Master Takashi Kyooka was born in 1951 and is 41 years old (note: the article is some years old). His Karate training started when he was 18 upon his entry to Chuo University, Tokyo. He immediately became a devoted follower of the Shotokai School, dedicating himself completely, obtaining the fifth dan degree very fast, the highest grade obtained in Shotokai. He was secretary of the Nihon Karate-do Shotokai in Japan and worked constantly under close collaboration with Egami Sensei, founder of the Shotokai style and a longtime student of Master Gichin Funakoshi. He presents his view of Karate in this article:
Today, Karate, as many other Martial Arts, has become a fashion in Europe, but I must ascertain, with some sadness on the other hand, that for the great majority, the Martial Arts are not understood or they are knowingly modified. In fact, many people have a tendency to believe that Karate is a sport as boxing, tenis, etc.
Tournaments have contributed to this state of events, but I will return to this subject later on. I would like to explain to you the idea of Karate, which is also Egami Sensei’s.
Karate-do, as all Martial Arts, is a way to learn about life. Karate is life itself, I would like to explain myself:
Why do the training sessions need to be very tough?
To „break” our body, to fatigue all that is muscular in it. Once you have gotten to this point, you must continue, and it is then that Karate truly begins, because only your spirit (in other words, your will) can get to the moment where you must continue. Your will, alone, can do hundred times more than simply considering the fatigue of your muscles.
A clarifying example could be the following: How long do you think you could hang from your hands on a fixed bar with your feet twenty centimeters from the ground? Fifteen minutes?, half an hour?, maybe. But, if instead of twenty centimeters, there are five hundred meters of free fall under your feet and your life is at stake. Much longer of course, because it is not any longer the same arm, nor the same muscle.
Keiko (training), must thus be the school of the will. It is also the school of harmony and the understanding of others. How can you obtain this objective? Through concentration and the work in direction of anticipation, thus the importance of „unlimited” movements. This movement is trained by two: an attacker and an attacked. The attacked party concentrates strongly on the adversary and anticipates the attack, in other words, when the attacked party feels the attack, he evades it and counterattacks. To obtain this a very strong concentration is necessary; all the brains activities must be concentrated on the adversary, the body must be completely relaxed, without any type of contraction. Only the spirit is in this „unlimited hyperalert” state, this is combat, because in the course of a real combat, a factor that must not be forgotten, to be able to win, is to be in harmony with your adversary. I think that during Keiko, you learn human relationship, you learn to live among others, to be in harmony with nature. To get „there” work always lower (lower stances) and always try to jump longer.
I will write here what I would say about competition. Personally I am against it. The reasons are very simple: the first one is an almost philosophical reason. You must not practice Martial Arts to be the best one but to be a better person. What benefit would I obtain knowing I am the best karateka in Japan? None whatsoever. But on the contrary, to know I can stay more time in Kiba-dachi than yesterday, I show myself that I have won a bit compared to my „I” of yesterday.
The second reason is the following: In Europe, and maybe even more so, in the U.S.A., all the work is oriented towards the efficiency in combat. The Budo philosophy has been completely abandoned. Karate thus becomes purely a sport. I would have preferred that it should be given some other name, because even the basic techniques have been modified (in many USA clubs, the Kata are no more than symbols).
Convince yourselves then, that Karate-do is a state of the spirit, a way of life, a philosophy. To discover this idea, the narrow tunnel is opened by the years of practice. Here in Japan, we go even further. Once you attain a fifth dan, which you obtain faster than in Europe, we practice normally three hours a day here at the Chuo University. Master Egami was our true judge; he taught us „spiritual” Keiko. This may be difficult for you to understand.
In the beginning, we worked on concentration. During three months, regularly, every day, we would stay one hour with a bokto (heavy wooden sword), in guard, without moving and without closing our eyes, later, after an hour, we’d do a single movement, in which we would liberate all the energy we had stored up during the preceding hour. In a second phase, always with the same regularity, we’d run four kilometers as an average, in twenty minutes and this without transpiring (I told you I would it would be difficult to understand!). To do two kilometers in usakotobi-geri (rabbit hop) is also a part of the „spiritual” Keiko. Why this? Well, once more, to strengthen ourselves, to break our bodies, to develop the will, to be in harmony with the universe and to learn more about breathing too. Do not forget that all Martial Arts have the same goal: to learn how to breath, it is our breathing that permits us to live and this is attained through the practice of Karate-do.
In the practice of Martial Arts, one must distinguish, and differentiate between training and practice. In Japan the word renshu is used for training, which means to prepare or train the body; and keiko, word used to define practice, which means to train or prepare the spirit. This is due to the fact that the word keiko, is not only important in Budo but in many other cultural activities, where the spiritual aspects are of fundamental importance, for example, the Tea Ceremony and Kado, Flower Arrangement. Keiko, literally means „reflect on, review the past”, it imbues training with a religious character, consisting in respect towards the maintenance of the best of past traditions.
The fact that keiko is fundamental for Japanese cultural arts, reflects the respect Japanese have for their best traditions. Summer Training in the hottest period (Shochu-Geiko) and Winter Training in the coldest period (Kan-Geiko) is a part of this great heritage.
There are many reasons for these trainings under extreme conditions, as well as trainings in early morning and at midnight, but one that is very present, is that it gives people the opportunity to be in direct contact with themselves and with nature. The practice of Budo, that contains the best of the traditional art, implies a way through which human beings can grasp and comprehend their roots and return to nature.
When we resist nature or we ignore it, we are incapable of really feeling what human life is, thus we give way to selfishness and dehumanization, something we all are afflicted by. We must then return to nature.
By Humberto Heyden sensei
(Opinions on Karate-do and Sports Karate)
From Shotokai Karate-do Spain’s Bulletins