Philosophy and Marital Arts
By Susan Pogmore
THIRD REPORT – JUNE 2013
“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.
C.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.”
“The ultimate aim of karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants.”