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Getting It

In December I will be 50. I started practicing Karate at the age of 14, and had practiced Judo from the age of 8. I never did any sports. I have only practiced martial arts: Karate, Judo, Aikido, Kendo, Iaido, Tai Chi, and Kenpo.

I only thought I "got it" in Karate once.

About the age of 17 or 18, I thought I really understood Karate and was quite good. I already taught my own classes at Hickam Air Force Base. I felt fast, strong and skillful. This was the only time in my life I thought I "got it."

When I started to learn Shorin-Ryu from Sensei Rodney Shimabukuro (at Our Lady of the Mount Church in Kalihi Valley), I quickly learned that I did not get it at all. Maybe I got a very small part of it, but I realized that there was much, much more to learn. My sense of what "it" meant grew exponentially.

Time went on. I viewed "it" in terms of understanding the curriculum of the form of Karate I was practicing and teaching: Matsubayashi-Ryu. I thought that if I could learn the kata, basics, bunkai, kumite techniques, etc., I would get it.

"It" was elusive. The more I learned, the more it seemed that there was to learn.

But I was determined. I pursued "it" the same way that others pursued enlightenment.

More time. More effort. Less it.

I met many skilled Karate instructors, both inside and outside of my style. I came to realize that style was a good thing for beginners, but a dangerously limiting thing for advanced students. Karate is much bigger than any style, than any organization, and than any person.

As such, "it" was even bigger.

And yet I did not give up. More to learn, and still "it" did not come sharply into view.

Then I began to get the sense that I was starting to scratch its surface. As my ability grew, the basics began to make more sense. Kata began to be like origami, then like old friends. A block was a block, but also a strike, and much more. The form of Karate became punctuated by spontaneity.

I felt closer to "it."

But still, my movement was so limited. Age. Age became more than a factor. My body could not do the things that were easy in my 20s. Older, slower, weaker. Any yet I was not done. I still wanted to get it.

Then I met Sensei Katsuhiko Shinzato. It was as if he had discovered the Karate fountain of youth. In his 60's he could do things I had never been able to do. If only I could learn to move like him -- I would surely get it.

Koshi, hara, tanden, gamaku, hanmi, whip, sink, explode, osae. "It" became a magnificient cathedral, and I a devoted parishioner.

Perhaps that it was why "it" was so hard to see. Maybe "it" was too big. You can only see the clouds in the sky above you but they extend beyond the horizon

More training. More thinking. Age was not such a factor -- in fact, it seemed manageable. But still the answer eluded me. Where was "it"?

When I stopped and looked closely, as closely as I could, I realized that there was a reason that I could not focus my eyes on "it." There was a reason that I felt limited to the surface of something inexplicable, the reason that the more I learned, even when I felt that I was making progress, still "it" was not there.

I was looking in the wrong direction.

"It" is not outside. "It" has to be inside each student. "It" is personal.

Karate provides a structure, a lens which allows introspection. I was trying to look inside myself with a telescope. It was like trying to feed a hunger by putting food on a table -- the hunger will only be satisfied if you eat.

You can never "get" it, you can only "be" it. Of course, this sounds too metaphysical. It is better not to speak about it at all.

But when I meet Karate instructors and we speak about our experiences, I often mention that I feel that I am just scratching the surface. They reply, "yes, yes," or "hai, hai."

Before I meant I thought that I was just scratching the surface of Karate. Now I mean that I am just scratching the surface of myself... scratching an "it"ch.

Ichi, ni, san... there is no end.


Charles C. Goodin