Over my varied summer one of the things I got up to was filming some friends performing a new interpretation and application of an old karate kata.
The practice belongs to an understanding of karate associated with the so-called ‘watercourse way’. Essentially it means not returning force with force but rather deflecting it without prejudice. It’s a lot easier to explain with a video:
This video stars accomplished karate researchers Dave Franks (left, initially) and Daniel Langton (right). They have a new website about what they’ve been doing with this kata here – whereas this video is a provisional version of Nai Han Chin No Shinzui (meaning ‘the Essence of Nai Han Chin’). It’s a world-premiere, in fact. The idea of the research has been to try to explain the application of every action within the kata. The side-by-side kata and application view here shows that most of even the most intricate aspects of the kata can be explained if this is the kind of application that was intended for it. Few other application explanations have been so comprehensive. But such things are always the subject of hot debates, and this provisional version is not final. Nevertheless it’s been very interesting to observe and find out more about!
I also know some related practices from my time with ‘pushing hands‘, a partner-based form of moving meditation. The idea is to maintain a constant pressure or ‘silk’ between two partners in motion. It takes quite a lot of concentration and a rather ’empty’ state of mind for the ‘receiver’ partner not to respond aggressively (or clumsily!) to a range of forces input by the ‘driver’ partner, and to maintain the ‘silk’. It can look a bit frantic but it’s very enjoyable to do! There’s more about it in a range of books by Kodo Ryu chief instructor, Nathan Johnson – including Barefoot Zen (my favourite), the more recent The Great Karate Myth, and the earlier Zen Shaolin Karate.
The reason for me posting this up on Waterstink is the water metaphor link. I recall back in a Water Policy journal article in 2000, by Jerome Priscoli, an invitation to think about the history of reflective, symbolic and spiritual aspects of water. Well I’ve always liked the metaphor of ‘watercourse way’ when practising non-violent pushing hands, and meditating on dealing with forces in a detached way. For me it’s yet another part of water’s deep and rich cultural embeddedness.