Forty years have passed since I began to practice karate under Master Gichin Funakoshi. During those years, I have of course changed physically and mentally; in some cases, I became aware of the changes myself, but at other times they were pointed out by others. But always, I think, they were inevitable. Moreover, there have been great changes in the techniques and the kata during this period. My objectives in writing this book are to review the changes that have taken place in Karate-do for the purpose of casting a fresh light on what is important in karate training and to present the fundamentals to be practiced by the student.
The changes have by no means been merely technical ones; changes have also occurred in the way of thinking. We were taught, for example, that all movements follow a straight line and practiced in this way, but the truth is quite the opposite: karate movements never follow a straight line. Some movements are circular, some are up and down, and some are lateral. Although there was a time when we would have thought it inconceivable, even striking is not done in a straight line; it can be done in a number of ways. Blocking techniques have also changed, and the movements performed In a kata, from beginning to end, have become varied and flowing.
Since the changes are numerous and fundamental, several questions arise. For example, did the karate-ka of former days think of training in the fundamentals as the way leading to real practice? That is, did they realize that through practice they could clarify the relation between mind and body, understand the relation between one’s own mind and the mind of another, and seek the innermost secrets of the human being ?
The ideal of Gichin Funakoshi, who has come to be recognized as the „Father of Karate-do,” was to advance from jutsu („technique”) to do (the „way”). It became my mission to realize this ideal, but here again questions arise: What is the meaning of „from technique to the way ?” Through what kind of practice can one attain this ideal ?
Karate-jutsu or Karate-do ? The distinction between the two must be clearly grasped. Karate-jutsu must be regarded as nothing more than a technique for homicide, and that, most emphatically, is not the objective of Karate-do. He who would follow the way of true karate must seek not only to coexist with his opponent but to achieve unity with him. There is no question of homicide, nor should emphasis ever be placed on winning. When practicing Karate-do, what is important is to be one with your partner, move together, and make progress together.
The differences between the karate of today and that of former times extend even to warming-up exercises, for if the way of thinking changes, everything will change. Stress is now placed on suppleness of both mind and body. For those of us who began the practice of karate long ago, the result of making our bodies rigid was to become muscle-bound, and our power was dispersed to many parts of our bodies. The present concept is that the body be relaxed, supple and strong, and the power concentrated in one point. Furthermore, the mind should be clear, that is, without thoughts, and all movements should be made in a natural way. Without a clear, supple mind, the body cannot be supple.
That karate has come to be identified in the public mind as an „art of homicide” is indeed sad and unfortunate. It is not that. It is an art of self-defense, but in order to attain its benefits, the practitioner must be completely free of any egotistic feeling. This widespread, public misconception was very much in my mind while I wrote, and I would be very happy if this book could serve as a corrective to the mistaken public image and thus become a valuable guide to those who will practice karate in the future.
In 1972, at the request of Mr. Tomoji Miyamoto of the Japan Karate-do Shoto-kai’s secretariat, I began a series of articles under the title „Changes in Technique” for Karate-do, the newsletter of the Shoto-kai. On the recommendation of my colleagues, and also in commemoration of my sixtieth birthday, these articles have been translated to form the basis of this book. Since I am not a writer by profession, I fear that this book is full of defects. However, I would like to dedicate it to the members of the Shoto-kai in deep appreciation of their long friendship and support. I would also like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt gratitude to the many persons who have been of assistance in bringing this book to publication.
Introducere la “Karate-do, Beyond Technique”
When Gichin Funakoshi came to Tokyo in the early 1920s, the art of karate was virtually unknown outside of his native prefecture of Okinawa. His purpose in making the trip was, at the invitation of the Ministry of Education, to give a demonstration of the art, and his intention had been to return to Okinawa. This he did not do, however, because of the advice he received from Jigoro Kano, the father of judo; Hakudo Nakayama, a great authority on kendo; and others.
Having decided to spread Karate-do (the Way of Karate) throughout Japan, he endeavored to do so with determination and enthusiasm, but not without difficulties. The number of students who came to him for instruction was very small at first, with the result that he lived in poverty and had to do a great number of odd-jobs simply to make ends meet. Who would have thought in those days that the popularity of this art of self-defense would spread beyond Japan to all parts of the world ?
I recall trips that we followers of Funakoshi made to the Kyoto-Osaka area and the southern island of Kyushu under the leadership of Takeshi Shimoda, our instructor and the most talented among Funakoshi’s students. That was around 1934, about twelve years after the master had given that first demonstration in Tokyo. Karate in those days had the reputation of being merely a way of fighting, but it did have an aura of secrecy and mystery. Consequently, it would appear that what attracted capacity crowds to our demonstrations was nothing more than curiosity.
Although I am not familiar with the details of Shimoda’s career, I understand that he was an expert in the Nen-ryu school of kendo and also studied ninjutsu (the art of making oneself invisible). In one of those unfortunate twists of fate, he became ill after our demonstration trip and died soon afterwards.
He had been acting as Master Funakoshi’s assistant, teaching us when the latter was busy, and his place was taken by the master’s third oldest son, Gigo, who was not only a man of excellent character but one highly skilled in the techniques of the art. There was no one better qualified to instruct the younger students. However, since he was working as an x-ray technician at both Tokyo Imperial University and the Ministry of Education, he was understandably reluctant to take on this additional task. After being strongly urged by both his father and the students, he finally agreed, and he soon won our admiration as well as our respect. I still remember vividly how we used to call him „Waka Sensei;” meaning „young teacher,’; to differentiate him from his father, whom we then called „Ro Sensei,” which means „old teacher.” [Used in this way, ro has none of the not-quite-complimentary, or even derogatory, overtones that the English old might imply.] (It should be noted that Gigo was also called Yoshitaka, which is another way of reading the two characters that make up his first name.)
Like Shimoda, Gigo Funakoshi died in the prime of life, while still in his thirties. That was in the spring of 1945, and I feel that he must have died of a broken heart. During the early years, Master Funakoshi had been without his own dojo, but finally in the spring of 1936, the Shoto-kan Dojo was completed in the. Mejiro district of Tokyo. Then in March; 1945, there was a great air raid in Tokyo (of course, there had been many others), and that splendid dojo went up in flames. It had required the efforts of a great many people, not the least of whom had been Gigo. Already in the hospital at the time, it must have been too much for him to see that cherished dream destroyed.
At the present time, karate is being practiced in many countries throughout the world; in fact, it is riding the crest of a wave of popularity. But what is the meaning of this phenomenon ? What is so attractive about this art of self-defense? Why do people practice it? What is their objective ?
That Takeshi Shimoda and Gino Funakoshi died at such an early age was a great loss for the world of Karate-do. If they were still alive today, what would they think of the present situation?
The karate practiced today is quite different from that of forty years ago, and the number of styles now is said to total nearly one hundred. Many schools send instructors abroad to propagate their respective techniques. While it can be said that there are certain groups in the United States and Europe that, with the objective of understanding the soul of the Orient as a means of counteracting the impasse arising from materialistic civilization, place emphasis on the spiritual side of karate, the sad truth is that many styles teach only the fighting art and neglect the spiritual aspects. And the practitioners themselves, who offer lip service to the spirit of the art, have as their real objective the winning of matches. They speak of fostering an indomitable spirit, which in itself is praiseworthy, but we have to think of the results if this spirit is improperly used. As in the case of a hoodlum or madman wielding a knife, gun or other weapon against innocent people, the results could only be disastrous.
The present situation, then, is that the majority of followers of karate in overseas countries pursue karate for its fighting techniques, and it must be admitted that the proclivity to engage in combat is no less common in humans than in other animals. It is extremely doubtful that those enthusiasts have come to a full understandingly of Karate-do.
Mention should also be made of the-negative influence of movies and television on the public image of karate, if not on the art itself. Depicting karate as a mysterious way of fighting capable of causing death or injury with a single blow or kick and thus appealing to man’s fighting instinct, the mass media present a pseudo art far from the real thing.
Gichin Funakoshi was an advocate of the spiritual aspects of Karate-do and placed much greater emphasis on this than on the techniques of fighting. Moreover, he always practiced what he taught. If he were alive today to see what is happening to Karate-do, what would he think ? Those of us who are adhering strictly to orthodox karate as an art of self-defense must do all in our power to see that it is practiced in the proper way and that its spiritual side is understood to the fullest extent.
In striving for the mistaken, homicidal objective, the beginner will give his all in training, believing that compromise simply does not exist. To him, it is a simple black-and-white question of life or death; according to this view, one must either kill his adversary or be killed himself.
To kill with one blow or to emerge from a match or fight always victorious are objectives that only a beginner can seriously believe in. Never losing does not mean always winning. When one comes to a true understanding of this, one will have graduated from the beginners’ class. In a contest, it is natural for the strongest to be the victor, but a contest is only a contest. In Karate-do, there is neither strong man nor weak man. The essence of the art is mutual cooperation. This is the ultimate in Karate-do.
After a child is born, the first persons he comes into contact with are his mother, his father, his brothers, his sisters. As he grows, he makes friends with other children and comes into contact with his teachers. He begins to read books and learn about men of the past. As he matures physically and mentally, he meets many kinds of people, and he forms some idea of human society. Since a man cannot exist by himself, he also comes to appreciate the importance of human relationships.
The relevance of this to karate training and practice is that they are, in reality, ways of pursuing and exploring the essence of being human. Thus, for example, even if you should have a partner who is vicious and determined to injure you, this is fortunate for you. To know yourself, to know your opponent, to understand the relationship between the two; these are the true objectives of training.
Companion and consideration for others are commonplace words, frequently used, but to put them into practice is exceedingly difficult. Before taking any action, it is of the greatest importance not only to take the other person’s position into consideration but to understand it fully. In fact, in coming to a perfect understanding of the other’s position you will achieve a unity with him, and words like victory and defeat will be seen to be meaningless. This is the real secret of karate- coexisting with your opponent. And when this is accomplished, the understanding that human beings were made to cooperate with each other will become your own understanding. Practice will never be complete until this state of mind is achieved.
Beginning in the training of one’s body, practice continues with the training of one’s spirit. Finally one realizes that body and spirit are not two things but one. This is true practice.
Training of the body is the subject on which I have concentrated in the present work, but I have also explained the preliminary stages of practice. (The distinction between training and practice is an important one, concerning which I shall have more to say at the appropriate time.) The importance of training the body lies in the fact that if one’s body is tense and rigid, it is impossible to be spiritually sound and flexible.
One point I should like to underscore at this time is that when one begins, he should approach training with an attitude of acceptance, follow instructions wholeheartedly, and always give his best. At this point he should not worry about form or whether his body is tense or relaxed. It is best to act naturally and concentrate on learning how to make the most powerful and effective blow with the hands or feet. In this way, one will come to realize that the most effective techniques, whether offensive or defensive, obtain from being natural and flexible. The time for questioning and expressing one’s own opinions will come later, after the techniques have been mastered.
„There is no offense in karate” are words that I heard Master Funakoshi speak more than forty years ago, but I found it difficult to understand their meaning, for I myself had thought that karate was to be used in actual fighting. He also used to say that „you should never raise your hand against your opponent first. Only when it becomes absolutely necessary should you raise your hand. And even then, your intention should not be to kill or injure your opponent but only to block his attack. If he continues, then you should take a stance that will clearly show that it would be best for him to stop.”
Being at that time only about twenty years old and full of energy, I thought to myself, „What is this old man saying? Is he moralizing? Why doesn’t he teach me the truth?” Thinking that he was only trying to keep his younger followers from acting rashly, I could not make myself follow his injunction. As my skill improved and I became more confident, I came to the conclusion that it would be nonsense for me not to take the initiative. After all, was there not also the saying that „attacking first is the best defense” ?
I must confess that I did engage in several fights, which made me even more confident in my skill and immoderately proud. It was not out of modesty that I concealed the fact that I was practicing karate. I am ashamed to admit that in those days I was arrogant and, consequently, must have been disliked by others.
Eventually, however, I decided that I would follow the master’s advice, at least to the extent of not striking a blow before the point was reached where there was no alternative, and then I would fell my opponent with a single blow. I would also take care not to let my opponent see what the blow would be like before it was delivered.
As a child, I had been a weak individual. It was through hard training that I came to have confidence in the strength of my arms, and it was through hard training that I further strengthened them and my body. It was through hard training also that I was able to overcome a number of illnesses that I fell victim to. But this was only because I was a young man in my mid twenties.
After graduating from college, I entered the civil service but became dissatisfied and went to work for a private company. Again unhappy with my job, I then opened my own business. Altogether I changed jobs more than a score of times. Although I cannot give a reason, the one thing I continued, and have continued all these years, was my practice of karate.
Partly due to my experience with various kinds of work and partly due to my becoming older and more mature, my karate training has changed, both in style and in content. It was when I was a little past forty that an incident occurred that made me realize that real training was not the mere polishing of techniques for fighting. I then began to seek an understanding of the spiritual aspects of Karate-do.
While a friend and I were drinking one day, we were surrounded by a gang of about ten hoodlums, who were obviously looking for trouble. I immediately took a good look at these men who had suddenly become my adversaries and looked for an opening that would enable me to break through the encirclement. Soon, however, I asked myself what sense there would be in fighting. Win or lose, there would be no honor. Even if I won the fight, there would be a scandal and I would be the loser.
If in my younger days I had been in such a situation, I would have seized the initiative in order to attack first and take my opponents by surprise. This time, while remaining calm, I looked for a solution that would leave everyone uninjured. I am glad to say that I was able to dissuade the gang from fighting. It was then that I realized that I had been successful in disengaging myself from the world of fighting, though I was still convinced that my power and skill were of such a level that I would not lose to any young hood.
Soon after this incident, I underwent an operation for removal of part of my stomach, and then about a year after that, I underwent a second, similar operation. Since I lost the strength of which I had been so proud, I could no longer practice karate. Even more serious was the difficulty I had in making a living. I look back at that time, during which I was plunged into abject despair, as the worst period of my life. But then I recalled other words of Gichin Funakoshi, who had maintained that „karate practice must be such that it can be practiced by anyone, the old as well as the young, women and children as well as men.”
With that in mind, I determined to see if I could practice while in such poor physical condition. The results were reassuring, for I found that I could do so by carefully selecting certain methods. Having met with success, I made up my mind to devote the rest of my life to karate practice.
It was about ten years after my second stomach operation that I suffered a heart attack, which left me in a very precarious state, literally hovering between life and death. I had the good fortune to recover, but for three or four years after that, my physical strength was reduced to that of a new-born baby. It was impossible for me to practice karate, but during this period I learned something of great value from my younger colleagues: the importance of good human relations, the value inherent in friendship and the opportunity of having heart-to-heart talks and the preciousness of assistance freely extended in times of need. In this lies the essence of practice in Karate-do.
Words that I have often heard are that „everything begins with rei and ends with rei.” The word itself, however, can be interpreted in several ways; it is the rei of reigi, meaning „etiquette, courtesy, politeness,” and it is also the rei of keirei, meaning „salutation” or „bow.” The meaning of rei is sometimes explained in terms of kata or katachi („formal exercises” and „form” or „shape”). It is of prime importance not only in karate but in all martial arts. For our purposes here, let us understand rei as the ceremonial bow in which courtesy and decorum are manifest. He who would follow the way of karate must be courteous, not only in training but in daily life. While humble and gentle, he should never be servile. His performance of the kata should reflect boldness and confidence. This seemingly paradoxical combination of boldness and gentleness leads ultimately to harmony. It is true, as Master Funakoshi used to say, that the spirit of karate would be lost without courtesy.
It is also true that there are few persons who can make a perfect ceremonial bow, but one who can do this has to a great extent mastered the art. In order to do so, he must be a man of good, rounded character. In recent days, I have rarely met anyone who could make a perfect bow. While in karate practice the man who makes a perfect bow seems to be full of openings, quite the opposite is true; he leaves no openings, and it would be difficult in the extreme for his opponent to deliver an effective blow or kick. When performing kata, begin with a bow and end with a bow. Be neither arrogant nor servile. From beginning to end, perform the kata in a natural way with humility. Without sincerity, the bow is meaningless. Rather than be concerned about its outward appearance, put your heart and soul into the bow; then it will naturally take on a good shape.
For the beginner, it is natural to wish to become as strong as possible. And if he continues to practice with seriousness in order to attain this end, he will eventually reach a state wherein there is great harmony between body and spirit. But there will be no arrogance, only gentleness, and he will even forget that he is a man of great capability. There is a saying that „the strong hawk hides its talons.” It is like that. I myself would like to attain this state, but it is only recently that I have become aware of it.
Master Funakoshi was often asked for examples of his fine calligraphy, and one of the expressions he used to write down and present to others was, „Don’t go against nature.” These words, which have a deep meaning, he thoroughly intended to be a maxim to be strictly observed.
It is difficult to define nature in so many words. Sun, moon and stars are part of nature, as are man, existence itself and the movement of all things. Flowers blooming in the spring and leaves falling in the autumn are natural phenomena, as are a man’s birth, his growing up and becoming old, and his death. Earth, water, fire, wind, snow and rain are part of nature, from which we have much to learn. But no matter how much one opposes nature, he does not have the slightest chance of winning.
In our physical movements, there are those that are natural and others that are not. Through practice, we can learn to differentiate between the two and also learn to acquire natural movements. We should also learn the power that nature has endowed us with and how to use it, for a man has a great deal of hidden power of which he is not aware. The example of prodigious feats of strength and endurance exhibited during times of stress, such as fires and floods, comes to mind. These are sometimes described as „superhuman,” but is this really the case ? Although the person who performed such a feat was not aware that he possessed such power, it is my conviction that such powers are the endowment of nature and can be developed by one who trains in earnest and with perseverance.
I would like to pose a very crucial question: If instead of opposing the movements of your opponent, you moved with him in a natural way, what would happen ? You will find that you and he become as one, and that when he moves to strike, your body will move naturally to avert the blow. And when you become capable of this, you will discover a completely different world—one that you had not known existed. When you are as one with your opponent and move naturally with him without opposition, then there is no such thing as a first strike. The meaning of karate ni sente nashi („There is no first strike in karate”) cannot be understood until you achieve this state.
Through courtesy you will take a humble attitude toward your opponent in training and be grateful to him. Without this attitude, there can be no training in the true sense. But if your objective is to batter your opponent senseless, you cannot attain this state. In real training and practice, anger, hatred and fear are completely absent. It is important to know that one can harbor neither homicidal intention nor enmity, neither opposition nor resistance, against one’s opponent. When you reach this state, you will become one with your opponent and you will be able to move naturally in line with his movements. This, then, is the objective, physically and spiritually, of training and practicing karate. But it is a state than can be achieved only through strenuous practice.
It has been said that when one passes the age of sixty, he will no longer be able to engage in real practice. When I first heard those words, about twenty years before reaching that age, I could not understand their meaning. Now that I have reached that age, I think I can understand to some extent. Deterioration in one’s physical strength becomes conspicuous, and it is impossible to engage in the same type of practice as young people do. Movements themselves become sluggish.
Nevertheless, in thinking back on my forty years of practicing karate, I come to the conclusion that, as my teacher Gichin Funakoshi said, karate is a martial art in which anyone can participate, young or old, man or woman, everyone. As for karate and life, I would like to say that practicing karate is indeed life and life is indeed practicing karate. My wish is to remain young in spirit throughout my days. To build up my gradually waning physical strength, I would like to engage in preparatory exercises before actually performing karate practice. And this is the way that I suggest that those who would follow Karate-do proceed.
Recently it has come to my attention that there are some divergences of opinion on the preliminary stages of practice. In this book, I would like to express some of my personal opinions, which I hope will be a valuable source of reference to all. And I hope your practice will be done with diligence.
Master Shigeru Egami