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The Principles of Karate #17

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

17.) Kamae (Ready Stance) is For Beginners; Later, One Stands in Shizentai (Natural Stance)

All forms of martial arts have their own kamae…postures of preparedness or readiness.

Karate has a number of kamae that are unique to it, and they are grounded in efficiency and effectiveness. The various kamae have evolved from the research and experiences of karate masters of the past and have been handed down from teacher to student.

It is important for the student of Karate to learn all the kamae. In the beginning phase of training, one should exert his or her self to master the different forms of kamae. These are an important part of the foundation or basics of Karate training.

However, concentrating exclusively on kamae long term will inhibit the free execution of techniques. Once the mind and body has learned the basics, it is now best to focus on the effective application of those basics.

Master Funakoshi explains, “As your training progresses it is crucial to avoid becoming attached to the concept of kamae. You must be able to move and change your position freely. Consider this point in tandem with that of the sixth principle, ‘The mind must be set free’.”

As the experienced karateka progresses in their skill, stances should be more natural and flow freely without conscious thought as to how one is standing.

There is an old precept, “In Karate there is no kamae.” Since we know that karate does have kamae, this would appear to contradict the first half of principle seventeen, but in fact there is no conflict. Consider that “in karate there is no kamae; but in one’s mind there is kamae.”

Through diligent training, the karateka has programmed their subconscious mind to perform the correct kamae for any given scenario.

Master Funakoshi suggests that there be a balance though between the mind or mental kamae and physical application.

If we focus exclusively on the mental kamae and disregard their physical counterparts, we become susceptible. This can easily lead to carelessness and injury.

The idea that “in karate there is no kamae; but in one’s mind there is kamae” is a waystation on the road to a deeper understanding.

When practitioners reach this state of understanding, they no longer need to prepare mentally or plan for their opponent’s attack or their own response.

However, this state is not an overconfident attitude of “Come at me with anything you’ve got!” Nor is it a relaxed, distanced attitude of indifference. Rather, it is an honest, open-minded composure in which the practitioner sees and responds to the manifestations of the opponents mind and movements of the body as they emerge.

The speed of the response is like the spark that results when steel strikes flint; it occurs in the twinkling of an eye, seemingly at the same instant.

This superb power is nothing less than a profound and wondrous skill. Watching a karate expert’s remarkable ability to respond instantaneously will make the concept of “there is no kamae” crystal clear.

Observing an expert will reveal the existence of an exquisite skill that manifests itself naturally according to the needs of the situation. The power of the expert with no kamae is similar to the instant the moon appears from behind the clouds…its reflection already sits upon the water:

How is this state of no kamae attained? The answer lies in the cultivation of an unperturbed mind, free of agitation. Tei Junsoku, an Okinawan scholar-sage, described the state as: “My mind, calm and clear, like water without ripples bearing a reflection.” He acknowledged the importance of seeking a tranquil state of being “like water without ripples,” as only then is it possible to reflect things truthfully.

Ripples on the surface of a still pond would cause the moon’s reflection to fracture into a myriad of images. Confronted with multiplicity, one grows confused and freezes, unable to move the hands or feet in a coordinated effort.

The confused mind is the cause of injury, the basis of error. It is only the constant cultivation of a composed, tranquil, immovable mind that, like a crystal clear mirror, captures the moon when it appears, or reflects a bird flying overhead. It is only the tranquil mind that can allow fair and clear judgments free of error.

“In karate there is no kamae” – the more one attempts to fathom the meaning of this quintessential precept of karate-do, the more one comes to appreciate the depth of its teaching.

Understanding its content and conciseness of expression, Principle Seventeen epitomizes the profound meaning of the limitless path of training that must be pursued by the karate practitioner.

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