|New dojo floor.|
But it reminded me, once again, of the traditions we practice, indeed take for granted, in the practice of karate. Slipping our shoes off, bowing to the shrine, all of the ritualized ceremony and language that becomes an accepted and integral part of training. Certainly in one sense, we are merely respectfully acknowledging the cultural traditions that gave rise to karate. But does the ritual and tradition overshadow the real martial intent of karate? I think it does for some. The "costumes" become more and more elaborate, festooned with colorful badges and elaborate embroidery of kanji characters that the average student (non-Japanese student) can't even read!
|Hojo undo implements.|
It's confusing; I'm not even sure what tradition and ritual in karate even means anymore. That's why the wood of the dojo floor felt so strange to me, I suppose. I think the last time I trained with any regularity on a polished wood dojo floor was in Okinawa. I suppose it makes more sense to take one's shoes off and practice on a bare wood floor in a tropical climate than it does in New England. But I've also dispensed with the traditional karate uniform, the belt, and, aside from an admittedly though no less heart-felt but perfunctory bow to the shrine, all of the pre-training ritual. I light incense when I have it and can remember, but we don't address each other with titles--no sensei, no sempai, no "osu" or other use of Japanese when a simple English term would suffice. You won't hear "Moku so," "Kiyotsuke," "Hajime" here. Heretical perhaps but since there are only a few of us old guys--all seniors--the ritual seems a bit unnecessary. And as far as bare feet and wearing a karate gi...well, it's pretty cold in New England at least five months out of the year.
Or does the practice of ritual and tradition actually free us, in some sense, to experience karate in a more spiritual way? After all, the practice of kata itself is a kind of ritual. The movements are clearly defined and taught in a very formal manner, with little room for individual differences, and since for most, at least initially, there is little understanding of what the movements mean or how they may be used, there would seem to be little difference between those who practice karate and those engaged in some arcane religious ceremony. A ritual, by definition, is "a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order." Does it make it more or less spiritual if you don't know what the movements are for? After all, if you didn't visualize what you were doing--that is, if we didn't have any understanding of bunkai or application--then we might be more apt to enjoy the act of movement itself, sort of like yoga perhaps. In this case, I sometimes wonder if meaning doesn't get in the way, if understanding bunkai doesn't somehow detract from one's enjoyment of the simple act of movement and exercise, and, in the process, a more spiritual experience.
And yet I wonder if all of this is not a modern overlay, something fashioned fairly recently and tacked onto what was once only a brutally efficient method of self defense. And kata? Merely a record of martial applications and fighting principles preserved in kata form for an ancient population that was largely illiterate.
And yet...there is something about slipping off one's shoes and stepping on the dojo floor, bowing to the shrine, all of the old teachers looking on, the incense burning, and beginning kata. Just kata. Kata for its own sake.