The Karatefecta: Mind, Body, Spirit

Mind, body, spirit.

Mind, body, spirit. The first time I was introduced to the idea as a holistic approach tied to karate, was by Master Kise. I was somewhere around the age of 17, having just tested for my blackbelt. I had just completed something that felt so big– I was indestructible. With the testing completed, the belts handed out, and the hand-shaking finished, Master Kise wanted to say something. I looked around in excitement, seeing something on the other participants’ faces– was it surprise? I got the sense that there weren’t a lot of speeches being doled out by the old master, and what we were about to receive would be special.

The large assembly space was sparsely adorned, but featured a stage at its front, to which the forty-something participants huddled towards. We were in the town hall, and its unforgiving wooden floors echoed the noises within. Upon the stage stood a short, graying old man in a black gi and frayed red belt. His beard full and neatly-cropped, his gaze wandered through his gathered students with quiet regard. He never showed much on his face, other than an occasional smile, which left you always guessing if he approved of what you were doing.

I don’t remember all of what he spoke, but the parts I do remember stuck with me. He spoke of Karate as a family and the bond that is a result– there are few places you can be beaten bloody and thank the person for it. The words I remember the most, though, went something along the lines of, “Good karate is not enough. You must have strong mind. Strong body. Strong spirit. It all goes together,” and he ended with his typical, “more practice.”

It seemed so simple, yet so important.

Basic Knowledge

This is a small, noncomprehensive list of basic knowledge and protocols. The art of Okinawan protocol is vast and taught in class every day in a traditional school. While it may seem like a lot of rules, at its base it is meant to convey respect.

  • How do you count to ten in Japanese?
    1. ichi eech-ee”
    2. ni “nee”
    3. san
    4. shi shee
    5. go
    6. roku rokoo” or “do-koo” or “lo-koo
    7. sichi  sitchee
    8. hachi  hachee
    9. kyu  “coo”
    10.  ju joo
  • R can be sounded as an “r,” “l,” or “d” sound.
  • What do Sensei and Sempai mean?
    • Sensei- It means teacher. Literally, it translates to have walked before or born before.
      • In our style, it designates a 4th-6th degree black-belt. It can also be anyone who runs a dojo.
    • Sempai- This is an assistant instructor.
      • In our style, it is a 1st-3rd degree black-belt. 
  • When do you bow?
    • When you enter a dojo.
    • When someone makes a correction.
    • Before working with someone as a partner.
    • When you greet your teacher or a higher rank.
    • When in doubt.
    • Never slap your hands along your side to bow. Place them there quietly.
  • How do you greet someone in the morning, afternoon or evening?
    • morning – 12:00p Ohayou Gozaimasu
    • 12:00-6:00pm Konichiwa
    • 6:00p- evening Konbonwa
  • What style of karate do you do
    • Shorin Ryu Matsumura Seito
      • Matsumura is a family name of two grandmasters.
      • Seito means orthodox/unchanged. This is Matsumura’s style preserved as perfectly as we can.
      • Shorin – pine forest
      • Ryu – style or methods handed down
      • Karate – (kara) empty     (te) hand
      • Do – way
  • Taboos in the Okinawan culture:
    • Do not aim the bottom of your feet at a higher rank. The bottom of your feet are considered dirty, and it is disrespectful to aim the bottom your feet at someone.
    • Do not walk between two people talking.
    • No whistling at night.
    • Never put your obi(belt) or certificate on the floor. The floor is dirty. This means that you don’t care about what was given to you.
    • Don’t point with your finger at someone.
  • Other Vocabulary:
    • Obi “o-bee” is your belt.
    • Dan- blackbelt ranks. Literally translates to man.
    • Kyu- ranks below blackbelt. Literally translates to boy.
    • Gi- This is your outfit. It is meant to be all white until you are a blackbelt, and kept clean and wrinkle free.
    • Hai- This means “yes” or an affirmation of understanding. Usually in conjunction with a bow.
    • Onegaishimasu “own-ee-guy-she-muss”- The most formal way of saying, please. Usually said when bowing to a partner or in the beginning to bow into class. It means please teach me.
    • Yudansha- A group term, referring to all the blackbelts in a dojo.
  • Who are the former grandmasters and teachers in this style? Our lineage.

Satunku “Tode” Sakugawa (~1733-1857)

Sokon “Bushi” Matsumura (~1797-1889)

Nabe Matsumura (1860-1930)

Hohan Soken (1889-1982)

Fusei Kise (1935- living)

Shihan Greg Lazarus (1956- living)

                                                                                 ↓                                 ↓

Mike Abrams               Kelsi Thompson


Scott Thompson                                    .

  • What is Kata?
    Kata is the soul of your style. It was originally was designed as a way to practice and pass along karate in secret when Okinawa was under attack. The real fighting moves are disguised as bunkai, or a disguised move. When practiced altogether these moves form a sequence or routine. Students will take days to learn a kata, but a lifetime to understand and master it. 
  • Protocols Outside the Dojo
    • Karate, in its purest form, is not an activity that you practice and leave in the dojo. It is a lifelong dedication and the protocols are maintained outside of the dojo.
    • Maintain bowing to your yudansha (blackbelts).
    • Do not point your chopsticks at anyone. Even when you set them on your plate, do not have the dirty ends aimed at someone, especially a higher rank.
    • The highest rank orders their drinks and food first. They also take a sip of their drink first and take a bite of their food first. It is just a way to show respect and is how meals are served in Okinawa, Japan, to the grandmaster.
    • Toasting a drink is done in a particular way. You put your left hand under your glass and make sure your glass is lower than the higher ranks’ glass when they touch and you say a toast, “kumpai!”



What is a decade?

I learned Chinto for the first time as a sandan, somewhere around 20 yrs old. It is beautiful and full of finesse that had been less prominent in the lower ranking katas. It stood out in this traditional style where kata historically focuses on bunkai and practicality, almost exclusively. Here is Chinto though, jump kicking its way into my world.

Some people grow bored of doing the same kata for decades. They get that itch right around sandan to start exploring new styles because they think they have found everything that can be found in doing a kata for two decades. I think that is more of a reflection on the karate-ka than the kata. I practice my kata differently than I did in my twenties; the kata may not have changed, but I have.

I practice my kata slowly, so slow my body fights my mind. I feel every move and perfect my hands within a centimeter of where I want them. You never notice that your foot turns out a little until you are moving at the speed of molasses. You begin to sharpen when to turn your head, and when to move your foot.

I practice my kata with no cadence. Did you know cadence is just a tool to teach a kata? Your kata has no numerical cadence. You can start to feel the energy of the kata without the numbers. When are you supposed to go hard, go soft, speed up, or slow for emphasis? The kata will tell you, after a decade or so.

I practice my kata alone. I study it, pause when I need to break down the bunkai by myself. I am self-studying as a martial artist here, not as a teacher or a student, directing or being directed. Some of the best answers come in the alone moments. That’s when I hear my kata the loudest.

I never really understood what Hanshi Kise meant when he said, “Good job. More practice.” Now, when I watch Chinto done by my teacher, Shihan Lazarus, I see that it resonates through him with so much more understanding than I have. It will take a lifetime of practice to learn my kata the way my teacher knows them, and I guess that was the point Hanshi was trying to make.