Monday, 23 March 2009

Karate ni sente nashi

As I was reading the news online today I was minded of the famous Funakoshi quote, "Karate ni sente nashi". This translates as, "there is no first attack in Karate". 

You could argue about the exact translation or the meaning behind this phrase but the article I saw made me think about this in a slightly different way. Or maybe it's the same meaning. The article is a very sad case of a man who in his rage punched another guy and killed him. Technically it was the head banging onto the floor which killed him but either way he's dead. He's been taught a lesson eh? Maybe that's what the aggressor thought..., "I'll teach him a lesson!"...BANG! Dead. This is how it happened, I'm not exaggerating. The incredibly sad thing is that the judge in the case says of the man who perpetrated this crime, "I am confronted with the prospect of having to sentence a perfectly respectable citizen who has committed an act which has had simply appalling consequences." 

The judge sees him as a "perfectly respectable citizen" who has (this is my interpretation) lost his cool in a moment of madness and decided to teach the other guy a lesson. Well it seems that the lesson is a very harsh one: death of a young fella and maybe 2 and a half to four years in nick.

Behind Funakoshi's saying there may be an idea of benevolence towards our fellow humans (let's all get on). We encounter so many people in our daily schedule that invariably we'll come across a dickhead from time to time (and don't get me wrong- I'm sure I'm somebody else's dickhead from time to time too!). Don't strike out says Funakoshi, don't attack: use your art for self preservation. The added dimension to this that I feel this news article brings to me is that it highlights the fragility of the human body. 

I studied Systema for two years under some fine teachers and at one seminar we were coached by Vladimir Vasiliev: one of the head honchos of Systema who, when asked how he dealt with aggression, said that he avoided, shirked it. He yielded, and tried not to get into a physical fight. His point was that the human body is fragile. Despite being very well trained and knowing how to disable assailants without killing them, even he knows that things can go wrong and someone could end up dead. If he can help it, he just doesn't take the risk. And he makes sure he can help it by not being there.

Of course this is all rather a negative view of why not to strike first. A way of self-preservation. As I said at the beginning there may be many ways to interpret Funakoshi's saying, or maybe he just intended it as read. My main point is to highlight this rather sorry tale of a guy who strikes in anger "not in self defence" and to see the terrible results.

Keep your cool. Don't lose your head. Don't lash out. 

To finish with here's a (sort of ) relevant Systema video with Vasiliev showing 'redirection' of an  opponent.


Dan Prager said...

Special request!

A comparison of Systema with the other arts that you study. Similarities and differences? What have you retained from your Systema training?

Dan Prager said...

Further comment: Apropos handling conflict in real life -- without resorting to violence -- have you read "Aikido in every-day life"?
It's not about applying Aikido technique so much as the principles (via analogy) to negotiating difficult situations. You don't need to be an aikidoka to get something out of it, but a background in the martial arts is helpful to understanding the analogies.

Sue C said...

I think the Movie industry is guilty of giving the impression that the human body is more invincible than it really is. I'm sure a lot of kids grow up thinking that if they get into a vicious fight they'll just get up and walk away unscathed like they do in action movies.

The reality is quite different of course. Natasha Richardson is an example of how frail the human body is. My husband's a pathologist so he has often seen the consequences of what may seem like fairly trivial trauma or violence - in the morgue!

By the way that Systema art looks good but does it really work if someone's coming at you fast and hard?

Littlefair said...

I'll pop that on my reading list Dan, ta!

Sue and Dan: Systema certainly seemed to work. At all speeds! I was greatly taken with this system as a means of self defence and I stopped practising not because I thought it didn't 'work', rather that it wasn't for me. I felt it wasn't my art or my way.

These ex-spetsnaz guys started teaching the unarmed combat that they learned while in the army. The training was done at a controlled speed but with connection and follow through and anything goes. It's a very personalised art as you practice many different aspects but ultimately you need to understand your own body: good points and bad!

It differs from other arts in that there is very little 'syllabus'. It's free form in many ways but underpinned by global philosophies. There was never exactly the same type of base exercises (kihon) from week to week but variants around themes. One constant was fluidity and rolling. You think aikidoka roll a lot? Try Systema!

Having said this my teacher was a Tai Chi master who felt that moving to Systema was an easy move to make: he found he could transfer across the soft, yielding movements and grounding ideas he was experienced in. I also spoke to a Goju sensei I trained with who said Systema seemed ok but really he found the same things included in his art and was not prepared to change. I feel this reinforces my idea that Systema *seems* a new and modern, alien art but really there were some links between this and more traditional styles.

The Russian teachers were fairly sniffy of traditional arts, though, and they found them too rigid in so far as there are lots of prescribed attack/block combinations.

I had fun studying Systema and I saw it as an effective combat or self defence art.

And if you train with Russians, be prepared to drink a lot of booze afterwards...

Dan Prager said...

Thanks for the review and anecdotes.

When I look at any art I am interested in what it emphasizes, teaching approach, plus overlaps and points of distinction from what I already know.

Sometimes this information can be useful in exploring corners of one's own art; in other cases it seems one needs to "empty one's cup" to get something out of a different approach.

And the longer you have been training, the trickier it is to modify the distinctive qualities of movement that are acquired from one's main study. I see this in myself when I am practicing kung fu, and in my ex-karateka students as tbey learn Jiu-Jitsu. It's a major theme for Michele over on Just a Thought, where she often blogs about how she can't simply overlay taijiquan over karate.