Monthly Archives: June 2017

Lao Tzu: Whoever is soft and yielding is a disciple of life

Screenshot_20170612-141439“The hard and the stiff will be broken.”

Another good example of how karate mirrors life. We all know that Shotokan is known for bone-crushing power, and we also know that the stiff and tense fighter is slower and less able to adjust to an opponents varying attacks. Power alone is good if you’re fortunate to land the right technique at the right time – if not, your finished – you’re one-dimensional.

There’s not much chance of changing your mind against an attack if you’re going at your opponent with teeth clenched and every muscle tensed like stone. Besides that, half your energy has been expelled before you get near the target.

On top of that, as we age, conserving energy gives us more stamina. We use energy where we need it: at the right point of Kime.

The trick is to not relax yourself out of the fight, but rather to keep Zanshin (continued awareness). You can keep your muscles on alert without having them on fire.

I like this from Jesse Enkamp:

“Your mind and body are two sides of the same coin.

  • A strong body cannot exist without a strong mind.
  • A flexible body cannot exist without a flexible mind.
  • A relaxed body cannot exist without a relaxed mind.”

He feels that trying to relax is like trying to go to sleep.

Clear your mind (breathe), and then be aware of all of your body (up, down and center as one Sensei puts it).

In my training I’m trying to get energy to flow between movements, rather than going through techniques like I’m a suit or armor.

Tension in the mind is tension in the body…and that can hurt.

Shotokan Karate is living proof that in order to carry on a tradition that survives, and never waivers far from its roots, you need teachers who are not only dedicated, but knowledgeable. I think knowledge goes beyond knowing karate, and a good Sensei is able to cover three important concepts: instill confidence; teach good karate; and stoke your interest to study the art and know more.


I was recently watching Sensei Inoue Yoshimi online. He was using a chart in his class to discuss particular karate principles. His thought is that the focus needs to be the point where balance, speed and timing intersect, and goes on to say that your timing is only as good as your adeptness with balance and speed. He uses a Venn diagram to illustrate this. How’s that for intelligent karate!


This got me thinking about my own training.

Sensei Bruce Lee’s Venn diagram may look like this (Sensei Lee effectively teaches that Spirit is something your karate can’t be without).

Sensei Bruce Lee Venn




Sensei Brian Power teaches his students concepts that look like this.

Brian Power

What they are all teaching is that there are a number of karate principles that have to intersect – really come together – in order to get your karate to the next level. This is a cognitive as well as a physical challenge.

In NL we have intelligent karate – we have Sensei that are like information taps that are flowing karate right from the source.



As seen here, Musashi’s thoughts on Timing/Interval (Hyoshi) and Distance (Ma or Maai) are pretty complex. But what is clear is that he taught that issues in combat arise when our awareness lags behind physical movement, producing a disconnect – dead time or Kyo in us or in the opponent. In Musashi’s day, a Samurai in combat who changed his facial expression slightly opened him up for attack, as it was seen as a pause in his defenses.

For me, transition between movements is a weakness: a slight front foot shift before an attack, or slight posture changes when switching stances, often open up a space when an astute opponent can attack.

A common thought is that if your opponent’s reach isn’t as good as yours, you need to initiate the offensive, and conversely, if your opponent is on the offensive, you need to utilize your defense and counterattacks. Either way, understanding timing is the difference; understanding where dead time exists and being in a position to cover the distance to take advantage of it, or to shift adequately to take away his action space or to parry the attack.

The bottom line:  My Hyoshi and Maai need a lot of work!

Reminders and Discoveries

When I think about a good karate class I think that there are three components: we’re shown what we don’t already know; we get reminded of what we already know; and we’re encouraged to take a deeper look for ourselves. I believe that once and while in the Dojo, you need to hear, ‘Now, go figure it out!’

So, we’re taught how to do karate, but we’re also taught to discover karate. The discovery part is the intriguing part – the part that makes karate a lifelong study.

gateEngineering students in the early 1930’s weren’t told specifically how to build the Golden Gate Bridge, but they were given the knowledge to figure it out: what methods and tools to use to get it done. In the end it took knowledge as well as imagination to complete.

Reminder: Your toes have to grip the floor – this eliminates the tendency to move your foot before a technique while also giving you a sense of strength

Something New: Enpi/Empi “Flying Swallow” introduced as a new kata

A Deeper Look: How is it that the transition between movements in a kata are as important as the techniques themselves

Karate is the tool box; Kata is the Golden Gate Bridge. Now, off I go to figure it out…