Both sides of the coin
It is an undeniable fact that in life there are two sides to everything.
Take the Canadian penny for example.
On one side of the coin we have a picture of her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her name, and a Latin inscription printed around the inside edge to the coin. Now if we turn the penny over and look on the other side of the coin we will see that there are five individual items - can you name them? No cheating now - after all you are a martial artist - so just sit where you are and think about this for a moment. You have seen hundreds if not thousands of pennies in your lifetime so how hard can this be.
What five things - and yes there are only five - are on the obverse side of a Canadian penny.
How well did you do?
Two out of five - one out of five - five out of five?
How long did you last before you went and found a penny and checked for yourself or asked someone else for the answer?
As I said a moment ago, there are two sides to everything in life. There are two sides to every argument, two different points of view if you will, and even if you feel that you have a justified defence for your side of the argument I am sorry to be the one to tell you, but that does not necessarily make you right. But not to worry you are not alone, history is full of examples of people who defended a position that they thought was right, only to find out in the end that they were utterly wrong.
In the end being right or being wrong has nothing to do with the point I am trying to make, which is simply, that there are two sides to everything and if you want to "see" things as they really are then you really do need to try and see both points of view.
So what does this have to do with karate you ask yourself.
Well just as in life, in karate we also find that there are two sides to every position. One defensive and one offensive. The perfect example of this in Shotokan karate is kata. Kata has been defined as many things, "a series of defensive and offensive movements against a number of imagined opponents", "a battle against ones self", "a path to inner peace through physical meditation" - and so on, and so on. Yet no matter how you might personally define kata there is one inescapable fact, there are two sides to every kata, and if you ever truly hope to say you "know" a kata then like the penny you must first know both sides of the coin.
So with that thought in mind let's take a closer look at how most students go about practicing their katas.
Without a doubt the most common way of training kata is for the student to stand on a particular spot on the dojo floor and then go through all of the kata's movements in their proper pre-determined order, and then look down at the floor to see if they "got home".
Once is not enough of course, and so they will do this over and over again until finally they begin to feel that they have a clear understanding of the kata and all its intricate movements.
But I ask you, what about the other side of the coin.
What about looking at the kata from the attackers perspective? You remember the attacker don't you, the "unseen" opponent that you have defeated time and time again as you moved through the kata on your way "home". Well what about what the attacker wants. For one thing they certainly don't want you to be victorious when it is all said and done, no sir, if they had their way you would have been defeated very early on in the kata, at least by move six. You do see their side of the argument don't you, after all their task as the attacker is to make sure that you don't get through your kata unscathed, instead of finishing "on your spot" the "unseen" attacker really wants you to walk off the dojo floor thinking to yourself - "boy did I screw up - oh well you can't win them all - better luck next time".
Chalk up another "win" for the attacker.
So just how do we go about looking at a kata from the attackers point of view.
Well as in any two sided discussion the only way to really see things from the other persons point of view is to put yourself in their place, to take their side, and when it is all said and done to see if you still think you are right. So it is with any kata.
To understand the defenders position you must also make a point of trying to see the kata through the attackers eyes, and to do so you must now put yourself in the attackers place. You can do this with or without a partner, either way all that matters is that you attack or defend at the appropriate time and place, while always viewing the kata from the attackers perspective. Do this, and do it regularly, and you will find that training your katas from the defenders point of view will begin take on a whole new meaning, who knows, over time you may find that like the penny you now have two sides that can been clearly seen and understood.
In the end the object of any kata is to try and "see" from all points of view, to defend and attack, when and where necessary, to try and eliminate the small lapses in concentration, to reduce unnecessary movements, in the end kata is about learning more about yourself, and as in life growing from the experience.
As for the penny, on the reverse side you will find : a maple leaf, the date, the value, the word "Canada" and on the right hand side in small type the mark of the mint that made the coin.
See, that wasn't so hard.
Now - what is on the obverse side of a 1948 Canadian silver dollar?
Observation is a pre-requisit to success.
Part the clouds - see the way.
"The objective of karate-do is to contribute to the evolution
of the human spirit through physical and mental training."
Sensei Peter Lindsay