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Breathing…

The following is an essay by Roberto Delicata of Wolfson College Taido Club at Wolfson College, Linton Road, Oxford, UK written on the 7th of December, 2002.

Aspects of Breathing in the Martial Arts

The role of breathing in the martial arts is complex, and extends far beyond the physical act of oxygenating the blood. In this essay I will explore some of the aspects of breathing as they apply to the martial arts, both as a combative discipline and as a promoter of health and longevity. The wealth of breathing techniques championed by martial arts instructors is almost as diverse as the styles that these instructors practise. As a karate student well conditioned to exhaling strongly whilst punching, I was duly reprimanded for doing so in a Shaolin kung-fu class. Why are you breathing loudly?”, I was asked.  If you breath loudly, your opponent will know that you are about to attack!”. Whilst I cannot fault the logic in this, the justification for audible breathing is equally as convincing. I use this to highlight the fact that there is rarely a single right way to do anything in martial arts. For much of this essay I favour the discussion of principle over technique, since the principles of martial arts are, in general, more uniform than the way they are implemented within particular styles. Where I do descend into discussion on technique, it should be borne in mind that a method is being talked about, and not the method.

Breathing techniques

At a very basic level, karate students are taught that breathing plays an important role in the correct execution of technique. Inhalation should take place through the nose and exhalation through the mouth. Inhalation is usually performed in the transition between stances or positions and exhalation

proceeds whilst the technique is performed. If a sequence of techniques occur in quick succession, the exhalation is usually spread over the number of techniques involved. One master, Kenko Nakaima, professed that breathing (during kata training) should be natural, exhaling with a sharp hiss when striking. He went on to add that, in combat, the breathing should be undetectable. Yoshio Itokazu of Goju-ryu also believed in this principle. The apparent contradiction between the techniques that are trained, and those that are applied in combat mirrors the difference between karate-breathing and kung-fu-breathing mentioned above. Eiichi Miyazoto, also of Goju-ryu, discussed breathing technique at greater length: Inhale slowly through the nose using the lower abdominal muscles, and in the same way gently ease the air out through the mouth with a guttural hiss. This sound is coincidental to the breathing and should not be made on purpose.  Shoshin Nagamine taught that a
defensive technique should be executed with inhalation, whereas an offensive technique should be executed with exhalation. These views are all joined by a common thread: they teach the what but not the why.  The rudiments of correct breathing are oft stated but rarely explained. In all of the examples above, the teachers advocate that exhalation should accompany an offensive technique. Why is this? One fundamental reason is that if you are hit in the chest while your lungs contain air, you are likely to become winded. Emptying your lungs avoids this danger. It is also said that the purpose of kihon (basic training) is to unify the mind and body with the breath. This is most clearly seen in kiai, of which I will have more to say later. In some way then, karate is underpinned with the belief that exhalation whilst performing a technique binds the intent of mind and body: a strong, powerful exhalation promotes the execution of a strong and powerful technique. Many of the Okinawan styles advocate breathing from the abdomen rather than from the chest, not just while training but all of the time. The Japanese phrase, bu no chikara, is used to describe the hidden strength that is thought to result from this. It is believed that such abdominal breathing engages the tanden – the centre of the body’s intrinsic energy, or ki. The tanden is located just below the navel and is important in internal martial arts such as tai-chi, and in styles of karate that teach kyusho-waza (techniques performed to the body’s vital points). The Koju-ryu employs muscle breathing exercises that help to harden the body internally and allow the body to take a blow on any surface without damage. In Taido, there are four methods of breathing that relate to the four scenarios experienced by a person being attacked. Each breathing technique is made up of two components: inhalation and exhalation. Both the inhalation and exhalation can be performed at two speeds, quickly or slowly. The four methods are therefore as follows:

Method Inhalation Exhalation

1. Fast Fast

2. Fast Slow

3. Slow Fast

4. Slow Slow

A fast inhalation is carried out when a possible threat becomes apparent – the taidoka inhales quickly in preparation to move. A slow inhalation is conducted when there is no apparent threat, but the taidoka still needs to maintain a state of awareness and readiness (zanshin).  A fast exhalation indicates that a perceived threat is real and marks the transition into a defendable
position such as kamae. Conversely, a slow exhalation marks a continued state of readiness, even though there is no immediate threat.
It should come as no surprise that fast breath is used to match a fast action, and a slow breath is used to match a slow action. This can be experienced by trying to perform your favourite technique at full speed and power, whilst breathing slowly. Deliberate and controlled breathing also promotes a state of readiness and calmness – If you can control the breath, you can control the mind (think about the difficulty of acting rationally when the body is struggling for breath). Similarly, if you can control the mind you can control the body (think about the conict between mind and body that arises when you are in the middle of a gruelling run) . Moreover these breath-mind and mind-body relationships are transitive: If you can control the breath, you can control the body. The ability to control the body is a core principle in martial arts.

Kiai

The breath can be used to mirror the body’s intent. A strong, powerful exhalation promotes a strong and powerful technique. In addition, the use of abdominal breathing can reinforce the body’s resolve and the ability to strike. The natural extrapolation of these principles results in the performance of kiai. The physical act of kiai involves tightening the muscles of the body (including the diaphragm) on impact, and exhaling forcibly to produce a shout. Kiai literally means `spirit convergence’ and is a state of being which is meant to express a harmony between the body and the mind. In his
autobiography, Funakoshi recounts a tail of the karate master Matsumura, who once defeated an enemy using only his kiai. The physical shout of the kiai can be used to scare the opponent, something that Musashi states as being of great importance: The difference between a half-hearted scream intended to scare the enemy off and a resolute shout is the difference between bragging
and making a commitment to attack.  It is also said that the act of kiai causes the throat to harden – in defence against a strike to the front of the neck. Although the use of vocal kiai is championed by the majority of martial arts, it is by no means universal. Kaneshima, of Tozan-ryu, believed that the kiai shout is not necessary for karate training, and is in fact, a \waste of time”. Indeed, some schools teach that the use of kiai marks a weak point in the martial artist’s attack, since it causes the body to become tense. Many higher graded sensei refrain from performing an audible kiai, preferring to give an `introspective’ kiai on impact; strong but subdued. It is an unfortunate side-effect of competition karate that more value is ascribed to the physical shout than to the internal aspects of kiai.

Mushin

The principle of mushin, or no-mindedness is important to zen martial arts such as karate. When fighting in a state of mushin, the body reacts to stimuli without the intervention of the mind; thoughts do not cloud the body’s intent and the body acts freely. The principle of mushin may appear too esoteric for some, but it is, in fact, completely natural. While you are reading this, you are not thinking about reading it, you are merely reading it. As soon as you think about reading, it
becomes much more dicult to read – the mechanics of intentional reading inhibit your ability to read. It is the same with martial arts – when confronted by an enemy (and all the attendant fears), the intervention of mind can only be a hindrance -inserting `thought’ where your best guide is instinct.  Mushin is sometimes experienced during the practice of meditative sitting, or zazen. People sitting for the first time often find the sitting uncomfortable and the mind remains extremely active. The process of breathing deliberately, and in particular the counting of the breaths, helps to focus the mind on a single activity. This is often called one-pointed attention. The same principle applies in martial arts – intentional breathing can be used to focus the mind. Once the mind is focused on a single thing it can make the transition from one-pointed attention to no-pointed attention – the state of mushin. If this explanation seems unclear, it is because no-mindness is not something that can be easily described, but can only be experienced.

Conclusion

In this essay, I have touched on a few aspects of breathing in the martial arts. A closed mind can never learn; only an open mind can be free. The pursuit of freedom; freedom from fear, prejudice, conict and a multitude of other restrictions to which we are necessarily bound, is a lofty goal for any martial artist to aim for. As with life itself, a martial art has nothing to do with the goal, and everything to do with the journey. Breathing, a vital action that is for the most part performed entirely unconsciously, helps us along this path by allowing us to control the body and the mind. The application of techniques such as kiai can fuse the body’s power, intention and resolve,
into a single point. Breathing can also help to promote the calm, lucid and free state of mind that can lead to mushin. In this way, the act of intentional breathing helps to draw together many disparate threads in the practice of martial arts.

Categories: Drop in the Bucket

Empty, Empty

March 29, 2009 3 comments

Gichin Funakoshi gave us modern karate. He also gave us modern karate, if you see what I mean.

Before Funakoshi systematized the karate from which many modern karate styles spring (and from which others take a huge amount, if not in terms of technique, in terms of method of teaching and training), he chose how to write the word “karate”.

Karate could have been written two ways. One set of characters meant Chinese hand, and the other set meant empty hand. For a multitude of reasons, he picked empty over Chinese and so when we talking about what the word karate means, we talk about fighting with an empty hand. This is fine. It’s great. It’s grand. If my body is the only weapon I need, I can practice all the time. I’ll never forget where I put, say, my left hand. Fantastic. This simplicity is part of what I like about empty hand training. I don’t have to wonder, where, in the real world, am I ever going to find a pair of sai should the need arise.

In the real world is a common mantra. So is In an actual situation. I hear it a lot. “Sure,” say some, “You can practice in the dojo, but in the real world, what would you do if…” and the event that follows the “if” in that sentence is just as unrelated to reality as training in the dojo supposedly is. Ask me what I’d do if someone grabbed me from behind in the wee hours of the morning while I was fumbling with the lock of my door, and my answer will come from a calm mind, rational, and unfuddled by adrenaline. Actually grab me on a Tuesday morning at three a.m. and you might lose an eye, or your life, and likewise me. Every hypothetical situation is exactly that. The dojo, the mind, a conversation. All of these things are analyzable, controllable and fundamentally not-terrifying and therefore, none of them “real world situations”.

Incidentally, I didn’t want to learn weapons. Really, I didn’t. There’s something about weapons that seems to me to take martial arts away from what I think of it as. I think of karate as the kindest way I can prevent someone from harming me. Throw a weapon into the mix and all of a sudden it’s the quickest way I can prevent someone from ever harming anyone. Period. Weapons change the dynamics of a fight. If it’s fisticuffs, who knows? Maybe it’s a mutual punch-up like a barroom brawl. If it’s weapons, the fight is serious and someone is likely to die*.

In an actual situation, if someone throws a punch at me, I might respond in kind or I might run away or I might gently set the person on the ground (having only been in one scrap, I can’t say how I’d react, but I imagine I’d take one of those three options). If someone pulled a knife on me, I would almost certainly do some sort of irreparable damage to them, because there’s no question that they’re trying to do the same to me. Weapons change the game. But not just for the person facing one.

The first time I held my sai, I tangled up my feet. Just like the first time I tried to show a kata to a friend, I got it all screwed up. My technique is there, I’ve used it unconsciously, but I’m easily distracted away from it. I’m powerfully influenced by the setting*, my surroundings and by distractions. When you first pick them up, weapons in hand are a huge distraction. In my case, they prevented me from clearing my mind and just doing the moves because I actually spend most of my time trying not to stick myself in my side, or brain myself (sometimes I look at the other students and wonder how the heck they’ve become so comfortable with their weapons while I still feel like a pig on roller-skates) and I’m only just beginning to understand what I saw when Andrew came and did a sword demonstration for our class: If the mind can’t relax, or be focused, a weapon is more cumbersome than useful. This applies to empty hand just as much as a hand holding the smelly grip of a weapon. And this takes us back to the real world scenario that people talk about. “What would you do in the real world?” is shorthand for “What would you do if you were distracted?”.

Well, I’m spending a lot of time being distracted these days. Learning weapons seems to me just another way to distract myself, and another way to learn to overcome distraction, or even use it to my advantage. Yes, I know that in the real world, I’m not going to have a pair of sai to hand. Yes, I know I’m likely to be wearing my little red shoes and have a courier bag full of books over my shoulder, and maybe I’ll be holding a cup of coffee. These distractions are the sort of distractions people talk about when they give the “real world” scenario. Yes, I know it’s extraordinarily unlikely I’ll be in my gi with my bo in one hand and my sai tucked in my belt. The coffee, book bag and cute little shoes are far more likely. That fact that I’m dressed differently and encumbered differently should not mean I will be unable to protect myself.

Before I picked up weapons I wouldn’t have even thought about this. It wasn’t until I saw how easily my brain tried to override my body when faced with a new set of circumstances that I realized distractions of the type that are likely to occur in the real world are going to have an effect on how I perform. I’m learning to shut my brain off even though I’m not confident.

Picking up weapons has improved my awareness of what’s around me, and taught me one of the most important lessons I’ve learned: Even with weapons, karate is all about emptiness. Empty hand, empty mind. Funakoshi picked empty for a reason.

____________________

Notes:

*Usually the person carrying the knife. Studies conducted in the UK show people who carry knives are most likely to die by them. By their own knives, that is. So much for carrying a knife to “feel safer”. For more on this see: Fear and Fashion: The use of knives and other weapons by young people. 2004. The Bridge House Trust and Brookman et al. 2003. Reducing Homicide: A summary review of the possibilities. Home Office.

*We all are: studies show students who can study in the environment where they will be tested typically do better than those who can’t.

Categories: Drop in the Bucket

Body hardening, and mind power

October 16, 2008 1 comment

I love those classes that demonstrate for you the power of the slightest deviation of the mind. My favourite example is probably the time I let Sensei Chris’ jumping sidekick make a puddle of me on the dojo floor. This is not to say that Sensei Chris’ jumping sidekick is not perfectly capable of making a puddle of me all on its own… but we all know that Sensei would never do this to a student intentionally. No, I became a puddle because I took a second to consider how much it would truly suck to experience Sensei’s full power traveling jumping sidekick. I pretty much surrendered myself. Instant fail! Never again, I decided, will I surrender to my mind during training.

Tonight Sensei Mitch had us warming up with Te Waza, including some extra practice on elbow strikes to our open palms. After several strikes of the left elbow to right palm, Sensei commented on the stinging feeling we might be experiencing in the palm. This is good, Sensei said, to feel the strength of the technique, and to practice body hardening. I hadn’t really felt the stinging to that point, but when we switched sides all of a sudden it was so apparent. Blast!… that Sensei… I must have been perfectly focused not to notice the pain beforehand, but he had to bring my attention to it and now all I feel is a sharp STING with every slap. Well, I wasn’t going to let this sudden awareness weaken my training. No, I would work through the sting. Maybe if I focused more on the power of the striking elbow, and less on the pain… Yes, that’s it, MORE POWER!

I got through the warm-up, admittedly feeling rather… stung, and so used the couple of minutes before class started to examine myself. It was then that I re-discovered where I had burned my arm with direct steam from a boiling kettle two days before… right where the boney striking surface of my forearm was landing on the heel of my palm. And all that extra power helped to tear the protective new skin covering off the burn and expose some rather sensitive flesh. 

Sometimes it’s not all in your head.

Be kind to your injuries.

Categories: Drop in the Bucket

The Mat is a Lie

September 6, 2008 2 comments

For not the first time that night, I was falling.

That was the point, of course. We were practicing break falls of the land-on-your-side, one arm up, one leg out variety and had been practicing for some time. I was tired. I was sweaty. My hair was coming out of the plait I’d put it in and getting into my eyes. My fetching new gi, one size too big for me (to allow for shrinkage), no longer looked quite as pristine and was trailing on the floor. And I hurt.

I find break falling, like everything on the first try, difficult, vaguely humiliating and painful. Rationally I know practice will take care of those complaints, but my body remembers how hard the floor is, and it’s hard to work up the desire to practice falling down again and again and again.

So I basically only practice my break falls in class, either when we practice hip throws, or when we practice falling. I mean, the downstairs neighbours would probably complain about the noise, I’d totally get carpet burn on my arms and knees, and I don’t have a crash mat a home anyway. So, I don’t practice much and, needless to say, the quality of my break falls shows the quantity of my practice.

Anyway, I was falling. And I was tired. Jogging, falling, climbing to my feet without my hands, kicking the bag and then jogging some more had worn me out. My gi was too long, the floor a bit damp from all that perspiration. I jogged up to the blue mat, and I slipped.

I’m falling, I realized, then, just before hitting the mat, thought, well, that’s what I’m supposed to be doing.

I fell, one arm up, one leg out, a decent break fall. Phew, I thought. Thank god for the mat. And then it hit me:

The mat is a lie.

Our blue mat (gotta love it) looks like it’s been through the wars. Maybe it has. I’ve only been coming to the dojo since, oh, say, 2003, and but the blue mat was all ready a little battered looking back then. If it was a student, I’d bow longer than it, if you see what I mean. In a way, it’s my senior.

That blue mat has been just about everything, as well as a crash mat. It has been the course of a river, the inert form of a loved one, it’s been the belly of the monster attacking my village, and the hedge behind which a ninja is lurking. And I’ve fallen on it. Lots. But here’s the thing I just realized:

In actuality, the mat isn’t any of these things. If you fail to jump it, you won’t drown. If you hesitate at the last moment, the madman won’t kill your husband, if you don’t use technique, the monster won’t eat your village, if you don’t make it over, no ninja’s going to shiv you in the eye. And it’s not a crash mat, either.

The mat, assuming it ever had stuffing, no longer does. Oh, it might represent a crash mat (or a stream or a whatever) but it’s not really a crash mat. In fact, it’s hardly a mat at all.

The mat, or “mat” as I like to think of it, is actually two strips of vinyl (now approaching 40% duct tape) with some Velcro on the side. Go on and lie on it, and you’ll see that it doesn’t cushion you. It doesn’t protect you. It doesn’t make the floor very much softer at all. But it does do something important, as I realized the other night.

As I was getting up from my slip-and-fall-for-real break fall, I realized I hadn’t landed on the mat at all. I’d missed by about two inches. Only my feet were really on the blue. I realized I didn’t need the mat to break fall. That hit me at the same moment I realized I never have fallen so calmly if I’d known I was going to miss the mat.

At that moment, I realized the crash mat, with all the attendant associations of big, plush crash mats of my elementary school days, was, in fact, a gigantic, flagrant and easily demonstrable lie. But I also realized I didn’t need to fall on a mat in order to get up and walk away. I realized the mat just made learning to fall a little easier.

Napoleon once famously said that people will die for pieces of cloth, not for the cloth, but because of what the cloth represents. Well, it seems we’ll fall on them too.  Not because they’re soft, but because they represent plush.  Who knew?

Categories: Drop in the Bucket

The Shogun and the Tea Master

August 16, 2008 2 comments

Imagine fifteenth century Japan.  A time of dirt roads and samurai and a crumbling and corrupt Shogunate.  Into this time was born Tokugawa Ieyasu.  He was the son of an indebted retainer and one of the greatest military minds Japan has ever known.  He rose to power and swept all of Japan up in a series of wars that eventually unified Japan and made that poor retainer’s son into the most powerful man in Japan: Shogun.

Tokugawa didn’t want the established nobility to think their newest Shogun had just ridden into town on the back of a turnip cart so he hired tutors to train out his country accent, correct his inelegant walk and he hired a man, the expert Sen Rikyuu, to teach him the tea ceremony.

I imagine Sen Rikyuu looked upon his appointment as Shogun’s Tea Master as a mixed blessing.  Tokugawa was the most powerful man in the country, a self-made man more deeply concerned with people acknowledging his status than studying the art of tea.  He was also a man of quick temper, with a disdain for life that comes to those weaned on war.  Sen Rikyuu’s appointment was the best PR a man could hope for, and a probably death sentence.  Not, it seems, a very enviable position.

The problems with tutoring the Shogun in chado, or the way of tea, began at once.  Sen Rikyuu’s pupil arrived for his first lesson and walked right into the tea house without bowing.  Because the tea ceremony included a bow at the door, it was impossible for Sen Rikyuu to continue the lesson.  He adjourned the class and sat down to worry a little.

It would be impossible to request the new Shogun bow at the entrance to the tea house.  Vital though the bow might be to the ceremony itself, Rikyuu knew the reputation of the Shogun well enough.  He also knew his place.  The idea of he, a mere artisan, ranked infinitely below the Shogun, asking for anything, was beyond imagining.

If the Shogun would not bow, he could not move on to the next part of the ceremony.  If he could not move on to the next part of the ceremony, he was likely to become irritated with Rikyuu.  So Rikyuu was faced with a dilemma:  He would either have to change the carefully choreographed and  traditional movements of the tea ceremony or get the Shogun to bow.  Both were impossible.

Facing death, Rikyuu devised a third option.  If the practitioner could not change his behaviour, and the ceremony could not be altered, there was only one thing left to do.  He drew up plans, had the carpenters set to work at once.  Rikyuu would not ask the Shogun to do anything.  He would not alter the generations of work that had gone into the tea ceremony.  He’d wait.

When the Shogun arrived for his next lesson, he was confronted by a door no bigger than a man kneeling.  He knelt down and crawled through the door, into the tea house.  The student, having knelt and placed his hands on the tatami, could continue his study of chado.

The first time I heard this story, I admired Rikyuu’s cleverness.  The second time I realized how much Rikyuu’s predicament can be like a karate ka’s.  Though we’re not likely to be disembowelled by our sensei, it is extremely rude to correct a sensei (or any higher rank) on their behaviour, be it bowing at the door or technique in a kata.  Yes, the higher rank could well be doing the wrong kata, incorrect technique or failing basic etiquette.  And yes, the lower ranking student might know the right kata, the technique or the etiquette, but it’s not for them to say.  They can find themselves in a position not unlike Rikyuu’s, where they know there is an issue but they do not control the parameters.

At first I thought the rule about never corrected a higher rank was a bit odd.  After all, we spend a lot of time in Wa Ki Ryu encouraging humility and encouraging practitioners to give and take feedback.  And then I heard the story of Rikyuu and Tokugawa and something clicked.

If lower ranking student correct mistakes, they risk losing the ability to react to unfamiliar circumstances.  This might sound like a total load of bull secretions, but bear with me.  Here’s how I see it:  If a sensei calls out one kata and starts on another, surprise!  Though the student might know it’s not the kata that was called out, the point is not matching kata movements to names.  The point is to do a technique completely and decisively, even if startled by an unforeseen or unfamiliar circumstance.

Being surprised also helps maintain creativity in combat.  If someone behaves in an unexpected way and the uke is unable to counter their attack, it’s a fairly good indicator that more training is needed.  If a someone does the wrong kick or punch, it doesn’t matter.  What matters is if the strike was, or would have, damaged the uke and if the uke did, or could have, blocked the strike.

Dealing creatively with surprises, with situations where the practitioner is not in control of the circumstances is an important skill, not only for a martial artist, but also, it would seem, for the student of tea.

Categories: Drop in the Bucket

‘Sanctuary’

August 6, 2008 1 comment

       When you say the word ‘Sanctuary’ most people think of a place that is quiet, peaceful, and most of the time the word ‘home’ comes into play. With me home is not my sanctuary. School is kind of a place to get away from home but good marks and teachers keep me busy, so its not to peaceful.

      For the longest time I had no sanctuary to call my own, so I would run to my friends house to save myself from the stress and anger filled house which I called home. Then Myann had told me about her karate class she had gone to and she wanted me to come along with her. So the next day I had just sat and watched and thought it looked pretty fun so I joined. It felt funny the first few times but I soon started to meet nice people in the dojo, and it became the thing I would do to get away from the stress of home and school. Karate would make me forget what ever had happend that day or that week.

          Now I feel so much better, having something to look forward to during the week. Now that schools’ done for the summer I have to be home more often, so it means more of my family, and that means we get more mad at each other more often. I think that because almost all of my family is in karate we have become more together – mainly because I have to help them train…. (It was annoying when my mom was up and woke me up to ask me what move came next in her kata…Fun right??)

          I would love if my family kept working on karate so we can become more of a happy family and be much more happy than before…….

Categories: Drop in the Bucket

Time and Attainment

July 29, 2008 1 comment

An interesting point to ponder – Shorin Ryu Sensei, R. Dauphin, writes on time and attainment…

How Do You Spend Your Time?

With the right amount of time all things are attainable. Initially most karateka feel clumsy, awkward and self-conscious. What can change this predicament is properly invested time. With twenty years of dedicated well-balanced time, the beginner can transform themselves into a karate master. The hardest part of karate mastery is investing the right amount of time in the proper place. The greatest danger lies in spending time foolishly because eventually time runs out.

Most beginner karateka have a hard time even lining up straight let alone executing a proper technique. Five years of properly invested time will change this. In five years, the beginner can go from being awkward and clumsy to being able to perform hundreds of intricate techniques. Eventually, these techniques are not only executed physically, but a certain amount of mind and spirit become present. The initial investment of five years will give most karateka ten basics, sixteen kata, a fairly advanced level of sparring and a rudimentary understanding of history and philosophy.

If the aforementioned can be achieved in five years, then what would happen if the karateka doubled the time they invested? With ten years of balanced time, the karateka should know the above on a much deeper level. A knowledge of Bunkai, history, and philosophy should be strongly rooted. Techniques should no longer be mindful repetitions but should slowly become part of the karateka. Investing ten years time should forge a strong spirit which reveals itself in everything the karateka does.

Let’s double the invested time again. Twenty years of properly invested time can produce a student who has a broad knowledge of the entire Shorin Ryu system. With twenty years of invested time, a karateka should be able to perform their karate with a very advanced level of body, mind and spirit. A person who trains for twenty years can call karate theirs because with that amount of time karate should become part of them. In executing techniques, thought should no longer be necessary. Twenty years of training should fuse the body, mind and spirit into one entity which shows itself in the sensei tries to teach you to spend time in these endeavours not only physically but mentally and spiritually. How many times during class does the sensei call for more spirit and how many times have push ups been done to remind the karateka to spend their time properly?

The karateka must balance their time correctly. To properly progress, all areas of karate must be trained. For example, if a karateka spends all of their time training their physical side how can they make any significant mental or spiritual gains? All areas of the being must be trained and progress together or the balance of body, mind and spirit will be thrown into disarray.

The key to spending time wisely and making balanced progress is honesty. Every karateka has problem areas, the solution to this is to spend more time in training the areas you do not excel in. Training your problem areas will bring them into balance with the rest of your karate. How often does the karateka who is weak in kata but strong in kumite spend time training kata? Their kata is probably trained very little because they want to train what they are good at. The danger here is that the more progress a karateka makes in just one area, the more out of balance and weaker their karate becomes. Eventually, the karateka who trains on only one level will find themselves inferior to the karateka who has achieved a balance of body, mind and spirit. Honesty is the solution to this problem, identify problem areas and then spend the time necessary (sometimes years) to bring them into balance.

The error in not managing time properly, is that time will run out. If a person is lucky, they will spend ninety to one hundred years on this planet. It is tragic to waste any amount of this time, wasting your time is like throwing your life away. As Sensei Legacy always says, “Lost time can never be regained.” This does not mean a karateka can never relax or have fun, it just means that time should be managed according to the goals they have. If a person works hard and commits to everything they do then when they die they will have lived a full life.

With five, ten or twenty years of training, a great deal can be accomplished. Balanced training in all areas of karate will very likely produce a karateka with a deep understanding of not only the body but the mind and spirit as well. Time, honesty, dedication and intestinal fortitude are a must to achieve these goals. Without the aforementioned qualities, in twenty years nothing can be achieved except the wasting of a large amount of time. In karate, there are no one week wonders; if you hear someone say, “I could never be as good in karate as the sensei,” tell them to make the same statement after they have trained for twenty years.

The next time you fail a grading or do not perform as you feel you should, ask yourself;
How am I investing my time?

By R. Dauphin, Nidan

Categories: Drop in the Bucket