The Final Level

The study of the martial arts is not just a study of physical skills, but also the study of philosophy. For too many the physical skills combined with years of competition have simply served to create very contentious people, who are constantly seeking conflict with somebody or other. The current profusion of challenges, both as large contests, and between certain individuals, clearly show that many of our practitioners of martial arts, are not martial artists at all. For to be a martial artist one must know and follow the philosophy of their art, and yet few of these individuals, who are so wrapped up in challenges, seem to even know, let alone comprehend, the philosophy behind their art. This seems to be especially true for those Jujutsuka, practitioners of Jujutsu, who seem to be in the forefront of these current spat of challenges.
If we look at the word Ju in a Japanese dictionary we find, ‘gentleness, softness, mellow, tender’. Where does any of this exist in the challenges of these Jujutsu individuals? Mellow would suggest that those who follow the way of Ju would not need to issue a challenge to begin with, after all what do they have to prove? Where is the gentleness in having a competition where people have their nose broken, cheekbones crushed, arms dislocated, and so much bloody damage? Those people of all systems need to look at the real meaning of their art and begin to live in such a way as to reflect it.
Much of martial arts history point to a single source of influence for the development of Jujutsu and Karate. According to James Mitose many Chinese monks brought their brand of Kempo to Japan where they influenced the development of many forms of Jujutsu. The Okinawans point to many Chinese practitioners who shared their style of Kempo with the Okinawans leading to many techniques and innovations in the Okinawan art. So a single root which all martial arts share in one form or another is Kempo. Maybe by taking a closer look at the second half of the word Kempo, we can all find something which will help our martial arts progress, so that we can leave behind the petty concepts of contention and winning, and reach the final level.
Kempo is made up of two Kanji, the first is Ken meaning fist, and the second is Ho meaning law. In this regard Ho is used to stand for the natural law or universal way. This is noted in both Taoism and Buddhism. Ho is made up of the two radicals, Sui which means water, and Kyo meaning to go, walk on, or move on. Thus the literal meaning of Ho is ‘water go’, or simply ‘flow’.
What this means to martial artists is that life is a flow in which we must live in harmony. The martial arts, as represented by the Ken of Kempo, should be forms of training that bring us into harmony with our environment, people, and God. Through martial arts training, contentious thoughts, actions, and desires should be done away with, so that the person can fully express his/her life in accomplishing goals which not only benefit themselves, but also others. This lead to the greatest, most highest form of flow training devised in the martial arts, Kata.
There are many different methods of practicing Kata, some very old and some very recent, but they all have a value when practiced correctly. The three methods of practicing Kata, which translates form, style, or appearance, are as follows. The first method, and the most common in modern time, is prearranged, where every move is choreographed. In the prearranged Kata, the footwork is also choreographed so that the person can coordinate the hands and the feet. Most prearranged Kata end in the same place they began, but this is not true for all styles.
The second method of Kata, which was used by the Okinawans during the nineteenth century, has the feet prearranged, but the hands were free to do anything the practitioner wanted. This is one reason why there are so many different variations of some of the prearranged Kata of today. At first only the feet were choreographed, so that the practitioners could spontaneously use their hand techniques, thus different masters developed different favored combinations, so that once the idea to prearrange the Kata became in vogue, there were different hand forms to the same footwork.
The final method of Kata is the original method which was used in China, Japan, and Okinawa, in ancient times. These were free style Kata, in which nothing was prearranged and the practitioner moved from his/her own experience, visualization, and inspiration. Currently the Hung Kuen system of Chugoku Kempo, Chinese Chuanfa, teaches several prearranged forms to it’s adherents, but then at the highest level the practitioners must be able to free form. There is one writing which dates back to the Tokugawa era, written by a Soke, headmaster of a system, where he laments that the young Samurai are so consumed by prearranged forms, that they no longer have combat skills, and he hopes for a return to the free style Kata of the past. And of course it is now well known that the oldest, royal, combat art of Okinawa, Bushi Te, the warrior hand, originally used no prearranged Kata, but practiced only free style Kata.
All Kata are good, provided they lead to the ultimate level of achieving the principle of Ho ‘water go’, that is the ability to flow within the perimeters of natural law. This in itself presupposes a knowledge of the higher level of spiritual development as inherent in the true martial arts. First of all it needs to be stressed that all true martial arts emphasize the develop of Ki, which is the internal strength of the spirit. Without Ki, martial arts are no different than sports or other forms of physical exercises. It is Ki which separates martial arts training from other life style activities.
It is Ki that forms the essence of the flow. Probably the most noted and recognized master of flow of the past great masters is Morihei Ueshiba. As the founder of Aikido, he established the necessity of letting the Ki flow and the body follow. In all Aiki techniques, the goal is to extend Ki and allow it to harmonize with the Ki, projected by the intent of attack, from the assailant.
But Ki is not only a part of the Aiki arts but also of Okinawan martial arts as well. Many of the Okinawan martial artists were quite famous for their Ki ability, two truly great ones being Chotoku Kyan and Chojun Miyagi. Chotoku Kyan is thought of as the founder of the Shobayashi branch of Shorin Ryu. Though a very small man, with notably poor eyesight, he was known as a Ki master who had an unbelievable Orenai Te, unbendable arm. Chojun Miyagi was very famous for his great strength, which he attributed to Ki power. One of the most famous stories regarding Miyagi, is how he put his big toe through a military style gasoline can.
Ki, as the force from which the flow develops, is very intricately connected to Kata. Yet it must be realized that Kata is suppose to be not only the most excellent form of self defense, but also the highest level of spiritual training. As self defense training it develops both the physical attributes, and the mental attribute known as Mushin. Mushin is translated as ‘no mind’ and refers to the ability to rid the mind of all extraneous thoughts. Thus there are no distractions to interfere in the defense of the self. The best martial artists of all styles can empty their minds of unnecessary thoughts so they can concentrate on their applications of skills. It might be interesting to note that the real meaning of Karate, which translates empty hand, is this very emptiness, it has nothing to do with the idea of the hand being empty of weapons, since the hand itself is a weapon, and there are many Karate weapons.
To allow any form of mental interruption, is to create an opening, in Japanese called a Suki, or gap, through which the attacker can enter. It is very important to realize that in a real life and death situation, a gap caused by a stray thought can be fatal. Thus Mushin is a most necessary attribute of actual self defense skill.
But more, Mushin is also a necessary frame of mind towards the development of spiritual growth. Just as too much mental thought creates a gap between a martial artist and an opponent, it can also create too much mental static for a person to be in touch with their spiritual side. The more a person thinks, the more clouded the reason for acting becomes. What should be natual, becomes unnatural. All people, as intelligent creatures, should know there is a higher nature to aspire towards. Mushin, no mind, leads to Honshin, the right mind. It is Honshin that allows a martial artist to not only know what to do and when to do it in a combat situation, but also in life. It is through this that right action becomes a way of life for the master martial artist. This is the final level of training.
Most would then wonder, in what way does Kata relate to spiritual training. Actually it does so in two different ways. First of all, it is in the visualization of what your techniques can do in a real life situation, that you develop a deep appreciation of life in that you realize how easy you could end anothers life or lose your own. That is why Kata training, when taught properly, helps a person develop a peaceful spirit. It is in encouraging the illusion of winning over people in combat situations, without repercussions, that much of the violence of today originates. Good Kata not only teaches the visualization of what you are doing but also what it is doing to your visualized opponents. With realistic visualization, one quickly looses the desire to fight, knowing the damage that can and will be done to an actual opponent. That is why it is important for an instructor to teach the truth about what the techniques he/she is teaching. Students need to understand the damage a jointlock actually does to an arm, what a throw will do to a person when they land on hard concrete or an uneven surface such as a stair or fireplug, what a punch to the solar plexus actually does to the spleen and other internal organs, and what kicks can actually accomplish against a persons face or other body parts. Knowing the amount of actual damage that can be caused, teaches a higher level of respect for the art, and a greater reluctance to engage in fights. This should deepen the students regard and respect for life, which is a beginning point of spiritual progress.
Kata helps a person develop through four distinct and recognizable levels. The first level is Tai, body, in which a student simply knows how to move his body and concentrates on physical techniques. During this phase the student thinks that physical strength is everything and that power, along with good technique, can conquer any foe. If the student keeps practicing the Kata, he/she begins to go beyond the physical technique and into the Shin, mind, level. At this point the student begins to comprehend that it is his/her understanding of the techniques in the Kata, along with the strategy which he/she learns, that actually makes the techniques work. Now the student begins to seek an intellectual understanding of the principles expressed through the Kata, and begins to see the Kata as more than just physical movement.
This leads to the third level, where the student now begins to feel the Ki, spirit, in the technique, suddenly he/she begins to understand that true power is not a matter of physical strength or mental knowledge of vital points, though both of these are important. Rather true strength lies in the spirit which can be extended out of the body and through the weapons of the body. He/she now begins to understand that when the spirit is strong, the body is strong. When that happens the student now practices the Kata, developing both mind and body, but most importantly developing the spirit by the concentration of Ki into each and every technique.
Once there is Ki extension into all techniques the Kata becomes a pleasure to practice, not the discipline it once was to the practitioner as a beginner. At this level, the practitioner does the Kata without thought, now operating in the mental state of Mushin. It is here that the practitioner has reached the final level, Mukei, the point of no form. Even in regard to prearranged Kata the level of Mukei can be achieved. Once there the prearranged movements begin to have multiple interpretations, with different sets of rhythm and timing creating themselves as they adjust to the mental visualization of the practitioner. In truth, the ancient method of freestyle Kata made reaching this goal much easier, but dedicated and devoted practice will lead to the final level of the sincere martial arts practitioner.
Another translation of Mukei, along with no form, is spiritual. And this is the point that the martial artists achieves, he/she is now a spiritual person who sees in the practice of the Kata an oppotunity to continue to grow as a human being.

Through the effective techniques of self defense, the martial artist develops physical fitness. Through an understanding of the art and the principles behind it, he/she grows intellectually, expanding upon personal mental limitations. And finally by understanding the reality of combat, the fragility of life, and their own personal responsibility for the consequences of their actions, the martial artists grow spiritually. This then is Mukei, the point of no form, the highest level which is true spiritual development. For the true martial artist, who is seeking to use the martial arts as a means of being the best human being he/she can be, this is the final level.

Karate Story Disclaimer

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *