August 03, 2007


Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957), widely regarded as the founder of modern karate.

The theme of this week's Goat Rope is endurance, physical and otherwise. If this is your first visit, please click on the earlier entries. It is El Cabrero's thesis that making a practice of endurance activities can pay rich dividends in all aspects of life.

Although they might not be the first to come to mind, martial arts are another form of physical activity that stress endurance.

If you just watch the movies about it, you may get the idea that this kind of training involves having a wise teacher show you new and cool stuff. That may happen on rare occasions but the reality is much more prosaic. It's usually about doing the same basic things over and over and over again, often in the company of three old friends: boredom, fatigue, and pain.

Traditional martial arts training violates every rule of progressive pedagogy. The short version is "shut up and drill," at least most of the time. Old stories tell of students who spent years sweeping the training hall and cleaning toilets before anyone even spoke to them and then spending years more on one technique or kata (a prearranged series of techniques which can be performed solo but have practical applications).

Gichin Funakoshi, regarded as the founder of modern karate do and particularly the Shotokan style, describes the old days of training in Okinawa when karate was still an underground activity and he studied under master Yasutsune Azato:

Night after night, often in the backyard of the Azato house as the master looked on I would practice a kata ("formal exercise")time and again, week after week, sometimes month after month, until I had mastered it to my teacher's satisfaction. This constant repetition of a single kata was grueling, often exasperating and on occasion humiliating. More than once I had to lick the dust on the floor of the dojo or in the Azato backyard. But practice was strict, and I was never permitted to move on to another kata until Azato was convinced that I had satisfactorily understood the one I was working on...

Although considerably advanced in years, he always sat ramrod stiff on the balcony when we worked outside, wearing a hakama, with a dim lamp beside him. Quite often, through sheer exhaustion, I found myself unable to make out even the lamp.

After executing a kata, I would await his judgment. It was always terse. If he remained dissatisfied with my technique, he would murmur, "Do it again," or "A little more!" A little more, a little more, so often a little more, until the sweat poured and I was ready to drop: it was his way of telling me there was still something to be learned, to be mastered. Then, if he found my progress satisfactory, his verdict would be expressed in a single word, "Good!" That one word was his highest praise. Until I had heard it spoken several times, however, I would never dare ask him to begin teaching a new kata.

Funakoshi was a big believer in the value of tempering the body and spirit. In his master work, Karate Do Kyohan, he quoted the ancient Chinese sage Mencius (Mengzi, c. 4th cent. BC):

When Heaven is about to confer an important office upon a man, it first embitters his heart in its purpose; it causes him to exert his bones and sinews; it makes his body suffer hunger; it inflicts upon him want and poverty and confounds his undertakings. In this way it stimulates his will, steels his nature and thus makes him capable of accomplishing what he would otherwise be incapable of accomplishing.

So here's to the strenuous life. Within reason.

WV'S DELEGATION STANDS FOR CHILDREN. Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 225-204 to expand health insurance coverage for children with the CHAMP Act. I'm pleased to say that WV's entire delegation supported the measure. Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito was one of only five Republicans to support the bill. Here's more. Congratulations and thanks to all our representatives.

Yesterday, the Senate passed its version of the bill by a veto-proof 68-31. The Senate version increases funding by $35 B over several years, compared to $50 B in the House version. Reconciliation of the bills should be interesting.

A PAINFUL REMINDER. The Minneapolis bridge disaster is a reminder of the importance of investing in and maintaining infrastructure. This is from Joshua Holland via Alternet:

...skimping out on infrastructure investments in the name of a low tax burden is a triumph of ideology over commonsense, but it goes beyond that. Conservative philosophy stresses limited government, not bad government, and nothing can change the fact that the public sector remains the only way to organize collectively when there's no profit involved. So nobody seriously believes that the the hidden hand of capitalism is going to step in and inspect and repair bridges that are open to the public. When lawmakers don't fund that work, they know full well that it won't get done.

What's more, the evidence that infrastructure investments result in increased economic productivity is fairly conclusive; some studies have estimated that every dollar invested in public infrastructure yields 104 percent return through increases in productivity (PDF).



worry wart said...

I'm not really happy about "doing it again", but best of luck to you my dear.

El Cabrero said...

I think it's an acquired taste...

Thanks for the good wishes!