Karate Essence: In the Beginning
In the Beginning
‘Blackbelt (Shodan) is only the beginning!’ This won’t be the first time you have seen or heard this statement. I know that I have said and written this many times myself. To the complete beginner karateka – in their first few months of training – this is a very daunting statement; because their focus, and the goals they begin to set, include the mammoth task of getting past the baby steps of the first basic moves without falling over or doing themselves an injury.
Table of Contents
· How can a Blackbelt be just the beginning?
· Concepts that will help you manage and capitalise on your basic skills.
· A Path to self-enlightenment.
· Shodan, a change in perspective.
· ‘Karate Essence,’ a guiding light.
· ‘The Mountain Path.’
So as they, the complete beginners, look around at their club or school Blackbelt instructors and see the performance of basics that they themselves are having so much trouble mastering they must think, ‘How can a Blackbelt be just the beginning?’
In the beginning, and indeed throughout your martial arts journey, there are graduations of difficulty, depending on many things, such as age, personal natural coordination or the lack thereof, and physical condition et cetera. However, that is not what I am talking about here.
As you learn, train and begin to perfect the basic techniques of your art, you should also have been introduced to concepts that will help you manage and capitalise on your burgeoning martial capacities if, and when, you should ever find yourself in that adverse situation that you train to be ready for, whilst hoping that it will never arise.
As a Shodan – regardless of which art or style – you should have your head around several concepts that will help you manage potentially adverse situations, should they occur.
· Zanshin: being still within, while aware of one's surroundings and totally prepared, for anything. Zanshin is a state of totally calm alertness; a physical, mental and spiritual state of awareness, primarily before, during and after combat; however, Zanshin is a state of mind that one should strive to eventually ‘live in.’
· Kime: for the martial arts fraternity, Shotokan Karateka in particular, Kime is an internal function that can be observably demonstrated during the practice of kihon, kata and kumite. Without Kime, any technique in any art – a boxing punch, Jujutsu throw, Muay Thai elbow, Iaido cut, or any of the precision strikes of Shotokan ‒ lacks the necessary quality to give said technique its full potential. I know it when I feel it; and, as an instructor, I recognise it when I see it.
· The Sen Initiative: Go no sen, Sen no sen, Sen sen no sen or Deai are all forms of taking the initiative (taking control). To understand the principals of Sen that suit you personally, you need firstly to understand yourself. However, so that you do not become predictable in combat, you should train in all aspects of Sen.
As a Shodan you should, at the very least, be fully cognisant with the first two bulleted concepts, Zanshin and Kime, or else you have no business being a Blackbelt. The third concept, The Sen Initiative, you should at least be aware of and be beginning to nail the conception to the point that you are aware of which ‘Sen’ concept you naturally lean toward.
Don’t get me wrong, reaching the Shodan (first Blackbelt grading) stage of your martial path is a definite milestone; but it is not the be all and end all of anything. It is a point from which you should focus more on your long term goals. Karate-Do is, or should be, a journey of self; a lifelong journey, a path to self-enlightenment.
For instance, after reaching Shodan… for the next couple of years, one of your goals should be to become completely familiar with ‘the concept of Sen in combat’. If you are fully cognisant with ‘Sen in Combat’ your martial skills (the basics of your art) thus far can become twice as effective in that adverse situation we keep referring to. I don’t just mean that you intellectually understand it. I mean that you study it, as it applies to you in any situation that you might find yourself. I mean study it until you do not have to think about it if that adverse situation does arise. I mean study it until, without pause or doubt, your reactions are instinctive, instantaneous, and without the slightest hesitation. Ingest it until it becomes a part of you, like the beating of your heart.
After reaching Shodan, there are of course many other aspects which should be considered goals for the next stage of your journey. One of those goals – to both improve your execution of those basics you have so diligently honed for however many years, not just to perform them, but to know and increase your understanding of them – should be to teach others and to help them understand.
There is far more to Karate-Dō than those basics, but learning and honing those basics is a required precursor and foundation for everything else that follows. There are many elements that the lifelong karateka must explore and master; and if you have been following my Karate Essence Blog articles you will be some way, in mind anyway, along the Path to understanding that.
To help put what I have said so far about the Blackbelt (Shodan) grading being only the beginning into perspective, an analogy may help; a metaphor if you will:
The Mountain Path
‘The Mountain Path’; for the first several years a peak is visible. The going sometimes seems hard to bear and reaching that peak feels all too difficult, almost unimaginable; however, on a good day the going seems a little easier and, ultimately, eventually, reaching that peak seems almost attainable.
So, you continue your toil, sometimes struggling, but sometimes, apparently, virtually skipping up that long, steep track. As you get closer to that almost unattainable goal – along the way many who began that arduous climb with you have fallen by the wayside – you begin to foster a suspicion that what you will ultimately see when you gain that peak will not be as satisfying as you once thought it would be.
Finally, the day comes, and you are standing on the peak that you have striven so hard to reach. Sure enough, from that peak, you have a different view… unexpectedly, looking up, you can see another towering peak; but this peak is much higher, more daunting than the one that you have currently conquered.
Although a multitude fell by the wayside on the way here, as you look around, you can see that many did in fact complete the arduous journey to this point. Most of those, however, are languishing there now, spent, choosing to go no further.
As you readjust your sights, and begin to form new and more long-term goals; looking along the trail, leading on up the mountainside, you can see a few others who have chosen to continue the journey and you realise that you are not entirely alone on the Path. How long is the Path?
‘Why do you continue?’ Because Karate-Dō is an honourable code of ethics, one that sustains you and is worth aspiring to; and, as Karate-Dō weaves itself into the very fabric of your being it becomes you and your way for life… your essence, your Path.