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On Ko Chi Shin (Respect the Old, Learn the New)



On Ko Chi Shin

This is an Okinawan proverb that translates to mean “Respect the ancient to understand the new". On ko chi shin is a fundamental understanding in the study and research mindset when studying the ancient arts of combat. From this very prolific statement the Matsusoden Kobukan gets its moto “Modern Knowledge from Ancient Wisdom". The further we look into the past the more is revealed to the true methods of combative arts that the ancients used to defend their lives.

As it was in the times of the great masters of Okinawan Te (hand), the acts of physical violence have not changed. Society remains to have social predators who will perpetrate acts of physical violence out of necessity or pleasure.  

The difference being, that the laws of modern society regard physical violence as an assault which has legal ramifications. So with a degree of measured response to the actual threat, to include the point at which the tides turn in your favor, in a moment of heated battle, you can legally be seen as the aggressor if you pursue beyond the point where the threat has been neutralized.

The deeper we delve into the past, the greater insight and wisdom we gain in the martial arts.  Much like space exploration, the further we probe into the far reaches of space, the further back in time we can see.  The same is true in researching Okinawan martial methods of self defense. The unrevealed meaning of many physical movements of Te (hand)  as well as understanding the Okinawan culture bring to light that this indigenous art to self defense has a humane element often overlooked by western eyes.

In ancient times, the practitioners of empty hand did not concern themselves with tournament rules or  injury inflicted on an attacker. The techniques in the training templates were for killing. The movements in kata were designed to kill in order to protect oneself.  With the introduction of karate into the Okinawan prefecture school system in 1906, many of the techniques were modified and the true application concealed so that school children could not injure each other. The purpose was for physical and health development for future military conscripts.

However, the original methods of Okinawan Te (Okinawan hand)  and Tote (China Hand) were taught with a specific purpose, to retain the knowledge passed down through the family lineages and preserve their Self Protection  systems. In the past, karate classes consisted of almost exclusively adult practitioners. Today's martial art studios are predominately populated with children. This can be attributed to the watered down and limited focus of Sport karate, which does not delve into the functionality of Kata except for the purpose of aesthetic performance for competition and advancement. 

Studying and researching the oldest version of Okinawan Karate  with deep analysis, the pragmatic and highly effective techniques in kata are revealed and to their credit, quite lethal. However in today's litigious society, these techniques need to be taken in context and executed with restraint to avoid possible legal ramifications for excessive use of force allegations.  The wisdom of the ancients have given us the knowledge of how, when and where to strike and counterstrike as well as impart the necessary restraint, short of killing or maiming. This is the essence of On Ko Chi Shin.

Shu Ha Ri " Protect, Detach, Separate" 


Shuhari (SHU HA RI)   

Shu "protect", "obey" — traditional wisdom — learning fundamentals, techniques

Ha  "detach", "digress" — breaking with tradition — detachment from the illusions of self.

Ri  "leave", "separate"

Training in martial arts resembles the transition that one experiences throughout life. Shu, represents the child who initially learns from one's parents and is obedient and obeys the lessons taught without question. This similarity is representative of the "atarashi deshi" (novice student).  In shu, we repeat the forms and discipline ourselves so that our bodies absorb the forms that our forebears created. We remain faithful to these forms with no deviation.

In the stage of ha, this would be equivalent to the teen years where independent thought and influences cause us to question and explore. During this stage in martial arts we begin to discover innovations in the movement’s applications and concepts that were once we have disciplined ourselves to acquire the forms and movements.  

Finally, in ri, as in adult hood we have determined our own course based on the life lesson we learned and set out on our own. The martial arts equivalent to the departure from our masters and begin to teach based on our own discoveries beyond our masters is the realization of becoming greater than the sum parts of the individual lessons, an enlightened understanding of the journey we have embarked upon in the beginning. 

Mizu no Kokoro  " Mind Like Water"

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Mizu no kokoro (mind like water) like the calmness of a placid lake the stillness of the surface of the water allows the reflection of everything around it to become clear.  When the wind or wake of an object that disrupts the stillness of the surface, it causes turbulence and the reflection of clear vision is lost.  Turbulent mind like the turbulent water sees nothing. In combat the mind must remain still in order to see everything and focus on the initial signs of attack in order to effect the correct response. Tension and anxiety cause a turbulent mind and fills it with fear which clouds the vision and thought of one's mind which will cause defeat in combat. Calm water appears to be still, without motion.  Vision is clear in all directions, reflections from the surrounding terrain as well as the sky above are in focus.  Clear water encompasses a peripheral view of what is near and far. One can see beneath the surface of clear water as it reveals what is contained below the surface. 

When the surface of calm water is disturbed by an object or the wind, water does not respond disproportionately to the disturbance.  The concentric ripples emanating outward from the disruption are measured, with precision and uniformity.  The response is equal to the energy  imposed to create the disruption. Calm water is in equilibrium, centered, neither advancing, nor retreating. Water never competes with an obstruction. It yields or acquiesces, to find a  path around, then envelopes the obstruction along its path. This is how water changes form to acquire its goal, to be neutral, to be calm and in equilibrium. If water is in motion, it will not be stopped or impeded. It will crash through,  run over or around the obstruction and take it apart. Water can be hard or soft, its nature is constantly changing to meet any circumstance.  In the immortal words of Bruce Lee, "Be like water my friend".

This philosophical concept of "Mind Like Water"  represents the martial mindset in the manner of thinking, training and the development of combative stratagems in the effort to center one's behavioral approach in matters that promote stress and disturbance in life and the martial path we navigate.

Mushin- Mind of no mind or thought. This is an achieved state of automatic reaction to an action. There is no thought as to what action is to be taken. This is an instinctive response formulated from years of training and practice. More importantly the accumulation of many applications, technique, and kata, tend to saturate the mind, and thus hesitation when the moment arises.  It is best to have a go to or favorite technique that does ensure success. The Okinawan adage, "to the beginner there are many, to the master there is one," refers to the use of technique when attacked. Mushin is a concept that goes beyond the years of practice and diligent execution of technique. It is a transformation of the confidence that comes with practice and familiarity of combat and close confrontation with tactile engagement (Tegumi) with the enemy .


Only through the physical contact of practice of tegumi (intertwining hands) that we develop the sensitivity of movement in our opponent, the understanding of body position and anatomical response to attack and counterattack. It is the repetitive elements that develop the instinctive reactions to attacks and feints that is mushin, knowing your attacker’s intentions before they manifest. This is in part, being able to read the body language, posture, distribution of center and balance, leading and leaning by your opponent that tell in advance the intention. In the same manner that contact sports desensitize our minds to the fear of impact or collision with another body, or by grappling and intertwining movements and feeling the opponent think through the movements and twitches of the body. It is the same with boxing, football, wrestling, or other contact sports that develops a familiarity with physical contact and reaction. This is the concept of mushin.

Mushin- Mind of no Mind (Thought)

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Ichi Go, Ichi Ie (One Encounter, One Chance)


This is an expression that means " once in a lifetime opportunity" or "Cherish the moment" in the Japanese culture. Normally associated with the Tea Ceremony and other rituals that require exactness in perfection of the art.  In the martial arts context, Ichigo, Ichiie is applied to the  immediate response to opportunity and seizing the moment without hesitation.  If an opening to a vulnerable point presents itself, or the opportunity to take advantage of a defensive weakness in your attacker, the slightest delay in response in combat may result in defeat or death, depending on the circumstances and what is at stake. This is particularly prevalent in the simultaneous offense / defense strategy in the use of moetidi (father and mother hands). This concept is applied with the use of two hands offense and defense. Simultaneously receiving the attack and immediately countering with an offensive strike to an opening in the opponents defense. This concept is directly coupled to the Sen no Sen (seize the initiative) precept. These methods of empty hands takes advantage of "crossing the bridge to attack" , "face east to attack the west"  principles in conjunction with tai sabaki (body shifting) and irimi (entering).  Ichigo-Ichiie transcends beyond the martial arts and an important aspect in everyday life based decision making. Making the correct choice at the proper time will create a positive outcome. "Chance favors the prepared mind".

Enso "The Circle of Life"

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Enso is a Japanese word meaning “circle” and a concept strongly associated with Zen meditation concepts. It is drawn in a single stroke by a human hand.  The roundness and perfection of the circle is a single unthinking act showing great practice on the part of the artist; however, even the most perfect Zen circle has a beginning and an end representing the transition from life to death.

In the Martial Arts realm, Enso symbolizes the journey from beginner to Master. The single, unbroken continuous stroke is representative of life’s continuous journey transitioning to an end as the ink and brush stroke starts to break up and fade. As we say "You have gone full circle".  The individual breaks within the stroke, missing the completeness of ink, imitates the trials and tribulations  we encounter throughout our lifetimes and equally in our martial training. As the white belt transitions to black and then back to white we learn that along the path all that seems unrelated is related.

The mastery of the perfect circle symbolizes the years of practice and devotion to achieving perfection in one thing.

Doing anything worth your time, is worth doing well. Half effort is meaningless and a waste of one’s energies and effort. In combative engagement, any effort that fails to meet this criterion is not considered to be “Bu” (Martial) in nature and is not “Budo” or the Martial Way.

Journey of 1000 Miles Begins with the First Step

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The journey of one thousand miles begins with the first step. Like any journey, the traveler needs a guide to traverse unfamiliar landscape. The sensei (one who has gone before) is that guide to assist you to remain on the true path and avoid the many pitfalls along the way. The Okinawan Masters have a saying, "Do Mu gen", which means "There are many paths that lead to the top of the mountain, but there is only one view of the moon".  This is an old encrypted Okinawan proverb that applies to the martial arts.


Wherever you start in the study of martial arts, during the journey and regardless how you get there, what one ultimately realizes is that the martial arts all have the same end goal and that martial arts are more similar the longer you study than they are different. Navigating the numerous variants of combative arts and trying to determine which one is best is a endeavor in futility similar to walking into a labyrinth without a clue (klew). 


Developing the skills, understanding and proficiency in a primary (foundation) martial art accords you a wider optic to see more clearly and understand and assimilate more quickly the attributes and weakness of other martial arts. If you have a thorough understanding of a base martial art, seeking out and incorporating principles and concepts from other art forms adds to the synergy of learning and expanding your own understanding of not only your own art form, but others as well.


This process reveals to us that although the appearance (expression) of an art form may be different, fundamentally, conceptually, and physically they are more similar than they are different.  When we start to infuse different concepts and principles (ideas , not techniques)  we begin to understand the universal connection in the human condition, both physically and mentally.  Additionally, when we look outside of our base style at other expressions of matinal arts, we begin to look  inward and more closely at our own art form and realize that those applications from differing combative art systems  were there all along.  As we make our way to the top of the mountain, dependent on the pathway taken when arrive,  we all look to the same moon, but from varying angles with similar  perspectives.

Modern Knowledge from Ancient Wisdom

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