Review by: Sensei Katherin Loukopoulos of Matsubayashi Shorin-Ryu (8Dan) and World Champion in Kobudo at the Okinawa Championship of 1997. Sensei Loukopoulos lived in Okinawa for 15 years and trained under historical figures of Karate and Kobudo. She is also one of the very few non-Japanese who ever took a first place in Okinawa’s World Competition of Karate and Kobudo.
“Karate: Beneath The Surface is a work of uncommon honesty and self-discovery. A refreshingly candid examination of one man’s journey to understand the spiritual that lies beyond the implicit violence of Martial Arts.”
“The title says it all. Insightful. Engaging. Introspective. Inspirational. For all martial artists regardless of style, system, rank, professional or amateur, ‘Karate, Beneath The Surface’ will enrich your practice, your love of the MA, your inner self while striving for Satori! You’ll find out why kata is considered by the ancient forefathers and traditionalists to be the essence of karate-do.”
“Many people come to the martial arts because of a desire to change their lives in some aspect. Although the martial arts are generally known to promote a connection of mind, body and spirit, few schools and their teachers actually develop anything other than the physical aspect. This book, written by Roy Kamen, gives a glimpse into the real power of martial arts practice and study…….using various methods of practice as vehicles on the path to enlightenment. I highly recommend this work to serious martial artists of any tradition.”
This book was recommended by my oldest student, who, while new to Goju Ryu, has trained in the past. He commended this book as one he re-reads every few years, and every time takes away something new. Now that I’ve read this work, I understand his passion.
In Karate: Beneath the Surface, Roy Kenneth Kamen explores the spiritual side of kata, specifically the kata of Goju Ryu. The author believes “that the body position, standing with a straight spine, proper hand positions (Mudra), proper vocalizations (Mantra), synchronized breathing, pattern of movement (Mandala), intense emotional expression and correct spiritual awareness stimulates portions of our brain to produce or suppress neurotransmitters such as dopamine, oxytocin, etc, that create ecstatic, religious-like experiences.”
Kamen suggests an interpretation of Goju, different from the classic definition of Chojun Miyagi. Kamen proposes that ‘Go’ can be interpreted as everything you see, feel and touch, techniques and movements, including breathing, basically all of the external elements of a kata. Ju is the internal elements that you cannot see, such as the practitioner’s emotion, attention, focus, Chi, mindset, and fighting strategies.
The author suggests specific emotional constructs for each of the classical Goju kata. By approaching specific kata with its correct emotional intent, the kata can bring us to a moment Budhists call ‘Samadhi’, an awakening, a touching of heaven, where one becomes a conduit for spiritual forces.
There are definitely layers to this book, where the reader will pick up more and different meanings with subsequent readings.
“Kamen’s work is not the judgment of a Martial Master on the techniques and applications of Kata and Karate. Rather, it is a personal narrative about a spiritual path of Kata that is transformative – growth gained, not by infusing new principles or concepts, but rather, by uncovering sacred elements that have been within each of us from our beginnings.
Buy it. Read it. Enjoy it. One of the most interesting and even controversial conceptual understandings of Karate Kata that I have read/experienced. Also, Mr. Kamen puts it out there – honestly and with an openness that makes his work read like a travelogue of our own personal journeys down the path of Martial Arts.”
“This book has multiple baskets of snakes. Much good info and thought provoking points. Strongly suggest any serious martial artist get a copy and “study” it.”
“This is an extremely honest account of one man’s journey through Karate, and the discoveries he has found along the way. Packed with first-hand accounts, it will cause those who read it to question the true purpose of Kata within their own Karate practice.”
A very honest and personal journey that feels very familiar and at the same time provides new insights and perspective to kata and our beloved art.
After many years we may feel very familiar with what we practice, but we forget that there are many walking the way and as pilgrims, we may stop and chat, share our experiences and learn from each other. I personally enjoy hearing others people affair with karate and what it means to them. Some of this stories are just starting, some feel very familiar and some, like Mr. Kamen’s feel, fulfilled and inspiring.
Diving into this book, I was uncertain of what I might find, but what I have found are echoes of things I have felt for a long time, and more. My hat is off to Kamen Sensei for sharing his experience and insights into this aspect of Karate that has been omitted by the majority in the name of revenue, of catering solely to the fighting aspects of the art for whatever reason.
It takes a lot of courage to write something outside the box and off the beaten path.
Those whom disagree with what is here will disagree, that is their choice, or maybe it isn’t and they simply cannot open up to it.
Whatever the case, it does not really matter, I found quite a bit here that rings true for me on so many levels… Not just from ideas, but from experiences similar to what Kamen Sensei has shared in these pages.
Kamen outlines some very different and unique views of kata as a spiritual and emotional journey are not what you hear about in the dojo, but whether you agree or disagree with Kamen, it is important to your karate practice to always be looking at your kata with a beginners mind, shoshin. There are some new perspectives I’m excited about trying out with kata after reading this book, and thinking critically about my practice. But, you really need to know some karate to understand this book, but it can apply to many kata outside of goju-ryu. A great read if you’re reaching a dead end with your kata training.
“There are some books which take you to unexpected places. This one has taken my karate to a new place I never imagined it ever existed… I mean, discovering the esoteric implications of performing this or that kata and associating to them emotions you can invoke at will?
At first I was cautious and skeptical, given my rational nature… but little by little I opened my mind to the ideas presented in this book and began using katas as vehicles for inner growth and spiritual healing, like a sort of moving meditation… and I’ve ultimately found myself heavily influenced by this book.
Being my style Shito-ryu, I’ve also tried to apply the concepts which are explained here for Naha-te katas, to katas from Shuri-te, Tomari-te, White Crane and other origins. I’ve found a new way of understanding kata by doing so, thus adding an extra dose of joy, depth and excitement to my daily practice.
Essentially, the author proposes associating kata techniques, vocalizations (kiai), patterns (embusen) and breathing mechanisms to yoga-related concepts (mantra, mudra & mandala), which very naturally fit to the “Art” side of Martial Arts. This provides us with a useful toolbox to go beyond form and functional applications (which of course you need to study first, as mentioned in the book), in order to get us into the realm of spirituality —while remaining scientifically grounded and without being cheesy at all, so no worries there.
To conclude then, I strongly recommend this book if you want to be more present when you do kata —it will absolutely help you to develop your “fudoshin”, if taken seriously. It will also put you into a creative mood which will get you closer to the “Ri” phase of the “Shu-Ha-Ri” progression. OK, perhaps this book isn’t for everyone (certainly not for beginners!), but I guess Zen practitioners will like it, as well as artistically-oriented, highly spiritual and/or open-minded karatekas. So, in spite of the fact it does target a quite advanced audience of karate students, I feel deeply grateful to sensei Roy Kamen for such a remarkable piece of work, and that’s why I give to it a sound score of five stars. Thank you, Sensei!”
At the beginning, when I started learning karate, I thought karate is a fighting art of self-defense. But after I got a black belt, I began to think that maybe karate has something more than a fighting art. In fact I myself do not like something related to violence. I do not like competitive sport karate. After my teacher suddenly passed away, I was forced to study karate by myself. Fortunately I can train in karate on my own because karate has Kata. So I continued practicing Kata even today. One day, like you, I realized that Kata is like a mantra of Buddhism. Kata’s movement is like a mandala of mysticism. It gives me peace or tranquility. Maybe this is because of Okinawan Goju-Ryu. When I see other karate schools, I do not feel anything spiritual at all.
When I read your book, I am glad to know that what you think about karate is quite similar to mine. You seem to appreciate the spiritual aspect of Goju-Ryu. I also think Okinawan Goju-Ryu is spiritual. Miyagi himself thought so.
A MUST READ!
You guys want some knowledge your never gonna acquire? Maybe if your very lucky you might acquire a small piece of this but not in this depth, and I know because I’ve known a lot of your guys some yrs now, you all love your karate and martial arts, yes I really know you all do, a few elders have this information, but ultra few, why? this information is not taught to the masses .. oh no it’s not! This information is for the very very privileged and in only given and shared to the very very select few and these select few are chosen later, much later along their paths and this is given to preserve the true depths of karate do. Now I can verify this knowledge is what I say it is 108% I personally will only share some of this with only a few and I don’t, you want a true gift? I’m gonna recommend something, after careful study and listening to this man, and I even chimed in to see and question him to see how far he will go, it was quick for me to see his man has been taught things not many have, things I don’t share and not because I’m greedy, you all know better than that. Im not sure how he is getting away with sharing this either with out repercussion from the old honchos, because this is a no no to share this stuff with the masses. I’m not sure how but he did. Check out Roy Kamen’s book. Before any of my recommendations here believe me I waited and probed and yes. I fully recommend it because without this book your not getting this. That’s a fact. I always am good to everyone of you and I never steered any of you wrong. I try n help all to grow here regardless if you listen or not.
All karateka need to purchase a copy of this book by Roy Kamen. It has completely reshaped my understanding of kata, answered some questions about my own experiences, and while it’s geared specifically towards Goju Ryu, it would be an excellent resource regardless of ryuha.