* More essays may be found at
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.
in the Martial arts,