Written by David Chandross
The more we talk and write about something, the less real it becomes. Speech and text are symbolic mediums and strip away most of reality. It is like trying to describe the taste of a cucumber. If you haven’t tried it, you won’t understand. If you have, the exercise is pointless. Much is the same with martial arts.
And yet there are what I will call “textual moments”, transformative empathic moments, where you read another person’s experience and it resonates with you.
Aikido’s Influence on Shito Ryu Seiko Kai Karate Do
Such is the case with the writings of Shigeru Egami. Egami Sensai was a senior student of the founder of karate, Gichin Funakoshi. After a lifetime of hard practice, in which he developed a body of steel cable and a mastery of kicking techniques, he slowly transformed his art into what he called “Hei Ho”. Rejecting the tight muscularity of emerging karate, he found peace in flowing relaxed movement. He encountered the work of Ueshiba Sensai, the founder of aikido, in his travels and saw the resonance in his efforts.
What emerged from Shigeru’s new style he called Shitokai, was this notion of open, flowing motion. Kata in karate is often performed with abrupt starts and stops, modulation of speed and power. Egami Sensai rejected the way that kata was being performed and instead demonstrated continuous flowing motion. This joyful, expressive, free movement resulted in more power and more effective striking, with whip like motions of the hands and feet in which all the energy could be directed to a single point of contact. He discovered, after a lifetime of absorbing blows from all manner of fighters, that complete relaxation held the greatest power.
This is the fundamental difference between Do, the way of martial arts, and Jutsu, or the application of technique. Do means a way of life, a form of moving meditation, in which one comes into contact with the numinous element. The numinous element is what some call our spiritual self. It is a repository of knowledge and feeling which the great masters allude to. Jutsu is the use of martial arts for combative purposes, to defend oneself from harm. When training, we strive to incorporate both elements. Do without Jutsu is simply dance. Jutsu without Do is ugly, terrifying and brutal, much like gladiatorial combat. This paradox, of finding inner peace and harmony through the training of combative arts is the product of Japanese culture. Asian philosophy is comfortable with paradox. Western philosophy abhors it.
Aikido vs. Karate Practice
AikiDo and Tai Chi Chuan are both arts which circumvent violence by approaching each fight as a blending of energies. There is no opponent in aikido practice; there is simply energy and one redirects this energy as it approaches. One does not visualize breaking limbs and smashing in aikido; one instead harmonizes one’s movements with the opponent. When in complete harmony, there is no him or me, it is just one encounter. Tai Chi as well, avoids the context of battle entirely, simply training the movements in a slow, deliberate way. And yet both systems are martial arts, i.e. arts intended to be used for self defense. At the end of the day, you can harmonize all you wish, but a senior aikidoka will break your arm in three places if you resist. And so this circumvention of violence is only superficial. At the end of the day, both are fighting arts.
Karate directly approaches violence by using strikes focussed on vital points, or atemi. Like the aikidoka, however, the karateka can control his power and simply stun or immobilize an attacker. Karate goes directly through violence to emerge on the other side, in a state of complete harmony. Aikido and karate then, are both the same in their outcome, although their practice to the novice, seem radically different. In both cases, the goal is to enter the numinous state, a spiritual existence, and in both cases, rather gruesome and violent methods are used to find this state.
Goal of Martial Arts Training
People are of different temperaments and body types and this dictates which form of martial art they will be drawn to. The initial desire to practice, however, is usually some form of unresolved anger and inner tension with the world. Those who seek karate instruction, just like those who seek aikido training, are often attempting to resolve long standing conflict within themselves. Martial arts often begin as a form of self therapy, of dealing with anger, frustration, loss or deficiencies of other types. In practising a Do, rather than just stopping at Jutsu, we eventually become liberated from this search. One discovers that there is no search, no goal, no destination and in the end, no practice. There is simply the ever present moment of now, into which one can enter and attain understanding.
There is no real difference between the Do of martial arts styles. There is no aikido, there is no karate, there is no difference in Do. Jutsu is many, from Judo, to Thai boxing, to Kendo — they are all quite different. But there is only one Do, one way. The master of aikido is identical to the master of karate, and the outcome is the same. Masters can freely enter between the mind moments to slow down time. This should be the goal of training.