September 22, 2011

Do not think of winning. Think, rather, of not losing.

Katsu kangae wa motsuna; makenu kangae wa hitsuyo.

This is Master Funakoshi’s 12th entry in the Niju Kun, and this principle can be related to partner training, training intensity, and training attitude.  This is only one potential interpretation, and the beauty of the Kun is that they apply to many aspects of life and training.

Karate is about understanding ourselves and controlling our behaviors and interactions with others.  Understanding must come first because you cannot control what you do not understand.  Know yourself; then you can control your thoughts and actions.  Know others; then you can harmonize your interactions with others.  In partner training, an aggressive, passive, or assertive approach may be taken in relation to one’s partner.  The aggressive partner throws techniques without regard for their opponent’s movement, position, or strategy, and tries to impose their will on their opponent.  This person is trying to win.  A passive partner throws techniques without intent or spirit, and shows a similar lack of regard for their opponent’s movement, but with the goal of avoiding the confrontation.  This person is trying not to win.  If we look beyond the false dichotomy of passiveness versus aggression we can approach conflict with assertiveness.  Assertiveness is when we seek to control a conflict through understanding and harmony between ourselves and our partner – we are thinking of not losing.

Taking kumite training as an example, an aggressive attacker may seek to damage their opponent or throw their strongest and fastest technique without a care as to their opponent’s health or safety.  Their training partners may become injured as they impose their maximum strength on every opponent regardless of size or rank.  This attitude has no place in karate, because we should seek to control ourselves and respect our opponents – never do we intend to cause injury.  On the flip side, a passive attacker may not even come into range with an attack and will not pursue an opponent as they dodge and shift.  The partners of the passive opponent will be unchallenged in their training and will have wasted valuable time going through hollow motions without the feedback of a spirited opponent.  The passive opponent will never learn control because they never challenge themselves to control their technique.  Karate should be training us to have control, not to avoid or disregard the issue.  Our karate training should instead be assertive.  An assertive opponent will adjust their technique and strength to give the most spirited attack appropriate for their partner.  Regardless of age, gender, size, and rank, a spirited and controlled attack can be executed without injury or danger to our opponents.  Thus our opponents can safely test their technique and extract valuable feedback from a spirited engagement.

And we shouldn’t stop there - self-control applies to many aspects of life.  Consider reaction training where you must synchronize your movement to a count.  Consider slow motion training where you must execute techniques at a snail’s pace.  Consider having a conversation – Do you dominate the talking? Do you quietly nod even though you disagree? Or do you have a true dialogue?  Neither the aggressive nor the passive approach to conflict will do anything to develop control over oneself and harmony with others.  If you train aggressively or passively (and we all do at some point), then you are not training at all.  Instead, we must train assertively.  As Master Funakoshi said, think of not losing.

Submitted by: Matthew Baran, Nidan