History and Philosophy
KARATE BEYOND TECHNIQUE
Essay by Jacob Greasley
I'm an engineer by profession. Its a challenge and my further education will also be a challenge for many years to come. So when it comes to my devotion to martial arts, as is the case for many others, you can guess that it has been quite a task to find balance. At some points Ive pondered on why I even bother when there is so much else going on in my life? This has lead as of late, to me questioning my ultimate intentions with Karate-Do and Budo as a whole. Well, I am full of passion for everything that karate has given me and now I feel that the next natural step for me is as an instructor, enabling myself to explore techniques and philosophy and to develope a deeper understanding through teaching.
However, as I look towards teaching 'the path' Ive had to ask myself, what kind of instructor would I like be and how can I as a selfless practitioner make Karate training as meaningful to those whom I teach as it has been for me. This has lead to my exploration of philosophies of Karate beyond the physical techniques and the origins of concepts that make some describe the art as 'a way of life'.
There are martial arts clubs everywhere! They are often generally categorized as either sport, or self-defence. Through their focus solely on technique however, many modern martial arts practice seem to have lost their substance. Shoshin Nagamine founder of the Matsubayashi Shorin Ryu style of karate once said "Any martial art without proper training of the mind turns into beastly behaviour." He also said in his description of post war Japan that students tend to be overly concerned with wins and losses and only seek reputation and awards. This couldnt be any truer than in the world of today.
I for one believe in the immense power and lethality of true karate, but how could I simply hand this over to a student without the right 'guidance notes'. To do so would be incredibly irresponsible and is comparable to handing a gun to a toddler. Unfortunately and quite sadly, there are many instructors out there who propagate their techniques for a price, or for recognition regardless of the intentions or well being of the student. The ideologies of budo have been greatly corrupted and this hybrid now attracts the likes of those who seek to use it as an instrument of domination and aggression. A practical example has been the advent of the Mixed Martial Arts arena, MMA. Despite the fame and reputation it has achieved with some very skilful competitors(some with traditional martial art backgrounds) one cant help but observe its other side, the stereotypical clientele; the type of thugs who are too impatient for dedicated study of any Budo, typically with an obsession for fame and reputation or even financial reward.
Long has much of the modern world forgotten the way of mind described as shin-zen-bi (truth, honesty and beauty) in martial arts and the development of our character as human beings.
In karate 'The Way' or 'Do' as mentioned, is a meshing of ancient Zen Buddhism philosophy with the practice of physical techniques, hence Karate-Do. This is how we can now consider the practice of Karate-Do as a way of life, one which mirrors that of Zen. Zen emphasises on simplicity and self control and emotional and psychological calm in the face of death and destruction. Ultimately through a meditation exercise called zazen one eventually learns to still the restless or disturbed mind and in so doing creates zanchin, a state of constant awareness.
In the western world we have developed the habit of branding philosophies often simply for the sake of a sales pitch, such as a in the movies. This has resulted in the loss of the true meaning of some of the most valuable teachings in budo, as today they've simply become clichés. One such philosophy is that which describes 'finding oneself'. Sounds cliché doesnt it? It's as if youve heard it in a movie somewhere before. Well, this is zazen. According to Zen Master Deshimaru, zazen means returning, completely, to the pure, normal human condition, becoming intimate with oneself. This is where peace, self-control and constant awareness are developed. Zazen to some extent can be found in the modern dojo practice of Mokuso(which means to close your eyes and clear your mind) which occurs in the opening ceremony of typical traditional karate classes.
Beyond the practice of meditation in Zen and karate we can also find worthy guidelines for living that prove to be in harmony with most religious and humanitarian practices. The term Kunshi No Ken , or the 'discipline of the virtuous man' is one such guideline. It is the motto of the Shito Ryu style of karate-do which calls for us to aim to develop ourselves as respectful well rounded individuals and to practice good manners in all situations with self-discipline and respect. It also teaches us that we must assume accountability for our actions and requires us to keep our integrity and in so doing, set an example for others, but this is easier said than done! Instilling these individual traits calls for great devotion by both the teacher and the student and a desire for continuous self-improvement. One must strive to take these values and rules of the dojo(Dojo Kun) beyond the confines of its walls and into daily life.
Another old Okinawan philosophy Karate Ni Sente Nashi goes on to show how we can endure hardships and turn situations around to show compassion towards our fellow man. Karate Ni Sente Nashi translates to mean 'the fist that does not strike first' or further simplified as meaning 'there is no first attack in karate'. Now technically speaking there is such a thing in karate as a pre-emptive attack called Sen Sen No Sen, utilising the concept that the best defence is a good offence. However, this is still an act of self-defence. Karate Ni Sente Nashi teaches us that in life sometimes the best victory is the one attained without a battle, without having to fight yet it is understood that times will come when we must! It is this moment in which our judgement tells us that we must fight that a trained karateka uses his technique to suppress his attackers aggression, yet a true student of karate should, once diverting the danger of an attack, exercise restraint and demonstrate his humanity by showing mercy and compassion. Who knows, maybe, just maybe his actions will in time win over the heart of his attacker. If it didnt the karateka would have still preserved his honour and his spirit which are very important. You see, according to another old Okinawan saying that even today's psychologists will stand by, "Your mind does not get disturbed by being beaten up as much as it does by(you) beating up others."
Karate and Zen philosophy provide us with these lessons and more that are still applicable to life in today's society. They are worthy of a lifetime of study and practice as we should seek to improve ourselves and serve our fellow man. I too look towards these spiritual practices for inner strength and guidance. This especially during times in my life that present great challenges and hardships which I must endure. So, for all its great physical power and technique, the holistic practice of Karate-Do also teaches us as karateka so much more; control, determination, endurance, morality, graciousness, honour, loyalty, balance, harmony, humility and respect for your parents, your teachers and your peers, even for your enemies, as well as mercy and compassion to say the least.
Imagine how different our society would be if values such of these were embraced as a standard for living. Just imagine how even through karate-do and budo, our world could be a better place!