Kihon Kata Kumite

Description of the three major aspects of training

Traditional Karate training and grading is split into a trinity of practice with each criteria presenting a different conceptual and experiential element for the student to study. This is based on the esoteric understanding of the 'One Mind' having three aspects each one being indivisible from the whole. This understanding is as follows: There appears to be a Universal Principle that acts as though it was intelligent and through the existence of our own intelligence we may assume that it is. This Universal intelligence seems to act as a law, i.e. water boils at 100 degrees Celsius whether it wants too or not, so we may also assume this to be true. There is a formless 'stuff' in the Universe, which we loosely call matter, forever taking form and changing its form, this we may accept as being self-evident.

Therefore we have every reason to postulate a three-fold nature of Universal being: Spirit, Soul and Body. Spirit as the great actor, the creative principle of self-knowing intelligence; soul as the medium of its action, the directed energy; and body the result, or effect, of this action.

Spirit is the only conscious actor, the power that knows itself. Soul is the blind force, ignorant of its self but conscious of the will or law of spirit. Body is the effect of spirit, working through law to produce form. If we assume that neither law nor the 'stuff' from which form comes has self-conscious intelligence but must, because of their nature, respond to the 'word' of spirit. This simplifies the conceptual understanding of one mind being three, remove anyone of the principles and they all fall. 'All is one and one is all'.

If we take a simple Karate technique, such as a straight punch, we can gain a picture of this truth. First we require a self-knowing intelligence to 'will' the function; second, energy capable of executing the desire of will and; thirdly a material body to effect the action. Thought or spirit is the cause, punch or body the effect and function or soul the 'doer'. All material phenomena, be they human or otherwise are the reflection of spirit, the result of thought, the manifestations of the One Mind. The one is the many; the many are the one!

Kihon (body)

Kihon means basic or fundamentals. Externally it is the development of the physical body through the constant repetition of technique, internally it is the building of self-discipline. Here, through the myriad varieties of punching, blocking, striking, kicking and moving, we learn to control the ki (blind energy) of our subconscious mind and build the physical foundation, or vehicle, for the journey of self improvement. (We may know how to get to Blackpool but without a reliable vehicle we will never arrive!) Emphasis during kihon practice must be placed on the correct physical performance of each technique by becoming objective in our outlook. We must not allow 'bad habits' to develop through lazy practice. Our subconscious has spent a lifetime of self-indulgence and will always try to find the 'easy way'. During kihon we must regain control of our 'castle' by becoming ever mindful of our physical movements. This is the self-discipline of the way, the forming of the Karate body. Never accept bad form or lacklustre effort, from beginner to Black Belt, during kihon always better, stronger, faster!

Kumite (soul)

Kumite means to 'spar'. It is the practical side of Karate where we learn to apply the body of kihon in a fighting situation. Here the emphasis is on 'function'. For example a block must stop an attack and an attack must beat a block, whether they are technically correct or not is neither here nor there. To this end the basic sparring methods of Fudochi are designed to slowly develop our instinctive response to situations of conflict by removing the involvement of ego. The ego functions through dualistic thought and the first thing realised during kumite is: if we need to think we are already too late!

When the 'life force' (soul) is in a confused and wild motion caused by the conflictual elements of attack and defence, kick or punch, self and other etc., reactions are not free and the spontaneity of our true nature becomes overwhelmed. This, in effect, covers our true response with the muddy waters of conceptual thought. Through the arduous training of kumite the student becomes intuitively aware of the 'blind energy' flowing through them, slowly polishing the mirror of true mind. Free of its illusions or thoughts, our 'function' will begin to act spontaneously following the current of its environmental conditions. Like a boat flowing effortlessly downstream, all self conflict dies away and the mind will begin to return to its own nature becoming 'motionless in motion'.

If one's self is free from thoughts during combat only function remains, there is no attack, no defence, only 'doing'. The opponent's intentions are then reflected in a highly polished mirror, down to the minutest detail, it is not reflected in one's self, for the self has 'dropped away', it is simply a counter reflection of whatsoever comes. Here lies the purpose of kumite: the instinctive realisation of 'Mushin' (no mind). Act on what is before it occurs!

Kumite is the soul of the way then because it is 'the verb' of Karate-Do, the doing, where all theories and thoughts are so much baggage. Here we must concentrate our mind, not on the external 'look' of a technique, but on the internal functioning of our intrinsic energy (ki) until thought and action become lost within one another. In other words through the sometimes bloody encounter of combat we become aware of the movement of our subconscious mind/energy. And realise if left alone, free of egotistical thought for good or bad form, this or that technique, ki will respond perfectly and naturally to all it may encounter. When the wind blows the willow bends.

So whereas in kihon the correct form is first and foremost in our minds, here only the function is important: an attack must hit and a block must block anything more is superfluous, anything less is not kumite!

Kata (spirit)

Kata means form and is the tool with which we bring the three aspects of mind back to their original 'oneness'. It is the bridge with which we may cross from a conceptual understanding (the sword) to an intuitive realisation (the scabbard) of Fudochi. As our body of technique grows stronger and our ability to respond in kumite becomes more and more natural, slowly our self-conscious intellect becomes free of its self-imposed bonds and begins to 'drop' its ego- based interference of performance. At this point we begin to see our true mind reflected in the form of its material body through the function of its soul. To this end the self must become still during kata creating zanshin (now mind), in other words subjective, simply reflecting never influencing the physical phenomena of ever changing technique which flow around it. No words can approach this experience, just as reading a menu will never satisfy our hunger; we need to 'eat' this for ourselves through the constant repetition of unremitting practice.

Our performance of Kata reflects directly our technical ability through its body of Kihon. Our instinctive function through its rhythm, correct timing and application of power (slow and strong, fast and light etc.) and our degree of intuitive realisation through its Zanshin. If our ego grasps at the technical perfection of movement, or the speed and power of performance, Zanshin will not be present within the Kata. It then becomes a superficial 'dance' regardless of how technically correct it may look!

So whereas in kihon and kumite we have a conceptual understanding of where to put our mind (concentration) during training, here we are alone and learn from self experience only. If we put our thoughts into the techniques, the body of techniques will steal our mind. If we put our thoughts into the function (timing, meaning and application of power) our mind will be stolen by the soul of the function. Where to put the mind during kata? We must put it nowhere! This is 'emptiness' realised.


The trinity of the one mind is of course operating through each and every thing we do and cannot, in all reality, be separated. All kihon contains spirit and soul but we must concentrate on correctness of form, the objective body of Karate-Do, always striving to improve. All kumite contains body and spirit but we must concentrate on developing true technique, instinctive awareness of effective function. And all kata contains body and soul but in its performance we must not be pulled by correctness of form or concern for function, we must 'let go' and simply reflect our performance finding zanshin.

Remember that words are a finger pointing at the moon, if we look at the finger we will never see the moon! The above explanations are just so many words, only our own personal efforts will bear fruit. All aspects of our training, be it Kihon. Kata or Kumite, will only be Kihon until our external technique functions naturally without the need of our concentration, like walking. Only when our intellect is freed from the need to concentrate on form will it begin to understand Kumite and become aware of function. When it becomes free of needing to influence function it will automatically search out the spirit of Kata. Like pushing a great rock uphill, at times, the 'way' takes soul destroying effort but upon reaching the apex it will roll down of its own weight. Just have faith and an iron will.

Each individual may arrive at inner understanding in their own time, some sooner, some later, some never. The potential is the same within all of us, whether it becomes an actuality depends on ourselves. Just as electricity existed during the ice age, it was of no use until it was realised. Similarly although we are all enlightened here and now without any prayer or searching and function at all times through the truth, we are simply 'blind cats bumping into dead rats'.

We direct the Universal Law without realising it, creating a dualistic world of good and bad through our own concepts, then blame an anthropomorphic being with horns, created through our own imagination, for our suffering. There is no good or bad, no sin to cleanse, only thinking makes it so. This is the purpose of the 'Great Way': to empty our minds of delusion and ignorance and return us to what we already are!

"The true way is like the moon reflected on the water. The moon has no intention of being reflected and never gets wet. The water has no intention to reflect and never gets broken. The whole moon and entire sky are reflected in one dewdrop on the grass."

Shotokan Karate Martial Arts Ying Yang Meditation
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