barriga cuando cometían seppuku o harakiri mostrando que su centro era puro. No creo que Funakoshi estuviera pensando en el harakiri pero sí en el espíritu samurai. Pensaba en el Gojo no toku 五常の徳 o cinco virtudes del confucionismo. Estas virtudes son Jin 仁 (benevolencia), Gi 義 (justicia), Rei 礼 (cortesía), Chi 智 (sabiduría), Shin 信 (confianza). Escribiré acerca del bushido en un futuro cercano y entonces incluiré una explicación más profunda del Gojo no Toku.
En resumen, Funakoshi puso la esencia en el Dojo Kun que creó. No niega la necesidad del entrenamiento del Karate pero quiso enfatizar la importancia de la parte mental y espiritual o ética del desarrollo personal. Puso el concepto en una frase muy breve y sospecho que pasó mucho tiempo con sus estudiantes explicándoles que quería realmente decir con este kun.
Kokorowa hanatankoto o yosu
EN: “El corazón ha de ser liberado”
ES: “Prepárate para liberar y cultivar la mente”
Este es otro de los difíciles. Es interesante ver que el mismo kanji 心 se usa aquí. La traducción directa “El corazón debe ser liberado” no tiene sentido para muchos de los lectores. Como se puede ver la pronunciación del kanji es diferente en este kun y es kokoro. Aunque la traducción literal de kokoro es corazón, Funakoshi se refería a algo más profundo. Está más cerca, yo diría, del concepto de mente a nivel psicológico. En otras palabras, él estaba diciendo que tendemos a quedarnos atrapados en una forma o manera y no vemos otras opciones o métodos. Para practicar y para mejorar en el karate no debemos quedarnos atrapados en un camino o en un método. Un buen ejemplo sería el bunkai. Puedes creer que un bunkai es correcto pero necesitas abrir tu mente y considerar otras opciones. El quiere que seamos flexibles en nuestra manera de pensar y en nuestra mente.
Wazawaiwa ketaini seizu
EN: “La calamidad aparece de la falta de cuidado.”
ES: “Los accidentes provienen de la falta de atención.”
La traducción que encuentro aquí en desafortunadamente incorrecta. El primer kanji wazawai 禍 no es realmente calamidad en este contexto. Se refería más bien a un pequeño problema o accidente. La siguiente palabra ketai 懈怠 es de las difíciles y significa ser vago u holgazanear. El quería advertirnos que si holgazaneamos durante nuestro entrenamiento y en nuestra vida pueden ocurrir accidentes o problemas. Nos está diciendo que prestemos un 100% de concentración y dedicación al entrenamiento del karate.
La traducción aquí puede ser extendida un poquito, aunque la mayoría de los lectores entienden lo que significa este kun. Algunos podrán entender erróneamente que este kun está limitado sólo a la defensa y peligros fuera del dojo. Desde luego que está incluído, pero el kun cubre mucho más. Él quiso decirnos que tenemos que aplicar todas las virtudes (que he mencionado anteriormente) y la auto disciplina debe ser aplicada en nuestro día a día.
Karate-do no shugyowa isssho de-aru
EN: “El karate es una búsqueda para toda la vida.”
ES: “La práctica del Karate es para toda la vida.”
La traducción en la Wikipedia no está mal pero la palabra shugyo 修業 necestia ser explicada para entender mejor el significado de este kun. Significa estudiar, aprender y practicar. Por eso, prefiero traducir este kun como “La práctica del Karate es para toda la vida. Esta fue la razón por la que el Maestro Asai no aceptó el rango de 10º dan durante su vida. Él dijo que todavía estaba persiguiendo el karate perfecto que todavía no había encontrado. Creo que el maestro Asai guardó este kun y vivio por él.
Ara-yuru mono o karatekaseyo; sokoni myomi ari
EN: “Aplica el camino del karate a todas las cosas. Ahí radica su belleza.”
ES: “Transforme todo en karate, que es donde la belleza exquisita está.”
Estoy de acuerdo con la traducción, pero la segunda parte necesita mayor explicación. La palabra myomi 妙味 es una de las difíciles de traducir. Literalmente significa buen gusto, encanto o provecho. Si puedes extender los beneficios del karate a tu vida entonces puedes disfrutar realmente de tu vida. Por ejemplo, el maestro Funakoshi siempre estuvo sano hasta su muerte a los 89 años. Él dijo que estaba aplicando la defensa personal contra la enfermedad. Otro ejemplo es evitar un accidente (de coche o simplemente por una caída) y hay otros muchos. De modo que, la traducción es “belleza” pero en realidad significa “beneficio real” o “disfrute de la vida”.
Karatewa yu no gotoku taezu netsu o ataezareba motono mizuni kaeru
EN: “El Karate es como el agua hirviendo; sin calor, vuelve a su estado de tibieza.”
ES: “El Karate, como agua caliente, volverá al agua fresca original si usted no lo entrena constantemente.”
Estoy de acuerdo con la traducción y no necesita mayor explicación.
Katsu kangae wa motsuna; makenu kangae wa hitsuyo
EN: “No pienses en ganar. Mejor piensa en no perder.”
ES: “No tenga pensamientos de ganar. Los pensamientos de no perder son necesarios.”
La traducción es buena. En el caso de que seas un competidor, te estarás preguntando si deberías pelear por un empate ya que no se supone que pienses en ganar o perder. Por supuesto que el Maestro Funakoshi no pensaba en eso ya que se opuso a los torneos y competiciones. Por eso, asumo que estaba hablando de peleas reales. A través de este kun contradictorio, él estaba diciéndonos que el último propósito sería no meternos en ninguna pelea o conflicto.
Tekki ni yotte tenka seyo
EN: “Realiza ajustes de acuerdo a tu oponente.”
ES: “Cambie en consonancia con su oponente.”
Me gustaría mencionar que teki 敵 es más que un mero oponente. Se refiere al enemigo y los desafíos en general. Por eso mismo, él no estaba hablando de ajustarse solo ante la gente que te enfrentas sino a cualquier posible desafío que pudieras encontrar en tu vida.
Tatakai wa kyo-jitsu no soju ikan ni ari
EN: “El resultado de una batalla depende de como uno maneje el vacío y la plenitud (debilidad y fortaleza).”
ES: “El secreto del combate reside en el arte de dirigirlo.”
Este kun es un desafío para traducir y lo que lo hace complicado es el kanji de kyo jitsu 虚実. Investiguemos el significado de esos dos kanji. Kyo 虚 significa literalmente imaginario, hueco, falsedad o falso. Por otro lado, jitsu 実 significa lo opuesto incluyendo verdad, realidad y sustancia. Entonces otra palabra soju 操縦 se traduce como manejar que no es correcto, sino pasivo. De hecho, soju es más agresivo y quiere significar controlar o guiar. Así que puede traducirse como que el resultado de una batalla depende de como uno controle lo falso y lo verdadero. En una situación de kumite puede ser una técnica falsa y una real. En cambio, el primer kanji tataki 戦 no significa necesariamente batalla contra un enemigo. Funakoshi pensaba más a lo grande. Se refería a todas las batallas en tu vida como la enfermedad, la riqueza, el trabajo, etc… Cuando el migró a Japón ya tenía 54 años. Era un respetado profesor de Okinawa pero al mudarse a Tokyo no tenía dónde vivir. Durante muchos años tuvo que vivir en un cuarto de mantenimiento muy pequeño de la escuela. Solía decir con una sonrisa en sus labios que tenía un pequeño dormitorio pero que el patio era gigante. Por supuesto, no había patio sino un campus de la escuela. Él ganó la batalla contra la pobreza mediante el control de su mente.
hi to no te-ashi wa ken to omoe
EN: “Piensa en las manos y pies como si fueran espadas.”
ES: “Piensa que los brazos y las piernas son como espadas.”
Esta es una de las simples y su traducción está bien. Me gustaría añadir que Funakoshi realmente creía en este concepto. Puedes comprobarlo de al menos dos cosas que hizo. Una es que rechazó tanto el kata Sanchin como su método de entrenamiento el cual es muy popular entre los estilos Naha-te 那覇手 como el Goju ryu 剛柔流 y Uechi ryu 上地流. He escrito en uno de mis libros que Funakoshi creó una nueva postura, Hangetsu dachi desde Sanchin dachi. Lo que él rechazó no fue el kata en sí mismo sino su método de entrenamiento en el cual un sensei golpearía y patearía al estudiante para comprobar su chinkuchi (tensión corporal). Este es un ejercicio para preparar al practicante a que sea golpeado y pateado. Funsakoshi pensó que tal ejercicio de preparación era inútil ya que creía que las manos y pies de un oponente eran espadas. Su concepto era no llegar a ser golpeado en absoluto. La otra acción de Funakoshi fue el rechazo de los torneos. Tenía varias razones para ello. Una de ellas fue su convicción de que una técnica de karate debería mejorarse hasta el punto del Ikken Hissatsu 一拳必殺 que significa que un puñetazo mataría. Igual que no tendrías un torneo con espadas reales, consideraba imposible tener un torneo usando técnicas de karate a toda velocidad y potencia. A pesar de la fuerte oposición de Funakoshi, la JKA siguió adelante con su primer campeonato All Japan en 1957. Han pasado más de 50 años desde la introducción de torneos a gran escala en Japón. Considerando que Funakoshi creía en las manos y pies como espadas, es irónico pensar que nadie ha muerto o incluso herido de gravedad en ninguno de los torneos más grandes de Japón hasta la fecha. Este sería un tema interesante para ser discutido en otro momento.
Danshi mon o izureba hyakuman no teki ari
EN: “Cuando sales más allá de tu propia puerta, te enfrentas a un millón de enemigos.”
ES: “Cuando franqueas el umbral de tu casa, un millón de enemigos te esperan. (Es tu comportamiento lo que invita a tener problemas con ellos)”
Esta es una traducción literal del kun en japonés. 百万 hyakuman significa un millón pero también significa simplemente muchos. Es lo mismo que la frase en español “Mil gracias”. Así que creo que la traducción sería más apropiada, “………., te enfrentas a muchos enemigos.”
kamae wa shoshinsha ni atowa shizentai
EN: “Las posiciones formales son para los principiantes; más tarde la posición es la natural.”
ES: “El principiante necesita el kamae (posición defensiva formal), después debe buscar shizentai (posición defensiva natural).”
Esta traducción es desafortunadamente pobre. Las palabras “posición formal” no es clara ni precisa. Sabemos lo que “kamae” 構 significa y es una posición/postura de combate. También conocemos la palabra shizentai 自然体 y está traducida correctamente. Es una posición natural. La parte complicada es la traducción de “atowa”. Su significado literal es “más tarde” pero la pregunta es cuánto más tarde. No son unos minutos o incluso un día. El lapso de tiempo es mucho más largo y quiere significar cuando un principiante pasa a ser un practicante avanzado. Así pues, una mejor traducción sería “Una postura de combate es sólo para principiantes, cuando se convierten en avanzados debería pelear desde una posición natural.”
Kata wa tadashiku, jissen wa betsumono
EN: “Ejecuta las series predefinidas de técnicas con exactitud; el combate real es otro tema.”
ES: “Busca la forma (kata) correcta, pero el combate real es otra cosa.”
Puedo asegurar que el traductor tuvo un verdadero desafío con este kun. El traductor cambió intencionadamente el significado de kata 形. No sé por qué pero todos sabemos que kata es kata aunque “serie predefinida de técnicas” no es erróneo del todo. Sin embargo, la traducción está hecha para practicantess de karate y no para el público en general. Así pues, esta palabra debería mantenerse como kata. Funakoshi dijo que deberíamos hacer el kata correctamente que quería decir que no quería que lo cambiásemos o modificásemos. La traducción de la segunda parte es aceptable. Supongo que escribió este kun ya que muchos estudiantes universitarios querían cambiar los kata. Había también una gran diferencia entre como se realizan los kata, y los movimientos en bunkai. Debe haber gastado mucha energía explicando las razones para diferenciarlo, sin embargo, me temo que los estudiantes no tendrían la habilidad necesaria para comprender lo que Funakoshi quería decir. Quiso imprimir en los estudiantes que los kata debían hacerse tal y como eran enseñados. Esto aporta un punto muy interesante ya que Funakoshi fue quien cambió y modificó los kata que trajo desde Okinawa. Sé que recibió muchas críticas de los maestros de Okinawa en aquella época pero él creía que esos cambios eran necesarios. Estoy de acuerdo con la mayoría de ellos pero con gran respeto no comparto el resto. Un buen ejemplo de mi desacuerdo es que cambió todos los neko ashi dachi a kokutsu dachi. Otro es el cambio de sanchin a hangetsu. En otras palabras, des-enfatizó las posiciones cortas y se centró en las posturas largas y bajas. Sospecho que su hijo, Gijo tuvo una gran influencia en esto. Debería escribir al respecto algún día.
19. 力の強弱, 体の伸縮, 技の緩急を忘るな
Chikara no kyojaku, tai no shinshuku, waza no kankyu o wasuruna
EN: “No olvide el empleo del descenso de la intensidad, la extensión o contracción del cuerpo, la aplicación rápida o pausado de la técnica.”
ES: “No olvides la intensidad alta y baja de energía; extensión y retracción del cuerpo; el ritmo alto y bajo de la técnica.”
Este es otro kun desafiante y contiene tres importantes esencias del karate. Considero este kun uno de los más importantes desde la perspectiva del entrenamiento del karate. Echemos un vistazo a estos tres elementos. El primero de ellos es chikara no kyojaku 力の強弱. Chikara es potencia que el practicante ejecuta. Kyojaku significa literalmente fuerte y débil. Así pues, Funakoshi está diciendo que necesitas saber cuándo has de usar potencia y cuándo no. Se puede ver esto en muchos de los kata avanzados y debe ser lo mismo en el kumite. La enseñanza aquí es no mantener la tensión todo el tiempo. Probablemente la parte más difícil de dominar es cómo cambiar el nivel de potencia utilizada. Por ejemplo, en mawashi uke has de comenzar desde prácticamente sin tensión (débil) a un final tenso o fuerte. Otra situación puede ser desde una técnica con un kime fuerte al siguiente movimiento que es lento y sin tensión (ej. Heian sandan, desde oi zuki/ki-ai a heisoku dachi morote koshi kamae).
La segunda es tai no shinshuku 体の伸縮 tai significa cuerpo y shinshuku quiere decir expansión y contracción. Mi sensei solí a decir que hiciéramos nuestras técnicas grandes. Me costó entenderle en aquella época pero ahora comprendo que el quería que expandiéramos nuestro cuerpo (ya que estábamos muy tensos). Necesitamos extender nuestros brazos y piernas cuando ejecutamos muchas técnicas largas como oi zuki, gyaku zuki, mae geri y yoko geri. Incluso para las técnicas de bloqueo directo sin importar que el brazo que bloquea se doble, hemos de expandir el pecho o la espalda. Los estudiantes suelen tender a contraer demasiado y fallan al expandir lo suficiente.
La última es waza no kankyu 技の緩急. Waza significa técnicas y kankyu quiere decir rápido y lento. Lo importante aquí es que este rápido y lento no sólo se refiere a la velocidad sino al ritmo. Me temo que Funakoshi estaría llorando si pudiera ver cómo se han modificado los kata en los torneos. No sólo las propias técnicas sino también la velocidad y el ritmo se han alterado en estos tiempos. Particularmente veo kata realizados con pausas extremadamente largas y también sin el ritmo necesario. Debemos recordar que los kata fueron creados de las experiencias reales de combate y hay una razón bien pensada para cada combinación y secuencia.
Tsune ni shinen kufu seyo
EN: “Estar constantemente atento, diligente, y con recursos, en su búsqueda del Camino.”
ES: “Piense en las maneras en que puede aplicar estos preceptos todos los días.”
La traducción literal de este kun es “Siempre piensa en profundidad 思念 y sé creativo 工夫.” La traducción de la Wikipedia es mucho más larga de lo que el kun dice en japonés. El traductor estuvo acertado añadiendo “en su búsqueda del camino” ya que este kun no es solo para el entrenamiento del karate sino para la búsqueda del camino 道, karatedo.
Sospecho que Funakoshi situó este kun al final a propósito. Muchos maestros de Okinawa le culpaban de haber realizado muchos cambios no sólo en las técnicas de karate como son posiciones sino también en muchos temas culturales que acompañaban al karate como son los nombre de los kata, el gi o uniforme, los grados dan etc.
Estoy seguro que dudó si hacer esos cambios pero tras considerarlo en profundidad realizo los cambios porque estaba convencido que eran necesarios. No solo por justificar su comportamiento pero el sentía que esta postura o actitud es absolutamente necesaria si persigues el camino del karate-do en tu vida. Nos está diciendo cómo llegar a conseguir el nivel Ha 破 del Shu Ha Ri 守破離. Por supuesto que él quería que esto se aplicara más allá de la práctica del karate. El quería que siguiéramos este camino y que lo aplicáramos en todos los aspectos de la vida.
(This is Part 2, be sure to read Part 1 first)
Next let us discuss why they chose to take this method; more natural but yet more creative in many ways than just lifting weights.
My assumption is that these athletes or performers knew, maybe instinctively, that what it takes is a total performance which requires a lot of harmony and coordination within their body. In other words, what the total performance meant for them was not the simple sum of the power in different parts of the body. Having stronger arms or legs is good only if they were in perfect tune and coordination with the rest of the body. If one lifted the heavy weights it would probably take him two or three times training to put those arms or legs back into harmony and in coordination. For the amount necessary for this process, they figured out it is more effective and wise to train the holistic and core training approach rather than the partial approach.
There is one thing I must share with the readers. I find that there is a serious ignorance and under appreciation to what our body does and how it does it among us including karate practitioners. I know this is a strong statement and it may offend some people. I want to emphasize that I am not using this word, ignorance to demean the practitioners. But rather I want to catch their attention so that they will realize what they are missing or paying little respect or appreciation. Thus, I decided to include this in this article as I consider this subject as critically important for us to understand what we have been discussing up to this point. I get very upset when I see an instructor who allows or orders the white belt or the kids to do jiyu kumite, free sparring. The instructor would say, “Yes, the white belts (or the kids) are terrible but this will teach them the fighting spirit.” The instructor might have done this with good intention but he sadly did not realize how much damage he has done to this white belt (or the kids) in his learning of the karate techniques. If you want to teach the fighting spirit then you must wait till this student learns the fighting techniques first. You may wonder why I oppose jiyu kumite (free sparring) for children. It is not because it can be dangerous (even though it can). As it will take a lot of space I will not include the explanation in this article. I will find another opportunity one day why kids should not be doing jiyu kumite which probably is another big controversial subject.
I am not blaming only the karate practitioners and the instructors. I am afraid this is a general trend among the general athletic field including, believe it or not, the professional level athletes. In fact, the complexity of the body mechanism is not appreciated or respected enough by most of the general public. I have mentioned the similar statement when I wrote the last article, “Why is it so difficult to relax our muscles”. I mentioned this about us taking for granted that we can easily walk, though the mechanism of standing and walking is extremely complex and difficult. So far no mechanical robot can imitate the exact walking movements of a person. But we do it so easily we do not appreciate our ability every time we walk. You will discover the appreciation once you lose this ability, say from an accident or a stroke. You will experience extreme difficulty if you have to re-learn how to walk through rehabilitation. It may take months and even years to regain the walking ability which you would have never dreamed of. Read the article, “Walking after a stroke”, from Health Day to understand what happens when you encounter a stroke. Anyone can have a stroke no matter your age, race or gender so it could happen to any of us. The patient in the article was only 52 years old. http://consumer.healthday.com/encyclopedia/high-blood-pressure-24/blood-pressure-news-70/walking-after-a-stroke-part-1-645712.html
Now you understand that walking is a complex body mechanism but it will take many muscles and a lot of body coordination to do even a simple action like picking up a glass. To many readers it may be surprising but a movement like picking up a glass with your hand is mechanically difficult as it is a fine and complex movement that requires a very precise and harmonized neuro-physical coordination such as detecting the hardness and the weight. A fine and precise balancing act is required even though we may not recognize it as we can do this action almost unconsciously. Have you ever tried to pick up something light such as a glass filled with water which looked very heavy? I am sure you ended up spilling the water as you picked it up too fast believing it was very heavy. Indeed, even just to pick up a glass of water requires the perfect coordination of many muscles not only in your hand and arm but also the upper body. Not only that it will also require, at the same time, the eye/visual coordination with the neural processes in the brain and spinal cord which control, plan, and relay motor commands. Here is a paragraph from The Anatomy of Movement by Susan Schwerin, PhD at Brain Connection. http://brainconnection.brainhq.com/
“To pick up a glass of water can be a complex motor task to study. Not only does your brain have to figure out which muscles to contract and in which order to steer your hand to the glass, it also has to estimate the force needed to pick up the glass. Other factors, like how much water is in the glass and what material the glass is made from, also influence the brains calculations.”
If you still believe picking up a glass is easy, how about handling a pair of chop sticks? Can you pick up a small round bean or something very soft like tofu? Yes, it takes a lot of training but you can learn to do it. Do you not agree that we really must appreciate and respect more of what our body can do and does for us?
To understand our motor coordination more you can read the basic concepts that are explained in Wikipedia on this subject: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motor_coordination
Now I need to bring up another important fact. It is that the body is designed to do what it has learned or repeated many times. I am sure you will agree, this concept that we normally do what we most repeated or practiced. Some of you may say, “Yes, this is why we are supposed to do our kata many times.” Tsutomu Oshima said we have to repeat kata 150,000 times before we can think the kata is ours. I am not sure if that number is really appropriate but he was right about the necessity of repetition to learn and understand only one kata. If you have trained under any of the Japanese senseis I am sure you have found that they like repetitions.
OK, I need to bring up one more important concept that you are probably already very familiar with. You know that it is difficult to kick an old habit. When you were a novice did your sensei tell you to rub your elbow against side of your body when you did the choku zuki? Our “natural” body movement for punching is to bring the elbow out like a round punch. Punching straight like a choku zuki is a new technique for a novice and I am sure it was difficult for you then to change your arm movement to something different from a street fight style (left). This is why you want to learn a technique correctly FIRST. It is possible to change later but will take much time and effort to change or make an adjustment to the initially learned technique.
You may ask how this is related to the subject of weight lifting and karate training. If you think a little more it is not a difficult question to answer. We have talked about the fact that our body will do the movements that were learned (repeated). You must remember that lifting weights will leave a big impression on the muscle tissues with the movements that are dis-similar to the karate movements. You will teach the muscles to move in the way you lift the weights. Because of the weight the muscle memory will be several times or more, stronger than the movements done without any weight. Then, remember how complicated the body movements your karate techniques require. Those movements demand a lot of muscle groups to harmonize and coordinate in totally different ways from the movements you did with weight lifting. Thus, most of the muscles strengthening with the peripheral muscles such as biceps and pectorals are almost meaningless for the karate techniques. In fact, they could turn out to be a disturbance to the coordination and harmonization of the muscle groups that are required for the karate techniques.
Some of you may wonder if the karate movements and techniques are really that complicated. After practicing karate for many years many of the readers may feel almost natural -when doing a kata or a series of kihon techniques. But, seriously the karate techniques are indeed extremely complicated. This very point is undermined or taken for granted by many practitioners and athletes. I consider karate and martial arts techniques the most difficult of all physical activities. I am not talking about only the techniques per se. I am aware that some of the techniques in ballet and gymnastics are physically more demanding and difficult. However, the requirement of martial arts , demands both the conscious and unconscious reactions. I have already explained about this in detail in another article, “Why we must preserve our kata”. So, I will not repeat the explanation but the basic concept that differs (and to put martial arts in the highest category) is the concept of not having any rules including no attacking and defending sides or dos and don’ts. This is why the ability of extremely high level of reaction and reflex is required in karate. One may be able to execute a technique in a conscious state (during training or in dojo) but he may not be able to in an unconscious state (in a real fight or in a dark alley) which is the stage where the techniques must come out without thinking. Bruce Lee (1940 – 1973) said “Don’t think! Feel…” He was right and that is the ultimate stage we need to reach in martial arts. But to get to that ultimate stage we must, first, be able to perfect the techniques in our conscious state, training. Therefore, unnecessary weight lifting can be a monkey wrench thrown in the precision machine, our body. Unfortunate thing is that weight lifting training is often done with a good intention and without really understanding the negative side.
Let me give you one very interesting case. I read a story that had happened to one of the professional golfers. I forgot his name but he became known in the professional golf circle about 20 years or so ago. He was young and an up and coming champion at that time. He wanted to drive the ball further, of course. So, to increase his power he decided to go up to Alaska and become a lumberjack for a significant amount of time. Certainly he believed it would help. He would swing a very heavy ax to chop the trees in a manner similar to swinging a golf club. I do not remember exactly how many months or years he stayed there and chopped trees but it was not a few days or even weeks. He returned to the golf circuit and discovered the shocking reality. His golf form was totally destroyed and could not play the game at a professional level. I remember he could never regain his form and he eventually disappeared from the circuit. If any of the readers happen to know who this player was, please let me know. I want to find out what had become of him.
How beneficial are those training tubes we use in our dojo?
The old bicycle tire tubes are a popular training tool in many shotokan dojos. I used to use them a lot during my younger days and have a fond memory of hard training using those tubes. A short answer is that any exercise is good if done correctly. I used to believe the tube must be fully extended and you had to fight it out by pulling or pushing to its limit in order to get the best benefit. The recent research proved my understanding was wrong. The fact that the tube will give you least resistance at first then gives you the most when it is fully expanded will not result in the best performance for karate. In other words you may gain some power in your arms or legs but the speed of your punch or a kick will not improve. In fact, they discovered extensive training with the tube is not good for your elbows and knees. What you need, instead, is a machine or a tool that gives you the most resistance at first then gives you less as you proceed with a punch or a kick. Unfortunately, at this time we do not have such a machine or a tool that would provide that kind of training condition. This is why I dropped the tube training from my workout menu as well as from my teaching class. One alternative is to find a partner who can give you that condition by pulling against your moves strongly at the initial stage then let go gradually. Well anything is possible.
How about the use of the weight jacket/vest?
When I was training full time I used to use a vest like this (photo below). If your body weight is in line with the healthy weight chart, then you could wear one of these. This will work on your foundation and help you strengthen your legs. One thing you must remember is that there is a minor ill effect on your form as your body is now artificially heavier. If you pay much attention to keep your posture correct then there will not be much negative effect. I suggest putting the weight bars in the lower pockets around the waist and keep the chest area free so that you will not have the obstacles that would limit your arm movements. If you are overweight then you do not need an extra vest. What you need to do first is to reduce your body weight down to the healthy level before you consider wearing a weight jacket or a vest.
Aren’t Jogging and cardio-exercise beneficial?
As I stated earlier any moderate exercise is good for your health. But if this is to supplement your karate training I say “Why would you spend time jogging or on an exercise bike if you can do your kata or stretches at home?” You can get a lot of cardio oriented exercise if you do kata nonstop for 15 or 30 minutes. That would be a lot more beneficial for your karate improvement and you don’t have to drive to a gym.
If your excuse is that you don’t have a big enough room to do a kata, you can always go to a park. If you are embarrassed doing it in front of people, go to a park at 4 or 5am then you will find very few people. This is how the tai chi people train normally. It is simply a matter of desire. Most of the reasons I hear are, I hate to say, only excuses.
Anything wrong with going to a gym to do some exercise?
Once again there is nothing wrong with doing the exercises whether you do them at home or at a gym. Some say they need an environment to exercise and their homes are not suitable. The other say they need some exercise equipment. Regardless, I just do not understand why they do not spend that time for karate training. It may be a supplement workout for the karate training but I am afraid they will get tired from the workout at a gym and they may skip or downgrade the karate training. One thing we must remember is that we need to spend the same amount of time or more for karate (precision work) to compensate the muscle work out (non-precision work, or non-karate movements). So, I hope you can plan a plenty of time for your karate training if you will engage in the supplemental workout.
I must mention that weight training tools are commonly used by the Okinawan styles. They use many different tools, some heavy, such as chishi チーシ (#1), sashi サーシ (#2), kame カメ (#3) etc. What benefits do the Okinawan styles expect from working with those weight tools? Are they beneficial for the shotokan practitioners?
#1 #2 #3
First, these exercises are called hojo undo 補助運動, auxiliary exercise which is designed to support or supplement the karate techniques. This is a part of the regular dojo training syllabus at an Okinawan style dojo. In most of the shotokan dojos we do not train with these tools but it is an important part of the Okinawan karate training.
My understanding of these tools is that they are for strengthening the joints especially the wrist and also the shoulders as well as strengthening the arm and finger muscles. The wrist (twisting) power is very necessary in the close distance fighting. We see many maki or kaiten (turning or twisting) techniques in many of our katas such as Bassai, Hangetsu, Kanku, etc. For shotokan a typical bunkai for these techniques is to block the punches. In that case the strong twisting or grabbing power is not needed, however, as you know there are many different bunkais. It could be the opponent grabbed your clothes or your wrist. In that case, you will need much more wrist twisting strength. You can develop the twisting strength by swinging a Chishi (#1 above). With a Sashi (#2) you will punch (slowly) with it or them. The immediate purpose is to refine your punching course so that your punch will travel straight with the connection with your hara. After accomplishing this, your punch will become more powerful and faster. This may be confusing but I must emphasize that this exercise is not designed to have the direct result of power and speed from strengthening the muscles with a Sashi.
Kame (vase, #3) is used for strengthening the gripping power and this is definitely for the close distance fighting purpose. At the same time the weight of the vases will work on the shoulder muscles and the foundation (legs and stance).
There are other tools such as iron geta but I believe those three tools I mentioned above are the most popular one. I conclude that those tools are excellent to strengthen your upper body muscles but also the core muscles (stance). If you find an extra time to train your body, working out with them will be beneficial to any Shotokan karateka.
I would like to hear from the Okinawan karate practitioners if my understanding is correct especially about the purpose of using those tools.
Finally, let’s discuss what the core muscle training is.
First we need to know what the core muscles are. In short, they are the muscles around your trunk and pelvis typically located beneath the surface muscles. According to Wikipedia, the core is explained as “In anatomy, the core refers, in its most general of definitions, to the body minus the legs and arms. Functional movements are highly dependent on the core, and lack of core development can result in a predisposition to injury. The major muscles of the core reside in the area of the belly and the mid and lower back (not the shoulders), and peripherally include the hips, the shoulders and the neck.”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Core_(anatomy)
The core muscles are also called the inner muscles as many of the muscles are hidden beneath the exterior musculature people typically train. The deeper muscles include the transverse abdominals, multifidus, diaphragm, pelvic floor, and many other deeper muscles. What we consider most important core muscle are those that connect the pelvis to the legs (mainly the area between the knee and the thighs). Believe it or not, there are many muscles there but the main ones are psoas major, iliacus, sartorius, pectineus, adductor lomgus, adductor brevis, adductor magnus, bicept femoris, semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and more.
Why are these muscles important?
Your core most often acts as a stabilizer and force transfer center rather than a prime mover and this is why the core is important for karate. We must consider core strength as the ability to produce force with respect to core stability, which is the ability to control the force we produce. One other important benefit of exercising the core research has shown, is that athletes with higher core stability have a lower risk of injury. According to Mayo Clinic article, core exercises improve your balance and stability; “Core exercises train the muscles in your pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen to work in harmony. This leads to better balance and stability, whether on the playing field or in daily activities. In fact, most sports and other physical activities depend on stable core muscles.” Interestingly it also states that “Core exercises don’t require specialized equipment or a gym membership.” For more on this subject read, http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/fitness/in-depth/core-exercises/art-20044751?pg=1
Obviously the hip area is the most important part of your body when we talk about body movements. Most people understand that the legs are important when you walk, run or simply body shift. Many may believe they are done solely by the muscles in the legs but that is not the case. Unfortunately, not too many karate practitioners truly understand that such movements must accompany the highly sophisticated coordination of various muscle groups as well as the heavy involvement of the muscles that are located near the pelvis or lower abdominal area (see illustration right). In addition, even fewer people know or appreciate that the coordination and the harmony of these core muscles have a great impact to all other bodily motions especially the ones that require precision work or sophisticated skills. The work of these inner muscles in precise harmony and coordination can result in extra ordinary power generation as well as the exceptional technical skills. For instance, you need this ability if you wish to do a one inch punch. This ability is exactly what is needed if a serious karate practitioner wishes to obtain such ability and skills.
Modern medical science is proving this fact only recently that was known hundreds of years ago by the samurais who had no medical knowledge. They knew this from their physical experience after training intensively for many hours every day. When one pushes his body to its ultimate level with severe training he begins to develop the internal eyes, (self -awareness) that reveals the functions of the internal body. This may sound like mysticism but it is not. I am simply touching on the area of unknown human capability that will eventually be proved by modern science though not proven at this time. This experience was recorded by Egami and if you are interested you can read his book, “The Heart of Karate-do”.
You may say, “OK, we understand that the inner muscles in the hip area are important but how about the big muscles like pectorals and the belly muscles? Aren’t those six packs in the belly, rectus abodminis, a part of the core muscles?” All the muscles in our body are important in general. However, we do not consider those muscles that are located on the surface of our body as the core muscles. The core muscles are located internally or in a deeper part of our body. The other important muscle in addition to the pelvis area muscles for the body movements is erector spinae (the major back muscles, illustration above). Though they are not directly connected to the legs they are eventually connected to the hamstrings and they play an important role in the body movements. They are the main supporter of the upper body. They work in balance with the internal and external abdominal oblique as well as rectus abodminis to keep your balance while we stand and to give mobility of the body.
I must review that there are two types of weight exercises to strengthen your muscles. One type is done for the moving techniques and the other type is for the foundation building. Let me give you an example. Doing punches with a Sashi or a tube is the first type. In this case, you need to follow up with the same technique without the weight spending twice as much time and effort in the follow up exercise. This is because your focus with the punches with the weight is not typically for the accuracy or the speed of the technique. You need to a follow up exercise without the weight so that you can repeat the technique with a close attention to the accuracy with speed to gain the benefit in the targeted technique. This type of exercise is not considered as core muscle training.
The exercises such as deep squats and leg raises are to strengthen your core muscles. The purpose of this exercise is not to imitate the karate techniques but to strengthen the stance, the body foundation. These exercises should be included in your training menu but should be done separately from t karate training. You do not want your core muscles to be tired before karate training. Your attention to learning and repeating the karate techniques will be reduced if your core muscles are already tired. You want to keep or maintain 100% attention to the techniques during karate training. There are many other core exercises and I will not go into the specifics here. I have already given some hints where to look for the information so I ask the readers to do their own research and investigation to learn how to exercise those important muscles.
One more concept I must share which is a deeply embedded concept among the Japanese for the martial arts. It is Shin Gi Ittai 心技一体 which literally means Mind and Technique are one. This means mind and body must harmonized and work together. We have been discussing how to strengthen our body but we did not touch on the mind aspect. Why? Because most of us think only of physical techniques when we think of karate. This is one of my concerns I have with many of the practitioners. And this is why I wanted to bring this up at the end of this article. Remember one of Funakoshi Nijukun? He wrote in the fifth kun, Gijutsu yori Shinjutsu. He told us that mind technique is more important than the physical technique. He, I am sure, believed both are equally important but he had to say this because most of us tend to forget about the mind aspect of budo and karate. How do we strengthen our mind technique? We certainly cannot do so with lifting the weights. A skillful karateka without honor and respect is only a hoodlum. A karateka who is strong but with a chicken heart will not be able to defend himself or his family when a life and death situation arises. The Japanese senseis know this but we find it difficult to teach this. Let me quote the words of Takayuki Mikami. He said “The hardest thing to teach in karate is budo spirit, but it is the most important aspect the art of karate can offer to its practitioners.”
Many experts tell us that the biggest enemy is our-self. How do we win against our-self? How do we overcome “fear” and ego? Are there any training methods to strengthen our mind? As this article is not on this subject I will not spend much time on this but I will share this with the readers. The hints can be found in Dojo kun and Niju kun.
We agreed that power is necessary for every one of us to move and do any physical activities. We also agreed that the stronger a technique the better it is. However, we also found that the excessive weightlifting without well planned strategy is unwise and not recommended as such activities can be harmful and possibly detrimental to your karate techniques. We discovered that our body despite looking simple is in reality a very delicate and complex mechanism that requires a tremendous amount of fine tuning and organized training to do even a simple movement.
Another important discovery is that karate (martial arts in general) techniques are the most difficult or complex physical activity compared to any other sports and arts when we examine the physical and mental structure. We also learned that even a simple movement will require the group of muscles to function. This means any of the karate techniques require various muscle groups and their total coordination so that the muscles will perform in harmony. Strengthening a certain muscle or a muscle group can be a monkey wrench such as an electric guitar in a classical music orchestra (with due respect to an electric guitar player). This is the primary reason why the Japanese senseis are against weight lifting training.
Most importantly, we found that lifting weights to strengthen the peripheral muscles such as biceps and pectorals has much less value compared to the strengthening of the core muscles. Those muscles are typically called the inner muscles that are hidden beneath the exterior musculature and most of them are found in the lower abdominal area. Your core most often acts as a stabilizer and force transfer center. Also, core strength is the ability to produce force with respect to core stability, which is the ability to control the force we produce. Mayo Clinic reports core exercises improve your balance and stability. In fact, most sports and other physical activities depend on stable core muscles. Though the Japanese instructors dislike the weight lifting exercises they include exercises that strengthen the core muscles in the hip and lower back areas.
Our legs are the foundation and also the transportation tool thus they need to be strong and movable. This is not only true for the runners but also for karate performance. The leg bones are connected to the pelvis and supported by many inner muscles. Those inner muscles are more difficult to train and to strengthen than those that are visible. Most of the visible muscles easily become weak without consistent training. On the other hand, those core muscles remain strong for a much longer period. Due to the peculiarity of the location, the core or inner muscles are easier to train using our own body weight rather than using weightlifting tools. Research has shown that athletes with higher core stability and strength have a lower risk of injury. In the interview conducted by Shotokan Karate Magazine in 1994, Tetsuhiko Asai said, “Karateka must aim to control every part of their body as a unit and separately. Relaxed, strong and flexible muscles are the key.” He was telling us that the strong muscles are important but at the same time they must be relaxed and flexible. We must spend our training time not only in strengthening the muscles but also to stretch and breathe deeply so we can be relaxed and flexible. In Asai karate, we list three key elements we need to prepare before practicing karate. They are flexibility, balance and strength.
We also need to look at the strength of our mind as we strengthen our body to perfect your karate. To achieve the ultimate height of karatedo one must have both the strong body and mind. So, when we spend our time to strengthen our body we must also plan to spend the equal amount of time to strengthen our mind.
Do you think you were doing your weight training correctly, and, was it beneficial to your karate techniques? Did you consider the facts described in this article in your weight training? As I believe you are a serious karate-ka, maybe you want to consider these facts, when you do your weight training next time. I am sure you want to see the time and effort you put in will result in improvement of your karate, do you not?
Have you noticed that many Japanese senseis oppose weight training? Now I am not referring to the Japanese senseis that live outside Japan. I am talking about the general consensus of Japanese Shotokan instructors. As a group they either oppose or discourage weight training. Though I do not know what the instructors from other karate styles would say on this subject but I do know that many of the Japanese senseis in other budo such as jujitsu, kendo or even judo are not in favor of weight training. One interesting finding is that Mas Oyama 大山倍達(1923 – 1994), the founder of Kyokushinkai極真会left a message; “Lifting weights at the gym won’t make you strong.” (right) I found it very interesting because Kyokushinkai is a full – contact style karate where raw power is needed. In addition, I know that he himself used to lift weights when he was young. Thus, you would expect him to encourage the idea of lifting weights to build muscle but his message is opposite to the idea. He must have changed his view in later years of or maybe he had a different idea about weight training.
Here is another quote from the famous Togakure ryu ninjutsu 戸隠流忍術master, Hatsumi Masaaki 初見良昭(1931 – present). He said, “Power is not necessary.” (left) Well, he is not from karate but if you watch his training many of the techniques he uses are very similar to the karate techniques. Apparently he does not believe in using power in his techniques. Even though he is old (73 years old in 2014) he can easily subdue opponents who are a half his age. Without power you cannot subdue an opponent so we wonder why he would say we don’t need power. In this article, I hope I can shed light on this subject by sharing what these instructors believe. You will examine what I present here and be a judge. You can decide at the end if you agree with them or not. OK, let us start.
I realize that this subject is controversial. When I made an announcement at my Facebook page showing the title of this article, I received so many comments, pros and cons. I must also say that it is an important subject and that everyone must have the correct knowledge and understanding. I am afraid that many people seem to have some wrong ideas as well as misunderstanding in some parts of this subject. There are also many good questions but no senior karate instructors have provided the logical and educated explanations and answers. It is natural that many karatekas are somewhat confused. I will do my best to provide the answers to all the questions I list as well as the explanations that are, hopefully, easy to understand. Let us travel this road together and discover the answers to the different aspects of this important subject; weight training.
First, let us define this term, “weight training” and have clear understanding of what we are discussing. Wikipedia defines weight training as using the weight force of gravity (in the form of weighted bars, dumbbells or weight stacks) to oppose the force generated by muscle through concentric or eccentric contraction. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weight_training)
When we think of weight training we almost automatically think of lifting heavy barbells and dumbbells. However, weight training also includes using our own body weight (e.g. push-ups, sit-ups, squats, etc.). So, there are two large categories of weight training. One is using some type of equipment or weights and the other is to work only with the body weight. OK then, let’s bring up the questions and we will see if we can find the answers to each of them.
Do the Japanese instructors oppose all weight training?
The short answer is no. This is obvious because they include some type of weight training in their workout such as squats and sit ups. The Japanese instructors know that all of us need power, even just to move our body our muscles have to work. So they believe making our body strong is the right thing. For instance, if our legs are weak then we cannot stand in a low stance for a long period of time or shift our body quickly. They particularly believe in the strength of the legs and the mid-section so you may have gone through, under a Japanese sensei, some rigorous weight training such as many sit ups and squats.
Then, why do the Japanese instructors say they oppose weight training?
When the Japanese instructors, particularly Shotokan style, refer to a term, ‘weight training’ they are normally thinking of weightlifting using either free weights or weight lifting machines. They normally do not consider exercises using the body weight as weight training. Many of the senseis include sit ups, push-ups and squats in the regular karate class. What the Japanese instructors have an issue with is lifting heavy weights or power lifting. They may not oppose it completely but discourage it strongly.
Why are they against weightlifting?
The question here is the main issue of this article. My explanation will be somewhat long and rather involved. I will do my best to make my explanation simple and clear. I found that this subject raised a lot of interest among the readers and is a controversial one. I am aware that what I write may not bode well with the beliefs of some of the western practitioners and instructors.
It is true that weight lifting builds power in your muscles and makes them stronger. Obviously the karate techniques require physical strength so you wonder what the problem is with gaining power from weight training. Definitely the Japanese senseis are not considering that gaining strength or becoming stronger is a problem. What is an issue is what kind of weight training is included and how you apply your weight training to the ultimate goal, improving your karate techniques as I assume the readers are karatekas.
I hope it make sense so far. Let me elaborate further. First, there is a very important point that we must remember. That point is that there are two separate phases in karate training. One is learning the techniques and the other is delivering or executing them. I have explained this in another article, “Why we have to preserve our kata” so I will not repeat the detailed explanation again here. Many instructors know about these phases but this important fact has not been discussed enough in the past. In the learning (the techniques) stage power is not considered as the most important requirement. In fact, having too much power is considered a handicap or detriment. If you have taught a novice you probably remember this. Teaching a novice goes like this. You will show a simple technique such as choku zuki (straight punch). You tell the novice student to repeat it slowly. What you notice in most of the students is the overt tension of the arms and the shoulders. You will see the shoulder (the punching side) raised up as it is tensed too much. We know that the shoulder should be relaxed and pulled down by having the arm pit muscles tensed. The students need to be relaxed so that they can perform the accurate techniques slowly. Of course, they need the minimum power to move your arms and to be able to stand up for a period of time but they do not need more strength than this during this stage. The other important requirements for karate such as speed and kime are neither needed nor required at this stage. The most important and challenging thing in this stage is to accurately learn the techniques. In this stage the senseis will not recommend the students get involved in weight training except for the core muscle training which will be explained later.
I am sure you agree the idea of not focusing on the power side when you are just learning the techniques. So, we have no problems up to this point. What we must remember is that many of the readers are probably either advanced practitioners or instructors. They belong to the next stage, executing the techniques. In their training they deliver the technique with speed and power. Weight training should increase the speed and power. So why would the Japanese instructors oppose it? This is where the most precise explanation is required.
There are at least three apparent reasons why Japanese instructors consider having more power unnecessary and weightlifting training can be harmful even for the advanced practitioners.
1) They emphasize the importance of accuracy in karate.
In other words, if your punch cannot land on a target correctly then a strong punch means nothing. This is same as a baseball batter, for example, who can swing a bat fast with great power. If this batter cannot hit a ball, his fast and strong swing amounts to nothing. This player needs to work on the technique of hitting a baseball. So, for a karateka the ability to execute an accurate technique includes timing, hitting the target, judgment of distance, etc., and is considered more important than sufficient impact (power). Out of all the important requirements (physical side), power is probably considered to be the least or the second least important by the instructors. The instructors typically tell you, “You do not need power but must have accuracy when you stab the eyes or kick the groin.”
2) The concept of 5 out of 5 being better than 5 out of 10.
The concept of power for which the Japanese instructors favor heavily is the achievement of its maximum. These numbers are just for a model of the concept so the numbers themselves are not important. Here is an example, one person has a maximum power of 5 and can generate all (or 5) in a technique. There is another person who has a maximum power of 10 but can produce only a half (or 5) because of bad balance, too much tension, etc. Though the final output figures are the same, the first person is better as he/she could maximized the body coordination to generate all of the power outage. The second person wasted half of his capacity though he tried for the maximum because of poor balance, excess tension, etc. Of course, if the second person learns how to generate more, then that person will be stronger than the first person. However, the instructors will not recommend this person workout with weights, but rather to relax and stretch. By spending his time and effort in this manner this practitioner can produce more from the existing power capability. Thus, the priority of power is low in Japan thus the senseis will encourage you to work on the other requirements such as accuracy, balance, rhythm, flexibility, etc.
3) Complexity of karate technique, in fact, most complex in all physical activities.
Though the requirements such as speed and power are important, the instructors consider technique and skill as most important. As I mentioned earlier, no matter how strong or powerful your punch or kick can be if it misses a target then such an attacking technique has completely lost its meaning. This is exactly the reason why so many Japanese senseis oppose weight lifting as they believe weight lifting training could derail good technique. Let’s examine the thoughts behind this.
Before I go into the explanation, let me share my opinion about the free weights method versus weight stacked machine method. Both approaches are to increase your muscle strength but for the karate practitioners, if they choose to do weightlifting, I recommend the free weights. I know it is easier and safer to train with a weight machine but you cannot learn the important essence of balance from a weight machine. It is like trying to learn how to balance on an exercise bike but it will be impossible as an exercise bike is fixed to the floor.
When you work with the weights regardless of the methods mentioned above there are two approaches. One is to lift the very heavy weight close to the maximum you can lift. In this approach you can do only a few repetitions. And the other approach is to pick the light weight so that you can easily do 10 to 20 repetitions. Of course there are other approaches or a combination of those but the two approaches I mention here are the typical ones. The first approach is taken mostly by the serious weight lifters who wish to either increase the maximum weight to lift or to bulk up (make the muscles bigger). The second approach is chosen, mainly by the people who are aiming only to tone up their muscles or to maintain their strength. For a karateka who chooses to lift weights I hope he is taking the second approach as you do not want to make some of your muscles too strong by doing the first approach. Let me explain.
There is nothing wrong with building muscle and gaining strength but we do not want to just build muscles in karate. There are two main reasons why the senseis oppose the weight-lifting type of weight training. Here is the first and the most important reason. In the previous article about relaxation I listed some data of our body parts. For instance an adult body is made up of 206 individual bones, over 230 moveable and semi-moveable joints (illustration left) and 640 to 850 muscles. Even though the exact numbers of these parts are not important one thing I wanted to emphasize was our body is assembled with a huge number of movable parts. They enable us to perform all these complex movements that are found in karate training. In fact, the karate techniques are, believe it or not, one of the most complex movements you can find. Now remember we have more than 640 muscles and they are the power generators. So, imagine our body is like a huge orchestra with more than 800 singers and instruments (640 muscles and 206 bones). Yes, your brain is the conductor to manage them all. You can imagine that this will be a challenging task to make beautiful music especially if the players and the singers are not professionally trained. I am not a musician so I cannot tell you how challenging it would be but I am sure it would be to most of the amateur conductors. What would happen if a certain instrument like a drum or a group of drums start to make much louder sound. Even if you like the sound of a drum, the audience will not be pleased if it is not in harmony with the other instruments. I assume it is pretty easy to understand the importance of harmony and coordination with orchestra music.
Just like orchestra music, when you want to improve the karate techniques what you need most is the coordination and harmony. The karate skill is a precision work and numerous amounts of exact repetitions are needed. I am sure you remember when you were a white belt how many times you had to repeat age uke, shuto uke, gyaku zuki, mae geri, etc as they were totally new moves for you. The instructors told you to do those moves slowly but accurately. You did not need power in that process. Refining or improving your techniques is a similar process. It is a fine tuning and coordination work. Indeed, extra strength is not only unnecessary but also an unwanted element in that process.
Let me give you another reason and I believe this is a large concern among the senior instructors including myself; why weight lifting is discouraged in karate. The action of weight lifting requires contraction and tension. The more weight means more tension. I have mentioned this several times in the past that karate techniques must be executed with well – balanced and coordinated expansion and contraction. Master Funakoshi also left his message on this in his Niju Kun; the 19th kun, “Chikara no kyojaku, tai no shinshuku, waza no kankyu o wasuruna”.
Master Taiji Kase 加瀬泰司(1929 – 2004) of France also left a message stating his concern, “Unfortunately, these days I see too much tension in the practitioners’ muscles.” A practitioner will be off balanced in the harmony of body mechanism after each weight training (tension), unless he/she makes sure to spend equal amount (or more) of time and effort to expand and stretch his/her muscles. Most of the practitioners do not see the ill effect from not doing the counter balancing exercise until the result gets large enough to see in his performance and that may be too late to reverse the course. Worse yet, that practitioner may not see the ill effect at all as he is blinded by the muscle gain and the power increase. One may believe he can prove the power gain when he punches a makiwara. It may make a louder sound but he may not realize that he may be now punching more like a street fighter. How could it be? Bench press is probably the most popular barbell exercise to develop the pectorals (chest muscle). Unless you make an extra effort to keep the elbows inward, they will be kept outward as you do the pressing. I am sure you know what I am talking about if you have bench pressed before. The body performs exactly how it is taught. It is like a computer. Garbage in garbage out. We were taught to keep our elbow in as we do the oi zuki or choku zuki but the bench press imprints a different impression on the chest, shoulder and arm muscles. The degree of the muscle impression and memory is equal to the amount of the weight and the number of the repetitions.
First of all, why is power or big muscles more popular in the western world than in Japan? This is a cultural subject and my answer may not be accurate or even correct but I will share my thoughts. At least to me, the need for power and having big muscle seem to be over emphasized in the western world and possibly under emphasized in Asia particularly in Japan.
I think it mainly comes from the western macho-ism. A hero in the western world often looks like Hulk with the huge chest, arms and small waist line. Consider the case of Arnold Schwarzenegger. When he started in Hollywood who believed he could become a successful movie star as he could not act or even speak good English. Maybe he later learned how to act but how could he get the job in the first place? I am sure I do not need to tell you the answer. The build, like Hulk Hogan, the wrestler (left) or a body builder, Schwarzenegger does not get too much admiration by the majority of Japanese. This is because we consider it artificial and not natural. We like strong men too and that is why Sumo is popular in Japan. But the sumo wrestlers certainly do not look like Hulk or Schwarzenegger though the sumo wrestlers are big too. Many of the readers may think these sumo wrestlers are fat because their bellies are sticking out. Believe it or not the fat content of the sumo wrestlers is surprisingly low and lower than that of the average population. It is true that many of the current sumo wrestlers are getting heavier because they began to believe that having large body weight can be an advantage. It is true that it is harder to be pushed out of the ring if you are heavy. The Japanese audience does not like this trend but it is happening. Compare the way this famous sumo wrestler from the mid 20th century, Futabayama 双葉山 (1912 – 1968, photo right) with the way Hulk Hogan looks. Futabayama had a winning streak of 69 consecutive bouts and this is a record no one has broken yet. In fact, though it may sound ridiculous to the western readers, Futabayama moved his inner belly organs to shift his balance to his advantage during his matches. I have covered this technique in one of the past articles. I will touch on this again when I cover Rickson Gracie later in this article.
Also, what is not widely known about sumo wrestlers is their stretch exercises they must go through. Side split is a requirement for all the wrestlers, (photo below). The flexibility of the hip joints is considered to be extremely important. With the flexible hip joints a wrestler can do a deep squat, which in turn enables him to push the opponent strongly. However, what is important here is that they believe the flexibility (stretched muscles) will result in more power. This is the biggest difference in the concept of generating more power as the Sumo method comes from flexibility mainly of the hip joints and not from strengthening the muscles by lifting weights. Besides the flexible hip joints it is important to note that they only do the sumo workout in and around the ring. I hear the young generation wrestlers especially the ones from outside Japan go to a gym to lift weights. However, most of the wrestlers still rely on the regular sumo workout to build their power. From this method they can develop the strong but “soft” elastic muscles like chewing gum or a rubber tube. The Japanese prefer the flexible and soft looking muscles rather than the hard ones that look like rocks. This is the Japanese way of thinking. Maybe you recall I wrote an article earlier this year about the Okinawa karate term, Muchimi or Mochimi 餅身, the rice cake body. I explained what Muchimi is anddoes in that article so you can check it out if you are interested.
I also see the similar difference in the view of “power” between the swords of the knights and those of samurai or katana 刀. The knights broadswords were built heavy and thick. Its main purpose is to hack at the opponent more than a sharp cut with the heavy weight of the swords. It takes, of course, some technique to swing and maneuver the heavy swords but it definitely needs strong upper body muscles. On the other hand, katanas were tempered to have the finest sharp blade and a slight curve. They were designed and made to slice, cut and pierce. Of course a katana is much heavier than a pair of chop sticks but is lighter than a knight’s sword. Samurais built their upper body strength by swinging the swords hundreds of times each day but they mainly spent their training time in mastering the techniques of using katana. I am not discussing which sword is better here as each has its own advantages and disadvantages. I am not 100% sure if this difference in the swords had any impact or influence to the cultural difference between the modern day west and Japan. Maybe I am too nostalgic about the knights and the samurais thus I may be thinking too deep. However, it will be an interesting study to compare the swords from two different regions of the world that developed around the same period of history, in the 14 -15th centuries. Well, it looks like some people have already done the study.
Here is one of the videos titled “Samurai sword VS Knight Broadsword”:
Now let’s go back to building your power. We have covered that it can be divided in two categories for our discussion purpose. One category is lifting weights to either build the size of the muscles or simply to be able to lift heavy weights. In this case, the lifting of the weights is not for the direct connection to the sports or the martial arts. In other words the motion of the weight lifting does not simulate the movements of any specific physical activity or a skill. This method is suited for the body builders and the weightlifting competitors.
The second category is the weight training specifically programmed to supplement and enhance the targeted movements of a sport, a martial art or other physical activities.
Let me give you a good example for the other activities which I mentioned in the last sentence. The United States Navy’s Sea, Air, Land Teams, commonly known as the Navy SEALs, are the U.S Navy’s principal special operations force. They were highly publicized when a SEAL team attacked and killed Osama bin Laden in 2011 so some readers may remember this. What I want to share is that SEAL training is extremely rigorous, having a reputation as some of the toughest in the world. The dropout rate for SEAL training is sometimes over 90 percent. Take a look at the workout video of SEAL. Take a look at the video clips of SEAL workout and see how it is done at the following URL. There are three parts of this so be sure to watch all of them.
By reviewing the workout you notice that they either use the free weights, the exercise leveraging their body weight by hanging and push-ups or the weight of the logs and the boats. These video clips do not cover all the workouts, I am sure there are a lot more. But one thing I can almost bet is that they do not use the weight machine to increase their power or grow the muscles. Their exercises are to develop the overall power performance by training mostly on the core muscles rather than the peripheral muscles. If anyone has taken the SEAL training, I would like to hear if my assumption is correct. To build the power that can be used in the complex actions this method is obviously preferred and this is a part of the answer to the question we have for karate.
OK so I brought up the SEALs training for one method of building power and endurance but it does not cover the examples of the successful athletes and the martial artists. In my previous article on relaxation, I picked two Olympic sprinters; Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis. Johnson chose the power approach and Lewis chose the body coordination to increase his speed. I wish to share the interesting fact of another Olympic gold medalist, Michael Phelps; the most decorated Olympian of all time with a total of 22 medals. He did not use any weight lifting in his training, at least up to 2005. Here is an excerpt from the IGN interview in 2005:
IGN Sports: You’re 6′ 4″, about 200 pounds. Is your physique all from swimming, or do you hit the weights?
Michael Phelps: I’ve never lifted a single weight in my life. It’s all from training in the water, period. That’s not to say I wouldn’t lift in the future, but now, no.
Short distance swimming race is similar to sprinting, speed is the name of the game, yet Phelps did not choose weight lifting as a method to increase power and speed. Isn’t this interesting? Look at how he is built. His body is muscular but rather slender and not bulky at all. Is it only my wild imagination that his built looks like a dolphin? It certainly does not look like that of Ben Johnson, a Mac truck, but more like the fluid looking figures of Carl Lewis or Florence Joyner who I believe relied on the natural body weight training. I believe all these athletes shared the same philosophy and concept with SEALs on how to train your body to get the maximum power and speed. That philosophy is exactly what the Japanese martial arts instructors believe and want.
Here is the entire IGN interview which you can read if you are interested in Phelps:
OK the examples I gave above are all sprinters. Now you want to know the examples from the budo. Let me start with a famous person in Judo. At the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 when Kaminaga lost in the judo final to Anton Geesink, the Japanese for the first time realized that power could overwhelm techniques. He was not only huge, height: 6′ 6″ (1.98 m) and weight: 270 lbs (122 kg) he was strong. He basically yanked him down and held him for 30 seconds to get an ippon. Here is a video clip of his matches at the Olympics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BtyWMKs7dp0
To develop the power, his Japanese sensei, Michigami, written in his book, made him work with the natural method more than lifting barbells. Michigami told him to run, swim and bike a long distance. He also instructed him to play soccer for the leg strength and agility. The photo left shows him carrying logs on his shoulders and he ran up and down the hill to strengthen his legs and upper body. This is interesting as a similar work out with the heavy logs is used in the SEALs training.
Despite the defeat by a strong Dutch judoka, power is still looked down not only in the martial arts but also in sports in general in Japan. We have a term used for someone who has an extra ordinary strength, baka chikara バカ力 which means strength of a stupid. The Japanese people wonder often why the western people pay so much attention to increasing power or the strength of a stupid. As I have mentioned earlier, partially it may be from the machismo culture in the western world; big biceps and chest. The people proudly show their half-naked photos in their Facebook pages with their pumped up arms and chest which the Japanese consider a silly act of the young people. The other reason is the fact that the performance is visible and the result is much easier to measure with the numbers. You can say “I lifted 100kg today”. On the other hand, it will be much more difficult to see and show your result in numbers for flexibility, balance, timing, etc. People will not be impressed if you say, “Hey I could stand up on one leg for five minutes.” or “I could touch my toes today.”
OK some may say Judo is no longer a martial art. Let me share another example but this time from MMA. Rickson Gracie, a well-known Brazilian jujitsu fighter who had 11 official matches and retired undefeated in 2000. I was always impressed with his training routines and syllabus. He was known to goe to the beach to train on the sand. He used to (I do not know if he continues his training now which I hope he does) practice stretches, relaxation, balancing and also weight training using his own body (similar to Ginastica Natural). You can find many video clips of his training. Here is the one I like the most:
He is also known to practice yoga especially with the breathing methods exercising his abdominal muscles. In the training video I believe you can see how he moves his belly up and down. In fact, with this exercise it made him capable to move and shift his internal organs. Believe it or not, he can change the center of gravity by doing this. This may not sound like a significant fact but in fact this is why he was so difficult to be dislodged once he gets on top of his opponent. There are many video tapes of his fights so you can see this. His winning did not come from hitting or kicking from the standing position as he is a jujitsu practitioner. He used to take his opponent down to the floor then straddle him then beat him until the helpless opponent gave up. You may wonder why the opponent who happens to be well trained and strong could not dislodge him from that position. Well, the special ability of Rickson was that he could shift his internal organs to keep perfect balance. Lifting weights was never a part of his routine or workout program. He believed in his method and it certainly paid off in his fights. He was an undefeated champion in MMA for many years which proves his ability and skill. He also proved at the same time that his method worked.
If I investigated and researched more, I am sure I could come up with more examples of who followed or are following this type of workout but I believe I have given enough examples. So, next let us discuss why they chose to take this method.
(will continue to Part 2)
Do you get over tensed or up-tight at your work or with some situations at home? I am sure you will say, “Yes, my work is important and is very demanding. I also worry about all the bills every month, then my kids and even about my pets.” It is true that most of us are living in a very stressful society and a world filled with tensions that bring us stresses. We have so many things we have to worry about and pay attention to just to survive a single day. I know you can probably use a vacation.
There are many methods and ways to help you relax that include meditation, yoga, massage, classic music, a bath, etc. etc. They are all good and beneficial. I am sure any combination of them will help you relax even more. One excellent method is progressive muscle relaxation which is a systematic technique that was developed by Dr. Edmund Jacobson in the 1920s. He discovered that a muscle could be relaxed by first tensing it for a few seconds and then releasing it afterward. Dr Jacobson’s technique involves learning to monitor tension in each specific muscle group in the body by deliberately inducing tension in each group. This tension is then released, with attention paid to the contrast between tension and relaxation. If you wish to learn more about this system the detailed explanation of the steps can be found at AMSA (American Medical Student Association): www.amsa.org.
It is very true that the state of stress and tension has lots to do with your mental or psychic state of mind. Thus beautiful music, a pleasant scent and a scene such as beautiful beach or mountains will help you relax. Of course the outer stimulants such as a bath and a massage will help too. In addition, moving your body is good method to relax and I am sure you have found it from your karate workout. These things are important but today I am going to shed a different light on the subject of relaxing.
So, I need to ask you to look at my question again. My question is not “Why is relaxing difficult?” though this is also a good question. However, I am specifically asking why it is difficult to relax ‘our muscles’. Why am I asking this? There are two reasons.
One reason is that I found so many karate practitioners to be stiff or inflexible. I will soon be 67 years old this year and I do not consider myself to be flexible but I am more flexible than most of the students who are much younger than I. I am not bragging about this as I consider the degree of flexibility I have should be one of the requirements for an instructor. I feel something needs to be done so that more karate practitioners will gain the needed flexibility. In addition, I found the same tendency among our youth. They should be as flexible as a rubber band but many of them are not. I know we are doing the stretches in our karate training, yet with all those exercises of stretches and loosening up, why did we remain somewhat inflexible?
And the other reason why I am bringing this subject to your attention is certainly not to ridicule or demean the practitioners. It is rather because no one else has talked about it, let alone explained it. You can google on this subject and go through many pages but I bet you that you cannot find a ready-made answer to this question. I have taken Ki-ko training under Master Nishino for two years in 1998 and 1999. I did not learn (or the master was unable to teach me) the technique of a punch using Ki but learned how to relax better. Then I started to practice under Master Asai and learned how to be more relaxed by observing his moves and techniques. Though he did not teach me the exact method, I believe I discovered it on my own. I also believe this method changed my karate. Today I am happy to share the concept and the idea of the method which I call body-core relaxation.
Though I will mention about the bones and cover some physiological subjects, I do not intend to provide a medical explanation such as how the muscles are constructed and how they work. I am not a medical doctor so my approach is somewhat different but my idea is new. I will present a physiological explanation that a non medical person like myself can explain. In addition, not only I will explain why it is difficult to relax our muscles but I will also share with the readers a simple and easy exercise to increase your flexibility. I am very confident that my method will help you not only in your karate training but also in your daily life. Yes, it sounds like a TV commercial but I truly believe in my findings. I will ask you to be the judge and evaluate my presentation and see if you agree or disagree.
Now let’s get back to the subject of inflexibility. By the way, being inflexible is nothing to be ashamed of. It is only one of the abilities that is required in the martial arts and you can improve it if you know how. When I talk about inflexible I am not simply talking about the leg joints. If one can do a split he or she can kick high, then that person is considered to be flexible. That may be only partially true. Even a person who can kick high would not be considered as a karate expert if he/she could move only in digital and his/her movements are not fluid. The big question here is how can we attain the ability to make our moves fluid. This is closely related to the flexibility of our body. It is more than having the flexible hip joints and being able to kick high. I am pretty confident my method will help and the result will affect (of course positively) all of your movements in your daily activities.
Before we go into my idea and method, let us look at our body. We are under false belief that we know about our body as we “live” in it. However, to our surprise we discover that most of us do not know or have the accurate knowledge of how our body is constructed, unless you happen to be in the medical field or in some science field. Our body is covered by skin so it “hides” everything that is inside of our body. We cannot see the bones and the internal organs thus they are there but they are not to your conscious mind. Let’s check and see if you have some essential knowledge about our body. The following information may not be necessary for the beginners and even intermediate but definitely is for the advanced students and practitioners. How many bones do we have in our body? According to InnerBody site (www.innerbody.com), the skeletal system in an adult body is made up of 206 individual bones. The exact number is not important for our discussion as you are not taking a test for your biology class. It is important to know that we do not have only 50 or even 100, we have many more. Did you know that the number is more than 200? Amazing, huh? Then how about the number of the joints? We need them to move our bones. This question is a little more difficult because a definition of a “joint” can be tricky. For instance the skull is made up of a large number of small bony plates but they are fused together like a single unit so they do not account as the joints we are looking for. You can check this in the different online sites and they tell you 340 or even 360 joints. What is important to us are the moveable and semi-moveable joints in our body. We have over 230 of them and many of them are in our hand (www.drstandley.com).
To make our body parts move we need the muscles that pull the bones using the joints as the pivotal points. My last question is how many muscles do we have in our body. The exact number is difficult to define because different sources group muscles differently but it is in the range of 640 to 850 (Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_muscles_of_the_human_body).
Do not be amazed yet. Let’s look at the number of the cells we have to build our body. Would you believe that there are 37.2 trillion cells in our body? Yes, Trillion and not million or even billion. A trillion is a million times of a million. Can you imagine having so many cells, the “parts”, in our body?
After recognizing these figures, I hope you will have a much bigger appreciation for the complexity of our body construction and respect for what we are. Some people tried to compare our body to a complex racing car or even to something more complex, a jet plane. A Boeing 747 has more than 6 million parts. When you compare this with the number of 37 trillion, a jet plane seems to be only a crude toy.
OK enough of the complexity of our body. Now, when we talk about flexible who do you think of? You may think of someone who is flexible but categorically do you not agree that babies are flexible? I remember my son’s foot touched the shin as his ankle was so flexible. His foot can touch his ear just like the photo on the right (that is not my son). At the age of 22 he now complains he is stiff and he cannot touch his feet with his hands with his legs being straight. What had happened to him? Well you may say “Hey it is only natural. We all get less flexible as we get older.” You are right and this is true. Most of the senior citizens are very stiff and their body movements are not fluid at all. But I knew my teacher, Tetsuhiko Asai who was featured in the prominent Japanese karate magazine, Karate-do for his flexibility.
The photo on the left is from that article in that magazine. He was in his late 60s at that time. He kept his flexibility until he passed when he was 71 years old. Yes he was a genius in karate and we call him ‘one and only’. His moves were powerful but yet very fluid too. Don’t we wish we could move like that? But are we asking too much? You may think it Is impossible for us to get this wish, but my answer is “It is possible to be as flexible as Master Asai”. The degrees of flexibility may vary depending on the individual but, becoming more flexible is not impossible at all, once you find how to truly relax your body.
Now let me present my idea why we tend to be stiff or get less flexible as we get older. I believe there is a definite reason that is more than just aging or natural biological cause. When I started my sport science and kinesiology study on my own, I came to realize one very unique thing about us, the human beings. We are the only animal that walks on bi-pedal. In other words we walk with two legs while many of the mammals such as dogs, cats, horses, etc walk on four legs. Even the closest species, Chimpanzees need to use their arms to walk most of the time. As we have been doing this “trick” called walking ever since we were one year old, we do not think this is an amazing or a unique act. I jokingly used the word trick but when you think of what we do it is really a difficult technique. In fact, it takes months before a baby can walk in a steady manner from the time it learns to stand up. Initially a baby would take a step or two then it sits down or falls down. It repeats this task many times every day then it can walk more than a few steps. Before a baby can walk, it needs to learn how to stand up and keep standing up. A smiling baby who could stand up for the first time is cute. But did you notice that this baby would be swaying and you were worried it would fall down? Most of the time it does fall as it is not easy to keep standing up. Even if the baby could keep standing it does not look steady at all and not like an adult who would be. Of course, the baby needs to learn how to balance on two feet. Just think we are carrying the heaviest part of our body, our head which is on top in this balancing act. A simple act of just standing is indeed much more difficult than balancing a baseball bat or an umbrella on your finger. There is a page of standing in Wikipeida: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standing
Unless you already know the mechanism of standing, I suggest that you will read this page and appreciate the delicate and precise body mechanism that is required just to stand. The very important point is this, although seemingly static, our body rocks very slightly back and forth from the ankle in the sagittal plane, one of three planes of our body; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anatomical_terms_of_location#Planes.
So, you may not notice or be aware but we sway in our quiet standing despite in a small range. When you are a baby that sway is much larger and we notice it. As we get better with the controlling of our balance the sway minimizes to a level the people around us including the person standing next to us to notice. As I mentioned earlier simply standing requires dynamic rather than static balance. There are many mechanisms in the body that are required to make adjustments and to maintain that balance. This is a separate subject but it is healthier and better if we try to “ride” on this swing or sway rather than to stop it. I have already covered this subject in another article I published, “Unstable balance”. So, I will not go into this subject in this article.
OK you agreed that I made a point that standing does require a fine balancing act. So what? This is the key point and I wish to explain further but I need to ask the readers to be patient. I need to detour a little again. Remember one example, the balancing of a baseball bat I mentioned above? Let me ask you which is easier to balance a bat which is one piece like you see in the photo (above right) or if the wood had, say, 20 pieces that are connected by the joints. Of course, we do not have a baseball bat made up like that. Here is a photo of the wine glasses being placed on top of each other (left). So, imagine if what you are trying to balance was made up of, say, five or six wine glasses. I am sure you will say balancing the glasses is much more difficult than a baseball bat. Now I want you to look at the bone structure of our body. I am sure you know that our body is supported by the bones in the legs. What is more important is the bones between your pelvis and the head, the vertebral column or commonly called backbone or spine. Do you know how many bones are there to construct this important body part? It usually consists of 33 vertebrae but what is important is the upper 24, articulating vertebrae that are separated by the discs. For our discussion I will ignore the lower nine as they are fused into one piece. There are seven (7) vertebrae in Cervical curve that is supporting your head in your neck area. Further down, there are twelve (12) thoracic vertebrae, the upper part of your backbone between the shoulders and the back support of your rib cage. Finally in the lower back above pelvis we have five (5) lumbar vertebrae where many karatekas complain about a back pain. The exact number of vertebrae is not important in our discussion. What is important is that the spine is not a single piece like a baseball bat. It is made up of many pieces and they are connected by the discs or more accurately the intervertebral discs. Each disc forms a joint and it allows a slight movement of the vertebrae, and acts as a ligament to hold the vertebrae together. One crucial role of the discs is a shock absorber. So, what is important here is that the each vertebrae is movable. You can see this easily if you move your head. You can even rotate your head left and right. You can do the similar moves with the lower back, for instance, you can bend your upper body forward and back then to the sides. You can also rotate your upper body even without moving your pelvis. Try this from a sitting position and you will find how flexible or inflexible your thoracic vertebrae are.
We all know that the backbone is important. When you fall from a horse or a bike you may have a spinal cord injury and some unlucky people may even have suffered paralysis under the neck which will disable you from walking. You remember a famous actor Christopher Reeve who suffered quadriplegia in 1995 and died in 2004 at the age of 52. Even if the injury is not that serious we see many people in a neck brace most of whom suffered from a car accident. These are not directly connected to the subject I am covering but I just wanted to stress the fact that our head is heavy and that balancing it on top of the spine is not an easy task and in fact it requires a technique like a trick.
Now, finally, the main point I want to share. Most of us have no recollection of how we tried to stand up and to walk when we were a baby. We can guess how we did by observing a baby anywhere between 10 months and 18 months old. From then on you can stand firm and you will be able to not only walk steadily but also to run. To be able to do these feats your backbone must not be too flexible like that of a baby. It must be firm so that it can support the upper body as well as the heaviest part, the head. I am sure you agree with that. While we are awake most of us either sit or walk. These days because of the convenience of cars and other transportation vehicles we walk much less than say 100 years ago. We typically walk anywhere between 3,000 and 5,000 steps per day. Now it is recommended to take 10,000 steps a day that originated in Japan in the early 1960s. Japanese researchers led by Dr Yoshiro Hatano determined that if they were to increase their steps to 10,000 steps per day, the result would be healthier, thinner people. So, you may be walkingtypically anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 steps per day for many years. When you were a baby you might have walked only a few steps but you must have increased the number of the daily steps into maybe thousands quickly as you grew older. You could increase the step numbers because you learned to keep your body steady. In other words you did not want to fall and hurt yourself. Also there was another big motivation. After learning how to walk steadily you can start running. For a child to be able to walk fast and run is very exciting and some of you may remember the pleasure of running when you were a toddler. If you do not remember then you can watch a toddler playing and they are all running around and smiling. They are full of energy and seem to be almost unstoppable. So, what do we do to steady our walk? We stiffen our body especially the backbone as it is much easier to control if it does not bend or sway. So, every time we stood up or even when you are sitting up, we learn to tighten our muscles and the ligaments around the backbone to keep it stiff so that it will remain a solid stick or pole rather than the flexible one. I believe this conscious effort to keep the backbone steady along with the natural process of body formation at the young age results in the inflexible body. If the children either play a lot outside the house or happen to work in the field with their parents they can keep higher degree of flexibility. I suspect the people in the 19th century were more flexible than the people in the 20th century like us, most of the readers. I believe the tendency is still growing more prominent since the children of the 21st century tend to stay inside the house a lot longer forwatching TV or playing with computer games. Their body stiffens up more as they do not move their body in the dynamic ways as the children of the past centuries did.
This is my theory and I have not contacted any medical staff to support my thinking but I am pretty confident that I am right about this. If any of the readers are into medical field or an expert in kinesiology I wish to hear from them.
Let us assume my hypothesis is correct and move on to the subject of how we can improve flexibility. Before we jump into the subject you may say, “I do a lot of warm ups and tried even yoga (or whatever) but I am still inflexible. Can your method help?” My quick answer is yes and I will share the basic concept of how to work on your body to make yourself more flexible. Please note that this article’s object is not to provide a “how to” instruction but rather the concept of this unique approach. To provide an adequate instruction I would need to write a book on it. You can get personal instruction from me if you participate in one of the seminars I give around the world. You can also apply to be one of the Online Dojo students. I am selective with the students and the tuition is rather high as it will be a one to one personal lesson. If you are serious and interested in finding the program, you can contact me.
OK, let us dive into the method now. Most of the calisthenics and warm up exercises we do focus on the hip joints and the shoulder joints. You will swing your arms around and rotate your hips or bend forward and backward, for instance. Well these exercises are acceptable and to some extent they are beneficial. They may give you a warm up so that they will reduce injuries during your physical exercise like karate. Unfortunately, those exercises will not give you the real relaxation of the body that is needed to bring the fluid movements in your techniques. What they are missing is more attention to the backbone that is, for most people, more solidified than necessary, meaning the ligaments or the discs between the vertebrae have been deactivated (or prevented) as flexible joints. In fact, this could and would happen to other joints such as the ankles and the knees. For instance, we, the Japanese used to sit in seiza all day long in our house as we did not have a chair there. So, our knees were accustomed to being fully bent or extended so doing the bunny hops did not cause us any knee injuries. Now the Japanese life style has changed and only a few of them would sit in seiza in their house. I hear that the bunny hop exercise was banned in the Japanese elementary school because so many students complained of the knee problems. It was a very popular and common exercise to strengthen our legs not only in the sports activities but in the general PE classes in our school days. Times have changed, indeed.
Let’s go back to the backbone as this is the key area where we must focus. I would like the readers to look at the illustration of the backbone (below left). It shows the shape looking from the back and also a side view. What do you think? What does it look like? I practice several kobudo weapons and one of them is the 9 chain whip and the backbone reminds me of that weapon (below right). I am sure most of the readers know that the backbone is curved in a shape looking like an S from the side even though we have an incorrect notion of it being completely straight. I picked this illustration as it is shown with the skull on top showing that the backbone is supporting and balancing the heaviest part of our body which is like balancing a baseball bat or a set of wine glasses on top of your hand. Anyway, what does it look like? Doesn’t it sort of remind you of a snake (sorry if you happen to hate this animal)? I will not post an illustration of the snake bones but an idea of a snake becomes important when I explain exactly how we need to do the flexibility exercise a little later in this article. By observing the backbone illustration I hope the readers get a better feeling about how this bodily structure is constructed or assembled. Let’s review again, there are 7 pieces of vertebrae, your neck, to support the head, 12 pieces for the upper torso and 5 for the lumbar area, totaling 24 pieces of movable bones. The top seven in the neck area are the easiest ones to move around but require the most care when moving about as you could easily sprain your neck because your head is heavy. By moving too quickly or too suddenly it could easily cause this sprain as you might have experienced in the past. The lumbar area may be a little more challenging but is still easy to move around. You could get a sprained back from bending forward and trying to pick up something very heavy.
The most challenging part is the 12 pieces between your neck and the lumbar portion. You will need to spend most of your time to improve the flexibility of these vertebrae. Yes, each bone should be moved in all directions as we incorrectly believed having the solid (rigid) backbone was good for walking. Well, once again you may question “What’s wrong with that?” Yes, balancing a baseball bat was easier than stacked wine glasses. It is ok as long as you are not looking for a fluid motion.
Let me give you an example from two world class sprinters, Ben Jonson and Carl Lewis. Many of the readers remember them as they competed in the same races and in fact the 100 m final at the 1988 Summer Olympics was one of the most sensational sports stories of the year. Its dramatic outcome would rank as one of the most infamous sports stories of the century. Johnson won in 9.79 s, a new world record, while Lewis came in second with 9.92 s. Three days later, Johnson tested positive for steroids which resulted in his disqualification and Lewis moved up and was awarded gold. Some of the readers may remember this as it was a big news then.
I am not discussing about his doping problem here but rather about the way he built himself up with his body and the way he ran. Do you remember? He was carrying his upper body like a baseball bat or a Mac truck. He was fast as he had the leg and the upper body muscles to run fast but his running was never beautiful. It almost looked funny and artificial. On the other hand, do you recall how Lewis ran? How do you describe it? You do not need to go to a Youtube video, just look at these two photos. Johnson has huge thighs and upper body muscles but looks cranky and even stiff. Lewis does not have the huge thighs nor big upper body muscles but he looks like he was swimming or gliding through the air. This is what I call a fluid performance. Both of them were tops in the world in sprinting but it makes that much of a difference in the body motion. You must remember Johnson was good only in the 100 meter sprint and his career was very short. Lewis won Gold medals in not only 100 meter but also in 200 meter and long jump. In addition, he was the world champion for over 17 years (from 1979 to 1996). He achieved the excellent flexibility of the joints including the backbone. He used his backbone to accelerate. If you want to see this, go check out his performance on Youtube. You will see how he does it. It could be done not only because he had the strong legs which I am sure he did, but more importantly he could summon all the muscles of the body in harmony to realize the maximum result. This can be done only if all the joints are lose and movable and in addition, if they are controllable and manageable.
Let me add one interesting point about these athletes as I clearly remember the specific reaction I had to them. Do you remember how you felt about their performances? I remember that we, as we watched them on TV, were impressed with the strong run by Johnson (left). He looked like a run-away two ton truck coming down a street and it certainly was not beautiful in the way he ran. I do not know about how you felt but at least I didn’t like his form. On the other hand, I loved how Lewis ran. I was almost enchanted with the smooth flow of his running style. So, when he lost to Johnson in the 1988 Olympics we were “disappointed” as we wanted the “beautiful” runner to win. I am sure the Canadian people were happy. When the doping was found a few days later we did not feel sorry for Johnson. We instinctively loved something beautiful and not an “ugly” runner. Johnson’s run was strong but not beautiful thus the people did not love it. But Lewis’ style (below) was beautiful and it looked natural. But, why did we feel his running style was beautiful and “right” when we did not with that of Johnson? Lewis made a big impression on us because (my personal theory) he did not solidify his upper body like Johnson did. This is only my assumption but Johnson wanted to build the big and heavy upper body with two strong legs. Instead of focusing on the body muscle coordination, he probably did a lot of weight training to make him “strong”. As a result his upper body became like a big muscle chunk. On the other hand, Lewis was also in the long jump (lucky for him) in which he needs to bend his back and use his backbone power to jump, thus he did not think of solidifying his body with a lot of weight training. Instead he probably relied on his natural talent and trained to coordinate all the muscle groups in his body leveraging the strong power generated by his backbone. This approach, I believe, kept his motion natural and also beautiful which harmonized with our unconscious mind that resulted in pleasure and big admiration.
Related to this I can also say something similar when I watch, though not too often, the kata competitors. Some of the competitors do their katas very quickly. I am impressed with their ability to move their arms and the legs so fast. But yet most of the time I am not moved as something is missing from their performance. And I am not talking about the tempo, rhythm, power, etc. I am not talking about the techniques either. I simply do not see the “natural” moves that flow from one technique to the next. The moves I see in most of the competitors are all rehearsed to move simply fast. No matter how fast they can move, I do not see the beauty in it even though we must not look for it in kata. But I hope the readers understand what I am trying to say.
OK let’s go back to the use of the backbone for the speed and creation of the beautiful body motion. Maybe you are not totally convinced that the backbone makes that much difference. Let me show you another set of photos (below). All of you know that this is the cheetah the fastest land animal that can run as fast as 112 to 120 km/h (70 to 75 MPH).
I am sure you have seen a video of a cheetah running. What did you think? Isn’t it beautiful how it can run. We already know it can run fast but what impresses us more is its beauty.
Now pay attention to the backbone of a cheetah in these two photos. You can clearly see that it is contracting and expanding the backbone and using it to accelerate its running. If the vertebrae were stiff and unmovable then a cheetah cannot run like this. Carl Lewis was smooth and fluid in his running but sorry to say that his running form is no comparison to that of a cheetah. It exhibits almost the perfect motion of fluidity. I get very excited and emotional about this subject so I can talk about the importance of the backbone for hours.
Now you will probably say, “OK I understand that it is important that the backbone to be flexible. But how do I get my backbone loose?” As I stated earlier teaching the exercise in written words is extremely difficult and could be misunderstood. I must coach you in person to show you the fine details but I will give you a couple of hints as it is not difficult or mysterious. There are only three ways to move our body. One is twisting or body rotation. Another is side bending and the last one is forward and backward bending. You practice the twisting motion in Tekki Shodan. Can you recognize which part? I wrote an article about this in “Mystery of Tekki” last year. If you are interested you can find it in one of the issues of Classical Fighting Arts (http://www.dragon-tsunami.org/Cfa/Pages/cfahome.htm).
For the sideways exercise, think of a snake (sorry again if you dislike it). You know how a snake moves and you need to imitate the moves by bending or curving the backbone. It is not very easy to do this and it will tell you how flexible or inflexible your backbone is. Once you get used to it, you can try it on the floor. You lay down on the floor and hold your hands behind your back. You need to move forward without using your legs but just swaying your body like a snake. Try it and you will find it extremely challenging.
For the last movement, bending forward and backward, I will not recommend a cheetah or a dolphin. They move too quickly for our exercise. My hint is an inchworm or a slinky. Yes, if you can move your backbone in a similar manner, in other words, in an up and down motion but it must be done slowly. By the way, do you remember this toy, slinky? Maybe you have one in your house. It was invented in 1943 and has sold more than 300 million units during the 60 years since its invention. It is also listed as one of the “Century of Toys” by the US Toy Industry Association. This is such a simple toy and why did it sell so well? I believe the people were and are fascinated with its smooth and fluid motion. What do you think? Can we learn to move our backbone something like that or like an inchworm? If you can I guarantee you that your entire body motion will be smooth and fluid.
I present that the body- muscles of most of us have been solidified or tightened up to an unnecessary (almost unhealthy) degree. I stated that we had learned this state when we were a toddler as we learned how to stand up and walk. Our body was very flexible then and we did not know how to balance well. So we over compensated with our body which was flexible then by solidifying the ligaments of the backbone into almost one unmovable unit. We kept this process with the backbone for so many years we forgot how to loosen the vertebrae. By having our core, the backbone, so rigid, it affects our entire body, almost all the muscles in our body being tightened up. This is why we find it difficult to relax our muscles. In other words, we tend to be tightened up almost always because the muscles are always being pulled or affected by the core. Though we have a stressful society the deep down cause for our inflexibility is not from the outer world but rather inside of our body. I concluded that unless we learn or regain the flexibility of the core, the backbone, our body muscles will remain tensed most of the time. We may engage in yoga, Tai Chi, Progressive muscle relaxation, etc. and we may feel good and somewhat relaxed during or right after exercise. It will only give a temporary relief and most of us will remain rigid and inflexible. This condition prevents us from achieving the fluid body motions in our karate techniques.
Despite that this trend is universal there are some who have overcome this problem. We find a few experts in all fields including the sports, martial arts and other arts such as singing, dancing and playing musical instruments. The true experts seem to have learned to be fully relaxed and own a flexible body. I believe I found a method to make all of us gain the true flexibility that only the experts enjoy.
What I am proposing in this article is that we need to train the joints particularly those of the backbone to relax and make them more movable. There are three directions of the body movements and our training must cover them. By the way, I close my eyes as I exercise my backbone or try to move the vertebrae. I try to open my “inside” eyes so that I can “see” what I am doing. When the core is relaxed, the mobility at the shoulders and the hip joints will be bigger which will result in an easier ability to relax those areas. Once we learn how to relax the body core and the major joints it will be much easier to relax the rest of our body. In addition, by relaxing our body core we will be able to manage our muscles and to achieve the fluid movements in our techniques.
What do you think? You may not believe in my method or not even be convinced if it works but isn’t it worth giving it a chance and try once or twice? You have nothing to lose and all to gain.
One interesting side story of samurai is that even though they were the hired soldiers they did not get paid in money. Like the ancient Roman soldiers they got paid by the necessity which happened to be rice in Japan while it was salt to the Roman soldiers. The samurais received a certain amount of rice from their war lord and they used that to exchange for other necessary things. Of course in Japan we had a monetary system mostly among the merchants. Thus this barter system was a unique system but it was doable as the population of the samurai was minor, approximately 7% of the entire population. This system existed all through the Edo period until the early 19th century. What is important is that the samurais were free of the possible vices that could stem from handling the money. The samurais in fact, looked down on the money and the merchants. There were four classes or casts in the medieval Japan. Those classes were from the top or the highest; samurai, farmers, craftsmen and merchants. It is very interesting that the class of the merchants was regarded the lowest class in Japan then. Anyway, having been free from the monetary system the samurais could keep their living very clean despite the fact that many of them were indeed poor, much poorer than the merchants. That did not bother the samurai at all. The judgment of the class and the pride of their class did not change whether they are well off or poor. Of course, they could stay pure and not bothered by the money as long as they had their war lord to support them. Once one became a ronin, they had to sell even the spirit of samurai, their katana, the armor and other weapons so they could eat.
Let me share one more interesting thing about the samurais and the Japanese in general. Did you know that the samurais were discouraged to show their emotions on their face? First, they were of course expected to go through physically challenging martial arts training. At the same time they were told not to make any complaints or any negative remarks such as “tired”, “painful”, etc. To go through the treacherous training without changing their expression was the foundation of the samurai bravery. With the samurai the attitude of reticent and reserved were considered much better than eloquence. To talk back or to explain something for which a samurai was blamed or accused was considered as an act of cowardice. They would say “Look at me and do you think I did something like this?” Even if one is innocent a samurai refused to explain to prove he was innocent. He preferred to chose to do seppuku, whose concept will be discussed later. This may be something most of the westerners and many of the modern day Japanese might not be able to understand. Even in the modern day Japan, the Japanese tend to show less expressions on their faces which you might have noticed if you had visited there. It’s not because we have less emotion or feelings but we were brought up this way. For instance, we were told only a woman cries and we still consider crying as a very sissy act for a man.
Interestingly, many of the western movie actors who become famous in Japan are cynical looking ones like Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood (sorry they are all from the 70s and 80s). The friendly actors with a lot of smiles typically do not make it big in Japan. So, if you visit Japan on a business trip, I seriously suggest that you will withhold a joke and a smile on your face during your business meeting. With a serious and cynical face you will win more respect, at least initially. To keep the respect you must follow up by delivering what you promised.
Anyway, the attitude of not showing the emotion has been handed down to the present day. I remember clearly that we were not supposed to show the joy or happiness when we won in a karate tournament. When you won you bow and get off the court without showing any emotion whatsoever. If I smiled when I won at a tournament my sensei would yell at me. The idea was that the losing side is already feeling bad and the winner must not make the loser feel worse by putting a smile on his face. During my competition days no one raised their hands or jumped and down to show their joy. The Japanese competitors have changed a lot since my competition days of 70s and 80s. You may see some of the Japanese competitors raising their hands up or showing their joy but many of them remain rather calm when you compare them to the non Japanese competitors who may jump up and down expressing their joy. Here is an interesting photo and a memorable one for the Japanese people. This was from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. I watched this scene on a black and white TV on that fateful day. I was 16 then and I was shodan in Judo though I had switched my martial art from Judo to Karate about a year before. In all the weight divisions the Japanese competitors won the gold medal. When I watched the final between Anton Geesink (Dutch) and Kaminaga (Japan) I had no doubt that Kaminaga would win though Geesink was huge (198cm, 120kg). The result shocked all of the Japanese spectators. The photo above shows Geesink right after the judge announced he got ippon with Osaekomi (ground holding) waza. You can see a Dutch fan is jumping up with a joy (top left). Now you notice that Geesink is raising his right hand up, almost looking like a “wait a minute”. This was a historic moment for the Japanese because we saw this non Japanese competitor not only not jumping up with joy but he was stopping his team mates from getting up on the floor who were just about to do that. This was a historic moment for the Japanese not only because this non Japanese guy won the gold medal in the heavy weight division of Judo but he demonstrated the Japanese martial art virtue of calmness and the control of the emotion. We really believed we lost to someone who understood the true spirit of budo, the samurai way.
Probably the most puzzling thing about the samurai way to the westerners is seppuku or harakiri. This was an important ritual that was reserved for the samurai and we must understand the philosophy or the way of thinking in order to understand the mentality and the psyche of the samurais. Wikipedia described Seppuku as following:
“Seppuku (切腹, “stomach-cutting”) is a form of Japanese ritual suicide by disembowelment. Seppuku was originally reserved only for samurai. Part of the samurai Bushido honor code, seppuku was either used voluntarily by samurai to die with honor rather than fall into the hands of their enemies (and likely suffer torture), or as a form of capital punishment for samurai who had committed serious offenses, or performed for other reasons that had brought shame to them. The ceremonial disembowelment, which is usually part of a more elaborate ritual and performed in front of spectators, consists of plunging a short blade, traditionally a tanto, into the abdomen and moving the blade from left to right in a slicing motion.”
There is one thing that is not included in the above explanation that must be mentioned and emphasized. It is that this ritual must be conducted in very calm and collected manner by all the participants including the seppuku samurai. Naturally it would be a challenging task for the samurai who was going to cut himself. He would be allowed to make a poem and write it down before he plunge his sword. This “death-poem” was called jisei 辞世 The poem is typically written in the Chinese poem format or in Tanka 短歌 style (a short poem with five units, usually composed of 5, 7, 5, 7, and 7 moras, respectively). Of course, you can easily guess that it would be extremely difficult to come up with a new poem at that very moment of facing death but that was expected to prove that he had a calm mind. Despite that, some of the samurai had created a poem in their peaceful time in order to avoid a very embarrassing situation if he could not come up with one at the last moment. That embarrassing situation would bring a great shame and embarrassment to him and his family name which had to be avoided. It was also very important to leave a respectable poem. As I have explained in another article “Bunbu ryodo”, a samurai was expected to have literal education including making different types of poems such as Chinese style 漢詩, waka 和歌 and kyoka 狂歌. Some of the poems are truly excellent and some are even funny. I can list many excellent Jisei poems but I only list one here for your review.
Upon this pathway I have long heard it said man sets forth at last –
yet I had not thought to go so very soon as today.
(Translation by Helen Craig McCullough)
If you are interested in learning more on Jisei 辞世, check the Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_poem
Let me share another interesting point. As you can easily imagine how difficult it is to be calm if you are about to cut your own belly. What is interesting is that it was more challenging for the helper, kaishaku 介錯 whose job was to decapitate the samurai to give him a quick end. In the photo below you can see the kaishaku standing with his sword behind the seppuku samurai in white kimono. They had to select an excellent swordsman because the ritual code specified that a kaishaku must strike only once and cut the head off in a specific way. The specific way bared a kaishaku to cut the neck off completely because a decapitated head would naturally roll off and away from the body. What he had to do was to cut only 90% or so down and leave the skin towards the front of the neck. Then the head will fall but it will not roll away from the body. The head “remains” with the body thus it will keep the dignity of the samurai.
Anyway, for the western people especially the Christians the act of seppuku is not permissible as a suicide is considered to be a sin. With Christianity taking a life of someone is also considered as a sin. With the Japanese we do not have a thought process of a sin as in our main religion, Shinto our Gods (yes multiple, in fact thousands) do not judge the people and do not attach a label of “a sin” to our behaviors. We believe the separation of our body and the spirit. We also believe in the reincarnation and that our spirit is ever lasting. Our thinking of a life is there is a set time for each of us to go. So, if one feels it is his time to go then taking his own life is not an unnatural thing. This act was not only blameless but in fact it was respected. On the flip side, it was permissible for one person to take a life of another if it is according to the samurai law or his principle. There was no expectation to feel guilty for this samurai killing another as long as it is within the law. This is not a foreign concept as it is commonly done in the modern day society. If capital punishment is legal within a country such as Japan and the US, there is an officer or a prison employee who has to push the button when a capital punishment is executed. There is another example which may not be as dramatic but can be controversial. I do not support abortion, but a doctor performing a legal abortion can not be charged with the death of a fetus. The prison worker and this doctor will not be punished for doing their “work”. It is the similar concept.
Now back to a suicide or its occurrence is not a strange or uncommon thing in the modern society. According to Suicide.org (www.suicide.org) the facts of the suicides in the world are shown below:
- Over one million people die by suicide worldwide each year.
- The global suicide rate is 16 per 100,000 population.
- On average, one person dies by suicide every 40 seconds somewhere in the world.
- 1.8% of worldwide deaths are suicides.
- Global suicide rates have increased 60% in the past 45 years.
Isn’t this information shocking? It is to me. According to the statistics shown at Wikipedia, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_suicide_rate) the highest suicide rate is found in Greenland (83.0 per 100,000). Japan ranked as the 10th highest rate at 21.7, the US at 33rd with the rate of 12.0 and UK being at 36th with 11.8. Interestingly, the last five countries included Grenada, Haiti and Nepal (from 106th to 110th) show zero suicide rate. I am not sure how accurate their statistics are in those countries but the figures must be negligible. So out of 110 countries around the world, more than 100 countries experience some kind of suicide among their citizens. I know that many more than 30,000 (in fact 31, 690 according to The World Post report: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/04/japan-suicide-rate-still-_n_831430.html) committed suicide in Japan last year. There were less than 6,000 kamikaze pilots total during the WWII (1944 and 1945) so this number is staggering. Though the causes and the reasons were quite different in most cases, those people decided to take their own life.
I am not justifying or glorifying the suicide act. In fact I am strongly against this idea and the act. I brought up the statistics to show that suicide is not a strange or uncommon occurrence in the modern day world. I must add one fact with the samurai philosophy that the desire to die young or before his destined time was regarded as the sign of cowardice. This is not a surprise as the samurais were expected to endure against all the difficulties and the challenges till the end. The true honor was believed to come only when he finds and chooses to die on the destined time or situation. To die too soon was called “dog death” and a very dishonorable act. It was dishonorable to escape from a death if it was a destined moment as well as dying too soon. For a samurai to find and choose the right moment was his life time objective.
Here is a small mystery. In the 16th century (1543 to be exact) a gun, an old style Musket gun, was introduced to Japan by the ship wrecked Portuguese merchants. It became popular very quickly for the obvious reason and it was used by many war lords in the battles. Despite this trend, the katana 刀 sword remained as the spirit of samurai until the end of the feudal period. I think this can be a small mystery why it remained so. Of course, katana was a symbol but the samurais really believed no other weapons can replace it. What is important for us to remember is that the samurais believed that the sword was a tool permitted by the martial art god only for the samurais to use. In fact, making a sword was a religious event (many smiths were shinto priests) and they believed that the will of a god was tempered into a sword and lived there.
See the following video if you are interested in katana making:
With so much respect that a samurai had, he would not draw his sword too easily. Many people, including the modern day Japanese, got a wrong impression from the samurai movies where the samurais would draw their swords very often. Naturallythe movies have to be an entertainment and most of them need to show the actions. The truth is that the samurais believed that the only time they drew a sword was when they were facing a death. It would happen only once and possibly twice in his life time.
Of course, these seven virtues were learned and practiced very strictly by all the samurais. The rules and customs were exercised and handed down for hundreds of years among the samurai class. What is interesting is that these virtues and the customs were also respected by the other classes including the lowest class, the merchants. In other words, the samurais were the excellent model and they maintained such well organized and regulated life, the common people naturally imitated. Though they did not and could not follow all the virtues they tried to follow suit in most of the customs such as the etiquette, honesty, respect, honor, etc. It is not an exaggeration that Bushido has developed into the nationwide culture during the Edo period. Though the people may not recognize such an influence nowadays in Japan but it still exists. Some of the virtues are difficult to document or prove but let me give you a few examples.
1) Most recent event is the World Cup which is still happening. On June 14th the Japan team played against Cote D’ivoire and lost 2 to 1. Though our team lost the spectators in the stadium stayed after the game and cleaned up the area around them. They have been doing this since the first World Cup game Japan played in 1998. This is not too much of a surprise to the karate practitioners as many of you are used to cleaning the dojo after the training. We had to do the wet rag clean up after each training when I was training there in the 60s. In our elementary school the students clean the class room after the school is over. It is still done in most of the public schools. There are not too many non-
Japanese students who go to the Japanese public elementary school but a few do. I have heard of a few incidents when their parents protested to the school management that their child or children were engaged in the custodian work and requested that to be stopped. They thought that the school was trying to save the salary of the custodians and engaging their children in child labor. They really did not see the true objective of the public school teaching.
The photo below is from 2011 after the earthquake and the tsunami in the northern part of Japan. It shows the customers waiting for their turn to get into a convenience store so they can buy some essential things after most of the facilities were destroyed. What is amazing thing was that the customers who could get inside first used their judgment and consideration for the others and did not buy up all the goods. They bought only what they needed for that day and left the things for the others. It is quite different from other countries where the people turn into a mob and break into the stores to steal things after a disaster. I do not have to tell you where as we have seen such a riot and looting everything from the food to TVs and furniture.
3) Suzuki Ichiro is a major league baseball player (now playing for New York Yankees). I do not have to list up all the amazing records he has established and he is still playing at the age of 41 which is fairly “old” for a professional baseball player. Anyway, he is a big star and definitely a celebrity even in the US. He does not need to bow to the ground. No one else in his team does this. Why? He learned to pay the respect to the ground where he plays from his father who was his coach when he was in his high school. He kept his father’s teaching well. Once again we can relate to this as we bow to the dojo floor each time we enter and when we exit from the dojo. By the way, I consider him to be one of the most talented baseball players of all time. It is not because he is a Japanese player. By evaluating and judging from the way he handles his body I found him to be at the master level of body use. I should write about him and explain why he is talented. It is easy to list his accomplishments and prove he is talented. But anyone can do that. I would analyze this from his body movements. Maybe some day…..
Oh I need to add one more thing about Ichiro. Sensei O’Neill is the hidden helper to make my article readable. He lives in New York and he mentioned the following after having read the draft. I will quote his remark about Ichiro;
“Now that he is part of the Yankees I get to see him a lot. Not only is he a great player but he carries that samurai mentality onto the field. He treats his bat like a katana. It is never put in the bat rack with the other bats. His bat stands in the corner of the dough-out by itself. He plays at a different level than the rest of the team. His bat and body control is way beyond comprehension. It is a pleasure to watch him operate. Others play the game he attacks the game.”
Sensei O’Neill’s observation on Ichiro was excellent and his input is appreciated. I agree with his opinion of Ichiro’s performance. He does play at a different level than the other players. As I said earlier I may tackle this subject some day. It may be interesting to evaluate his performance and find why he is different.
OK enough of the examples of the Japanese behaviors that are very common and show the influence of Bushido in the modern day Japan. I am sure the readers will agree that the philosophy and the virtues I described above are respectable and honorable despite they may not agree with how their virtues were practiced. I am very proud of this heritage and culture. I truly believe that all the Japanese people can and should feel the same way.
As a closing I need to share the fear I have. It is about the continuation or disappearance of Bushido in Japan. I posted a quote by Uchimura Kanzo 内村鑑三 in my Facebook page on June 22nd. Uchimura was an important formative influence on many of the intellectual leaders in the 20th century Japan. He wrote;
“Japan will prosper as long as we have Bushido among the people.
Japan will perish when the people forget Bushido.”
This is what I fear the most that more and more Japanese people may be forgetting that we have a heritage we can be proud of. The strong influence of the capitalism and solipsism is changing the Japanese. Though it is safe to walk outside at midnight even in Tokyo, we have many crimes. Bullying is common in high school and many young children commit suicide because of this. Many high school girls sell sex under the name of enjo kosai 援助交際 “helping relationship”. They are not all poor who do this. They want to buy the brand name bags and other expensive stuff so they need a part time job. So they say it is not prostitution it is a relationship to help a high school girl buy something she wants.So, if you have visited Japan recently, what did you see and experience? Did you see or feel the Samurai virtues not only in a dojo but in the life style of the Japanese people? Does bushido still exist in Japan? I would like to hear from the readers who have visited Japan recently.
Then I need to ask myself the last question. What do I need to do if I want Bushido to survive in Japan provided it still exists there? I want to believe some remnant of Bushido is still there in the general culture of the Japanese and many of them, without being aware, are conducting their life according to many of the virtues. I have decided to do at least the following two things. One is that I will live like a samurai and die like one. Of course, I will not carry around a sword, but by being a samurai I will conduct my daily life according to the samurai virtues. My belief is I can only prove this when I die. I do not know when I will take my last breath but I promised myself that I will not die in a bed or laying down. I will be sitting up or hopefully standing and die as I teach my last karate lesson. That is my dream. Remember this and tell me when I am 90 years old.
The second thing I promised to do is to teach and help educating the western people in the budo specifically karate-do. I no longer live in Japan and I cannot teach the Japanese students any more. Thus, I am thinking of a reverse importing of Bushido back to Japan. By producing the western instructors I am hoping that they will be able to bring Bushido spirit back to Japan some day in the future. I want to produce many excellent karate instructors who will be not only excellent in the art of karate but also well educated. They will have the knowledge of these Bushido virtues and exhibit those virtues with their behavior. I want some of those instructors to go to Japan and teach the Japanese students just like Funakoshi migrated to Japan almost 100 years ago to teach karate to the Japanese university students.
Do I sound crazy? Maybe so but I believe this will happen some day. Though I may not be around to see it with my own eyes but it does not matter. I will be happy as I will be watching that from the spirit world. It is my dream and my motivation.
A few more video sites for those who want to learn more about Bushido and Samurai.
Bushido (History Channel)
Samurai history (History Channel)
Discover Japan video; Samurai
History channel: Code of the legendary Samurai:
Lost Treasures Of The Ancient World: “Samurai Japan”
Many karate people mention and talk about Bushido. I think they understand that it is a way of samurais but without the full understanding of the complex philosophical thoughts, the virtues and the influence by religions and the culture behind this popular word. I am not referring only the western karatekas but the lack of knowledge and understanding is rampant among the Japanese people including the martial artists. I am very sad about this and I am very happy to have this opportunity to explain what Bushido is all about.
I wish to include the in-depth explanation of the philosophy behind this Japanese word. As I mentioned earlier, this important word and the philosophy are, sadly, almost dying in Japan. After Japan lost the war nearly 70 years ago, Bushido was taught as an undesirable philosophy as it, supposedly, had driven Japan to the war. I may be one of the few exceptions who believe in the great value of Bushido. It is not nationality specific thus it can benefit not only the Japanese but anyone who understands and respects it.
In Wikipedia Bushido 武士道, is explained as “literally “military scholar road“, it is a Japanese word for the way of the samurai life, loosely analogous to the concept of chivalry.”
For more reading Wikipedia URL, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bushido
So we know that Bushido is related to samurai and their code or their way of living.
Before we go into their code, Bushido, let us take a quick look at the meaning of samurai and bushi. Though they are used interchangeably they are different. I will quote a section from Wikipedia:
“Samurai (侍), usually referred to in Japanese as bushi (武士) or buke (武家), were the military nobility of medieval and early-modern Japan. According to translator William Scott Wilson: “In Chinese, the character 侍 was originally a verb meaning to wait upon or accompany persons in the upper ranks of society, and this is also true of the original term in Japanese, saburau. In both countries the terms were nominalized to mean ‘those who serve in close attendance to the nobility’, the pronunciation in Japanese changing to saburai. According to Wilson, an early reference to the word ‘samurai’ appears in the Kokin Wakashu (905–914), the first imperial anthology of poems, completed in the first part of the 10th century.
By the end of the 12th century, samurai became almost entirely synonymous with bushi, and the word was closely associated with the middle and upper echelons of the warrior class. The samurai followed a set of rules that came to be known as Bushido. While the samurai numbered less than 10% of Japan’s population, their teachings can still be found today in both everyday life and in modern Japanese martial arts.”
Then what is their code, a set of rules or the samurai way?
We find that the foundation of Bushido is a complex one and is supported by three main religious and philosophical pillars; Buddhism, Shintoism and Confucianism.
Shintoism is the native religion and it existed from the pre historic time. It taught the respect for the ancestors and the parents as well as the loyalty to one’s lord. In the late 6th century Buddhism arrived from China. It brought the idea of mu 無, emptiness and an idea that death is not to be feared. Then Confucianism was introduced in the late 7th century which had the big impact to bushi.
I would like to focus our attention to the teaching of Confucianism, Gojo no toku 五常の徳, five Confucian virtues. The five virtues are Jin 仁、Gi 義、Rei 礼、Chi 智 and Shin 信. These five virtues are also called Gorin no michi 五倫の道, five ethics. In addition, they adopted two more ethics of Chu 忠 and Kotei 孝悌. However, they dropped Chi and Shin, and consolidated the idea of Kotei with Chu. They kept four virtues; Jin, Gi, Rei and Chu from this list and added the new virtues of Yu 勇, Makoto 誠 and Meiyo 名誉 to complete the Samurai spirit.
I will explain each word and the concept behind each virtue: 1) Gi 義, 2) Yu 勇, 3) Jin 仁, 4) Rei 礼, 5) Makoto 誠, 6) Meiyo 名誉 and 7) Chu or Chugi 忠義.
Two most important virtues for samurai were Gi 義 and Yu 勇. They were considered to be the twin concepts that cannot be separated.
1) Gi 義 means justice, righteousness or morality. Samurai considered their duties, obligations and responsibilities as something that they had to defend and execute even risking their life.
2) Yu 勇 means bravery, courageous and decisiveness. The concept of Yu is unique as it not only demands enough bravery to face a battle or death but at the same time the decision process must be quick. Indecisiveness and procrastination are considered not meeting Yu.
The samurais were taught the difference between 「大義の勇」courage for the true principle and「匹夫の勇」 courage for a meaningless cause. The courage to act for a true cause or a principle was considered an honorable thing for a samurai. On the other hand, a bravery action for a meaningless or senseless cause did not receive any respect or honor.
An interesting part of courage by samurais is that it must come with a calm mind. In other words, they sought bravery in tranquility thus they disrespected the barbaric bravery. The true bravery comes from the calm mind especially when you face a calamity or a life and death situation.
3) Jin 仁 means benevolence, kind and humane but what does it really mean? It means that you have the kindness to all kinds of people including the poor, sick and handicapped. This character does not seem to fit a typical samurai because he seems to be ruthless. This character was selected for the ruling layer of the samurai class. They believed the most important virtue for the ruling class is the benevolence and kindness to the common people. Samurai ruling could have become a tyrannic ruling where the common people suffer and hate their rulers. However, due to the adoption of Jin in their ruling manner, the governing by the samurai class was enjoined by the loyal and peaceful followers, most of the time.
I must explain a popular concept (in Japan) of Bushi no nasake 武士の情け or Jin of bushi. This was an important character of a samurai who was supposed to have a kind consideration for the weak and the lost party or even a guilty party. The expression of this feeling and also the behavior that accompanies it is often times confusing or surprising to the westerners. Let me give you an example. In a battle when two samurais are fighting and they happen to know and respect each other or they may be close friends or even relatives. When one samurai knows he is going to win (the other is already injured or his swordsmanship is so much inferior, etc), he will tell the other guy to commit seppuku (Seppuku will be explained more towards the end of this article) for the kindness of samurai, Bushi no nasake. If the losing guy dies from seppuku he can keep his honor whereas if the other guy cuts him to death then he simply becomes a lost samurai. Now in the western world, many may think this way. If there is such a kindness and respect to the other guy, wouldn’t the winning guy let the losing guy live and escape? In the samurai world, escaping is simply an act of cowardice and that option would never cross the mind of either of the samurais. Another puzzling thing for the westerners is when they see a winning guy put a sword in the hand of the lost samurai if he had dropped it. For the samurai to die without a sword in his hand is dishonorable and very regretful. If you have watched the famous samurai movie, Kagemusha you will see this action in one of the battle scenes. Some of the samurais who were surrounding the war lord get shot and killed. They died without holding a sword. After the battle was over, they gathered all the fallen samurais then they drew out their swords and placed them in the hands of the dead soldiers. Maybe you remember this scene. That consideration and treatment even to the dead samurai showed the Bushi no nasake.
4) Rei 礼 is something we karate practitioners are very familiar. Thus the general explanation is not necessary here, however, the concept of rei is much more than showing respect so I want to explain.
One thing we must remember is that Rei is not only to express the respect but also the consideration for the others. A good example is the act of the Japanese spectators at the World Cup game in Brazil. They cleaned up the stadium after the game (I will mention about this later in this article). The Japanese people consider trashing the stadium as disrespectful to the football teams and the game itself. We, the karate practitioners, understand this as we would consider it disrespectful if it happened in our dojo. As we clean our dojo after our training, the Japanese spectators cleaned the stadium as they do in the other games. This is the act of Rei 礼 though nobody may see it or recognize it.
A related word with Rei is Reigi 礼儀 which means etiquette. We find this word in our Dojo Kun, Reigi o omonjiru koto 礼儀を重んじること. It is translated as “Respect others” but it is not an accurate translation. It is saying that we must value or uphold the etiquette. When we talk about Rei in karate or in the dojo we think of bowing. Of course bowing is a part of etiquette, reigi but it is much deeper than this. The samurais had very complex and detailed rituals and the system of etiquette manners. These manners are very graceful and impressive to watch, however, they were not created for the looks. There were some specific reasons behind them. One is, of course, for the self defense purpose. For instance, when you do the line up in your dojo, do you pay much attention to how you sit down to seiza, to bow and to stand up again? There is a specific way to do these moves. From musubi dachi you will kneel down always with your left leg first. From the seiza position you will put your left hand first to bow and after bowing you will retrieve your right hand back then followed by the left hand. When you stand up you must always start with your right leg. It is simply because the samurais had their swords on their left hip and those moves were best suited in the case they had to draw their swords. Another reason for the etiquette was again the consideration to the others. In Japan, the traffic runs on the left side. In many countries it is on the right. Why? The samurais used to walk only on the left side of a street because the end of his sword would stick out to his left side. If he walked in the right side of a street someone would run into the sword. If two samurais’ swords hit each other, that was a serious enough reason to have a duel. In order to avoid such a senseless accident the samurais walked on the left (a consideration to the others). All the common people respected that and they followed suit. Though the samurais are gone in Japan, you will find this habit still very alive in Japan when you visit even the metropolitan cities like Tokyo and Osaka.
A short video clip to show the etiquette of the samurais for those who are interested in this subject: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCvK2CseMq8
5) The concept of 誠 makoto is an important but also a difficult one to understand. Many of the readers know Dojo Kun in Japanese and that it’s the second principle is Makoto no michi o mamoru koto. The translation is “Be faithful”. I have already written about the full translation of Dojo Kun so you may want to look for this article in my blog. In any case, the translated word of faithful can be confusing and misleading so the true meaning of Makoto must be explained here. Makoto refers to a figure without a lie, falsehood but with truth and sincerity. So, an overt or an excessive action in greetings or behavior is considered not Makoto thus lacking the true essence of Rei which must be performed with sincerity and without falsehood. Interestingly, lying was considered
as weakness rather than as an evil. Now, weakness was considered by the samurais as dishonorable thus a Bushi was expected to deliver what he promised. This is what Bushi ni nigon wa nai 武士に二言は無い means. There is no taking back of a samurai’s statement.
I have to add another kanji 恥 haji to understand the mindset of the samurais here. This word means shame or disgrace. It was extremely important for the samurais not to get in a situation where they would feel haji. So, they would rather kill themselves than to lie or not to keep their promises.
6) Let us continue to another virtue, 名誉 Meiyo. It means reputation and fame but it is not necessarily tied to popularity. A samurai did not look for or make an extra effort to earn Meiyo. Simply, being a samurai was Meiyo so most of the time all they had to do was simply to uphold the samurai way, Bushido and completing his task or responsibility. Of course, going to a war and fighting for his lord were important in the 16th century but the world (Japan) became very peaceful after Tokugawa won the last reign winning battle in 1600. For nearly 250 years of Edo period the samurais lived without any major battles. Their official task was to be ready in case of a war like a modern day reserve soldier. In actuality, the lucky ones had other non combatant jobs to work in a castle. Many of them did not. So they earned very meager earnings and could not run the family finances without doing some non official jobs such as fixing the umbrellas with the help from their wives and children. In fact, most of them were very poor especially towards the end of Edo period. Once a samurai became a ronin it was very difficult to find a new lord in Edo period thus much fewer samurais would break the relationship to become a ronin. This binding structure as well as the financial hardship naturally brought down and degraded Bushido in many situations. For instance, many samurais failed to practice kenjutsu (swordsmanship) and other martial arts. They spent their free time in practicing musical skills and poetry. They went down as far as selling their swords to supplement their living expenses. Now this was almost unbelievable in the 16th and the 17th centuries when you consider that a samurai’s sword was the spirit of samurai which meant it was the most important possession for a samurai. The down trend made many lords worry that their samurais would lose their virtues unless something could be done. Of course, they promoted the martial arts and even banned many of the entertainments such as dancing and singing as well as practicing them. One other thing one war lord, Nabeshima in Saga prefecture ordered his retainer, Yamamoto Tsunetomo to write a book about the spirit of samurai. The famous book, Hagakure was published in the middle of the 18th century. Probably the most noticed saying is “the way of the warrior is death”. Yamamoto 葉隠れ was saying that Bushido is really the “Way of Dying” or living as though one was already dead. This is ironic that he had to write this down as this idea or the concept was given and commonly shared among all the samurais in the 16th century and before. It shows how much the spirit of samurai, Bushido had declined towards the latter half of Edo period.
Even though all seven virtues were important, the most effort they made was to avoid all the negative things that would bring haji to him and to his family name. The negative things included showing fear, acts of cowardice and failing in his task or responsibility whatever he received from his lord. In such a case a samurai would chose seppuku to keep his honor or Meiyo.
7) The next virtue is Chugi 忠義 which means loyalism. Towards a samurai’s lord, Rei and Chugi were two unique and important requirements. A lord’s order was an absolute that could not be declined or rejected by a samurai. A loyal samurai would follow the order even if it would end up killing his friends, relatives, or even himself. In order for a lord to have this much authority he must first win the respect and the confidence of his samurais by demonstrating his leadership by having all their qualifications and the samurai virtues. If the lord was not respected and could not win the trust, the samurais would either rebel or break the relationship and leave the domain. A samurai would prefer to become a ronin (a lord-less samurai). That was very common in the 16the century and before as there were many wars and the samurais were in great demand. However, once the peaceful Edo period started the opportunities disappeared very quickly. Thus it became extremely difficult for a samurai to choose to be a ronin especially in the 18th century. I have already mentioned this earlier.
One thing I need to add is that the samurais were taught that the value and the judgment had to be measured by the country (the war lord’s territory), family and individual (in that order). This is something that would not be accepted by the western world, but it was that way then and in some ways the trend still exists in Japan. Let me give you an example of the old time and another for the modern day Japan.
The fifth shogun of the Tokugawa Dynasty, Tsunayoshi (1646 – 1709) was secretly nicknamed “the dog shogun” because he instituted animal protection laws, particularly for dogs. He may be considered to be a “nice” ruler on the surface by the western standard. The Green Peace group may have invited him as the honorary member. Anyway, this shogun went to an extreme. He banned all fishing and hunting of any kind as it was against the law to kill the animals (ironically it was ok to kill a person). In Edo (now Tokyo), the groups of the dogs roamed around without getting any punishment. Even if you were bitten you could not hit one back. If someone was caught hitting or even just chasing a dog that person would be imprisoned or even executed if he happens to kill a dog even by accident. Who had to enforce the law? Of course the low class samurais were the unlucky ones. They had to catch those people even if they believed the law was crazy and unfair.
Let’s take a look at the modern day Japan. If you wish to obtain the citizenship in Japan, you have to be ready to lose your given birth name as you need to use either kanji or kana (Japanese letters) and the foreign letters such as alphabets, Hangul, Persian, etc. I suspect that many of the kuro obi practitioners have purchased their belts from Japan. Of course, you could ask them to embroider your name in alphabet but most likely you asked them to use either kanji or kata kana. I am not sure how many of them had tried to find out exactly how your name was written. Most of them do not sound like the original names. In many cases, the government officers will recommend you to take on the Japanese sounding names that are totally different from your real name. If you like the Japanese names then this requirement will not be an issue for you but many people are proud of their family and their given names. This policy is a kind consideration of the Japanese government for the future Japanese citizens. They want to help you in your effort to assimilate into the Japanese society by changing your name to something more of a “Japanese” name. In fact they forced this policy to the millions of Taiwanese and Koreans after Japan annexed Taiwan in 1895 and Korea in 1910.
Let me give you a few examples to the famous non Japanese who naturalized and in the process they had to assume the different names.
Patrick Lafcadio Hearn was a Greek writer best known for his books about Japan. He naturalized in 1896 and had to assume a Japanese name, Koizumi Yakumo 小泉 八雲.
OK that was in the 19th century. How about now? I am sure you have heard of the name, Masutatsu Oyama 大山 倍達, more commonly known as Mas Oyama? He founded Kyokushin Kai, full contact karate. Did you know he was a Korean? He was born in Korea and his original name was Choi Yeong-eui. He acquired Japanese citizenship in 1964 and Oyama became his legal name. In addition, there are many non Japanese sumo wrestlers because they can make some big money if they are good. Those wrestlers come not only from the Asian countries such as Mongolia but some are from the European countries. If they decide to retire in Japan and to naturalize themselves they also have to take on the Japanese names. OK enough of the examples.
(Will continue to Part 2)