Silver Threads/Whispers of Wisdom Life and the Martial Arts
“To be a warrior is to learn to be genuine in every moment of your life.”
Chogyam Trungpa (Buddhist Meditation Master)
I studied the art of Shotokan Karate in a very traditional school for more than 15 years. One of the questions the higher ranked belts often asked of students testing for their next belt or rank was “can you name the five aspects of karate, and explain how they are related?” The idea of repeating the question time and again was to ascertain whether or not the student had come to understand not only the external moves, but the internal application of the ‘do’ (pronounced ‘dough’) or the way of the art. As students progressed through the ranks, it was rewarding to see the ‘light’ turn on as they began to understand and apply the fives aspects to daily living.
The Zen or insights of the five aspects are lessons all of us can use everyday. They are Attitude, Balance, Form, Offense, and Defense. It’s important to know that one cannot exist successfully without the other. Like pieces of a puzzle, if one is missing, the picture is incomplete.
We begin with Attitude. If one does not approach any given situation with the ‘right’ attitude, you may use the word strong, good, kind, sensible or stable in the place of right, circumstances will quickly enter a negative realm. Having an open heart and mind is a great tactical strategy for whatever appears on your radar screen. Next, good Balance is needed to perform the physical components of the martial arts. It also applies to having harmony and tranquility of thoughts. If you are in a balanced state, then you will automatically have the right attitude! The interconnectedness begins! Form in Shotokan Karate is called Kata. A Kata is a choreographed fight with four opponents. Each move is a reaction to another move and if well practiced can be applied to any situation requiring self-defense. In the business world, form can be a synonym for work ethic, or, interaction with others. At home family interfacing is form. Without Attitude and Balance, good Form does not exist.
Now we get to Offense and Defense. Have you ever listened to an interview with a professional fighter? They speak of the strategy of their attack, their offense; and of course the moves that take them out of the way of their opponent, their defense. The roots of Karate were developed centuries ago when desperate times called for desperate measures. ‘Peasants’ as the lower class of society was then called, learned to defend themselves from marauding Samurai by hiding their fighting practice in the movements of dance, and by using farm implements as weapons. Martial arts are military in development and training; hence we have words such as offense and defense. Good form contains both of these elements. Knowing when to step forward assertively or even aggressively as well as applying the knowledge of when not too are all a part of offense and defense; in other words, when to punch and when to block. In the real world offense and defense can apply to behavior in the office, within the family, actually, anywhere at any time. Great strength of self is required to maintain balance when confronted with negative energies, no matter who delivers the energy.
As proper form is a part of offense and defense, and form is not good without balance, or, the right attitude, you can begin to see how the five aspects of Shotokan karate are intertwined. Hopefully you can also see how each of these very important ideas can be applied to life itself. It is always a choice as to how you will react to life as it presents its gifts and challenges.
Awaken each day with a good attitude; your day will flow through its form with great balance as choosing a needed offense or a gentle defense will become autonomic.