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Relaxation: Kime and Ki Revisited

The picture shows Hirokazu Kanazawa. His Seiken and Ki were tremendous. In this picture he does a Choku-zuki. But today, relaxation must become the focal point of Shotokan.

Relaxation has long been underestimated in Shotokan Karate. Kime, understood as muscle tension, was the major aim. However, recent developments call to revisit Kime and Ki in the light of relaxation. Relaxation before and after a technique should be the focal point of Shotokan Karate. By Dr. Wolf Herbert

When you have learnt Shotokan Karate at its beginnings in Europe, the 1960´s up to the 1980´s , the word you most likely have heard most often in the Dojo was: “kime”. It was mainly understood as a contraction of the whole body’s musculature at the end of a technique. It was (and is?) the hallmark of the powerful and dynamic way Karate was/is practiced and spread by the JKA (Japan Karate Association). However, Funakoshi Gichin mentioned “kime” nowhere in his books. So where does the notion come from?

John Cheetham explored this question amidst an ongoing discussion in some insightful articles in his “Shotokan Karate Magazine” (Cheetham 2019 a/b).

Early Definitions of Kime

Nakayama Masatoshi

He claims that Nakayama Masatoshi never used the term “kime” in his first book. I leafed through the Japanese original (Nakayama 1965) and found that he does not in fact use “kime” as a noun anywhere, however as a verb (kimeru) it appears on p. 116. It corresponds to the following passage in his book Dynamic Karate (Nakayama 1966: 102). My literal translation from the Japanese original would be:

“Generally ‘waza (technique) o kimeru’ means to let a well-controlled power explode instantaneously on a chosen target.”

In the English version (where there is no mention of kime or kimeru) the translation reads: “Remember that an effective technique in karate is produced by a concentrated blast of power at the moment of impact.”

Nakayama repeatedly writes about “kimewaza” in the sense of “decisive technique”, however not of “kime” as an isolated notion. It almost seems that kime as a word/noun and concept has been taken out of its context and reduced to its physical/muscular aspect.

Nishiyama Hidetaka

The word “kime”, however, is explicitly used by Nishiyama Hidetaka in his book Karate. The art of empty hand fighting and he calls it “focus”:

“Briefly, ‘focus’ in karate refers to the concentration of all the energy of the body in an instant on a specific target.” (Nishiyama & Brown 1960: 21).

This definition notably resembles the one we have seen in Nakayamas use of it as a verb. Nakayama and Nishiyama obviously shared the same idea about kime and its application. John Cheetham quotes further from Nishiyamas book (Cheetham 2019a: 10; 2019b: 30):

“As the fist nears the target its speed is increased to its maximum point, and at the moment of impact the muscles of the entire body are tensed. … This, in essence, is what ‘focus’ in karate means.”

Now, if you read on, you find the following:

“It should not be forgotten that this maximum exertion of energy is instantaneous and in the next instant is withdrawn in preparation for the next movement, i.e., the muscles are relaxed, the breath inhaled, and a position appropriate for the next technique assumed.” (Nishiyama & Brown 1960:21)

Relaxation!

I would argue that exactly this (“relax”) was forgotten by many practitioners (and teachers!) back in the early days of Shotokan in the West. “More kime, more kime!” was the battle cry or mantra of the day and lead to hypertensed, stiff, and awkward Karate-moves.

We all know the term waza no kankyu as being one of the principles that should be observed when executing a Kata. It relates to the slowness and quickness of technique. The term kankyu (緩急) is written with two characters, of which the first means: “to loosen, relax” and the second: “swift, rapid”.

Nakayama Takatsugu, a karateka and physiotherapist, gives this an interesting interpretation in regard to “kime”. He describes “kime” as a flow from “loose” (kan) to “rapid” (kyu) to “loose” (kan). The body goes from very loose to strong for an instant, only to loosen up again (Nakayama 2013: 92). It is a snapping move like the one of a spring, which is compressed, then releases its power and immediately returns to its original state. The bigger the amplitude is between relaxation and tension, the bigger the power unleashed. It can also be likened to a wave hitting the shore and pulling back.

Muchimi and the Loosening of the Hip

Muchimi

This reminds me of muchimi, one of the Okinawan principles, which defines a powerful technique. Kime is not emphasized in Okinawan styles. It really seems to be an invention by Nakayama and Nishiyama based on the assumption that tension as such produces power, a (mis)conception imported from Western sports science. John Cheetham (2019a: 11) actually asked Kanazawa Hirokazu after a course in 2004:

“’Where did this ‘physical kime’ concept originate and who developed it?’

He replied without hesitation:

‘It was Nakayama sensei’s idea.’”

Muchimi is interpreted in two ways: Mi (身) can either stand for “body” or differently written (味) for “taste” (metaphorically: “feeling, quality”). “Muchi” is the Okinawan pronunciation of the Japanese “mochi”. This is a sticky, glutinous cake made of pounded steamed rice. In this sense muchimi describes a tough, but supple body and also technically to stick flexibly to your opponent in an altercation. One more meaning derives from the Japanese word “muchi” (鞭 whip), thus implying one should use ones body like a whip. A whip lashed out causes as much damage by its initial impact as it does by the laceration due to the pullback movement.

Whip-lash Hip

Now, the whip hip or double hip, which has been revived in Shotokan by Naka Tatsuya Sensei, is applied mostly and widely in short range techniques in Okinawan Karate. Kagi zuki (鉤突, hook punch) in Tekki Shodan can serve as a good example. Executed in “whip hip style” means, that a slight pulling back of the hips before the punch, initiates relaxation, and is followed by the speed of the thrust and throwing in of the hips in the direction of the tsuki. On impact the hip snaps back and again a full body relaxation is achieved. This is the perfect cycle between relaxation – momentary tension – relaxation.

Naka Tatsuya using the “whip hip” during Tekki Shodan. This is the foundation for relaxed motions in Shotokan.

This corresponds to John Cheethams bow and arrow analogy. The orthodox understanding of kime looks at the end of the technique, whereas it is equally important how the action starts.

“If you forget about the completion, and focus on the start, the drive from the legs followed by the rotation of the hips and trunk in conjunction with the breath – as long as you have a good, strong fist position, (which is vital) the arm should just fly out like a missile with unimpeded speed which ends with the fist doing the damage at whatever point or distance it lands. … It’s the speed and release of the rotation of the body which fires the punch (arm and fist). The Archer will focus on the target with calmness, relaxation, before releasing the arrow. We should apply that same principle to our karate!” (Cheetham 2019b: 30-1).

It is again the cycle of “loose-taut-loose”. You cannot deliver a fast punch, when you are tightened up at the inception of the thrust.

Dr. Wolf Herbert showing how the whip hip and kagi zuki work. Relaxation is the key.

Relaxation and the Flow of Ki

Therefore the interesting points are the start (relaxation), the target/impact/”end” and to me even more so: what happens after the “end”: the implosion or total relaxation. This is known in Taijiquan as “opening/releasing” and “closing/receiving”. “Opening” means that the ki (“internal/vital energy”) is sent out into the extremities of the body and beyond while executing a technique (an attack). When “closing” one lets the ki flow back and accumulate again in the lower abdomen. This is harmonized with breathing, exhalation when “opening” and inhalation during “closing”.

A Shotokan-Karateka in Osaka displaying an exemplary whip hip (muchimi 鞭身) and nimble alternation between tension and relaxation:

While the ki-flow is mentally guided in Taijiquan and the movements are soft and of uniform tempo (andante) in an uninterrupted flow, in Karate they are swift, forceful, abruptly stopped and explosive. The velocity with which the ki is transported is different, but the effect is the same in the end. From a health-exercise view the flow of the ki is harmonized, and blockages are removed. Ki is virtually sent through the whole body from head to toe, thus one feels refreshed after a good Karate training session, even if one is physically exhausted.

Kime and Ki

Kanazawa Hirokazu makes a connection between Kime and Ki in his autobiography Karate – My life (2003: 266):

“There are three kinds of ki, which manifest in the tanden, or lower abdomen, which serves as the central powerhouse of our bodies. Tai-ki is the energy drawn from the atmosphere, chi-ki from the ground, and nai-ki resides within the body. This flows through our spine and explodes out of our fists, and this instant is termed kime, or focus.” 

It may be noted that kime (or “kimeru” as a verb) can actually be written with two different characters. The one denoting “to decide, determine” (kimeru 決める) is often used and well known. The other character (kime 極め) means: “to go to the end, to go to extremes, the apex”. In the Japanese original Kanazawa prefers the latter for “climax” rather than the former in the sense of “decisive point”. Written with 極 kime has a strong psychological connotation with the nuances of “sharp, one-pointed concentration” or “maximal single-mindedness”.

One more linguistic remark: the ki in kime (it is just the first syllable) has nothing to do with the ki in the Chinese meaning of “universal energy”, which is a word in itself and written with a completely different character (氣 simplified 気). The term “ki” has an esoteric tang in the West, but it can be understood quite rationally. Allow me to give a brief explanation. I shall concentrate on the aspect called nai-ki by Kanazawa and pick up an attempt to describe it from a former article on the fore fist (seiken).

What can Qi/ki mean? An approximation

Qi (Chn.)/ki (Jpn.) is a psychosomatic holistic concept. In Western anatomy one tends to dissect and separate everything according to function, whereas in eastern thinking the interconnection and homeostasis of the whole body/mind/spirit is central. A mind/matter or soul/body-dualism is not dominant.

Thus, ki has material and immaterial aspects. It is and flows in the bones, the marrow, the muscles, the blood and circulatory system, the lymphatic and the nervous system, the organs, glands, spine and brain and the meridians which connect everything. Ki pervades the totality of physical functions and the mind, which is the conductor in this orchestra. Ki is the regulator or monitor of a fluid balance and the harmonious interplay of all the above mentioned elements.

It has to be stated that Qi/ki has historically never been defined consistently. The concept changed over the centuries from a cosmological/metaphysical one to a more “anthropological” and recently, even a materialistic one. There is a lot of research conducted in the West and in China (under the influence of Western science) to pinpoint what ki might be, or even to find methods to measure it.

Research into bioelectromagnetic fields has shown some correlation with the nervous system and mental states. Others concentrate on mitochondrial function and heart rate variability. But these attempts can only highlight and pick out aspects of ki rather than “measure” it in its totality. No single instrument might ever be able to gauge it, not least because of its immaterial aspects.

Because ki acts as a psychosomatic regulatory feedback system it is so encompassing, its definition is pliable and can easily be recalibrated or adapted to beliefs or research interests. We can nevertheless operate with ki as a phenomenon, a sensation or hypothesis, empirically corroborated by a legion of practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine and martial arts throughout the ages.

The Regulation of Ki and Health

Health in the Chinese understanding means that ki can flow freely and without blockages or occlusions. Latter occurrences lead to sickness and indisposition. Acupuncture, moxibustion, massages, gymnastics and meditation (visualization) were developed from time immemorial to guarantee an unimpeded ki-flow. The martial arts were practiced in this context.

Good martial art practice is said to open the energy channels, eliminate blockages and harmonize the flow of ki. Ki can be mobilized, directed and circulated by conscious mental activity. The standard formulas are: “Where the thinking/mind (意 Jpn. i, Chn. yi) is, there is ki.” “Guiding the ki with the thinking/mind”.

Another term widely used in internal martial arts (e.g. Taijiquan, Qigong) is inen (意念) (Matsuda 2013: 176). As so often, the characters in this term have various meanings and can hardly be translated by just one word: 意  “I” means “mind, heart, thought, idea, intention, care”; 念 “nen” means “idea, feeling, concern, attention, caution”. In a Buddhist context nen is used as the translation of the Sanskrit term smriti (Pali: sati), which means “mindfulness”.

Nowadays, this defines a whole method of meditation. Inen thus signifies “consciousness, intention, attentiveness”. “Inen guides the ki” implies, that every mindful physical exercise leads the ki to flow into the parts of the body, on which one concentrates. “If you do not use strength but will, wherever your will directs chi will arrive.” (Wong 2002:37; chi = ki 気) Thus if one concentrates on the fist, when one focusses (kime) a punch, this will stimulate a surge of ki.

John Cheetham (2019a:11) wrote:

“Some people say that kime is like putting the brakes on, which makes the energy stay ‘inside the body’ and not transfer to the target.”

If you understand kime in the context of ki, the exact opposite is the case!

Kanazawa Hirokazu was able to split the very board that was indicated to him in a stack of four or five without breaking the rest. His explanation was that he could consciously control and direct his ki. He describes it in his autobiography, which I have translated into German. During the translation process, I spoke to him directly about this, because it has always intrigued me. He told me that everything is connected on a molecular level in the sense that everything is vibrating energy in the end. He described it as visualizing the indicated board vividly and projecting his consciousness into it, becoming one with it, and thus being able to pulverize it.

He added with a laugh:

“People usually wanted me to break the second or third board, hardly the last one and never the first one. But to stop the ki at the first board and not break the others would have been the hardest task to fulfill.”

Kanazawa also used to say that a punch does not end at the fist, but goes way beyond, because the ki shoots out far on and yonder. It is quite clear that ki in this context is connected to an intense mental focus rather than a mere somatic one. Thus, kime is coupled with the mobilization of ki. In good combination with relaxation it makes the technique strong on more than a physical level and leads to a balanced, hence healthy ki-flux.

Ki as a Psychosomatic Concept. Again: relaxation!

When we look at other Southeast Asian martial arts, namely many soft Kung Fu styles, Pentjak Silat or Kalaripayattu, they are very fluid and do not apply kime. Even in Shotokan, its first offspring, the Shotokai, headed by Egami Shigeru (1912-1981), who deemed himself to be totally loyal to Funakoshi Gichin and his Karate, suppleness and relaxation are emphasized. Kata in Shotokai are performed in a continuous flow, almost tensionless. The fixation on kime in the sense of a physical tightening up of the body seems to be the exception rather than the rule in the wide world of bare hand fighting arts. Therefore it is worth revisiting.  

John Cheetham (2019a: 12) states:

“30/40 years ago, kime to me was a totally muscular concept, now it’s changed: now a ‘decisive’ blow is a combination of power generated from relaxation, speed, breath, intention and mental focus!”

This is a wonderful, comprehensive definition! As we have seen, intention and mental focus are exactly the elements, which mobilize ki. I say this with tongue in cheek: but when the Japanese instructors back in the days exhorted us to put more kime into our techniques, they might just have meant that we concentrate more, focus our mind, and put our heart and soul into every single movement.

To do something with total commitment and dedication is deemed a great virtue in Japan. This pertains to minor tasks like sweeping a garden or cleaning the floor of the dojo – you ought to give it your full attention. So the Japanese instructors might have meant the mental aspect of “kime”, while we Westerners misunderstood it in the way that we should display physical power and strength.

From the Chinese perspective, ki can flow best, when one is totally relaxed. Actually too much or extended tension impedes the ki-circulation. As a Karateka of a certain age, what happens after the technical kime is much more interesting and important for the physique than what happens during tension. The alternation between tension and relaxation characterizes the physical discipline of Karate. Now when we put the focus (kime) more on the latter, it might be good for our health and well-being – and our performance of Karate too!

References

Cheetham, John: “Kime-Focus: the concept revisited”, Shotokan Karate Magazine, Iss. 141/Sept. 19 (2019a), 10-12

Cheetham, John: “The Bow & Arrow Analogy”, Shotokan Karate Magazine, Iss. 142/Dec. 19 (2019b), 30-31

Kanazawa, Hirokazu: Karate – My life. Transl. by Alex Bennett, 2012.

Matsuda, Ryûchi: Shôrin Kenjutsu. Rakanken. Kihon kara sentô gijutsu made. Shinsôban. Tsuchiya shoten 2013

Nakayama, Masatoshi: Karate-dô. Shin Kyôtei. Tokyo: Tsuru shobô 1965

Nakayama, Masatoshi: Dynamic Karate. Tokyo: Kodansha 1966

Nakayama, Takatsugu: Dakara, Karate wa tsuyoi! Himeta pawâ o dasu, dentô no shintai gihô. BAB Japan 2013

Nishiyama, Hidetaka und Richard C. Brown: Karate. The Art of “Empty Hand” Fighting. Rutland, Vermont & Tokyo: Tuttle 1960

Wong, Kiew Kit: The Complete Book of Tai Chi Chuan. A Comprehensive Guide to the Principles and Practice. Tokyo, Rutland, Vermont, Singapore: Tuttle 2002

About the Author

Dr. Wolfgang Herbert, Professor of Comparative Cultural Studies at the University of Tokushima, 5th Dan Shôtôkan Karate, practices Yang-style Taijiquan. He can be contacted via his Dôjô-homepage: https://skiftokushima.wordpress.com

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Ki and Karate: From Science to Experience

The picture shows Aoki Osamu Shihan, the master of Ki.

Ki has always been a central concept for karate and other East Asian martial arts. However, especially in the West Ki has also been condemned as an esoteric idea. While some claims hold some water others do not. In the following article I am going to define Ki as a psychosomatic regulation capacity of the body and I will show how it can be explained and measured. I am going to make use of the vast research literature on Ki and draw from here some conclusions how it influences ones karate and how one can strengthen it during daily training. By Punito Aisenpreis

Ki, Qui or Chi: Driving Force for Any Action

Ki is generally and colloquially defined as “life force” or “vital energy” (気Chinese Qi, Jap. Ki). In the Japanese culture the expression is omnipresent: If two persons meet, they ask each other: O Genki Desu Ka? = how are you, how is your Ki? If someone leaves home, the other person says: Ki Otsu Ke Te = take care of your Ki! The Kanji character “気” means the steam, which rises from rice. In other cultures, Ki is referred to as Chi, Qi, (China), as Prana (India), or as Odem (Germanic heritage).

The picture shows the Japanese/Chinese letter (kanji) for Ki.
This is the Kanji: Ki.

Ki belongs to the central concepts of Traditional Chinese and Japanese Medicine and functions as a mediating factor between mind and body. As a psychosomatic holistic concept, it bridges the division of psyche and physic. In martial arts, Ki has a central function. The flow of Ki through meridians and the knowledge of vital points belongs to the foundation of Shotokan Karate (see Bubishi). In the terms Aikido, Kiai and Kime for example, Ki is a central element.

However, many martial artist and Shotokan Karateka deem Ki an esoteric concept that has been refused by Western medicine. Therefore, I will give a brief overview about Ki in medical research.

Ki and Western Medicine

The relationship of Ki and Western Medicine is indeed complicated. Two major reasons can be found for this: First, wrong translations and interpretations of Chinese concepts; Second, Charlatanism in the West. The major authority, when it comes to Ki research in the West, is Prof. Dr. Paul Unschuld, who holds the chair for theory, history and ethics of Chinese Lifesciences at the Humboldt University in Berlin. He examined the history of concept of Ki extensively.

His studies reveal that the meaning of Ki has changed in the course of the centuries. First, Chinese healers perceived it as some sort of vapors. Later they extended the meaning of the term to other phenomena. Therefore, Unschuld concluded in his opus magnum Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen:

“We may assume that Qi, despite its many diverse applications, always referred to a vague concept of finest matter believed to exist in all possible aggregate states, from air and steam or vapor to liquid and even solid matter.”

(Unschuld 2003) (1)

From this standpoint, the translation of Ki as “energy” in a sense of electricity must be refused. According to Unschuld, it even might be possible that the concept of Ki became mystified when it was introduced in the West in the 19th century. Here charlatanism like electronic therapy and elixirs already existed and where widely used in societies. Exotic concepts like Ki became reinterpreted and alternative medicine circles eagerly integrated them in their portfolio.

The picture shows the Ki exercise "the unbendable arm" by Tohei Koichi.
Ki exercise “the unbendable arm” by Tohei Koichi.

The power of this mystification in the West even led to a change of understanding of Ki in East-Asia, when the concept became re-imported into Chinese. As Unschuld suggested in his research that Ki described for the Chinese healers in the past a chemical-molecular energy. They described it as “vapors”. An esoteric all-mighty energy, that flows through everything and connects heaven and earth, must be rejected.

Ki: A Empirically Measurable Phenomenon

Ki refers to an empirically measurable sensation and physiological effect like as it can be experienced in de qi during acupuncture (see Park et al 2013) (2). Modern research points to the same direction. Robert Chuckrow (2019) (3) argues that Ki could be part of the cell metabolism, happening in the mitochondria of the cell.

A Japanese research team around Tsuyoshi Ohnishi (2005, 2006) (4,5) examined the effects of a treatment with Ki on mitochondria function (inner breathing and energy provision) of the cell as well as on human cancer cells. According to their research the Ki transmitted from a Ki master (Nishino Kozo Sensei) to cells had a positive effect on the healing process. The Ki effect is empirical evident and well documented. Its healthy effects even convinced German health insurance, which cover acupuncture treatments since a few years.

However, a challenge poses the question what Ki is or how it can be described in theoretical terms. Paul Rusch (2009) (6) tried to theorize the concept in a paper about bioelectromagnetic and subtle energy. Here he refuses the notion of a chemical-molecular process that generates Ki.

According to his analysis Ki must be looked for an analytical level deeper. For him the most plausible concept that can explain Ki is subtle energies, which emerges in bioelectromagnetic field on the atomic level. Here the nervous system, molecular-chemical process and mental states are interrelated. But he also concludes: “Whether this energy is synonymous with some mysterious force called chi that correlates with electromagnetic fields is not clear.” (Rusch 2009: 310)

The picture shows a Mitochondrion - Cell regulation. Is it one engine for the Ki phenomenon? Source: Wikipedia 2006
Mitochondrion – Cell regulation. Is it an engine for the Ki phenomenon?

Russian and German researchers found the link between mitochondrial function and the heart rate variability (HRV), the scientific way of pulse diagnostics. (explained later in this text.) (7) The HRV rises with the body’s ability to create energy through the intake of oxygen (8). And the regulation of the autonomic nervous system, measured via HRV, can be trained and augmented through a specific HRV based breathing biofeedback training (9). To follow this chain of argumentation, HRV analysis and HRV training could detect and strengthen Ki. This might be helpful for Karateka who train frequently and hard.

Further research is needed to determine the very elements that Ki consists of. Until then it can be seen as an aggregate of a multitude of psycho-somatic processes that correlate with health and well-being – and it can be measured and strengthened – good news for Karateka!

Ki as Regulation Capacity

On an experiential level, Ki is the term used in the Japanese Martial Arts for a type of intrinsic process that is present in everyone, but in martial arts practitioners it is developed to a greater extent through the use of specific breathing and strengthening exercises as well as mental imagination techniques.

In both the Japanese and Chinese Martial Arts, Ki or Qi is said to originate in the abdomen (Hara in Japanese or Tan Tien in Chinese) and can be focused or concentrated with practice, into any part of the body. Also, on this level, Ki is more than just energy: It could be described as resilience, a force that withstands attacks and onslaughts on different levels. Ki is the capacity for self-regulation and the ability of the autonomic nervous system and the cell metabolism: Its responsive capacity for coping with adverse circumstances, preserving and supporting our health.

The picture shows a Ki exercise "the unbendable body" in the authors Ki class.
Ki exercise “the unbendable body” in the authors Ki class

Today, Budoka’ s challenges are mostly not the rogues lurking around the next corner but new threats like global warming, mobbing, intrigue, fake news, negativity and so on might be much more realistic. And more so, Ki is needed giving us the ability to cope for example with the threat of the Corona Virus on both a mental and a physical level.

Measuring and Determining Ki: The Traditional Way of Pulse Diagnostics

Pulse diagnostics is an integral part of Ayurvedic medicine, which developed in the Indus Valley around 5000 years ago. In China, diagnostics of pulse was developed under the influence of India between the 2nd and 8th century AC, but the true beginnings might well stretch back as far as up to 2700 years earlier. In Chinese medicine, it is used for the detection of disturbances of a person’s vital energy (Chi), which expresses itself as Yin (feminine) and Yang (masculine) energy.

The picture shows heartrate variability by means of ECG measure: Presentation of heartbeat regulation:  – Ki in action. Source: Author
Heartrate variability by means of ECG measure: Presentation of heartbeat regulation:  – Ki in action. Source: Author

Today the pulse diagnostics, in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and especially in acupuncture and Shiatsu (massage) of Traditional Japanese medicine, is used to detect disturbances in “energy flow”. It takes years of training to learn to detect it and daily practice in order to incorporate it in therapy. Modern physiology understands that pulse diagnostics looks at the function of the branches of our autonomic nervous system, a system that gains more importance in the last decades.

Heart Rate Variability: The Modern Successor of Pulse Diagnostics

There is a new scientific method of detecting the function of our self-running, vegetative/ autonomic nervous system: The analysis of heart-rate variability (HRV) is gaining increasing importance both in sports medicine and in the control of stress- and behavioral medicine. In particular, coaches can measure and control the condition of their athletes very precisely and thus achieve more competitive success, health and longevity. Measuring Ki in Karate training.

The picture shows 5 min. heartrate curve of a competitive athlete.
The picture shows 5 min. heartrate curve of a competitive athlete.
The picture shows a 5 min. heartrate curve after an acute burn-out.
5 min. heartrate curve after an acute burn-out.

High Ki: In a functioning autonomic nervous system at rest, the heart rate and the breathing are interconnected. (Figure 4 – left). The vagus nerve (rest and digest nerve) is stimulated and controls every heartbeat quickly, efficiently and with little effort.

Low Ki: In a stressed and unfit system (Figure 5 – see right), the heartbeat control is rigid and inflexible, controlled by the sympathetic nerve (fight – flight nerve). Any stress could lead to breakdown and damage.

Ki in Martial Arts Training

If we look at martial artists who incorporate Ki exercises in their training, we come across Koichi Tohei Sensei, Aikido and Ki teacher of the author, who promoted Shin Shi Toitsu Do (Mind-Body unification) of Tempu Nakamura (Japanese Yoga) since the 70ies of last century. The unbend-able arm (see Fig. 2.) and the unbend-able body (see Fig. 3) are central to his Ki exercises.

Another Japanese Ki master is Nishino Kozo Sensei with his Nishino Juku Ki breathing method, who also researched the effects of Ki on human cells. (see above). Both reached well over 90 yrs. of age.

In Karate, Aoki Osamu Shihan, the head of JKA Spain, has incorporated Ki principles into Shotokan teaching, the Aoki Bio Energy method. He graduated to 9th Dan in JKA Honbu Dojo Tokyo last year. He has developed five areas of connecting body and mind in this training: Youtai (stabilizing the body), Nyu sei: (physical and psychological preparation), Yurumi Taiso (exercises for relaxation), Kokyu Ho (breathing exercises), Dooki (activation and flowing of Ki).

The picture shows Aoki Osamu Shihan, the master of Ki.
The picture shows Aoki Osamu Shihan, the master of Ki. Source: JKA Spain.

If we look at the teaching of today’s prominent JKA Karate Senseis, we detect several Ki principles in their lessons: Naka Shihan for example does stability testing as well as giving mental cues during his classes, Shimizu Ryosuke Sensei is emphasizing on relaxing into gravity while punching and Ueda Daisuke Sensei teaches at JKA Honbu Dojo the effect of Oi Tsukis extending Ki while executing.

Strengthening Ki in your Daily Karate Training

Ki principles could be part of every Karate training. This would expand the muscle power driven competitive Sports-Karate to a more holistic approach unifying mind and body aspects of the art.

The following Ki principles could enhance Kihon, Kata and Kumite alike:

1. Keep one point: Focus your mind on the center of gravity in your body.

2. Feel your weight underside: Allow yourself to relax into gravity and sense the ground.

3. Extend your Ki: Let our mind extend beyond your physical limits in every technique.

4. Relax completely: Calm your mind and let go of physical tensions while executing techniques.

5. Stability testing as well as the “unbend-able arm test” and the unbend-able body test” would enrich daily training and induce relaxing and awareness elements at any point of a hard workout.

References

  1. Unschuld, Paul 2003: Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen: Nature, Knowledge, Imagery in an Ancient Chinese Medical Text, University of California Press.
  2. Park JE., Ryu YH., Liu Y., Jung HJ., Kim AR., Jung SY., Choi SM. 2013: A literature review of de qi in clinical studies. In: Acupuncture Medicine 31(2), 132-42.
  3. Chuckrow Robert, Ph.D. 2019: A Biological Interpretation of Ch’i (Qi): 2019 qui-encoclpedia.com
  4. Ohnishi ST, Ohnishi T, Nishino K, Tsurusaki Y, Yamaguchi M. 2005: Growth inhibition of cultured human carcinoma cells by Ki-energy (life energy): scientific study of Ki-effect on cancer cells. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 2: 387–93.
  5. S. Tsuyoshi Ohnishi, Tomoko Ohnishi and Kozo Nishino 2006: Ki-Energy (Life-Energy) Protects Isolated Rat Liver Mitochondria from Oxidative Injury: eCAM 3 (4)475–482
  6. Rosch, Paul J. 2009: Bioelectromagnetic and Subtle Energy Medicine. The Interface between Mind and Matter. In: Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.
  7. Kuchera et. al. 2003: Mitochondrial Therapy: Some questions of autonomic regulation mechanisms with use of HRV: Stress Research Institute, Meissen, State research Institute Moscow, Institute for New medical. T., Riazan.
  8. Aisenpreis, Punito M. 2017: The improvement of the parasympathetic response and the O2 intake at rest of stress-exposed patients through an HRV controlled application of intermittent Hypoxia/ Hyperoxia Therapy (IHHT): A pilot study out of therapeutic practice: University of Halle sport science.
  9. Aisenpreis, Punito M. 2013: The improvement of the parasympathetic response through a personalized 9 weeks HRV biofeedback training: University of Halle sports science.

About Punito M. Aisenpreis

Body-mind medical practitioner and researcher in Bavaria. Martial Arts and Meditation Teacher. Shotokan Karate since 1975, currently 4. Dan JKA. Ki Training with Koichi Tohei, 3 years living in an Ashram in India. Regular Karate training in Japan with Andre Bertel and the JKA. Fascia therapy since 1981. Founding of the German Society for Myofascial Release e.V. in 1994. Bodhidharma Karate Dojo Murnau, teaches Karate, HRV and Fascia seminars.

The picture shows Punito Aisenpreis the author of the article Ki and Karate.
Punito Aisenpreis the author of the article “Ki and Karate”


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Seiken: About the Karate Fist and Ki

The picture shows Hirokazu Kanazawa. His Seiken and Ki were tremendous. In this picture he does a Choku-zuki. But today, relaxation must become the focal point of Shotokan.

Seiken is the “standard” way of making a fist in Karate. However, most karate practitioners consider it less relevant than it actually is. The way of rolling the hand to a fist has a huge effect on the power of a Tsuki and on the Ki flow within the body. Both are interconnected and also influence ones health. An analysis by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Herbert

Karate is popularly associated with open hand techniques or knife hand strikes. However, the signature technique in modern Karate undoubtedly is the straight punch with a “regular” or “standard” fist called seiken (正拳) in Japanese. When Karate was introduced as a pre-military and physical education into the elementary and middle schools in Okinawa at the beginning of the 20th century by Itosu Anko (1831-1915), “dangerous” techniques were eliminated from the curriculum. The regular fore fist, the seiken, replaced, for instance, the one-knuckle-fists, stabbing with the fingers, and other open hand techniques.

Seiken: The Standard Way of Making a Fist

Seiken can also mean the “correct” fist. This shows that the karate community perceives it as the standard and orthodox way of forming a fist nowadays. One knuckle-fists or finger poking have a more hazardous effect than a seiken. They can penetrate far deeper into vital points and thus inflict more harm. These ways to strike are preserved in higher Kata (Chinte, Hangetsu, both Gojushiho a.o.), but not trained as basics anymore. The fist with the middle finger sticking out (Nakadaka ippon ken 中高一本拳) might have been the preferred fist of Funakoshi Gichin (1868-1957) rather than the so called “Okinawan” fist (see discussion below).

The fore fist is one of the first things we learn, when we start with Karate-do. It is so basic that many long time practitioners hardly think of it anymore. But due to its basic nature it is important to close the fist in the correct way. In every textbook of Karate you might find instructions like the following.

The following picture is about seiken and shows an explanation from Hirokazu Kanazawa´s Black Belt Karate.
This picture explanation how to close a fist is from Hirokazu Kanazawa´s Black Belt Karate from 2006. One can find it on page 30.

The Thumb in Seiken and the “Okinawa” Fist

How far the thumb is bent depends on individual preferences and slight differences among styles: it should not stick out, but cover the index and middle finger. Covering one and a half finger seems to be most common. Some schools bend the thumb slightly outwards, which gives the fist a different tension. There is also a discussion pertaining to the “Okinawan” fist and if it would not have been the preferred way for Funakoshi Gichin to make a clenched hand. You can find the discussion in Iain Abernethey´s forum.

Actually the “Okinawan Fist” (the tip of the index finger is held straight) is pictured in the book Dynamic Karate (1966) by Nakayama Masatoshi on page 75 (see below). In the comment it says:

“This method of making a fist was widely used until about 30 years ago, but few karateka employ it today. It declined in popularity because, although the index and middle fingers form a tight ball, the little finger tends to be quite loose.”

The picture shows a seiken by Masatoshi Nakayama.

Seiken and Ki

Let me take the seiken as an example to highlight some aspects in regard to traditional Chinese medicine. In acupuncture it is thought that a “life force” or “vital energy” (気Chines. qi, Jap. ki) circulates within the body in lines called meridians. Modern Western medicine relates the concept of Ki to “subtle energy” (Rosch 2009), which belongs to the research field of bioelectric medicine. The fingertips are the endpoints of meridians connecting them with inner organs. The little finger is connected to the small intestine and the heart, the index finger with the large intestine and the thumb with the lungs.

The picture shows a crucial aspects of seiken: the meridian system and energy flow.


This picture can be found in Nakayama Takatsugu 2013.

If these three fingers are vigorously rolled in and are closed strongly while executing a technique, it is said to have positive effects on ones inner organs and thus on ones health. Nakayama Takatsugu, a Karateka and physiotherapist, insists on the importance of strongly curling the three fingers mentioned above. Below is an illustration (Nakayama 2013: 80) from his book. The Japanese caption reads:

The “seiken” is almost synonymous with Karate and when at the moment of “kime” the thumb and the little finger are firmly clenched, the power will not dissipate (be particularly conscious of the little finger).

This picture shows another illustration about seiken.
This picture can be found in Nakayama Takatsugu 2013.

The two meridians which lead off from the tip of the little finger end at the shoulder blade and under the armpit. Both of these parts play an important role in focusing a straight punch and also connect the fist to the lower body. Furthermore the meridians run along the arm and have an effect on how the elbow is tensed. Everyone can self experiment with thrusting a punch with a loose little finger and with a firmly clenched one. The difference one feels, should be evident.

Seiken, Ki, and Tanden

The little fingers relation to the small intestine has one more implication: it connects a strong fist to the lower abdomen (臍下丹田seika tanden). This is where ki is accumulated and from where it can be sent out. The relation to the heart can also be figuratively understood. When one punches with ones “heart”, i. e. a strong intention and will, this will mobilize a strong ki.

Ki in Chinese Medicine: A Holistic Approach

Qi/ki (気) in traditional Chinese medicine is a psychosomatic holistic concept. In Western anatomy one tends to dissect and separate everything according to function, whereas in eastern thinking the interconnections and homeostasis of the whole body/mind/spirit is central. A mind/matter or soul/body-dualism is not dominant.

Thus ki has material and immaterial aspects. It is and flows in the bones, the marrow, the muscles, the blood and circulatory system, the lymphatic and the nervous system, the organs, glands, spine and brain and the meridians which connect everything. Ki pervades the totality of physical functions and the mind, which is the conductor in this orchestra. Ki is the regulator or monitor of a fluid balance and the harmonious interplay of all the above mentioned elements.

Ki must Flow

Health in the Chinese understanding means that qi/ki can flow freely and without blockages or occlusions. Latter occurrences lead to sickness and indisposition. Acupuncture, moxibustion, massages, gymnastics and meditation (visualization) were developed from time immemorial to guarantee an unimpeded ki-flow (Kohn 1989). The martial arts were practiced in this context. Good martial art practice is said to open the energy channels, eliminate blockages and harmonize the flow of ki. Ki can be mobilized, directed and circulated by conscious mental activity. The standard formulas are: “Where the thinking/mind (意 Jap. i, Chines. yi) is, there is ki.” “Guiding the ki with the thinking/mind”.

Inen: The Concentration of Ki

Another term widely used in internal martial arts (e.g. Taijiquan, Qigong) is inen 意念 (Matsuda 2013:176). As so often the characters in this term have various meanings and can hardly be translated by just one word: 意 I means “mind, heart, thought, idea, intention, care”; 念  nen means “idea, feeling, concern, attention, caution” and in a Buddhist context nen is used as the translation of the Sanskrit term smriti (Pali: sati), which means “mindfulness”. Inen 意念 thus signifies “consciousness, intention, attentiveness”. “Inen guides the ki” implies, that every mindful physical exercise leads the ki to flow into the parts of the body one concentrates on.

The Benefits of the Right Seiken

Therefore it is beneficial to concentrate on the taut closing of the fist when one focuses (kime) a technique (notably a punch), because this will stimulate a surge of ki. A simple move like clenching a fist can have multiple positive effects if executed with mindfulness and the knowledge of the impact it can have on the whole body/mind-system.

Everybody who works with impact training, be it the Makiwara, sandbag or pads, knows how important it is to close the fist properly and align it straightly with the wrist. Hence, a firm seiken is indispensable for practicing good Karate. It can be observed that due to the use of protective gear in Sports Karate, many athletes do not close their fists properly anymore. But in order to make full use of the potential of Karate, notably its effects on good health (ki-circulation), it is advisable to clench the fists strongly when focusing and then relax the grip. Eventually, Karate as a martial art belongs to the family of “boxing” or  kenpo 拳法, which means in Chinese quanfa: Fist Method.   

Naka Tatsuya-sensei on seiken-zuki: please watch from 1:43 to 4:15

References

Kanazawa, Hirokazu: Black Belt Karate. The Intensive Course. Foreword by Masatoshi Nakayama. Transl. by Richard Berger. Tokyo, New York  & London: Kodansha Intl. 2006.

Kohn, Livia (ed.) and Yoshinobu Sakade (coop.): Taoist Meditation and Longevity Techniques. Ann Arbor: Center for Chinese Studies/The University of Michigan 1989 (Michigan Monographs in Chinese Studies 61).

Matsuda Ryûchi: Shôrin Kenjutsu. Rakanken. Kihon kara sentô gijutsu made. Shinsôban. Tsuchiya shoten 2013.

Nakayama, Masatoshi: Dynamic Karate. Instruction by the Master. Transl. by Herman Kauz. Tokyo, New York & London: Kodansha Intl 1966.

Nakayama, Takatsugu: Dakara, Karate wa tsuyoi! Himeta pawâ o dasu, dentô no shintai gihô. BAB Japan 2013.

Rosch, Paul J.: Bioelectromagnetic and Subtle Energy Medicine. The Interface between Mind and Matter. In: Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 2009.

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Hirokazu Kanazawa Soke: A personal Obituary

The year 2019 ended with a tragic event for the global Shotokan community: the passing of Hirokazu Kanazawa. The Karate world mourns since then. In this personal obituary Prof. Dr. Wolf Herbert reminisces the extraordinary life and personality of Soke Kanazawa.

On December the 8th 2019 Kanazawa Hirokazu passed away “peacefully”, according to the official announcement. I had the honor and pleasure to translate his autobiography into German. For this edition I conducted an interview with Soke. I talked with him about death and dying. He stated:

“If one engages in downright normal training and has a downright normal lifestyle, the opportunities of development will also be downright normal. If, however, one trains in the way of going beyond, of transcending one’s natural powers, this in my opinion means to be present with deadly seriousness in everything, even the smallest kind of things!

To exaggerate a bit, you do everything as though it were a matter of life and death. To be involved with deadly seriousness, indeed as if it were a matter of life and death, is, I think, the true and final meaning of bushido (the ethical code of the warrior). If one does everything as though one’s life depended on it, there will be nothing to look back on with regret. When the time to die comes, one can die with utter peace of mind. I think the manner of dying is a barometer of how one has lead his life. This also constitutes the way of the warrior (bushido).”

Kanazawa Hirokazu

Hirokazu Kanazawa Soke: Life of a Warrior

Kanazawa-soke undoubtedly has lived and departed this life like a warrior. Kanazawa Hirokazu was born in 1931 in the Northeast of Japan, in the prefecture Iwate at a rough seashore with rocky cliffs and pine groves. He was the sixth child and had an older sister, four older and two younger brothers. The extended family, the fishery and trading company of his father and the care of his mother were the social context in which he absorbed consideration, cooperation and mutual benevolence as manners and a way to treat people. “Harmony” should later become one of the central pillars of his Karate philosophy.

Besides playing in nature and on the beach, Hirokazu practiced sumo, judo, rugby and boxing in his youth. His body was thus aptly prepared when aged 18, he seriously started with Karate in the Karate department of the Takushoku University. After graduation he and Mikami Takayuki became the first graduates of the instructor course of the the JKA (Japan Karate Association). 1957 he won the first JKA All Japan Championship. Subsequently, he twice repeated this triumph. 1960 he was sent to Hawaii as a JKA Karate instructor. His unprecedented journey into the world had begun.

The picture shows Soke Kanazawa and Wolf Herbert at the 35th SKIF All Japan Championship/Tokyo.
Soke Kanazawa and Wolf Herbert at the 35th SKIF All Japan Championship/Tokyo in 2015.

A Global Instructor

Presumably no other Japanese Karate teacher has traveled as much and often around the globe as Kanazawa Hirokazu. Most of the instructors who were delegated to foreign countries by the JKA settled down and built up their national organizations. Soke stayed for a while in England and Germany, but he was the JKA International Section Chief and was often on the road. Particularly after the foundation of his own organization (1978) he was virtually permanently visiting different countries all over the world. This made him one of the best known Karateka on the globe.

The break-up with the JKA was neither initiated by Soke nor wanted.  In the end it can be seen as a blessing in disguise, since it gave him the chance to develop and promulgate his very own Karate-do unencumbered. He placed the “International” (jap. kokusai) in the name of his organization (Shotokan Karate-do International Federation SKIF) intentionally on top in the Japanese version (Kokusai Shôtôkan Karatedo renmei). This was to demonstrate that Karate-dô has become a global movement and cultural world heritage.

Technical Brilliance and Charisma

Soke’s reputation was not solely based on his internationalism, but his extraordinary abilities, his technical brilliance and in particular his personality, charisma and charm. What also distinguished him was his capability to stage perfect and breathtaking demonstrations in Kumite and Kata on the spot at big events or clinics. Notable was not only his technical refinement and engaged and warm-hearted teaching style, but that he and his Karate-do was there for everyone.  That really meant no distinction in regard to sex, age, race, nationality, religious affiliation, social or economic status etc.

Before Soke went to Hawaii he stated in an interview, that he wanted to help to develop and promote Karate in its three aspects: physical education, martial art and competitive sports. This also illustrates his broad approach to Karate-do: it is meant for everybody, young and old, hobbyist and top athlete, even for those with special needs.

Hirokazu Kanazawa Soke Studied other Styles of Karate

The width of his horizon was also obvious in his openness and lifelong willingness to learn from other Karate-styles and martial arts.  He included old Kata (e.g. Koryu Gankaku, Niju hachi ho), which enrich the spectrum of movements beyond orthodox Shotokan, into his syllabus.  He was also known for his masterly command of the weapons staff (bo) and nunchaku. He integrated them into his tutoring. Soke also cherished lifelong friendships and exchanges with teachers of other styles and also from the JKA.

Karate and Health

In one of his English publications Kanazawa-soke proposed an intriguing perspective. He postulates that Karate historically evolved as a hygienic program to boost physical fitness and was only later used as a means of self-defense:

“Without going into the history of Karate I would like to explain a facet which is usually overlooked. Karate history starts some four thousand years ago as a series of movements for health. Later it was discovered that these could be applied for fighting. In the last few years it has been developed into a sport. All other combative sports started their life as fighting techniques. Therefore, Karate is the only one which started from natural movements to promote health.”

Hirokazu Kanazawa

Breathing and Ki

There originates one of the characteristics of Soke’s Karate-do: how he emphasized the importance of correct breathing. Via breathing the circulation of ki (chin. Qi, “universal energy”) is regulated. He also deemed the mental and physical concentration on the center of the body in the lower abdomen (seika tanden) as essential. There ki can be accumulated and from there ki can also be transmitted elsewhere. Ki is a central concept in Chinese cosmology and medicine. It is often translated as “inner energy” or “vital force”.

In the West, energy is primarily seen as something physical and as a quantum. Ki is also a kind of quality (qualia) and linked to consciousness. It has material and immaterial aspects. In the human body ki is mobilized by willpower. If one concentrates ki will flow into the object being focussed on. If you thrust a punch with a sharp intention ki will surge and shoot into the fist and beyond. Soke was able to split the very board that was indicated to him in a stack of boards without breaking the rest. His explanation was that he could consciously control and direct his ki. Although not many will ever reach this level, the regulation of ki was a central element of his Karate. And the positive health effects of Karate are based on it.

Ki and Taijiquan

According to the Chinese view, health means an unblocked and balanced flow of ki. From time immemorial diverse methods have been developed in order to gain an unobstructed flow of ki: meditation, visualization, breathing techniques, therapeutic interventions (acupuncture, massages, moxibustion a.o.) and physical exercises (e.g. Quigong).

Soke has practiced Taijiquan all his life and understood the respective concepts very profoundly. A crucial  goal of Taijiquan is to equilibrate and balance the ki-flow. This brings about harmony and well-being, worded slightly dramatically, a feeling of being at one with the universe. This was exactly what Soke was aiming at. I know that from numerous conversations and interviews with him. It has become a guiding principle for my personal Karate practice. Soke’s Karate-do was rooted in and based on Chinese philosophy and physiological conceptions, which made it one of a kind for me.

Hirokazu Kanazawa Soke and his Spirit of Karate-do

To me Soke and his Karate-do had a spiritual dimension, though it was totally unassuming. If you tuned your antennae into this direction you had ample reception. If you were not interested you were not bothered. Soke always understood Karate as moving Zen. His ideal was to reach an egoless state of all-encompassing alertness and inner calm. To point this out, he used terms from Zen-Buddhism and the art of sword fighting which was influenced by it, such as mushin (no mind) or muga (non-self).

If one witnessed Soke, one had the impression that time and again he embodied these states of mind. He had an aura which enveloped everybody with peace and serenity. Again, I fear I sound dramatic, but being in his mere presence filled me with happiness. I have never noticed any negative emotions like anger or irritation. Many will remember his infinite patience when he signed books, t-shirts and the like with his mountain Fuji-emblem after training courses – sometimes in hour-long sessions.

Hirokazu Kanazawa Soke was Here for Everyone

By no way I want to give the impression that I had any kind of “special” relationship to Soke. Everybody had his/her special connection to him and shared unique experiences with him. Soke did not show particular preferences. He was here for everyone: the veteran black belt as well as for the beginner and the children. I met Kanazawa-soke on many scattered, but pivotal occasions. His view of Karate and the world had an indelible impact on me. In this sense he was and is a constant mentor and guiding star for me. Let me therefore add some personal footnotes and anecdotes.

Some Personal Anecdotes about Hirokazu Kanazawa Soke

Hara warm/well, all’s warm/well!”

At one of his many sojourns in the 1980’s in my home town Bregenz in the West of Austria we talked about the winter. He was amazed, when he heard that in this cold alpine region a haramaki (“bellyband”, a kind of woollen kidney belt) was not customary.  In Japan, haramaki are well-liked by workers, who toil in the open or artisans in chilly workshops. Soke commented: “If the stomach (hara) is kept warm, the whole body will get warm!” For a martial artist like Soke hara of course had a much broader meaning. It is the pivot of every technique and the locus of ki-concentration. “Hara warm/well, all’s warm/well!” one could venture to say.

The picture shows Soke Kanazawa and Wolf Herbert in Bregenz, Austria. Wolf is translats the explanations of Hirokazu Kanazawa fo the audience.
Sôke Kanazawa and Wolf Herbert in Bregenz, Austria. Wolf translates the explanations of Hirokazu Kanazawa in 1984.

Anyway, I had two haramaki sent from Japan, which I still wear, particularly during winter in the unheated Dojo. I owe the discovery of the haramaki to Soke. Everytime I put one on I think of him and his teachings concerning the hara and seika tanden! As a sidenote, haramaki which were seen as hopelessly old-fashioned and proletarian now enjoy a renaissance in Japan as a fashion item and protection against the cold.

The Right Diet

As a young athlete I was very health conscious. Therefore I wanted to know from Soke what he deemed to be a wholesome and balanced diet. The gist of what he said was:

“I am traveling a lot and I am confronted with a lot of different national cuisines. Most of the time I am treated by the host, thus I can not refuse the dishes coming to the table. It is like that: while I eat the dishes, I inwardly tell myself, ‘This is good for my body, it supplies me with subtle energy and makes me strong!’ Then every food is well absorbed and purposefully utilized. With this positive attitude even fast food can be ingested with salubrious results. Generally speaking, it is best to consume local products and whatever is seasonal.”

Hirokazu Kanazawa

This again revealed to me that for Soke it was mind over matter, the spirit which reigns the body! As an aside: with regard to beverages, Soke in Austria professed a marked fondness of Pilsener.

He also had seriously considered to quit

Since there was a hiatus in my Karate practice I had the chutzpah to ask Soke if he had ever thought to desist from doing Karate. Without hesitation he replied that there were several critical periods in his life in which he had seriously considered to quit. However, every time he retreated to contemplate the possibility, inevitably some Kata sequences appeared before his mind’s eye. He saw himself performing e.g. Kankû dai and indubitably he knew with every fibre of his being that this was his “destiny”, his mission and his life task. Soke has always paid close attention to “imagery training”. Lately it seems to come into vogue. For Soke it obviously had positive effects. He pursued his path unperturbed by ups and downs.

The Little Gestures Matter

When I started with training again after my break from Karate I went to the Honbu dojo in Tokyo for instruction several times on Wednesdays. On this day Soke taught in person and all the instructors who were not abroad also assembled. While greeting formally, I moved the wrong foot into the closed V stance. Soke pointed out my “misstep” in his benevolent way. For a second I was irritated and thought, “why insist on such a trifle!” In a sudden intuition I understood the message. It was exactly these little gestures which should manifest the intent behind them.

The alert Mind

Soke was a keen observer. I had participated in the national championships (Kata Individual Masters II 50-59 yrs.) for the umpteenth time. Soke was already rather fragile at the time. After the championship there was a party in the evening with a stand-up buffet and drinks. The SKIF All-Japan Championship is a yearly event with over more than 600 participants. It is split up into school years for children and age classes for the adults. There are also several disciplines and the competition lasts for two whole days.

On the evening in question Soke went back home early due to his frail condition. All the party guests formed a lane and made a deep bow when Soke passed by. He walked with his cane and when he came close to me he stopped, looked at me, smiled and said: “Today you won a medal. Congratulations!” I was moved. Among all the bustle of the contest he did not miss to notice this – or, very likely, anything else for that matter.

He Cared about People

Soke cared deeply for people and had an extraordinary memory for them. In the 1980’s (my most active time in Karate) the first thing he invariably asked me when we met, was, if Fujinaga Yasuyuki (1944-1995) was doing well. I found that very considerate and acted as a messenger between the two. Fujinaga-sensei headed a JKA-Dojo in Vienna, where I was allowed to train twice a week. When Kanazawa-sôke was still in the JKA, Fujinaga-sensei had studied under him in Japan for an extended period. Even after Fujinaga-sensei’s demise, he repeatedly told me how sorry he felt about his passing on in the prime of his life. Soke knew well, how much I had adored and appreciated Fujinaga-sensei.

When he Visited Austria

In 1982, the first SKI-organisation in Austria was established. I had become one of its first members and was in the managing committee until the end of the 1980’s. I also ran a SKI-Dojo in Vienna. We intentionally put the name of the founder first in the name of the federation: Kanazawa Shotokan Kokusai Karate-do Österreich (KSKKÖ). Thanks to the selfless commitment and efforts of the pedagogue Rosemarie Osirnigg, Soke came to Vorarlberg/West Austria on a yearly basis to hold training courses lasting a couple of days. We also shot videos, which were meant to become instructional material. They show Soke at the height of his powers. The then national trainer Norio Kawasoe (1951-2013) can also be seen demonstrating his excellent techniques.  The videos are now sold and distributed by VP-Masberg.

I frequently served as an interpreter for Soke. This offered me superb insights into his didactic ingenuity and systematic approach to Karate. At the beginning of the 1990’s the KSKKÖ was dissolved due to various disputes. The majority of its members joined the organization of Hidetaka Nishiyama. Although invited, I did not follow suit. Barely anything  connected me with Nishiyama-sensei and everything that was Karate to me connected me with Soke. I stayed loyal to him, but due to their rampant political narrow-mindedness, I stayed away from Karate organizations for a long time.

His Encouragement

It was almost two decades later when I visited and met Soke again in the Honbu-dojo. There was an instant rapport and bond. It was as if no time had passed since our last meeting. He could recall amazing details of the moments we had spent together. Soke encouraged me to open a Dojo for him in Tokushima. There was no SKI-Dojo at the time on the island Shikoku, where Tokushima is located and where I teach at university. Without this encouragement, I would never have been as presumptuous as to teach Karate to the Japanese.

When I was in my twenties I learned some Taijiquan from Soke. I recollected this and began to take lessons again. Now Yang-style Taijiquan is part of my daily exercises. When I related that to Soke he was overjoyed: “Taijiquan and Karate are like Yin and Yang, soft and hard, fluid and rapid, circular and straight! They are complementary and synergetic. It is good to practice both. Especially when one grows old it is commendable to move to the softer side. It is not about muscular strength anymore, but the cultivation of the ki that should become central. Carry on!”

A Personality and Karate Master Full of Dignity

Soke said this at a time, when he was no longer able to practice himself. Now I have to address something that filled me with outright admiration: his dignity in being able to let go of everything! Soke loved to ski and even had a licence as an instructor from a skiing school in Davos. When he was in his late-seventies he had an accident while skiing in Northern Italy. He broke several vertebrae and required an extended period of rehabilitation. But he returned to the Dojo nevertheless. However, his physical condition deteriorated thereafter.

A Beautiful Mind and Spirit

When he got into his eighties an illness broke out, which was medicinally subdued until his passing on: Parkinson. This incomparable grand master of the martial arts, who could control every single cell of his body had to watch how he lost command over it. And here again Soke’s spiritual greatness revealed itself: no struggle, no bitterness, no lament. He endured his advancing frailty with stoic composure. Without clinging to anything, he just let things go. To be able to observe the process of ageing and the way of the world with such calmness and non-attachment will forever be etched into my memory as an ideal. It was daoist unity with the cosmos personified.

The Light of the Buddha

Sôke once remarked, that with getting older he became convinced, that he was protected by some higher power. December the 8th is Bodhi-day, the day on which the awakening of the historic Buddha Shakyamuni is commemorated and celebrated. It is the last day and climax of an eight-day-long intensive period of meditation (rôhatsu) in Zen monasteries. Kanazawa Hirokazu crossed to the other shore in the light of the Buddha. He ist now united with the higher powers and as a guardian and protector of Karate-dô, his lifework will continue to have effects and radiate forever. Eternal thanks, Sôke! Ossu