Soaring with Eagles,
by Sensei Walt Fast.

Much has been said of why we start Karate, and / or why we keep training . I'd like to touch on that, but I'd like to focus on how we learn Karate , and the relationship of the "how" with the "why".

During the early to mid-seventies I was weight training, biking and alot of running. I was in excellent shape' but the repetition of running was boring. At this time the Bruce Lee phenomenon took the western world by storm. I watched him fight on the big screen after I had seen him move in the Green Hornet T.V. series.

Absolutely the best. I was astounded at what he could do playing Kato the sidekick to the Green Hornet. [pun intended...sorry.] His fluid and explosive actions left little doubt of his abilities. Just the idea of fighting like that was intriguing, and I suppose this was what lured me to the small dojo in Thorold.

I had opened a door casually, and I was suddenly engrossed in a whole new experience. It was not only a brand new way of fighting for me, but it was an entire package: the language, the culture,the awkwardness of the movements. Let alone the language: Itch, knee, sandkey? [ sorry again.]

The concept if not the reality of Bushido [ the Way of the Warrior ] really intruiged me.I had jumped into this " empty handedness " with both feet and trained continuously. For a while there my friends and family thought I was going to turn into a monk! I didn't, yet somehow my body, mind and spirit felt a "rightness " when doing a sequence well.

The same holds true today, only my awareness has increased in intensity : I am painfully aware of how much more work my techniques need.

This brings me to the "how we learn " Karate part. I believe we learn in four separate yet integrated ways: 1 the mind, 2 the body, 3 the intuition, 4 the spirit.

First and foremost we learn Karate through the mind. For many Karate-ka it was the idea" of it that first drew them in . When I first started I wanted to fight like Bruce Lee, not to stay in Kiba dachi for hours [guess which came first ? ] Through my mind I first learned Kata. It's the same today, as Sensei's and/or students we learn the "Embusen" or pathways each Kata takes. Next we learn the "Bunkai" or applications of our movements. We even learn "Kakushite" , the hidden or alternate applications of some sequences. The best Kata people imagine being attacked by multiple opponents, they do Kata as if they were sparring for real. It's the mental image that brings realism to their movements.

Sensei Funakoshi Gichin did not believe in sparring matches. He believed it would be much too dangerous, Sensei Ohtsuka Hironori didn't share this idea and created sparring as we now know it, thank goodness. However, if a Kata-only Karate-ka were to fight someone on the street with no fear, with the single mindedness to put his opponent out of commission using the terrible techniques in Kata , it could lead to manslaughter.

In our minds we learn of sparring "game plans" . We formulate attack sequences that work for us. We learn to incorporate defensive structures that protect us. We learn to " step off the center line " and we learn how to counter-fight. In our minds first we learn how to take the advantage away from a larger, faster, smaller, stronger more agile opponent. We learn how to fight the counter-fighter. It's through the mind that we learn all these things. Without the mind sparring would always go to the stongest, fastest, youngest competitor.

But what of the body ? Karate-ka aren't a blob of mind floating over the dojo floor are they? The body learns through repetition. After all those gedan berai's, gyaku tsuki , soto uke sequences, the body gets into a groove. The student on the floor reacts to the Sensei's count quickly. The faster he reacts to a command the more he looks like a trained seal. No , that's not true. It's what the beginner might be thinking at first, but after a while he realizes that the Sensei's command is the stimulus and his punch is the response. With patience the novice begins to see that the stimulus could be an attack instead of Sensei's voice barking : Itch, knee, sand, she. He notices how much more co-ordinated and quick his actions outside the dojo have become. Eventually we act instinctively to an attack. Stimulus- response. This is called body memory.

When sparring we have an advantage over our opponent by having a game plan before we enter the ring.[especially if he doesn't] Often though we end up in a dangerous situation we hadn't thought of, and sometimes prevail anyway. Our conscious mind cannot work fast enough to formulate and execute a defence and offence. Yet somehow there it is! It's the body memory that kicks in and does the right thing. Sometimes we don't know what we did till we reflect on it or view the video.

This brings me to the third aspect of learning : intuition. I think a Karate-ka can develop a healthy intuition from experience. That is : the more experience we aquire, the greater our instinct factor is. This perceptive nature we develop is as unique as our own fingerprints. Some Karate-ka are said to be the same, or so alike in sparring. Make no mistake, it's when the chips are down that the technique or sequence comes out from who knows where. And it is often those techniques we remember most about that person!

Last but perhaps greatest of all is the spirit. It is the spirit in each of us that drives all the other aspects of the lives. The individual spirit can also put all the other aspects of learning to shame. A man of weak body and adequate mental stategies becomes a formidable opponent if his spirit is large. The spirit too can learn . Through patience and persistance, and experience, and with guidance from good people a broken spirit can become whole again. And a whole spirit can soar with the eagles.

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