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CONTACT: Kenpo

The Way of Kenpo, The Spirit of the Warrior

by
Will Tracy

The Way of Kenpo is that state where the mind/spirit and body are united as a single element, which we call the Spirit of Kenpo. It is rooted in the Five Rings, or Spheres of the great kendo (sword) master, Miyamoto Musashi. Musashi wrote "Go Rin No Sho" in 1645, and the way of kenpo has been handed down through tradition since the following generation, when Nobuto Yoshida found the Way of the Kenpo was attained by the same process as the Way of the Sword.

For over a thousand years the sword was the spirit of the Japanese Samurai. When the sanctify of human life was affirmed in Japan in Nineteenth Century, the sword was taken from the Samurai, and kenpo was made illegal. One gets a glimpse of the sword as the spirit of the Samurai in Musashi's concept of the 5 elements, which in Japan are wood, fire, water, earth and metal. Unlike the Five Elements of Tao, Musashi's (and Kenpo's) Five Elements are symbolic. The sword is metal and the extension of the Samurai's body, but Musashi replaced metal with Void, making it the spirit of the Samurai; and the spirit of the Samurai is the Way.

The Void in Taoism is Wu Chi (wuji), the state of nothingness from which the universe evolved. Thus there are many Ways, each with its own path, and the Yoshida Clan adopted the Void as the 5th Element of Kenpo, for it too is the Way. This was fitting as Musashi lived on the grounds of the Yoshida castle for several years, and the Yoshida Clan was among the earliest followers of Musashi's teachings.

Kenpo, which had been brought to Japan by the Yoshida and Kamatsu Clans in the 13th century, emerged from its Chinese roots as a pure Chinese art with a Japanese culture, traditions and a Japanese soul. This unarmed form of fighting became so much a part of the War Arts of the Yoshida and Kamatsu clans that it was distinguished only by weapon, and not by movement or philosophy.

The Seventeenth Century, Tokugawa Shogunate brought peace to the country, and with that peace came the gradual decline of the Samurai. It was in the early years of these Shoguns that Miyamoto Musashi wrote "The Thirty-five Articles on the Art of Swordsmanship" and "A Book of Five Rings". A generation later the Kamatsu Clan adapted the Five Spheres, or Rings, to Kenpo. This was a natural process for the Kamatsu Clan. They had long before abandoned ceremony and teaching for the personal experience of Zen. The traditions of the Court were, however, the traditions of the Clan, and finding the Way did not change this behavior. Indeed, it could not, as to change would be to deviate from the Way. So to, the closely related Yoshida Clan adopted the Zen principles of Musashi into their Shinto practice.

To the Kenpo master, the end is the beginning, and simplicity is the greatest virtue one can possess. Musashi's sword and kenpo were centered around single combat, but when mastered they could be adapted to hundred sided combat. Like kendo, the first move (of hundreds) was to strike the deadly blow, just as the opponent strikes you. This is, of course, impossible for the beginning student. But it is the heart of kenpo, where knowledge is a full circle and the master cannot be distinguished from the student.

The teaching of kenpo is like the learning of Zen where the mind is inundated with mental stimulation that eventually numbs the mind and senses. Doubt gives way to fear, and reason gives way to the twilight of sanity. The mind and spirit are driven to despair, and it is the master who leads the student from the incomprehensible, to understanding, and then to realization of the spirit, where the teacher is the needle, the student the thread.

Unlike some Japanese systems that required the perfection of a single movement before learning another, the Kenpo student practiced hundreds of movements, hundreds of times, every day, until his hand were no longer weapons; nor were they any longer his body. His purpose was no longer to defend or attack, but to neither defend nor attack; and his intention was to have no intention, because he had developed a instinctive knowledge of every circumstance. He had gone full circle, and his primitive teaching became his highest intelligence. He was without sword, and his arms became the long sword and the short sword. They existed in the Void; it was his spirit, and his spirit was now the Way.

Before one begins the study of kenpo, a kick is a kick, and a punch is a punch, a block is a block. As one progresses, a kick is no longer a kick, a punch is no longer a punch, a block is no longer a block. But when he masters the system, he realizes a kick is a kick, a punch is a punch and a block is a block. Yet the master never throws a kick, or punch, or a block. His moves flow from him without thought in perfect harmony with the Void. The beginning student concentrates on his movement with physical direction; and practice leads to Intention, which touches on the Void; and, when one is in harmony with the Way of Kenpo, Intention gives way to the Void, where the movement ends before it begins, because his intention was to have no Intention (without Intention).

To reach this state, Kenpo could not be grounded in the movements of animals as the Chinese had done in originating their systems. That was the Chinese Way. It was not the way of Kenpo. That Way was found in five elements; the Five Rings, or Spheres, symbolized by Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Void, or Nothingness. These Five Spheres (not actual physical elements) combined the body of knowledge with the spirit of Kenpo.

Earth is the grounding of the individual, just as Center is the grounding of the Tai Chi master. It is this grounding that gives strength and makes one "rooted". As with the Tao, so too with Kenpo, one has to know the smallest and the largest things, the shallowest and the deepest as though they are an undeviating path laid out on the ground.

The spirit, like water, takes both the shape and the inverse shape of that which contained it. It will sometimes be still; sometimes a trickle; and other times it is a raging river, or violent sea. Like Tai Chi's, Zu ling din jing, the insubstantial spirit rises to the top and permeates the spirit. So to in kenpo, as with the sword, when you truly defeat one man, you are capable of defeating a thousand; for the principle is to have one thing and to know ten thousand.

The spirit of fire is the spirit of fighting. It is intense, and the same whether it is a small flame or a raging inferno. It is the same with fighting, and fighting one person is the same as fighting a thousand, because the spirit can be either small or large. Musashi taught, "that which is big is easy to see, but that which is small is not. That which is big cannot easily change. An army takes time to maneuver, while the individual can change in an instant, making him more unpredictable. The element of fire requires one to train day and night in order to become intuitively decisive."

Wind is defined as "traditions"; the traditions of the system, but mostly the traditions of other styles and methods of fighting. It is not easy to know yourself if you do not know others, as Musashi explained. And as Sun Tuz so aptly put it, "If you know yourself, but not your enemy, for every victory you will suffer a defeat," because there are diversities to all Ways. Nor can you take solace in a single principle that has defeated another. You never use the same principle twice in battle, but rather you must utilize the myriad principles that led you to the Way.

If you practice a Way each day and stray from it, you may imagine that you are adhering to a proper Way, but it is neither the correct, nor right Way; and if you follow the correct Way and stray even slightly, this will eventually lead you in the wrong direction. If you practice 50 moves and say, "that is the essence of Kenpo, there is no need for more," you have hopelessly lost your way. The slightest divination becomes great in time, and in time you will not even know there is a Way of Kenpo.

The final sphere is the Void, or nothingness - Wu Chi. It can also be termed the eternal round, for it has no beginning and no end. Reaching this point means that you have not reached the point. Wu Chi is without extremities. It is the mother of Tai Chi, which gave birth to Yin and Yang, and Tai Chi is the Way of nature. When you comprehend the force of nature and know the harmony of all circumstances, you can then hit the opponent naturally and strike naturally.

Tai Chi is an element of a philosophy. It is not the same as Tai Chi Chuan.)
How this is accomplished is realized in the Way. It is something learned, but which cannot be taught; yet it must be taught or it cannot be learned. The first move the student learns is the last move the student learns. Everything in between is relearned through the five Rings, or Spheres. As with kendo, which has its fencing schools that are quite different from schools that show the Way, as with Tai Chi Chuan, so to with Kenpo. There are the schools that teach techniques, theories and principles. They teach what can best be termed the kenpo dance. They cannot show the Way because they are far from it. They do not know the Way and would not recognize it even if they saw it. To paraphrase Sun Tzu, they lift the finest (autumn) hair and believe they have strength; they see the sun and moon and believe they have keen sight; they hear the roar of thunder and believe they have quick hearing; they strike the air and believe they do battle. Thus they see the movement of a Kenpo master and believe they are themselves masters. They do not know the Way because they are far from it.

The Way begins with the Nine Principles . And by these principles, one will find that kenpo is honest; it is grounded; it has Spirit; it has fire; it has tradition; it becomes your Soul.
Next: The 9 Principles
©1996, 1999, 2006, 2015 by W. Tracy. All rights reserved. No portion may be reproduced without permission. The Law Offices of Michael Tracy.

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