Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Analysis of the Showa (Part 2)

Continuing from the previous post...

Way of the Warrior, Spirit of the Samurai, or Simply Bushido?
武士道の精神 Bushido no Seishin which is commonly translated as the "spirit of the warrior’s way." Here in lays the discrepancy in the cultural context of the term and its usage. What is the 'Way' of the 'Warrior'? What is the 'Spirit' of a 'Warrior'? I don't know about you, but when I hear the word 'Warrior' I think of the WWF Wrestling character, the Ultimate Warrior which is obviously out of context. But, this is the problem of vocabulary choice that needs to be addressed. Furthermore, the question needs to be addressed, is this kind of “spirit” still appropriate for application in our modern society? If we expect people to repeat this in order to advocate its message of ‘peace’ we must be sure the message is relevant and easily understood by everyone.
Let’s take a moment to contemplate the above questions. During my research I came across an explanation of the interpretation of the Showa used in Australia, it can be found on their website: pg=public.showa
In their introduction they state that the original Japanese is “impossible to accurately translate into English as many of the words do not have a direct translation.” I agree that it is very difficult translate old Japanese poetry and philosophies into modern English accurately. It may be impossible to translate them directly but not accurately. It is necessary to contemplate them and assess your level of understanding of Karate Do based on your interpretation of such things as the Showa.

There are many essays that address the concepts and the philosophical teachings of the Japanese martial arts. Each of them are nothing more than some one’s interpretation of the concept and their interpretations are based on their level of understanding of the "trinity" that I spoke of in the post titled, "The Trinity of Proficiency in Karate Do: Technical, Cultural, and Linguistic Ability." Rarely are such essays written by people who are already recognized 'experts' in that field when they are researching and writing. Usually, they come to be known or referred to as 'experts' afterwards. I strongly urge every serious practitioner of Karate Do to make efforts to attempt to understand these concepts for themselves and relate them to their own personal context within the study and practice of Karate Do. But, please keep in mind that all of our understanding is limited by a number of factors, a great deal of which are very personal in nature. When it is all said and done, we are talking about interpretation and this journey of understanding is a very introspective one.

Analysis of the Showa (Part 1)

The 唱和 Showa is a motivational poem that is recited at the end of training sessions in ICKF dojo which also illustrates the principles discussed in this blog; The concept of pursuing one's life endeavours with 和 Wa, Peace and 忍 Nin, Perseverance and the reassurance that if one conducts themselves with honour and respect for others 力必達 Rikihitattsu 'Strength' will come and goals will be attained. This is a very important part of Karate Do training.

It was my intention to analyse the Showa in this post however, upon completion of the analysis, I feel it is too long for one post. Therefore I will be breaking the post into two parts. In the first part I will focus on the first half of the Showa poem, looking at the various meanings of the kanji and contemplating possible interpretations for them. I will do the same in the next instalment as well. It is my intent that by doing so we will  be able to, at the very least, deepen our understanding of the meaning of this motivational poem and, with this deeper understanding, recognize our own personal relationship to it and our training. 

(the Showa, Chito-Ryu Honbu Dojo, Kumamoto, Japan 2013)

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

不動心 (Fudoshin) an Immovable Spirit is Not about Not Moving at all

In previous posts I have talked about the 心 Kokoro/Shin and how important this is in Japanese philosophy. The concept of Kokoro or Shin is not limited to Japan nor did it originate here, the usage of the term 心 and the linking of its importance to 気 Ki, Vital Energy dates back to ancient China (see Mencius 2A2). In this post I would like to take a look at the concept of 不動心 Fudoshin, an Immovable Spirit which is often associated with cultivation of 勇気 Yuki, Courage. This is very important in the martial arts, but is often misunderstood or, at the very least, not understood on a level deep enough to receive the positive benefits of incorporating it appropriately in our daily lives. Here, I would like to present some of the key points to help us understand this concept on a deeper level so that we can apply it to our training and receive the benefits of its cultivation in our lives.

(The Author at the Gateway to the Forbidden City, Bejing, China, March 2014)
 (Inside the Forbidden City, Beijing, China 2014)

Monday, 17 November 2014

余裕 'Yoyu' in Our Training and in Our Life

In our Karate Do training, in our Kata practice, and in life, maintaining the appropriate amount of hardness and softness and showing the appropriate amounts of strength and weakness, especially when dealing with the ups and downs of life, is something that we all struggle with. The struggle may never end, but I still believe that our Karate Do training gives us a special advantage to assess the situation quickly and act accordingly. Reading the situation is something known as 空気読む Kuki Yomu, the ability to intuitively assess the atmosphere and act on these assessments. One may liken this to 'reading between the lines'; looking for hints regarding the course of action to take in all that is around us. In this respect, the term 残心 Zanshin, often translated as awareness or relaxed alertness, may also be used to explain Kuki Yomu. When living in Japan this heightened sense of awareness is a very important skill to have. The ability to read the situation and act correctly could make all the difference between success and failure in Japan, in general, and even more so in the Karate Do environment. (This statement can be interpreted a number of different ways and applied to many situations. Contemplating it in your unique situation and applying it as you see fit is what I would like to recommend)

Perhaps a beneficial question would be, How can someone develop this skill and use it to their advantage? I don't have the answer to this question, but I am aware that this ability has helped me countless times in the past. and simply being aware of its importance helps to develop it further. In previous posts I have provided information about the importance of listening and how to show appropriate levels of courtesy. Here I would like to look at the concept of 余裕 Yoyu. I feel strongly that everything happens for a reason and how we act or react to what happens changes our lives. If we can first, be aware and get in tune with whatever will help us to take the best course of action and then act without entering a state of panic, I am sure the best possible results can be attained. Consciously making a choice not to act in a state of panic or anger (emotional states that cloud our judgement) develops a strength and stillness in our Kokoro, Heart/spirit known as 不動心 Fudoshin, something that many martial artists often talk about, but only a few know deeply. (I would like to talk more deeply about fudoshin in future posts)

(3,333Dan, Kumamoto, Japan)

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Two Important Concepts Within Karate Do Practice (Part 2)

The next concept that I would like to write about is 文武両道 Bun Bu Ryo Do, this is the concept of developing one's academic and physical skills and is commonly a focal part in the foundation of the approach to teaching many Japanese martial arts especially 剣道 Kendo and 空手道 Karate Do.
I am sure that the concept of Bunburyodo is familiar to you or, at the very least, you have heard your Sensei talk about the concept during your training. Its presence in the Japanese education system is resonant. I have often heard references made to this concept both in the classroom and the dojo during my time here. I'm confident that you can find a great deal of information on this topic on the Internet and in martial arts texts.
At first glance, this may seem to be just another mystical Asian concept, but like many of these concepts, it will quickly become clear the more you research that there is nothing mysterious about it at all. If anything, the concept is poetic. Have you heard the famous saying, The pen is mightier than the sword? While this concept combines both of these in an eloquent balance. In fact, this is one of the main principles of Bushido. In this is where we find the beauty and the strength of the way of the 'warrior'. In modern society this concept has become more and more theoretical, but in feudal Japan this is what helped many 侍Samurai maintain their sanity enabling them to balance the grotesque nature of the gruesome things that they did during war time with the ability to recognize and appreciate the beauty of something like the cherry blossoms in full bloom while at peace. The contrast of feelings and actions, of what is in our hearts and what our bodies must do could also be likened to bunburyodo. (Our thoughts and feelings are represented by the pen and our actions are represented by the sword)

However, in the modern academic context the study of subjects has taken precedence over the practice of combat so much so that many teachers whom I know and have taught with often stressed the importance of the physical element in the form of maintaining a strong healthy body in order to achieve the best academic results possible.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Two Important Concepts Within Karate Do Practice (Part 1)

I want to talk about 文武両道 Bun Bu Ryo Do, the concept of balancing one's cultural and martial development. This is a concept that is deeply rooted in the philosophy of many Japanese martial arts especially Karate Do. However, before we can talk in depth about this topic, I believe that we need to first look at another important concept which will help us to better understand Bun Bu Ryo Do as well. This is the concept of 心技体 Shin Gi Tai, The Heart/Spirit, Technique, and the Body. I am sure you can find a lot of information about both of these important topics on the Internet and in martial arts magazines. It is rarely ever enough to just simply translate concepts like these. Personal interpretations and relating those interpretations to your own context is strongly recommended. How do you relate these two important aspects of the martial arts to your daily training? How would deepening your level of understanding of these and other important topics improve the quality of your training? We all have to ask ourselves these questions and make efforts to understand these concepts more deeply.

(The Kanji, Chinese Characters for Shin Gi Tai written by the author, 2014)

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Getting Back on Track, Another Post on Courtesy in the Martial Arts

I would like to clear up something regarding my last post which may have been a little provocative. I want to make it clear that my intention was not to suggest that every Japanese family leaves all responisibilities of parenting to the teacher but rather show that, in my experience here, the school is more integrated into the family dynamic than my experience in North America. I admit, I got a little off topic and I would like to get back on track with this blog.

I would like to share with you a story about a situation I found myself in shortly after coming to Kumamoto. I was put in a difficult spot and needed to act quickly in order to make a good 第一印象 Dai Ichi Insho, A Good First Impression. This story is much more in keeping with the theme of this blog.

I had been working at the 西合志役場 Nishigoshi Yakuba, The Town Office in Nishigoshi in the deptartment of the board of education for a few Months and had gotten to know most of the staff in other departments as well. One staff memeber appraoched me at a staff party one night and told me that he practices 合気道 Aikido, I had practiced Aikido only a few times in 北海道 Hokkaido while I was studying there but, noticed many similarities to the applications of 千唐流空手道の分解 Chito-Ryu no Bunkai. (Bunkai are the practical applications of offensive and defensive techniques commonly found in kata which are broken down an practiced as self-defense techniques) He asked me if I would like to join his class someday and I said I would like to very much. A few more Months rolled by and I never heard back from him. I thought he had forgotten or maybe it was just a kind gesture that he made but never really intended to follow through with, a concept known as 本意と建前 Honne to Tatemae, Showing and hiding One's true intentions. (This is a huge topic that demands its own blog post. Therefore, I will discuss this in detail later)

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Karate Do in Mainstream Education Continued

I would like to continue the thread from my previous post and look more deeply at the dynamics of the classroom, home, and the dojo. I think that the Karate Do Sensei holds a special place in our hearts and minds due to their very specific skill sets and life experiences but, why don't we feel the same way about our teachers in school? They also have interesting life experiences and possess specific skills sets depending on the grade level and subject that they teach.

In Japan the school teachers, especially in the early stages of education, kindergarten and elementary school levels, play a very significant role in childrens' emotional development. This is a role that, in my experience in Canada, is reserved for the family. Let me give you an example that will show how the lines of family responsibility and the responsibilities of the 'homeroom teacher' in Japan can be blurred or even crossed at times:

If a child were, for whatever reason, to run away from home or not come home one night, who would shoulder the burden or assume the responsibility of searching for them? In Canada, I can say with confidence that it would be the parents. However, I have witnessed numerous times while living here, the homeroom teacher assuming this responsibility. The parents appeared to almost not even get involved.

Karate Do in Maintstream Education, Does it Have a Place?

I apologize for the lack of activity on my blog over the past week.

If you follow my facebook updates regularly, you will know that I attended an International Conference in Osaka from the 28th of October to the 2nd of November.
The theme of the conference was education. the Asian Conference on Education (ACE) to be specific. This got me thinking about the role martial arts plays in our lives around the world. While listening to some of the session presentations I was able to notice some similarities in the desired outcomes which form our goals as both teachers and students.

I began to wonder if Karate Do could have a greater presence in mainstream education around the world and, if so, what would be some of the positive outcomes of including martial arts such as Karate Do in the curriculum. In this blog post I would like to explore this train of thought and would appreciate hearing any thoughts or feedback, regarding this topic, that you would you may have and like to provide. I don't want to use this blog as a platform for debate but, I do want it to be a source to help learning through facilitating our deeper understanding of the subject matter, in this case the philosophies and educational concepts of Karate Do. Therefore, your feedback is not only accepted but crucial in expanding the range of authentic knowledge on this subject.
To the best of my knowledge Karate programs are only offered in schools as after-school programs. However, in Japan there has been a recent push to include Karate Do lessons in the regular curriculum. Kendo and Judo have, traditionally, been included as the 武道授業 Budo Jyugyo, Martial arts Lessons of choice in the public and private schools across Japan. However, with the recent troubles in the Judo Federation and concerns of student safety in the school board more and more schools are dropping Judo from their syllabus.
This has created an opportunity for Karate Do to fill the gap and there has been a nation wide serge to include Karate Do specifically in the Junior High Schools across Japan. Currently there are about 189 Junior High Schools that have included Karate Do as part of their Budo Jyugyo and the number is growing. Part of the reason for this is the safety concerns, as mentioned above. In a research study conducted by the sports safety committee 3 years ago Karate Do ranked significantly lower than Judo and Sumo, as can be expected and only slightly higher than Kendo with regards to percentage of injuries occurred while practicing.
(the Author attending the 4th JKF Training Course for In-service Teachers, 2013 Tokyo Japan)
Another reason for the recent support from the Ministry of Education (MEXT) toward Karate Do is the fact that Karate Do practice places a great deal of importance on developing students' manners, self-control, and courteous behaviour, as mentioned in previous blog posts "Karate Do begins and ends with courtesy."