The Three “R’s”

I’ve mentioned before that my dad was a treasure trove of old trite sayings. While I often chuckled at the triteness, there was usually a lot of truth in what he said. In particular, when I was still in elementary school, he often lectured us (my sister and me) about the importance of education and book-learning. I can still hear him proclaim, “Wesley, I cannot emphasize enough, the importance of the three R’s…Reading, Writing,…and Math!” Well, two out of three ain’t bad.😏

Looking back, he was totally right, of course. All three R’s are systems of two-dimensional alpha and numeric symbols. Between the ages of 3 to 5 years old, we begin the process of learning how to interpret and use these symbols in increasingly complex ways. Each of us advances to where we don’t even “see” the individual letters, words, sentences or phrases. Whole visions, actions, and conversations effortlessly take shape within our minds. Through reading, we unlock the thoughts, philosophies, and concepts of great scientists, historians, statesmen, and novelists. We can engage the minds of philosophers, gone hundreds or thousands of years in the past. Through writing, we can express our opinions and analyses of reports and studies or just simply say “hello” to a friend. For the last of the three R’s, Dad really meant to say ‘Rithmetic, but he was correct in that arithmetic is only the most basic tool upon which all higher mathematics is based upon. The higher forms of math use exotic symbols that form languages of their own to create the equations, formulae and programs that solve what would be unsolvable using mere arithmetic. Similar to reading and writing, mathematics enables mathematicians, statisticians, and scientists to utilize two-dimensional symbols/language to create solutions to three dimensional problems and to describe what are oftentimes puzzling or unviewable phenomena. But for even the youngest elementary school student, the three R’s opens their minds to a greater world.

Which leads me to the art of Karate-Do. Now, karate does have its own three letter phoneme like the three R’s…it’s called, the three K’s; which stands for Kata, Kihon,…and Sparring (joke, it’s Kumite). Each represents a major portion of the art and you all realize that each element is practiced in class and present in each examination. Of the three, I (along with many other long time karateka) believe that kata remains at the heart of Karate-Do. It is great for physical conditioning, for personal practice, for coordination/balance, for the underlying bunkai, for the building of internal spirit and focus, and passes on to each generation, some of the culture and history of the ancient form of the art from centuries ago. Diligently practicing a kata (once you really know it) creates movements and forms that could be compared to the two-dimensional symbols of the three R’s, but actually represents three-dimensional symbology of another kind of language. Years of practicing kata brings one closer to the heart of the art. Think about that – you are executing forms that link you back to a long unbroken chain of instructors and students going back to the earliest martial arts practitioners centuries ago. It could be said that karate kata is a movement-based language of its own that helps us tap into a higher level of consciousness – though I suppose that might sound far-out (remember CW Nicol’s classic book on his experience with Shotokan, entitled – “Moving Zen”?). Now, I’m not going to claim that katas represent gateway to morphic fields of some kind, haha. Just know, however, that it is so much more than a type of traditional “dance”, or a competitive tournament performance, or merely a means of passing the next promotion exam. To the seasoned eye, it can reveal the very character and heart of the karateka performing it.

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