013 A Perspective on Attitude for Martial Arts

In today’s episode I’m going to attempt to give some perspective on the attitude required to be successful in the martial arts, specifically in my craft, Traditional Karate.

Let me begin by saying or stating that the first step to being a skillful and successful and later maybe even a formidable Martial Artist, is to reset yourself completely and clear your mind of any previous skills or qualities you profess to have, as these would only inhibit yourself and your future progress!  Your own ego is the biggest obstruction in your path to really becoming something more than ‘just another Karate Ka!’

There are many iconic sayings in the Martial Arts guiding or advising one to this state of mind – ‘A Mind like the Moon’  A Mind like Water’, etc. but according to Don Draeger, it comes down to three prerequisites – a Passion for your Art, a strong Will to endeavor the rigors of your Art and an uncritical Respect for your Teacher or master! He has walked the road before you, he has encountered all the deviations and distractions and understands the dangers one could encounter along the road such as certain mindsets, wrong technique which could break down instead of building up! 

It is therefore really important to realize in perspective, one’s own place in the Martial Arts Universe and to clearly realize, understand and appreciate that the Martial Arts existed centuries before you were born and will continue to exist centuries after you have died!

Many persons have gone before you, hacking their way through unchartered waters and have subsequently, through the centuries, smoothed out the road ahead for you, enabling you enjoy a much more enhanced and refined Art from the moment you started!

I mentioned in a previous Podcast that I only learned the Renzoku Bunkai forms for Gekki Sai Dai Ichi and Ni after nine years in Goju Ryu! 

I also mentioned that in the present, knowledge that took literally a few decades to discover, develop, enhance, is now available at a click on your computer or mobile phone! But is it appreciated and valued?  One appreciates the things in life that you had to work the hardest to achieve, not so?

So one needs to realize that, throughout these centuries preceding you, in an evolutionary way, the martial arts kept on developing and improving by various skillful practitioners developing processes and systems to ensure the longevity of this Art – just think about our Kata system, our Junbi Undo system, our Hojo Undo system, etc.

I know that very few of them would call themselves Masters, although they certainly are and are regarded as such by their students, following generations and the Martial Arts community.

Also be appreciative of the fact that developing these processes and systems, came with personal sacrifices and it also entailed loss of lives – yes, people lost their lives to ensure that we can experience this phenomenal art today! Our responsibility in turn, is to preserve the essence and to promote it in a sensible manner to future generations!

So, once we have reached this realization, we need to define our own motives for wishing to pursue this martial art.   In most cases such as in mine, as I have previously explained in a podcast, it originated from fear, the fear of being bullied physically as well as mentally – the two usually goes hand in hand.

After one has overcome the first hurdles because you realized that you actually and really do have the tenacity and Will to endure the physical demands of the pursuit, and as you start progressing in your pursuit, a bigger and wider picture and panorama starts to unfold, and one starts to alter your objectives and motivation as a deeper lying Passion for the art starts developing!

Pursuing a Martial Art such as Traditional Karate does come with many challenges on a daily basis! It has the ability to take you down, right down, to the starting point the moment you start thinking that you are maybe getting on top of things!

All of us has at one stage or another, made a mistake or got stuck in our Kata, or a demonstration – incidentally, if I can share something with you, I cannot remember when I ever did a demonstration that did not need instant improvisation! 

But that is a Martial Art – you practiced for a situation, but all of a sudden, your body sees the situation being slightly different, and instantly adapts and reacts – remember my explanations about developing motor reflexes by loads of Kihon training – in line with Higaonna Sensei’s methods? The higher level reaction is for your body to continue and fix things in another way!

So this ‘back to the starting blocks’ phenomena, does inevitably happen to a serious pursuer of Traditional karate from time to time, as your ambitions and ego sometimes overrides your abilities, and, or perhaps you became too tunnel visioned and forget that live is always supposed to be balanced – Ying and Yang, Alpha and Omega! Karate and Life!    

A fanatical pursuit is self-destructive!   

I have often explained at courses that I have taught at, and maybe some of you attended, that applying even a Kiai incorrectly, can be harmful to you and your body!  A Kiai must be a very positive action, originating from the building up of positive energy and culminating in an awesome sounding aggressive, but positive energy release! TheKiai must send a message to your body that what you are doing, is good for your body!  Sometimes I hear someone do a Kiai that sounds like somebody stuck a knife in his chest! This Kiai is telling your body that you are punishing your body and doing bad things to it!  Inevitably, your body will respond with a cramp, or injury to stop you from punishing it more!

So this ‘Back to the Starting Blocks’ is one of the best qualities of a true martial art because it is similar to what happens in an actual combat situation!  

General Helmuth von Moltke, a Prussian Military Commander in the early 1800’s, used the phrase ‘No Plan Survives the First Contact in battle’! a quote that I often use to describe a real combat situation. He signifies with this, that one cannot have a single battle plan, you need backup plans as well – nowadays we refer to Plan B, C, etc.!

To put it in another way, in a real contact situation, up to 80% of your training goes out the window, the moment the first punch is thrown, or the knife appears!  The 20% you have left to use, should be sufficient to get you to come out on top!  

Again, we’re back to the method behind Higaonna Sensei’s madness of loads of repetitions ‘Mo Ichi Do’ – ‘One More Time!

But let me qualify – what I have said above, the realizations and knowledge, came to me over the course of the past almost sixty years! Throughout this period, I made many mistakes and deviated down the wrong road quite often, but luckily had the savvy to realize my folly and correct it!

If I can go back in time to the end of the seventies, beginning of the eighties,  just after the IOGKF was established in Poole – my country, South Africa was banned from all international Sport because of the demonic, inhuman apartheid system of our government.

This to me was detrimental in as far as my Karate career was concerned – I was not allowed to go overseas for Karate, but….. I could still go as a tourist!  Apparently, our money was still good enough!

So I would attend IOGKF events, such as the 1981 Okinawa International Gasshuku, 1983 in Spokane USA, etc. as a tourist without embarrassing the hosts.  These times also brings back unpleasant memories, as some IOGKF members objected to me being at some of these events, but that’s water under the bridge!

So the situation was that I basically only had contact with Higaonna Sensei an average of every two years.  Here, I must express my gratitude to him, because Sensei came to South Africa to teach – as a tourist, despite the risk!  But he came and played a role in uniting the people of the country by teaching everyone – SAGA, or IOGKFSA has always been open to everyone from 1966 when it was formed contrary to government policy – I myself had encounters with security police because of me teaching everyone in my Dojo, but that’s a story for another day!

Also appreciate that there were no Internet and YouTube in those days, so the only input I got from Sensei, was maybe two weeks every two years!   So, I used every second – and still do – when I was in Sensei’s company to absorb and memorize every single instruction and teaching, he did, as I did not know how long it would be before I will have contact with him again.

It also forced me to become independent, so to speak, of being spoon-fed by seeing Sensei regularly.  I was forced to train every day in order for my body and my mind to remember everything, every little detail, of Sensei’s teaching.

It was incredible rewarding for my efforts and my dedication to see Higaonna Sensei after a period of time and get the approval from him that I was improving and still on the right track!

So, the attitude of a Martial Artist starts with a motivation – Fear, and that Fear should always be there, but of course, one develops the ability to control it and apply it as positive energy!  Tenacity and willpower drive the serious Martial Artist to make progress – as opposed to making excuses – and with this progress, Passion starts to develop and just increases with every training session!

The lesson of ‘keeping your feet on the ground’, comes around in regular cycles and it forces one to have enough reserve in the tank, so to speak.

A Martial Art starts and ends with Respect and your Teacher is the one deserving of that respect!  The more you appreciate and value and unconditionally trust your Teacher, the sooner you become a Martial Artist and not just someone doing Karate!

In conclusion – no matter what level you are – you always remain a student! Every Gasshuku or class I have ever taught, I learned something new!  As I explained above, when the bigger picture starts becoming like a panorama, you realize how much there still is to learn, hence the fact that you are still sweating every day after almost 60 years!

A last thought: Confucius mentions in relation to the ‘Superior Man’ – ‘He acts before he Speaks, and afterward Speaks according to his Actions!’

This concludes the first chapter of my Podcast Series.

In the next Series, starting off in a month’s time, I will again cover topics such as training in the old days, my first visit to Okinawa in 1973 and I will share with you an incident when I used Karate to stay alive. 

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Music by Basson Laubscher

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