One Foot In Life And One In Death
The scent of spray starch is one of the more pleasant changing room smells as the senior karate grades get their ‘heavy’ karategi’s out of their bags. Mixed with the scent of White Horse Liniment, Ralgex, Tiger Balm and smelly feet, it makes a heady cocktail warmed by the softer students using the warm air hand dryers to warm up their cold gi’sbefore putting them on….
Once the cold, heavy cotton karategi is on and tied, the changing room obi tying ceremony takes place, the belt is folded in half and the centre point is placed at the seiki tanden (two inches below the navel) and crossed over at the back to give double width support to the lower back, the knot is then tied and pulled tight against the seiki tanden for support so that both ends hang downwards and are of an equal length. It is common in the Wado Ryu style to wind the ends around the belt so that they don’t hang down.
Some students were testing the ‘crack’ of theirkarategi with a few trial punches and kicks just in case the sound had disappeared in the wash, when they were happy that it hadn’t, they all made their way up to the Dojo for class…
“Embusen!” Sensei called everyone into line… “Seiza!” we all knelt down in the prescribed manner…“Mokuso!” Everyone adopted the straight back posture, half closed their eyes and let them drift out of focus to engage the right side of the brain and started to breathe abdominally using the stomach to draw the diaphragm down and use the lungs fully. This brings more oxygen into the blood stream and thus to the brain, making it more sharply aware. The aware mind is then focused on the breath drawing it to one point creating mushin (‘no mindedness’ or mental absorption). This has the effect of cleansing the mind, refreshing both mind and body and preparing the student for the training session ahead.
“Mokuso yamee!” Everyone opened their eyes…. “kiritsu!” Prepared for the session ahead, they stood in ayoi dachi (ready posture).
Sensei took the class carefully through the qigong preparation exercises to ‘soften’ the body and to continue preparing the mind for the session ahead and then asked them to pair up for kihon kumite..
“Kihon Kumite ipponme!” Sensei paired up with the assistant instructor to demonstrate. “As semetepunches, ukete needs to employ the wedge principle with the right arm slipping the punch and absorbing the energy directly through the feet (Sensei demonstrated the first move) semete then has to throw the gyakuzukiand ukete has to move directly into the punch utilising the body swerve to guard and strike simultaneously (Sensei demonstrated the second move). Hajime! (Begin).” The class began practicing the first kihon kumite.
“Yamee!” Sensei looked concerned. “John, you’re not moving in on the punch and utilising the body swerve of tai sabaki – you look too nervous and are moving away from it, this gives the opponent an advantage.”
“I know Sensei” replied John, “I try to move forward and my body just goes the other way!”
On of the other students Cliff piped up “he lacks the Samurai ethic Sensei, you know, ‘one foot in life and one in death’… fear is blocking his path forward.” As you can tell, Cliff read a lot of books about the Samurai and his comment brought a smile to everyone’s face.
“One foot in life and one in death, Cliff, you been smoking them herbs again?” asked John.
Sensei cut in, “actually, he’s right, it’s fear that’s stopping you from moving forward into the punch.”
“I accept that Sensei, but ‘one foot in life and one in death’…. What’s that all about?” asked John.
Sensei answered, “by meditating and working out their philosophy, the Samurai conquered their fear of death and accepted it whenever it would come. Each day they would make sure that their affairs were in order in case they were killed, they would then take with all issues were resolved, the attitude that ‘today’s a good day to die’ this way they could stare death in the face and move fearlessly and decisively in battle…”
John thought for a moment and then asked “but surely that’s an obsessive and morose way to live?”
“On the contrary,” answered Sensei, “what it meant, was that they valued every second they were alive and lived life to the full. You could say that they found enlightenment in that way.”
“A bit dramatic though eh Sensei?” asked John.
“If you could lose your life through indecisive action at any time – I’d say it was essential,” answered Sensei, “bear in mind that you might only get a whack in the stomach and yet you are unable to move forward on that, if it was a fight to the death with a Samurai you wouldn’t stand a chance.”
“One foot in life and one in death……” mused John, maybe I’d better start meditating more….
“A reason for doing mokuso at the beginning and end of class and each day at home,” answered Sensei.
John turned to Cliff, “maybe you ain’t so daft after all…”
Cliff answered, “lend you the book if you like…..”
“Okay guys….” Said Sensei loudly to all the class, “enough philosophy, let’s get on with the kihon kumite….”