Thought For The Week

Thought for the Week (June 18th, 2001)
Joe Knight- Ni Dan
East Meets West Karate Club of Virginia
"Wabi" and  "Kufu"

Onegai-shimasu to all deshi

This week's thought touches on the terms "Wabi" (an austere balance and composure which derives from rigorous training) and "Kufu" (that can be described as a physical and spiritual birth pain). 

7 years ago I came across a traditional martial arts web page in Hawaii that had an article-titled "Interview with Sensei Zenko Heshiki: Zen Priest and Karate Sensei".

The article moved me deeply, and re-enforced what Hanshi, Kyoshi, and senior Deshi of our organization were conveying to us every day on the deck. The article's words were a great motivator to my training, but over the years I had lost the link to the web page and never had saved the article.

As I was contemplating what to submit for the "Thought For the Week", a friend emailed me the entire article by chance, and I am using it-with proper acknowledgments. 

In the interview with Sensei Heshiki- a practitioner of Shorin Ryu Karate- he offers that:

"Rigorous training brings the student to a point which challenges and completely overwhelms (their) physical ability..."It is here that the ego must drop...realizing how to become free within the confinement of the kata.... "

"Kata is by definition a very limited action. The movements are carefully arranged and must be precisely executed. There can be no deviation-And yet the ultimate aim is to find freedom within this confinement...Then instead of merely executing the (kata) movements, the student learns to emanate them in a more natural and relaxed manner with a non-egotistical state of mind."

From the moment I read this passage as a green belt, I began to understand and embrace (not fear/panic) this regular occurrence in my training, and with encouragement/respect from my Sensei and Sempai, transcended it on the deck, and begin to understand the Zen tenants of the martial arts.

Sensei Judy captured this process perfectly in last weeks thought: "When we fail we are humbled and then the learning begins.

Sensei Hodes used to have a favorite set of Zen wits he would bark out on the deck to encourage us during rigorous kata workouts-such as "Flip the Switch!", "Enjoy it!", "It's All Good!". 

I can only describe this process as "Forging Bliss". It's kind of like an astronaut enduring maximum G force before experiencing weightlessness-Its the only way to get there and only then is the kata experienced as the Shihan intended. 

The best part is that any Deshi can do it. Just keep showing up. Failure/fear is part of the process. Let your Sensei and Sempai inspire you!

As Kyoshi says in the Red Book- "There is endless speculation on this. (what is occurring when kata is performed perfectly). One of these is that the kata exists internally and is brought to life by the (transit) performer. Conversely, when performing perfectly, one becomes the kata, thereby ceasing to exist as an individual ego."

I will end this thought with a haiku from Sensei Heshiki. 

Midnight road
Just holding on to
My shredded, wet gi
Only the sound of
Geta carries me home.


Joe Knight- Ni Dan
East Meets West Karate Club of Virginia