October 30, 2014

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Kata and Enlightenment

In his second book, Yamakura Shihan tells us that the ultimate source of GoJu Ryu is Shorin-Ji Ryu. At first blush it would appear that this is a reference to the Shorin systems native to Okinawa. However, "Shorin-Ji Ryu" is not to be confused with "Shorin Ryu." Shorin-Ji Ryu is the Shaolin Temple Style. Tremendous insight, therefore, can be acquired in observing past and current practices at the Shaolin Temple because ultimately these practices have substantially influenced the development of the kata and bushido that serve as the heart, body and soul of GoJu Ryu Karate-Do.

Reprinted with the gracious permission of Chadan and Mr. Rich Stamper, Director of Goju-Ryu Karate-Do Kyokai International where this work was originally published.


    "One never knows when an evil deed will bear its fruit." 

    – Bodhidharma

In his second book, Yamakura Shihan tells us that the ultimate source of GoJu Ryu is Shorin-Ji Ryu. At first blush it would appear that this is a reference to the Shorin systems native to Okinawa. However, "Shorin-Ji Ryu" is not to be confused with "Shorin Ryu." Shorin-Ji Ryu is the Shaolin Temple Style. Tremendous insight, therefore, can be acquired in observing past and current practices at the Shaolin Temple because ultimately these practices have substantially influenced the development of the kata and bushido that serve as the heart, body and soul of GoJu Ryu Karate-Do.

The monks at the Shaolin Temple in China practiced Chan Buddhism. In Chan Buddhism there are 108 virtues to be cultivated and 108 types of defilement to be avoided. The highest kata in GoJu Ryu is Suparunpai, the Master’s Kata. "Suparunpai" is sometimes translated as 108 movements. The number "108" represents a master who strives to overcome all defilement and to seek only virtue. Thus he/she is in total control of any situation that shall unfold in life, and by avoiding bad actions, skilled conduct in thought and action is obtained.

One can wholeheartedly avoid the murky web of unskilled conduct, which produces imprudent consequences because through kata, which was and currently is viewed as a form of meditation at the Shaolin Temple, wisdom is obtained. This wisdom is as vast as the ocean. It should be noted that to this day in the parallel sect of Zen Buddhism, monks in Japan and Korea frequently perform 108 prostrations before morning meditation. It is no coincidence that Suparunpai refers to the number "108."

The number "36" is of significance in GoJu Ryu kata – specifically in Sanseiru. It is frequently said that a master has acquired superb ability with 18 skilled movements. Seipai kata refers to 18 movements or skills. Someone who has acquired skill with 36 movements is twice the master. One hundred eight is three times 36.

Bodhidharma is the patriarch who brought Chan Buddhism from India to China 1500 years ago. After meditating 9 years in a cave by the Shaolin Temple, Bodhidharma emerged with three precious gems to teach to the monks at the temple. These were Chan (Zen) meditation, an energy flowing exercise known as Chi Kung, and the rudiments of Shaolin Kung Fu. The early Kung Fu of Bodhidharma consisted of 18 moves, and these where known as the 18 hand techniques of Lo Han. Bodhidharma was considered a master using just these 18 movements. What evolved from this is a gift to us.

The next time you perform your kata, exist solely in the moment, your mind and body as one. Seek to obtain nothing, yet be mindful of all your movements and their implications. Kata will defeat duality.

Remember that the lineage predates your birth by 1500 years. The Shaolin monks sought to cultivate wisdom, generosity, clarity of mind, love of nature, respect for all sentient beings, and skillful thought and speech. A common theme that is eternal to one’s nature is that both the kata and these virtues are still true today.

Perhaps through kata practice, you will find enlightenment.

    *Chadan is the Zen name for Mr. Mike Galose. This article is the first in a series, published at Goju-Ryu Karate-Do Kyokai International, intended to help us become more aware of the philosophical underpinnings of GoJu Ryu. – kef, ed.