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Funakoshi's Precepts #5

Posted by texperkin on 7 June, 2018 at 1:05 Comments comments (1)

Returning to Funakoshi's 20 precepts....


5: Spirit First, technique second


We have talked about this in the dojo in the guise of ‘attitude’. The correct mind-set is key to karate and if this is right, then good technique will follow. This is not to say that technique is not important of course, but one will lead to the other.


This can be illustrated through the example of kata.


As unbelievable as it, many martial arts schools continue to teach technique as an ending in itself without any acknowledgement that what they are teaching should be effective in whatever context they are teaching. There is definitely a whole other topic here but the outcome of what you are training for must be front-of-mind before you can proceed to do that actual training. For example, if you are training for competition success, you must train specifically for that purpose. This means that you don’t need to be concerned with effective self defence techniques at close range, nor whether the kata you’re practicing is technically perfect. Instead, you will train for things like evoking trained responses and making sure you are scoring points regardless of the following technique.


A technique can be perfectly executed but lack effectiveness if it is not committed or if it is not executed in the correct context. This is seen in kata as it is very easy to think of kata as a dance or just a series of steps to learn, when in fact the mind-set should be that you are training for confrontation. Every technique should have the same intensity as when you are hitting a pad or sparring and ultimately in a self-defence situation. The effectiveness of a technique is greatly increased if you are thinking about what you are trying to accomplish while executing it. What is your intention in sparring? It is to ‘fight’ using an offensive or defensive strategy where appropriate? Is it for self-defence? Basics and kata should be seen in the same light. By thinking of them in these terms, your movements will have purpose and power behind them.


Taking this further we should also understand that at a more basic level, unless you approach your karate practice with the right attitude (i.e. to learn and put in the required effort regardless of external influences and discomfort) then you will never truly be doing karate.


Your technique will ultimately improve provided you train with the correct spirit.

Funakoshi's Precepts #4

Posted by texperkin on 28 February, 2018 at 22:35 Comments comments (0)

Continuing our investigation into Funakoshi's 20 precepts, here's my take on the fourth. Any comments more than welcome!


4: First know yourself before attempting to know others


When engaging in any challenge, it is a really good idea to understand what that challenge actually entails. Not knowing who your enemy is in any context means that you’re going in blind. You would likely not take a driving test without a thorough understanding of the road rules, vehicles in general, the specific car you’re intending to drive in the test, the general area where the test will be conducted and many hours or practice. Similarly, it is unwise to consider engaging in a confrontation with an opponent without doing everything you can to understand how that opponent will react and what motivates them. This includes dojo sparring and karate competition as well as criminal and domestic violence. More importantly, you need to know how you will deal with the opponent or the challenge.


Knowing yourself means knowing how you will react to stress, where your physical limits are and what your own underlying motivations. Without knowing this, it is impossible to control yourself and if you cannot control yourself, how do you expect to be able to control a potential opponent. Another way to translate Funakoshi’s quote might be “first control yourself before attempting to control others”. Know exactly where every part of your body is at all times and be able to put it where it needs to be. Be confident that you know you react to the stresses of physical confrontation by testing these in the dojo. Know how hard you can hit. Know your rights. Know your surroundings and your companions. Only then will you be able to react appropriately when someone means you harm, whether this be by de-escalation, escape or violence.


Further to this, it is possible to know your opponent before you encounter them. In a competition context, others will have faced them before even if you have not and they will be able to tell you about their preferred tactics, weaknesses and strengths. With a high level of control, you may thereby will be prepared with appropriate training and tactics.


In an encounter with a stranger who means you harm, you may not know them individually but you can know what you’re up against. Studying the way attackers act, the different threat levels and escalation points, the way criminals act in concert, potential weapons that might be brought to bear and crime and violence statistic arms us with most likely scenarios which we can train for. Violent crime isn’t what television and Hollywood portray and we need to train for what actually happens. There are a lot of myths around violence and we need pragmatism and common sense in our training.


As Sun Tzu says in The Art of War:

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Funakoshi's Precepts #3

Posted by texperkin on 4 February, 2018 at 23:05 Comments comments (0)

Continuing our investigation into Funakoshi's 20 precepts, here's my take on the third. Any comments more than welcome!


3: Karate is an aide to justice


If you contextualise Funakoshi’s 20 precepts, you’ll realise that he laid them down at a time and place where society as he knew it was crossing over from the Feudal system to that of modern, European-style Japan. The Meiji Restoration of the late 19th century brought about many changes and a profound, if not obvious one was the introduction of the Police Bureau in 1874. Funakoshi (1868-1957) was too young to have seen the actual immediate effects of this event however changes would have been ongoing throughout his life. Therefore, I it is likely that this precept refers to the need of the civilian to step directly into the fray in the aid of justice, especially in support of the nascent official Government response.


In latter times, this kind of response would be and continues to be frowned upon as in Japan and most other modern countries the police service is well trained and resourced. The karateka, no matter how well intentioned can actually be counterproductive in their efforts and suffer the physical harm or prosecution in their pursuit of justice.


Nevertheless, the intention of the instruction remains. Karate training is an aide to justice. By immersing yourself in Karate completely, you will be more able stand up against adversity in the modern world to make it a better place. As good citizens we must always be vigilant in defence of the weak, stalwart in the face of oppression and, to put it bluntly stand up to bullies. Your training must be used for the good of society and to protect those that need it – never to further your own interests.


This is effectively illuminated in conjunction with Kano Sensei’s three levels. Jigoro Kano (1860-1938) was the founder of modern Judo and he and Funakoshi shared a mutual respect. Further his three levels of Judo can be extended to all martial arts, including Karate. Kano Sensei said:


- The objective of the lower of level of Judo is to practice methods of attack and defense.

- Intermediate level (of Judo) is the improvement of the spirit by using every opportunity to practice. By being considerate of things such as observing others' practice patterns, forging the body and spirit through various techniques, and nurturing my own courage, one could say that it is if I am able to control my own body, spirit, and feelings.

- Concerning higher level Judo, using the energy of body and spirit acquired through lower level Judo most effectively, one can say that the world benefits.


Put another way, the higher level martial artist seeks to benefit society through study of the physical and thereby improvement of the character. Through hard and persistent training, Karate can be an aide to justice in society.

Funakoshi's Precepts #2

Posted by texperkin on 30 January, 2018 at 22:40 Comments comments (0)

It's been a couple of weeks so I'm getting back to Funakoshi's 20 precepts. Here is my take on the second one.


2: There is no first attack in karate (Karate ni sente nashi)


While not actually original to Funakoshi, this is perhaps the most controversial of his 20 precepts and is, perhaps not surprisingly, the most famous. I believe it is also the most misunderstood. This misunderstanding revolves around whether the instruction is moral or tactical.


A superficial understanding here would seem to indicate that karate practitioners should all aspire to be pacifists. That under no circumstances should a karateka permit themselves to strike first. This gives potential assailants an obvious advantage and is particularly relevant today where there are many notable examples of assailants getting only one strike on an unsuspecting victim which renders the victim seriously injured or even dead. One punch can kill! Therefore, under scrutiny, this ‘tactical’ way of thinking about this precept is flawed. Why would we, as people who spend their time learning how to ward off an attacker, intentionally give the advantage to that attacker?


This apparent paradox evaporates in light of the fact that this is a moral instruction rather than a tactical one. To put the precept another way: A good karateka should never be the cause of violence.


Training in karate has obvious physical benefits but its social benefits are also there. It was on this basis that Funakoshi managed to promote karate into the Japanese school system. It is true that we should never promote violence and that we should not instigate an attack but this is not to say that we should allow an attacker the first hit either. In any situation we must always avoid violence where we are able however if this proves impossible, always take the initiative. Get in, neutralise the threat and get out. This is of course the very last stage and you will have tried to avoid danger, be aware of developing situations and if one does arise, de-escalate or escape. However there is a tipping point at which an attack is inevitable. In this case you MUST strike hard, fast and first.


Knowing when this point is can often be obscure and good training can definitely help. Scenario-based training is a great idea as is research-based knowledge of the stages of violence. This is a bit beyond the scope of what I wanted to cover here but make sure you are getting the instruction you need.


One final side point - you need to make yourself aware of the legal situation in your jurisdiction. Each state or country is different so there are differences and don’t just rely on rumour or hearsay.


Nevertheless, the point remains that a good karateka should never be the cause of violence.

Funakoshi's Precepts #1

Posted by texperkin on 15 January, 2018 at 1:35 Comments comments (0)

Gichin Funakoshi is often referenced as the father of modern karate since he was the main force that drove karate into the Japanese school system and was the founder of Shotokan, one of the 4 main styles of karate. As I write that there are a number of points we could investigate there and I'm happy to discuss however one of the great things Funakoshi did was write prolifically. Amongst these writings, Funakoshi laid down 20 precepts for karate and it is these that I would like to explore.


1: Karate begins and ends with courtesy


I have seen the original translated as 'bow' rather than 'courtesy' but I think the intention is that you need to be courteous. This is the first precept for a very important reason as it should underpin all of your training.


In most dojo, students and teachers alike bow as they enter and exit. This continues through solo training, with a partner in drills, in sparring and grappling and even (especially!) in pressure testing and reality-based training. The reason should be obvious in this context however to be clear, training courtesy and respect for yourself and your fellow karateka helps ensure relevant, safe, and effective progression. We need to be able to trust each other and that we each have the ultimate well-being and improvement of the others in mind with everything we do. Seniors need to be patient and forthcoming rather than looking to ‘win’ and newer students need to be mindful and attentive in order to be able to assimilate knowledge and to progress. Similarly, trying to ‘score a point’ on a senior student won’t do anyone any good.


Following on from this, being attentive to others’ limitations, well-being and physical and mental state helps keep everyone safe. Surely the reason we train is to keep mind and body together, running smoothly and injury free. Yes, this is true if we’re ever in danger outside the dojo but what irony to be injured inside the dojo in the pursuit of safety.


Finally, Funakoshi often extended karate outside the dojo. In fact his eighth precept can be translated as “Do not think that karate training is only in the dojo.” Taking these two precepts together, I would contend that Funakoshi would say that in order to be a true karateka, you must use courtesy in every single aspect of your life. Not only is courtesy a better way to diffuse a potentially violent situation when confronted by a thug looking to ruin your day than mirroring his anger and discourtesy but being courteous is not a bad idea in business, family life and any other relationship.


Therefore, when training (and when not) it really is necessary to give your own and your partner 100% of your focus, showing yourself and others respect and courtesy.

Original Traditional Karate

Posted by texperkin on 5 January, 2018 at 1:30 Comments comments (0)

What does 'traditional mean'? Cheyne made the point in the original Facebook post that we teach "ORIGINAL traditional karate" as opposed to what most refer to as "traditional karate."


The basic difference is that what many still believe is traditional karate was an innovation in the early 20th century. It was the vision of Anko Itosu first and then his student Gichin Funakoshi to expand and protect the legacy of karate by bringing it into the PE curriculum of the school system, first in Okinawa and then in Japan itself. The focus was more on things like producing good, strong citizens and less on the brutal self-defence aspect. Quite sensible really since teaching children to punch in the throat isn't responsible behaviour.


To a large extent, this was the 'traditional' karate that was propagated throughout the world which is where we get the military, count-by-(Japanese)-numbers karate. Practitioners can spend many hours punching and kicking with no resistance and no time at all falling, locking, breaking or wrestling. There is also a well-documented tendency not to ask questions and never to deviate from the teachings of senior grades.


This is very good for developing a disciplined, physically fit person but arguably not as good for developing someone capable of defending themselves.


'Original' karate goes back to the art practiced by those prior with the very pragmatic primary objective of self defence.