Musashi Miyamoto (1582-1645)
In this article, I would like to introduce the fundamental philosophy of Seibukai Karate from several points of view. Our goal of Seibukai Karate is to achieve the level of martial arts as the lifelong martial way. Through training methodologies in combination with karate techniques and theories based in relevance of real life applications, one may achieve this goal.
Throughout the long Japanese history, we carry the tradition called "Bushi-do” Martial way or Samurai Way. It began with the philosophy of military science with a real sword during the Sengoku era (the era of the warring states). It further developed into the concept of philosophical spirituality. Miyamoto Musashi said, "A way of life with good intention by distinguishing the truth of mankind in this world” (The Five Rings). The essential purpose of martial arts is to acquire combat skills to win over opponents. In an extreme sense, winning equates survival, and losing equates an instant death. Therefore, in order to survive, karate as the martial way should be practical and applicable for any circumstance in daily life. In other words, as a combat method in military science, it is necessary to have functional skills and techniques that do not rely on muscle strength and support the inevitable weakening of the muscles that accompanies aging.
I believe that tournament matches are merely a passing point of pursuing martial way. Competitions should not be the final destination of martial arts training. Although I do not deny the purpose of tournament karate, it is a trend of the modern karate practices in which one perceives that winning in a tournament becomes the ultimate goal for many practitioners. I am concerned with the trend of distorted perception in sport karate. In the majority of sport karate, training for a tournament has become the purpose of training. Thus, this defeats the purpose of true martial arts training in which creates unbalanced martial arts practices.
Again, I do not deny the usefulness of tournaments and the purpose for students of karate they mature to a point in their training lives. As a matter of fact, Seibuaki provides Junior All Japan karate tournaments for juniors as well as adult tournaments in order to keep interest and motivation by creating such challenging opportunities. I believe that a tournament is beneficial for youths and juniors to utilize their abundant energies by aiming toward a practical goal.
When the soul purpose of karate practice becomes training for a tournament, the karate itself becomes distorted from the original form. It would be lost in translation in karate technique, and it would be a loss of the philosophical spirituality of the martial way. In a tournament, fighting techniques are limited based on the rules for safety. Moving to a blind spot of the opponent, throwing, and grappling the opponent are practical techniques that exist in the original karate form. Karate techniques can diverge thousand of ways, and it is not attainable by simply learning a few tournament techniques. In short, karate cannot be the martial arts without philosophical spirituality. In saying, "There is no first attack in karate: no preemptive strike,” or "Karate begins with courtesy and ends with courtesy.” These sayings come from the moral and spirituality of martial arts based on reverence and compassion.
"To Perceive What Is Invisible”
In Seibukai karate, our goal is to reach the level of awareness beyond consciousness of the literal domain. When we teach our philosophy and spirituality of martial arts, we mention such ways, "Perceive things that are not visible,” "Listen to what is soundless,” and "Feel things that are not tangible.” These ideas are originated in Zen teachings. These teachings cannot be explained by words, yet they are attainable through individual inspiration.
It is said to be aware of the principle and the truth of the universe, and there is a truth behind the words that cannot be expressed alone. For example, we can imagine that there were a lot of discarded pieces from the wood when it was carved into the statue of Buddha. Similarly, karate kata (forms) must have a multitude moves that are hidden secret techniques as discarded maneuvers than they appear to be. Moreover, the consciousness level of the creators of karate kata must have reached a level of Zen Enlightenment which here means that cannot be described the meanings behind of the movements in written form. I would like our karate practitioners to understand the expressions of the Japanese way. It is important for us to seek the infinite meanings behind the expressions that did not appear on the surface in the movements. In order to do that, we must attain the ability level to see, listen and feel by heart.
The spirit of Bushido (martial spirit) has established the moral and spirituality code of ethics by Samurai warriors for themselves since Kamakura era (1192-1333A.D.). These virtues are "honor” and "shame” for the Japanese who care about nowadays including compassion, relevance, and reverence. I wonder how much we can seek out these spiritual aspects in sport karate and tournament karate.
"To Establish transferring System”
In Seibukai Budo-karate, one of the major goals in our training is to establish the transferring system of power and energy by creating a body in such way. To begin with, we create the system by establishing the awareness of the center, Tan-den (center of gravity) through the unification of the body and mind. Thus, they become the system of transferring power and energy. Throughout the training, the body gains awareness of changes from easy to difficult, from the surface level to the deep level, and from quantity to quality. These are the secrets of the system in martial arts in which the original support system for the weakening body caused by age.
In modern practice, the definition of word "Budo” martial way became an issue. For example, we could limit the concept of karate and Budo when we perceive the sport karate as "KARATE.” In addition, it would be the same manner when we train karate based on the sport science with merely wearing karate-gi uniform. Truly, training martial arts means to learn from old teaching. The different ways of perceptions and point of view in the martial arts lead consequently to be different outcomes at the end. It is important for us to recognize the differences between Budo-karate and sport-karate in which would be determined by the philosophical gaps throughout the training.
It is simply a sad story when the practitioners aim training for tournaments as an ultimate goal. In this case, many of them end up with not only retiring from fighting, but also quitting entire practice of karate because of their physical limitation along with aging. In tournament karate, talent, physical strengths, and youth are fundamental elements for winning. However, we are able to keep training in order to pursue true meaning of karate in the age of 40s, 50s, and 60s beyond our physical peak. We call this, "the lifelong karate” by continuing training with the proper methodologies.
What is the form of karate in 40s and 50s? We do not muscle out opponents with physical power, but we conquer them with proper techniques. The techniques are established by creating a proper transferring system of energy and the system to support weakening muscles through San-chin Kata, form training (*The details of this system will be explained in a later issue). Throughout the kata training, we gradually enable our bodies to utilize the power of "gou” hardness with San-chin transfer into "ju” softness with Ten-sho Kata in which make possible to utilize body movements and techniques without relying on muscle as we do when we are young. As we aspire to this level of proficiency, we have no limitation with aging. This is a aligned with the levels of technique in artisans, craftsmen or carpenters. For instance, craftsmen in 40s and 50s can handle their tools and their bodies better than when in their 20s and 30s as they age. In Japanese, it is called, "withered technique.” Ultimately, achieving the level in the martial arts is similar to these techniques of craftsmen. Attaining the technique is the one aspect of "arts” in martial arts.
"Self-Defense and Nourishment of Life,”
"Attaining Spirit, Body, and Mind”
In our philosophy, we teach nourishment and the nurturing of our own bodies as a part of self-defense. In general, self-defense means the protection of ones own self, primarily from the attack by an enemy with violence. However, we utilize the term by meaning to maintain a healthy body and the prevention of disease and illness as much as to protect oneself from violence. It is a basic for us to take care of our bodies and build a strong body to prevent us from becoming sick. This is the first goal of self-defense. Self-defense for physical violence is the secondary goal. We call this, "self-defense and nourishment of body” by nurturing our life energy with cumulative training in the system.
The tactic of body training is to heighten the life energy into "Tan-den,” the center of gravity. With San-chin Kata training, the Qi (chi) and blood energy begins to gather into the Tan-den. As we know, Qi and blood are the essence of life energy. We are able to prevent aging and to build healthier bodies by training San-chin repeatedly. As a one of the training katas, San-chin form has a significant meaning in training. It can nurture body as well as build a body like steel. San-chin training provides the unbeatable body in which is not attainable by weight training or individual talents. It has nothing to do with age or talent. This level of strength, stamina, and techniques can be achieved only by daunting and continuous years of training.
In the beginning of this article, I started with the quote, "A way of life with good intention and the truth of mankind in this world.” which is the way of martial arts "Budo” that requires to be spiritually and physically healthy. It is called, "attaining spirit, body and mind.” With martial arts training, when physical transformation of the body triggers the spiritual transformation, we will be able to achieve the state of unshakable mind in which do not influenced by chaotic situations.
"Mutual Existence of Hardness and Softness”
In this part, I would like to explain basic concepts of San-chin Kata, Ten-sho Kata, triangle steps, and application of hidden techniques along with weapon techniques. Some critiques say that there are no hidden techniques in karate. I have to disagree with this claim. As we expand understanding of various forms "Kata,” we would be able to unveil many secrets and hidden applications in every movement scattering under the forms. The weapon techniques are a necessary component of karate training. Realistically, the system of karate without hidden techniques is quite unpractical and relatively useless.
People carry the image of karate as hard-core martial arts. In Seibukai, we consider that karate contains both aspects of hardness and softness. For instance, San-chin Kata symbolizes "Hardness,” and Ten-sho Kata symbolizes "Softness.” These characteristics support each other to facilitate mutual existence without contradicting their essences. The fundamental philosophy of Seibukai is exactly as such, the mutual existence of hardness and softness, not as contradictory components. In technical theories, this concept is represented by the circular movement in which is not linear movement that creates a conflict. The circle does contain neither beginnings nor endings. In conclusion, I believe that we are aiming the basic philosophy of Seibukai Karate as continuum without conflict in such way that the beginning of hardness is the ending of softness.