If anyone ever asks you for an answer in one word, you’d better make it a good one. Your word should have as much meaning packed into it as possible, and it’s best if it can answer their question in several different ways. Like a jewel with many facets, the word should present different interpretations, each of which contributes to a unified answer. If I were to tell someone in one word what karate is teaching me, I would say “control.”

In class, I’ve found that one of the most helpful things for me to do is carefully watch Renshi and the advanced belts, and try to notice nuances of their technique that are lacking in mine. Perhaps my footwork is off or my center is too high. Maybe I’m not getting the correct angles on my uki in a defense technique. In watching them I’ve also tried to identify what qualities make them “advanced.” What makes Renshi’s application of a technique better than mine? Speed? Precision? Fluidity? Power? All of these contribute to an effective defense and a devastating counter-attack. While at first glance they may seem like separate concepts, I believe they can all be ultimately reduced to the same idea; they are all different facets of the same jewel:


Speed, precision, and fluidity are by-products of having a high degree of control over your body. How quickly can you make your muscles respond to your will? Do you have a fine enough degree of control to move your limbs to the exact position you intended? How well can you make groups of muscles work together to perform a fluid movement? All of these are applications of control within your body. I think this is the simplest aspect of karate-jutsu: developing mindful control of your own body. It is also the first facet of my answer to the question.

The next facet of my answer also has to do with karate-jutsu. Karate is teaching me to effectively leverage control of my body into control of objects outside of my body. This is where power comes in. In a way, I think power is the degree to which you are able to control objects outside of your body. Can you use your body position, movement, and strength to deliver enough force to break a board or to throw your opponent? Through learning and practicing techniques, I increase my ability to control elements outside of my body, most notably the body of my would-be attacker. I also gain knowledge of the most effective ways to control another body: which angles to use at which joints, techniques for getting them off balance, etc.

The last facet of my answer has to do with karate-do, and is the aspect that I have the least experience with. I’m sure someone who has been practicing karate longer could give a better explanation, but I’ll do my best with my current understanding of karate-do. Karate teaches us to develop greater control of our (non-physical) selves. It teaches patience and control of our emotions. It also stresses the importance of using discretion and being responsible with the application of the techniques we learn. They should be used for the defense of yourself and others, not as a weapon against innocent people. And even in times when fighting is warranted, it teaches us to do only what is sufficient to ensure your and others’ safety. I had a revelation about this aspect when I broke the board in my test for yellow belt. Before the test, I was a little nervous about how difficult it would be to break a board with my hands. But I had confidence in myself and what I had been taught: aim six inches past the board, be sure to get the full range of motion and engage the larger muscle groups for my hammer-fist, drop my hara. When I did it, I was surprised. Not by the fact that I broke the board, but by how easily it broke under my strike. It was a reminder to me and a warning that I could seriously hurt someone if I wasn’t careful. It also highlighted for me the importance of learning and refining the jutsu aspects of my control. Even if you recognize that discretion is necessary in a situation, if you don’t have the proper control of your body, you could hurt someone more than you intended. You could even kill them.

I don’t think that the karate-do aspects of my control are lacking, but I will be mindful of them as I continue in karate. The jutsu aspects of my control, however, need a lot of work. I will continue to work hard to cut and polish each facet of my control. And I will continue to study the sparkling control of my teachers.

5 Responses to “Control”
  1. Brian says:

    Nice post, Bo! Very well thought out. Banzai!!

  2. Colahan says:

    “When you understand that one strike of the hand or foot determines life or death, then you will be able to overcome any obstacle you face. You may feel that you do not know how to face such obstacles, but it is precisely at this moment that your mental and physical training in karate-do will reveal themselves. It is then that you will see the indescribable beauty of karate-do” – Genwa Nakasone

  3. Very nice piece. So, how do you see ‘focus’ coming into play with ‘control’?
    Hanshi Kennedy

  4. boforrester says:

    That’s an interesting question. The first thing that comes to mind when I think of ‘focus’ is the ability to concentrate: controlling your thoughts and directing them toward a single purpose. In a more general sense though, focus refers to any group of disparate things gathering together to become more concentrated. In the “mental” interpretation of focus, it means keeping your thoughts concentrated on a topic and not letting them wander to other topics. In optics, the light rays reflected off an object are refracted (redirected) by a lens (your eye) onto a tiny area of receptors inside your eye. If the light is refracted poorly, it will project on a larger area of receptors and the object will appear blurry. Only when the light is gathered into a small area will the object be “in focus.” Applying this general definition to karate and to my explanation of control, you could extend ‘focus’ to include not only your thoughts, but also the physical aspects of control like speed, power, etc. Focus unites your thoughts and all the different facets of control and directs them into accomplishing some action. This actually reminds me of the meaning of “Kiah.” The word comes from ‘Ki’ (mind) and ‘Ah’ from ‘Awasu’ (unite). A rough translation would be “to unite two minds, the spirit and body, into one.”* Without focus, the “separate” aspects of your control will not come together and your technique will not be as effective as it could be.

    People may not realize it, but origins of the word ‘focus’ are deeply tied with mathematics, specifically the geometry of conic sections. I wanted to write a small explanation, but I’ll spare you all the math lesson.

    *I got the information about “Kiah” from the terminology document in the “On Track To Black” section.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: