Black Belt Forum Topic:
Regarding the Post on our site “Maintaining Perfect Balance” – reposted below – some people were asking if we teach this type of movement to beginners (we do) and if we can share it with people outside our dojo (we can).
The question also came up as to whether this could be taught in a seminar in a matter of a few hours. We can introduce it in a seminar – in a matter of a few hours – with enough depth that people can take it home and practice it, no problem.
It is very natural for the body to do it, even though we are not accustomed to moving this way. It is not hard to learn. It takes persistent practice over several months to get enough skill for it to be spontaneous and powerful.
The length of time it takes to make use of it depends on the individual’s practice.
According to Confucius:
The well-trained person keeps to the center in action;
the poorly trained person moves away from the center in action.
The center, for the well-trained person, is such that he is always exact in his timeliness;
the departure from the center for the poorly trained person is such that he will notice nothing.
– from Zhu Xi “The Middle Way” (title is also translated as “Maintaining Perfect Balance” and as the “Doctrine of the Mean”) [1.2]
In our karate we emphasize the physical and mental application of this principle. The physical comes first because it is easier to learn than the mental.
When we move in our karate all motion is initiated from the center of the body and projects up the spine, down to the foundation and out to the target, in a single wave.
The hips, waist, shoulders and head, and the hips, knees, legs and feet all move in coordination, forming a single structure, conveying energy freely and sending force where it is needed.
Any other way of moving is sub-optimal. That is: any other way of moving uses more energy, yields less force, is slower, and is more vulnerable to disruption.
For example shifting the weight to the front foot before moving the rest of the body forward. This is slow, weak, and awkward. It is the way we ordinarily move when not under pressure, because it conserves energy. Under normal conditions we may want to conserve energy. In a life and death moment it would be unwise. Following a defeat there would be no way to use the energy we have conserved.
Confucius articulates the fundamental principle of the body mechanics and energy flow used in our karate. When people see our karate, even people who have practiced martial arts for many years, wonder how we can move so quickly and effortlessly. This is how.
“Keeping to the center in action” also means being able to move from there in any direction without having to shift the balance or delay the move. It means not overextending an arm or a leg and so making it vulnerable to manipulation. It means maintaining centered balance even in motion, so that an opponent’s attempt to shift, grab and destabilize will work against him.
We keep to the center inwardly as well, with equanimity: not wanting, not fearful; poised and present.
Not being baited into premature attack; not projecting ourselves into a hoped-for or fearful future. Not hesitating when the moment has come.
Not clinging inwardly to an error or a regret, to a moment of victory or an obstacle overcome.
Here were are, poised in the center, free to move spontaneously, without impulse, in response or in action, as fits the moment.
Unencumbered by the imaginary we are free to see everything, as it is. We notice what is about to arise.
In weakness, without training, without balance, this is impossible.
Talent will not provide it. Enthusiasm will not. A righteous cause will not.
Good training will.
Zhu Xi’s comments on Confucius were concerned with the source of morality. It has often been applied to politics and personal conduct. We can export our karate experience into these realms. Zhu Xi’s work formed the centerpiece of Chinese philosophy for 700 years.
Post by Jeff Brooks
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Drawing from the Source
The Okinawan island nation was a satellite of China for most of their history. Their wealth came from shipping – they moved goods between China and what is now the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia. The key route of travel was Naha to Fuzhou. They also had a permanent Okinawan community, serving as a diplomatic and trade mission, at Guangzhou.
From these ports they would travel overland to the centers of commerce and imperial power. The sons of the elite would stay in China for years, to study, preparing for official posts back home at Shuri.
The sailors, guards and traders would spend months or years at the ports, until they were called for. While they were there they learned martial arts like Shorin Ryu White Crane. They traveled, and they found new knowledge and new perspectives they never would have encountered at home.
Martial artists today travel from the west to Okinawa in the same spirit. There is a lot to discover that may be unavailable at home. There is new technical knowledge. There is a level of mastery that is high. There is a simple, unpretentious dedication to training.
Even now there are new worlds to encounter and new ways to experience martial arts.
One thing you may notice is that among the accomplished practitioners of martial arts on Okinawa there is mutual respect, and a genuine interest in one another’s art. The sharp delineation or enmity between styles is not prevalent there.
Over the years Sensei Brooks, while practicing in the Shorin Ryu White Crane style, trained closely, in person and through correspondence, with Sakiyama Sogen Roshi, a master of the Goju Ryu style of karate.
Over the years, Sakiyama Roshi presented Brooks with his hand drawn calligraphy pieces, marking various important points in the path of training.
While not religious in nature they do mark significant steps in martial arts, expressed from person to person, between teacher and student, expressed in light of the insights and culture of Japan, China and Okinawa.
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The Arches of the Body
What if your entire body could act as a super-sensitive antenna? What if you could perceive your opponent’s intention and contact everywhere on your body and respond without any reaction time at all?
As we begin martial arts training we acquire new techniques. But as we mature as practitioners we are concerned as much or more with changing the deep constitution of the body.
Whether you are a practitioner of tai chi, aikido, kendo or karate, this is a fundamental concern of advanced training and no mater how many advanced techniques you have memorized, until your body and mind transform deeply, you will not be able to deploy the skills you have learned with true mastery. Everyone can achieve this. It just takes consistent practice and an understanding of what you are going for.
As advanced practitioners we are learning to unify the body. Transforming what we experienced as beginners as the “parts” of the body into a unified system of “arches.” Like arches in architecture, experiencing the body in this way allows incoming pressure to be distributed over the entire structure of the body, from head to toe, so that the perception of the opponent’s incoming force is not localized at the point of contact, but sensed by the entire body. This allows an immediate adjustment in response, instead of a delayed reaction.
The change in the way we experience the structure of our body from beginner to advanced is similar to the change in architecture from the Greek to the Roman period. The Greeks created structures using columns for vertical support, spanning them with cross beams.
With a stone column it was very strong — as long as the stress was applied from the top down. If you stress columns from the side, or from an angle, stressing the joint of the vertical and horizontal, the structure is weak and unstable.
As a beginning martial artist we learn to move by dividing the body into parts and analyzing what to do with each part – move the foot like this, turn that way, keep shoulders down, keep elbows in, the wrist like this, the ankle like that… etc. This is a useful and necessary stage of the process of learning to move skillfully. It is similar to learning the alphabet before learning to read. But if we get stuck in this thinking, if we take the body to be a collection of “parts,” we will never appreciate the body’s coherence and immense ability.
With regard to various versions of the horse stance, for example, we can see many practitioners use the “Greek” construction described above: two legs as the vertical supports, the pelvis spanning them, joined at the hips. If our body feels like that, it will function in a way that is inherently weaker than its potential. The limit of that stance from the vertical is in the muscles of the calves and quadriceps, and the strength of the hip, knee and ankle joints.
You can transform it into a stance that is many times stronger, however, if you know what to do. The amazing thing is you do not have to do years of muscle building to effect the transformation – you just have to think differently about what you are trying to achieve in your stance. To do this you use the “Roman” approach to the structure of the stance.
Instead of two legs as posts and the pelvis as a spanner, think of the legs – from foot up through your hara (lower abdomen) to the other foot – as a single arch. Bring the muscles into a fully arched contraction by continuing the form of the arch through the floor – make a full circle with your muscles, pulling the feet through the floor toward each other, using the pelvis like the keystone in the arch. The butt muscles, inner thigh adductors, the arches of the feet, the lower abdominals, the lower back muscles all are part of this unified contraction which creates the arch to support you in this stance.
There is no need to maintain high tension or rigidity in the body to create arches, but it helps to get the feeling when you start to discover them. Once you have the leg arch try this: extend your arms in a “square punch and chambered fist” position. (I put that in quotes because that hand position has numerous applications that have nothing to do with a square punch or a chambered fist, but it is a convenient label for the arm position.)
Now make your arms into an “arch.” Get the feeling that instead of two separate levers hanging from your shoulders you have a single unified system of energy running from fist, across your back (separate the shoulder blades drawing the shoulders forward to get this feeling) and continue the feeling of unbroken energy flow around to your other fist. That is an arm arch.
Extend your spine in an erect vertical chain, feeling the small spaces between the vertebrae, like the pulling up of a ballet dancer. That is a spine arch.
When you start to make the body into arches, it is a conscious, labor-intensive process. Just like learning your first basic techniques when you started. But gradually it becomes natural. And instead of be a static, tight type of feeling, it becomes more and more dynamic, and whip-like. A feeling more like the resilience of bamboo than the rigidity of stone.
Instead of having the body divided into three arches, the entire body, little by little, is trained to perform as an integrated dynamic system of numerous arches, with flows of energy moving as necessary.
This is essential work for advanced martial artists in any style. Using push hands and a variety of our kata styles (from whipping ones to rooted ones) we are developing the ability to unify the body in space (unifying the parts of the body) and time (unifying movement sequences.)
We also unify the body and mind – deleting the time delay between perception, will and movement. Also we can in a sense unify with or at least harmonize with our opponent. As we get better at manifesting this “dynamic arches” feeling in the body we can sense the opponent’s intention and “read” his weak points and threatening points as we interact with him.
||This principle which we call arches is part of a sophisticated system of movement and knowledge of body architecture which was fundamental to pre-modern karate. The enormous speed and power it allows you to unleash is your own power. You have it now. Discovering it in yourself is not just a thrill, but for the advanced martial artist – for the 5 year practitioner who is looking for a new dimension, or for those at the 10, 15 or 20 year mark who may have hit a plateau – it marks the opening of immense potential in your practice that can lead you to the gates of mastery.|
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Shut Up & Train
In this photo two accomplished karate practitioners – Kyoshi Glenn Cunningham, 7th degree black belt, and Hanshi Masaji Taira, 9th degree black belt – are holding a small framed print of a mural painted by Tarleton Brooks. It reads “Damatte Keiko.”
This is Sensei Brooks’ expression of the essence of his approach to karate: “Don’t talk. Just train.” Also translated as “Shut Up and Train.”
Our friends training under 10th degree black belt master Kensei Taba, at the Shogen-Ryu Ontario international seminar, appreciate this spirit too!
Sensei Brooks with original Damatte Keiko mural from the New England dojo.
In response to inquiries about ordering the print: Order the Print by clicking here.
Send your shipping address and use the PayPal link at the bottom of the page. The print is $15 including shipping, for US addresses. Also available on canvas in other sizes.