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What, if any, is the relationship between philosophy and Martial Arts in today’s society?

Written by Sue. Posted in Black Belt Research Project 2013

Philosophy & Martial Arts

Susan Pogmore



What, if any, is the relationship between philosophy and Martial Arts in today’s society?


Sophie and I recently attended an England Squad training session in Loughborough with Bryan and Lindsey and several other members from Shin Gi Tai. We were both incredibly nervous, not knowing what to expect. It certainly was hard work and an incredibly opportunity to watch and learn from other members of the England squad. I was fortunate to work for a short while with a lovely girl, called Maddie Moore. She was lightening fast and very good, she was also very humble and gracious.

Turned out that this young woman is something of a superstar – she won the Junior European Championships in the Female Cadet Team rotation category and the bronze medal for Female Cadet Kumite team Sanbon in 2011. In 2013 she is ranked 1st in Senior Kumite, open weight; 2nd in Senior Female Kumite U60K and 7th in Senior Female Ippon Kumite, open weight. She is seriously impressive and yet there was no hint of an ego, no arrogance about her at all. She was kind, friendly and encouraging.


An Excerpt from Modern Bushido: Living a life of excellence

By Bohdi Sanders


It’s not about getting a black belt; it’s about being one.

To so many people, getting their black belt is their ultimate goal, and once they accomplish that goal, they are done with the martial arts. Their black belt is basically no more than a trophy or a certificate of participation for them. They worked hard to get their black belt and now they are happy.

This is wrong thinking. For the martial arts to really be what they are meant to be, they have to become a part of who you are. Martial arts are not really about winning trophies and getting belts. True martial arts are a way of life. In the same way, your goal should not be to GET a black belt, but to BE a black belt.


Any fool can go online and buy a black belt for very little money. I understand, people who just want a black, don’t want to buy it, they want to earn it and that is admirable. But hopefully, their instructor will instil the love of the warrior lifestyle into them during their quest, and it will become more of a quest to BE a black belt, than to get a black belt and put it in their trophy case.

So what does it mean to be a black belt? It means different things to different people, but to me it means you have shown perseverance and dedication to the martial arts and are ready to continue your learning, along with helping others who are just starting their journey. It means greater responsibility to both your dojo and the lower belts who train at your dojo.

New students in the martial arts look up to the black belts. As a black belt you have a duty to set a good example for the novice martial artist. You are a mentor to these students and should show the honour and character that once were considered a part of being a black belt. You represent your martial art, your instructor, and you organisation. And you represent yourself. Do so with honour, character and integrity.

Once you are a black belt, people have greater expectations of you. These traits and expectations should have been taught to you during your training to become a black belt. Character training is a vital part of martial arts training, but has fallen to the wayside over the past years. Maybe it is time to bring back honour, character, and integrity back to the dojo and produce real black belts instead of just presenting trophy belts.


The relationship between philosophy and martial arts in today’s society is as varied as it has ever been. When Karate was in its infancy there was a very strong moral code of conduct. The Japanese culture, especially at that time, was full of tradition. Times have changed and even in Japan, standards have lowered. Honour and chivalry are not valued as they once were.

Once karate made the international journey, it travelled away from these traditions and was in some ways corrupted by other cultures. Karate then made the transition into a competitive sport, where for some the acquisition of trophies is the primary focus.

There are clubs all around the world that operate on a franchise basis and there is no quality or experience within the dojo, just the desire to make money.

Then there are clubs like Shin Gi Tai, where the quality and experience of the coaches is WORLD CLASS. The dedication from the coaches is second to none. The students, both young and old, learn the values of the ancient warriors. There is a strong feeling of comradery, friendship and loyalty.


Philosophy & Martial Arts – The ramblings of a senile mind

Written by Sue. Posted in Black Belt Research Project 2013

Philosophy & Martial Arts

Susan Pogmore


The remaining subtopics are:

1)      What, if any, is the relationship between philosophy and Marital Arts in today’s society?

2)       Karate is often said to be ‘Moving Zen’. Why?

I am not really in a position to tackle either of these yet, so this report is an update, although to be honest, I think it would be fair to describe it as ramblings of a senile mind. See what you think.

There was once a time when karate was nothing more to me than an after school activity for the kids. A physical pursuit, with social interaction, that I thought would help my girls to be better rounded individuals – discipline, concentration, co-ordination, and learning the art of self defence.

Why did I start karate? Well if you ask my husband, he’ll tell you I was talked into it by the sensei, but I think I’d already become hooked before I even stepped onto the mats. I had been watching the girls’ lessons for 6 months and I was quite literally absorbing it from the sidelines.

For some people karate is no more than a means to physical fitness, or a competitive sport and for some the goal is to be a formidable opponent on the street. Karate at face value if you will, no personal journey of enlightenment attached.


Max Planck, the originator of the Quantum Theory and winner of the Nobel Prize in 1918 said             “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”



Tadashi Nakamura wrote in his book The Human Face of Karate in 1988

“I have been pained by extremist beliefs that maintain that modern-day karate in Japan is made up of only brute force and strength, and by the trend that holds this to be an overriding principle. Present-day karate has been made into too much of a competitive sport, too much like a game and is overly commercialised.”


“Karate is not something with which to win a competition, nor is it something just to make a strong exponent stronger still, on a much larger scale it teaches the way of humanity. It is something that enables people to learn karate to further develop their character; thus each person is able to make a marvellous contribution to society.

Technique rather than force, spirit rather than technique. Sincerity is the way if heaven. Making this a sincere belief is the way of mankind.”


So the question that springs to mind is who is right?

I think the answer is BOTH, because every single person on this planet is unique and so are our experiences and therefore our viewpoints. And that is the basic element that makes philosophy so fascinating and so complicated.

To illustrate my point I found this eBook called Project Gutenberg’s The Problems of Philosophy, by Bertrand Russell.

“Is there any knowledge in the world which is so certain that no reasonable man could doubt it? This question, which at first sight might not seem difficult, is really one of the most difficult that can be asked. When we have realised the obstacles in the way of a straightforward and confident answer, we shall be well launched on the study of philosophy – for philosophy is merely the attempt to answer such ultimate questions, not carelessly and dogmatically, as we do in ordinary life and even in sciences, but critically, after exploring all that makes such questions puzzling, and after realising all the vagueness and confusion that underlie our ordinary ideas.

In daily life, we assume as certain many things which, on closer scrutiny, are found to be so full of apparent contradictions that only a great amount of thought enables us to know what it is that we really may believe. In search for certainty, it is natural to begin with our present experiences, and in some sense; no doubt, knowledge is to be derived from them. But any statement as to what it is that our immediate experiences make us know is very likely to be wrong. It seems to me that I am now sitting in a chair, at a table of a certain shape, on which I see sheets of paper with writing or print. By turning my head I see out of the window buildings and clouds and the sun. I believe that the sun is about ninety-three million miles from the earth; that it is a hot globe of many times bigger that the earth; that, owing to the earth’s rotation, it rises every morning, and will continue to do so for an indefinite time in the future. I believe that, if any other normal person comes into my room, he will see the same chairs and tables and books and papers as I see, and that the table which I see is the same as the table which I feel pressing against my arm. All this seems to be so evident as to be hardly worth stating, except in answer to a man who doubts whether I know anything. Yet all this may be reasonable doubted, and all of it requires much careful discussion before we can be sure that we have state it in a form that is wholly true.

To make our difficulties plain, let us concentrate our  attention on the table. To the eye it is oblong, brown and shiny, to the touch it is smooth and cool and hard; when I tap it, it gives out a wooden sound. Anyone else who sees and feels and hears the table will agree with this description, so that it might seem as if no difficulty would arise; but as soon as we try to be more precise our troubles begin. Although I believe that the table is ‘really’ of the same colour all over, the parts that reflect the light look much brighter than the other parts, and some parts look white because of reflected light. I know that, if I move, the parts that reflect the light will be different, so that the apparent distribution of colours on the table will change. It follows that if several people are looking at the table at the same moment, no two of them will see exactly the same distribution of colours, because no two can see it from exactly the same point of view, and any change in the point of view makes some change in the way the light is reflected. For most practical purposes these differences are unimportant, but to the painter they are all-important: the painter has to unlearn the habit of thinking that things seem to have the colour which common sense says they ‘really’ have, and to learn the habit of seeing things as they appear. Here we have already the beginning of one of the distinctions that cause most trouble in philosophy – the distinction between ‘appearance’ and ‘reality’, between what things seem to be and what they are. The painter wants to know what things seem to be, the practical man and the philosopher want to know what they are; but the philosopher’s wish to know this is stronger than the practical man’s, and is more troubled by the knowledge as to the difficulties of answering the question.

To return to the table. It is evident from what we have found, that there is no colour which pre-eminently appears to be the colour of the table, or even of any on particular part of the table – it appears to be of different colours from different points of view, and there is no reason for regarding some of these as more really its colour than others. And we know that even from a given point of view the colour will seem different by artificial light, or to a colour-blind man, or to a man wearing blue glasses, while in the dark there will be no colour at all, though to touch and hearing the table will be unchanged. This colour is not something inherent in the table, but something depending upon the table and the spectator and the way the light falls on the table. When in ordinary life, we speak of the colour of the table, we only mean the sort of colour which it will seem to have to a normal spectator from an ordinary point of view under usual conditions of light. But the other colours which appear under other conditions have just as much right to be considered real; and therefore, to avoid favouritism, we are compelled to deny that, in itself, the table has any one particular colour. 

The same thing applies to the texture. With the naked eye one can see the grain, but otherwise the table looks smooth and even. If we looked at it through a microscope, we should see roughness’s and hills and valleys, and in all sorts of differences that are imperceptible to the naked eye. Which of these is the ‘real’ table? We are naturally tempted to say that what we see through the microscope if more real, but that in turn would be changed by an ever more powerful microscope. If, then we cannot trust what we see with the naked eye, why should we trust what we see through the microscope?  Thus, again, the confidence of our senses with which we began deserts us.


The shape of the table is no better. We are all in the habit of judging as to the ‘real’ shapes of things, and we do this so unreflecting that we come to think we actually see the real shapes. But, in fact, as 

we all have to learn if we try to draw, a given thing looks different in shape from every different point of view. If our table is ‘really’ rectangular, it will look, from almost all view points, as if it had two acute angles and two obtuse angles. If opposite side are parallel, they will look as if they converged to a point away from the spectator; if they are of equal length, they will look as if the nearer side were longer. All of these things are not commonly noticed in looking at a table, because experience has taught us to construct the ‘real’ shape from the apparent shape, and the ‘real’ shape is what interests us as practical men. But the ‘real’ shape is not what we see; it is something inferred from what we see. And what we see is constantly changing in shape as we move around the room; so that here again 

the senses seem not to give us the truth about the table itself, but only about the appearance of the table.”

I will spare you the rest of the text; I think this brief snippet is a very good indication of just how complicated the nature of philosophy can get. I had to read through it several times to fully absorb the complexities and was left feeling quite drained.

My own interpretation of philosophy goes something like this:

Philosophy is vague in its attempt to be precise; it’s incredibly personal and ever changing.

It’s about interpretation and viewpoint and as everyone is totally unique, and no two viewpoints will ever be exactly the same, philosophy is infinite in its absoluteness.

It can be immense fun and it can also give you a BIG HEADACHE.


Old Karate masters and their philosophy

Written by Sue. Posted in Black Belt Research Project 2013

Gichin Funakoshi, Shotokan Karate, KaratePhilosophy and Marital Arts

By Susan Pogmore


“What do you think the intention of the ‘Old Masters’ was with the philosophical aspects of their practice?’


I have had real issues writing this report. There is very little information about the ‘Old Masters’, let alone their thoughts and feelings regarding Karate-do, with the single exception of Gichin Funakoshi. So I started researching Japanese culture in a hope that this would provide some general insight. What I have learnt is totally fascinating and managed to distract me from the task at hand.

Possibly I am guilty of judging the Japanese with a post WWII attitude. I wasn’t sure I liked the Japanese; they seemed rather cold & heartless, set in their ways and rather barbaric. Bizarrely enough I hadn’t even thought to look further into the nation that had given birth to an art that has, for me personally, become a passion and a revelation.

I was recently asked why I was still studying karate and my answer was immediate and simple. “Because I love it.” To be precise karate speaks to me on a level that nothing else does. Physically, emotionally and spiritually, I feel empowered. I don’t ALWAYS love karate. Sparring the other day left me miserable, I hurt my toe, got walloped in the stomach and hit round the head more times than I am proud to admit. I left the mats, utterly deflated and ready to burst into tears. It was a not a good day, I could have done so much better AND I will keep going back until I do.  I know that the journey is going to take a lifetime and I relish the challenge.

Anyway, returning to our Japanese friends. Turns out I couldn’t have been further from the truth. They are truly inspirational, different; I’ll give you that, but unbelievably loyal and honourable, creative, compassionate and humble.

Moving Zen, CW NicolC.W. Nicol, in Moving Zen, describes the Japanese as “fiercely brave fighters in war or contest, but generally, extremely peaceable and well controlled.”

In his book he recounts a tale from WWII, at a time when the Americans were bombing Tokyo every day. A B29 crashed with all its bombs, on the outskirts of a town called Akitsu. It blew a big hole in the ground and damaged two houses. All the crew died. A farmer and his family found the crew, and made them a grave. A beautiful, well-kept garden, and in the centre, they placed a large stone, marked with the character for peace. And every day thereafter, one of the family would visit this little garden with offerings of food, sake and incense in memory of the dead. This story touched me very deeply.

Anyway, fair to say, my preconceived ideas seem to have been way off the mark.

So in answer to the original question; I believe that the intention of the ‘Old Masters’ was that karate-do should be a path to spiritual enlightenment. A way of becoming a better person. We are everyday warriors, seeking to do the right thing, protect the vulnerable, go beyond our limits of endurance, seek to be the best version of ourselves that we can become. Not to shy away from difficult decisions. Show compassion and respect for every form of life, for we are all inter-related according to the teachings of Buddha. Live honestly, sincerely, and with honour.

Perfection does not exist. It is the practice itself that polishes the mind and strengthens the spirit.

I offer the following two passages as ‘evidence’ to support my theory, although to me this is more than a theory, it is my own personal philosophy.


Hirokazu Kanazawa says in the preface of Black Belt Karate: The intensive Course

“The ultimate goal of my karate instruction is world peace. The only way to achieve world peace is by producing as many people as possible with merciful hearts, courage and a sense of justice.”


Gichin Funakoshi

“The ultimate aim of karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants.”





Philosophy & Martial Arts

Written by Sue. Posted in Black Belt Research Project 2013

Martial Arts Philosophy, Thinking, Dalai Lama, Karate-Do, Philosophy & Martial Arts

Susan Pogmore


“People like Funakoshi are attributed to writing things like “The 20 Precepts” relating to Martial Arts. What would a modern day equivalent be?”


Before I can offer a modern day equivalent I should really explain what the precepts are, as I understand them.
At first glance I thought they were rules or instructions for training in the art of karate. However, the deeper I delve into the history of Funakoshi and Karate; it seems that perhaps these precepts are instructions for the life that is the Way of Karate. Ambiguous, I know, I will try to expand.

“The ultimate aim of karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants” Gichin Funakoshi

Funakoshi wrote the 20 Precepts as one liners, with no further expansion or explanation. Many people have, along the way, translated and interpreted his words. Some suggest that he wrote them in such a fashion to entice the mind of the ardent karate student. A book was written in 1938 by Genwa Nakasone called Karate-do Taikan, which sought to expand on the precepts and received Funakoshi’s endorsement; so I hope that I am travelling down the right road. However, I have a sneaky suspicion that Funakoshi still meant for us to interpret these concepts ourselves. The act of seeking meaning is a lesson in itself.



This point refers to respect; it not only covers the reverence for those who hold authority or seniority over us, but also humility towards others and all manner of life on this planet.


This is a moral instruction to avoid violence; he is telling us that we should not be the architect of violence.


We must have moral fortitude to do the right thing.


Recognise your own strengths and weaknesses and then, realise the strengths and weaknesses of your opponent. 


Your mindset is more important than anything. You need a fire in your belly, the technique will develop after.


Thoughts can get in the way of performance. The aim is to be competent without having to think about it – ‘unconscious competence’.


Straight forward really, carelessness in our actions can lead to disaster.


Karate should be part of our lives. We should strive to lead wholesome lives outside of the dojo. There is a Buddhist saying that “any place can be a dojo.” Karate Do is not only the acquisition of certain defensive skills, but also the mastering of the art of being a good and honest member of society.


It is a lifetime dedication to the perfection of the human character through unlimited physical, mental and spiritual seeking.


MYO is described as a wondrous & strange feeling, to have outstanding skill. Through the intensity of our training we develop attributes which help us to deal with life’s obstacles outside the dojo.


To remain good at karate, you need to train constantly & consistently. If you stop training you start to lose your skills. “If one does not use it, one will lose it.”


I have come across two possible interpretations of this precept and both seem to me perfectly sensible. The first is to turn away and run; avoid confrontation. The second is that karateka understands the principles of fair play and excels in the celebration of competition. For those that win, it is a celebration of the tactics and skill that won the match. For those that lose, it was the experience of the loss and the chance to learn from their mistake. So there are no winners and no losers. Both are winners.


When the enemy strikes out, seek for weaknesses in your opponent. Every attack has its counter attack.


Traditional Karate Do uses combat situations called Ken & Tai. Ken is seizing the initiative; Thai is waiting for the enemy’s first strike. Water adapts to reach its goal, so must you.


Hands and feet have power, combat is serious. Also consider that your opponent’s hands and feet have power.


This is not advocating paranoia, moreover a healthy awareness and vigilance.


“Karate has many stances and it also has none” This refers to the fact that stances are effectively the moving of bodyweight. When we first begin to learn Karate it is easier to understand a specific stance, where to place our feet, our posture and therefore our body weight will follow. Once we mastered the low stance we understand how to use our bodyweight and move it to our advantage.


Kata is precise and exact, developing finite movement and body awareness. In combat we flow and adapt.


Kata is the combative principle frozen, mindful of muscles, speed, size and in tune with our body.


Be mindful of your training; honest perception of where you are. Reflect on your training.



A modern day equivalent                                                                                                    

In my research I have looked at Codes of Conduct held by other clubs and organisations for ideas. The Bushido Code, the code of the Samurai Warriors is not a modern code but is inspiring. It holds fast, the seven virtues of RECTITUDE, COURAGE, BENEVOLENCE, RESPECT, HONESTY, HONOUR and LOYALTY.

Another ancient code, the Knight’s Code of Conduct is very similar holding the virtues of LOYALTY, SERVANT-LEADERSHIP, HONESTY, SELF-DISCIPLINE, KINDNESS, HUMILITY, EXCELLENCE, INTEGRITY, PERSERVERANCE and PURITY.

I have even discovered that there exists the moral and ethical code of the Jedi. Although fictitious, another ancient code:

  • Jedi are the guardians of peace in the galaxy.                                                                                                     
  • Jedi use their powers to defend and protect, never to attack others.                                                                      
  • Jedi respect all life, in any form.                                                                                                                                      
  • Jedi serve others rather than ruling over them, for the good of the galaxy.                                                           
  • Jedi seek to improve themselves through knowledge and training.


Girl Guides, Self Defence, Martial ArtsAnd the Guide Law:

  • A Guide is honest, reliable and can be trusted.                                                                                                            
  • A Guide is helpful and uses her time and abilities wisely.                                                                                             
  • A Guide faces challenge and learns from her experiences.                                                                                           
  • A Guide is polite and considerate.                                                                                                                                   
  • A Guide respects all living things and takes care of the world around her.




Instructions for Life by the Dalai Lama  (which just so happens to live on the wall in the office at the centre).

1)       Always take account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.

2)       When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.

3)       Follow the three Rs

  1. RESPECT for self
  2. RESPECT for others
  3. RESPONSIBILITY for all your actions

4)       Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.

5)       Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.

6)       Don’t let a little dispute injure a great friendship.

7)       When you realise you’ve made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.

8)       Spend some time alone every day.

9)       Open your arms to change, but don’t let go of your values.

10)   Remember that sometimes silence is the best answer.

11)   Live a good, honourable life. Then when you get older and think back you’ll be able to enjoy it a second time.

12)   A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.

13)   In disagreements with loved ones, deal only with the current situations, don’t bring up the past.

14)   Share your knowledge. It’s a way to achieve immortality.

15)   Be gently with the earth.

16)   Once a year,  go someplace you’ve never been before.

17)   Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.

18)   Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.

19)   Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon.


Okay, so here is the code that I have had hanging on my wall for the last 15 years. It has been my moral compass and I think it qualifies as a modern day equivalent:


21 Suggestions for SUCCESS by H.Jackson Brown, Jr.


1)       Marry the right person. This one decision will determine 90% of your happiness or misery.

2)       Work at something you enjoy and that’s worthy of your time and talent.

3)       Give people more than they expect and do it cheerfully.

4)       Become the most positive and enthusiastic person you know.

5)       Be forgiving of yourself and others.

6)       Be generous.

7)       Have a grateful heart.

8)       Persistence, persistence, persistence.

9)       Discipline yourself to save money on even the most modest salary.

10)   Treat everyone you meet like you want to be treated.

11)   Commit yourself to constant improvement.

12)   Commit yourself to quality.

13)   Understand that happiness is not based on possessions, power or prestige, but on relationships with people you love and respect.

14)   Be loyal.

15)   Be honest.

16)   Be a self-starter.

17)   Be decisive even if it means you’ll sometimes be wrong.

18)   Stop blaming others. Take responsibility for every area of your life.

19)   Be bold and courageous. When you look back on your life, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did.

20)   Take good care of those you love.

21)   Don’t do anything that wouldn’t make your Mum proud.


As I said at the beginning of this paper, this report is based on my personal interpretation of Funakoshi’s 20 Precepts. I believe they will hold many different meanings for others, but that is the very essence of Philosophy. I do not believe that the precepts are intended to be a rule book of what to do and not to do when studying karate. I see them as a much wider set of directions on how to live a good and honourable life. I offer the following 3 passages as ‘evidence’ to my conclusions.


Master Gichin Funakoshi, My Way of Life

“Each year in the month of April, a great number of students enrol in karate classes of the universities’ physical education departments – most of them, fortunately, with the dual purpose of building up their spiritual as well as their physical strength. Nonetheless, there are always some whose only desire is to learn karate so as to make use of it in fight. Those almost inevitably drop out of the course before half a year has passed, for it is quite impossible for any young person who objective is so foolish to continue very long in karate. Only those with a higher ideal will find karate interesting enough to persevere in the rigors it entails. Those who do will find that the harder they train, the more fascinating the art becomes.”


Vincent A. Cruz, The 20 Precepts of Gichin Funakoshi

“Karate Do is not only an instrument to attain physical abilities, but it is also an instrument to find the mastery in the art of being a good human being,”


In the book Moving Zen: Karate as a way of gentleness, the author C.W. Nicols travelled to Japan in 1962 to learn karate and judo. At the Yotsuya dojo, at the end of a lesson, the karateka would chant an oath with strength and sincerity:

“Dojo kun!”                                                                           (morals of the dojo)

“Hitotsu! Jinkaku kansei ni tstutomuru koto!”             (One! To strive for the perfection of character!)

“Hitotsu! Makoto no michi o mamoru koto!”                  (One! To defend the paths of truth!)

“Hitotsu! Doryoku no seishin o yasinau koto!”               (One! To foster the spirit of effort!)

“Hitotsu! Reigi o omonzuru koto!”                                      (One! To honour the principles of etiquette!)

“Hitotsu! Kekki no yu o imashimuru koto!”                    (One! To guard against impetuous courage!)



6th May 2013


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