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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 (Thought)

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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.

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"

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

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 we arrive,  we all look to the same moon, but from varying angles with similar  perspectives.

Ikigai (Reason for Living)

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Ikigai (Ee, kee, guy), is a Japanese concept meaning "find your reason for living" or "Discover your purpose in life".  The word is comprised of two kanji or ideograms. "iki" meaning "living" and "gai" meaning "worth". The literal translation means "Worth living". 

Ikigai has four primary pillars or foundations. These are :  
Passion- What you love
Mission- What the world or society needs
Vocation- What are you good at doing
Profession- What can you do for a living

Ideally, if you can combine all four pillars into one activity then your passion, mission, vocation and profession can become one. A passion is not the same thing as an obsession as the later has an all consuming singular focus. A passion is what drives and motivates you to accomplish your goal or desire to be, in life.  The mission is what your contribution to society brings to the benefit of others. Vocation is the development of skill, knowledge and ability that can be demonstrated and has value. Profession is what you get paid to do, to support yourself, family and contribute in a productive manner. 

Ikigai is a a conceptual guideline for living one's life. To live in the moment, experience your surroundings, do not become preoccupied with negativity.
To live life to the fullest by, embracing the present, be respectful to others, avoid over indulgence, stay healthy and remove the stress that contradicts and destroys your value for living. Avoid those who are negative influences in following your passion.  Seek a supportive culture and shared interest to assist you in achieving your goals.

For many, martial arts is an ikigai for developing oneself, the community and a profession  if it is your desire to make a living through the vocation of a martial artist.

Kaizen (Self Improvement)


Kaiazen is another Japanese concept that addresses self improvement. It is made up of two kanji, Kai meaning "change" and zen meaning "good". Simply put, kaizen means "change for the better" or "self improvement".  This concept has been adopted in the business and industrial world for "continuous process improvement to affect efficiency and profits. 

However, in the martial arts application of kaizen, it is in the perfection of self. The continual improvement of character, self discipline, execution of technique, application of concept and principle, and the betterment of displacing self ego through the experience of humility and charity demonstrated and practiced in our daily encounters. The confidence and ability of a warrior must be tempered with restraint and tolerance of those who fall short of expectations. This is to be of a noble character which is respected for its virtue.

Nintai (Perserverance)


The term Nin tai translates to perseverance, an unrelenting will to continue, to never surrender to failure.  “Nana korobi, ya oki”  is a representation of nintai, which means “Fall down seven times, stand up eight”.  It means choosing to never give up hope, and to always strive for more. It means that your focus isn't on the reality in front of you, but on a greater vision that may not be reality yet.

Nintai is a mindset, a tenacious will to continue no matter what the obstacle or diversity one encounters. Failure is not an option and only success at what ever level is the goal. This mindset is drilled into special forces operators  and military personnel in the need to accomplish the task at hand.  As each element may have a major impact on the success or failure of the larger objective, each member demonstrates the mindset of nintai. In Martial arts , nintai  is  developed through various methods such as shugyo (austere training) much like hell week in the Navy SEALS BUDS  boot camp. It is were the weak are cut from selection as special forces operators.  It is  the character and mental toughness of the mind, spirit, and will that defeats the weakness of the body to surrender to pain, fatigue, hardship , fear or doubt. 

Regardless of the circumstances of conditions that surround you, the mindset of nintai allows you to think past the present and find a solution to overcome, improvise and adapt to the situation.  This is more than just a means to toughen the spirit , but to cope with every day life and become a more resilient person both mentally and physically.  The greater the hardship, the easier the means to deal with future obstacles, as they seem to be lacking in difficulty because you have experienced and developed the ability to go beyond the present and see the future outcome. Like achieving the summit of an inconceivable mountain peak, once you are there, "Its all downhill from here. 

Developing the mental resilience and tenacity to see things through is in important aspect and crucial survival skill in today's society that has been affected by so many frail minded individuals  succumbing to a multitude of mental health issues such as low self esteem,  defeatism, depression, anxiety attacks  or a lack of coping skills to deal with everyday stresses that arise in modern society.  Power of the mind is stronger than the strength of the body. When the body seeks surrender to the outside environment, the mind  forces the body to succumb to its will and power to endure, persevere and succeed to the end to make it through. That is a confidence builder that separates those have tried and those who have watched. "Winners' never quit, Quitters never win".

Shugyo (Austere Training)


Shugyo is a form of  intense training to awaken the senses and elevate the level of ones endurance, tolerance for un-comfortability and physical capability beyond the point of comfort. The purpose of the type of training is to exhaust the body and to force the mind to push past the difficulty to obtain knowledge of what body and mind can endure together and discover a new limitation that has yet to be achieved. The new found knowledge in what you are capable of, the mind's power over the body, pushing into the next realm of achievement bolsters confidence, esteem and a greater understanding of the artificial limitations set by the mind's conditioning by the environment and societal influences.

Shugyo is a combination of elements form the simultaeous practice of tanren, reshu and kufu   Tanren,  meaning to forge your mind, spirit, body, or waza (technique, art, skill) in the same way that you would forge metal, and in this way to become praiseworthy.

Renshu, loosely  and superficially translated to mean practice. But like the saying "How does one get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, Practice, Practice ."  The term renshu has a sense of repeating something over and over again, to learn it. However this is a somewhat shallow understanding  as renshu implies a repetitive task such a polishing a sword to achieve the perfect edge or to something like an academic or technical discipline and not  a mindless  redundancy.

Kufu  represents difficult work or craftsmanship, 
and has a sense of work that has been done with dedication. It therefore means achievement; feat; meritorious deed; good result; good workmanship; efficacy and so on. It performed with diliberate intent with purpose and performed lacksidaisily. Either way, kufū  literally means: a really good way of doing something or anything worth doing is worth doing to the best of your ability.

Zenshin Zazen (Sitting Meditation)


Zen meditation is an ancient Buddhist tradition that dates back to the Tang Dynasty in 7th century China. From its Chinese origins it spread to Korea, Japan and other Asian lands where it continues to thrive. The Japanese term “Zen” is a derivative of the Chinese word Ch’an, itself a translation of the Indian term dhyana, which means concentration or meditation.

Zen meditation is a traditional Buddhist discipline which can be practiced by new and seasoned meditators alike. One of the many benefits of Zen meditation is that it provides insight into how the mind works. As with other forms of Buddhist meditation, Zen practice can benefit people in myriad ways, including providing tools to help cope with depression and anxiety issues.

All schools of Zen practice the sitting meditation called zazen where one sits upright and follows the breath, especially the movement of the breath within the belly. Some schools of Zen also practice with koans, a type of spiritual riddle that is presented by a Zen meditation master to the student, to help them overcome their rational limitations so as to glimpse the truth beyond rationality.

O Sensei Shoshin Nagamine of Matsubayashi Ryu practiced zazen as well as  special operators of the United States Navy SEAL's and  Systema practitioners , which practice a similar variant of seated mediation to center the mind. One must clear the mind of daily distractions and anxiety before engaging in combat arts practice, or serious injury can occur from distractions and a lack of proper focus.

DO / MICHI  (Way , path / Soft overcomes hard

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