Kyoshi's Technique of the Week


Technique of the Week (January 18, 2010)

From Sense iMatt Kaplan, Roku-Dan, Shihan

Ueshiro Okinawan Karate Family Club, State College, Pennsylvania


When an “A” is more than an “A”: Karate as Art Form

When teaching a karate class and making a point about the form of a technique, one of my favorite metaphors is that of writing a letter. I draw a big “A” on the board with squiggly lines and another “A” with clean, straight lines. Then I say, “We strive to write a good ‘A’. After all, an ‘A’, is an ‘A’, is an ‘A’. We don’t make it up as we go along…. And just as we practice the technique for writing an “A”, we have to practice the correct form for doing a chest block, a punch, or any karate technique for that matter.”

However, five minutes after the last time I made my “an ‘A’ is an ‘A’” speech, something happened to broaden my thinking about how to use letters to make points about karate. I asked our newest 5-year old student to show a good down block, but to show it like a wild and strong dragon tail whipping out across his body. The block he threw out with reckless abandon was arguably the best technique displayed in the class that day.

Perhaps this suggests that the letter as metaphor routine described above should be expanded to include a 3rd version of “A”, one that is written with a brisk, sweeping, and passionate motion. Whereas we must continue to strive for the perfect form “A” (version #2), we must also practice with passion and powerful expression.

I suspect that our friends from Hong Kong and other parts of China might be more effective in using the writing letters metaphor as a teaching device. After all, the writing of Chinese characters – calligraphy – is a highly respected art form. Beyond learning about the form and function of Chinese characteristics, calligraphers aim to write with insight, emotion, and artistic creativity. According to an old Chinese saying, “the way characters are written is a portrait of the person who writes them.” Calligraphy, like karate, is portrayed as a mental exercise that coordinates the mind and the body. One website describes it as: “a most relaxing yet highly disciplined exercise for physical and spiritual well-being.” Sound familiar?

Matt Kaplan, Roku-Dan, Shihan

Ueshiro Okinawan Karate Family Club

State College, Pennsylvania