Master One Technique
“Master one principle, learn 1,000 techniques,” Hanshi says as we’re moving through the basics of sambon kumite (promise fighting) at the dojo tonight. Nate (2nd degree black belt) and I are called to the front to demonstrate and I know Hanshi is expecting us to light it up. We pop and snap our gis (uniforms), crescent step in time, and kiai (spirit cry) at the right moment. Hours later, I’ll go home with a bruised forearm but in general that seems the only frequent casualty at Blue Ridge Martial Arts Academy.
We’re working this series of contact movements for a reason: the white belts are studying timing and distance and there is no other drill like sambon kumite to demonstrate this principle. In Japanese, this principle is described as ma, which translates into our word “distance.” But In Japanese, this word can also mean timing. If I step forward and punch at Nate’s face and miss, I would say it is because I was too far away. That is a problem of distance. The Japanese might agree, or they might say it was a problem of timing…that if I had waited longer to release my punch or waited until he moved toward me, I would have hit him.
There are three kids of ma: the distance between my fist and the target on Nate, the distance between Nate’s fist and the target on me, and the common distance between the two of us. If the white belts, or any karateka for that matter, can master this principle, Hanshi likes to remind us that there are 1,000 techniques we can apply it to. In sparring, we will know when we’re in the punching zone and when we’re in the kicking zone, for example. In kimenokata (self-defense), we’ll know when to strike and when to avoid, where to step and where to attach.
It’s a simple mantra but rich with meaning. Put even more succinctly, the notion that mastering one principle leads to countless applications, Hanshi writes on the board: 1 + 1 = ∞ [infinity]. How true this is in daily life as well. Master the principle of compassion, then apply it to numerous situations on the spot. Mater the principle of awareness, then apply it to our multi-tasking, over-stimulated society. It’s no wonder that training as karateka means training mind, body, and spirit.