Perceiving the Whole Mountain

“No,” Hanshi says. “Yame!” (Stop! )

Nate has just moved forward into a reverse punch aimed at my head and I’ve stepped into a left upper block to block his punch. Except that this ippon kumite kata, and the next move I’m supposed to make is a right ball-of-foot kick but I’m too close to administer the kick.

“This is anzano-o-metsuke,” Hanshi says. “Perceiving the mountain or looking at the big picture…Watch…” Sempai Sienna steps up and they do the ippon kumite kata, but when Hanshi steps back into his front stance to execute the block, he shifts his left foot back as well, keeping the proper ma (distance) between himself and the attacker. This sets the stage for the kick. “What did you see?”

“You moved your foot back,” I say, pointing.

“Yes, but did I look at her feet when she moved?”

“No, Sir.”

“That’s right, I kept my eyes on the attacker but I perceived the whole mountain—I moved my feet the instant that she moved hers in order to maintain proper ma. That is anzano-o-metsuke, the big picture…Do it again. Ready? On guard, and, GO!”

Nate moves in, I move back. We work this and switch places until it makes sense.

Ippon kumite kata is the first of eight performance categories of Shuri-Ryu karatedo. These are a series of set moves (like kata, our most formal form) that are practiced in response to a single move from an attacker. The idea is that the attacker comes at you with only one move, and your response is to deliver five ippon moves, or moves that could stop the attacker from any continued moves.

“Now…Stop again,” Hanshi says. Then: “Nate, did she hit your gi?”

“No, Sir.”

Hanshi turns to me. “Hit him. Hit the gi. I want to hear it snap.”

“Even if I think I don’t have good control, Sir?” I ask.

“A light touch, but a touch. He’s expecting to feel it, he can take it, so do it…Ready? On guard!”

We work the series again, and I get to hit Nate. Nothing hard, but I mean, there are moments when I look down and I see my fist into his gi, my wrist lined up square behind my fist, my elbow supporting that, and I hear the snap of the my skin on his gi. It’s no big deal to him, he is black belt after all, but I can tell he tenses his core (this is the “Towh” part of the kiai) as you would in a real fight to lessen the impact.

The lesson is clear: For every blow that comes to you, you respond fivefold and with clear and precise determination. My integrity is challenged at work by unfair compensation, I am responding fivefold with 1) a letter, 2) focusing on the customers, 3) focusing on the beautiful view and setting, 4) focusing on the high quality espresso, and 5) focusing on the food and health benefits I receive. Perceiving the whole mountain. Indeed.

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