Posted on 10 Comments

Is Karate Effective for Real Fights? A Martial Arts Comparison

The picture shows two tigers fighting. They represent Shotokan and in the article T.D. McKinnon is discussing whether Karate is effective in real fights.

Is Karate Effective in Real Fights? Many karate practitioners and non-practitioners ask this question. Our columnist T.D. McKinnon tries to give an answer reflecting on his 50 years of experience in multiple martial arts which he compares and juxtaposes. He also illuminates what distinguishes a real fight from sports competition. Read another exciting part of Shotokan Essence.

I focused on the sport side of karate for about seven or eight years: competing, refereeing and coaching competition karate, representing at State and National level in my native Scotland, and my adopted home, Australia. In my wider martial arts experience, I was a boxer for four years, and spent a further four years training/coaching and promoting Muay
Thai and kickboxing fighters.

Combat Sports are not Real Fights

Training with the proper attitude for any of these combative sports demands a certain positive mindset and has many benefits, both physically and mentally. While competing, my timing, distance, core strength and confidence was probably at an all-time high. Your psyche doesn’t ever really forget that kind of intensity.

Timing, distance, core strength and confidence are some of the positive aspects of combat sports. However, in respect to transferring the experience to real fights, there is some negative baggage. In sport karate, for instance, the repetitious use of limited, non-lethal and sometimes downright impractical techniques, repetitively targeting to do no damage. “One simply needs to focus for more depth when the occasion demands,” is a comeback I’ve heard to that point. However, under extreme pressure, you react the way you repetitively train. Period! There is little time for thought and re-adjustment.

Real Fights and Fudoshin

I do believe that sporting competition can be invaluable to your over-all martial experience. However, I further believe that any experience of real fights – practical involvement with physical conflict – is priceless. In terms of your Fudoshin surpasses the sport experience one-hundred-fold.

There are also physical, mental and spiritual downsides to all combative sports, and far too many to properly scrutinize here. However, I will briefly address a few points.

The Limits of Martial Arts in Real Fights

For instance, while involved with one specific discipline, you narrow your focus to the particular techniques that are acceptable and practical in that particular arena. Also, one of those initial pros, ‘distance’, tends to get dropped from the advantages. The distance in sport karate, for instance, is rarely the same as in real physical conflict situations. Another of those pluses, confidence, tends to desert some people when the threat of real violence proves to be all too imminent.

Boxing

Violent real fights was part of my experience before sport karate and so, when switching from one to the other, I inherently understood the difference. I had also been involved in boxing prior to sport karate; although, boxers can also fall into the sport versus reality conflict. Remember… you react the way you train; and boxers train repetitively for clean, non-lethal targeting. Some boxers may have been scrappers all their lives, using whatever is necessary to survive. However, in adverse situations (when things get real) one rule remains constant: you react the way you repetitively train.

Kyokushinkai Karate

I’ve seen it time and again with full contact Kyokushin fighters. I would be the first to agree that they are tough fighters, but their repetitive training is mostly punch, kick and knee to non-lethal targets, as well as not punching to the head while under pressure in their particular type of competition. Under duress, you naturally react the way you train repetitively.

Muay Thai

Muay Thai training is probably one of the quickest ways to get street ready. Learning to impact on moving targets with fist, shin, elbow and knee; and the standing grapple can be used to devastating effect. In Muay Thai, the difference between the ring and the street is probably minimal. However, it is an art that is almost exclusively a sport these days and non-lethal striking is practiced repetitively. I do love those Muay Thai elbows though.

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)

Even the newest kid on the block, the Mixed Martial Arts fighter, is used to training repetitively to fight, with rules, in an enclosed area. They may have, comparatively, fewer rules, but rules they certainly have; in regard to illegal striking areas: throat, groin, eyes, joints et cetera. The MMA fighter’s repetitive training completely avoids those targets (as they should: it is still a sport after all) and so in a real situation, with their life on the line, the chances are that repetitively trained techniques will come to the fore.

Karate is Effective, because it Comprises Everything

Prior to Karate, I trained in several fight disciplines, and even after my Shotokan involvement began, I believed that I needed to round out my martial arsenal by training in several disciplines. I eventually realised, however, never ceasing my Shotokan training, that just about everything I needed was right there in my Shotokan. You just have to really study kata, with Shoshin (beginners mind), and you will find everything you need.

Happo Kumite: Martials Arts and Multiple Attackers in Real Fights

There is something that all these combat sports have in common: they are all fighting, and training to fight, a single advisory. Let me tell you something about adverse situations: in my experience they rarely involve just one adversary.

So – whether you are a sport karate fighter, a boxer, a Muay Thai fighter, a judo player, a Brazilian Jujitsu competitor or an MMA fighter – taking on more than one adversary is very different. As a sports combatant you may have the edge over a single adversary with no fight experience, and who doesn’t train to fight. However, in a real life adverse situation, possibly with multiple opponents, the picture is changed unimaginably. Therefore, a realistic karate training also comprises happo kumite.

Avoid Going to the Ground in Real Fights

In some of the above mentioned combat sports the main aim, or at least a major part of the game, is to force or take your opponent to the ground; sacrificing your stand-up position. In the adverse situation I keep referring to – the one with multiple opponents – for obvious reasons the very last thing you want to do is sacrifice your standing mobility.

Training Karate for Effectiveness

I have trained and fought in most fight disciplines, and I have defended myself in many adverse situations, even fighting for my very life. Believe me… you react the way you train; so train for real situations.

I’m not saying that you should never focus on a martial sport. I am saying that you should not fool yourself into thinking that the sport is the art. Regardless of the ferocity of the sport… never forget that the sport is a game made up from non-lethal portions of the art, as a sport should be.

Effective Karate and Sport are not the Same Thing

I have been a student of the martial arts for at least fifty seven years, and I have been a karateka and a teacher of Karate-do for close to fifty of those years. I have had a great deal of experience as a fighter and trainer/coach of fighters. In the real world, I was a British Parachute Regiment soldier: trained in all aspects of fighting, armed and unarmed. As a ‘Close Personal Protection Operative’ (CPPO) and a trainer of CPPOs at the highest professional level, I practiced my art for real. I’ve been a Budoka for most of my life.

I’ve said quite a lot here about the sport versus the Budo. I feel completely qualified to have strong opinions and to make general, sweeping statements on the subject of combat in any of its forms… The sport can be part of Budo, and you can have Budo in the sport; however, and I say this, emphatically, “The sport and the art are not the same thing!”

Posted on 2 Comments

Senshin: The Fifth Element of the Karate Spirit

The picture shows the Fuji Yama, which stands for enlightement and wisdom. Therefore, the mountain manifests senshin like Shotokan karate und Budo do.

Senshin (洗心) means the purified spirit and enlightened mind. It is the fifth element of the karate and budo spirit every karateka should cultivate and strive for. In his monthly column Shotokan Essence Thomas D. McKinnon examines how Senshin is related to the other four budo spirit and how one can achieve it.

During the last several months, we have explored a number of concepts. Four of which are elements of the full Mantle. Zanshin, Mushin, Shoshin, and Fudoshin make up four fifths of the seamless, shining armor of the advanced karateka or budoka. 

Zanshin raises your total awareness, enabling you to see everything, not missing anything. Mushin releases you from anxiety. Acting and reacting without emotion allows your training, skills and abilities to function at maximum proficiency. Shoshin frees you from the frustrations that often accompany learning, giving you the sight to see what you may have missed. Fudoshin provides the confidence to stand your ground in the face of overwhelming odds. 

Senshin to Complete the Mantle 

The fifth element, Senshin, has no exact, literal translation. However, in line with the teachings of Ueshiba Morihei, Founder of the Japanese art of Aikidô, Senshin takes on the Budo meaning of the ‘enlightened’ or ‘purified’ mind/heart or spirit. In Chinese Medicine, the heart is the location of the mind, which is probably why the most common translation for Shin is mind or heart. So, concerning the Karateka/Budoka, Senshin might be said to be
‘the state of the enlightened mind’. Senshin completes the five spirits of Budo, or the full Mantle, of the advanced Karateka/Budoka: the Spiritual Warrior.

Senshin transcends and harmonizes the first four elements in a spirit of compassion to reconcile discord and hold all life sacred. Fully embracing Senshin is to become enlightened. 

You can learn as many physical arts as you want, and I’ve studied a few. But unless you take on the full Mantle you will only skate across the surface. The physicality of the arts will only be a sequence of moves. Consequently, in combat, whomsoever is most inspired on the day will be the victor. 

This Mantle I speak of doesn’t just find you when you train, study and learn the physicality of your art. You must actively seek it out. Prior to beginning my traditional Shotokan training, I had been a British Parachute Regiment soldier and so, quite naturally, Zanshin was the first constituent of the Mantle that I cognitively understood. 

KARATE & BUDO NEWSLETTER

Zanshin (残心): Lingering Mind 

‘Zanshin: being still within, while aware of one’s surroundings and totally prepared, for anything. Zanshin is a state of totally calm alertness; a physical, mental and spiritual state of awareness before, during and after combat.’ 

Intellectually, I understood, quite early in my Karate-do, four of the five elements of the Mantle. However, my cognitive knowing of Mushin, Shoshin and Fudoshin took a little longer to realize. Following a particularly adverse situation, avoiding a potential disaster, I would suddenly realize that I had done so by exhibiting one of the Mantle’s features. 

For instance: while employed in high risk security, it was my habit to size up a situation and plan several, rational, contingencies so that I might not be taken by surprise in an unfolding situation. I was in actual fact limiting my options by overthinking the situation. A completely unexpected situation arose one day, which I came through smoothly, reacting in the most appropriate manner at several twists and turns. I then understood, cognitively, the concept of Mushin: trust and live in the moment. 

Mushin (無心): No Mind 

‘Mushin: not over-thinking things, being open and ready to receive whatever might come. Without the clouds of judgement, driven by emotion, the uncluttered mind deals with life from the moment point.’ 

The element that makes most sense, and is so obvious, took me the longest time to cognitively realize was Shoshin. Again, I tended to overthink and complicate things. All I really needed to do was clear away preconceptions: simplify. 

Shoshin (初心): Beginners’ Mind 

‘Shoshin: beginner’s mind is the quintessential mindset for learning. In the beginner’s mind there is openness, eagerness, a lack of preconceptions. With Shoshin there are many possibilities no matter the level of study.’ 

The fourth element to click into place, for me, was Fudoshin. Your skill levels need to be fairly advanced but, more importantly, your belief in yourself needs to be flawless. It is important to hone your skills to the point where ‘you believe’ they will emerge when and where you need them. You must erase any doubts. 

Fudoshin (不動心): Immovable Mind 

‘Fudoshin: a peaceful state of total determination and unshakable will. It is the state of a spirit that is determined to win. Filled with courage, endurance and self-confidence through self-knowledge, Fudoshin provides you with the resolve to surmount any obstacle.’ 

Finally ‘the enlightened mind’. What does that even mean? I never tried to intellectualize Senshin. ‘The enlightened mind’ sounded a little too airy-fairy. However, once Fudoshin slipped into place, Senshin, the final element, settled upon me like a Mantle. Henceforth, I knew the comforting surety of the full Mantle

Senshin (先心): Purified spirit and Enlightened Attitude 

‘Senshin: the enlightened mind of the advanced karateka/budoka. Holding all life sacred, you strive to protect and be in harmony with all life.’ Seeing the best in humanity, you endeavor to foster compassion even for those who would do you harm. With Senshin, recognizing the universal connectedness of life, you understand how one simple act affects every aspect of life. You see the dilemma and the worth of life with your heart, mind and soul.’ 

Senshin is achievable. However, not only must the mind be enlightened but the spirit must be cleansed too. Only the advanced karateka/budoka – with the enlightened attitude and purified intention – will achieve ‘the full Mantle of the Spiritual Warrior.’ 

Senshin: Enveloped in the Mantle

The high-pitched screech of brakes echoes through the chilly winter’s night. Piling out of two cars, they come in an angry rush. 

Spaced a couple of meters apart, one hand out, palm facing them, one hand on a holstered Glock 19 pistol-grip, we stand our ground. Two against many, but they stop. 

‘Hands off the guns!’ yells one, nervously. Hands under coats, their weapons are hidden but evident. Undisciplined, noisy, cursing and issuing threats, they mill together like fish in a barrel. They are gangsters, bullies… 

We are professionals, and they know it. I pitch my voice to be heard over the din… ‘Get back in your vehicles and drive away!’ I don’t threaten, but the warning is implicit. 

They hesitate… and one of them says, “What! Are you nuts! We outnumber you better than four to one… Do you think you’re invincible or something?!” When my response is a small, enigmatic smile his expression is priceless. But then, still verbally abusing us, they back off. Continuing to yell abuse from the cars, they speed off, as a police siren pierces the night air 

Our clients are safe… for tonight anyway. 

I have no doubt that – recognizing we were highly trained professionals unaffected by bullying and bluster – they knew that, had they pushed the envelope, some of them would have died. We were not invincible; simply, uncluttered by emotion (Mushin). Calm, alert, aware (Zanshin). Focused completely, confidently, in the moment (Fudoshin). No… not invincible, but securely enveloped in the Mantle.

Posted on 4 Comments

What is Fudoshin? And How to Achieve It?

Fudoshin (不動心) means indomitable, incorruptible. It is the achievement of a clear and determined mind, and having a centred spirit. Fudoshin translates as ‘immovable mind’ or ‘unshakable heart’. By Thomas D. McKinnon

The True Meaning of Fudoshin

It is composure under pressure. It refers to a state of having an unwavering will. A spirit, undeterred by obstacles in the chosen path. It calls for a state of commitment coupled with fearless determination. With Fudoshin, one can maintain a state of mind unmoved by distractions. A state of internal tranquillity in the midst of external conflict, if you will. Fudoshin is the manifestation of fortitude, and has its origins in the guardian deity, Fudo Myōō.

Fudo Myōō

Fudo Myōō is a guardian deity in Shingon (True Word) Buddhism (真言宗, Shingon-shū). Shingon Buddhism constitutes one of the major schools of Buddhism in Japan and one of the few surviving Vajrayana lineages in East Asia. It originally spread from India to China through traveling monks such as Vadjrabohi and Amoghavajra. Fudo Myōō, a patron of martial arts, carries a sword in his right hand (symbolically, to cut through delusions and ignorance) and a rope in his left hand (again symbolically, to bind evil forces and violent or uncontrolled passions and or emotions).

Fudoshin serves as a shield of the heart. In Japan, there is a concept of Shikai: the four sicknesses of the mind that a budoka has to avoid at all costs:

  1. Kyo: surprise
  2. Ku: fear
  3. Gi: doubt
  4. Waku: confusion

Kyo

If you are surprised, time stops for you. You may actually stop moving, hold your breath even, while your mind catches-up with what happens around you. With Kyo, one’s concentration breaks. In that split-second of broken concentration, defeat can be upon you.

Ku

With fear comes a distorted sense of reality. The attacker may seem bigger, stronger and more fearsome than he really is. Hence, fear may have one mentally defeated before the conflict begins. There is no chance of victory when one’s mind is already defeated.

Gi

Doubting your expertise leads to fatal consequences in a martial situation. The way to safeguard against doubt goes through incessant training. As a result, doubt is the back-stabber of belief. One cannot respond to an assault properly with a lack of conviction stemming from a mind that doubts. Above all, indecision will cause your defeat.

Waku

Mental confusion stems from a lack of focus. The mind wonders and tries to consider too many things. Movements become unrefined, timing suffers, and reactions stifle. A lack of focus makes you surprised. Surprise may cause fear, and fear sows the seeds of doubt. As a consequence, confusion follows soon. And to be confused is to be overwhelmed.

The Necessity of Fudoshin

Fudoshin is the ‘immovable mind’. The mind that has met all challenges of life, and has attained a state of complete composure and fearlessness. This state of equanimity is essential to the Budoka or accomplished karateka.

That is to say, fudoshin represents a peaceful state of total determination and unshakable will. It consist of a state of a spirit filled with courage and endurance. It means: The determination to win. Fudoshin relates to the feeling of invincibility, of a mind that cannot be disturbed by surprise, fear, doubt or confusion.

Samurai and Fudoshin

In Feudal Japan, fudoshin was manifest in the Samurai: in his unquestionable courage and determination, without fear in the face of danger, pain and even death. As the great Japanese swordsman, Tsukahara Bokuden said: “Mental calmness, not skill, is the sign of a mature samurai.”

From a Western point of view, the idea of violence coupled with a peaceful and calm mind poses a difficulty to comprehend. The concept of a Warrior (Samurai, Bushi) without anger or rage, a peaceful warrior, would seem to be an oxymoron. However, fudoshin constituted the state of mind essential to the Samurai. It is an imperturbable state of equanimity, and an essential philosophical dimension to most martial arts, but especially Shotokan Karate-Do.

Fudoshin: The Unshakeable Heart

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) wrote: “Mankind is divided into three classes: those who move, those who are movable, and those who are immovable.”

On a personal level, if I set my mind on something, I do not allow anything to shake my belief in myself and my ability to reach the goal I have set. ‘Nothing will stand in my way.’ This unshakable resolve is Fudoshin.

Depending on the Budoka or karateka’s end-game (what they hope to achieve, their goals, their purpose in life et cetera): of all the esoteric terms adopted by the martial arts fraternity, the acquisition of Fudoshin is probably the most difficult, and perhaps the most important concept to master. Therefore, it features definitely the most pivotal philosophical or mental dimension, at least to the Japanese martial arts. Hence, it contributes, immeasurably, to the effectiveness of the advanced practitioner.