Zen Martial Arts Center

Sacramento Martial Arts and Karate

     This weekend I read Karate-Do: My Way of Life by Master Gichin Funakoshi. Master Funakoshi was instrumental in spreading the influence and training of Karate throughout the Japanese Islands, and setting the stage for Karate's eventual global reach. Master Funakoshi wrote several books on the history, study, and principles of Karate. Karate-Do: My Way of Life is the Master's memoir presented through an assortment of recollections, anecdotes, and reflections of a life dedicated to the art of Karate.

     Much of Master Funakoshi's early life is a story of struggle. The first struggle was for survival. Master Funakoshi was born premature and sickly. His family did not believe he would live long, but his health improved. Another struggle was for identity. Funakoshi came of age in the politically turbulent times of the Meiji Restoration in Okinanwa. Many of the distinctions of his class, such as the wearing of the topknot, were forbidden by the new government. It was a difficult choice for Funakoshi to assimilate into the new order of the age over the objections of his parents. The practicing of Karate presented yet another struggle. Karate had been banned by the new government. Funakoshi had to travel under the cover night to his Sensei's dojo and practice in secret. Reading of Master Funakoshi's struggles should give many modern karateka cause for reflection.

     Of all the chapters in the book, one of my favorites is “One Life.” The Master succinctly defines in a single sentence the essence of Karate-Do. “Karate-Do is not only the acquisition of certain defensive skills but also the mastering of the art of being a good and honest member of society.” The Master furthers this statement by saying that one must first show proper concern for the well being of family, friends, and community before turning attention to the self and the refinement of technique. It is easy to be consumed by the physical training required for karate, but the most important part of our training is demonstrated outside the dojo in our care for family, friends, and our civic mindedness.

      Master Funakoshi presents countless useful anecdotes throughout his memoir. I particularly appreciated the story of Matsumura and the Engraver. This is a powerful tale about the dangers of entering into combat. Matsumura sums it up, “When two tigers fight, one is bound to be hurt and the other to die.” I also enjoyed the story of Koshiji the reciter who's Master never allowed him elevate beyond a beginners poem. Only later does he find out his masters strategy for bringing out his greatness. This story epitomizes the saying “Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” I also found the Master's accounts of his wife most touching and a reminder of how important it is to have such strength in our closest relationships.

     Overall, I very much enjoyed reading this book. I came away with a better understanding of the principles of Karate. I also have a better understanding of why we train as we do. We do not simply train the mind and body, we also train to bring out our spirit. Karate is a medium in which we may realize our potentials. When mind, body, and spirit are aligned we may be of best service to our friends, families,communities, and by ultimate extension, the world.

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