I have often talked about the influence of Buddhist philosophy on Karate-do’s beliefs on ethics. Someone recently made the point that philosophy is an ever ending and ever changing idea that moves between cultures. To say that Buddhism influenced Karate-do is to only mention part of the story. Buddhism was developed in India and influenced by its culture. It spread to China inheriting Taoist ideas, then to Japan where it mixed with local Shinto ideas. Sokon Matsumura brought this mix of ideas to Okinawa and most of them became integral to “the way”.
One of these ideas is enso. Enso is a symbol in Zen Buddhism to represent enlightenment, strength, elegance, the universe, and the void. These ideas have all been transplanted into Karate-do.
Enlightenment, is something frequently thought after by karateka. We practice to get better, to learn, to find the subtle thoughts hidden in the forms, we strive to find enlightenment. To this end, many of us succeed on some level. I remember the moment I felt competent to teach other people, it was five years after I received my black belt. I finally felt enlightened. Then a year later I sat reading only to once again recognize how little I really knew and how committed I was to learn more and find true enlightenment. This never ending quest is the essence of the circle. As we get closer to enlightenment, we find it, only to realize we are at the beginning of our next journey.
This is both physical and mental in Karate, more mental though. We learn to overcome our fears and insecurities. We recognize the futility of fighting.
All karateka can look back and remember an elegant kata. The perfect footsteps, precise hand techniques, and perfect focus. For me, this was watching Sensei Snyder of Yamashita Shorin-ryu. Sensei Snyder performed once in the weapons kata division at a tournament I was in. A man in his late 50′s at the time, he moved like a warrior with deadly precision. While many were doing flashy katas with kama, swords, and nunchaku, Sensei Snyder performed a relatively simple bo kata. In all my years of studying kobudo, there are only three people I truly look up to in the world of weapons: Sensei Matayoshi, Sensei Yamashita, and Sensei Snyder. The first two created their own weapons systems. Sensei Snyder just performed with true elegance.
Universe and The Void
As Miyamoto Musashi said, think little of yourself and greatly of the world. Enso is a reminder of how complicated the world is, yet how beautiful its simplicity is. Try to draw two enso that look the same. You can’t. Yet they are all just simple circles. We have to look carefully to spot the subtle beauty of the world. Things like a good rain storm. The void on the other hand is an idea like mushin. While drawing enso it is easy to relax and forget everything else. We can find peace in letting our brain forget everything in front of us and focus on “nothing”.
Mushin, Enso, Nirvana. It is all a blending of culture, philosophy, and life. Life. A never ending circle, just like the way.