Kata As An Esoteric Practice

By Gary Gabelhouse

    It was hot that July in Nishinomiya as I hopped from dojo to dojo—training Japanese Goju Ryu. My improvised gi bag—a heavy plastic bag—would often leak on the trains from Osaka and Kyoto to Nishinomiya, and puddles of sweat would issue from the super-saturated gi, and actually flow as a creek down the floor of the train.  Certainly, this was an unspeakable rudeness, as was my offering up for grabs my sweat-soaked seat on the train as I departed.  My Lord, but does one sweat in a Japanese July.

      I was looking forward to the cooler air of Mt. Koya and my pre-arranged stay and study in a Shingon Buddhist monastery in Koyasan.  Inadvertently taking a Local rather than Express, I found myself at the Koyasan train station some hours later than expected.  Forgoing the tram that elevates one a half mile up, I chose to walk the trail to Koyasan—a kind of personal shugyo made tolerable by the cooler air.  Each step was a breath—and a leaving behind of sorts.  The shrines and stone Buddha’s, there so long as to become a part of a tree’s roots served witness as I walked slowly, savoring the silence and solitude.  My T-shirt was soaked through with sweat as I came to the border of Koyasan—despite the cooler mountain air.  My first sight was that of a Shingon monk tending to the candles of a shrine beside the road.  He looked at me—I looked at him.  We said nothing.  After all, I was the alien, and could find no words to justify why this big Gaijin was here—for I knew so little myself.

      I had a map to the monastery provided me by a friend and English teacher who lived and worked in Japan.  I found the monastery with little trouble, entered through the massive gates and walked towards the open doors across a gravel sea on old, wooden planks.  There, on the steps was placed a pair of slippers.  I shucked off my Reeboks and jammed my big feet into the blue, rubber slippers as a monk robed in tan’s and yellow’s bowed and offered a “Konichi wa, Gary-san.”

      Obviously they knew who I was.  The monk showed me first to my quarters and then showed me the monastery’s well.  Finally, he showed me the bath house.  Shuffling in the rubber slippers (Japanese have no concept for size 13 EE American feet) past woodblock prints and shuttered rooms, the monk waved with a gesture to my room—a perfect example of the Japanese concept of wabi—a rich simplicity. Here, a futon was rolled up on a six-tatami floor, with only a low table for furniture, only candles--no lights—and a pitcher of barley tea and a rough clay cup--this was home.

      I opened the screens so as to let in as much of the luke-warm air as I could.  The only thing I heard was the rhythmic hum of silence and the syncopation of cicadas.  Then, deep gongs were ringing as the evening shadows captured the gravel sea of the monastery’s courtyard and all was accompanied by a faint, guttural chanting.  The doors of the monastery were shut, the huge wooden beam shoved into place by two monks, with some difficulty.  Then the deep gongs were seemingly coming from inside the monastery as the cicadas and now a wind offered deep sighs in the surrounding Cryptomeria and Umbrella Pines.  I understood Dorothy’s and Toto’s predicament—I wasn’t in Nebraska anymore.

    The monk tapped politely on the screen, opened it and asked if I wanted a beeru (beer) with the evening’s dinner. 

      “Sure” I told him, “Make it two.” 

      He smiled and shuffled quickly backwards and was gone as silently as a ghost.  I sat by my one table and felt the monastery alive and active, yet so eerily quiet.  This was, for me, some pretty strong Ju-Ju.

      What does one do as a guest in a monastery when one is not a practicing Buddhist?  One listens.  One tunes the senses.  One just tries to . . . be.  My meager dinner came with two huge bottles of beeru and I consumed the contents of my tray, not knowing what I was eating other than I knew there to be no critters or sentient beings on my plates or in my bowls.  Funny what they can do with bean curd. 

      The monk came back to remove my dinner dishes and quietly asked if I wished to attend the early-morning worship ceremony.  I said I did plan to attend, and thanked him for the invitation.  As I lit the candles in my room, I peered out into the dark and heard deep chanting and the occasional gong, and wondered at what seemed as the spiritual activity of the very air around me.  I could barely sleep and listened with closed eyes to the deep, ringing bells and the constant drone of chanting monks and the ever-present cicadas.

      Up in the big shadow of pre-dawn, I shuffled to the temple along wooden floors polished with the centuries of footsteps of Shingon adepts.  Becoming frustrated with my inability to walk in my mini-sized sandals, I proceeded barefoot on the cool floor and into the temple’s guest entrance.  The incense wafted as gauze sheets around the symbols and idolatry of Shingon Buddhism—a visual cacophony of spirituality.  I heard the quiet rustling of robes as the monks and the Abbot entered the temple and seated themselves around the edge of the temple, invisible from my vantage. 

      The Abbot gathered his robes and entered the pit in front of the alter and began to perform sweeping hand gestures, chanting all the while.  I watched transfixed as the Abbot told a story and painted a spiritual picture with his elegant hand gestures.  Then, it hit me like a thunderbolt—the Abbot was doing mawashi uke and several times, pressed his hands, palm out in the same manner as we finish many of our Goju Ryu kata.  Then, there was the Abbot’s hands finishing Shisochin—doing Tensho--Seisan.  I heard a deep, “Toh” issue from the Abbot—not unlike a kiai, as he circled his hands in this seeming spiritual kata.  I sat there shrouded by incense watching for the first time . . . something I had done hundreds or thousands of times . . . on the dojo floor.

      This very powerful experience motivated me and launched me into a study of the relationship between kata and . . . ceremonial worship and thus, the relationship between the purpose or intent of karate-do and theosophy or religion. 

      In addressing this multi-faceted issue, I feel it helpful and necessary to first create a series of premises upon which is based my analysis of and research into one very intriguing facet of what Karatedo (or any –do) is.


Kata/Karatedo Premises

The bedrock of Karatedo is found in its kata.

Kata are systematic combinations of stances and postures, hand and foot techniques, blocks, kiai, eye movements and foci, and . . . visualization (imaginary opponents or circumstances—a sort of psychodrama).

All of the elements of kata have a pattern that could be portrayed by a grid or pattern on the floor of the dojo.

The term Dojo can be interpreted as place of enlightenment.

Kata, the very basis of Karatedo, is practiced again and again under the direction of a teacher or Sensei—one who has gone before the practitioner—on the way.  Such practice is generally in a dojo (regardless of the physical reality of where one is practicing).

Adherents of the –do in Karatedo often describe kata as a shugyo or repetitious activity that serves to unify the mind, body, and spirit of the practitioner.

Religious/Ceremonial Premises

All religions, with perhaps the exception of some primitive animist religions, offer prescribed, ceremonial means to commune, communicate with and/or become one with a God or gods.

Such ceremonial means or sacramental ceremony generally combines vocalizations, physical postures—especially gestures and positions of hands, and a meditative—a prayerful attitude in which one’s God(s) are invoked.

Most religions or theosophies allow for a spiritual terminus of the practitioner while they are still alive.  However, such a spiritual terminus is rarely realized by the practitioner.  This spiritual terminus could also be described as sanctification or living in a state of grace.  Such is also ascribed as the lot of the Bodhisattva.

One attains a state of grace through long and demanding practice of the ceremonial elements of and adherence to the religion or theosophy.  The goal or perhaps better-stated, result of the ceremonial actions are to become one with one’s God(s) or achieve a true spiritual enlightenment 

Based on those premises, and based on my research into both religions and Karatedo, I contend that one facet and in fact, the origin of kata, and hence, Karatedo is of a ceremonial practice to reach . . . a state of grace—enlightenment—sanctification.

Such a state of grace can also occur on a temporary basis in one’s life...

The rapture of witnessing one’s Christian faith;

The Shuho and being one with Dainichi nyorai (Mahavairocara Buddha) in the Mikkyo;

The being one with Shiva through performance of the Bharata Natyam (a ceremonial dance);

The cradled, loving feeling as one, who on the last day of Ramadan, just prior to Eid, prays to his God, committing to more days of fasting;

Or . . . that moment of true mushin as one performs and just is in one’s kata.

The Physiology of Enlightenment 

    As a seminary student decades ago, I was very interested in this state of grace, as well as the correlation of Christian prayer with other meditative practices.  I was back then an adherent to finding proof of grace—proof of a transcendent consciousness (now there’s an oxymoron!).  Strangely enough, I did not find proof so much as I found what may best be described as physiological footprints.

    An example of footprints . . . I wired students’ crania and measured their brain waves and the modal patterns of their brain waves.  The student volunteers would then pray. Others would practice zazen, some TM (transcendental meditation).  I noticed a distinct change in brain waves as they would enter deeper and deeper into their respective meditative or prayerful practice.  Most pronounced was the degree of alpha-wave as well as theta-wave activity of the students during this state.  Alpha waves are most commonly understood as being prevalent during REM (rapid eye movement) or dream sleep.  Alpha waves signal an unconscious consciousness, if that makes any sense.  Theta waves are indicative of high emotional states and tend to emanate from the mid-brain—often causing the subject to have pleasurable feelings.  So, during meditative practice, the practitioners were evidencing the brain waves that would best describe their state, in neurological terms as a dream-like consciousness full of emotionality and pleasure.

    Basically, I was looking for physical proof that a state of pure consciousness was a unique state with physical footprints that are measurable and act as such evidence.  I read the studies in the Journal of Physiology (1972) by Dr. Keith Wallace on the Fourth State of Consciousness.  In his studies of yogis he found those footprints of a fourth state of consciousness.  During deep meditation and at the time of union (pre-planned cue given by Yogi, just prior to union) he found the following physiological changes occur:  

Lower Serum Cortisol (cortisol is a stress-activated hormone)

Increased Alpha Brain Waves

Increased Basal Skin Resistance

Increased Output of DHEA (hormone that helps in concentration)

Increased Theta Brain Waves At Peak of Practice (Union)

    He also found with his wired yogis, that pranayama (yogic breathing) alone could change the locus of brain dominance—dramatically shifting and focusing the brain activity to the mid-brain.

    Meditation, zazen, and even prayer seem to have similar patterns of physical and psychological sensations that can be described as pleasurable.  In the many forms of communing, one experiences an euphoric and highly pleasurable level of consciousness sometimes referred to as an ecstatic state.  During the moment of merger with what has been referred to as pure consciousness, there is a void of such feeling.  Alexander, Chandler and Boyer (1989) described that state of consciousness as, “...a silent state of inner wakefulness with no object of thought or perception.”  In their studies of the physiology of such conscious states, they contend that the ecstasy and void of such states are purely physiological in nature, and not a product of cultural inculcation.  They write, “pure consciousness is conditioned not by cultural or intellectual conditions, but by fundamental psycho physiological conditions which are universally available across cultures.” 

    One can argue the physiological footprints of such ceremonial practice (meditation, zazen, prayer) are nothing more than what happens when the body rests and relaxes.  However, in the Alexander study, a control group of subjects just rested while the experimental group meditated.  While they did share some similar physiological conditions, the meditators showed markedly higher blood flow to the brain, and higher levels of plasma arginine vasopressin (associated with enhanced learning and memory).  As well, mid-brain activity was significantly higher than those who were just resting, and meditating subjects had high-level releases of mesolimbic dopamine which was interpreted as the cause of highly pleasurable sensations—a mid-brain reward to the subject.

    In the studies of what’s termed flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and in research conducted by Arthur J. Marr (In the Zone: A Biobehavioral Theory of the Flow Experience) many of these same feelings are associated with this apparently unique state of consciousness.  The flow experience has been described using the same vernacular of meditation and prayer—ecstatic.  The flow experience is what’s referred to as scalable—that is, the more intense the activity (shugyo, perhaps), the more ecstatic is the accompanying flow experience.

    So, from a scientific standpoint, transcendental meditation, prayer, and zazen leave evidence—physiological footprints of a unique state of consciousness.  Regardless of the differences, there appears to be significantly similar hormonal and brain chemistry changes as well as significant mid-brain activity associated with these ceremonial . . . practices.   Such ceremonial practices cause the practitioner to experience both the ecstasy and the void of being in . . . a state of grace or union. Throughout the years then, I have studied a body of physiological studies and read numerous articles in addition to conducting my own research.  Based on this body of research, I am relatively convinced that what happens to the practitioner during prayer, speaking in tongues (or other charismatic Christian behaviors), meditation or zazen is not only a unique state of consciousness—it is a unique state of physiology.

    And so, too, with kata, one can arrive at a similar state of grace through repetitive practice on the dojo floor.  It has happened to many of us, at one time or another—that being one while performing our kata.  Additionally, kata, for many, is seen as a form of shugyo—which is defined by martial-arts historian and writer, Charles C. Goodin as, “The austere practice of body-mind transcendence (where) one enters a state of enlightenment.”  The most common form of shugyo is seated meditation or zazen, yet many ascribe to the notion that kata and/or all elements of Karate-do can be practiced as a form of shugyo.  Many koryu kata are often referred to as Moving Zen. 

    In his book Karate, by Zenko Heshiki-Sensei, the author reflects on kata as being a form of shugyo that will carry the practitioner to a higher state of consciousness: Through the years of practice the trained body will execute every movement with unbroken fluidity.  One no longer knows the difference of mind-body.  To get that far, for the skill to become spiritual, a concentration of all the physical and psychic forces is needed.  This is the general attitude of the Oriental people approaching any art . . . It is the aim of every artist to achieve such a state of mind, so that he no longer has to rely on the techniques he has learned, but transcends into the realm of nature and lives completely in tune with the whole of Nature and the truth of the whole.

      As well, Chojun Miyagi, the founder of Goju Ryu, cites in an article (Bunka Okinawa Vol.3 No.6, August 15, 1942) how to achieve the ecstasy of Sanchin. Miyagi writes: “Tanden (a point a couple of inches below the navel), the back of the head and the buttocks are three focus points on which you have to concentrate your attention during Sanchin exercise. Brief instructions are the following: Tuck your chin in. Lift the back of your head high. Focus on Tanden (a point a couple of inches below the navel) to charge with the energy. Your buttocks should be tucked in. These three focus points are not originally separated from each other, but have inseparable relationship. In addition to them, there is another focus point: the middle point between the eyebrows. You stand straight firmly with stable stance of feet, and hands positioned properly, breathing harmoniously, then you can feel Sanchin ecstasy.  I have heard that principles of Zen and other sitting meditations are the same as Sanchin.” 

Kata and Ceremonial Worship: A Comparative Analysis

    Understanding the physiology of ceremonial practices, I also studied the means used to arrive at this state of being and found many parallels between religious practices and theosophies.  There appears a consistent set of essentials, regardless of the ceremonial practice.  Those essentials can be described as: 1) Use of sound; 2) Manipulation of the body and specific body activity; 3) Visualization, or focused intent. 

    Now, I am still studying this in the context of researching the origins and my meaning of Karatedo.  This is where I’d like to take you next—the parallels between our practice of kata and the practice of ceremonial worship and reaching a state of grace or enlightenment.  I’d like to do this by using the historical evolution of Karatedo as it parallels the evolution of religious practice.

    I’d like to start in India.  Prior to Buddha, the warrior caste of Ksatreya practiced Vajramukti.  Their scriptural basis were the Vedas and later, the Upainishads.  They worshipped many deities including the major ones such as Shiva, God of Destruction . . . and Creation.  It is taught that Shiva, in his pursuit of godliness had as his means of retaining such godliness . . . the dance or Nata.  There were a number of different dances—each an expression of a nature of godliness.  Shiva is often seen through the ancient art of Hindu temples as the Nata Raja, or Lord of the Dance.  The Anandatandava (Dance of Bliss) is the dance he performed (and captured in art) when assaulted by evil magicians.  These magicians set upon Shiva a tiger, which Shiva killed (while continuing his dance).  Then they set upon him a terrible serpent that Shiva also killed (while continuing his dance).  Finally they set upon him an evil dwarf or gnome upon which Shiva did the Bristol Stomp (of course, continuing his dance).  Shiva’s dance included hand mudra—most predominant being the abhya mudra or sign of fearlessness.  I find much parallel in Shiva’s dance and Kata.

Nata Raja

    Hundreds of years B.C. it was said that the Vedic scriptures were communicated in their totality of meaning by the Gods in the form of an ancient dance or Natya Sastra.  This dance ceremony manifested perhaps the oldest ceremonial dance, the Bharata Natyam.  The Bharata Natyam was generally performed by Devadasi or ceremonial dancers (women—no men) who lived and performed the dance in the Hindu temples.  Clearly, the purpose of Bharata Natyam was to cause the dancer AND the observing priests to become one with a God.

    The Bharata Natyam is an ancient, physical, auditory and psycho dramatic practice to become in a state of grace—to become one with a God.  Of course it included a systematic combination of vocal chanting (mantra); body postures and mudra; and visualization.  These three elements not only allowed the dancer to become in a state of grace, it also facilitated a state of grace amongst the observers.  The series of elements of Bharata Natyam are viewed as gifts given by the Gods so humans may commune with them—worship them.

    As an aside, though related . . . The practice of Tantric Sadhana (magical practice often confused with worship) one finds the act of Puja, or meditating on a God.  The elements of such meditation includes three elements . . . the mantra or Bija Mantra (seed mantra) that is specific to each deity (Important: Remember this when I discuss Mikkyo); the Mandala or pattern the practitioner meditates within; and the Rupa or active visualization.  The Rupa includes the visualization and/or performance of mudra—again, specific for a given deity.

    So, prior to Buddha, we saw in ancient Hinduism a systematic combination of stances, mudra, vocalizations and visualization used as a means to . . . be with God.  Then along came the Buddha.

    Buddhism started in India and migrated North through Tibet, and on into China. Over the years, Buddhist sects diverged and one found in them, many of the ancient Hindu trappings of Natya Sastra and Tantric Yoga—including the systematic mudra, vocalizations or mantras, and visualization.  Bodhidharma (Daruma in Japanese) an Indian, Buddhist Priest was allegedly sent by his teacher, Prajnata, to teach the dharma of Buddha in China.  It is thought that Bodhidharma arrived in China about 525 A.D. and had an appointment with the Emperor of China.  It seems the Emperor was keen to understand this religion of Buddhism.  It is said that Bodhidharma’s practice of Chaan or Zen, did not sit well with the Emperor and that Bodhidharma was equally unimpressed with the Emperor. 

    After this alleged meeting of India and China, Bodhidharma was said to have retreated to the Shaolin Temple and, finding the monks being of poor health and preyed on by bandits, taught them yoga-like exercises and ancient Indian nata (ceremonial dance) to strengthen them both physically and spiritually.  While there is no proof of this, these nata or exercises are believed by many to be the seminal practice of what has evolved as Chinese, Okinawan, and even Japanese martial arts.  I must reiterate: THERE IS NO PROOF WHATSOEVER THAT BODHIDHARMA HAD ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE SHAOLIN TEMPLE, OR THE MARTIAL ARTS.

    So, from India, with its Hindu and Vedic carryovers, Buddhism reached China and flourished, as did the ceremonial practices by some sects that included systematized patterns of vocalization, postures, mudra, and visualization—all with a spiritual purpose.  For hundreds of years, Buddhism and its practices were harbored in China—with Buddhism being somewhat driven out of India to the South.

    One sect of Buddhism is particularly pertinent to this discussion as it is so closely tied with martial tradition—that being the Mikkyo or Shingon Buddhism (the religion Du Jour of the Samurai).  This sect, sharing many elements with Tibetan Buddhism, including the systematized mudra, mandalla, postures and mantra, came from China to Japan in 816 A.D.  Kobo-Daishi Kukai opened the Buddhist mission in Japan, at the base of Mount Koya.  Around this mission sprung many monasteries, all practicing the Mikkyo, or Shingon Buddhism.

    The basic tenant of Shingon Buddhism is that one may forego the wheel of birth and rebirth and become enlightened IN THIS LIFETIME.  Enlightenment or samadhi, it is taught, can be achieved within one’s lifetime through an esoteric and systematic practice of a physical and spiritual nature.  The basis for Mikkyo includes preset combinations of: Myo (mantra or vocalization), Ingei (mudra & postures), and Mandara (mandalla—visualization of being within the meditation).  The act of Shuho or becoming one with the Dainichi nyorai (main Shingon Deity personifying the Universe) includes specific mudra performed in specific postures, while vocalizing specific myo or mantra and all this while visualizing the being of the Deity as represented in the mandara (mandalla).  There are a number of other Deities—all of whom may be found through the performance of specific myo, ingei and mandara.  This Mikkyo practice is a near-perfect correlate to the Puja of Tantric Sadhana which has its origins in ancient India.

    I have witnessed many times Shingon worship during my respites in the monasteries beneath Mt. Koya.  Indeed, when I saw Shingon ceremonies in Koyasan for the first time, my Goju Ryu kata was what I saw.  Translated, I saw what looked very much like the kata of Karatedo, being performed so the practitioners may become spiritually enlightened and live on earth as a Bodhisattva—in a state of grace.

    In my practice and research in Japan, I studied the Shinto misogi or purification ceremony that included the Kuji no In—a combination of nine words of power (kiai) vocalized while performing nine mudra.  The Kuji no In has its underpinnings from the Mikkyo and was said to be used in the Kuji or magic of the ninja.  As well, the Kuji no In was also said to have been used by the Samurai as they prepared their spirits for battle.  The Kuji no In includes the use of a mandalla, as well—a grid of nine lines, each line associated with a specific mudra and word of power (kiai).

    I studied Sumo and watched the Yoko Zuna’s perform their dohyoiri (the dohyo or Sumo ring is seen as a mandalla) purifying ceremonies—replete with mudra.  Yet I kept coming back to how all of these religious ceremonies relate to our kata—and hence, give one explanation of the true nature of our Karate-do.

    With the help of Shingon priests, we began to explain my Goju Ryu kata in terms of mudra and Mikkyo practice.  I would perform a kata, and then we would analyze each movement of the kata and determine if such movements within the kata had significance or similarity to Mikkyo practice.  The results were intriguing.  For example, in my version of kata Seisan, seventy percent (70%) of the movements were either exactly or highly similar to the mudra performed in Mikkyo practice.  Tensho seemed a continual performance of Mikkyo mudra.  As well, the body posture of the kamai and for that matter, throughout the kata seamed consistent with Mikkyo practices.  However, the priests were somewhat baffled by my kiai, for it made no sense to them—they suggesting the use of a real word of power or myo rather than just a bellow or kakegoe (shout) of, what they perceived, as a nonsense syllable. 

    Each mudra and its associated hand technique in kata, had a meaning.  An example: The finish of many Goju Ryu kata include a mawashi uke, with the practitioner pressing the open palms forward—one hand pointed up and the other down.  This is exactly the same hand movements of the Abhya Mudra and the Varada Mudra—mudra  meaning fearlessness and having compassion.  In terms of mudra the end of many kata means, “I am fearless (of you), but have compassion (for you).” 


    These two mudra appear to be amongst the most prevalent in religious practice, and are, perhaps, amongst the oldest. Effigies of the Sumerian God Pazuzu (circa 3500 B.C.) have been excavated.  When viewing these effigies, it definitely appears Pazuzu is performing the classic Abhya and Vara Mudras.  Interesting enough, Pazuzu is a God associated with the protection of  health.


    Also with regard to mudra, in the kata Shisochin, the hand that wipes up the arm with the two fingers pointed like a gun is exactly as a mudra that symbolizes the sword of enlightenment, which cuts away all delusions.  Also, when one finishes kata Shisochin, one assumes the hand positions that are exactly as the Buddhashramana Mudra—the gesture of renunciation and being beyond misery.

Kata: Worship Or Self Defense? One Explanation . . .

So, it appears there are many correlates between kata and the ceremonial and worshipful practices of the world’s religions.  Yet, before we can embrace kata as being based in ceremonial practice, we have to explain and account for the martial connotations found within our kata.  More specifically, how can a formula for enlightenment and worship evolve to a martial art?  Please consider this as a possible paradigm to resolve this apparent dichotomy . . .

What if . . .

From Egypt and Greece and Rome, via Macedonia, came a series of ceremonial practices used to commune with . . . pick a word--God, pure consciousness, etc. and thus attain a higher state of consciousness that is uniquely different than our normal states of wakefulness and dreaming.  What if those ceremonial practices involved . . .


. . . certain sounds;

. . . specific body positions ;

. . . use of meridian-specific massage and palpation involving hand positions;

. . . use of self-referenced imagery--a psychodrama as it were;

. . . use of images as a focus of meditative intent.

And what if these ceremonial practices were known only to the shamans of the Indus Valley's pre-vedic culture ruled by a three-faced god (precursor to Shiva).  And the years went by, and those ceremonial practices were taught to adepts, Shamans and later Arcaya . . . then, the Vedas and later the Uppainishads are laced with these ceremonial practices.

And let's just say those times were characterized by the common reality of ancient times with bad men hurting other men in order to steal from them—sometimes referred to as habitual acts of violence.  And what if Shamans and later priests were sometimes confronted by such bad men . . . what would the Shamans and Priests do?

What did the Christians often do in the Roman arena?  What did monks do in Tibet as their monasteries were ravaged and their fellow monks killed or tortured by Chinese soldiers?  Religions both contemporary and ancient usually teach that in times of great personal peril where one is confronted by his or her own certain death, if possible . . . you pray, meditate, experience the union . . .

Now what if you were a priest familiar with those ceremonial practices discussed earlier, and you are confronted by a bandit--a bad man wishing to hurt you or worse.  And what if you had no weapon or would not use a weapon, even if you did have one, and/or you were old and creaky.  It would appear--you were dead meat.

So, what if you as the priest, knowing your goose was cooked, began to perform those ceremonial practices--making the weird sounds, making the weird gestures--exuding a strange energy.  What if . . .

Understanding those ancient time--times of the belief in magic and myth--superstition and ignorant fear, most bad guys would, in my opinion, be pretty threatened by a priest throwing the mojo at them (at least that may have been their perception).  Even in relatively recent times, the evil eye and witch signs caused great fear and trepidation amongst common people.

So I guess what I'm analyzing is this paradigm:

1.         A priest knows ceremonial practices for the purpose of, let's call it merger with pure consciousness;

2.         The priest is confronted by a bad guy who thought to do him harm and steal from him--visit on him an act of habitual violence;

3.         Knowing he is in deep weeds, the priest folds his secular hand and performs those ceremonial practices, as he was taught to do at times like this;

4.         The weird-shit-per-mile index goes way over the top from the bandit's perspective and wishing to escape a curse or worse, the bandit takes a powder.

5.         The priest, perhaps unknowingly, had just defended himself through ceremonial practice.

Centuries go by . . .

    . . . and the ceremonial practices are still taught, and in fact, have been added to by other cultures who had a heritage of other ceremonial practices albeit for the same purpose.  There is a habituation to and perhaps a waning fear of those ceremonial practices amongst bad men.  Perhaps a bad man, drunk or psychotic killed a priest despite the mojo the priest was doing.  And perhaps nothing bad happened to the drunk or psychotic bandit--he didn't disappear in a thunder-clap, didn't turn into a jackal--nada.  And perhaps that event . . . quietly got around . . .

    The next bad man, and the next after him, take greater spiritual risks and now the mojo doesn't work to protect as it did.  And what if during an assault, the mudra, the chi or kundalini enabled the priest to physically contain and subdue the would-be assailant?  What if his hands were in a position to ward off the strike to the head, the kick to the groin?  What if his hands were in a perfectly dynamic attitude to grab and throw the assailant to the ground.  Does not the ceremonial practice, again pose a means of . . . self defense?

And more centuries go by . . .

These practices--these kata becomes only a curriculum for . . . self defense. After all, wasn't it always so?

Music is made up of strategically placed parts of both sound and silence--substance and nothingness.  And when we see the leaf on the tree, is it because of its reality and substance as a leaf, or is it the nothingness of the empty space surrounding the leaf?

What, then, is the reality of karate-do . . . ?

What if . . . ?

    So now, as I reflect on what I have experienced—what I have learned—what I have seen with my own eyes . . .

    I believe that one very important element of Karatedo as found through our kata, is its use as a means to change our spiritual angle of flight and thus results in our living in a state of grace—or state of high consciousness.  I think the seminal kata had their basis in the ancient and ceremonial dance of India and in the asanas and pranyana practices of yoga. Many elements of such practice—the mudra, the mantra, the mandalla--were retained as it migrated North through Tibet and into China and finally over to the Ryu Kyus and Japan—and into our dojo in the Americas, Europe and Africa.  As it evolved and migrated, the basis for our kata retained at least bits of the ancient systems of enlightenment.  I believe that such archetypical kata, through systematic use of vocalization, postures, mudra, and visualization, performed within a mandalla can change the biology of our brains, the vision of what we deem real, and our apriori separation from things Godlike.  

    Could not kata, and hence, Karatedo, be a systematic means to achieve . . . spiritual . . . ?  Or is it really just a paradigm of self-defense and martial strategy?  I suppose that one could point to the evolution of the rock to a nuclear warhead, as being the same as the evolution of the ancient ceremonial dance and yogic practices of India to the Te of the 19th century in Okinawa.  It’s your mind, your body, your spirit . . . you must choose for yourself.