karate abstractions

calligraphy by Tomoaki Koyabu: "Winning ... you know when you are"





karate - book




e-mail or
Facebook message


My Okinawan go-ju (hard-soft) karate studies began in January, 1995, graduating to 3rd-degree black belt in June, 2002. That September, I started the Salt Spring Shorei-Kan dojo, continuing since then as chief instructor.

Master Tomoaki Koyabu helped me write a book, Dancing in the Kara of Te, which covers some key basics I've learned through him about the art.

I've learned about other self-defence and martial arts as well, especially when organizing and running a five-week community participation program in Vancouver called "The Art of Martial Arts" in 1998. Thirty different martial arts schools (eg. WingTsun Kung Fu) representing 24 different forms from seven countries taught classes, gave performances, and contributed visual, musical, dramatic, and other arts to the events. More than 1,200 people attended.

Karate is from the island of Okinawa, an art that grew from a mix of local hand-fighting techniques and Chinese & Japanese martial arts, then transformed into karate from the additon of – this is little known – south Asian dance gestures to create a movement are unique in the world.
Master Seikichi Toguchi, on the left, created Shorei-Kan (House of Politeness and Respect) from Master Chogun Miyagi's pioneering karate work. Toguchi was the inspiration and role model for the old master in original "The Karate Kid" movie, although the tournament at the end is a Hollywood addition that runs counter to the karate way.

I painted this watercolour for Koyabu Sensei following my 1st-degree black belt test, to thank him for his karate genius and for his help building a Japanese garden in our yard.

Following are some monoprint abstractions I made to express my karate learnings from white belt to first-degree black belt- very basic understandings, that is.

Third-degree black belts test for White Crane kata and dance, because like White Crane, they can then fly free to make their own way in the world - to open and run their own dojo, should they choose.

Thus, in 2002, I opened the Salt Spring Island Shorei-Kan Karate School, which continues. Thirteen students have achieved their black belts, with more on their way.

White belt panel
These white belt images are crude and clunky - just the way I felt during my first year of karate. They're framed by black - the many black belts who taught me and the black belt that I was reaching for.
Top left: Baby Steps
"In my first class, there were several black belts, no brown, green with yellow stripes, white with green stripes, and me in the whitest of white. I'm taking my first tentative, crude basic-walking steps, with no notion of how far I'll go.

Top right: Four Ways from Home
In beginner katas (patterns of movement), one steps in the four ordinal directions from the central starting point. In more advanced katas, one steps in 45-degree angles as well - eight ways from home - and even occasionally 22.5 degrees.

Bottom left: Inside Outside Worlds
Karate is about integrating mind and body with internal and external influences, to resolve inner and outer conflicts. The mountains of Okinawa, where karate originated, are in the distance. The white belt square separates the potential black belt within, while ki energy (red on all of these pieces) surges from underground / undercurrent sources.

Bottom right: Learning to Flow
White belts are stiff and straight. Green belts flow into brown, which flow into black, who are finally able to integrate the flow of sky and water into their moves, thinking, and philosophy.

Learning to Breathe
This panel is about breathing, coordinating breath with movement, so the katas begin to settle and flow. All the following images are framed in white, because we are all white belts in this great Universe, and because "the end of all our journeyings is to return to the beginning and to know it for the first time" - to become white belts again (with thanks to T.S. Elliot).
Beginning Seyunchin
Seyunchin is an ancient kata, at least 500 years old. It's about settling in, yet it also marks the beginning of the roughest part, for many, to black belt. The crudeness of the paint and ghost-like unsettled energy show how I felt as I mimicked its patterns.
Sanchin, another ancient kata, focuses on breath and power. In the penultimate set of moves, one grabs the air while breathing in to fill the expanded, centred locus of ki energy. By learning to breathe again like a baby, one's learnings simplify, settle, and progress.
Rhythm Seyunchin
This depicts the open moves of Seyunchin, done to music. When breathing, pulse, and intent become clear, the kata starts to settle. This piece is calmner, simpler, purer - closer to how I should feel when doing the entire kata.

Hakutsuru no Mai - White Crane Dance

The story is that Master Chogun Miyagi saw this kata-dance in a dream. He told his student Seikichi Toguchi, who created it with input from his Okinawan dancer wife, Mrs. Toguchi, who became Kaicho of Shorei-Kan karate following her husband's death in 1998.

White Crane fights Snake in the garden, but rather than vanquish him, as often happens in other martial arts forms, White Crane tumbles Snake away and summons the strength and courage to fly away. She finds freedom and grace in her world, leaving Snake, without judgment, to his.

The old master in the "The Karate Kid" movies is based on the character of Seikichi Toguchi, but is named Mr. Miyagi to honour Toguchi's teacher. Near the end of the original movie, Mr. Miyagi does White Crane dance most memorably on a beach, high on a piling, switching from balancing on one foot to the other with a graceful leap.

Black Belt panel
All of these images have a black belt in them, with a thin gold thread through the belt. Karate has become that in my life and to my other arts.
This represents sunrise over the Okinawan hills.
This also represents the Rocky Mountains of my childhood, a core part of me. When I meditate and when my moves/arts flow, my head, heart, and ki energy are those a child waking to a mountain-perfect day.
White Bird
Black belt is not an arrival, but a beginning. There's pride in achieving it, but it's daunting too, because responsibilities increase dramatically. By chance, in th printing process, a little bird appeared in the upper left corner. Fitting serendipidies increase as ability and understanding grow.

This is the sea, where life begins and ends, where flow is constant and ever-changing. The sun - the Okinawan sun/Japanese flag - rises again, and we come full circle to Sunrise.

Click here for a post about body-mind-spirit harmony and joy.