I've been a keen karate student for 16 years, Shukokai and Shotokan, but there still seems to be no shortage of things to learn and explore. I'm hoping this blog will allow me to share my experiences and hear other martial artists thoughts.

Archive for March, 2012

Growing your circle of knowledge

I came across this blog post by a Tai Chi teacher called Paul Miller. I really liked his realisation that his progress wasn’t measured by the number or speed in which he’d gained his black belts and that the most important thing is mastering himself.

I’ve been working on the combination of moves I’ll need to demonstrate at my next grading. I mentioned in previous posts that I’m excited that this gives me a chance to start to practise some of the practical karate concepts I’ve come across recently. I’ve chosen to use our first Shukokai kata Shiotsuki No.1 as the basis.

What strikes me is that in my martial arts studies I find myself circling round and returning to a place I’ve started from previously. But all the time my knowledge is growing,  I’m learning more and also opening up new challenges.

So when I first started studying Shukokai karate the first kata I learnt was Shiotsuki No.1. Years later when I chose to widen my knowledge of karate by studying the Shotokan style I started afresh as a white belt and learnt Kihon kata which is like Shiotsuki No.1’s slightly bigger brother. Years on again my Shukokai studies bring me back to look at Shiotsuki No.1 with somewhat wiser eyes, to explore it on my own and understand what I need to really learn from it as a Karateka.

It’s made me realise that studying Karate isn’t a linear journey. Also you can only learn what you’re ready to learn at that time and place. As a new student you learn what you think you need to learn and that might just be learning the pattern of moves, going fast at this point, slow at that point. Later you return back to what is presented as a simple kata and realise it holds more to understand that you thought at the time.

I’m really enjoying the chance to complete my latest circle, I hope I find myself back at this point again.


Inspiration comes from many places (2)…1960s Tokyo

A speculative search on eBay for books about Karate threw up Moving Zen by CW Nicol. It looked like a really interesting book so I ordered it and it arrived late last week. At 151 pages it looked like something I could read quite quickly so I made a start on Friday and have eagerly ploughing my way through it since. Nicol decided to head to Tokyo after taking part in an artic expedition keen to continue his studies in Judo and start studying Karate. Ultimately he decides to focus on Karate and his book is a fascinating account of his studies.

It’s great to get a glimpse of what studying Karate in the 1960s was like and the people involved. I had a real feeling of excitement when Nicol comes across great martial artists like Donn Draeger, Keinosuke Enoeda, and Hirokazu Kanazawa who I’d heard about previously.

As a Karateka it’s reassuring to follow Nicol’s account of his studies and see a similar journey as he initially focuses on his striking techniques but then as his understanding of Karate grows he understands more the value of kata.

Once I’ve finished reading it through first time around I plan to read it through again chapter by chapter and consider more deeply Nicol’s journey and his realisations about Karate but it leaves me with an even greater sense of the heritage of the art that I’m studying.

From which sources has your inspiration come recently?

Funakoshi’s Essence of Karate No.3

Funakoshi starts by talking about a number of masters who had skills enabling to achieve great feats. Like the fantastically named Makabe the Birdman who he recounts could leap, from a seated position, and plant a kick on the ceiling 8 foot above. He recognises that everyone has natural strengths but he regards a focus on practising feats of skills they enable an avocation, a distraction or diversion, from the true meaning of martial arts. Which I suppose raises the question of what is the true meaning? In this Chapter Funakoshi doesn’t address it explicitly so it’s left for us to ponder.

That feels like a question that we could all have a very different answer for based on our experiences. If practising feats is a distraction, and the practise of feats isn’t something you see mentioned in the lessons or texts of masters or indeed practised in your own clubs then is it a logical step to say that true meaning of martial arts has it’s roots in the training we do, basics, kata, kumite etc. I think so.

So what have I found so far in such training. Well initially it’s a challenge to the body and mind in learning the techniques. Developing the strength, flexibility, stamina, body awareness and muscle memory etc. to execute techniques individually, in combination and in response to opponent’s movements. Developing the mind to overcome the bodies weakness to keep executing when fatigue starts to set in and developing the resolve to keep refining techniques. Then developing the thought processes to move beyond being a student who lets his sensei drive his learning to be somone who searches for his own understanding.

I think that’s were the true meaning lies, in working to perfect the mind and body and gaining so much more than the ability to deliver a strong punch or kick.

One of the stories he tells is of the master Matsumura and his wife Tsurujo. He explains how they met from her being a truly great martial artist and challenging him as she sought to test her own skills. I wonder why he includes this story. I think Funakoshi wanted to provide an equally strong female role model to show that Karate is for everybody.

The story of Matsumura and Tsurujo also mentions the towns of Shuri and Naha. He describes how the redlight district of Naha was the place were young students would go to test their new fighting skills. I’m intrigued why the karate styles of Shuri and Naha differed, see Essence of Karate No.2. Perhaps the reason why will reveal itself.

What do you think? What’s your true meaning of martial arts?