The Way Beyond Tsuki and Keri

When my walk with karate-do began over fifty years ago, I had just two objectives; learning how to throw a karate punch and learning how to execute some basic kicks.  I persuaded my good friend (now Sensei Peter) to sign up with me, and so we entered the dojo together.  Previously, my training in aikido had provided me a decent background in how to fall, applying wrist locks and throws, and a feel for distance and leverage.  Although atemi is a part of aikijutsu, our aikido training did not include any striking techniques.  All I wanted to do was to gain a basic proficiency in this.

Despite what Sensei Peter has said about our early training, we were both quick learners. I was able to acquire basic punching and kicking skills within a couple of months and so…I quit!  Mission accomplished!  Not a very good example for new karate students, eh?  Fortunately, Sensei Peter realized that there was so much more to learn from karate-do and kept on training.  I watched him continue to improve and get promoted over the following months.  After telling my then-girlfriend (now my wife), “Wow, he’s doing so well…if I had continued, I could have done that.”  She gave me a deadpan look and said, “Right…Prove it.”  Her cynical “encouragement” motivated me to restart training, now intent on learning more than just how to punch and kick.  Over fifty years have now passed, and I are still striving to learn more.

Many years passed before I actually got to hear a sensei share his own thoughts about the importance of punching and kicking in karate-do.  My ears perked up when Sensei Ed Fujiwara discussed the subject after class one night with a group of us black belts.  Imagine my surprise when he declared, “The practice of Karate-do is so much more than just learning how to punch or kick.  In the dojo, we are sharing universal principles that can be applied to life.” (I felt as if he were talking about me as a young beginner) Sensei Ed was describing his philosophy about our study of the art.  His use of the phrase “punching and kicking” referred to all of the many physical aspects of training found in the dojo.  He said that training focused on techniques, while valuable, was merely the method through which a higher goal was achieved.  I realized that this was similar to Bruce Lee’s, “Don’t focus on my finger (the pursuit of physical techniques alone) or you will miss all of that heavenly glory (the universal principles of life that disciplined practice helps one discover).

We all know that training helps build muscles, increases flexibility in our ligaments and tendons, as well as helps with conditioning and toning our bodies.  It also increases mind/body coordination resulting in better speed, power, and balance.  Over time, the steady practice of kihon, kata, and other drills, gradually fosters this physical transformation – which occurs externally and visible to an observer.  This is contrasted by the internal and unseen growth and development of character and spirit (especially for youngsters) that I believe, are the invaluable and lasting benefits derived from time spent in the dojo.  The Japanese Do is equivalent to the Chinese Tao – meaning The Way (as in the way to spiritual, ethical, and moral self-improvement).  Hence dojo, translates into “the place where the Way is taught”.

It’s been exactly a hundred years since Master Gichin Funakoshi moved from Okinawa to Tokyo (May 1922).  During the early years, he devoted much of his time and energy to transforming the art from a Jutsu (the most effective techniques to overcome an adversary) into an art recognized by the Budokan as a Do.  Like other Do arts; Judo, Kendo, Aikido, etc.; it’s a system meant to ultimately improve the character of its practitioners.  To that end, he also incorporated five Confucius sayings into the Dojo Kun that embodied what he felt were the most important values of Shotokan Karate-Do.  These are to: Seek perfection of character, Be faithful, Endeavor, Respect others, Refrain from violent behavior. (You can find my personal take on the Dojo Kun in the Resource section of our website at hiskarate.com )  Note that nowhere does the Dojo Kun does make mention of punching, kicking, or fighting.

P.S. For the white belts, tsuki = punch, while keri = kick.  If used as a suffix for a technique, the pronunciation changes a bit i.e., Gyaku-zuki (reverse punch) and Mae-geri (front snap kick).

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