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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.

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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.

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Shinji Akita in Malta: A Seminar Report

Shinji Akita in Malta

Shinki Akita hold a seminar in Malta. The focus of the course laid on efficient technique and mindful bodywork. A seminar report by Luke Rocco

Between October 18 and 20, 2019, Shotokan Karate-do Association Malta hosted world-renowned Shinji Akita Sensei, 6th Dan, to lead a training seminar for the first time in Malta. Amongst the 100 Maltese participants, were also international guests from Belgium and Scotland. All came to Malta specifically to join us for this special event.

  • Shinji Akita in Malta
  • Shinji Akita in Malta
  • Shinji Akita in Malta

Focus of the Seminar

The three-day seminar focused on intriguing concepts in Kihon, Kumite and Kata. It emphasized especially on using body bio-mechanics to enhance the effectiveness of technique regardless of age or gender. Akita Sensei’s passion for deep technical knowledge was effortlessly conveyed to all students. He utilized simple, practical exercises that lead to

  • immediate improvement in effectiveness of technique,
  • a gradual progression in mindful bodywork,
  • integrating proper posture, shime and spirit to produce an even more powerful technique.
  • Shinji Akita in Malta
  • Shinji Akita in Malta

Shinji Akita

Shinji Akita Sensei started his karate journey at the age of 12 under Matsuda sensei and Aragane sensei. Then he joined the famous Takudai Karate Club at Takushoku University, Japan. Here he trained under Katsunori Tsuyama Sensei. He later moved to Europe, founding the Shotokan Karate-Do Association International (SKAI). His ultimate vision for the SKAI was to create a platform for high standard, traditional karate regardless of gender, age, race and politics.

  • Shinji Akita in Malta
  • Shinji Akita in Malta

About SKA Malta

SKA Malta always strives to seek further knowledge and promotion of true traditional Budo-Karate. We give this opportunity to all who want to grow within their martial art journey, irrespective of any political backgrounds. We would like to thank Akita Sensei for sharing his exceptional knowledge throughout the seminar. His dedication and genuine approach towards teaching traditional Karate made it a truly memorable event for all.

We also wish to thank: The Shotokan Times, ST Hotels, Media-Link, Union-Print and Chamar D Owl Photography for their outstanding support at Sponsoring this Event.

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What is Fighting Spirit? And how to train it!

We can see if somebody possesses fighting spirit or not. Fighting spirit seems to be ubiquitous. We all know what fighting spirit is. Until we are being asked for an explanation. By Michael Ehrenreich

Fighting Spirit: You Know It, When you See it!

When I started competing in the early 1980´s I heard a well-known German coach explaining to one of his students: “You lost the fight because your opponent had more fighting spirit”. I knew exactly what he meant. Even though I was  rather inexperienced as a competitor I  clearly saw that the other fighter wanted it  a little bit more. But what exactly was this karate expert saying? Is fighting spirit something one has and somebody else does not?

The picture shows Michael Ehrenreich during a fight with Shiina. Both show incredible fighting spirit.

Later as a black belt II understood that there is still a lot to learn. So, I went to many seminars. With all the big names. Unfortunately,  fighting spirit never really became a topic in our discussions. Many of the well-known instructors would mention that fighting spirit was the most important thing for a fighter. I believed them. However, it never went beyond these one-liners. Thus,  I researched in fields like psychology, education, neuro science, philosophy, and sport sciences. Being a sport scientist myself I came up with the following idea: Fighting spirit can be understood just like fitness.

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The Puzzle of Fighting Spirit

Fitness is a complex and very balanced combination of a variety of skills like power, speed, endurance, strength, agility, and others more. We only speak of fitness, if all those virtues are being established at a decent level. The same applies to fighting spirit. To illustrated that I have created the fighting spirit puzzle. In this puzzle, all parts are interconnected . Together they constitute our fighting spirit.

The fighting spirit puzzle has six parts: self-confidence, persistence, determination, control, risk-taking, and competitiveness. This  analytical puzzle helps us to  to target specific weaknesses in us. It enables us to reach specific goals. Like in fitness, when we want to increase our speed, we need to work on our maximum strength, do plyometric drills, and practice a specific number of karate techniques at maximum speed. When it comes to fighting spirit we would apply the same principles. We would train a specific part in order to increase our fighting spirit.

6 Different Elements of Fighting Spirit

Self-confidence

But what are the different elements of the puzzle? The first element is our self-confidence. Self-confidence is a central part of fighting spirit. It is a positive feeling, it increases our self-esteem. Self-confidence is based on our skills and our positive experiences with challenges. That means, we have self-confidence in a certain area, whereas in others we might lack self-confidence.

Think, for example, that you as a Karate expert teaches a Karate class. You have the skills, the experience, and hence the self-confidence to teach a successful and exciting class. But than you need to talk about Karate. In front of strangers, hundreds of them. This is still the same topic, but a different setting. As a result, your confidence might  be low. That is why, it is so important, to always implement specific training impulses for specific goals. You cannot increase your self-confidence for a self-defense situation by signing-up for  a kata seminar.

The picture shows Michael Ehrenreich in situation full of fighting spirit.

Persistence

The second elements persistence. With persistence I understand the virtue of standing your ground when under pressure from outside. Pressure from outside can come in all different forms: a strong opponent in a fight, a mean boss, an important test, but also pain. While we don’t have much influence on the things that hit us from the outside, we can consider the way we look at them. We can change our perspective and look for weaknesses in an opponent. We can take lessons from peers who went through the same challenge. Over time, we will get used to all kinds of pain. In doing so, we will reduce the pressure and the stress that comes with it. We will be able to deal with a challenge or threat.

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Determination

The third element  is determination. It is the skill to set a goal and then motivating oneself to reachit. No matter what is being thrown at us. Somebody determined will always be first in class or practice and the last one to leave. She focuses on the possibilities and not on the problems. If she is not satisfied with a situation, she will change it.

Control

Control is the next element of the fighting spirit puzzle. With control I allude to the control over our feelings. The understanding that showing ones’ emotions is a sign of weakness and will not help us reaching our goals. Keeping our emotions under control in times of pressure, stress, and anxiety is an important aspect of a grown-up Karateka and of fighting spirit.

Risk-Taking

Taking risk is another element of the puzzle. We live in a society where taking risks is considered something to be avoided. But in order to progress as fighters and as human beings we need to take risks. As Karateka, if we go into a Kumite class and we do not feel butterflies in our stomach, we probably will not progress much as a fighter.

Competitiveness

Competitiveness is the last element of our fighting spirit puzzle. It is closely related to risk taking. But as Karateka it includes an opponent. It makes a challenge more dynamic. For instance, if we want to increase our fighting skills, we need to fight in class. The less rules we implement the more dynamic a situation will get. It becomes more realistic. Every interaction will be different, always changing. Every interaction will be a challenge. If we find the strength to always seek out stronger opponents, we will eventually get stronger, mentally and physically.

The picture shows true fighting spirit during a JKA tournament.

How to Train Fighting Spirit?

How do we train these elements? Let us assume that we are Karate teachers and there are two young fighters particularly promising. But both do not get the results everybody is expecting from them. Both are in their early 20s. One of them has been cruising through the junior divisions, winning tournament after tournament. He was a talent from the start, picked up techniques and concepts easily, never needed much practice. Even older Karateka respected his talent.

When he was entering the senior division (over the age of 21) though, things did not go quite as smoothly anymore. He started losing, often losing against obviously less talented fighters. Eventually, he was often injured or sick, especially before competitions. The other fighter has also been successful, but not quite as impressive. He never actually won a tournament but placed second or third a few times. When he is in regular class things look very different though. There is almost nobody who can keep up with him in the Dojo. Nobody practices harder and more often than he does. Everybody is wondering, why is he not fighting in competitions the way he is in practice?

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Two Practical Examples

So, we have two young Karateka who do not show the results they could. The causes for that differ . That also means that the way to deal with those fighters needs to be different. The traditional way of treating them the same way, often by simply increasing the number of repetitions, will help neither of them.

The First: Talent Yes, Determination No

The first Karateka draws his confidence from the fact that he is talented, genetically superior. But when he enters the grown-up division, talent becomes secondary. Now quantity becomes a force to reckon with. As a result, we need to explain our student that he will have to step up the number of weekly training hours he puts into Karate. He needs to understand the relation between training hours and competition results. We will need to help him motivating himself by pointing out the benefits of a life as a competitor, fame, trophies, maybe even money. Once he is ready, we will have to teach him about the really important things in life and how success in competition can help to achieve them. This Karateka needs to work on his determination.

The Second: Low Stress Management

The second Karateka does not need to practice more often. He already practices enough. With him we need to work on stress management. We need to help him understand why he is not delivering. If he is showing world class skills in the dojo but keeps on losing the important bouts, then there is something putting too much pressure on him. This pressure results into too much stress. Stress he is not able to cope with.

So, we need to find the stressor, the coach, the parents, peers, audience, or a combination of the above. The first step is to accept the fact that it is this stressor and his inability to deal with it that is holding him back. Then we need to set-up a training program to help managing his anxiety. For instance, with meditation, with visualization, with writing about his anxiety, or/and with practices where he will progressively face his daemons. This Karateka needs to work on his persistence.

The picture shows Thomas Prediger, chair of The Shotokan Times advisory board and organizer of the kumite boot camp. He also shows a lot of fighting spirit.

Conclusion: The Complex Concept of Fighting Spirit

Fighting spirit is a very complex concept. By breaking it down into different elements, the whole issue becomes  understandable and manageable. As a result, we are now able to set-up a specific program for a specific problem or goal. Just as we do with fitness. If we don’t set specific training goals and address those with specific training measures, then Karate training is no more than a lottery. A hit and miss situation. As Karateka we are surely aiming for more.

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What is Mushin? And How to Achieve It?

Mushin belongs to the central concepts of budo. In this article we present you what it is and how to achieve it. By Thomas D. McKinnon

What is Mushin?

Mushin: the term is a shortened form of, ‘Mushin no shin’ (無心の心). This Zen expression means, basically, ‘mind without mind’. It refers to the state of ‘no-mindness’. Or the state of mind that is not fixed, not cluttered by thoughts or emotion. Therefore nothing will get in the way of the self as it acts and reacts according to its training and exactitude’s. In combat or in any part of life where much preparation has been undertaken.

What is Mushin in Practice?

Mushin is achieved when a karateka’s mind is free of random thoughts, free of anger, free of fear, and particularly free of ego. It applies during combat, and or other facets of life. When mushin is achieved during combat there is an absence of loose or rambling thoughts. It leaves the practitioner free to act and react without hesitation. He reacts according to all of the study and training that has brought the karateka to this point. Relying on, not what you think should be your next move, but on what your trained, instinctive, subconscious reaction directs you to do.

The Zen Foundation of Shotokan

This Zen mind state is just one of the esoteric accoutrements which complement the consummate, experienced and well-practiced martial artist. Legendary Zen master Takuan Sōhō is reputed to have said,

“The mind must always be in the state of flow, for when it stops anywhere that means the flow is interrupted and it is this interruption that is injurious to the well-being of the mind. In the case of the swordsman, it could mean death. When the swordsman faces an opponent, he is not to think of himself, his opponent, or of his enemy’s sword movements. He just stands with his sword which, forgetful of all technique, is ready only to follow the dictates of the subconscious. The swordsman deletes his rational mind from the situation as the wielder of the sword. When he strikes, it is not the man but the sword in the hand of the man’s subconscious that strikes.”

This documentary about Kendoka Naoki Eiga shows in excellently his way to mushin.

No Doubt, but Belief!

Belief is the ally of the highly trained karateka, soldier, police officer, or high-risk security operative. Belief is the supporter of mushin, and will have your back. Doubt, on the other hand, the enemy of mushin that could cause your downfall. It will save your life in the worst case scenario. However, make sure you have put in enough time, training and dedication to dispel any doubts. Because doubt can destroy your mushin. In that worst case scenario mentioned, doubt is the backstabber that could get you killed.

Kata and Mushin

Although it is difficult for the inexperienced, inept or novice kata judge or instructor to identify. Mushin can be and must be demonstrated during the performance of kata. Without it, kata becomes just a sequence of moves strung together in a kind of karate dance. When practicing kata, practice mushin also.

Keinosuke Enoeda was a master of mushin.

Similar to many of the esoteric concepts utilised by the martial arts, it is by no means exclusive to them. Mushin, in Japanese, or wuxin, in Chinese, could be termed as a light, Zen meditative state. All arts can recognize and utilize it: painters, actors, singers, dancers, sculptors, poets, writers, and much, much more.

Mushin Means to Trust Yourself and Let it Flow

So, for the advanced karateka, all of the training, all of the drills, and all of the countless repetitions of all the various computations of combinations that the karateka has performed over the months, years and decades are like money in the bank. The more you put in the less you have to worry about. All you have to do is ‘trust’ that you have enough in the bank.

Operating on that level you must be confident that you have done more than enough to be ready for anything that might occur. Having complete trust in your skill-set, you do not have to think about exactly what it is that you will do. You just have to know that you will react to whatever occurs, in the most appropriate way, at that moment of necessity. That is mushin.

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Women of Shotokan: Mirjam Widmer

Mirjam Widmer knows only too well that with passion also comes – sometimes – pain. Karate is her passion and she pursues it with willpower and commitment. For her karate means: “a combat against myself that makes me stronger.” That is the essence of Do. Karate, she says, keeps her going. But for Mirjam karate is not just a matter of fighting spirit. It goes deeper. Karate is about the way we all live together. For her “manners and respect are more important than a superior attitude.” Being humble and thoughtful belongs for her to the central traits of a good karateka. Have fun reading this insightful and moving interview with Mirjam Widmer. By Dr. Christian Tribowski

Mirjam Widmer

  • Age:                                  48
  • Karate since:                   13. September 1991 … it was a Friday
  • Origin and residence:    Zurich, Switzerland
  • (Kyu/Dan) Rank:            3rd Dan
  • Dojo:                                 Seikukan Karate Do Zurich

Additional information:

  • JKA Instructor C / JKA Examiner D /JKA Judge D
  • I opened my own Dojo called Seikukan Karate Do in Zürich in 2011

What was the reason that you started Shotokan Karate?

When I was 12, I had a neighbor who was doing Karate. He taught me the first Kata heian shodan. We played a lot of Karate outdoors. The next dojo, however, was too far away and I was not allowed to go there for training. So, unfortunately I did not start as a child. Only at the age of 20, I finally turned up at the dojo and joined the Karate Club. I still had the kata heian shodan in my mind. After the first class I knew this was what I really want to do.

The reason why I started at that time, were some problems in the office. I needed something that distracted me, on the one hand, and, on the other, reduced my aggression. So, my kime was straight away very good!

I was very keen about learning Karate. As an 8th Kyu I went to London to learn English and ended up in Enoeda Sensei’s Marshall Street dojo. It was the time when I became really addicted to karate.

What do you like about Shotokan Karate?

I love the fact that it takes all my concentration. Therefore, I have to focus my mind and train hard to get better. I like to work on myself, but in a group together with other people. And it is very important for me to follow a master and show my loyalty by doing my best. Shotokan karate is very structured what I really like. I need this. I could never do expressive dance, for instance. ☺

Is there something you do not like? What is it?

It is a pity that, beside to fantastic seminar with outstanding instructors and amazing friendships all over the world, politics in Karate always plays a big role. In my opinion, we all have our master, our source that we follow. Maybe other people have other ideas. Why should one not just respect them? Manners and respect are more important than a superior attitude. By the end, I decide for myself what is best for me. That doesn’t mean it’s the best for someone else.

What has been your greatest and your worst experience so far related to Shotokan Karate?

The greatest experience has been, of course, my time training with Enoeda Sensei and Ohta Sensei at Marshall Street in London. Enoeda Sensei formed my fighting spirit and Ohta Sensei was definitely the best for teaching the technique. I feel honored as well that I had and still have the chance to train with many charismatic instructors. I admire them with my whole karate heart.

However, there have also been sad moments. After I returned from London back to Switzerland, I got kicked out of the dojo at home. I would have changed too much, they said. Of course, I did change after all the training I did in England and maybe I also had just not enough time to arrive back home. Or my teacher at the time had not enough patience to let me settle.

However, it was my destiny. As I had no other Dojo to go and my loyalty to the JKA was so strong that I did not want to go to an other organization. Therefore, I stopped Karate for several years. But I came back – even stronger!

Mirjam Widmer doing a yoko-geri
Mirjam Widmer doing a yoko-geri

What do you do when the training becomes challenging? Where do you get motivation from?

As I train for myself because I don’t have a teacher here in Switzerland I have had many ups and downs. To have a sensei, who is looking after me, is very important. Even though, there is no one in my own dojo, there are many great senseis around the world that helped me a lot. My motivation is not to disappoint them by giving up. To show them that I can do better the next time, I see them in England, Berlin, Japan or any other country on a visit of a gasshuku. This motivation keeps me going.

How has Shotokan Karate changed you as a person?

It is difficult to say what I would have done different in my life without karate. But I think it gave me a structure in difficult times. Even though difficult times were often related to karate. Karate gives me the opportunity to deal with myself. It is a combat against myself that makes me stronger. However, only for a short time and then the struggle starts again. In short: it keeps me running!

Why gave Karate you a difficult time?

In one way, I had this issue when I got kicked out, followed by the struggle to start again. Today, I have my own dojo. Which is great. But, when I started to work part time to be at home early in order to teach the children classes, the financial struggle began. In addition, the place where my dojo is will be closed for two years soon. I do not have a solution yet.

For me Karate is something which just cannot be perfect. However, I must also admit that I maybe need this kind of challenges.

How has Shotokan Karate influenced your life?

Since I started karate, it has been influencing me a lot and by I have built my life around karate eventually. But I think: if I had done something else, it would have been the same. I do something it 100% or I do not do it at all. I put a lot of effort in it. However, I am never happy with the result.

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Is it helping you on a daily basis with the challenges of life?

Karate is the straw to catch when things are difficult, on the one hand. On the other hand, it is pure joy when I achieve something. I guess my emotions are the engine of my karate.

How has your Shotokan Karate changed over time?

At the beginning, I wanted to be very strong. Then, I found out that a good technique is more important. Right now, I try to become more relaxed about everything. Due to the fact that I have not started as a child I never competed in tournaments a lot. My focus was always my technique and this reflects the way I teach in my dojo. I belief I became much better, since I teach. But due to the fact that I do not have have partners for kumite and there is no instructor around I cannot tell whether this is really the truth.

What are your personal Shotokan Karate short- and long-term goals?

I go to Japan to the JKA Autumn Course in October and I would like to take exam for the 4th Dan.

A long-term goal is to stabilize my dojo. I hope to have enough members to keep it up without having to a financially struggle. My dream is a small dojo with a good standard and people that not just consume and come only if they feel like. I would like people that appreciate the training and have ambition.

How should Shotokan Karate evolve in the future?

I hope that young people not just practice karate to win competitions and that elderly people recognize the benefit of karate as a whole-body workout. Karate should be practiced as an art and with together as a family: Young people, older people – but always with the mindset of killing with one blow.

I hope people stay interested in the history of karate and appreciate to learn from the legends that are part of this history.

Would you recommend Shotokan Karate to your female friends? Why?

I wished I had more female karateka in my dojo. Many women are afraid when it comes to punching and kicking. However, karate is a workout that not only strengthens the body but also builds confidence. The weapons of everyday life are not the fists. They are patience, respect, diligence, and willpower. The path of karate do is not just the physical aspect it is also the development of mental strength. Karate helps to focus on the essential values.

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Shotokan in New York City – Classic Documentary

A vibrant city like New York needs a location to calm down and ground oneself. Sensei Masataka Mori provided this place. In his dojo the, New York Karate Club Inc., which was located on 72nd and Broadway, he brought a little piece of Japan to the city that never sleeps. Thanks to Tim Danielson, who trained in the 1970´s under Sensei Mori, you can get a first hand glimpse into the New York Karate Club. Tim send us link to the fantastic documentary called Tokyo on the Hudson. It depicts Sensei Mori, his teachings, and the life in the dojo. Our opener picture shows the dojo in the 1970´s when Tim was training there (standing in the back third from the left).

Tim sent us this very personal and moving note:

“This video is about Sensei Masataka Mori. After four years of study, he romoted me to shodan in 1976 at this same dojo in New York City. Thank you Mori Sensei, for all that you taught me, it went well beyond Karate.”

Oss!


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Ayano Nakamura: The New Queen of Kata

Ayano Nakamura is the new queen of Kata and a amazing Karateka

Ayano Nakamura belongs to the most gifted karateka of her generation. She has won the All Japan Championship kata title several times. But not her athletic achievements make her the “queen of kata”. For her, karate is a means for self-cultivation and -development. Therefore, karate is more for her then a martial art. It is budo. By Dr. Christian Tribowski

Karate starts and ends with courtesy. It´s important to observe courtesy and compassion in your heart.

Ayano Nakamura

Ayano Nakamura: The Kata Prodigy

On the first glimpse, Ayano Nakamura appears to be an average twenty-something Japanese woman. That is to say, if one does not know Ayano, she can be easily underestimate. Her humbleness and reserved behavior create such impression. But behind her inconspicuous facade hides one of the most successful and most extraordinary Karatekas of the world.

Ayano Nakamura on the Facebook page of Kuuyuukai Dojo where she trains. The picture is an advertisement for Karate Stretching.

Like no other, she has dominated the JKA Individual Kata competitions for the last five years. Among her victories are:

  • 61st JKA All Japan Karate Championship, 2018
  • 60th JKA All Japan Karate Championship, 2017
  • Funakoshi Gichin Cup 14th Karate World Championship Tournament, 2017
  • 59th JKA All Japan Karate Championship, 2016
  • 58th JKA All Japan Karate Championship, 2015
  • JKA 1st Asia Oceania Junior, Senior Karate Championship Tournament, 2015

By doing so, she took over the reign as Queen of Kata from Miki Nakamachi, who paused her competitive career for a longer maternity leave.

Secret of Ayano Nakamura: Mental Strength

To understand what makes Ayano Nakamura´s style so special and so successful, one only has to watch one of the plenty videos of her on Youtube. Her katas are characterized by very crisp and sharp techniques. Once on the Tatami, she carries an aura of true fighting spirit. But this does not come for free. Therefore, it requires tremendous effort to reach such a stage. In an interview for an All Nippon Airways (ANA) promotion video she revealed her rigorous trainings regime. So, to execute an excellent kata, one has to understand it. But:

“We have to practice them before we can understand them.”

Therefore, only a vigorous kata training leads to deeper insights.

Moreover, it also generates an other effect that Ayano Nakamura deems as highly important: an increase of mental strength. For her, this is one of the most relevant aspects when it comes to competitions. Without mental strength success is unthinkable. But why is that the case? Ayano Nakamura explains:

“It has a lot to do with mental strength. You must have a clear image of your goal.”

Everybody, who watches the following video about Ayano Nakamura at the JKA All Japan Championship 2018, can see that in practice. Above all, she she maintains an unprecedented precision and focus throughout all her katas. In short, she displayes all characteristics of a true Queen of Kata.

Ayano Nakamura´s Value of Shotokan Karate

However, Karate means more to Ayano Nakamura. It is more than mental strength, kata, and competitions. It is an ethic and a way to civilized behavior. She explains:

“We try to always exchange greetings and respond to others properly.”

Therefore, Ayano Nakamura takes the etiquette within a Dojo very serious. In her understanding, moral behavior and acknowledgment of others must be learnt. They do not emerge by themselves. Karate actively fosters this attitude. Both aspects combined – mental strength and a morally attitude – build the core of her Karate. She expressed this conviction in one of the most beautiful sentence ever said about the true nature and value of Karate:

“Through Karate, we learn compassion and the courage to overcome obstacles.”

Karate-Do Representative for All Nippon Airways

We already mentioned Ayano Nakamura´s interview with ANA. In 2017, ANA launched a new marketing campaign called Dou: Is Japan Cool? The campaign assembled eight masters of Japanes martial arts (Judo, Kendo, Kyudo, Iaido, Karate Do) and arts (Sado, Noh Theater, Nihon Buyo, Shodo). Ayano Nakamura represented Karate-Do. Above all, she did an excellent job. ††

Her work as a Karate-Do representative for ANA created to major results. Firstly, is the above mentioned video interview. Secondly, comes result with a more extravagant artistic twist. ANA produced with all representatives of the Japanese arts 4D video, as you can see below. These videos are also used on the ANA campaign website as a technical study of the karate motions.

  • The picture shows Ayano Nakamura as representative for Karate Do in the All Nippon Airways campaign: Dou: Is Japan Cool?
  • The picture shows a 4D animation of Ayano Nakamura.

In conclusion, we are pretty sure to see more stunning projects of Ayano Nakamura in the future.

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Classic: Keinosuke Enoeda and Fighting Spirit

Keinosuke Enoeda belonged to the generation of Shotokan masters, which understood karate as budo. Fighting and the spirit of Ikken hissatsu stood for them in the center of their karate do. Here I pay tribute to Keinosuke Enoedas fighting spirit. By Dr. Christian Tribowski

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to have a look into one of the books of Michael Ehrenreich. He argues in his book that the Karateka of the 50´s and 60´s were not the best technicians. However, their fighting power and spirit were much more advanced than today.

Rigorous Training as the Foundation for Fighting Spirit

The reason for this difference was the training regime. Makiwara training, self-defense and randori as well as a rigorous Kihon were the foundations of very tough fighters. The attitude towards fighting was also different. Ikken hissatsu, “killing with one blow”, was the dominant fighting strategy and philosophy. Practicing Shotokan Karate was a serious business and its purpose was to prevail in a street fight and to withstand several attackers at the same time. This rough training routine create very consequent and focused Karate personalities.

Happo Kumite with Shihan Enoeda

The following Kata and Happo Kumite demonstration by Shihan Keinosuke Enoeda shows this sort of mental focus and attitude towards fighting. His movements are powerful, consequent, and overwhelming. He does not play games. He fights for his life. That is how Shotokan should be taught!

Budo as the State of Mind for Shotokan Karate

Old masters stressed the budo aspect of Karate way more than today. In a recent interview, Soke Hirokazu Kanazawa also underlined the necessity to understand Shotokan as a “martial way”. Only such an approach leads to the positive and civilizing effects training can have. The mental state of Karateka and the way they deal with the constant changing circumstances of life stand for him in the center of Shotokan. Shihan Enoeda depicts this type of Karateka in an excellent way.

Full Biography of Keinosuke Enoeda

For a full biography of Shihan Enoeda visit the website of the Karate Union of Great Britain (KUGB). Shihan Enoeda was the chief instructor of the KUGB and had a sustainable influenced on British and European Shotokan Karate. He was among the  direct students of grand master Funakoshi and helped spread Shotokan Karate Do all over the world.

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Spirit, Style, Community! Our Dojo of the Month: The Rio Grande Valley Shotokan Karate Club

We asked the Rio Grande Valley Shotokan Karate Club (RGV), our Dojo of the Month in March, what spirit, style, and community mean for them. Because that are the principles The Shotokan Times stance for. The RGV puts its heads together and wrote us these fantastic and moving answers. They show deep understanding of Do. See yourself. Oss!

Spirit

Spirit means for us… maximizing each individual’s potential.  Although some may have natural abilities greater than others, everyone must “endeavor” to do as much as they are capable of so that they are “seeking perfection.”

Spirit can be evidenced by the passionate teaching in the dojo.  The instructors impart a passion for their art to their students.  As a teacher, I’ve rarely seen a class where 100% of the student population wants to be present 100% of the time.  Yet, this is the reality at RGV Shotokan 5 days a week…every week that classes are offered.  Students can often be heard discussing how they would like to go more often when they are not able to.  There is a longing to be present!  Passion for the art leads to inspired teaching and the students can’t get enough!

Style

Style means for us… tailoring your style of karate to benefit you the most.  How can you incorporate the style of your techniques to suit your own physicality? Even though we are lead by SKIF guidelines, these are to make sure we stay focused on the way, but it is important to experience variations of techniques from other systems to better understand our style as a whole.

Style-Shotokan is a strong style which features hard strikes and long, deep stances.  Body conditioning is prevalent, preparing the karateka to achieve some pretty amazing goals (higher jumps, faster motions, etc.).  Compared to other dojo’s in the area, RGV Shotokan comes across as super-legit!  Students are required to train hard in order to advance, and Black belts cannot be earned in house.  Shodan, and subsequent ranks, can only be tested for once a year in Houston.  Candidates congregate to be judged by instructors from SKIF headquarters in Japan.  This brings a high level of authenticity to the goal of earning advanced ranks!

Community

Community means for us… leaving a place better than you found it.  Sometimes this takes understanding and adaptation, but sometimes this takes plain hard work mixed with repetition followed by reevaluation. Whether this is our small dojo community, which includes not only dojo member but their families, or the local community people and natural wildlife.

RGV Shotokan is more than just a dojo, it’s a community of instructors, members , and parents, who go out of their way to support other members outside of the dojo. From attending each others’ plays, concerts, musicals, and other sports events to planning parties for the members of the club; RGV Shotokan is a place to truly feel welcomed and encouraged!