- Karate and
- I have
always enjoyed "good" television programs.
- You know
the kind I mean.
- PBS shows,
National Geographic, the History Channel, the kind of
programs that not only inform you, but also make you take
the time to think about what you have just seen.
- Now don't
get me wrong, I like a mindless action flick now and
again just as much as the next person, but when it comes
to wanting to increase my learning curve on a particular
subject that interests me, there is nothing like a good
book, or good television program on the topic at hand to
really set my mind in motion.
- Not long
ago I was watching just such a program, as I recall it
was a National Geographic program entitled, "Living
National Treasures of Japan".
- The program
in essence revolved around a very select group of
individuals to whom the Japanese government had awarded
the title of "Living National Treasure".
Currently only 75 people hold this honour.
- This great
honour had been awarded to these individuals, who are
famous throughout their homeland, in recognition of their
having attained the highest possible level of skill in
their chosen discipline, and for their unselfish
contribution to that particular aspect of Japanese
example, one lady was a Master famous for her dyed cloth.
- One man was
a Master potter, renowned for the beauty of the delicate
objects that came from the fires of his kiln.
- Another man
was a Master of the art of paper making, and his paper
was in tremendous demand by those who practice the art of
calligraphy, and on it went.
- Now I must
say that while I marvelled at the skill of each of the
honourees, as a student of the martial arts I was most
fascinated by the skill of the Master sword maker.
- From raw
material, to a finish sword, the process was truly a
thing of beauty.
- The Master
first took the raw steel and heated it in the fire of his
forge until it glowed red hot. He then withdrew the
heated metal and placed it on an anvil, where it was
rhythmically pounded time, and time again, by his two
assistants until he was satisfied with the result, at
which time the metal was returned to the fire.
- While this
process was shortened for the benefit of the program,
this can in fact go on for hours, even days. Often when
he brought the heated metal from the forge to the anvil,
the master would have his assistants cease their
hammering, at which point he would cleave the metal
almost in half across it's width, and then he would fold
the metal on top of it's self, only to have his
assistants once again resume their relentless hammering.
- It has been
said that the steel in a sword of the highest quality
will have been folded more than one thousand times.
when the sword obtained the size and shape that the
Master had envisioned, he would heat it one final time,
then, when he felt the moment was right, he quickly
withdrew the blade from the forge and immediately plunged
it into cold water. This had the effect of rapidly
cooling the sword into it's final form.
however, was only the first step in a very orderly
process of creation.
- When the
program ended I found myself thinking back to how the
Master had forged the sword. He had such a passion, and
an eye for detail that seemed to allow him to "see"
the finished product long before it materialized in his
- I could not
help but compare this process of hammering, tempering,
and repeated shaping, to the art of karate-do, and the
overall development of a student, from beginner, to black
- The student
is the raw material.
- The Sensei
the fire, and the hammer.
- Over hours,
days, months, and years, the Sensei like the sword Master
hammers away at every little flaw he or she sees, shaping
the student through the standards and techniques of their
individual style, until that day arrives when they can
finally begin see the result of their efforts, in the
emerging form of a Sho Dan.
- Just as
there are many Dan levels in karate, there are also many
levels in the process of creating a finished sword. The
sword Master may make the blade but essentially there his
task ends, and he passes the sword into the hands of
another to work on from there.
- The sword
first goes to the polisher who is himself a Master of
this particular art. He works over the rough surface of
the blade time, and time again, removing every last
visible imperfection until the blade shines like the noon
- In terms of
karate I liken this step to the student being once more
moulded through further training, only to emerge several
years later in the form of a Ni Dan. Better than they
were, yet still not all they can be.
- The next
step in the process sees the sword leave the hands of the
polisher and pass onto the hands of the Master sharpener.
Once more an man dedicated to the perfection of one
singular task takes his place in the process. He will
hone the sword time, and time again, until a perfect
cutting edge is created along the entire length of the
sword. An edge that is capable of cutting through an
amazing amount of material.
- In terms of
karate I liken this step to the student rising to yet
another level, the rank of San Dan. Here their skills are
no longer generated solely by premeditated thought alone,
but instead after more than a decade of training, the
students techniques will by now have become much more
instinctive in nature, as well as extremely well
controlled. A sure sign of progess, but a long way from
- The sword
now makes another journey in it's search for final
perfection, this time being placed in the hands of the
Master engraver. With keen eyes, a skilled touch, and the
patience of a saint, the Master will engrave upon the
polished, and sharpen sword, an image or perhaps some
kanji, worthy of the sword it's self. The engraving may
have been selected in advance by the sword maker, or left
to the discretion of the engraver, or perhaps it was
requested by a specific client for whom the sword was
- In terms of
karate I liken this step to the creation of a Sensei or
teacher. One who has been moulded, sharpened, and
polished, and who is now ready with the consent of their
own Shihan (Master) to open a dojo of their own, while
still remaining under his guidance and association. This
then is a student who has reached the rank of Yon Dan. A
qualified teacher in their own right who still continues
to train on a regular basis, keenly aware of the fact
that the need to continually polish their own skills is a
never ending task.
- At last the
sword is returned to the Master sword maker, who can at
last see in the finished sword, and the image that for so
long was visible only in his minds eye. A true thing of
beauty, begun by the vision of one man, yet truly created
only through the combined efforts of several Masters, all
of whom are "National Living Treasures".
- In terms of
karate I liken this step to the student passing their
final physical grading, and now being awarded the rank of
Go Dan, the highest pre-war rank that Master Gichin
Funakoshi ever awarded. From here on out what the student
learns and what they teach to others, will be a by-product
of the hands and minds that created them.
- For like
the sword, we are all, at any stage in our karate
development, the total sum of all that has been given to
us, and all that we ourselves have put in, by way of
time, effort, energy, and spirit.
- Never judge
anything by it's appearance,
- in truth it
is the content that matters.
- Part the
clouds - see the way.
objective of karate-do is to contribute to the evolution
- of the
human spirit through physical and mental training."