A Small (?) Mystery of Heian Shodan 平安初段の小さな(?)謎

This is about a small mystery that some western instructors have wondered about in the past, so I want to share my thoughts on this unique point in Heian Shodan.

The question is the 4th movement, migi jodan tate mawashi kentsui uchi. No, I am not talking about its bunkai. kentsui tate uchiThe question is why we do not have this technique after the first gedan barai, the first movement. In other words, some of these western instructors thought an identical technique of jodan kentsui uchi was missing between move #1, left gedan barai and #2, right chudan oi zuki. By having this technique here Heian Shodan would become truly symmetrical and complete, wouldn’t it? So, was this technique forgotten or taken out by mistake? Let us check the old textbook, Funakoshi’s Karatedo Kyohan 空手道教範. I am sure you will find the same result; this “missing” technique is not there. Let us check Pinan Nidan (our Heian Shodan) in Shito-ryu and Shorin-ryu. I find that the questioned technique is not there either. We must conclude that this kata was created that way by Master Itosu 糸洲  (in the late 19th century). If this is the case, then there is a bigger puzzle. Why did he purposely skip or neglect a technique there and made this kata unbalanced? A hint is the key word of “symmetry”. This is a very western concept of beauty, correctness or completeness. On the other hand, in Japan, believe it or not, we consider it totally opposite.

The Japanese people do not consider symmetry and perfectly balanced geometry correct or beautiful. They even consider them wrong and ugly. I know most of the readers will have an issue with my statement and perhaps disagree with it.

Let me show you some examples.

Ikebana blue printIkebana 4                            

                     Pic 1                                                                                              Pic 2

One of the Japanese arts that has been exported to the world is Ikebana 生け花(the art of flower arrangement).  Picture 1 is not a diagram of kata enbusen. Would you believe this is from a textbook of Ikebana? It is to show the basic structure of the flowers or how they should look when they are arranged. Pic 2 shows the actual flowers and the arrangement and you can see the arranger has used the off balanced and unsymmetrical format as instructed in a textbook. I do not know anything about Ikebana and I have never taken any lessons but I can explain to you why this must be this way as I know the mentality or the sense of beauty the Japanese perceive. We know that nothing in nature or anything natural in this world is symmetrical. In other words, anything that is symmetrical is artificial which the Japanese consider imperfect and not pretty. Ikebana, the flower arrangement is an artificial decoration using the thing of nature, the flowers. Of course, the flowers themselves are beautiful and the flower arrangement, the artificial deed, must not destroy or decrease the beauty. To keep the beauty of the flowers the Japanese choose to arrange them in an off balanced and unsymmetrical way. Does that make sense?

Here is another example. Take a look at the tea cups below. Another famous Japanese art is Sanoyu, the traditional tea ceremony.

Pic 3 is a tea cup used in Sado 茶道. See how the shape is purposely uneven and not round and far from symmetry? Even the design or coloring looks almost like it was done with some errors. I do not have the price list on this but I am sure it is as expensive if not more than a perfectly shaped Royal Worcester tea cup shown in Pic 4.


Royal Worcester tea cup


                      Pic 3                                                                               Pic 4                    

The concept of beauty is the same. We cherish what is natural and not artificial or perfect looking shape. I am not comparing the beauty here or who (Japanese or westerners) are right or better. I am simply showing you the different concept of the Japanese that is deeply embedded in their hearts and even in their life style.

Here are two photos of kimonos. One on the left has a general design of natural scene. The flowers on the left and right sleeves are designed differently. Look at the design of the photo on the right. The imbalance or difference between left and right is very significant. I believe this concept is quite different from that of the western world particularly that of the traditional concept.

      Kimono 2Kimono design     


Interestingly, the ukiyoe 浮世絵 (photo below) the artists of the Edo period (17th and 18th centuries Japan) such as Utamaro and Sharaku had much influence on the western artists who are classified as the impressionists of the 19th century.



Some of these famous painters include Monet, Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse, Pissaro, Gogh and many more. The academic painting method was to draw as accurately as it is perceived by a painter but the impressionists “violated” the rules as they put more emphasis on the feelings and the impressions they get from the real objects and scenes. I assume, these painters came to realize that it was impossible to copy the reality perfectly with their brushes. The Japanese artists knew this for many centuries and they perfected their impressionist painting style in the Edo period.

 I can go on and show you many more examples from the Japanese culture but let me share with you only a few more examples that are much bigger than a flower arrangement or a tea cup. When you visit Japan many of you wish to visit some exotic Shinto shrines as they look very Japanese and the pictures of yourself ina gi in front of a shrine looks great (though the Japanese visitors may not appreciate it). Almost all of you are not visiting there to pray but just to marvel at the beauty of the structure and maybe the famous statues of A-un 阿吽. I would say this is a perfect example of showing the concept of ying and yang. A-un literally means an inhalation () and exhalation () of breathing. The term is also used in Shinto and Buddhist architecture to describe the paired statues common in Japanese religious settings, the Nio 仁王 (photo right) and the komainu 狛犬 (guardian lions, left).

Koma inu


The concept of A-un is very interesting and deep. If you wish to learn more, read on this subject in Wikipedia:

The concept of imbalance or unsymmetrical extends to the concept of building a large structure such as a shrine.  Here is a blue print of a shrine that was built more than half a century ago (Pic 5). The main part of the building is symmetrical but you can tell the whole building is not as you take a look at the structures that extend to both sides of the main building. The right structure is completely different from that of the left. Let’s take a look at a blue print of a church (Pic 6) and see how it is planned to be built. Here is one from Saint Thomas More Church in Darien, Connecticut. I thought it was an interesting coincidence that the Japanese shrine’s name is Dairen and the location of the Church is in the town of Darien Connecticut. The similarity certainly stops there. If you can find the original photo on the web, you can expand the blue print of the church. Even from the photo below you can see that it is beautifully symmetrical. The right side structure is almost a perfect copy of the left or vice versa. The only difference is probably the restrooms (one on the left is the Men’s and the one on the right is the Women’s).

Dairen Shrine

St Thomas More Church 

                             Pic 5                                                                                             Pic 6  

 Now, do you agree with my conclusion for the imperfection of Heian kata that it was placed on purpose? 

I can almost feel how Itosu felt when he created Heian Shodan more than 100 years ago. It would had been a very boring kata if it did not have that one particular technique, jodan kentsui uchi. In other words, that move was a little spice to this kata. In fact, you will find, if you examine Heian closely, that some of the key techniques are being practiced only on one side (for instance, chudan nukite in Nidan and Sandan). You will find this not only in Heian but in all kata. You may want to review all the kata you know from this perspective and you will discover that none of them are perfectly symmetrical. You would probably think, “OK I understand the concept of the beauty by the Japanese people, but this is karate kata. Shouldn’t the kata being designed so that we can practice these techniques on both sides?” This is true, isn’t it? Your puzzled thought is understandable but the Okinawan masters had the answer. Master Itosu and other masters created kata purposely unsymmetrical to remind us that the students must practice gyaku kata (mirror image). Unfortunately, the practicing gyaku kata has not been exercised by all Shotokan dojos. In my dojo all brown belts are required to practice gyaku Heian kata and one of those kata will be required at their kyu exam. I also ask the black belts in my dojo to practice gyaku kata of all 16 Shotokan kata. Tekki may not be too challenging but try Bassai dai and Kanku dai in a mirror image. If practicing gyaku kata is not a part of your training syllabus, wouldn’t you want to include at least gyaku Heian kata and get the most out of these kata?

kata mirror image










Jidosha Dojo 自動車道場 (Automobile studio)

Many of you agree that karate practice does not stay only in a dojo. Where do you practice outside the dojo? Some of you are lucky to have a big back yard or a large garage where you can do your practice. Some may go to a park or a school gym. What do you practice at those places? You can certainly practice kata and kihon. Can you practice kumite? Yes, only if you can find a partner. But most of the time you will have to practice by yourself so no kumite.
Dojo bus
Today I propose an idea of training in your car that includes makiwara and kumite practice. I call this “automobile dojo”. No, I am not proposing that you buy a bus or a big van to train inside. This idea does not include a loud ki-ai to the driver who is in the car next to you, or pounding your fist against the steering wheel to toughen it, or swinging your back fist to the passenger side head rest, either. In fact, what I will share with you will not propose any techniques and movements that are not related to driving itself. What I am proposing is only your normal driving but I will ask you to incorporate karate training to your driving and I will describe what and how.

Many people drive to and from work daily. Some of you may spend more than an hour in a car each way. This means you spend more time driving than training in your dojo every week. Wouldn’t you agree that it would be wonderful if you can add those hours to your karate training? You may say “I sometimes think about kata or other karate techniques but I cannot continue thinking about it because I am too busy driving”. It is true, and it may be too dangerous if you were day dreaming or paying attention to something other than driving. What I will explain is completely different from what you are probably expecting. In fact, what I suggest will improve your driving performance if you follow it correctly.

There are several different training syllabuses or menus. Let me share some of the main ones that you can include in your driving habit.

Menu #1: Distance practice

Little man syndrome truckOne thing you must remember is that your car is an extension of yourself. Now, this is a very important concept and I want the readers to fully understand this. So I will spend some time on this subject first. You already know that a meek person may feel braver when he is in a large truck than when he is in a smaller car. In his big truck he will not be intimidated by a small car even if its driver may be a big and muscular guy. This is one example of a concept of a car being an extension of yourself, but, I am not talking about this emotional feeling that can be created by what kind of a car one drives. What I am talking about is connected more to the physical aspect of your body when I say “extension”. In fact you must believe that the end of your body does not stop at the tip of your finger or your skin but it goes or extends further. It is true that there is a certain amount of space around you that you would consider a part of your “territory”. I am sure you have encountered a situation in your life more than once when a person passes you in front of you without saying “Excuse me”. I suspect you felt somewhat offended or invaded by this person or his act. If the distance between you and him was 100 meters or even 10 meters, you would not have cared. But you felt it was a very close distance so you expected a common courtesy of “Excuse me”. Why did you feel that courtesy was needed? It is simply because we all have a space around us that we feel it isproxemics diagram 2 “my” personal space or territory. In fact, there is a study called proxemics; the study of the cultural, behavioral, and sociological aspects of spatial distances between individuals. The amount of this distance varies a lot by the personal feelings and also by the cultural custom. In some Asian countries the distance tolerance is very close. For instance, a person behind you will stand very close to you when we are in line in Japan. I have been living in the US for many years so I often find myself feeling uncomfortable in the subway ticket line or a post office line when I visit Tokyo. Even within a same country the distances vary if you are in a city like New York or in a small village of a wide open state like Idaho. Of course, the distance tolerance is much higher in NY and a visitor from Idaho will probably feel very uncomfortable in a crowded New York City subway. If you are interested in learning more about proxemics you may want to access the following site;

So there is a space you recognize that is a part of you or you consider your space. What I will ask is to go further with this feeling. If you drive a small car in your daily life and if you have to drive a larger car you will feel uncomfortable especially when you have to park or drive through a narrow road or a bridge. You would feel even more uncomfortable or insecure if you have to drive a big van or a truck. This is a good example of body extension when you drive. An experienced bus driver or a truck driver has no problem even with a parallel parking and driving through a narrow bridge. He can “extend” himself to the outside of his bus or truck and knows exactly how far he (or his truck or bus) can or cannot go. He has the longer body distance than we (small car drivers) do. This is definitely a learned skill and a professional truck driver must go to a special school for this. This extended body distance ability can also apply to the use of a weapon such as a sword, a bo and a nunchaku. I will not go into this subject here as we are focusing our discussion with automobile driving right now but I am sure the readers can guess how it applies. We also talk about a long distance fighting method which is the characteristic of Shotokan karate compared to a short distance fighting method such as Goju-ryu. I believe the training method I will share will help both fighting styles but I think the benefit is bigger for the Shotokan practitioners as it will expand the territory or space that will be controlled by you.

I will present two types of training here that you can use to train in your car. One is automobile makiwara training. The other one is automobile kumite.

Makiwara tireBy automobile makiwara training I am not suggesting you to run into a post or make a makiwara with an old tire (though it is nice to have one). It is only a metaphor and I am suggesting you to pay more attention when you park your car in your garage or in a public parking lot. Your training is not to hit the front or the side (particularly the passenger side) of your car on anything around you. This is totally opposite of makiwara training as you are not supposed to hit anything in automobile makiwara training but it is still a distance practice. You must be able to extend yourself to the outline of your car. tight_squeezeThe obstacles in your garage or other parked cars can be your “partners”. If you are skilled in this training, your car will stay scratch free for many years. In addition, you will be an expert in parallel parking. Check your skill and see if you need more training or not.

In automobile kumite, I am not proposing to bump your car against another or attack the other cars or drivers. In fact, it is better called “automobile taisabaki” as you keep the correct distance from all the cars around you. The first thing you must do is to stop being a tailgater if that is your habit. tailgatingI will discuss more in Menu #4 but having sufficient distance between you and the car in front of you is very important. It may be easier on a highway or a freeway but it will take much more practice and close attention in a busy city street but that is the best kumite situation for you. In a dojo kumite you typically have only one opponent. You are lucky if your sensei puts you in a multiple opponent kumite but I am sure you will not usually face more than 2 or 3 opponents. On the other hand, what you can train on here is the distance training with many opponents (cars) around you, not only the ones in front of you but also the ones beside you and even behind you. I will talk more about the rear side training in Syllabus #3 as it requires a different technique. We will focus on the cars in front and beside. You will have at least three separate distance training here. With the car or cars in front of you your training is to keep the same distance with it or them. If it or they slow down check how soon you will react to the difference in the distance. The driver in the car in front of you may not pump the brake to alert you. Your training is to detect the distance difference by visual observation. This visual check from a car that is running at even moderate speed of 30 or 40 miles per hour will help you with your eye judgment in real kumite. The training with the cars on your sides will require more than a distance practice so I will further explain this in Menu #2.

Menu #2: Perceiving the other drivers’ intentionsParistraffic

Your training with the cars on your side or sides is to develop your alertness for a car that may turn into yours by mistake or cut in front of you without warning. If this happens you need to be ready to either swerve away or put on the brakes to avoid an accident. This is almost a training of reading the mind of the drivers in other cars around you. If you have a mind set for this training then you can develop a skill to detect a movement by the other driver and you can almost read his mind if he is thinking of turning in or not. A lot of time your car may be in a blind spot of the other driver and this is a dangerous moment. If you are alert then you can avoid an accident. Certainly, you need to pay attention to the other cars that may get into the blind spots of your car. You must not depend on a rear view mirror when you change lanes or turn corners. You must turn your head and verify with your own eyes that it is clear to the side you are turning into.

You must also be alert to the car in front of you. There are three cases; (1) a car or cars going the same direction, (2) coming towards you, (3) waiting at an intersection to cross the street. Let’s look at case (1), the same direction. You must always expect that the driver in front may have a sudden need to brake hard and stop. If you have a sufficient distance this action will not bring you into a scary situation but being ready all the time will give you a faster reaction and you will not need to brake hard yourself. This (not braking hard) will alleviate the possibility of getting hit by a car from the back. To avoid this type of accident it is better to have several separate pumps on the brake to let the other driver know that you are putting the brakes on. I will go further on the driver who is driving behind you but here again you must not assume that this driver is alert and is a safe distance away from you. Paying attention to the back is very important though you may not be the cause of the accident but who wants to be in an accident regardless of who is at fault.

In the case of (2), coming towards you, you also need to pay full attention as this driver may decide to turn in and cross the street in front of you. It is amazing but sometimes the driver in that car does not see your car or he may misjudge the distance and timing. You need to be ready for any sudden moves by a car that is approaching you. Do not assume the driver in that car will see you or will make a safe and proper judgment. This can apply to case (3), a car that is either merging into your lane from another lane or a car that is waiting at a cross street or an intersection that may suddenly get into your lane or cross the street in front of you. The key point here is “Never underestimate your opponent or situation”.

All these situations are taught at a driving school but we easily forget. Paying attention all of the time for all possibilities and be ready for them is the martial art mind. Driving a car is a perfect training opportunity to train and develop this attitude or mindset and after the training hopefully this will turn into an ability of being able to perform almost unconsciously.

Menu #3: Watching your back practiceWatch-your-back

Even though it will not be your fault when you are hit from behind but no one wants to have an accident so you must learn to keep the distance with the car that is behind you. If a car behind you likes to tail gate you the best option for you to change your lane. If there is no other lane then stop and let him pass you. This is common sense but not too many people follow this advice. What some people do is to step on the brake to scare the guy behind you. Sometimes it may work but other times it irritates or angers the other driver and may develop into a more dangerous situation. So, I strongly advise you not to use a braking action to your tail gating opponent.

Cop-In-Rearview-MirrorThere is another exercise you want to do for your backside training. A rear view mirror becomes very important here. Of course, I am not referring to its use to put your lipstick on or to fix your hair. This is to watch out for a police car. Most of the time you get caught by a police officer that was trailing behind you. By training this ability you will have less chance of receiving a traffic ticket and your automobile insurance will not go sky high. Seriously, a karate expert must not receive any ticket not just by observing the rear view mirror but by observing all the traffic laws and keeping them.

Menu #4: Controlling your emotion practicebut-you-didnt-have-to-cut-me-off-gotye-in-a-car

This training is a part of automobile kumite. When a careless or impolite driver may cut right in front of you, do not honk or get upset. What you need to do is to let off your accelerator so you will slow down and allow more space between your car and his. As the driver in front of you is either careless or impolite he is not a safe driver. Pay more attention to this car and exercise Syllabus 2. When you are having a bad day this small incident may upset you. Of course you need to train your feelings so that you will not let the feelings dictate your reactions. In addition, you need to work on Syllabus 2 more so that a surprise move by a car next to you will not happen. If you can detect the feeling that this car is getting into your lane, you will let off the accelerator a little and make a space in front of you.

There is another situation when you need to control your feelings. You either cut in by mistake or drive too safely (slowly) and get another driver angry. If you offended another driver by cutting in by mistake then the best thing to do is to signal your apology. Most of the time the other driver may be upset but he will forgive you if you wave your hand and apologize. However, there may be a driver who gets so upset and who needs to show his anger by retaliating. This person may want to pass you quickly and cut in front of you. If this happens the best thing to do is to go slower and let this person pass you. Keep the distance from this person and the best strategy is to ignore this unhappy driver. There are many unhappy or upset drivers who are looking around for an emotional outlet. You do not want to get caught by a person like this. There is no reason for you to be a target of this negative feeling and you should not let this person risk your safety as well as that of your loved ones.

This is a very good training to keep yourself calm in a conflict situation. Interestingly a person becomes impolite or rude in a non-face-to-face situation like a car incident. This seems to be truer with a male. If you happen to meet him in a supermarket or in a library this person may offer to open the door for you or may say “After you” to let you go first. This non face to face situation in traffic encourages a person to be less polite or considerate. This situation is probably less common with a woman. Whether you are a man or a woman, avoid those impolite people and keep a good ma-ai from those people who are looking for a trouble.

Menu #5: Driving with minimum brake action

142991_pollute_ALS_Now I will complete my article with the most challenging training syllabus for Jidosha Dojo. The idea is simple and clear but doing it correctly and safely can be very challenging. Driving with minimum braking action is fairly easy on a freeway where you have a little traffic. You can set your car on a cruise control and just drive. However, once you are in a town or a city and if you have to drive on a city street it will not be so easy. Why am I adding this as a syllabus? Is this something a retired person with a lot of time but not enough excitement wants? No, this syllabus will require a lot of mind work and discipline. One is distance perception involving the other cars, traffic lights and other traffic signs and obstacles. Another is time perception when to step on a brake and when to release it. You will also have to fight against your desire to speed up some times but you will need to make a judgment if that is required or advisable. In the end your driving will improve and your car will perform very smoothly. The passengers in your car will not feel any jerky and quick stopping movements. They will also feel very safe as your car just glides through the traffic like a flying carpet. It is true that some of the drivers behind you may not like the way or the speed you are driving. Your driving style may be different and unusual. They may honk or yell at you. I advise that you will let them pass you quickly so you can keep you smiling.

There are, of course, other syllabuses you can incorporate in Jidosha Dojo training such as breathing, stretching, reaction, etc. But if you get good at these five exercises I listed here your car performance will change and you will drive differently. It will A-Happy-Drivercertainly be much safer. You will most likely avoid receiving any traffic tickets. You will have much less chance of getting involved in a car accident. Initially you may find it challenging but once you get used to it or when you master the art, you will enjoy your driving much much more. In addition, you will realize that the Jidosha Dojo training will help you with your karate in both physical and mental aspects.

One thing I can confidently say is that what I am proposing here will increase the safety of your driving experience even if it does not help you with your karate. Another thing I want to add is a controversial statement. If you claim that you are a karate or martial art expert then you must be able to prove this by your driving history. A diploma that may show a high rank is not good enough for a true qualification. One qualification a karate expert must produce is a clean traffic history and record since the time he began to call himself a karate expert. I consider what I am stating here is very fair. However, I wonder how many karate experts can share their driving history to satisfy this qualification.

Whether you wish to try out my training ideas or not, Jidosha Dojo, is your choice and I do not expect all the readers will do it. But think of your life without any accidents and traffic tickets. Isn’t it worth giving it a try even for a short period of time and see if it will make any difference?

Ki Exchange with a Tree

I have written an article on Ki before. I defined it as “the source or the energy that gives life”. We also reviewed that the universe itself is comprised of pure energy as the matter is energy; Einstein’s E=MC2. Einstein 3This means energy is all around us in different forms and levels.

We, Asian people, have been doing Ki exchange with the trees for many centuries. Some people misunderstand that by this exchange the people would take the energy off from the tree. I do not know how serious one reader was but he called it a vampire act but he was totally wrong. Kiko in kanjiKi is like love so the more you give the more you will have. By facing a tree you only exchange the Ki and not taking the Ki away from it. In fact, you send your Ki to the tree (pick an old and healthy looking one) and the tree will purify and re-energize it, then, the tree will return it to you. This is similar to the air exchange you do with the trees. Your lung cells give off carbon dioxide and keep the oxygen. As you know the plants take the carbon dioxide you exhaled and emit the oxygen that you will breathe in. A tree does a similar exchange with your Ki. This is a full circle of the nature and this is why you will feel that you gained new energy. For those who are skeptical about Ki and the Ki exchange, read the following article from The Mind Unleashed, titled:

“Tree Hugging Now Scientifically Validated”:

Tai Chi in the park 2If you have visited China or Taiwan, you may have seen many Chinese people gathered in a park early in the morning. With a lot of trees around they go through the slow movements of Tai Chi training. They do this among the trees not because they need a shade. While they practice Tai Chi in the woods, in fact they are gaining the Ki from the training with a slow abdominal breathing and also exchanging the Ki with the trees around them.

Ki exchange can be done not only with a tree but also many other natural things such as a mountain, river, fall, lake, the ocean and the sun as they all have lots of energy. You can exchange or intake Ki or energy but you also have to be careful how to do the Ki exchange with the strong sources such as a volcanic mountain and the sun. Kiko healingKi exchange with a tree is most popular because the Ki from a tree is mild and it is easiest to find as an exchange partner. The Chinese people train Tai Chi early in the morning. It is not because they need to go to work afterwards (most of them are retired old people anyway). They train early in the morning because they know that the Ki in the morning has more energy because of the sun which is giving mild energy in the early morning. For many people it is more challenging to find the energy to train in the early morning but it is much healthier to do the early morning training than to do it at night. Your body is still at sleep so the slow movement exercise of Tai Chi is perfect to start your day as it will awaken you with an added Ki energy. The Chinese people knew about this for thousands of years and now it almost became a national event.

I will give you a step by step instruction on how to exchange Ki with a tree. It is not too difficult but it would help you know some key points. Before we go into the Ki exchange, I want to mention about how a tree (and other natural things) is considered in Asia, particularly in Japan. When you visit Japan, take a walk to an old shrine. It may be difficult to find one in Tokyo but if you are lucky to visit Kyoto or other smaller cities there are many. Two trees

You may find a tree in the yard of a shrine (sometimes in the mountain away from a shrine) with a paper ribbon or a decoration (see the photo left). This means that this particular tree is holy or has a strong Ki. People either pray to it or try to capture the energy, Ki from it. It is not a simple idolatry as we (or some of us) Rock and shimenawacan feel the special energy emitted by a certain tree. It is typically an old tree but it is not because of the age alone. There may be other trees that may be bigger and older but a Shinto priest detected a special tree with his reception of Ki.Fall

You may also find a huge rock or a fall with some paper and rope decoration (shimenawa) as shown in the photos (above and left). They were also selected by the Shinto priests for having strong Ki.

It is very interesting to remember that , at my dojo in Japan we had a winter camp at a fall when the water was almost frozen. karate at a fall 2When I participated years ago I believed it was only to test our endurance in the cold. But now I know I was wrong. It was also to gain Ki from the fall. Our summer camp was at the beach when the temperature went up to 40 degrees C (more than 100 degree F). Karate at the beach 3The sand was so hot it was almost impossible to stand in the sand. We were so happy to get into the ocean. I thought the practicing of punches and kicks in the waves was to train our stances, but I was wrong. We were to gain Ki from the ocean. Even though we were not aware, I am sure those trainings were good for our Ki.

OK, let’s go into a Ki exchange training with a tree. First, let me say this. You are not taking energy from a tree. As I used the word “exchange” you are exchanging Ki energy with a tree and you are not like a vampire sucking off the energy from a tree. Some people misunderstand this exercise so I want to explain that this process is more like a filtering of your Ki through a tree to purify it. If you pick a healthy and stable tree it can re-generate, so to speak, your Ki so you almost feel like you gained more Ki but in fact it is different. Now let me give you the detailed steps and the explanation to each step to exchange Ki with a tree.

Step 1 (Finding your partner stage):
Search for a tree that would do a Ki exchange with you as you go into a park or a wooded area. You need to look for a healthy one and try to open your heart as you look for a tree. It is almost like looking for a friend. Feel the Ki of each tree and find the one that reaches out to you. If you open your mind you can feel it. However, if you do not feel any invitation from a tree, then look for one that is attractive to you. If you often camp out and spend time in the nature, I am sure you understand what I am trying to say. You can do the exchange exercise alone (photo 1) or with a group (photo 2) or many people spread out (photo 3).

With hands



Photo 1


in a group



Photo 2



A group 2



Photo 3



Step 2 (Positioning):
In Japan, we bow to the partner, the tree before we start our Ki exchange. If you feel stupid to bow to a tree, you can start with a simple greeting to the tree. OK for the readers, after finding your “partner” you will reach out to the tree with your hands. You can either put your hands around or the sides of a tree (Photo 1) or point your palms to a tree (Photo 2) or you can even touch a tree with your hands (Photo 3). It is all up to you and you can choose any of those approaches that you feel most comfortable. Then you will stand normally in shizentai and the body should be totally relaxed. You are not there to suck up all the energy from the tree. You are there to exchange and to circulate your energy so relaxation is a must. You can keep your eyes open or closed. Some people prefer keeping eyes closed so that they can focus their attention to the exchange process or circulating of Ki. If you can detect or notice the feelings of the tree before the exchange of Ki then your exchange exercise will surely become successful.

Step 3 (Commence exchange):
So you are standing next to a tree with your arms extended to it. The hands are used to either to send out your Ki or to receive the Ki from the tree. Stand with your body totally relaxed and focus only on sending or receiving Ki. This process is not a hard exchange like a volley of a tennis or a ping pong but more like a slow breathing where Ki instead of air going in and out. When you are feeling strong you can emit your Ki into the tree and it sends back to you with more energy or happier energy. You will receive this refreshed Ki all through the body and you will feel like you will almost jump with the energy. When you are feeling weak or when you are sick and your body needs Ki, you will use your hands to take in or inhale the Ki from the tree. In other words, you feel like you are breathing in the Ki through your palms. Then you breathe out your old or bad Ki into the ground through your feet. The tree will take in your Ki through the ground and purify it for you. It works much better if you do this with the tanden (lower stomach) deep breathing. With this breathing you can rotate your Ki in your body as you receive the purified Ki. During the exchange process you may feel love to the tree from the inside of your heart or receiving it from the tree. I have seen some practitioners crying from the joy. If you are lucky to feel its love, you can give it a hug at the end of the session before you leave. You can also say thanks to your partner for the Ki exchange. I hope you can feel that this tree is also alive and is a part of your life. During the process you can adjust the distance of your hands from the tree. I keep my hands about 30cm or so from the tree but you can set your own distance. It really does not matter how close or far you are but you will find your comfortable distance as you do the exchange many times. I usually do not touch the tree because the sensation of the tree barks on my palms dull the feelings of my palms.

Step 4 (Exchanging):
You will continue the Ki exchange for the duration you wish to spend. You can do it only for 10 minutes to an hour or even longer. You can take a break and find another tree if you feel you want to do more. During a Ki exchange session, most of the people stand still to focus their attention to the Ki exchange. I sometimes walk around the tree almost like dancing with my hands waving. If you can synchronize your breathing to your foot steps it will become like doing a kata around the tree then you can understand how the Tai Chi practitioners are receiving every morning. I even turn around and e xpose my back to the tree for the full exposure. I try to inhale the Ki from my back up through the spine and let the Ki travel upward to my head.

Some people believe by touching the tree they can get more or stronger Ki. With a headThis person in the photo here (left) is touching her head to the tree to receive strong Ki and hoping to relieve her headache. I am not the expert in this but I am not sure if she can receive a stronger Ki by doing this. In my case, I can feel more Ki by not touching the tree. So, I guess it is up to an individual to determine which method works best for him or her.

Step 5 (Finishing and disengaging stage):
Engaging is important but this finishing stage is also very important and you must not make it abrupt or impersonal. Slowly open your eyes if they are closed. If you enjoyed the exchange your face must have a natural smile on it. Relax your arms more and lower them as you disengage the link to the tree. Do not step away or turn around right away or quickly. This is the same as zanshin in kata or letting go of your loved one or a close friend after a tender hug. You must have that moment of complete finish. You must stand there for 15 to 30 seconds looking at the tree with your gratitude and possibly affection. You could thank it and tell it that you enjoyed it or you will come back. We Japanese will bow before we step away from the tree. If you can feel an affection or a friendship to the tree, as I suggested earlier, you can hug the tree as you would do to your friend. I sometimes tap or pet the tree to thank it before I bow to it as I say goodbye. I can almost guarantee you that it will be one of the most enjoyable encounters and unification with the nature.

Trees and the sunKi has been told by many of the budo masters like Ueshiba (Aikido), Funakoshi (Shotokan), Uehara (Motobu-ryu), Hatsumi (Ninjutsu) and Asai (Asai-ryu) that it is the very important part of martial arts. Thus developing Ki is extremely important in bujutsu karate. It also helps your mental and physical health. So, I recommend all karate practitioners to try this exercise to feel your Ki and you have nothing to lose by trying this. Even if you cannot feel the exchange or Ki itself, at least, you will have an enjoyable and relaxing time in the woods. So why not try this Ki exchange with a tree when you visit a park next time?