The legendary Tadashi Yamashita (10th dan, Kobayashi Shorin-ryu karate) once said that one of the great “secrets” of karate was in the correct training of stance, but very few people do it anymore. And he is 100% right.
First, we must determine just what is the purpose(s) of a given stance? Think about it for a second, I’ll wait……
First and foremost, a stance is a stable platform from which we can deliver powerful blows (bearing in mind that the platform must be capable of withstanding the force of said blows). Secondly, some stances are stable positions from which we can move quickly and easily in a firm, contolled manner. And that’s it. They do not exist for purposes of aesthetic appeal.
In so far as issuing power is concerned, we must consider the proper (leg) tension that is to be used and there are only two; inside tension and outside tension. Inside tension involves contracting the adductors (muscles of the inner thighs) to “lock” you into place. Styles such as Goju-ryu and Uechi-ryu karate as well as Chinese forms such as Wing Chun (should) utilize this principle a great deal; they are “in-fighting” styles and as such, they must be able to lock themselves into place when delivering close-quarters techniques.
Footwork is what happens in between stances, moving from one to another in various ways. It must be balanced and controlled. But footwork and stances are two separate subjects…
Additionally, stances such as the empty-leg stance (aka., cat stance), the sancai stance found in internal forms of gong-fu, the pigeon-toe stance, and hook stance use inward tension to stabilize the stance.
Outward tension involved tension in the legs in opposite directions. This is used for longer strikes and thrusts. For instance, in the forward stance (aka., zenkutsu-dachi, bow and arrow stance) the front leg presses forward while the rear leg thrusts down and back – opposite directions. This helps stabilize the position and even adds some impetus to the blow.
The only stances that don’t use either inward or outward tension are those that involve standing on one leg only. To create inward or outward tension in a stance, it’s necessary to have BOTH feet planted on the ground.
In any case, you must not simply “sit” in your stance, leaving it devoid of proper tension. I call this a “dead stance” because once you assume such a position, you can neither move as quickly nor strike as powerfully as you could from a properly “loaded” stance. And in a life and death struggle, that can mean the difference between life and death.
Over the years, I’ve heard several martial arts instructors remark that they like to “work out” in the classes that they teach and/or that they use the classes as their own workouts. I think this is a very bad idea for two reasons…
First, it cheapens the instruction received by the students.If the teacher is focused on himself and his own workout, he is not able to closely observe what his students are doing.If he had to stop periodically to make corrections here and give encouragement there, or explain a particular principle or concept, his workout would be constantly interrupted.If he really intends to work out, he must be wholly attending to what HE is doing rather than on what the students are doing.
Secondly, if the instructor allows his personal workout to be constantly interrupted, he isn’t able to focus completely on what he’s doing.It’s really not much of a personal workout at all.
Using class as his own training time takes away from the quality of instruction received by the students and also ruins the teacher’s workout as well.
I have told teachers (who informed me proudly that they simultaneously utilize class time as their own workout time) that they really must stop doing so.I told them that in class, they should devote themselves to TEACHING and pay attention to the students.Their own workouts must be conducted separately, on their own time.Class time is intended for the students.Period.
The cathedral at Chartres, France took more than a hundred years to build. A whole century! That means that the stonemasons who laid the foundation did so knowing full well that they’d likely never see their work completed. In fact, I’m quite certain that the architects who designed and supervised the work must have realized that they wouldn’t live to see it finished. I like to consider things like this while I’m standing in the checkout line at the supermarket… I understand that the difference between me and these builders from long ago is considerable – not just in terms of the times that’s elapsed between the age in which they lived and the one in which I now live, but also by our vastly disparate concepts of time.
Prior to our modern age, people measured time differently than we do. As little as a hundred years ago, consider the time it’d take you to get a loaf of freshly baked bread (if you’re planning on having it with tonight’s dinner). It’s probably just a matter of minutes to the nearest bakery from which you can buy bread that’s come from mechanically processed grain, machine milling and mixing, kneading, baking, and packaging. As little as a hundred years ago, this all had to be done by hand! So when I say, “I need to get some bread”, I mean something different than what my ancestors meant when they spoke those same words.
We tend to think in terms of hours when we speak of segments of time. For instance, travel is measured in terms of hours. Even our educational system is based on credit hours needed… But the generations before us thought of time in different terms; travel could take weeks or even months! Education back then was generally based on apprenticeships; students of Rembrandt, for example, were required to spend three years just learning how to grind pigments for the paint that was to be used in his studio!
It’s tempting to think that one way of looking at time is better than another; that the “old, slower way” is superior to the “new, instant” way but that’s an oversimplification. Each generation finds what works best for their kinds of lives. Problems occur when we try to impose our concept of time to things of another age. Contractors can now construct a new church in a matter of weeks and that’s fine; what is NOT fine is if they try to convince everyone that it’s as well-built as the Chartres Cathedral. And students of art can graduate after a few hours of instruction but they’re nowhere near being on the artistic level that the old masters were. And martial arts students often feel that after a matter of several hours they can grasp the skills of arts that really require more than a lifetime to fully understand.
Too often, people approach the martial arts with what I call a “modern sense of time.” They feel that after a few months or years of practice, they’re qualified to pass judgement on what works and what doesn’t, and so on. It should be borne in mind that the martial arts that we practice are just that; arts. To “absorb what is useful” requires at least a decade of practice before you can make that determination. At least a decade. If that amount of time seems excessive, it’s likely because you’re applying modern time frames to things that are not modern. Would you expect to be able to paint like a fifteenth-century Flemish master after attending a couple of semesters in his class? Could you even hope to tap into the most basic of his techniques such as mixing paints, preparing a canvas, or applying finishes? And these are just minor aspects…
We’re not even considering the acquisition of his genius for composition, lighting, and so on. Only the most boorish would suppose that they could even come close to the master’s level without decades of training. And martial arts are just like that. Their basics and secrets and subtleties are no less complex than those of fine arts. Yet, many people approach them as if they could be completely understood and appreciated in a few hours.
Ours is the age of high-speed, instant, and “I want it now.” Often, the beginner’s first step in starting training is directed towards restructuring his sense of time. He must work to adapt himself to the constructs of the martial arts and meet them on THEIR unique terms, rather than trying to force them into his own. He may well discover what those that have gone before him discovered – if something worth doing is worth doing well, time is not important.
If one reads or hears the classics, history, or even stories of the martial arts and the martial artists of old, one would conclude that, when compared with those of nowadays, there is a huge gap in the authenticity.
From the heroics of Shaolin Warrior monks in defending the Shaolin Temple from bandits around the year 610 and helping Li Shimin defeat Wang Shichong at the Battle of Hualao around 621 to the time of the Boxers’ Rebellion, one would know that martial arts was way beyond feeble and fancy movements aimed to show off acrobatic skills and flair.
Here are my three reasons as to why Chinese Martial arts degraded over the years…
Back In The Day, Martial Arts Were Mainly practiced to Protect Lives And Properties
Just like most present-day practitioners, many martial artists learned for self-defense in the streets. However, In the imperial days of China, robberies, raping and killings by bandits were common so most people sought after learning martial arts and those who could not practice sought for protection in monasteries protected by warrior monks. Moreover, they knew that they could get killed if they weren’t proficient enough so they learned with absolute dedication.
Wars, back in the day, were fought in close combat positions which made most generals fierce martial artists. Men fought for land, power and even women, but in the absence of these dire situations, the sense of dedication will be lacking.
What happens if these dire occasions are absent?
Changes in cultural practices
Martial arts students of old worshipped the masters, they were lords and fathers to their students. Masters take them as their children and even sometimes go as far as changing the student’s last name to his’; we can see this in Jackie Chan’s case in paying homage to his master, Yu Jim Yuen, during his days in Peking Opera, although he had the name Chan Kong Sang, he took stage name, Yuen Lo. Although he later changed back to his biological last name, some of his fellow students didn’t e.g. Yuen Biao and Yuen Wah.
This happened because students took martial arts like life. They didn’t have many ambitions, the martial art was everything.
Nowadays, no student can stand being a puppet to someone all for the sake of martial arts.
Lack of Patience in Learning
Nowadays, most martial arts students want to become masters overnight and martial art teachers are not helping matters. They want to learn quickly thereby creating bunches of “half-baked” martial arts practitioners. Martial art takes time and intense practice. To learn and perfect a form may take more than a year before moving to the next as this is the ethic of martial arts but patience is lacking in most learners of today.
A Chinese martial art classic says, ”Shoulders match hips, elbows match knees, and hands match feet. Capturing is rigid, seizing is flexible. One moves onto weapons after forms. A weapon is an extension of the limbs. When man merges with the weapon, the heart merges with the mind, the mind merges with energy and energy merges with strength. Yin on the inside, yang on the outside. Energy is created from the inside out. You can’t move on without mastering the previous form.”
Take note of the last line in the quote above…
Note: These are reasons that occurred to me. You can add yours in the comment section.
by Adeniyi Makinde, freelance writer
”Adeniyi is both a martial artist and a writer. He was influenced by Jet Li, and grew up loving Chinese martial arts though he didn’t get the chance and opportunity to learn from childhood. He luckily met a kindhearted teacher who saw his passion and love for the art and has been teaching him for the past seven years till date.”
Here’s my latest article on the essentials of rest and recovery. Check it out.
Rest, and recovery are critical components of any successful training program at an intensive martial arts training camp. In my experience it is a component under-utilised in intensive training environments. Students want to get the most out of their time, so push hard. In this article I discuss the ‘Essentials of Rest and Recovery at martial arts training camps’.
Rest to enhance performance
As a way to enhance performance rest and recovery is too often overlooked. Understanding the difference between rest and recovery and how to properly implement them both is the key. If you’re training 5-8 hours per day for 5-6 days a week, you have to consider how sustainable that is. Making the most out of your rest, and recovery time is essential. If you define rest as a combination of sleep, and time not training then the quality of your sleep, and the time you spend not training will be critical. With many full-time martial arts schools packing their timetables with morning, afternoon, and evening training sessions. How you sleep, and spend the time in-between these classes is even more important.
Legendary actor and martial artist, Bruce Lee, once stated that ‘martial arts means honestly expressing yourself.’ During his short life span, Bruce Lee blessed us with several timeless truths that are applicable not just to martial arts, but to life in general. The practice of martial arts, according to Lee, does not simply entail learning how to fight better; rather it means understanding your being in a more holistic way, and thus being able to express yourself better and more honestly. To express oneself honestly means having the confidence to go against the fear of being judged by others. This confidence is developed through martial arts training in two main ways.
Skills Self-Confidence Leads To Overall Self-confidence
When you begin training for martial arts, you will discover that with time, you become self-confident in the specific martial arts skills that you’re learning. For example, if your primary goal was self-defense, you will become confident in the skills you have learnt to defend yourself. Indeed, self-defense comes from skills and confidence. After martial arts training, you will have confidence in your ability to execute specific martial arts techniques in the correct way and with the correct timing. With time, this skills-confidence will translate into overall self-confidence. When you become self-confident, your possibilities for integrity and autonomy are expanded, meaning that you will be able to express yourself more honestly without fear of being judged. This can mean doing something you have always wanted to do but were held back from through fear or lack of confidence. It could be starting a new personal business, taking a world trip or getting an extreme tattoo, such as the face tattoos which have recently become a common trend amongst rappers. These are all means of honestly expressing yourself without fear of judgement. Undoubtedly, honest self-expression by standing up for yourself and doing things with confidence is critical in a society that is always judging us. Martial arts training greatly aids this cause.
Discover Your Strengths And Weaknesses And Work On Improving Them
Through martial arts, you will be able to honestly assess your strengths and weaknesses, and will have an opportunity to work on both. At first, this will relate to elements such as physical strength, agility and speed. However, martial arts is different, in that it will give you both freedom and a non-judgemental avenue to work on both your skills and weaknesses, and make improvements in any way that you choose. This is especially true once you find the perfect style of martial arts for you: the one that best fits with your personality, whether that’s karate, Brazilian jiu-jitsu or MMA. You will be able to honestly express yourself, not just on the mats or inside the dojo, but also in life, where after discovering your strengths and weaknesses, you will possess the confidence to improve yourself in an honest way, and then similarly express yourself without fear of judgement.
We live in a significantly judgemental society, and having the confidence to express yourself honestly can go a long way in helping you live a happy and fulfilled life. Training in martial arts is one of the best ways to acquire this confidence.
My martial arts journey began in 1969 at the first classes of the Tomiki aikido style in Melbourne, Australia, under the guidance of (then) Leoni Heap. I was a drifter at the time, doing unskilled work in order to finance my travels in Australia and overseas. I was playing several contact sports at the time and Aikido was a fitness adjunct for me. Eventually, against my better judgement, I was persuaded to attempt my shodan grading. I had coached junior sports during my youth and suspected that I would be requested to teach when I made shodan, so I had resisted for nearly a decade.
Sure enough when I received my grading and whilst making preparations to travel to South America, I was asked to go to Sydney to fill in for a teacher who was relocating. Not being particularly stable at the time, I accepted and through that decision was able to meet and learn from the first person to teach Shindo Muso ryu jyodo (way of the stick) in Australia, Paul Maloney sensei.
I was ready to depart for South America after a couple of years in Sydney, when the Falklands war broke out and I was advised it was an inopportune time to visit South America. Step up Paul Maloney, who suggested a trip to Japan instead. As he had not long returned from Asia himself and was full of praise for the culture and fighting arts, I quickly agreed.
Through Paul and his contacts, I obtained various introductions to Jyodo and Aikido dojos,where I trained under such notables as Kaminoda Tsunemori (SMR jyo), Ohba Hideo (Tomiki aikido), Nitta Suzuo (Toda ha Buko ryu naginata jutsu) and long-time Japan resident Phil Relnick (SMR). Through the introduction of the principal of my Japanese language school, I commenced my third style of karate and Taijichuan, with Nakano Harumi sensei, a well-known teacher in Japan and China. I studied with her for the best part of 8 or 9 years and, through her, was introduced to various teachers, including Matsuda Ryuichi who taught me Xingyi chuan, Bagua zhang and Shaolin chuan. We were also regularly exposed to teachers from the Chen jia gou (Chen village) in their annual visits to Tokyo.
In 1989, I was introduced by friends to Nitta Suzuo shihan of the Toda ha Buko ryu naginata jutsu school, which I have also studied since that time.
When it was time (a regular occurrence for foreigners) to leave the country to renew my visa, Nakano sensei suggested the Chen village for further training. Most foreigners either went home to renew their visa or went to Korea for a few days, but I wanted something more.
I wanted to continue Xingyi and Bagua as well as Taiji, so we decided on Shanghai, instead of the village and Nakano sensei gave me introductions to her friend Mr. Chu Jin Ming, who was then the vice president of the Shanghai Chin Woo athletic society and 2IC of the Shanghai Olympic Hotel, which at the time was the safest place for foreigners to meet Chinese without the obligatory “spies” getting their knickers in a knot. Remember, this was 1987, shortly before Tiananmen
Mr. Chu introduced me to He Bing Quan who introduced me to Wang Zhong Dao. Master He had trained with Chen Zhao Kui when they lived together in Shanghai. He was a Shaolin master who had trained in several styles of Taijichuan under the old masters.
Master Wang had trained under Master Chu Gui Ting, a student of the famous Li Tsun Yi and taught me his version of Xingyi and Bagua – which differed slightly from Matsuda sensei’s version (which he learnt in Taiw
an). When Master Wang died, I continued under Master Chen Jian Yun who had studied Shansi style Xingyi as well as learning from Master Chu. When he died, I was left rudderless, to continue on my own.
Then, in 2018, I was lucky enough to find Mr. David Kelly at studymartialarts.org who provides a wonderful introduction service for practitioners seeking training in Chinese chuan fa. Whilst scrolling through his pages, I happened to come across a reference to Master Chu Yu Cheng. Further research showed that he was the grandson of Chu Gui Ting – fancy that, his other students (my teachers) never mentioned he had a grandson!
David quickly arranged for us to get together and I went to Shanghai for the first time in 15 years to resume my true lineage. I found Master Chu to be extremely knowledgeable and up to date. Lest I be considered to be a poor follower of my previous teachers, they were getting on in years and had possibly forgotten some of the deeper work. No such problem with Master Chu – in the space of a month, he was able to upskill me, even after 30 plus years of training in the art under various Masters.
Unfortunately, it was a test run for me and I had let my Chinese skills lapse, which made it hard for Master Chu, but he never failed to teach from his heart and luckily enough I had enough experience to bumble through. In order to honour him and his compassionate students, I am frantically trying to rejuvenate my language skills before my next visit.
If there is one theme you will notice through this narrative about Asian combatives it is INTRODUCTIONS – they are essential in Asia (for locals and foreigners) and you won’t find a more generous spirit with the necessary contacts than David Kelly.
Martial arts are often perceived as being a very athletic activity that is reserved for very fit and fully abled people, mostly men aged between 16 to 30 something. This seems to be where most clubs are focussing in terms of their potential client base. Within Karate there tends to be more of an emphasis on children and so the image of Karate has been distorted into being a martial art that is ineffective, but is a great pastime with awesome coordination and discipline building features. This weak image is far from true and luckily there is a growing movement of pragmatic martial artists who are promoting the practical application of this great art, which I am happy to be a part of. I am also a strong advocate of the benefits of Karate in improving not only physical health but also mental wellbeing and as such I organise seminars and classes for organisations helping people who suffer with ill mental health. Being involved in this type of application of Karate has led me to focus on inclusion and developing Karate as an art that is accessible for all students, no matter what their physical ability, age or struggles may be. Everyone is welcome in my dojo (place of training) and I can see that this approach is increasing in popularity as more and more dojos are incorporating changes to enable all students to participate. terms of their potential client base. reserved for very fit and fullyabled
If we think that there are over 11 million people with a disability in the UK, this is a considerable proportion of the population that could be excluded from enjoying the benefits of Karate. In my club we have two types of groups:
Practical Karate where we train with contact; sparring and throwing is a usual part of a session.
Meditation Karate where we focus on a softer approach and enjoy the benefits of Karate forms.
In both of these groups we place an emphasis on adapting the training programme to accommodate all kinds of students. Most of the exercises within Karate can be appropriately modified. It just takes some knowledge and imagination. By doing this we can achieve astonishing results, empowering students and giving them the confidence to take part in activities from which they are usually excluded. For example, when working with seniors I have modified our kata (forms) to take into consideration the fact that most of my clients experience problems with joint mobility, arthritis, balance and back pain. My programme is designed to remove stances that are not so kind on joints and includes additional movements that help to improve balance.
What is important is to focus on an individual’s abilities and make appropriate modifications as we teach. A good example would be the kata, Naihanchi, where we have a movement that involves crossing our legs to step. People with poor balance struggle to complete this move and so we have a few options on how to make this easier. First, we can abandon the step altogether and instead put in place a side shuffle. A second option is to place a chair in front of the person, which can be used as a support. In this way we can allow them to keep exercising without being discouraged and in time they can build up their confidence to try the cross step.
Another simple modification is to exclude some parts of a workout or drill. Just a few weeks ago we had two students who had acquired minor injuries to the ankle and calf. As we were working on pad drills that involved punches and kicks they were struggling with the kicking element and from the perspective of a coach it was too risky to allow them to kick. My responsibility as an instructor is to make sure that we can avoid obtaining injuries and do not worsen any existing ones and so the logical answer is to modify the drill to leave out kicks for those individuals. Having watched many classes at different clubs I had come across the practice that pushes students to train through an injury with the mantra that “it will make you stronger”. In my experience this does not make you stronger and in fact is more likely to result in you having to take a longer break from training to enable recovery. At many clubs this mistake can be easily made, where a technique has been excluded for a particular individual, but the other students have not been made aware that the drill has been modified for that person and so the effected individual is pressurised by others to perform the whole drill.
An adaptation that I have found very useful is to modify sparring conditions to appropriately consider individuals. Some of my students are hard of hearing whilst others have mild autism and so I have changed the way that they are pressure tested. In consultation with the given student we come up with a plan for their involvement in sparring, from engaging in sparring but with no hitting to the head to doing forms on the side instead. It is also important that my other students take into consideration their partners’ ability. For instance, after a few years of training an autistic student decided that he would like to try full sparring with punches and kicks to the head (with protective headgear). This was not a problem as all of the students were made aware that they need to control themselves and not punch 100%. In this way everyone can enjoy the same activity whilst remaining safe.
We all associate Karate with strict discipline, lines of students and a loud “Osu!” (acknowledgement). This is a reflection of Japanese Karate. Okinawans have a more family oriented approach that is much more relaxed and I was always drawn to this sort of club. Many instructors have disagreed with my approach whereby students can drink during a session and ask questions freely. However, having stuck to my beliefs and run my club in this relaxed way for a few years I can happily say that it has been beneficial to my students. They care about the club and each other and the process of learning is much faster, especially for the more age-advanced students. Put simply, without stress we can enjoy training and as we all know it is much easier to learn a subject if it is enjoyable.
A fundamental element when teaching anything is communication. If there is no communication then it is very hard to learn anything. That is why it is very important to establish a sufficient and individual connection with students, in order to communicate clearly. What do I mean by this? If we have a group of students with different abilities we have to consider how we can effectively communicate with each of them without losing detailed instructions. For example, in our club we have a student that is deaf and in order to know what I am saying she has to be able to see my face (for lip reading), so I make sure that she can see my face whenever I explain something. In addition to ensuring that students can ‘hear’ you, it is also important to appropriately adjust the language that we use to enable us to be understood. People with learning difficulties or non-native English speakers might struggle to understand certain words or phrases and so we need to adjust our speech so as to be clear. For instance, people with autism might take our metaphors literally and so misinterpret what has been said leading to misunderstandings and potential injuries.
The examples that I have discussed here represent only a small subset of the adaptations that we can use to make the sharing of Karate with others successful. We need a personal approach that considers the needs of each student in order to provide the best possible instruction in a safe and friendly environment. If these changes can be more widely incorporated into teaching methods then we will hopefully see more people from all walks of life taking up and enjoying Karate in the future. In our dojo we have a saying that “strong and caring people are the pillars of society and Karate helps to cultivate them”. If people are strong both mentally and physically they are much more willing to support others and so the practice of Karate does not just help the individual that trains, but also the whole community within which that individual is a part of.
“About the author: Les Bubka is an experienced martial artist, personal trainer and therapist who specialises in posture, mobility and Karate. Les works with a wide variety of clients including martial artists and athletes as well as those suffering with postural dysfunction or those who wish to improve their fitness and wellbeing”
“The bow is shattered, arrows are all gone. At this critical moment, cast aside all doubts. Shoot, without the slightest delay.”
These lines were penned by Zen master Bukko Kokushi during the Kamakura era (1226-1286) in Japan. Typical of Zen-inspired poetry, it’s a bit puzzling. How do you shoot if your bow is broken and your arrows are all gone? For an answer, we must turn to kyudo…most of you have never practiced it and fewer than that will ever engage in it but the answer it provides can be applied to any martial Way.
Kyudo is the Japanese Way of the archery. It’s one of the less popular martial disciplines, especially outside of Japan (where high-level teachers are pretty much non-existant). Equipment is terribly expensive; a good yumi (the bow, which is handmade with laminations of bamboo and various woods) can cost as much as $4,500.00, although you can get modern ones of considerable less quality for as little as $500. Then, too, the precise dictates of the art seem to have more in common with the tea ceremony than with a bloody fighting art. A kyudo neophyte will spend months learning the intricacies of kyu-ha, the etiquette and rituals of the art.
The details involved are intimidating and all of them must be committed to memory until the practitioner has integrated them on a level that is virtually instinctive. For instance, there are a certain number of steps taken to approach the shooting stand, the angle at which the bow is held when the arrow is nocked must be just right. All of the various facets of the mechanics and movements of drawing and shooting are precisely set into forms that have been formalized for many, many years. And they must all be learned exactly. There is even a set of certain movements used for approaching the target, leaning the bow against it, and removing arrows from the target! Kyudo is a bit long on outer movements, to say the least.
Many of you will think that kyudo focuses an awful lot on seemingly petty details, but consider that a beginning karate or gong-fu student likely thought he could throw a pretty decent punch…until he started training. His chin must be held just so, his shoulders have to be adjusted here, his hips have to move exactly this way, and so on. I’ve been known to spend as much as two hours going over the details of a simple reverse punch and I could easily have gone on for another two or three. I’ve seen novices become so overwhelmed by the details of their art that they actually freeze. Their eyes betray their minds, which are frantically trying to recall all of the details…and they become as statues!
Many uninformed people present considerable criticism about this approach to what is allegedly a “fighting art.” They often make very ignorant commentaries, claiming that the practitioner who trains in this way will be so concerned with ensuring that all of the tiny details are just right that he’d be quickly pounded into dogmeat before he can mount an effective defense. This reasoning is based on the erroneous assumption that this stage of training (known as toteki, is the FINAL goal. Not hardly.
In time, the kyudo student (kyudoka) begins to integrate the details of the art into his performance. He doesn’t have to count his steps as he approaches the stand; they come out naturally. The arrow is corrrectly nocked without conscious effort. This is the beginning of what is called zaiteki; the bow and archer are becoming one. Practitioners of other martial Ways may use other terms to describe the same thing; they often speak of mushin (無心 wuxin in Chinese), which is a term often heard in the practice of Zen. Mu (Wu) means “nothing” or “without”, while shin (xin) refers to the mind or consciousness. Thus, the term is often translated as “without consciousness” (also, “no mind”). Rather than inferring that one is unconscious, this term indicates that the practitioner no longer has to consciously “think” about what to do.
The practitioner moves naturally; he has passed beyond the level of training that required him to concentrate on the details of his technique. His movements are spontaneous and correct. The technique has become “no-technique.” If you can drive a car, play the piano, or even tie your shoes, you already are familiar with this concept. But there was a time when you stared at the piano keys and tried to get your fingers to move to the right spots. With lots of practice, you eventually reached a stage wherein you no longer had to think about it; your fingers “knew” where to go.
If you’re a skilled typist and you’ve been at it a while, you’d likely be stumped now if someone asked you about the layout of the keys/keyboard. Like, which keys are on either side of the letter “J?” You may be able to type 80 words a minute, but that question confounds you. That’s because you’ve achieved a certain mushin in your ability to type. Now, there’s a considerable difference between the “no-technique” of the highly skilled martial artist and the “non-technique” of the novice. Neither the expert nor the beginner can probably tell you what adjoins the “J” key but that doesn’t mean they’re at the same level in terms of their understanding and ability to type. One must strive to achieve the stage of “no-technique” and there’s no short-cut, no way to bypass technique altogether. It’s going to take time. Lots of it.
The bow, the arrows…as the Zen master’s poem reminds us, these are external details. Drive yourself past them through severe, unceasing training and effort and press in to the core of the art. When you art is fully integrated in body, mind, and spirit, the bows and arrows, the details of the punch, kick, or throw are unimportant. At the critical moment, as Bukko advised, you must penetrate the target without the slightest delay.
At different times when I was studying under my gong-fu instructor, he’d drop what I call “morsels” for me to chew on. Some seemed rather small and seemed insignificant; I’d discover their real value later on. What was important was whether or not I noticed them, picked them up, and consumed them. He was always watching to see what I’d do. Some of my classmates would ignore these crumbs of information and those who did found fewer and fewer tidbits were dropped for them. They expected full-blown “meals” of a sort but they never got them…
Of course, I asked why such small crumbs were presented at different times; wouldn’t it be more efficient to give me the whole meal? My sifu shook his head and frowned a bit as he replied, “No. I give you small pieces only when you are ready for them.” He went on the explain as best he could in English that to give me a whole meal would be like setting a full Thanksgiving dinner before a toddler whose teeth had not all come in yet. The youngster simply isn’t physically capable of partaking of the sumptuous feast and even if he could, he’s too young to truly appreciate it. He’d stuff his mouth full of everything that would fit – kind of like a hungry squirrel – and he’d fail to savor the various flavors of the different dishes.
The size of the morsels had to be just right (so I could physically “chew” and digest them without too much trouble) and they had to be dropped at the right time (age, in martial arts terms). And in the right sequence.
And so it is with my own students. Occasionally, one will ask, “Why didn’t you mention this earlier?” I tell them that they weren’t yet ready to hear it or physically able to do it. Then there are a few who allege, “You CHANGED it!” I calmly tell them that nothing has been changed; they’re just seeing another aspect of what they’ve already learned. Further outbursts will put a quick end to any new morsels…