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The Principles of Karate #5

(Adapted from Gichin Funakoshi’s Book, The Guiding Principles of Karate)

5.) Mentality Over Technique.

The fifth principle of Karate is “Mentality Over Technique.” To illustrate this principle Master Funakoshi shares a story…

One day the famous 16th century swordmaster Tsukahara Bokuden decided to test the abilities of his children.

First, he called his eldest son, Hikoshiro, into his room. As Hikoshiro nudged open the door, he noticed that it felt heavier than usual and feeling along the top edge of the door with his hand, he found and removed a heavy wooden headrest that had been placed there, carefully replacing it after entering the room.

Bokuden then summoned his second son, Hikogoro. When the unsuspecting Hikogoro pushed open the door, the headrest fell, but he quickly caught it and placed it once again in its original resting place.

Then Bokuden called his third son, Hikoroku. When Hikoroku, who far surpassed his two older brothers in technical ability, energetically pushed open the door, the headrest fell and hit his topknot. In a reflex action, Hikoroku drew the short sword at this waist and cut the headrest in two before it hit the tatami matting on the floor.

Bokuden said to his sons, “Hikoshiro, the one who passes on our method of swordmanship has to be you. Hikogoro, if you exert yourself and don’t give up, you may someday reach the level of your brother. Hikoroku, in the future you will surely cause the ruin of this house and bring shame upon your father’s name. It will not do to have someone as imprudent as you in this house.” And with that he disowned Hikoroku.

This story illustrates the principle that in martial arts, mentality is as important, if not more so, than technique. The former must rise above the latter. Emotional control, wisdom and common sense must be developed and put to practical use. Without them, technique loses its value.

To further illustrate the Principle of Mentality Over Technique, Master Funakoshi adds another story…

Among Bokuden’s disciples there was a man of extraordinary technical skill. While walking down the street, this disciple passed a skittish horse that suddenly kicked at him, but he deftly turned his body to avoid the kick and escaped injury.

Bystanders who witnessed this said, “He well deserves being called one of Bokuden’s top disciples. Bokuden will surely pass his secrets on to him, if to no one else.”

But when Bokuden heard of the incident he was disappointed and said, “I have misjudged him,” then expelled the disciple from his school.

People could not understand Bokuden’s reasoning and decided that nothing could be done but observe how Bokuden himself would behave in similar circumstances.

In order to do this, they hitched an exceedingly ill-tempered horse to a wagon on a road along which they knew Bokuden would pass.

Secretly watching him from a distance they were surprised to see Bokuden give the horse a wide berth by crossing to the far side of the road.

They were caught off guard at this unexpected outcome and later, confessing their ruse, they asked the reason for Bokuden’s sudden dismissal of his disciple.

Bokuden replied, “A person with a mental attitude that allows him to walk carelessly by a horse without considering that it may rear up is a lost cause no matter how much he studies technique. I thought that he was a person of much better judgment, but I was mistaken.”

The take away here? Learn technique, grow in your ability. But with your increasing technical expertise, seek wisdom and emotional control so that your skill has a foundation on which to stand.

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