Monday, June 4, 2012


      Most martial arts neophytes, and even a good number of advanced practitioners, tend to see martial arts primarily as a sophisticated means of kicking butt.  And certainly, we do put in a lot of time and energy training ourselves to become highly proficient in various types of combat.  But there's much more to martial arts than meets the eye (or butt) and it's important to stop every once in a while and listen to the voices of the past.  If we listen closely and reflect upon what they tell us, we can begin to understand what martial arts are really about...

"To achieve victory in a hundred battles is not the highest skill.  To subdue the enemy without fighting is the highest skill."

                                      -Sun Tzu "The Art of War"

     The most efficient and safest way of winning is to avoid fighting.  Pay attention to what is happening around you and if violence seems imminent, leave.  Avoid frequenting places where violence is common. 

     Captain Kangaroo taught us a great lesson in how to avoid violence and diffuse hostile situations; he taught us "Please" and "Thank You."  Really.  You'd be surprised at the number of potentially violent situations that can be mitigated with little more than a calm, confident demeanor and these two phrases.  Avoiding conflict is the highest skill.  Confronting an opponent and winning without resorting to violence is the next highest level.  Winning through physical violence is the lowest level of skill.


"Mental bearing (calmness), not skill, is the sign of a matured samurai.  A samurai, therefore, should neither be pompous nor arrogant."

                                    -Tsukahara Bokuden

     One of the easiest places to find people who have puffed themselves up with self-importance and pomposity is a martial arts school (or tournament).  Those who possess genuine skill are usually very quiet.


"The obstacle is the path."

               -Zen Proverb

     We often talk about following the path of the martial arts and realizing that the obstacle we encounter have actually been placed there by us.  But consider...the path itself is the obstacle.


"Don't hit at all if it is honorably possible to avoid hitting, but never hit soft."

                                 -Theodore Roosevelt

     God bless Teddy Roosevelt!


"Karate begins and ends with courtesy."

                               -Gichin Funakoshi ("Father of Japanese Karate")

     Of course, this doesn't apply only to karate.  It applies to all martial disciplines.  I once had a young man approach me and ask what he would learn first if he enrolled in my school.  I replied, "courtesy."  He was somewhat taken aback at this response but I explained that if he could not or would not learn courtesy, he could never learn martial arts.  One of the great secrets of martial arts lies within the simple concept of courtesy.


"Maximum efficiency with minimum effort." (One of the fundamental principles of judo)

                              -Dr. Jigaro Kano (founder of Judo)

     Too many of us strive to achieve maximum efficiency through maximum effort, using strength against strength and huffing and puffing and pushing and pulling.  Let the opponent give you the victory.  You will not get it by yourself.


"A good stance and posture reflect a proper state of mind."

                             -Morihei Uyeshiba (founder of Aikido)

     The outside is reflective of the inside.  Moreover, the outside affects the inside.  Sloppy posture or stance begets a sloppy, loose mind...A sharp posture is indicative of a sharp but relaxed mind.


"From white to black belt, you shape the tool.  After black belt, you learn how to use it."


     Very profound. 


"Martial arts are about discipline and the first discipline is showing up for class."

                           -Mr. Carter (A karate teacher)

     Indeed.  Truer words were never spoken.  But there's more to this statement than you might think.  Consider it.


"Knife sharpens on stone.  Man sharpens on man."



"Iron is full of impurities that weaken it.  Through forging it becomes steel and is transformed into a razor-sharp sword.  Human beings develop in the same way."

                        -Morihei Uyeshiba


"Before and after practice or engaging in a match, participants bow to each other.  Bowing is an expression of gratitude and respect.  In effect, you are thanking your opponent for giving you the opportunity to improve your technique."

                       -Jigaro Kano

     Bow.  Always.  And mean it.  There's nothing worse than an empty bow.


"Karate ni sente nashi."

                      -Gichin Funakoshi

     This is often translated as, "In karate, one does not make the first attack."  However, I believe a more correct rendering is, "In karate, one does not make the first move."  There's a considerable difference between the two.

     In the former, the emphasis would seem to be on morality, emphasizing that one should use karate only as a means of defense rather than aggression.  However, I believe that this quote has more to do with tactics.  Whenever a person moves he creates a moment of "kyo" (deficiency, vulnerability) which a skillful opponent may exploit and use to his advantage.  Therefore, it is best to let the opponent move and thereby weaken his defensive posture.


"Kamae is for beginners. Shizentai is for advanced pupils."

                   -Morihei Uyeshiba

     "Kamae" is a formal posture or fighting stance.  "Shizentai" refers to natural standing postures.  The master is saying that beginners feel that they begin from a fighting posture but a truly skilled practitioner can, after much training, present his techniques from any (natural) position.


"Martial arts are intended to prolong life, not shorten it."

                  -Morihei Uyeshiba

     Always remember this.  Think on it.

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