Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Training at Karate as a Martial Art

Chibana Chosin (1885-1969) was a true Okinawan karate master. Sadly, "karate master" is now such a trite phrase that it can never fully carry the same impact in a reader's mind that it should. Widely respected across Okinawa for his martial skills, he was considered among the last (some say the last) of the "old Okinawan masters" generation. I bring him up because I always have his quote pasted somewhere on my site, which goes as follows:

"In the old days we trained at karate as a martial art, but now they train at karate as a gymnastic sport. I think we must avoid treating karate as a sport - it must be a martial art at all times!"
His words still remain true to this day. They also highlight first and foremost the traditional goal of karate: fighting. That means not sport, or even a specific vehicle for character development(for more on this subject, see my article here). Lest there be any doubt, the quote continues:

"Your fingers and the tips of your toes must be like arrows, your arms must be like iron. You have to think that if you kick, you try to kick the enemy dead. If you punch, you must thrust to kill. If you strike, then you strike to kill the enemy. This is the spirit you need in training."
But what does it mean? What does it mean for it to be a martial art? The answer is simple enough. Don't let the "art" at the end fool you. It is a study of that which is oriented towards bettering one's ability in combat. Yet many people fall short of Chibana's ideal, even though they practice styles or methods of training that still retain a central focus on practical combat. And here is why: "training at karate as a martial art" is a much deeper phrase than an initial read might suggest. However you choose to cut it, karate is a combative skill. And when it comes to skills, as one of my coaches back in high school always used to say, "You're either getting better or getting worse. There is no staying the same." Doug Perry, the North American Director for the Shorin Ryu Shorinkan, has many, many sayings. One of them is "there's no substitute for training". He certainly wasn't the first to say this and definitely will not be the last. Put these two sayings together and you can only come to one conclusion: The only way to keep from getting worse is getting better through continual training.

Believe it or not, I did not just engage in some meaningless tangent to the discussion at hand, nor am I about to do so now.

Many martial artists have stated their reasons for studying the martial arts: social atmosphere, exercise, health, self-defense, tradition, discipline, character development, looking cool, etc. Realistically, it is a mixture of some or all of those aspects. Underlying most of these reasons is another: "because it is fun". However, there are many people for whom enjoyment (for any number of reasons as stated above) is a deciding factor for when and how they train. Even if a person states above all else their purpose is to become a better fighter, they may often "not have their heart (or head) in it today" or "just don't feel like it". In these cases, they usually do not train and prefer to do something else. In other cases, people's lives are very busy and there is not that much time to train, or if there is, they would much rather spend it doing something else. To put it in economic terms, they do not gain much utility out of training and therefore perform some other act that gives them utility.

Bear with me, I am almost there.

What kind of person "gains utility" from training no matter what their mood? A warrior. One warrior, Gurney Halleck from the novel Dune, admonishes the main character Paul Atreides with these words after the latter states he is not in the mood for training: "Mood's a thing for cattle or making love or playing the baliset. It's not for fighting." Chibana Chosin was a real-life warrior. He was known for doing things such as never entering a room before scanning it for potential enemies, even in his own home. If he had such intensity outside of his training, how much more he must have had during it!

Herein lies the difference between those who train for fun and those who train for skills. Too many people focus on how much fun they get out of training while they do it instead of how much they value the combative skill acquired. Don't get me wrong, having fun during training is acceptable and certainly helps the effort required for continuous training over multiple decades. I certainly do and recommend it. Yet whenever you feel yourself not in the mood to train, remember what it is you are training for: fighting skills. This is more than simply having "discipline", although it has much to do with it. It is continually making the decision to either be someone who practices karate or a warrior who trains at karate as a martial art.


1 comment:

Joe Stitz said...

"Too early in the morning? Get up and train.
Cold and wet outside? Go train.
Tired? Weary of the whole journey and longing just for a moment to stop and rest? Train."

From an essay on Shugyo in "Sword and Brush"
by Dave Lowry