Archive for March, 2008

A Drop in the Bucket

March 27, 2008 3 comments

“Each class is just another drop in the bucket”

-Sensei Chris

So this column is supposed to be about training martial arts. Not the how of it, but the why. And also when, because when training goes well it feeds into more training, more classes, more thinking about martial arts, more Jackie Chan movies, more gossiping at the coffee shop with senseis and when it’s not going so well, when the training is hard and sporadic or inflames old injuries, you’d accept just about any excuse not to go to train and spend the night feeling bad about not going.

Since it’s my column, I get to write about whatever I want and so I’ve decided to write about the drops that go into the bucket. “To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the highest skill,” said Sun Tzu, “To subdue the enemy without fighting is the highest skill.” And yet we spend so much time in the dojo training fighting techniques that it’s easy to stand baffled in Chapters, reading Sun Tzu, and wonder why the heck we study at all. Any martial artist who says they’ve never thought about the paradoxes of peaceful mind and deadly technique is probably fibbing.

So, as I haven’t been training long, I won’t be offering advice for training. Here’s a list of some of the things I’m going to talk about:

1. Personal experience. I can’t speak for others, I only know my own experience in training and even that I haven’t really understood. And so I don’t want anyone to read what I’m writing and think man, I train way more than she does. The fact is you probably do. I’m a lazy martial artist. I also don’t want anyone to think, I could never train like that because training is a deeply personal thing and everyone trains the way the suits them. And anyway, just because I’ve put it on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true. I could be lying to you.

1(b). Please, therefore, humour me when I make broad-ranging generalizations. And please don’t email me to point out that I’ve contradicted myself, saying in one entry that my horse stance was weak and in another that it’s my favourite most earth-shakingly powerful stance in the world. Some days some techniques feel better than others and there’s nothing I can do about that at present.

2. Training and not training. The way I train is pretty haphazard. Sometimes I train every day, sais in the evening and kata in the morning and push ups for lunch. Most of the time I train because of conditions entirely unrelated to martial arts (ie, it’s getting light out longer, I ate too much chocolate, I had a dream in which I was a ninja and it was cool). Sometimes I train, sometimes I don’t.

For the record, and so no one is upset later, there will probably be a whole lot more about not training because I think a lot about why I don’t train when I skip a class (which I do. Often.).
3. Other.

So, this month, my training has involved Wa Ki Ryu and Qi Gong classes (I mean formal classes here – I’m actually attending again) and a lot of kata in the basement of my work place.

The kata in the basement thing started off when one of my co-workers had the brilliant idea to hang a punching bag from one of the beams down there. Now there’s a ping pong table, punching bag, a breaking board that’s mangled almost beyond use and enough space for Heian Nidan. Even though there’s all that space, I wouldn’t normally be training down there but I was listening to a podcast of 24Fighting Chickens where Rob Redmond was talking about practicing one kata a week to help keep the katas discrete in your mind. As someone who, almost without fail, goes into Yamashishi Nidan halfway through Heian Sandan, heck, I thought, what have I got to lose?

So I’ve been doing three kata sessions a day, one before each meal. Or thereabouts. Actually it’s not as regimented as it sounds. But I am doing more kata, which can only be a good thing.

This week the kata I picked was Heian Yondan, which, incidentally, was the kata I wanted to learn most when I was taking Shotokan.
The problem with this is that I’m almost always going to pick the katas I know best and like best to study. It’s only when I’m working in the dojo or with a sensei that I’m likely to really focus on cleaning up the katas that challenge me.

Still, I wouldn’t write off the 24FC suggested kata simplifier. The other day when I was playing around I found the sequence of moves in Heian Yondan came out almost accidentally, which was a nice change from the usual feeling of panic when I’m called on to do the kata.

Categories: Drop in the Bucket

The Twenty Precepts…

Master Gichin Funakoshi is largely responsible for organizing modern Karate-do. Although he formed what we now know as the school of Shoto-Kan, many of the curriculum based dojos in Karate today have Master Funakoshi to thank for the order and etiquette within their art.

Master Funakoshi also created 20 precepts for Karate-do which can apply to any school of Karate-do. Our school, Wa-Ki-Ryu, has a strong foundation thanks to Master Funakoshi’s Shoto-Kan. It seems only fitting that we, not only attempt to understand his theories on body/technique, but also his theory on the mind and spirit.

After-all…the Martial Artist cannot survive on body alone.

“The ultimate aim of the art of karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants.”

-Gichin Funakoshi

Gichin Funakoshi’s Twenty Precepts

1. Karate-do begins with courtesy, and ends with courtesy.
2. There is no first attack in karate.
3. Karate is a great service to justice.
4. Know yourself first, then others.
5. Spirit first, technique second.
6. Always be ready to release your mind.
7. Mishaps always come out of negligence.
8. Do not think that karate training is only in the dojo.
9. It will take your entire life to learn karate; there is no limit.
10. Put your everyday living into karate and you will find the ideal state of existence.
11. Karate is like hot water. If you do not heat it constantly, it will become cold water.
12. Do not think that you have to win. Rather think that you do not have to lose.
13. Victory depends on your ability to distinguish vulnerable points from invulnerable ones.
14. The battle is according to how you maneuver guarded or unguarded. Move according to your opponent.
15. Think of the hands and feet as swords.
16. When you leave home, imagine that you have numerous opponents waiting for you. It is your behavior that invites trouble for them.
17. Beginners must master low stance and posture; natural body position is for the advanced.
18. Practicing a kata is one thing, and engaging in a real fight is another.
19. Do not forget strength and weakness of power, stretching and contraction of the body, and slowness and speed of techniques. Apply these correctly.
20. Always think and devise ways to live the precepts every day.

Categories: The Knowledge Pool

And Why Knot?

I like to think that everything we do in Karate has a meaning behind it.  A reason for doing it in such a way that has been passed along as “icing on the cake” so-to-speak. The cake being the real hidden meaning underneath the tasty sugary frosting.  I‘ve found a few philosophies on the Karate Belt so far…I must say I like them all! :-)…but this one in particular seems to “feel right”. It references the Tri-force theory behind the Human Trinity Philosophy…so don’t just tie your belt before class…centre yourself for training!  OSU!


The belt encircles its wearer. The circle is a universal symbol of wholeness and harmony, and symbolizes the totality of the universe. The circularity of the belt reinforces the circular cycle of training; the fact that, after years of training, one realizes that the true essence of Karate-Do existed at the beginning.

As a practical matter, the belt holds the uniform closed, but its real significance is far greater than merely being a clasp or even a signifier of rank. The belt has symbolic meanings, both in eastern philosophy and in its color.

In eastern philosophy, the concept of trinity (heaven, earth, and people) signifies the harmony of the universe. The parts of the uniform (jacket, pants, and belt) form a trinity. The jacket symbolizes heaven; the pants symbolize earth, and the belt symbolizes the “person” that ties it all together. As stated above, the colors of the belt also form a trinity.

If you think of a human being as a trinity (consisting of a head, the body, and the extremities) then the body is at the center of a human being, and the waist is at the center of the body. Tying the belt around the waist signifies the desire to organize ones self and to unite the human trinity.

The belt helps students develop their ki/chi (inner energy) through the process of collecting and dispersing energy within their bodies. As the student puts on the belt, it encircles the waist two times and then the two ends meet at the center of the waist (tanden or hara) where they are tied in a triangular shaped (trinity) knot that denotes the oneness of a person.

The tanden, considered the source of ki/life force/vital energy, is a point about three inches below the navel and deep inside the body. It is thought to be the center of the self. As a practical matter, it is also the approximate center of balance of the body. Part of the knot usually touches the body in front of the tanden, reminding the wearer of his or her personal source of ki or power.

Thus, while putting on the belt, the student encircles and collects all energy from without and within into the tanden and locks it there with a knot. He or she can disperse the energy freely throughout the body to achieve power, harmony, order, and enlightenment while training.

If you have any other theories and/or stories behind Karate Belt significance feel free to share them here! (comments…comments…comments.)


This is one of the better diagrams found for karate belt tying, however,

we tie ours using the right side…not the left like in this diagram.

BeltTie 1 BeltTie 2 belttie3.jpg

belttie4.jpg belttie5.jpg belttie6.jpg

belttie7.jpg belttie8.jpg belttie9.jpg


Your Belt Should Look Like This.

Categories: The Knowledge Pool

On the Subtle Stuff

March 8, 2008 4 comments

Often we’re told that martial arts can’t be learned thoroughly and completely just from a book. We’re told martial arts is something that must be done in order to be understood.I’m not sure I ever really believed this. If a thousand monkeys with a thousand typewriters could conceivably reproduce Shakespeare, surely it must be possible for someone to learn all their martial arts completely and holistically from a book or DVD.

Today I realized that, sure, if all probabilities are indeed infinite, some gifted soul could indeed learn all they need to know of martial arts this way. So, yeah, it might be possible, but it’s manifestly implausible. Why? Because of the subtle stuff.

What made me feel this way was something that happened at work today. I and a colleague had a fair bit of space and a fair bit of time on our hands and both of us decided it was as good a time as any to get a little stretching in. My colleague began doing a tai chi form of some kind (now, I’ve got to own up and say I know absolutely zip about tai chi, so make what you will of this). I was watching him work through the poses and thought, there’s something wrong with this. As I watched I began to think, This guy is totally faking. He doesn’t study martial arts at all.

It was an uncharitable assumption to make, but make it I did. I based my belief on the subtle stuff: He held his breath throughout the moves, he stared at his feet, he moved as if his centre of gravity was alternately in his hands or his head or his stomach, even wobbling sometimes.

When I asked him who his teacher was he laughed softly and told me the history of his martial arts experiences. In short, none of his experiences had been positive or pleasant ones and in the end, because he wanted so badly to learn tai chi, he’d picked up a few DVDs and was studying on his own.

If it is possible to learn a martial art completely by studying a DVD, I certainly hope he can do it. I’ve never met anyone without commitments to a dojo who practiced martial arts regularly on their own. And I’ve never met anyone who’s taken their self-study so seriously.

His desire to learn impressed me so much that I realized how easy my own path has been. I’ve been lucky to have teachers who have explained the importance of breathing and lines and the twist at the end of an upper block. But I was reminded that not everyone has had it so good, and for someone training without a teacher, those subtle things, so obvious when pointed out, may never be made clear.

I certainly hopes he keeps studying, but more than anything, I hope he finds a teacher. I hope he finds a teacher that he really connects with because the joy and the power in martial arts, for me at least, is often in the subtle stuff.

Categories: The Knowledge Pool