By: Stephen Whiffen, 5th degree black belt, Okinawa Seito Karate-do Yoshinkan Dojo

Emphasis on Kihon (Basics) and Kata (Forms)

Practice sessions at the Yoshinkan Dojo are comprised mostly of the repetition of kihon (basic techniques) and kata (forms) of the Okinawa Seito Karate-do system of budo (traditional martial way). By gaining mastery over the basics, karateka (practitioners of karate-do) will be able to apply self defense techniques naturally and spontaneously. The fundamental premise is that if you repeatedly train the body to move in the correct manner, you will be able to respond appropriately to threatening situations without conscious thought. The body will “move itself”, so to speak, since the basic techniques have been ingrained in the nerves and muscles through constant repetition. The kihon of the Yoshinkan Dojo are based on natural body movements, and students find that maintaining correct posture and employing “shinkokyu” (abdominal breathing) brings them greater vitality and improved health. Training that could potentially cause injury, such as body hardening or board breaking, is not included in the curriculum.

In addition to basics, the constant practice of kata is vital in order to gain a deep understanding of the essence of karate-do. Kata were developed by past masters who used them as a tool to pass on the techniques and subtle teachings that distinguished their style from others. By striving to comprehend the combat principles behind each movement of a kata through mindful repetition, karateka eventually unlock the key to the martial arts. The karateka’s true understanding of the kata, however, can only be tested through “bunkai” (interpretation of the techniques with a partner). Kata are an integral part of training at the Yoshinkan Dojo and students should approach them in the same way that students of Zen do with “koan” (riddles with no logical solution) to eventually bring to light the “hiden” (secret or hidden techniques) that are contained within. This can only be accomplished through the practice of bunkai so that the sequence of techniques take on meaning and become alive in the mind of the karateka.

Combat Strategies

The combat strategies are characterized by evasive movements and striking techniques that draw upon one’s inner power in combination with “whole-body” force for a devastating effect on the opponent. The stances are very stable yet extremely mobile. Through “ido tanren” (movement or mobile training) karateka practice moving and performing techniques across the floor, thus developing very strong hips and legs. Ido tanren is the key to developing real power and is practiced with vigor in every training session. Over time, dedicated karateka who have developed a solid foundation will be able to perform, with great power and no loss of balance, the “simultaneous block-strike” combat strategy which is characteristic of the karate-do of the Yoshinkan dojo. “Simultaneous block-strike” is defined as responding to an opponent’s attack by utilizing the appropriate angle to block the incoming strike while simultaneously moving in close and countering with a full power strike to the vital areas of the opponent’s body. In effect, one is moving into the attack while blocking and counterattacking at the same time. As this strategy is extremely difficult to perform, several conditions must be satisfied by the karateka for it to be effective:

  1. Conquer a fear of in-fighting
  2. Have excellent timing
  3. Have a stable, rooted stance to be able to block and strike forcefully in the same motion on different planes
  4. Commit oneself completely to the technique with whole-body power

The fighting techniques of Okinawa Seito Karate-do are performed in the true spirit of budo – after the opponent launches the initial attack, karateka move in close towards the opponent utilizing the appropriate strategic angle, committing 100% to the counterattack. If dealing with multiple opponents, karateka must be physically and mentally prepared to put down the attackers swiftly and decisively. Karateka combine intent (mental focus) with correct form (striking with whole body, not just limbs), coordinating mind and body together to generate much more power than by utilizing pure muscular strength itself. To attain maximum force, the body must not only act as one total unit, but also must be relaxed to allow the internal energy to flow into the movement.

Budo Spirit

The spirit of budo permeates the training regimen of the Yoshinkan Dojo. Unlike many styles of martial arts today, Okinawa Seito Karate-do is not a sport and is clearly unsuitable for competition. The techniques are performed with maximum power to the vital points of the body in accordance with the budo maxim “Ikken hisatsu” (one strike, certain death). The lethal potential of a highly trained karateka is obvious. Thus it is of vital importance that the proper mental attitude be fostered in each and every student. This point cannot be overemphasized. Students must train vigorously as if their very life depended upon the perfect execution of each and every technique. It is THIS state of mind which distinguishes budo from competitive styles of martial sports. Budo is not a game. Training in the dojo is a very serious thing. The techniques are potentially lethal, and karateka learn to face this with calmness and strength. Of course, in reality there are no life and death struggles in the dojo. The training sessions are safe and Okinawa Seito Karate-do can be practiced by almost anyone at their own pace and level of skill. But students must constantly strive to cultivate this mental attitude – that their training may take them a hair’s-breadth away from possible death – in order to truly overcome their personal fears and learn to be able to face moments of extreme danger and high stress with a calm mind and relaxed body. Only by achieving this advanced mental state will one be able to successfully deal with the numerous challenges we face in everyday life inside and, more importantly, outside the dojo. The dojo is merely a training ground, a place where we undergo “shugyo” (austere training) in the “Way”. The ultimate test comes in whether we can apply what we have learned and achieve success outside the dojo in our personal and professional lives.

Okinawa Seito Karate-do is considered a budo also because of its emphasis on personal development as a major goal of the students. This is in contrast to tournament karate where the main emphasis is usually on winning and triumphing over competitors. In true budo, your main opponent is yourself – your own weaknesses and ego. One must forge an iron will and constantly strive to be a better person through austere training, which is what differentiates the karate-do of the Yoshinkan dojo from sports. As a famous karateka once said, “The strongest of steel is tempered in the hottest of fires”. Students are encouraged to perform every technique with maximum effort and concentration, accepting nothing short of perfection of mind, body, and spirit. One’s progress in budo, then, can be readily measured by observing one’s behaviour and demeanour, since the state of mind, body and spirit is readily apparent in the way one acts. Sincere attitude, which translates into sincere action, is thus all important in the dojo, as it will spill over into all facets of your life. This is the reason behind the strict personal discipline and proper etiquette in budo, and sincerity in this style of martial way is paramount given that the translation for “Yoshinkan” is “the place for cultivating sincerity”. One should not train in budo merely to become a great fighter; the true reward of practicing traditional martial ways lies in the fact that your whole life, and the lives of those close to you, will be enriched by your training in the dojo.