The following has been excerpted from Chapter 7: Training Precepts of Karate-do Nyumon written by Master Funakoshi and translated by John Teramoto:
Before explaining the technical aspects of karate, I would like to give the reader general instructions on how to approach practice and to say something about the attitudes one should have toward karate training.
First, since karate is a martial art, you must practice with the utmost seriousness from the very beginning. This means going beyond being simply diligent or sincere in your training. In every step, in every movement of your hand, you must imagine yourself facing an opponent with a drawn sword.
Each and every punch must be made with the power of your entire body behind it, with the feeling of destroying your opponent with a single blow. You must believe that if your punch fails, you will forfeit your own life. Thinking this, your mind and energy will be concentrated, and your spirit will express itself to the fullest. No matter how much time you devote to practice, no matter how many months and years pass, if your practice consists of no more than moving your arms and legs, you might as well be studying dance. You will never come to know the true meaning of karate.
You will find that training with a deadly serious attitude will over time benefit not only your study of karate, but many other facets of life as well. Life itself is often akin to a match with real swords. With a lukewarm attitude toward life – such as assuming that after every failure you will always have a second chance – what can you hope to accomplish in a short life span of fifty years?
Secondly, try to do exactly as you are taught without complaining or quibbling. Only those lacking in zeal and unwilling to face up to themselves resort to quibbling. Often their foolish complaints border on the pathetic. For example, in teaching the back stance, I come across people who say they simply are not able to learn the stance, no matter how hard they try. They ask me what they should do – after practicing for less than an hour! Even if one fervently practices the back stance every day, standing until his legs become as hard as rock, it would still require six months to a year to learn it. It is ridiculous to say, “No matter how hard I try,” without first working up a sweat. A Zen monk hearing this would probably shout and scold and give the man a taste of his staff.
You cannot train through words.. You must learn through your body. Enduring pain and anguish as you strive to discipline and polish yourself, you must believe that if others can do it, you can do it too. Ask yourself, “What’s stopping me? What am I doing wrong? Is something lacking in my approach?” This is training in the martial arts.
Important points taught us by others may quickly be forgotten, but the essence of the knowledge acquired through personal hardship and suffering will never be forgotten. I believe that is why the martial arts masters of old would confer a diploma and reveal key elements only to those disciples whose training, almost unbearable hard and austere, had lead them to experience directly the spirit of budo.
Thirdly, when your are learning a new technique, practice it wholeheartedly until you truly understand it. Do not crave to know everything all at once. Practice painstakingly. Karate has many techniques and kata. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that because there is so much to learn, you should quickly learn everything in a general way. It would be quite impossible for an inexperienced person not knowing the meanings of the kata or the techniques contained in them to commit them all to memory. To him the kata would be nothing but an incoherent jumble of techniques. Learning each movement and each technique independently, he would fail to see how kata interrelate with kata and how kata integrate movements and techniques. Learning one thing, forgetting another, his final reward would be total confusion.
A student well versed in even one technique will naturally see corresponding points in other techniques. An upper level punch, a lower level punch, a front punch and a reverse punch are all essentially the same. Looking over the thirty-odd kata, he should be able to see that they are essentially variations on just a handful. If you truly understand a single technique, you need only observe the forms and be told the essential points of the others. You will be able to grasp them in a relatively short time.
There is the following story about a certain Gidayu master. While still a student intent on learning to chant these long narrative tales, he had an extremely strict teacher, who for many years refused to teach him more than a certain single passage from the Taikoki, a drama about the life and times of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Hundreds of times a day, day after day, the student was made to intone the same passage, and each time his teacher’s sole remark was, “Not quite.” He would not allow him to proceed to the next passage.
Finally, the exasperated student decided he was not suited to the profession and ran away in the dead of night to try his hand at something more congenial in the shogun’s capital of Edo. On the way, he happened to stop for the night at an inn in Suruga Province [now Shiazuoka Prefecture], where a group of Gidayu enthusiasts had gathered for an amateur contest. Still deeply attached to an art in which he had long trained, the man could not resist the urge to join in. Though an outsider, he took the stage and with all his heart recited the only passage he knew well. When he had finished, he was approached by the old man who had sponsored the contest. “My, that was truly splendid,” remarked the old man. “I’d like to know your real name. Unless my eyes and ears deceive me, you must be a famous master.”
The erstwhile student was at a loss to respond to such flattering praise. Scratching his head, he blurted out, “Nothing could be farther from the truth. I’m just a rank amateur. I have to admit I don’t even know the passages before or after the one I just recited.”
The old man was greatly surprised. “Is that true? But your skill ranks with the Bunraku masters. Who on earth was your teacher?”
The student told about the severity of his training and how he had finally given up and run away.
With a sigh, the old man said, “You’ve made a terrible mistake. It is precisely because you were blessed by such a strict teacher that you have learned so much in only a few years. Take my advice: go back to your teacher immediately, ask his forgiveness, and resume your study.”
Hearing the old man’s appraisal, the student suddenly realized his error and went back to his teacher. Eventually he came to be a master of his art. I think this story is about none other than Master Koshiji, but whoever it was, it raises a number of points worth pondering.
Fourthly, don’t pretend to be a great master and don’t try to show off your strength. It is absurd that many of those practicing the martial arts feel they must make a show of being a martial artist. Picture a man, shoulders raised high, elbows swinging, swaggering down the street as if he owned it, with a look on his face that says, “I’m the greatest hero that ever lived.” Even if he were that, one’s respect for him would drop by at least half. And, of course, if he was not a man of great ability but simply a synthetic hero, the situation would be too ridiculous for words.
The tendency to act big or superior is usually most conspicuous among novices. By acting this way, they degrade and ruin the reputation of those seriously practicing martial arts. Then there are those who, having a superficial knowledge of one or two karate techniques, hold their fists in such a way as to call attention to their callused knuckles while pushing their way through crowds as if looking for a fight – foolish beyond words.
“His smile can win even the hearts of little children; his anger can make a tiger crouch in fear.” This succinctly describes the true martial artist.
A fifth point to remember is that you must always have a deep regard for courtesy, and you must be respectful and obedient toward your seniors. There is no martial art that does not stress the importance of courtesy and respectful manners.
Courtesy and respect should not be confined to the dojo. Is there anyone who would bow before the shrine in the dojo but walk right past a wayside shrine without paying his respects? I would hope not. Similarly, is there anyone who willingly follows the orders of his seniors in the dojo but completely ignores the words of his father and older brother? I hope not. If there is such a person, he has no right to practice a martial art.
At home one listens to one’s father and older brothers. In school one obeys one’s teachers and upper classmen. In the army one follows the orders of officers and non-coms. At work one does not act contrary to or disregard the words of superiors. Because of this, there is value in one’s having practiced karate.
Sixthly, you must ignore the bad and adopt the good. When you observe the practice of others and discover something that you should learn, try to master it without hesitation. If you see a man sliding into idleness, examine yourself with strict eyes. When you see a man who is particularly good at kicking, ask yourself why his kick is so good. How can you learn to kick like that; how does your kick differ? In this manner, you should be able to devise a method to improve your kick. When you see a man who does not seem to improve, again ask yourself why. Maybe he does not train enough or maybe he lacks determination. Ask yourself, does not the same hold true for you?
This attitude does not apply only to improving one’s technical abilities. We all have our good points and our shortcomings. If we are sincere in our desire to improve ourselves, everyone we meet can be a role model and a touchstone for self-reflection. An old proverb says Sannin okonaeba kanarazu waga shi ari. [This is based on a passage from the Analects of Confucius: “When I walk along with two others, they may serve me as my teachers. I will select their good qualities and follow them, their bad qualities and avoid them.”]
Seventh, think of everyday life as karate training. Do not think of karate as belonging only to the dojo, nor only as a fighting method. The spirit of karate practice and the elements of training are applicable to each and every aspect of our daily lives. The spirit born of bearing down and gritting your teeth against the cold in winter training or blinking the sweat out of your eyes in summer training can serve you well in your work. And the body that has been forged in the kicks and blows of intense practice will not succumb to the trials of studying for a difficult exam or finishing an irksome task. One whose spirit and mental strength have been strengthened by sparring with a never-say-die attitude should find no challenge too great to handle. One who has undergone long years of physical pain and mental agony to learn one punch, one kick should be able to face any task, no matter how difficult, and carry it through to the end. A person like this can truly be said to have learned karate.