Theory, Analysis, and Practice
The Complete Philosophy of Dojo no Hebi – School of the Snake
Hanshi Stephen F. Kaufman
I began work on this treatise in 1994 as an adjunct to the release of my version of Musashi’s Book of Five Rings for the Martial Artist. I have continued to work on development of the kata since then. I now present it as a gift to my students and readers in different parts starting with the introduction. I will work through the entire philosophical presentation to include all of the composed kata that I originated that specifically follow Musashi’s ideology.
In the pursuit of knowing martial arts through karate as an art form and a functional system of unarmed combat as an eventual “way” of life, it is necessary to study and understand formal exercises called kata. The benefits to be gained from the practice of kata include levels of mastery that can only come when students find themselves limited by the understanding of movement. Then they must proceed to seek deeper meanings in the application and expression of technique. Limitations are not inherent in the kata and certainly not the art form itself: it is the practitioner who determines all limitation and self-imposed restriction, or disavows it. Further limitations occur because of a fundamental lack of understanding of the overall purpose of martial arts study in the first place that leads to a cessation of exploration and will eventually stop the art form, itself, from revealing itself.
Hebi-do (School of the Snake) kata break through the intellectual barriers and push the student into a state of realization for standard life and death combat situations. Once understood, these principles can be translated into any other formal exercises—and not before. They enable the karate practitioner to function through the primal state with a vibrant level of sophistication that enhances performance in execution and in application in mortal combat. The principles explained in this book extend into any martial style and any kata forms from any system.
Many concepts are illustrated in the text including: stepping to the side and watching your self work, economy of motion, and permitting the action to express itself through you without your interference. As an author and teacher with many years of experience, I speak in plain English and without riddles. It is also required that you think about what you are reading, studying, and putting the principles to work.
Art, and especially a physically demanding killing art, insists on constant search and personal challenge. This is called self-development. Musashi called it practice. I call it “living the life.” Regardless of the dexterity and the astounding techniques that can be developed through the application of speed and strength, fundamental lack of understanding of kata brings about a profound limitation in personal self-development as a warrior. The same holds true for understanding power and quickness, which is essential to internalizing into your bushido soul.
Kata is not completely understood only when the moves are mechanically performed, even though each move can be intellectually defined and explained. However, it is precisely at this point that the kata first has the ability to reveal its implications while at the same time releasing its essence as the Spirit of the Thing Itself through the spirit of the individual practicing it. The practice of different strategic attitudes within the structure of kata and the manner in which these tactics and movement are applied to the reality of a combat situation reveal the individual moves as basic and the only ones necessary regardless of a practitioner’s level of technical proficiency.
A major problem in overcoming limitation is the seeming reluctance of students to explore the root meaning of the different specific actions through visualization and meditation. It is important to understand the reasoning behind and in front of the actual techniques in sequence. Additionally, true understanding of kata does not occur until the student has become proficient in the acceptance of ki, the life force, breath control, quickness, and power. At this point a student first begins to understand what the masters may have intended when they composed ancient kata.
The balance between the internal and external self, which in reality are the same thing, and the reasoning behind the movement of kata are most important. I explain what a kata is and how it should be studied and how it should be thought about. Each kata is detailed and application in a practice combat scenario is encouraged. Within the structure of the kata and the development of the moves, I concentrate on fluidity and freedom of expression through the spirit of the martialist. The revolutionary changes and additions to the karate art form in these original Dojo no Hebi kata are fully explained. I have named them to coincide with the teachings of Hebi-do, the Way of the Snake, and Musashi’s Book of Five Rings into a fully evolved methodology developed from ancient traditions. Hebi-do is also a “ryu,” meaning that it is a viable functionality as well as a “do,” way of life.
The universal complaint from students is that kata moves do not really work in actual street encounters. Depending upon the student’s level of understanding of the art itself, regardless of any particular “style,” I explain that this is because they miss the point of what the kata is about in the first place and do not necessarily understand what the martial arts are about or for. One reason for this is that the practitioner does not release the flow of energy required to execute through natural movement. By not understanding fluidity in motion as an aspect of development, stiffness and rigidity result regardless of apparent speed. Therefore, the moves would not work even in the best of circumstances—certainly not if they are used for show-biz performance. To be continued…
© SFKaufman 2011
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