- DO YOU SEE
WHAT YOU SEE
- The camp
- It was August.
- More than a hundred
karateka from across Canada and the United States had
once again gathered at the University of Victoria in
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. We had all come
together this weekend for only one reason, to again train
with and learn from a martial arts legend.
Richard Kim, 10th Dan, Hanshi, of the Zen Bei Butoku-kai,
entered the gymnasium and acknowledged with a bow the
single sound that resounded from the entire assembly
coming to attention. He walked slowly to the center of
the room, checked the time on his watch and nodded ever
so slightly. In an instant the sound of running feet
echoed loudly from all four corners of the room, feet
driven with purpose in response to the call, LINE
- Descending with military
precision in rank order we knelt one by one until finally
everyone sat in seiza. The command Mokusoh from the most senior student
present immediately plunged our individual worlds into
utter darkness as we sought to clear our mind in
preparation for the training that lay ahead, a daunting
task for many I am sure given the adrenaline that flowed
throughout the room. Yame followed all to soon, we rose by
rank and then at the command we bowed as one, only to
immediately be flung apart in organized chaos at the cry,
- Class had begun.
- Following a vigorous warm
Sensei Kim called
us all to the front of the room where we soon found
ourselves seated on the floor in a wide semi-circle
looking up into the face of history. As if in answer to
our questioning gaze Sensei Kim asked,
you see what you see?"
- It is a question that I
still strive to answer in all aspects of my karate and my
WHAT IT IS AND WHAT IT ISN'T
- Who can
- The answer is anyone.
- Male or female, young or
old, it makes no difference, anyone can play. The
techniques that are taught are the same for everyone,
there is not a womens way, a mans way,
or a child's way. Karate-do is simply karate-do. What
makes this possible is that in truth power is not the
secret to good karate, proper spirit is the secret to
- In fact each day through
out the world as literally millions of different people
enter a dojo to practice karate, you will often find
amongst those millions of students a large number of
individuals who have some form of a handicap, either
mental or physical. While their specific handicap may in
some ways limit the student's ability to perform all of
the techniques and movements that are required of an able
bodied student, their personal handicap should in no way
limit their right to study and train karate-do. In fact
if you are a sensei
and you have a student who fits into this catagory,
consider yourself very fortunate, for they will not only
test your ability to teach, but in the process they will
teach you more about yourself as a person, and as a
teacher, than you can possibly imagine.
- All that is needed to study
karate-do, is the willingness to train very hard for an
indeterminable number of years, in an art form that you
will soon come to realize you will never truly master.
Karate-do you see is a life long journey, and on this
journey you alone must decide if you have what it takes,
to become what you want to be. You will find, however,
that answering that question is a lot easier than proving
it, even if just to yourself.
- In any dojo the day you
enter the class as a new student, your personal wealth,
your perceived social status, or even your handicap if
you happen to have one, will carry no weight. You will be
given a white belt and you will be sent to the end of the
line. I tell you right now that accepting your new status
is the first true step in your karate training. The
second step, is to remember that there is no such thing
as an end to the karate road, there is only another
corner to be turned, and another hill to be climbed.
- But look on the bright
side, by starting at the bottom you have no where to go
- Why play
- Like any other endeavour
the answer is, why not.
- If karate interests you in
the slightest way, then you owe it to yourself to test
the strength and depth of your interest. Your commitment
to the art of karate-do will in the end, be measured by
your willingness carry out a regular training schedule
over the coming years despite the many outside influences
and pressures of your everyday life. If you stay in
karate long enough to do more than just scratch the
surface, you will find that karate-do will change your
- Karate, however, is like an
iceberg floating upon the ocean, with less than 10% of
it's bulk visible on the surface and the remaining 90%
hidden beneath the water. To be advance in karate you
must constantly endevour to find what you can not see, by
looking for it where you can not see it, within yourself.
But trust me the search is worth the effort, for it is
during this prolonged period of training that you may
come to find your true self, and in the process you may
even discover you are not the person you always thought
yourself to be.
- If you have an open mind,
and if you can accept the fact early on in your karate
training you are entering into a world where what you
think you know is far less important than how willing you
are to learn what you do not know, then your progress
will be assured, and a world will open up to you the
likes of which you could never have imagined.
- Should you "play"
- When to
- There is no "right
time" to start karate. The trick is to simply to
- It may interest you to know
that the oldest student I have every trained with started
when he was 65 years old. Frank joined because his
grandson who was 11 at the time wanted to try karate, but
Frank's grandson didn't know anyone at our dojo, and so
he was reluctant to join. So Frank did an amazing thing.
He told is grandson he would join with him.
- Now in addition to being 65
years old it would be very kind to say that Frank was
only slightly overweight, in fact I figured that Frank
was at least 60 pounds overweight for his age, and his
grandson was also very large for an 11 year old, but
never the less they both signed up. As the months went by
they both trained three days a week, their health
improved, their weight changed, and they steadily moved
up the kyu ranks together. Then one day another
interesting thing happened. Frank's grandson decided that
karate simply required far to much effort and he told
Frank that he was quitting, and he did.
- By this time, however,
Frank had been training for more than a year and he
really looked forward to the days he trained, so he
stayed on, continuing to come to class as often as he
could. Over the next few years Frank not only became a
"regular" in the dojo but he also became a real
role model for all of the other students, young and old
alike. I am proud to say that Frank made it all the way
to green belt before his health and age finally caught up
with him and he was reluctantly forced to stop training.
- Frank passed away a few
- I miss Frank, and I think
about him often, he was an great inspiration to me and to
- In Frank the "spirit"
of karate-do truly lived.
- Frank to me will amongst
other things, always remain proof that anytime is the
right time to start karate.
- Six words above all others
reflect the true meaning of Shotokan Karate.
- "Karate begins and
ends with courtesy".
Funakoshi sensei in addition to being the Father of
Shotokan karate" was a man of great humility. Today
the beliefs he held so dear are reflected in the
principles taught as the mainstay of Shotokan Karate-do.
Upon entering the dojo for the first time a students
first lesson will be the proper way to bow. This must be
done with a "true heart" for the bow is meant
as a sign of deep respect to the dojo and all that it
- All karate
dojos regardless of their style will have a shrine at the
front of the dojo. Often this shrine will include a
likeness of the Founder of that particular style, or
perhaps some of the past Masters who have had a profound
influence on the dojo, or it's Sensei (teacher). At the
appropriate time the most senior student present at the
start of each class will call line up at
which time the class will assemble by rank and then kneel
one by one in rank order until everyone is finally seated
in seiza. At this time the most formal ritual of respect
will begin. The first bow (rei) will be to the Shomen,
this is in gratitude for the teachings that the Founder
and past Master's fostered and the knowledge that they
passed on to all those who came after them. The next bow
will be to the sensei because without the sensei there
would be no dojo, and no one to teach the students of
today. The last bow is from the Sensei to the students, because without the assembled
students there would be no one for the sensei to pass his knowledge on to.
- Karate-do above all else is
all about courtesy and respect, for the past, as well as
for the future.
- In karate-do, as in life,
treating others with courtesy is not an option, it is an
- As in life, your personal
goals will be the map by which you travel down the karate
- In karate you can best
measure your success by establishing a series of short
term goals. While it is admirable to have long term goals
these may be far reaching, and only achievable after many
years of sacrifice and hard work. Starting out by setting
small obtainable goals will make your journey down
karate's road that much easier.
- It is very important that
each karate student have a clear understanding of what it
takes to reach their desired goal. Time away from family
and friends, effort and energy, plus proper repetitive
training in a high energy environment, all are required
if the desired skill level and your goals are ever to be
- Each journey in life begins
with a first step. For the would be karate student this
usually comes when they find that they have an interest
in studying karate, and then take the time, and make the
effort, to search for a reputable dojo. During your
interview with the "Sensei" or teacher you may be asked what it is
that you hope to achieve from training karate. The answer
to this question will of course vary from person to
person, for we are all drawn to the endeavours that
interest us for a wide variety of reasons, and karate is
- For some it is physical
fitness, for others self defence, and still for others,
it might be the desire to obtain a new level of self
confidence,which they have so far been unable to find in
other aspects of their life. No matter what the reason,
karate is a journey that can last you a lifetime, and
your personal success will be greatly enhanced if you
make it a habit early on in your martial arts career to
set both realistic short term, and long term goals.
- After al,l if you never set
goals, how can you know if you are where you are suppose
to be at any given time.
- The system
- The belt levels, or kyu's, are the
visible system by which a karate student can identify
their specific place at any given time within their dojo
society. The colour of the belts and the order in which
they are awarded may vary from style to style, but in
most Shotokan dojos today the kyu ranks go from the
lowest to the highest as follows: 10th kyu - white belt,
9th kyu - yellow belt, 8th kyu - orange belt, 7th kyu -
red belt, 6th kyu - green belt, 5th kyu - violet belt, 4th
kyu - blue belt, after which there are then three
individual levels of brown belt, 3rd kyu, 2nd kyu and 1st
kyu. Once a student has achieved their last brown belt,
or 1st kyu, they will in all likelihood have
been training karate for about 3 to 4 years, at which
time in many dojos they can normally expect to grade for
their first level of black belt, or Sho Dan, within the
- The actual time from white
belt to black belt will of course vary from individual to
individual, but as a rule it should as I have said, take
the average person approximately four years, provided
they train at least three days a week, two hours a day
with the appropriate attitude, effort, and spirit, and in
a dojo that offers proper technical supervision by a
(teacher). Any less and you simply won't make the grade
because karate is not a team sport. The rank you achieve
you may achieve in the company of others, but it will be,
and must be, strictly awarded as a direct result of your
own personal effort.
- Today we live in a fast
paced world, fast food, fast cars, cell phones, email,
and many other systems by which the things we want we can
quickly obtain. Karate fortunately is not a fast process,
yet many students still feel that they have to grade as
often as possible or they will be "left behind". This
is not true. Sometimes, yes, students who started at the
same time as you will grade more quickly and move ahead
of you in rank, perhaps only to find that they themselves
then stall at that higher level, only to find that they
in turn are overtaken by you as your own skills develop.
Like cars passing each other on the freeway there is no
one true leader for very long.
- The fact is that the ebb
and flow of your karate training will be filled with many
highs and lows, peaks and valleys. When you are on top
you will think there is nothing you can not accomplish.
When you are in a deep valley you will come to believe
that no amount of effort will ever get you ahead of where
you are now. You will sometimes feel like you have
reached the end of the road, and you may even consider
quitting karate altogether. This feeling I assure you
will pass in due course if you just remember to focus on
your goals and to keep going no matter what comes your
way, but whatever you do, don't try and "cheat"
the system. Even if the opportunity is given to you,
don't jump ahead in rank just because someone is willing
to give you an "easy ride" up the hill,
especially when you know in your heart that your
knowledge, and your techniques, are simply not up to par
with your fellow students who have truly earned the rank
that you seek.
- If you do, I guarantee you
that in the end, you will only be cheating yourself, so
take your time, and go at your own pace.
- Time frame
- There is no time like the
- This is always true. Any
student studying the art of karate-do would do well to
- "Now" is the time
to practice your kata, "now" is the time to do
a hundred reverse punches per side. Now is
always the time to do whatever needs doing in your life.
- Regardless of your present
age or physical conditioning if you have the desire to
learn, the time to start is now. Yesterday is gone, let
it go. Tomorrow does not exist, and for many of us
unknowingly, it may never come. So there is only "now".
Do not ever let your now go by unutilized, or
unmaximized, for it will never come again. Perhaps you
think you can turn back your clock, but "true time"
never can be repeated.
- Despite the fact that our
time is ultimately finite, every student must be very
careful not to rush through his or her training,
otherwise it would be like driving a hundred miles, at
two hundred miles an hour, you never truly see the
scenery, you never truly know what has passed you by, and
you never truly know where you have been. So remember,
poor training habits will in the end leave you with cheap
techniques, and a false sense of where you really are,
and what you are capable of, never fall into the trap of
trying to "keep up" with your fellow students.
Grading to quickly, or being promoted just because your
friends are, can be in the end be an ill gotten gain.
Students who fail to train with the proper attitude, and
with a strong level of personal dedication, will often
find this to be the case if they are honest with
- Time is the great equalizer.
the end the time it takes to reach the rank of Sho Dan
will differ for each individual student. The important
thing for you to remember is that it is the journey that
matters, not time it takes to make the journey. After all
karate-do is meant to be practiced for a lifetime, and I
assure you that the faster you try and go, the more you
are likely to miss the things that really matter, and in
doing so you will never truly understand what karate-do
is really all about.
- As with your journey
through life, your journey down the karate-do road is one
to be savoured, so take your time.
- What rank are you?
- This is a question that has
been asked of every sensei more than once in their career.
In North America people seem to have a fascination with
big numbers. As a result often the public is left with
the false impression that the higher the numer in front
of the rank the greater the teacher must be, this,
however, is unfortunately often far from the truth.
- A karate instructor should
never be selected solely on the basis of a number.
- So what does rank really
mean, and how is it obtained.
- To me, "rank is
awarded as a reflection of proven personal achievement,
that has been verified by the Chief Instructor of a
recognized karate association, or any other person
granted the authority by the Chief Instructor to make
such an award". This rank is then a visible public
confirmation of an individual students current level of
progress, as justified by their efforts and skill to date.
- You are in essence, only
equal to what you physically, technically, spiritually,
and mentally put into your karate training, no more, no
- Rank does not change a
students ability. I guarantee that if you were made a 10th
Dan tomorrow it would not make your kata or your
techniques one bit better than they are at this very
moment in time. In fact the complete opposite would
probably start to happen, the rank would go to your head,
you would begin to feel that there is nothing left to
learn, you would start to think that you are now
qualified to teach, and you would probably quit training
with the same level of intensity, and before you know it
you would be going backwards, and in most cases without
even knowing it. What a shame that would be, and all
becasue you thought you were better than you really were.
Funakoshi sensei, the "Father of Shotokan karate"
never awarded a rank higher than 5th Dan in
his lifetime. He always considered this rank the ultimate
pinnacle of success, and many of his most senior students
despite a lifetime of training never accepted a higher
rank. In fact prior to the end of World War II and
despite the number of students he had it is said that
Gichin Funakoshi sensei only awarded the rank of 5th
Dan, twelve times during his life. So you see in reality,
numbers are not where its at. Any karate
instructor, regardless of style, is only as good as the
knowledge and skills they possess, and true knowledge
takes decades to acquire. So when looking for a dojo and
a qualified sensei look very closely.
- There is a saying: "when
the student needs a teacher one will appear".
- In the beginning above all
else, the original purpose of karate was the self-preservation
of the practitioner.
- Even today when you
practice karate it is not enough just to "go through
the motions" to train in this manner would not only
be very disrespectful, but it would also be a complete
waste of time, and diminish the art to nothing more than
a poor form of dance. It is, therefore, imperative that
if you wish to be able to appreciate all that the art of
karate-do has to offer you must first begin by taking the
time necessary to develop good basic techniques.
- Technique begins by first
creating in your mind a mental image of what it is you
are attempting to accomplish and then first going very
slowly through the proper motions, time and time again.
Over time as your skill level develops you will be able
to train with greater speed and power, but to do this
with any degree of skill will take you many years, and
you should not become frustrated if at first your
progress seems slow. Nothing of value is ever created in
- At the start of your
training you will begin by learning how to make a proper
fist, and then by learning how to punch. This is not a
easy as it sounds. To learn to punch effectively and
accurately you must always evaluate your technique each
time you perform it, do not wait for your sensei or a
sempai to spot obvious errors in your technique and come
over and correct you. The real question is if they can
see it, why can't you feel it. Also learn to be aware of
your posture, and when required adjust your actions until
proper balance is achieved. It is said that for every one
hundred punches an experienced karate student practices,
only one will truly be perfect.
- To aid in this process it
is not uncommon for students in the dojo to practice in
front of a mirror where they can see their form and
correct the accuracy of their techniques. It should be
recognized, however, that while the image that is
reflected back may show good technique, in order for the
practice to be complete, the mirror should also reflect
the proper spirit. You must from the outset learn to
appreciate the fact that body mechanics themselves play
only a small part in the overall picture. While it is
true that punches, kicks and blocks are fundamental to
the art of karate, and that they can be practice and
honed to a very high level, without learning to
appreciate the value of the mental side of the equation
you will always only have half a technique.
- Remember, listen to your sensei, practice with a true heart, and
in the long term your efforts will be rewarded.
- In Shotokan
karate the first rule of self defence is:
- "Karate ni sente nashi
In karate there is no first attack.
- Times have changed. Today
the purpose of karate is no longer first and foremost
about self preservation. Yes the world can be a dangerous
place, but we no longer face the prospect of hand to hand
combat and personal challenges on a daily basis. Today
if you asked the average karate student why they signed
up to study a particular style, the answers you will get
are as varied as the people themselves.
- For some it is a matter of
getting physically fit, for others it is the desire to
strengthen or build their self confidence, while at the
same time learning self discipline, and respect. Still
for others it is as simple as it has always
interested me so I thought I would give it a try.
Very few students it seems express self defence as their
number one reason for joining a dojo, that reason may be
there, but seldom is it at the top of the list.
- Regardless of what brought
you to karate, the basics you will learn center around
age old techniques, that when properly executed by a
skilled practitioner have the ability to quickly subdue,
or in some applications even kill an opponent. For this
reason the mental attitude of a karate practitioner is of
the utmost importance. It has been said that a sensei
should always make an effort to establish a student's
true character and their real reason for wanting to study
karate before any student is accepted into the dojo,
since they will be taught skills that could one day be
used against an innocent, and unskilled person.
- So take your training
seriously, this stuff can be very real when it has to be.
In addition to learning to control your hands and your
feet don't forget to train your mind, and to make every
effort to adopt a proper attitude. If you learn to have a
positive attitude about yourself, and if you make a point
of looking for the best in others, both inside and
outside of the dojo, chances are your skills will never
be put to the test.
- If you look for the best in
others, you can't help but also find the best in yourself.
- In karate the truest test
of a students skill is measured by the performance of
- My definition of kata is as
- " A kata is a series
of pre-determined defensive and offensive movements and
techniques that have been handed down from past masters
as a means of helping a student to understand, and cope
with, their personal physical limitations, while at the
same time teaching the student to develop a strong
spirit, and a peaceful mind, through the art of karate-do."
- Most Shotokan katas
practiced today are very old and have been handed down
from teacher to student for generations without any
significant changes to any of the required movements and
techniques. Each move in any kata must always be
performed with a specific purpose in mind, this should
never be forgotten. For without the proper mind set the
movements themselves will have no value, and a waste of
time. No movement or technique is frivolous, each has a
specific reason that is not always evident, thus forcing
each student to look deeply for the true meaning hidden
within each kata.
- Visualization is paramount
to giving life to the kata.
- The hardest part of any
kata is the unseen part, this is the mental side of the
kata. Practicing the required techniques with a partner
is easy, practicing alone and truly visualizing an
opponent, or a purpose for each movement is something
else entirely. With each step, with each movement, your
mental concentration must be total and complete, or your
kata will suffer for all to see. To watch a student rush
through a kata without experiencing it's true depth is a
sorry sight indeed. This type of training is to be
avoided at all costs.
- Shotokan karate takes most
of its katas from early Okinawan forms brought to
Japan by Gichin Funakoshi sensei. These katas must be learnt by
each student during their journey, and the rank of each
student can be seen reflected in the complexity of the
techniques and the kata they are currently being taught.
A students goal should be to not only learn the specific
pattern and movements of a kata, but to also try and
reflect on the deeper meaning that exists in each
technique and movement, to seek within each kata those
hidden techniques not visible at the first, or the
hundredth glance. Only after many, many years of diligent
practice and concentration will the karateka begin to see
the kata as it was meant to be seen, and only then will
they be able to present the kata as it was meant to be
- To do this with a "clear
mind" is to truly see into the mind of the katas
- The end of
- In this article I have
tried to answer the question, "karate-do, what it is
and what it isn't".
- In trying to do so I have
brought you to the end of the begining, where you go from
here is totally up to you.
- Should you try karate for
the first time, should you continue karate if you are in
a valley and thinking of quitting, should you put your
name on the next grading and go for it, only you can
truly answer these questions.
- What I have tried to do
here is to get you to ask yourself, why not.
- You alone
know what is best for you,
else is just guessing.
- Part the clouds - see the
objective of karate-do is to contribute to the evolution
- of the
human spirit through physical and mental training."