What My Karate Teacher Told Me
I studied Karate for some seven years, and in that time my Karate instructor told me seven things.
I should say first that he didn’t tell me anything else.
He was a silent man, and he would sit in his office, students clustered around, and the students did all the talking. He would give a yes or no, but even a lot of that. He would just smile and enjoy.
Big difference from most people, who really don’t know when to shut up.
And, the odd thing I noticed, the more people talk the less they say; they are like radios set to some station of static and left to chatter.
‘There are many roads to the top of the mountain.’ He told me that one when I asked him which art was best.
‘A tight fist is a heavy fist.’ He was admonishing me to understand the ‘loose-tight’ concept of the fist. We of the Kang Duk Won, you see, were not encouraged to make our whole bodies rigid. The better a student was, the less tight his body was, and the more tight his fist, and only his fist, was. Surrounding that fist was silence. Emptiness. A dearth of chatter. No talk.
‘How’s work?’ He used to ask everybody that when they entered the school. It was his way to get us to start the conversation.
Once I asked him what the difference between ‘The Way,’ and a method was. He asked me if there was one, and he did it in a way to let me know that there wasn’t one. How interesting. It was the death of mysticism for me, or at least let me know that he wasn’t bent on the mystical approach.
‘I just do the forms. Everything is in the forms.’ I had asked him how he got so good, and it was part of a larger question about what he studied, how did he keep learning now that he was at the top.
‘Want a drink?’ A real ice breaker if there ever was one. But it was an ice breaker for us, not him. He was already totally and truly comfortable with himself; he lived, and he knew it, and he loved it.
‘Wham!’ Yes, he would actually say ‘Wham! when he was emphasizing a point. He would set up the technique, glancing at you to make sure you were paying attention, and then he would do the technique, liquid lightening, and say ‘Wham!’ instead of kia-ing.
When he taught a form he did so almost completely silently. He just showed, repeating as needed, in small sections for the white belts, and almost whole forms, and only once or twice, when we were black belts.
Past that, he instructed by example, by doing intently and with more focus than any human being I’ve ever seen.
Here’s the thing, people who talk haven’t done the forms enough, haven’t sunk their awareness into the forms deeply enough to become the forms, and to have the forms speak to them. Believe me, this is not mystical, it is hard work, and the secret to everything in life.
The simple fact is that people who teach by speaking are usually trying to explain what they don’t know. They are making up reasons to bolster their lack of understanding, and their reasons are usually wrong. I say this after almost fifty years of watching people teach.
The really sad thing is that they are going to try to explain this article, have a dialogue about it in their head.
What they really need to do is do the forms until all dialogues stop happening in their head.
They need to create silence, first of the voice, then through their forms.
This is the only way to really learn true Karate.
Written by Al Case, author of The Ultimate Karate Encyclopedia.