True Karate Do

Sakiyama Sogen Roshi with visitors

Written by Jeffrey Brooks

Translated into Japanese by Sakiyama Sogen, Roshi, Shuri, Okinawa, Goju Ryu karate practitioner, and Zen teacher of Shoshin Nagamine, founder of Matsubayshi Ryu. In the translation Sakiyama Roshi named this essay True Karate Do.

Translation of 1995 message

Many people feel they are missing their lives, that real life is going on somewhere out there. To fix this feeling they seek excitement, diversion,power, money, contention, or sink into passivity, waiting for the weekend, waiting for their ship to come in, or for their fortunes to change. But none of these strategies will relieve the deep feeling that something is missing.

Family, work, friends, community are all parts of the picture. But one way to remedy this feeling of disorientation and emptiness is dedication to a life of practice aimed at perfection.

The perfection we aim at in karate begins as a striving for perfection of technique. We focus our efforts on unifying our mind and body, bringing them under our control.

As we practice over weeks, months and years, our bodies grow stronger, more flexible, healthier. We overcome fear. Our minds become more focused. Our will becomes more resilient. Our emotions become more stable. We breathe more deeply. The flow of energy through our bodies becomes more harmonious.

Through relentless technical polishing we can manifest a deeper perfection. But our minds must be tuned toward it.

Traditionally this is called “perfection of wisdom” and is practiced by means of six elements. We use these elements in practice.

GIVING. Giving means having an attitude of generosity toward others, not withholding anything from them: not our knowledge, not our energy, not our kindness. A generous person is someone who generates energy, not someone who looks outward to others to provide it.

MORALITY.  The word “morality” may seem to have an antique ring; it may sound like something repressive and restrictive. In our practice it is liberating. By morality we mean not exploiting others, not taking advantage of them for money, power, sex, fame and so on. By respecting others we create good conditions for practice, freeing ourselves and others from the distraction of disturbance and contention.

PATIENCE. This means patience in the active sense – the resilience required to continue to practice despite the obstacles we encounter. It is the willingness to persevere, to rededicate ourselves day to day, moment to moment, to practice. Patience means persisting without getting angry.

EFFORT. Being nice is not enough. Neither is being tough or talented or tricky. We have received a precious human life – a body, a mind, our talents. We can use them to benefit ourselves and others only if we do not neglect them, only if we make the most of them. Relentless effort is required to avoid becoming distracted by trivialities, to avoid the fickleness, complacency, egotism and rigidity which can thwart fruitful practice of our art.

MEDITATION. This does not only mean seated meditation. It is a recognition of the need for mindfulness in all the things we do, think and say. It is the practice of stability of mind, leading to concentration, a requisite for profound practice.

The sixth element is WISDOM. To dedicate one’s self to a practice aimed at perfection is an all-encompassing undertaking. This is the kind of life we can cultivate through karate. It offers us a way to live fully human lives. By consistently aiming at technical mastery we move deeper and deeper. Our karate practice must be vigorous, practical and effective. But to stop there is to miss what is most valuable in our practice. Stopping there the real treasure of a karate life remains only a potentiality.

None of us need to stop short of the ultimate. We should just continue to train sincerely, every day. Success not measured externally, but achieved living a life dedicated to the practice of perfection.

Jeffrey Brooks


Text Copyright 1995-2022 © Jeffrey Brooks practices Yamabayashi Ryu, at Mountain Karate Dojo, Saluda, NC


2 thoughts on “True Karate Do”

  1. When I read this offering, as I have read your other offerings, it gave me, once again, an opportunity to pause, unclutter and be in the moment. I recall a practice session, as a white belt, when we were asked to continuously flow thru one Kata. I did not hear the first “YAME”. When I finally did hear it, repeated for my benefit, I was called back from someplace special.

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