Karate: the Big Picture

by John Hackett

Just as a painting or a jigsaw puzzle picture is made up of hundreds of individual small brush strokes or pieces, so to your karate techniques are made up of a large number of small seemingly insignificant things. But leave any of these seemingly insignificant things out and your karate technique will suffer enormously.

It is the little things that make all the difference to the big picture. Just like baking a cake, leave something out and it is not as good.

Each and every technique you perform contains things like:

– Knee over toe, keeping your hara up, keeping your rear heel on the floor
– Maintain your height and do not go up and down like a cork in a bottle of water when moving
– Supporting foot flat on the floor when kicking, always centre your attack, looking forward when blocking
– Correct use of hips, hanmi when blocking and shomen when attacking
– Spirit
– Strong kiai, kime
– Focus
– Good reach out when blocking, always be shoulder wide in your stance, in and out when stepping both forward and backward
– Rotation on the end of each blocking movement, correct breathing
– Correct stance, feet pointing in the correct direction
– Never give up attitude no matter the odds, do your best
– And many, many more.
This is all hard work. As a new student there is much to think about at first. It is a constant battle to check yourself to make sure you are doing everything correctly. That is why training in the dojo with your instructor is so important. So you can be corrected. Personal training at home should also be done, but it cannot replace training with your instructor.

I have heard both kyu grades and black belts say that they find basic training boring. I cannot understand this statement.

If a student feels bored when doing a basic drill, eg step forward age uke (rising block), then he/she is obviously not trying to improve themselves. Age uke for example, just to name any technique, should be performed better when we are 9th kyu than when we were 10th kyu, white belt. Any particular technique should be better again when we are 8th, 7th, 6th, 5th, 4th, 3rd, 2nd and 1st kyu than it was when the student was the grade lower.

A much higher level again is expected when we reach black belt level.

Shodan, that is black belt, is not the end of the road. It is the beginning. Our journey in karate is a constant battle within ourselves to improve. Your toughest opponent must always be yourself.

Perseverance gives us what we need to paint the big picture.

If you meet a karate person or an instructor who tells you that he/she knows everything about karate, this person knows nothing, avoid them. They can only lead you onto the wrong path.

The term karate-do means the way of the empty hand. (Kara = empty, Te = hand, Do = way).

The “way”, is a personal journey. This journey has a starting point but no finishing point. We commence the journey when we take up karate.

The words empty hand an immediately obvious meaning, that is to be able to defend ourselves with just our empty hands.

There is also a deeper meaning to “kara” and that is to empty ourselves of selfishness and all other things that prevent us from becoming the best people we can be.

Not all karate-ka hold true to this second interpretation, but I think it is very important. You and your art must be one in the big picture. You must never be shallow and insincere.

Funakoshi Sensei said this in his book Karate-Do Kyohan (the master text):

“True karate-do is this: that in daily life, one’s own mind and body be trained and developed in a spirit of humility; and that in critical times, one be devoted utterly to the cause of justice”.

As I said at the start, the big karate picture is made up of many small seemingly insignificant things. All of these things are important. Attention must be paid to detail so that these little things are a part of your individual technique. This is essential if you want to have good karate.

There are no short cuts. No magic wands. Just hard work.

Good basics (kihon) are the foundation of good karate at any level.

Good basics are achieved through thoughtful repetition of techniques and correction when necessary by your instructor.

“A Master is one who returns day after day to the basic techniques and fundamentals. Mastery is a matter of the daily struggle to perfect the simplest of techniques and ideas”. (Martial Arts Axiom)

We all have different levels of skill and ability. The important thing is that we persevere in the struggle to perfect our art and continue the journey of karate-do. So when others look at us they will be able to see the big picture in everything we do.

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