BY MARINA KAMEN
I met my husband Roy Kenneth Kamen in 1982.
The 80s! A time when “yuppies” represented the young people in their 20s and 30s who were first coming into their own. A time to party while watching MTV, drink fine wine and have money finally flow again after a decade of one of the worst recessions in American history. While most young men at this stage of life were busy chasing that “golden ticket”, Roy was different.
He was working as a recording engineer in NYC and going home every night to his house in Queens, NY, which he shared with his friend and fellow Martial Arts enthusiast Philip Weissman. It is in this house that these men converted a 30-foot basement into a Dojo for young people to learn the Martial Art style of GoJu-Ryu. Roy and Philip taught lessons to a group of teens that also taught back by sharing their lives, passions, emotions and desires for learning this Martial Art.
In 1984, Roy’s eldest brother wrote and hit the world with the film “The Karate Kid”. We all remember watching the emotional connection between a young boy Daniel and his teacher Mr. Miyagi in this coming of age classic. This film was able to weave a thread of emotion and fearless compassion between student, teacher and an art form that presented a circle of life approach touching millions of heart strings like a well tuned orchestra of movement and growth.
So here is the question: What is the connection of mind, body, spirit, fearlessness and compassion?
As you read this book many other questions regarding the Martial Arts, and in particular the GoJu-Ryu style, will ignite inquisitive light bulbs in your own minds. Most of us think of Karate or the Martial Arts as a way to fight, defend ourselves or just get a bit of exercise. In these following pages, Roy explores a deeper purpose of the connective definition of the words “mind, body and spirit” and may leave you with the question of why the martial arts are referred to as an “art form” in the first place.
This book is for Martial Artists who train their bodies and minds, but have yet to find the spirit that lies deep within their art.
Martial Arts are brutal and deadly forms of fighting, but they also contain the potential to go beyond the surface of skin and bones defensive and aggressive physical techniques by tapping into a well of emotional and spiritual energy that strengthens the physical motion, while elevating character and personal growth.
What you are about to read may alter how you view and practice Martial Arts. I offer the reader an alternative to commonly held beliefs about the Martial Arts and Okinawan GoJu-Ryu Kata, specifically.
The revelations I have had were not taught by any of my teachers, tutors or mentors. While these learned and skilled people may have planted signposts along the way for my discoveries, they have not officially taught the final conclusions to me in or out of the Dojo. These ideas about the nature of Karate and Kata are mine, and mine alone.
While focused on GoJu-Ryu Karate Kata, these ideas can be applied to any Martial Art. You just have to know what to look for.
This is my path, my journey and my discoveries of what lies beneath the surface of the art I have held in my heart for over 40 years.
I always believed that by studying the Martial Arts, I could break through my personal limitations and become a fully realized person. I was fortunate to discover a man who had a traditional, yet somewhat eccentric method of teaching and way of being. And a year after meeting this man, fortune once again touched me when my wife Marina walked into my life. Together, they helped foster the feelings that stir inside of me today, that inspired me to write this book.
I have practiced Okinawan GoJu-Ryu Karate since 1974, attending classes several times a week. However, I have taken several “breaks” from the Dojo. My first break occurred after learning Sanseiru Kata, a Kata of “projection”. Kow Loon Ong, known to his students as “Kayo”, has been my tutor and friend since 1981. He taught traditional Okinawan GoJu-Ryu Karate as a deadly fighting art. Karate’s purpose was not exercise or spiritual development; it was for brutal combat.
I started imagining fights in every location I found myself in and soon realized that I would be attracting the very thing I did not want… to fight. Out of this fear, I stopped training at the Dojo for a couple of years.
During that time, I continued to research the Martial Arts and practice at home. I came to understand that in order to reach the highest spiritual level through Karate, the techniques in Kata must be brutal and deadly. I understood that the masters of old who created this art did so after surviving many life or death encounters and therefore developed their art to be deadly. Only then could they attain the “enlightenment” that I was seeking.
So, I went back to the Dojo and rededicated myself to training and fill the void in my knowledge.
Throughout this time Marina, a professional director, producer and performer, enabled me to get in touch with my emotions, something I always had trouble expressing. The merger of the physical art with free flowing, yet controlled emotions, took my understanding of the Martial Arts to a new level.
Then, one beautiful summer day, it all came together. I experienced a profound spiritual realization, connecting the past to the present and giving me further insight into the purpose of the art I had been studying for over 40 years.
This book is my way of passing on the lessons learned during my journey to understand the “spiritual” side of the art and to use them to impact my life in a positive way.
Many of the ideas set forth herein may be hard to grasp for the many Martial Artists who have been raised “in the box” that Karate is a physical fighting art and nothing more.
My hopes are that a few will follow my path and find a deeper meaning in Kata and, therefore, in life.
My art is traditional Okinawan GoJu-Ryu Karate, a half hard, half soft style. The commonly held understanding is that in GoJu-Ryu we strike hard with strong and direct attacks (Go means “hard” in Japanese), while we block softly with circular and deflective movements (Ju means “soft”). I have come, however, to understand an alternative view that the “hard” of GoJu-Ryu is everything physical; that which we can touch and see, including all movements of the body. The Ju, or soft side of the art, is all the stuff we cannot see, or touch. It is the emotional and spiritual side; the part of the art that few acknowledge, understand or train to develop. Without this Ju or soft side, Karate is only one half an art form.
Most traditional Martial Arts schools contain Kata as part of their curriculum. A Kata is a dance-like pattern of fighting techniques containing specific hand and foot positions and movements, specific breathing patterns, vocalizations, and visualization of imaginary opponents. Physical, emotional and spiritual energies are generated, absorbed, redirected and projected. Kata is essentially a combat-based energy management system. Throughout a GoJu-Ryu Kata, many hard and soft techniques are incorporated.
There are three types of GoJu-Ryu Kata; Bible Kata, Hookyu Kata (Training Kata), and Koryu Kata (Classical Kata). Students learn the Kata in a systematic approach where each progressing Kata is more difficult than the previous one. It takes many years to master all of the intricate movements and fighting strategies contained in the Kata.
So how does this lead down a path to enlightenment?
The Bible and Koryu Kata of GoJu-Ryu Karate hold the secret. These Kata have ancient roots containing advanced fighting techniques, fighting strategies and deep spiritual meaning. By passing through the various Kata of the system, a student gradually progresses through physical, emotional and spiritual states that ultimately provide a roadmap to becoming a fearless and compassionate human being; a person who can give freely, because he can fight and is not afraid of losing anything, including his life.
The rigorous training Martial Artists suffer through, as we learn to fight by mastering the Kata, elevates our character as we overcome our physical, emotional and spiritual limitations. The lessons we learn through training increase our compassion as we teach our juniors, whom are themselves suffering through the training.
We become sensitive to the suffering we, and all around us have experienced and endured. Many people’s problems stem from abuse, in which suffering is rooted. Those who wish us harm do so as a result of abuse they have endured sometime in their life. We see the results of abuse all around us. Children, spouses, friends and colleagues are all potential victims of abuse. The far-reaching effects of abuse destroy lives and interfere with the natural harmony of life. Compassion is the antidote for the suffering caused by abuse. By embracing and extending compassion we can end our own and others suffering, and make a positive difference in the world.
The purpose of studying Karate is not to learn how to fight.
Fighting is only a means to an end.
The purpose is to become compassionate.
You must be fearless to be truly compassionate.
It is a path to enlightenment.
My Martial Art was changing.
I was experiencing new feelings while doing Kata. I began exploring different ways to approach them. Then one day, my good friend, fellow Martial Artist and author Gary Gabelhouse introduced me to the concept of Mudra, Mantra and Mandala.
Gary was a long time student of John Roseberry of the Shorei-Kan school in Lincoln, Nebraska. Shihan Roseberry was one of the American GI pioneers who introduced Karate to America. Roseberry was one of the first Americans to study with Toguchi and receive a black belt.
As an explorer, Gary has climbed the highest mountains and trekked through the deepest African jungles. He was exposed to the concept of Mudra, Mantra and Mandala and their relationship to Kata during his own journey to find the elusive enlightenment the Martial Arts promised.
This information changed how I viewed Kata entirely.
Indian Yoga practice, the original root of GoJu-Ryu Karate, contains specific body and hand positions, each with its own meaning and use. They are called Mudra. The practice requires that a sound is matched to the Mudra. That sound, known as Mantra is a spoken word of power.
The Mudra and Mantra are performed through a sequence of dance-like movements creating a three dimensional pattern over time, called a Mandala. As the practitioner moves through this pattern he faces benevolent or evil deities, guardians of the entry gate of every section of the Mandala. The practitioner requests permission or crashes through to enter each section using the Mudra and Mantra, until he arrives at the center of the Mandala. Finalizing the dance, he merges with and becomes one with the Mandala.
The purpose of this is to experience an ecstatic feeling. It goes by many names; Awakening, Godliness, Enlightenment, Samadhi, Illuminism, Union or a Religious experience. In other words, a final spiritual state marked by the absence of suffering and the fulfillment of joy.
In a way, it is easy to have compassion for others. Once you can see things clearly for what they really are, and understand that people’s bad behavior is rooted in their own suffering, the path to extending compassion is clear.
What happens when you extend that compassion repeatedly, and the person not only refuses to acknowledge your kind offer, but turns on you and frames your compassion as an attack? And what happens when this occurs repeatedly, as you continue to extend your compassion? Is there an end to your offerings? Does offering compassion have its limits?
When offering compassion leads to your own suffering, then what?
This is a time of self-reflection. It is a time to look inward and offer that compassion to yourself. Life is too short. I am not under any delusion that at my age in my 60’s, what is ahead for me and my life is less than what is behind. I have no time to give to those who do not see my compassion for what it truly is, a gift. I can get back my money. I cannot get back my time.
I refuse to end offering compassion to those who are worthy of it because my compassion has worth, as does my desire to extend it. As a rare diamond is pulled from the earth, so is my compassion offered from my soul. It is the ultimate expression of human relationships, not something to be trampled on, to be scorned or shunned. It is to be cherished and celebrated.
There are moments you must look inward and be compassionate to yourself. Get rid of toxic people who take from you what they can, and give nothing in return. Save your compassion for those who are worthy, and can learn and grow using it as spiritual nourishment. Be compassionate to yourself; for you are the source of your compassion and you are worth it!
A well-balanced life is one in which family, career and Martial Arts are carefully honed and intertwine without any stress. Where each part of one’s life flows into the other in a harmonious, synergistic circle.
Think of the triad as your stance in life. Putting too much energy into one aspect, your Martial Arts for instance, could potentially destabilize your career or home life much the same as overweighting one leg would leave you prone to being knocked off your stance and thrown. Moreover, when your center is off, neither your blocks nor your attacks will have maximum effect. Quite likely, in fact, your block will turn into an advantage for your opponent because in fending off the attack you’re apt to teeter or fall.
To be fully actualized as a Martial Artist one must live a full and balanced life. Family, friends, and career success all feed the spirit thus allowing the Martial Artist to blend the elements of his power: physical conditioning, mental acuity, mindfulness, compassion and humanity to maximum effect.
This is the point of viewing Kata as emotional and character building stepping stones beginning with Sanchin Kata, harmonizing the mind, body and spirit, and ending with the fearless compassion of Peichurin