Tradition has it that the martial arts go back 4,000 years into Chinese history. Traditional martial arts encompass all forms of external and internal, hard and soft, weapon and weaponless systems of fighting.
Legend has it that the origins of the martial arts can be traced back to the legendary yellow emperor, Huang Ti, who wrote his classic treatise on internal medicine, the Nei Ching. He also developed military practices involving the use of weapons and weaponless fighting.
With the advent of Confucianism and Taoism, the martial arts developed from a physical to a spiritual path of existence, and a philosophical code underlying the arts took form. The core from which the modern martial arts developed emerged with Dharma (Bodhidharma) when he went to China from India. He introduced Zen Buddhism with the philosophical principle of the “empty mind” and satori.
At this point, the martial arts moved into the realm of religion as only monks practiced them. The arts reached their most perfected form of expression within Budism. It was within Buddhist eras that the most important forms of training were either innovated or notated for posterity.
In the 16th Century A.D., Shaolin martial arts rose to prominence with Master Pai Yu-feng, who introduced the “five fists,” each associated with a different animal. Pai called it the five essences of man, namely:
1. Dragon Fist. Emphasized the training and development of the spirit. Lightness, stillness, and change were instilled.
2. Tiger Fist. Strengthening the bones, emphasizing jumping up and down with firmness of the shoulder and waist.
3. Leopard Fist. To develop strength and application of force, jumping and fighting.
4. Snake Fist. Practice of inner breathing to become sensitive and active with a pliable body.
5. Crane Fist. To train in concentration, stability, accuracy, and determination to defeat an enemy.
The five fists emphasized breathing correctly. These five fists combined the hard and soft elements that existed in various systems of movement and became the basis of the different styles throughout China and the Orient. From this traditional background, imbedded with the teachings of Confucianism, Taoism, and Zen Buddhism, the mastery of the martial arts is not only a physical endeavor, but also a philosophical accomplishment.
The Roots of Karate
Once, when a prominent sensei was lecturing, he said, “We cannot talk about karate as a martial art without understanding the history of karate in Japan and the impact of the man known as the father of karate, Master Gichin Funakohi.”
We can safely say that modern karate dates from 1922, the year Gichin Funakoshi first demonstrated Okinawan tode at a physical education exhibition sponsored by the Japanese Ministry of Education. The tode that Funakoshi demonstrated had origins that went back into Chinese history, although it developed and matured in Okinawa.
“To” means China and “de” is translated as meaning technique, therefore, tode means, “China hand technique.” In Japanese, the “to” can also be pronounced as “kara,” as “de” can be pronounced “te”; therefore, kara-te. The Japanese used a different character to write “kara,” so it no longer means “China.” The modern definition means “empty,” or “nothing.” Some have been confused and defined karate as “empty hand,” or “without weapons.” In reality, the emptiness is an emptiness of self, a freedom from the psychological obstructions of fear and self-consciousness which hinder the free-and-total use of physical techniques. This definition of “emptiness,” coming from Zen, is the basic philosophy of the Japanese martial arts. Long before the arrival of Funakoshi, the martial arts of Japan were known as budo. Budo existed as a unified philosophy; kendo, judo, kyudo, etc., are only different in the method of techniques they employ.
Gichin Funakoshi, before he was chosen to go to Japan, had become the president of the Okinawan Martial Arts Society. Before he went, he consulted the great tode masters in Okinawa and selected from them what he considered to be the best and most representative examples of Okinawan tode. This was in the form of 15 kata; 10 of the 15 being traditional forms, the other five the pinan kata devised by ltosu Yasutsune in the period from 1905-10.
The exhibition lasted only a week, but it left an impact on the martial arts world of the Japanese and began the emergence of an art that was to overshadow the other budo/arts, especially in the Western world. The old techniques long held so mysterious were examined thoroughly and logically in the light of modern science, and gradually grew into karate as we know it today.
Today when one enters the martial arts, one strives to become a “black belt.” In a legitimate school, as the training of a student progresses he will become aware of the molding of himself into a better person, that the perfection of character is the goal set by the sensei. Traditionally this has been the goal. The black belt is an award or honor given to a student who has sacrificed years in disciplining and honing his body and mind to achieve quintessence of physical, mental, and spiritual attainment.
Originally, the ranking system was established to provide a series of levels or steps by which the student could measure his progress. The first black belt awarded is a shodan. Further progress will result in dan ranks or degrees being conferred. This ranking system, after World War II, worked very well in motivating the student, but it also has resulted in some problems.
The disparity of standards has developed a problem that can be summed up as, The higher the number of grades the lesser the truth. Also, the awarding of 1Oth dans given by self-created organizations to the “new” masters of the martial arts has become commonplace.
A proper ranking system should remain universally constant; just as a man six feet tall is always equal in height to another six feet tall, if the measurement is done by the same standard. Judo and kendo, for example, have one international standard of testing which prevails throughout the world. This is due, in part, to both of them having their origins in Japan where the value, the rules of “rank” grew with the respective art. It is also due to the Dai Nippon Butoku-Kai which, as a section of the Ministry of Education, since 1895, established standards and awarded all ranks, up to the end of World War II when it was disbanded by the occupation forces under General MacArthur. In 1954, the Butoku-Kai was reactivated under the auspices of a Diet member named Ma chino and the legendary Ohno Kumao.
The Butoku-Kai is a martial arts organization which traces its origins to the Emperor Kanmu, the 50th emperor of Japan, 781-806 A.D. He opened in the imperial grounds the Butoku-Den (Buto ku-Hall) in March, 797, (Enryaku jugo nen). In Emperor Kanmu’s time on May 5, the Butoku-Den tied in with the beginning of the Heian Shrine. This was the beginning of true samurai spirit and training.
When the Dai Nippon Butoku-Kai opened as a section of the Ministry of Education in 1895, the prime movers were Prince Fushimi and Baron Oura. Established in conjunction with the Heian Shrine, Emperor Kanmu was revered as a deity in the shrine. The modern Butoku Den was opened in Kyoto, Japan in 1899. Only kendo and judo was practiced at first. Therefore, both of these arts developed one international standard for ranks which prevails until today.
The kendo section was headed by Naito Takahara, a swordsman of the Hokushi Itto Ryu, and the judo section was headed by one of Kano sensei’s top students of the Kodokan, lsogai Hajime. When the Dai Nippon Butoku-Kai was established in 1895, the Sosai, or president, was a member of the royal family, Komatsu-noMiya, Akihito Shinno Denka; the Kaicho, or chairman, was Watanabe, the Governor of Kyoto; the Fuku-Kaicho, or vicechairman, was Minobu, the Bishop of the Heian Shrine, and the other vice-chairman, was Toriumi, the head of the Kyoto Chamber of Commerce.
The first Butoku-Matsuri (martial arts festival) was held on October 25, 1896, in a makeshift tent and temporary hall. Kata and shiai were held in kendo and judo.
A few years after the opening of the permanent Butoku-Den, the samurai titles of Hanshi and Kyoshi were conferred. The first recipients of the title of Hanshi were given in kendo, and the titles conferred on Watanabe Noboru, lshiyama Magoroku, Takao Tessa, Eno Kanshiro, Sakabe Daisaku, Dobashi and Muraski. On April
1st, 1906, the title of Kyoshi was conferred. The practice is continued up to the present time. A training apprentice title Renshi was also designated later.
In 1911, the Dai Nippon Butoku-Kai opened a martial arts specialty school, the Bujutsu Semmon Gakko. Later on, it was changed to the Budo Semmon Gakko, popularly known as the Busen. Its aim and purpose was to promote and cultivate Budo in a true samurai spirit; to produce teachers to go out and propagate the real Japanese Martial Arts. The dan system was introduced by Kano Sensei, the founder of the Kodokan, and basically involved six steps known as kyu, three white belt steps and three brown belt steps, followed by the dans or grades, of which the shodan was the first grade. This was the first black belt degree or step. There were and are until today ten steps in the black belt ranks.
Modern Rank Abuses
Karate, from 1922, when it was introduced into Japan proper, up to the end of the Pacific war followed the judo ranking ystem. However, after 1950, many different schools sprung up, each having its own set of standards when it came to testing and conferring of dans. The Japanese martial arts were forbidden by the occupation, with the exception of judo, which was considered a sport. The central authority of the Butoku-Kai was gone, hence the proliferation of many schools with many “new” masters. Thus, when karate was propagated internationally, the various countries embraced each style and each set of standards. A situation arose outside of Japan in which individuals set up their own organizations and handed out black belts without standards, but only for the money they could make. The end result today is there are as many black belts as there are students, who, frankly, are a disgrace to not only themselves but to the art of karate.
Since the Western public is not well aware of the differences in ranking and the ability of a real black belt, they are the losers. They may attend classes where the lure is an easy black belt which is not only dangerous to the student, but also denigrates the art of karate.
It is for these reasons that the ButokuKai issued articles of standards and in 1964, for the first time in the history of Japanese karate, an organization which unified all existing styles of karate came into being under the name of the Federation of All Japan Karate-Do Organization (FAJKO). While it proceeded with the task of bringing all karate groups under one administrative structure, it also worked to resolve the following two technical problems:
1) To standardize dan and kyu ranking systems which until then, worldwide, were left up the judgment of each organization.
2) To establish standardized uniform tournament rules.
The ranking standard as set forth by the Butoku-Kai and FAJKO, the AAKF, is in accord with the international standard set forth by the ITKF, International Traditional Karate Federation, and granted recognition worldwide. They are as follows:
Ranking is the evaluation of an individual’s progress toward the attainment of human perfection through the practice of karate. This evaluation is not based solely upon the physical techniques of karate. It encompasses the human being’s entire physical, moral, and spiritual development. Promotions in rank are awarded in proportion to an individual’s degree of development toward the karate goals of perfection. The established standards of progress and criteria for advancement are explained as follows:
Types of Ranking
There are three types of ranking and they are as follows:
1) Regular rank: The stage of progress of the human character as reached through physical and spiritual practice of karate.
2) Recommended rank: The stage of progress of the human character as reached through both an individual’s continued practice as well as one’s total contribution and service to the development of karate.
3) Honorary rank: An award of rank as a result either directly or indirectly of one’s service and support of the development of karate.
Regular Ranking Standards
The ranking standard for each development level is defined as follows: (We will forego the lower levels of kyu and start from the 1st kyu which is the level just before shodan, the first black belt level.)
(1st Kyu) At this point, the individual must be capable of executing all fundamental body movements and techniques with proper application. This includes all hand and leg techniques.
(1st Dan) This level necessitates a further maturation of abilities. All basic body movements and techniques, including hand and leg techniques, can be applied with extended force and proper application in basic combinations.
Content of examination standard:
Kata – intermediate kata
Kihon – performs single techniques and basic combinations.
Kumite – from freestyle position is able to use basic techniques for defense and attack
(2nd Dan) This state requires the personal assimilation and performance of all basi body movements and techniques to such a degree that their application is in accord with the individual’s own unique body demands.
Kata – advanced kata.
Kihon – combination of all basic techniques.
Kihon – free sparring or self-defense from multiple positions, with or without weapons.
(3rd Dan) At this position, the individual has acquired the understanding of the underlying principles in all basic body body movements and techniques. Moreover, this understanding can be demonstrated in teh application of techniques under varied curcumstances and conditions.
Kata – Advanced kata.
Kumite or Self-defense – Free sparring of self-defense with multiple attachs from multiple positions with or without weapons.
(4th Dan) The individual attaining this standing as exemplified knowledge of the principle boy movements and techniques and their application under varied conditions to such a degree that teh aility to instruct others has been gained.
Kata – Advanced kata
Instruction – must provide instruction with self-demonstration.
(5th Dan) This is the level wherein research has been completed in some limited area. This research includes its application in a manner that is both relevant and appliciable to the individual’s particular physique.
Kata – Advanced Kata with all required factors combining physical and spiritual.
Research – Presentation of favorite technique along withe explanations and self-demonstration.
(6th Dan) The attainent of this position necessitates the performance of karate research in an area that by its nature has a universal benefit to be derived by its application.
Presentation of written report of karate research.
(7th Dan) To achieve this level, the individual must have undertaken advanced research through actual application and extensinve testing of the general research technique.
Examination Standard: Presentation of written report on karate research and the appliation and experience of such research.
(8th Dan) At this point, research must have been completed in a new and previously unknown area.
Examination Standard: Presentation of written research report on a new and yet untouched area.
(9th Dan) The requirements for this standard call for an uncomon dedication for an extended period of time to the areas of individual achievement, research, and technique. This dedication must have culminated in karate achievement and development of the highest and most extraordinary order. Moreover, thi accumulated knowledge and expertise must have been utilized in the general service of Karate development.
Examnation standard: Review by central ranking committee.
(10th Dan) This is the stage where the individual has finally neared teh highest image of karate development. This has been brough about by the continuous practice and pursuit of the truth that is to be found in the human ideal.
Examination standard: Review by central randing committee.
1) Basic Techniques: Includes all stances, punching, striking, blocking, kicking.
2) Each level of ranking requires that the individual has accomplished preceding ranking requirements.
Recommended Randing Standards
1) Has applied oneself by hard work, through continuous practice to achieve a high spiritual developent. However, there is a physical limitation or handicap.
2) Has provided distinguished service through instruction and continued practice but is limited or lacking in technique for respective rank.
3) Has fulfilled necessary regular ranking requiremnt but through circumstances has been unable to be evaluated under required ranking procedures.
4) Any other circumstance other than described above and has contributed to the advancement of karate, such as research and development, etc.
Honorary Ranking Standards
In general must have the respect of the community by virtue of one’s good character. The following is a detailed order of such ranking conditions:
1st Dan – Has provided indirect support of karate at the local community level within a country or territory.
2nd Dan – Has provided direct support of karate at the local community level withing a country or territory.
3rd Dan – Has provided indirect support of karate at teh national level.
4th Dan – Has provided direct support of karate at national level, or may be a local dignitary or leader who has provided indirect support.
5th Dan – Has provided indirect support of karate as a national dignitary or leader in such areas as social, educational and financial, or may be a local dignitary or who has provided direct support.
6th Dan – Direct support of karate by a national leader.
7th Dan – indirect support of karate by a national soverign or top leader or highest official.
8th Dan – Direct support of karate by a national soverigh, top leader or highest official.
9th Dan – Indirect support of karate by an international leader or internationally repected figure.
10th Dan – Direct suppor of karate by an international leader or internationally respected figure.
I find the true essence of life by embracing my connection to all living beings.
Editor’s note: This article is the second in a three part series excerpted from Yamaguschi’s classic karate text, “Goju Ryu Karate Do Kyohan: The History and Fundamentals of Goju-Ryu Karate,” now in reprint. The first article was “The History and Fundamentals of Goju-Ryu Karate,” and the third article is “Practice Fighting. ”
Today, karate-do has become widespread not only in Japan but also all over the world and competitions are held in many places. Most of them are title matches by a game of kumite. For that reason, the purpose of practice is to win the competition; therefore, most of the players emphasize practicing kumite. They do not practice kata as much as is needed. I think this is because karate has spread internationally by turning to competition, like other sports, instead of the unification of each karate ryu-ha. I feel that this is very unfortunate.
I’m arranging on likely jogging tonight with DH nevertheless due to the fact SIL is coming above to see the girls for the little bit. I can not wait around right until I am able to utilize the jogging stroller and go previously from the working day. It can help me try to eat a lot greater.. With weight instruction and resistance instruction, calorie burning will carry on for 2 to three hrs right after the routine ended. Right before beginning a weigh instruction routine, it really is vital to chinese bee pollen examine together with your medical doctor as well as a health expert to ensure that you simply perform the proper resistance exercise routines that won’t result in personal injury to you. Right sort is crucial..
While learning karate from the late Miyagi Chojun Shihan when I was a student, it was Okinawan karate itself. Therefore, all the practices were basics and kata training; the practice of kata was very strict. I had to express the fruit of effort by basics training in kata. After that, I reformed many techniques that are used in kata for kumite and when I started to practice jiyu kumite, I could confirm that the Goju-ryu kata are very theoretical for the actual fight.
Kata is the attitude of self-defense that you perform with a presumed attack in mind as well as your defense on a fixed embu-line (the line of movement of the kata), to protect yourself from a hypothetical enemy with your body that is trained well by strict practice. This means you structure the attack from the hypothetical enemy with a meaningful and effective counterattack systematically. You perform individually with the interpretation based defense and on that theory. Moreover, the purpose of Goju-ryu kata is not only the practice of techniques but also the training of the body (or gathering your internal thoughts), as a result, you can say that kata is the “expression of yourself when you learn karate-do.”
“there is no end to the practice of kata“
You can learn kata wherever and whenever you want. Anyone, old or young, men or women can learn at their own pace. Especially girls and boys. Not only can children learn the real meaning of self-defense, which is the original purpose of kata, but it can also be one of the methods to train their body. Still, the structure of the acts of kata has the elements of symmetry and balance so that the value of it (aesthetic expression of body form) can be obtained.
When karate-do was called te (meaning “hand”) in Okinawa, there was neither an organization nor a ryu-ha (an organized style passed down over time) at that time. The practice of te had been accomplished secretly in Naha and Shuri (districts which divide Okinawa in two). The practice was very strict. It was not like the practice you do in a team at the dojo, which most people do now. The practice was done headed by a teacher with a few students, or one-on-one training. The place was sometimes in a room floored with tatami mats (traditional rectangular Japanese straw floor mats), sometimes in a field or on the beach. Training was always done in a natural environment while hiding from others and in secret. For that reason, there were no textbooks to hand down dealing with kata. It was instructed by the ancients, body to body so that the origins of many kata are unknown.
Currently, there are 60 types of kata from Naha and Shuri; however, because the origins of Naha-te and Shuri-te are different, the names and the way they are done show a big difference. The person who systematically structured kata for Naha-te is Higaonna Kanryo Shihan (master teacher), who was the shihan of Mr. Miyagi Chojun. For Shuri-te, it was Matsumura Soshu Shihan. As I explained in, “The History of Karate-do,” Higaonna Kanryo Shihan went to Fukuken-sho in China and learned Chinese kempo. He put Naha-te and Chinese kempo together and created the basic form of Sanchin and Tensho. Ikibuki was invented by Miyagi Chojun Shihan, who inherited the style from Higaonna Kanryo Shihan. When the breathing method was taken into kata, the kata were improved. After that, the kata Gekisai numbers 1 and 2 were created to spread the kata of Goju-ryu.
Chinese names are used for Goju-ryu kata because both Higaonna and Miyagi Chojun Shihan learned Chinese kempo in China. Presently, the names of kata are written in katakana (one of three Japanese syllabaries), however, in this book, Sanchin and Tensho are written in kanji (characters).
An embu-line is the fixed direction and angles of the body when you perform kata or when you attack, defend, and turn the body. There are eight basic directions: front and back, left and right, oblique of front, back, left, and right. For performing kata, embu-line has to be structured in these eight directions in a fixed order and you have to perform the prescribed technique from a prescribed standing position on this line. Each kata has a different embuline.
When you perform kata, the most important thing is your mental attitude. Kata is not a play. You have to perform it seriously. It is easy to remember the order of kata, but the essence is not only to have performed the kata, but how you acted. For that reason, you have to practice the basics, such as the standing position, how to defend, how to thrust, and how to kick every day.
“It is not the number of kata you know, but the substance of the kata you have acquired”
When you remember the order of kata, you have to practice the used techniques in kata individually and repeatedly, then you can connect the techniques you practice. When you are able to do this basic practice, you have to think of the technique as kata and not the individual techniques. You have to pay attention to how long it takes, strength, and speed, so that you can move and turn the body without waste.
The embu-line is fixed. You start from the starting point and come back to the starting point. One way to practice is to put a mark on the starting point when you act. When dan [black-belt level] grades perform, individuality appears in kata, but it is better not to develop an extreme habit.
There is no end to the practice of kata. Even though a person who has a high dan performs, the acts are never perfect. The practice is unlimited because kata is for improving yourself mentally and physically. Yet the performance has to be improved in different ways with each step as a beginner, whether you have kyu [colored belt level] or dan (black belt level), although you are performing the same kata. Knowing a difficult kata does not mean you have a high dan. In some foreign countries, sometimes they evaluate a person by the number of kata they know. I believe that it is not the number of kata you know, but the substance of the kata you have acquired.
The important things are:
When you perform kata without an opponent, you feel like there is no meaning in the technique so that the fist of seiken-tsuki (basic straight punch) or the tightness of the standing position can be loosened. You should not think that you are doing the attack or the defense by yourself; you always have to think that you are defending against an attacker.
And of course last, the secret of improving kata is to repeat the practice since just the theory will not help.
Usually you do kata by the gorei [commands] of a person who has a higher kyu or dan than you. There are two ways to gorei: One is to gorei in the beginning and the end. The other is to gorei each technique, by numbers. Especially, the latter is used for practice of Fukyu-gata (it will be explained later). It is used when you practice with many people, such as beginners. However, in principle, the practices of techniques are done without gorei. All the practice of kata is done by starting the gorei of “rei” (bow), “mokuso” (close your eyes to clear your mind), the name of the kata, “yoi,” (prepare commend) and “hajime” (begin the kata) by a leader. If there is no leader, you try to gorei in your mind by yourself.
Stand in musubi-dachi (heels together, open toe stance) and put your hands down with the fingers straight. The thumbs have to be bent from the second joints inside. This is the posture of kiotsuke (attention). You have to release the power of the body. You bend the upper part of the body by the gorei (command) of “rei” (bow) by a leader. The eyes have to be staring at the floor two meters in front of you .
“Mokuso” is for calming your mind and gathering your thoughts before you perform. You stand straight and close your eyes lightly. Mokuso is different each time. The leader will call gorei and the name of the kata when he judges the performer’s mind is calm. (Usually it takes three breaths, or about ten seconds, to be calm.)
When the leader calls “yoi,” (prepare) you have to cross both hands in front of your body while you breathe in; and then, while you are breathing out, bring both fists to your sides as if you are tightening your belt, then tighten both armpits like you are pushing at the floor with your fists and put power in your whole body. You open both heels to the outside and when you breathe out; bring them to heiko-dachi (parallel stance). This posture has another name, jinno dachi. It is the posture before you get in ready posture (kamae). All the muscles of your body have to be tensed. The placement of your eyes is a little bit higher than the height of the eyes.
The reason you cross both hands in front of your body is to cover the groin area from a sudden attack; at the same time, you show the opponent that you will not attack suddenly. As in the etiquette of the samurai in which they take off a katana (sword) from the waist and change it to the right hand showing that no cowardly act, such as slashing the opponent without notice, will occur. From that meaning, the inside of the hand that is crossed has to be your dominant arm.
The points to pay attention to when you are in yoi posture:
Hyakujo wished to send a monk to open a new monastery. He told his pupils that whoever answered a question most ably would be appointed. Placing a water vase on the ground, he asked: “Who can say what it is without calling its name?”
The chief monk said: “No one can call it a wooden shoe.”
Isan, the cooking monk, tipped over the vase with his foot and went out.
Hyakujo smiled and said: “The chief monk loses.” And Isan became the master of the new monastery.
Mumon’s Comment: Isan was brave enough, but he could not escape Hyakujo’s trick. After all he gave up a light job and took a heavy one. Why, can’t you see, he took off his comfortable hat and placed himself in iron socks.
Giving up cooking utensils,
Defeating the chatterbox,
Though the teacher set a barrier for him
His feet will tip over everything, even Buddha.
For example, the Heart Sutra does not say “no self,” “no home,” “no partner,” “no job,” “no money,” which are the things we usually care about. Therefore, in order to make it more relevant to our life, we have to fill those in. The Heart Sutra gives us a basic template of how to contemplate emptiness, but the larger Prajnaparamita Sutras fill in a lot of stuff, not only saying “no eye,” “no ear,” and so on. They go through endless lists of all kinds of phenomena, so we are welcome to come up with our own personal lists of phenomena that map out our personal universe and then apply the approach of the Heart Sutra to those lists.
There are accounts in several of the larger Prajnaparamita Sutras about people being present in the audience who had already attained certain advanced levels of spiritual development or insight that liberated them from samsaric existence and suffering. These people, who are called “arhats” in Buddhism, were listening to the Buddha speaking about emptiness and then had different reactions. Some thought, “This is crazy, let’s go” and left. Others stayed, but some of them had heart attacks, vomited blood, and died.
It seems they didn’t leave in time. These arhats were so shocked by what they were hearing that they died on the spot. That’s why somebody suggested to me that we could call the Heart Sutra the Heart Attack Sutra. Another meaning of that could be that this sutra goes right for the heart of the matter, while mercilessly attacking all ego trips that prevent us from waking up to our true heart. In any case, so far nobody has had a heart attack here, which is good news. But the bad news is that probably nobody understood it either.
From “The Heart Attack Sutra, by Karl Brunnhölzl, published by Snow Lion, 2012.
Feature Image: Unknown Artist.
~by Richard Kim, Ph.D.
Sensei and I were high in the mountains overlooking Yugawara. The air was crisp and we stood silently, breathing and enjoying the clean air.
Sensei broke the silence by saying softly, “Stand as if in attention,” and I knew from the tone of his voice that special instruction was forthcoming.
“Now, step forward as if taking a walk,” Sensei continued. “Raise your hands as if embracing someone, relax your shoulders, and bring your hands together with fingers outstretched about three to five inches apart. Now, concentrate on the area separating your forefingers and middle fingers.”
It came to me in a flash. I was transported a few years back to Shanghai, China, and Jessfield Park. I was walking in a circle contemplating my fingertips. Then, after what seemed an eternity, I stopped and Chao Shu Lai, a Taoist monk whom I met prior to World War II, instructed me in a posture that had not made sense to me then and did not makes to me now. I never questioned him, because I had been taught that “all things come to him who waits.” Anyway, that's what I was told.
So here I was in Yugawara, Japan, a far cry from wartime Shanghai. It was the same posture, but the instruction time would be more explicit. Probably fate let me to this. I mentioned it to Sensei. He was not surprised.
“This posture,” Sensei explained, “is the ultimate secret.”
Ultimate secret? All sorts of thoughts flitted through my mind. I wondered what he meant. I could not envision a secret in a seemingly simple posture as this.
“Have you ever wondered as to the seemingly boundless energy of the ancient samurai?” Sensei asked. “Well, the ancients discovered the secret of recharging the human battery without recourse to fancy frills, diets, and exercises. As you are well aware, certain diets and exercises are unquestionable useful; however, since man is a spiritual creation, he must harmonize with the universe to get into reality and tap the power. Only then can disease and death be seen in proper perspective and hod no terror for the man who communes with the power through the secret circle.”
I had hear that the sages of old had a secret that made the appear supernormal, but I had always supposed the secret was locked in breath control. Even Sensei had stressed the importance of breath control, and the foundation of yoga was in the science of the breath.
“You must remember one thing,” Sensei told e. “Man is apt to deny any phenomena that he cannot see, feel, hear, smell, or taste. Because power can be tapped through harmony with either (the upper regions of space) and since the five senses cannot verify this, man as a general rule does not have faith in this secret and will discount it as being esoteric. But reality is reality whether it stimulates our fives senses or not. That fact cannot change. This posture combined with prayers or mantras can charge your batteries, revitalize you, cure your illnesses, and made you come into harmony with the great life force.”
“What do you mean by mantras or prayers?” I asked.
“Mantras,” Sensei explained, “are words which contain the essence of absolute truth. They are magical formulas that create wonders if a correct tone and posture is used. But it must be applied according to the rules. One thing for sure: In adversity, it gives you complete protection.” In fact, he said, in many religions, especially Buddhism, the mantras are the only key to the great life force.
I remembered when I was a kid. In church, the preacher quoted from St. John, chapter 1, which describes Jesus Christ as “the Word”: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… In him was life' and the life was the light of men.”
But I still could not grasp the connection between the mantras or prayers and the posture – the “circle of power” as Sensei called it. He then taught me the mantra of the prajna-paramita, explaining that it was the holiest of the holy among all the sutras. The prajna-paramita literature is comprised of 38 different books, written in India between 100B.C. and A.D. 600. It is the path of transcendental wisdom. In Japanese, it called the Hannya-Shingyo.
After a long period of practice since that day in Japan, I have always felt good in a spiritual sort of way. No aount of adversity, and there has been plenty, has brought me down. Those that I have taught have told me the same thing. In the beginning, a sort of electric charge or tingling comes to the fingertips, then later a sort of pull, a force. Then an ecstatic sort of vibration.
You must be careful no to think of any sort of breathing or method of breathing. Just breathe as usual. Do not try to empty out your mind. Just tell yourself, mentally, that you are a creation of God and as such you are free from delusion and disease.
If you are for some reason, an any particular day, nervous or troubled and cannot concentrate or cal down, use the mantra method to relax and take away anxiety.
Repeat the mantra at least three times, or as many times as you wish until you feel calm and your fingertips tingle or pull. Then go into “plus one,” or positive thinking. Sensei always said, “There are two kinds of people, those who live in 'plus one' and those who live in 'minus one.' Ninety percent of the people live in minus one – they are the complainers and the losers. The very few who live in plus one have it made, because they have found happiness. There are many methods to plus one; however, the circle of power is unique because it helps everybody. It is beyond religion, creed, race, color, sex, or age. And it develops power.”
Your positive thinking must go along lines somewhat like this: “I am a create of God; I am created perfect, without sickness or disease; I am the 'real' man (or woman).” The perfect man is one who sees it as it is, without the blinders or “filtering systems” of language, society, or personal experience.
As you hold your posture, imagine strongly that life-force enters through your fingertips and spreads all over your body. Your faith must well up in you and harmonize with the universe.
The mantra of the prajna-paramita is the highest mantra which makes one equal to “that which cannot be equaled.” In absolute terms, everything is equal, but in relative terms, things are unequal. The mantra is the essence of truth itself and being the concentrated essence of the whole sutra is equal to the sutra itself. The mantra is: Tadyatha gate gate paragate para-sam-gate bodhi sva-ha (going, going yonder; going yonder completed). In essence, it describes “going to the other shore.” or reaching enlightenment. When you repeat the mantra, do not think; just feel with the heart.
Stay in your posture for five to 15 minutes, but not more than 20 minutes. Then close your palms together and stay in silent prayer with feet together.
When you finish your silent prayer, rub your hands together as hard and as fast as you can for approximately 36 counts, and immediately take both of your hands and cover your face for a minute or so.
This circle of power makes one strong in physical and mental health, and also gives a spiritual foundation that can withstand the typhyoons of misfortune and all demonic forces.
About the author: Sensei Richrd Kim is the president and founder of the International Martial Arts University in America. He has written several books on the martial arts and is based in San Francisco, California.