Enso

enso

Buddhist Influence

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”.

Enso

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

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.

Strength

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.

Elegance

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”.

The Circle

Mushin, Enso, Nirvana. It is all a blending of culture, philosophy, and life. Life. A never ending circle, just like the way.

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Theodore Kruczek is the founder and head writer of the Okinawan Karate-do Institute. He is a 4th Degree Black Belt in Okinawan Shorin-ryu with more than 14 years of experience. This site was created as his way of both teaching his own Karate and learning about others.

Comments (3)

  1. Did this come from conversations with Billy? I know that his style makes significant use of the Enso and you two had at least some small discussion about it.  This is a good little introduction to the Zen concept as it relates to karate.

    • Yes, Billy mentioned it on the article about belts and how he has one on his own belt. I had never heard the term enso, but was very familiar with the circular influence on the east. I first learned of it from a Sikh who explained that they wear a silver bracelet to remind them all things start and end in the same place. Everyone probably heard that in the Lion King as well. It all comes out of India, best I can tell.

  2. Osu! These concepts and principles are certainly apart of Shotokan. I can run on a track only to realize that I have never actually achieved the end of it. I can make laps, gain experience and stamina, yet once I’ve made 8 laps and feel warrior, it’s then I realize that the track is in an infinite loop, so I will never complete it. I can only improve.

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