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                                                                                                            Lethal Beauty

 

One of the reasons I was initially attracted to Goju-Ryu karate was its undeniable beauty.  There was something about the timing, the flow, the seamless blending of both circular and linear techniques, the hard and soft that intrigued me from the first time I saw Suparempai  kata performed by a high-level practitioner at a competition almost thirty years ago.  I remember being transfixed.   

Several years later I met Teruo Chinen Sensei at the Ozawa Cup Traditional Karate Tournament in Las Vegas and the unbelievable way in which he moved reinforced my desire to switch to Goju-Ryu.  I was most impressed by Chinenís beauty of movement not only in kata, where beauty is often an asset to the performance, but mostly by the fact that this beauty was maintained in his applications of the kata techniques.   It was somehow built into the style.  Beauty was an intrinsic part of his karate and it in no way diminished the effectiveness of it.  If anything, beauty seemed to enhance it.  Later I came to understand that this beauty came from a relaxed adherence to the circular/linear nuances that make Goju-Ryu unique, coupled with the freedom of mind (some would call it Zen) of an advanced master practitioner.  That combination of relaxation coupled with the flowing power of circular techniques and oblique angles of attack create an exponential synergy of beauty and power.  I began to refer to that attribute as lethal beauty and began trying to emulate it in my own karate.  

I have to interject that I came to Goju-Ryu from years of Shito-Ryu karate, and we were no slouches in kumite or kata.  In fact, it was very effective stuff.  One could say that at times it was also beautiful, but there was a subtle difference.  We had to work to make it beautiful.  Thatís a very difficult concept to explain.  Most karate styles over-emphasize the generation of power, so there is a certain tightening caused by the concept that it is muscles that generate power.  To an extent that is true: speed and mass (muscle) do create power, but the two often work against each other in reality.  The stronger we try to make a technique by applying more muscle power, the slower it tends to become because we are tighter of body.  Einstein proved that increasing mass proportionately increases power, but increasing speed exponentially increases power.  So there is actually a limit to the power we can generate by trying to use muscle power.   

With Goju-Ryu the techniques themselves exacerbate the creation of power because to do them correctly, we must be fluid and relaxed when we move, yet instantaneously becoming ďhardĒ at the moment the technique meets the opponent, whether a block or a strike.  This inherent power is taught and honed through the practice of Goju-Ryu kata.  Watching a Master who has practiced these kata for many years is an example of that lethal beauty.  It is as flowing and natural as water flowing around rock while ultimately becoming as hard as rock at the intersection between the two.   

I do believe all high-level Goju-Ryu senseis have that lethal beauty, but some certainly more than others.  My Sensei, Seiichi Fujiwara, certainly does.  But Iíve seen a trend among more than a few western practitioners to perhaps unwittingly make Goju-Ryu more linear in a misguided attempt to make it stronger or ďmore effective.Ē  There seems to be an idea that using the hips and circular, flowing moves is somehow not as powerful as hard and straight; that pretty cannot be powerful.  I would argue that approach actually goes against the underlying foundation of Goju-Ryu.  If that is the approach, it exhibits a disconnect on the part of the instructor, which I often feel is because the instructor either cannot execute the moves as intended or is reverting back to a personal comfort zone, which for Western males, is generally upper body strength and linear muscular power.  Yet time and again I have seen my diminutive Senseis move us around as if we have no strength at all because they are using the techniques of Goju-Ryu as intended.  They use hips instead of shoulders, circular more than linear, flowing instead of choppy.  These techniques rely less on our personal physical strength and are the great equalizers of karate.  And, they are beautiful.  

I watch Fujiwara Sensei demonstrate fighting techniques against much larger students.  He never attempts to directly overpower them.  He lets them do that to themselves by trying to be powerful in their attacks.  He overcomes them through tai sabaki and deflecting blocks, by opening the door that lets their attacks meet thin air while he stays in and close and relaxed enough to allow his mind the freedom to use the most effective technique to respond.  Iím reminded of a Matador playing a bull.  And itís beautiful.  Not to mention lethal.  

Ole!

Yours in the Martial arts,

James Pounds

December, 2013

Austin, Texas, USA

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Last Updated November 18, 2015