Karate Inspiration

By Shojiro Koyama

So far, we are four months into the year.  In February we had Kangeiko then Matsuri, and in April we had our Spring Camp in El Paso.  All of these events were very successful.  Next, we will have National Camp in Santa Fe in June, and also the Kino Bay camp, then in mid-July will be our Payson Summer Camp.  October will be Western States, and in December our Christmas party, and the year will be finished.  It is important to have events to look forward to, and to participate in, to help keep us motivated in our karate.

In the Antarctic, there are researchers from many countries.  They spend months there at a time; these scientists live in close quarters with the same people for almost half a year.  Outside it is very cold and dark, and it can be miserable.  Sometimes people have nervous breakdowns.  There are two kinds of people. The first group, group A, does not do things like shave daily, wear clean clothes, and keep up with good grooming and manners.  They figure it does not matter because they are just with the same people every day.  The second group, group B, say “good morning” to their fellow researchers, keep up their grooming, and live each day as new.

Those in group A, sometimes have nervous breakdowns or mental problems, but those in group B almost never have problems.

It is the same in our everyday life, and in our karate training.  We move through the year with different activities, and each of them offers us a chance to be moved or impressed, to discover something about ourselves, to put forth effort to correct mistakes and to develop our character.

If your imagination creates positive dreams, that leads to happiness and grows your immune system.  But if you make a mistake and are miserable or sad, this also can help to grow your immune system.  If you make a mistake, it can still be an inspiration; you express regret and can grow from the experience.

Karate looks from the outside like guts, and just fighting – but this can be dangerous.  To put it briefly, our karate is other things – good eating, good sleeping, bowels open; balancing the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, blood circulation, learning tolerance.

Our organization is very good; not only just a business; for example, we give a donation to the 100 Club.  We need to keep life learning and wisdom.  Please share your ideas about how to keep and improve our organization.

Children and Karate

By Shojiro Koyama

Einstein said that effort is more important than intelligence.  Many people understand education as intelligence.  For example, someone may be very good at mathematics, or language; this is one kind of intelligence.  More important is wisdom, such as discipline, manners, and so on.  Adults may think that children’s’ brain function is limited, but even at three years old a child has 70-80% of an adult’s capacity.  Of course, a child is beginning to develop its intelligence, but it is important that children also develop the spiritual.  It is very important to remember that life is people – we need other people.  Respect (reigi o omunsuru koto) is the part of the dojo kun that relates to this wisdom and the importance of other people.

In terms of manners, there are many opportunities throughout our day to say thank you.  Some children are good in school, but school education does not emphasize respect and manners.  School education is about developing the brain, but the entire body –joints, muscles – must also learn.  For example, developing fine motor skills through using the hands for small things stimulates the brain.  Also, the kiai emphasizes the connection between the mouth and the brain.  Of course, the lower abdomen, center of the body (three fingers below the navel) is also vital in developing the connection between the brain and the body.

So far, I have discussed many benefits to karate training.  Today, I would like to focus on the benefits of competition, of winning and losing.  Competition is an important reason for training.  It is often through mistakes and losing that we find opportunities to grow and develop without jealousy or hate.  The person who wins all the time ultimately takes a different road; while he may win a trophy, he does not learn respect and becomes self-centered.  He misses the opportunities for growth that he would find in losing.

Children like competition, and children benefit from learning to compete together, such as in group kata.  They develop skills in teamwork, and friendships.  What is most important for children is that it is interesting.  Independent competition does not develop this; it can encourage developing selfishness or self-centeredness.  Instead, working as a group or team helps children to develop manners, discipline, and empathy.  When a child wins with a group of friends, the child experiences joy.  They develop sympathy for others’ mistakes when they do not win as a group.

Adults must give children dreams and aspirations.  Unfortunately, many of the dreams we give to children – money, success, winning the gold medal – do not encourage spiritual development.  It is better to give more basic aspirations, like helping others, putting forth one’s best effort, eating well, and so forth.  Of course, we do not want them to suffer too much, but challenges help them to develop.  Little by little, children learn to feel affection, compassion and all their emotions.

The Excellent Becomes the Permanent

By Shojiro Koyama

So far, I think there has not been enough explanation of the connections between Japanese traditional culture and karate.  Therefore, people think of karate as only sports.  They have good wisdom, but not the old knowledge.  Wisdom and manners are very important in our society.  Today everyone is fighting, and money and winning are important.  While all animals, including humans, can love, only humans have respect and manners.

Respect is in the bow.  I bow to somebody, but actually, the reason that I bow is that I have respect.  The response is that you also bow to me.  I say good morning, and you say the same back to me.  But it is with respect for myself that I bow to you; yes, I respect you, but I also respect myself, and that is why I bow.

It used to be, in Japan, that everyone sat on the floor.  When eating, there was a longer distance between the food and a person’s mouth, which resulted in more chewing.  Now, when people sit at a table, there is a shorter distance between the food and the mouth, and people eat too fast.  Also, now people eat without even sitting down at a table, but instead eat while walking and doing other activities.  Eating quickly, and not chewing as much, changes digestion.  It is important to chew more in part because it generates saliva, which is very important to digestion.

The martial arts is not only techniques.  It is also seiza, and rei, and everything about manners and respect that we do in the dojo.  Fighting (like cage fighting and so forth) is about muscle; karate technique is like eating with chopsticks.  If you try to use muscle with chopsticks, it is difficult.  Using chopsticks requires the joints and smooth movement – like karate.  Martial arts is also philosophy.  Having a philosophy is important.  As Kazuo Inamori says, “it is through hard work that a person can perfect her character.  Philosophy is borne of hard-earned sweat, and the heart is trained through daily endeavor.”

You are working, and you have a busy life, and sometimes going to the dojo is difficult.  If training is not interesting, then it is even more of a challenge to go to training.  However, if you are training seriously, then training is not boring, and therefore it is easier to get to the dojo.  You might think that it takes less energy to be bored, but actually being bored takes more energy than doing something interesting.  Boredom is a problem, therefore it is important to avoid being bored.  The hard work of training contributes to the development of character (jinkaku kansei ni tsutomuru koto) and builds our understanding of philosophy.

I will try to continue to teach martial arts wisdom, as it benefits not only our karate but also our everyday life.  I try, little by little, to explain this wisdom.  Sports are for amusement; life is only one time, and therefore we must take care to live it with wisdom.

Traditional Shotokan Karate versus Sports Karate

By Shojiro Koyama

There are many types of physical activities for people young and old. Typically certain activities are crafted towards one group or another that are optimized for the groups’ physical abilities. Most sports for example are typically created for young people where competition is for the most able bodied. Other activities where there is little or no competition are promoted for a wider audience due to a wider set of abilities. When we look at Martial Arts and in particular, Karate, there are many forms or styles of Karate with similar and different origins. When one looks closely at all of these styles, one realizes there are two (2) forms of Karate; the Traditional Karate and the Sports Karate. Both have value but the two are very different. Traditional Karate is Lifetime Exercise and Lifetime Learning. We will investigate this in detail below.

Sports and Sports Karate are good forms of exercise and have the end goal of declaring a winner and a loser at the conclusion of a competition. In Life, a fighting spirit is important. Young people try to participate in sports to cultivate a fighting spirit. Many people do not understand Japanese Budo and Martial Arts. Sports are mostly team competitions or single matches. Sports need other people as opponents. The goal of the sport is to destroy the target (the opponent) in order to win.

Budo, nowadays, is not the frontline and combat killing that was its early origin. Budo was developed in wartime where fighting clans used it to survive in combat and win the war. Today, Budo is by oneself and is concerned with the development of oneself. Budo is a complex subject and has many meanings but one of the basic meanings is that one develops Budo in order to survive and enhance Life’s journey.

After WWII, General Douglas MacArthur occupied Japan and established the GHQ or General Headquarters. At the time, General MacArthur banned Martial Arts for fear of Japan once again rising up to engage in combat. But General MacArthur realized the importance of the Martial Arts to the Japanese culture and allowed a Sports version of the Martial Arts to carry on. Physical activity is good for health and good for shedding stress from our daily lives.

Martial Arts that became sports were Kendo, Judo, Karate and so on. Today Karate is very popular worldwide. Today, Budo’s meaning is not winning and losing but rather a philosophy to improve one’s own character by oneself. It has been some 67 years since WWII ended and now with the worldwide issues such as a declining economy, personal peoples’ hope being low, and worldwide political and resource issues, there is a need for the spiritual side of the Martial Arts.

One of the rituals that are practiced at the end of every training session in traditional Shotokan Karate is the recitation of the Dojokun. This is a set of precepts or principles that every Karateka (Karate Person) tries to follow in training and everyday life. One line of the Dojokun is “Seek Perfection of Character”. This is one of the tenants of Budo. In Karate training, one practices technique over and over trying to perfect the technique and in essence perfect one’s own spirit and abilities. Karate is the transportation to Budo. It is one way to get to Budo.

Budo encompasses Religion, Philosophy, and Beliefs. By training in Karate, one travels along a path and learns Religion, Philosophy, and Attains Beliefs. The human body needs food to sustain. The body also needs “food” in terms of Vigor, Drive, and Spirit. Karate training is the supplement that allows the Vigor, Drive, and Spirit to develop along the path towards Budo. This path towards Budo is by oneself and is a something each person does by themselves. It is a personal journey. When a person trains in Karate they are keeping in the back of their minds “Seek Perfection of Character”. This guides them along their path towards Budo and in everyday life.

Sports on the other hand is about winning and losing a competition. One trains everyday but this training is for a specific event; the competition. Martial Arts (Karate being one) is training against another type of opponent, oneself. It is training to Seek Perfection of Character. When we talk about Seeking Perfection of Character, we talk about such attributes such as the following:

·      Cheerfulness

·      Chivalry

·      Cleanliness

·      Courage

·      Discipline

·      Honesty

·      Manners

·      Reflection

·      Sympathy

What kind of competition does a Person seeking Budo engage? The answer is “many”, everyday. Looking at the list above for example, everyday one awakes and rises. They clean themselves and this becomes a daily competition. One washes and combs their hair, shaves and brushes their teeth. Some days a person does these more diligently than other days and some days not at all.  A person can approach their daily competition by placing a paper on the wall and scoring their daily competition with a win/loss record. If one doesn’t clean themselves one day, then it is a loss.

For breakfast, one should not overeat. If they do this is a loss. Manners towards one’s parents and loved ones are another competition. Addressing everyone with “Good morning” shows respect especially to one’s mother and father. Saying “Thank You” is a form of appreciation. So what does this have to do with Karate training? Again training in Karate, a Martial Art, is the supplement that the body needs to travel along life’s path towards Budo.

Another example is that in training we do pushups to strengthen our body, our mind, and our spirit. If we do not do them it is a loss. We know it is difficult to do and it makes us tired and sweaty. But at the end of doing the last pushup, it makes us feel tired but great; an achievement that done consistently strengthens the body, the mind, and the spirit.

When we see senior students or the Sensei (teacher) performing their techniques we should envision ourselves doing those techniques. We notice how beautiful these techniques are done; crisp, graceful movements showing power and control while flowing and being flexible. A student should say to themselves “I want to be like them”. The opponent is oneself and it is the struggle with oneself to do these things and attain character that improves day by day that is the purpose.

Everyday routines like driving to school, work, or the Dojo (Karate Training Hall) have certain limitations along the way. We must observe things like speed limits and crossing zones. The speed limit or the crossing zone is the competition. We must check our progress in our daily competitions. If we have many losses, they we must try harder to win! But do not forget to acknowledge that Jealousy and Emotions can dominate our daily competition. Why is this? Sickness is born out of emotions. Honesty, Discipline, and Sympathy all greatly affect emotions which greatly affects health and the immune system.

Karate is often called a form of self defense. That brings to mind dark alleys in the night in which attackers are waiting for one at the end of the alley where the person has to fight off all the attackers in order to escape to safety. Karate is a form of self defense and in some cases it can be used exactly like the aforementioned scenario. But in almost all life’s cases and situations, Karate develops our character which in turn develops our immune system and in the end becomes the best form of self defense we can have. This is not just for a year or two years but is for a lifetime.

Sports on the other hand is for entertainment and for short term enjoyment and participation. The personal joy created is greatly affected by the audience of the sport. The personal joy created by a Martial Art is totally personal where the audience (if there is one) has no affect. Sports and one’s personal life are usually separate. In Martial Arts there is a connection between the Art and the practitioner’s personal life. This connection goes both ways. The Art affects the person and the person affects one’s Art.

For example, a baseball player only improves their athleticism and skills for improving their baseball “game”. In Karate, a Karateka improves their karate in order to improve their everyday life.

The body can only compete against others for the time a person is competitive with others. As a person grows older they may not be able to compete with younger stronger competitors. When this happens, a person’s sports competitive days are over.

Martial Arts on the other hand are a lifetime competition with oneself. We compete Mentally and Spiritually. We compete in physical competition by performing “Kata” or a series of prescribed steps and actions that flow together simulating attack and defense against the invisible opponent; ourselves. Therefore Traditional Karate and Traditional Martial Arts are for a lifetime. They are Lifetime Exercise and Lifetime Study.

Practice in a sport means working on particular skills in order to prepare for a game or a competition or to win a position. In the dojo, regular everyday practice is the most important training that goes beyond tournament preparation or a grade advancement.  There exists a collective purpose in the dojo practice with all of the students present and training. The ambitions, aspirations, and determination of each individual is projected and in turn the groups’ energy, their Ki, returns the collective energy back to the individual with more force and positive response. Thus enhancing an individual’s personal Ki (energy) and spirit.

Everyone helping each other allows a wide variety of spirit for others. It is illustrated in a story of one image of heaven and hell. In an example, hell comprises a large noodle bowl with plenty of noodles for everyone. Everyone around the bowl has very long forks; too long to be able to eat the noodle at the end of the fork. In heaven the same bowls and forks exist. This time everyone is cooperating with one another and seeking to help each other. In helping the other person taking the noodle from the end of the fork and feeding it to them, it shows the collective energy and cooperation nourishes the individual. This is a simple story and description but it illustrates the power of the collective spirit we create in the dojo.

Sports are okay, but if one wants the best self defense one will train to achieve a strong immune system and provide their body a good defense against illness and their mind and spirituality a good supplement to achieving Budo. When we train, we sweat, we elevate our breathing, and we are tired afterwards. We shower and relax the muscles; we eat good things that are good for our bodies and that complement one another. We get a good night’s sleep and in the morning we have a good bowel movement. This all seems simplistic but in our fast paced world, we often forget that these simple things, if neglected over the course of a few days, leads to weakness and ultimately illness.

Karate training defends us against illness. Training in Karate will enhance one’s path towards Budo and a rewarding Physical and Spiritual Life. Training and doing these simple things will make one a Karate Master and Karate Champion!

Sensei Koyama interview in Shotokan Magazine

Sensei Koyama is featured Issue #113 of Shotokan Karate Magazine.  

Copies available for sale in the Office ($15)

SKM Issue 113 Cover

Patience: Little-by-Little

By  Shojiro Koyama

Sports competitions are for the Summer time of our lives, when we are young and at our physical prime.  In karate, summer is the time of testing our fighting skills.  This usually lasts until around the age of 35, when our bodies begin to lose strength and resiliency.  Most professional athletes have ended their careers by this age.  During this time of competition the essential aim of our practice is to win, to defeat our opponents and become champions.

Martial arts are very different from sports.  Martial arts require a lifetime of practice where, little by little, we learn patience and endurance.  We learn patience and endurance not only in the competition ring, but also on the field of everyday life.  A proverb tells us that patience and endurance are important even for geniuses to learn.  Therefore, it is important that we not quit karate after our competition days are over.  After our competition days, our aim becomes one of learning patience.

During peacetime it is easy to place a lot of importance on medals and trophies.  But this does not prepare us for hard times. People in Japan are still living in the same high school gym they found refuge in immediately after the earthquake and Tsunami in March.  Those people who, during peacetime, prepared for the future by developing patience have benefitted greatly during these hard times. During peacetime learning patience seems boring, but in hard times patience is crucial.

When we sit formally in Zen training we learn to develop patience as we endure pain.  This will make us better prepared to deal with the hard times that may lie ahead.  We need to find beauty in pain, and this is very different from abuse.  To learn to pursue beauty, and bring it to ourselves even when we are in pain, is a spiritual achievement.

We hold one tournament one time a year.  This is very different from sports where the activity is defined by a schedule of many competitions or matches.  Thus, our aim in practicing karate cannot be that of sports.  Our aim is lifetime training and wisdom.  Please, enjoy the sports aspect of karate, but do not retire after you stop competing.  We must understand karate as lifetime practice.  Thank you very much.

The Meaning of Life and Karate-do

By Shojiro Koyama

“Be ambitious!  Be ambitious not for money or self-aggrandizement, not for that evanescent thing called fame.  Be ambitious for knowledge, for righteousness and for the uplift of your community.  Be ambitious for all that a human being ought to be.”  Author Unknown

Today people all over the world practice karate, and some say that karate’s popularity is amazing.  But among all of the people who practice karate across our globe, many treat it like a sport and will quit when their competitive days are over.  To speak about karate in the traditional Japanese cultural way, as Bushido, we say “karate-do” because karate-do is not a sport.  Unlike sports karate, the practice of karate-do involves the development of a philosophical orientation that leads to lifetime wisdom and spiritual uplift.

Karate-do is like Aikido in this respect.  Aikido does not hold competitions or tournaments, award trophies or declare “champions.” Like karate-do, Aikido is philosophical and emphasizes change and flow throughout one’s life. Both recognize and respect the different seasons of the life cycle.  Spring is a time of new life, for learning basics and becoming well rooted.  Summer is a time of testing one’s strength through competition and measurement against others also in their summer season.  Autumn is a time for sharing the lessons one has learned and teaching the next generation.  During winter, we must learn how to achieve a dignified death.  To practice karate-do requires a recognition and respect for each of these seasons.  Competitive or tournament karate is very helpful during the summer time of life, but that is all.  Karate-do requires that we learn much more than the lessons of competitive karate.

For the past 46 years we have held our annual Western States Karate Championships.  Over these 46 years we have had many good competitors, and some excellent champions.  Very few of these people, however, have continued karate beyond their summer season.  For these people karate is nothing more than a sports activity.  I’m very sad that we do not keep more people involved in karate-do beyond their summer time. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to understand Asian philosophy, whether it comes from Japan, China or other Asian countries.  Our contemporary society is profit driven--the only point is more, more, more.  Sports are like this also—winning one event or tournament is never enough; being a champion is only temporary.

Karate-do is different because it is exactly our life.  Whether one is champion or not, whether one makes a lot of money or not, we all must get on with our every day life.  Karate-do is about useful wisdom.  It is about accepting and using the ups and downs life to learn greater wisdom.  For example, we all understand the general meaning of the phrase, “No pain, no gain.”  But if what is “gained” is simply money or a trophy, then not much is gained at all.  Pain is inevitable in life.  With karate-do we learn that pain is also part of our human spiritual growth.  Once we realize this, then we come to gain riches far beyond what money or profits could ever bring.  To recognize that pain is inevitable in life is not the same as accepting abuse.  Rather, we understand pain as part of the yin and yang of life—two parts, connected in balance, each containing the seed of the other.  Victor Frankl, the 20th Century psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor understood this as well.  He wrote, “We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that we cannot be changed.  For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement.”

The recent earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan were devastating.  Before the earthquake Japan was already having very hard economic times.  Economic pressures were strong and people were focused making profits and more money.  No one said, “Thank you.”  But afterwards, in the midst of so much human pain and suffering, people changed.  Many people began volunteering to help evacuate those in the danger zones who needed help.  The volunteers knew that this was very dangerous work.  But the volunteers found deep spiritual rewards for their efforts in the simple words offered to them by those they were helping, “Thank you.”  The volunteers found deep satisfaction in hearing those words often spoken to them through tears.

Arizona Karate Association