At the heart of all martial arts are some key skills that when understood and practiced extensively allow an individual to truly reach their full potential as a martial artist but also help to provide an insight and act as guidance in all aspects of life. These skills are not exclusive to Shotokai Karate-do and the terms we have used are our own interpretation of these core elements that are so essential in all martial arts. Each of these skills alone are useful but when practiced and applied together allow you to unlock the real secrets of the martial arts.
Breathing is the most natural thing that all human beings do, however in most cases we do not breathe very effectively as our lifestyles do not encourage us to do so. All athletes and musicians understand the importance of being able to understand and control your breath. In order to be in full control of your body you must first learn to be in control of your breathing.
It is not just physical performance that relies on good breath control but also our mental state of mind. When we become fearfull of a situation whether that be a threat to our welbeing or something in our daily lives such as an interview or giving an important presentation then our state is much controlled by our breathing.
You will notice that when you are in this state of fear you breathing becomes more shallow and eratic, by understanding your body and how your breathing operates you can begin over time to control this function and therefore help to minimise the impact when faced with a difficult situation. It does not stop you from experiencing fear but it allows you to control the feeling and still operate effectively.
Energy is not just about how much effort you put into something or whether you feel like going to the gym in the morning.
The belief throughout all martial arts is that all human beings have an internal energy Ki or Chi which is at the core of our bodies or hara and it is by tapping into this energy that makes the martial arts so powerful.
It is an internal energy that is flowing throughout our bodies and it is this energy that helps martial artists achieve some incredible feats of physical and mental accomplishment.
By using this internal energy we are able to keep going when others would quit, it provides the fuel for your spirit to be undeterred and allows for a unique link between you and your opponent.
Ki is often describe in quite amazing and magical feats of achievement and acts of strength and is surrounded by mistycism, however as with many things there are no easy explanations and it is something we should consider that our Ki or or internal energy is a means by which we can push ourselves beyond our expected limitations to provide us all with a sense of belief that everything is possible.
Breath is the bridge which connects life to
consciousness, which unites your
body to your thoughts.
Thich Nhat Hanh
Our imagination is a key that unlocks the ability to visualise the world around us from a unique perspective. To be able to see an action unfold before it has happened is a very special ability. It is this ability that is developed through the practice of Karate-dō that enables an individual to be completely connected with the world around them.
Your imagination and your mind provide answers and questions it is the careful nurturing and development that allows you to empty your mind of the distractions and focus clearly on what is important.
Practicing clearing your mind of distractions is vital, being able to operate from a peaceful position with clear and decisive intent.
Through practicing these skills you will be able to let go of ego and judgement and practice from a position of truth and undertanding in everything that you do.
If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything.
In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few.
The idea of being able to not only harness the energy in our own bodies but then take that energy and extend it beyond our own physical limits allows the practitioner to interact with another human being in truly incredible way.
The concept of entering is a key skill in the practice of martial arts as it enables the individual to extend themselves both physically and mentally to control a situation.
Entering is an extension of the internal energy that is developed in all of us often called Ki or Ch'i and by developing your awareness of this energy and then learning to harness and ultimately extend it from your own body into that of your opponent, with the aim of controlling their centre.
Once the practitioner understands and is able to begin to access their own energy then the next step is to be able to project that energy out from your centre.
It is this element that allows you to not only defend yourself effortlessly and elegantly but also allows you to operate with confidence and belief in everything that you do. However in order to achieve this requires belief and courage.
The rewards for practicing this skill are abundant and once understood will transfer into everyday life as you will look at and understand others from their perspective as well as yours creating great empathy with people around you.
As with all things in life we learn first of all the technical aspects and this is especially important in all physical endeavours. In order to progress in Karate-dō as a beginner the first thing to become proficient in is the Techniques.
These should be practiced diligently at all times whether it is through repition during Kihon or within kata or kumite care should always be taken to ensure that the technique is performed correctly at all times.
The beginner should stive to practice for a 1000 hours to gain basic proficiency it is only with such dedication that you will be able to progress beyond technique.
Once technique becomes natural, fluid and ingrained within your muscle memory you will find that your practice becomes more elegant and effortless allowing you to respond to increasingly more difficult situations with ease and confidence.
When performing any technique the practitioner should be humble and honest but with conviction, spirit and confidence that comes from hard training in this way they will achieve harmony with both themselves and their opponent.
Shigeru Egami, Heart of Karate do
It is important to develop a strong and stable core in the practice of martial arts as without this it is almost impossible to truly experience your inner energy or be able to use that energy to its full potential.
At a more basic level developing a strong core also enables your whole body to operate more effortlessly creating a healthier lifestyle. By ensuring that we have a strong and stable core you will find that you are also able to keep a more alligned posture and frame which is essential for if you are going to keep your centre of gravity in the centre of your body.
At a higher level the power that is generated by our Ki emanates from our centre or Hara in martial arts we need to be able to keep this as our constant. It is only by operating from this centralised position will we be able to realise our true potential both in martial arts and in life.
To be aware of your surroundings is something that is quite natural; for example if you were driving a car you would be aware of many different things happening around you and you would react subconsciously to certain situations; however when in a learning environment we tend to become drawn to specifics which limits our ability.
It is this ability to be aware without a need to focus on any one point that we are trying to achieve, to be aware of all your surroundings without judgement or ego and be able to respond instinctively to any situation.
Our awareness is determined in the main by our senses, and commonly we have five senses, taste, smell, sight, hearing and touch however it is also widely documented that we have at least five additional senses some of which are pain, balance, body movement and acceleration, temperature and time. By useing all of our bodies senses and abilities we can become much more aware of our surroundings .
As an example consider if you have ever been in a situation where you thought someone was watching you and when you turn around you catch the eye of someone on the other side of the room.... What generates that feeling or perception and how could you use that sense more productively.
Specifically, the Bugeisha sinks his awarenessof balance, breath control, and gravity
to a spot inches below his nave. This is the centre of self.
Hara, Sword and Brush, Dave Lowry