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Busai -- Martial Awareness

In Karate, we are preparing for the unexpected -- for an attack we do not see coming. Imagine that you are standing in line at the store when someone comes up from behind and slugs you in the head. In Hawaii we typically refer to this as a "false crack." I think it is also called a "sucker punch." It is pretty much too late to use the self defense skills you have worked on for years or even decades if you are hit without warning (perhaps by a brick).

"Busai" means martial awareness or intuition. It is like the proverbial "eye in the back of your head," which, by the way, we used to try to develop in Aikido.

Intuition sounds like a completely subjective or metaphysical thing. I believe that busai is actually a very practical awareness of your surroundings, including all of the people within your potential range of contact.

Sensei Pat Nakata told me that his sensei, Choshin Chibana, was always cautious, even in his own home. Chibaba Sensei would always walk through the center of a doorway so that he could best respond to an unexpected attack from the right or left.

Chotoku Kyan was also said to practice busai at all times. He would always assume the most advantageous position from which to respond to a surprise attack. He would be suspicious, even of his friends.

Gichin Funakoshi wrote: "when you leave home, think that you have numerous opponents waiting for you."

Most sensei carefully select where they sit in restaurants. Students are trained to position the sensei with his back to a wall, facing the entrance so that a potential attacker can be identified and would also have to fight his way through the students to get to the sensei.

When I walk downtown at night, I always try to be aware of people, particularly those standing in the shadows. It is almost like a video game in which potential adversaries are highlighted by a form of busai radar. It becomes second nature to calculate angles of attack and to identify items (such as cars, fire hydrants, shopping carts, etc) that can be used as obstructions or weapons. Escape routes are also identified.

The feeling I get is the same as in mokuso -- an unfocused state of hightened awareness. See: Mokuso.

Busai involves more than sight. Sound is also of great importance, particularly in the darkness. A click or footstep can be the only warning of an impending attack. Even a smell can give you the split second it takes to avoid danger.

Some movements in kata are based on nightime defense -- feeling in the darkness with your hands or feet, sheilding your eyes to enhance your nighttime vision. Kata can be practiced different ways based on the assumed conditions: daytime, rough terrain, night, etc.

With busai, an attack can be anticipated and hopefully avoided. If avoidance is not possible, busai can help you to prepare for the attack, ready your defense (and counter attack), and plan for escape.


Charles C. Goodin