Hello webbies!

Yesterday, I read every article on mnmlist.com. It’s a good blog, and was a good read. Leo (the blogger) is a minimalist, which for him involves owning few possessions, simplifying his work schedule, and following a vegan diet. Minimalism is an aesthetic movement that seeks to find the essence of something by removing everything unnecessary. An example of this would be an architect using flat clean surfaces to create a particular shape. Much of Apple’s products also have  a minimalist aesthetic. As a philosophy, though, minimalism seems to be about simplifying to find greater happiness and contentment. For example, Leo owns a minimum of clothing (it sounded like about a drawer’s worth!), has no car, a small house and no icons on his desktop. He also has a wife and 6 kids (Ha! Not very minimalist in the child-department, are we, Leo? Just kidding; he addressed this in his blog…).

So far, the philosophy has inspired me to clear out my facebook. I’m now down to about 70 friends (all of whom I actually care to keep up with), down from 200+. What I like about this philosophy is that it is extremely well-defined. In considering any choice, it is usually very easy to apply minimalism to help make it.

(LOLNote: I had this entire next paragraph written out in math-ese, to show how well-defined the philosophy was. Then I realized that’s ridiculous.)

Simply ask, “Will my life be simpler, or at least not any more complex, by making this choice?” If the answer is yes, then it’s a good choice; otherwise, it’s not. But, presumably, given the choice between a simple life, or a more complex one, we all would make the choice to have it be simpler. The problem, then, is that we don’t ask the question, and thus never frame the question that way. It’s a constant process of evaluation, and re-evaluation, looking for things that you don’t need or that are unimportant and getting rid of them, thereby discovering what’s truly important.  It was Socrates who said, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” (but presumably in Greek).

As a way of life, it’s a very interesting, albeit simple, philosophy that I think deserves merit. What I’d like to consider, however, is applying this philosophy to Karate (and to a lesser extent, all martial arts). Is there a way that our training can benefit from minimalism? I think there is, especially when we consider the origins of Karate, and Karate for self-defence. Most modern Karate-ka will learn at least 5 or 6 kata before their black belt, and I’ve heard of curricula with upwards of 10 kata. As far as individual techniques go, at my old dojo we had:

  • high block
  • low block
  • inward block
  • outward block
  • head block
  • leg check
  • reverse punch
  • jab
  • cross
  • hook
  • vertical punch
  • ridge hand
  • spear hand
  • back fist
  • hammer fist
  • half fist
  • throat strike
  • eagle’s talon
  • chop
  • palm heel strike
  • reverse crane
  • crane’s beak
  • middle knuckle
  • tai-chi palm
  • eye strike
  • tiger’s claw
  • front kick
  • lift front kick
  • round house kick
  • power-roundhouse kick
  • side kick
  • pumping side kick
  • spinning side kick
  • jump-spinning side kick
  • back kick
  • spinning back kick
  • jump-spinning back kick
  • knee strike
  • hook kick
  • spinning hook kick
  • inward crescent kick
  • outward crescent kick
  • wheel kick
  • axe kick
  • tornado kick
  • front fall
  • back fall
  • side fall
  • front roll
  • back roll

And don’t even get me started on self-defences. For my first black belt grading, I had to know upwards of 50 self-defences for things like “double wrist grab from behind” or “hair grab from behind” or “bear hug from behind”… huh, apparently all of my attackers are cowards…

I’m not the first person to suggest that this sort of “feature-bloat” is ultimately detrimental to a martial artist’s development, but what then should be done? We want to be prepared for all situations, and each of those techniques has a situation in which it is extremely useful.

Well, my Sensei has told me that before Karate spread from Okinawa, the old masters would know 1 or maybe 2 kata. They would practise these kata exclusively, and guard them closely. By doing this, they gained insight into the kata, not just understanding its practical applications, but understanding the subtle variations required for different body types; the flow from one movement to the next; where to breathe and how to breathe; when to be tense, and when to be relaxed. By reducing the breadth of their practice, they were able to increase the depth. During my preparatory period for my grading, I found the same thing, that by focusing on Seipai almost exclusively, I made more progress in understanding that kata than in all the rest put together. This is minimalism; narrowing your focus, to appreciate something to a greater degree.

By understanding these techniques better, their training became simply to get to a position to apply one of these techniques.

We must then decide what our goal is in training in a martial art. Are we looking to be devastating fighters? Or are we looking to be impressive athletes and acrobats? Or perhaps (as is my case) some combination of the two? I believe that in the former case, adopting a minimalist philosophy is wise, and having a small set of tools you’re extremely proficient with, will serve you much better than having a whole toolbox that you only kind of, sorta, “I-saw-this-guy-use-it” know how to use. In the athletic case, I think that training all of the movements is a perfectly legitimate path, will give you variety and will allow for more exciting performances. In the latter case, I think a combination of both methods is necessary. Train all movements, but focus on a particular set to develop proficiency for practical purposes.

Yes, I can do a butterfly kick, but I’ll stick to Seipai when my attacker gets a choke on me…

from behind.

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