Western New York Karate Center
Shihan Bill
April 15, 2016

It is Not Only What You Do

It is what you hope to do

Last week we explored the five classes of assailants and how these classes suggest different strategies for one’s martial response whether it is to attain disarmament, immobilization,  unconsciousness, disfigurement, or death.  But, whether one is dealing with a drunken uncle or a hitman, using minimal force or lethal techniques, what will determine the actual outcome of one’s strategy is how one trained.

In Randall Hassell’s classic book, “Conversations with the master: Masatoshi Nakayama,” Master Nakayama relates many important historical events and concepts that make that book a must-read to any serious karateka.  But, for consideration today, is the tale Master Nakayama shared of Sensei Anton Geesink, the first Judoka not from Japan, who was the Olympic Champion in 1964.  Geesink Sensei astounded the Japanese by beating them at a martial art that they consider theirs and certainly not to be outdone at it by a gaijin let alone a hakujin.  When interviewed and asked how he did it, Geesink Sensei reportedly replied, “I trained in the basics.”  Meaning, instead of training in the sport of Judo, as a competitor, he trained to be a judoka, as Master Kano, the founder of Judo, had instructed.  Geesink Sensei did not train for the Olympics to win the gold medal; Geesink Sensei trained to be proficient in “the gentle way” per Master Kano.  This is an important part of how we must train.  We must not get caught up in the points and rules of the sport of karate nor should we focus too closely on the potential demands of actual self-defense scenarios.  To fully connect to the way of our art, we must focus equally on kihon (Isshin-ryu upper and lower body techniques) and kata as much as we do on kumite.

But, balancing one’s physical training is only part of how we must train. How we train also includes a mental or spiritual aspect.  The attitude that we carry is just as important as the actual techniques we employ.  Master Morihei Ueshiba, founder of Aikido, perceived the importance of our attitude in how we train when he devised Aikido as a synthesis of martial studies with philosophy and religious beliefs. He created the word Aikido to mean “the way of unifying life energy” or “the way of harmonious spirit.” Master Ueshiba’s goal was to create an art that practitioners could use to defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury.  Aikido makes clear that it is not only the techniques that are important for doing no more harm than is necessary to an attacker, but it is also the belief that one is responsible for the wellbeing of one’s attacker, as much as one’s own life, that is equally important.  As one Aikido sensei told me, “if we hold the proper attitude, the receiver of our techniques should wake up the next day feeling as if they had experienced a vigorous massage.”  That is to say, that if we do not intend harm and indeed execute our techniques with a positive and nurturing spirit, the outcome of our techniques, despite their actual physical nature, will not be irrevocably harmful.

The responsibility to our society as martial artist should be clear.  While developed during the Middle Ages of our civilization, one now practices martial arts in a modern world.  Where careless disregard for life may have been acceptable or at least tolerable when martial arts were first developed, it is completely unacceptable now. But, our responsibility to ourselves remains the same regardless of the era.  There is still the possibility that one’s life will be threatened by another and still the possibility that one might have to act in a manner that takes another person’s life. But how one responds to that threat will not only have ramifications for the wellbeing of one’s body but also one’s spiritual wellbeing. If one ever has the unfortunate experience of killing another human being, and one did so without concern or care for that person’s life, one must consider that the damage to one’s own soul will likely be worse than if the assailant had killed you.