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I thought I would focus this part 3 essay on Ikken on how to do a specific exercise that Kancho Royama regularly encourages. It’s one that can be practiced in just a few minutes of each karate training (although Kancho would encourage us to practice if for longer periods of time). It’s also very simple (i.e. to practice) and I have given you all that you need to begin your practice, right here in this essay. The exercise is called “Hai,” pronounced like the Japanese word for “yes.”
To review, the purpose of Ikken training is to harness ones Ki energy, and learn how to apply it in kumite. As stated in Part 1 and 2 of this essay, it’s not so important if the beginner doesn’t quite get it in terms of what it’s all about. Like zazen, or sanchin kata for that matter, if you practice it, its greater meaning will reveal itself to you over time. Meanwhile, the mere physical aspect will strengthen your body and improve balance. Therefore, it can be an exercise for the white belt, as well as for the black belt. For one it might be more about balance and strength; for the other it might be more about Ki.
The components of all Ikken training are 2, each of equal importance. The first is posture (or movement). The second is visualization. In the top photo at right Kancho Royama started with a position. He then started moving forward very slowly (similar to Tai Chi) but with a very specific image in mind. I.e he’s visualizing a specific image and concentrating on maintaining that mental picture as he moves forward. Without the meditation-like focus on that image, his exercise would be much less meaningful. Luckily, it’s an image that we can all understand very easily.
In the subsequent several photographs, Kancho Royama is teaching Ikken to foreign visitors to Japan. Kancho Royama endorses daily practice of Ikken to supplement ones karate training. Here’s a exercise that we can all add to our karate training, even today. Why not practice for three 3-minute sets, for example, during every karate training, starting today? One has to start somewhere.
(This author thought it would be beneficial to the Kyokushin-kan community to summarize, to the best of my ability, some content of Kancho Royama’s International Instructors’ Seminars, held every year in Japan. Although I do have the dual advantage of having attended more of Kancho’s seminars than any other American, and of having acted as Japanese-English interpreter for those seminars in many cases, the reader should understand that, still, I can only do the best I can to explain concepts presented by Kancho and other high-level instructors in Japan. I do have the advantage of having been there, but my level of understanding in karate is only just what it is, and I can only explain what Kancho and others explain, through the lens of my own limited understanding. Yet to assist the development of Kyokushin-kan in the West, I will do the best I can.)
Here begins a step-by-step explanation:
Stand normally, feet parallel and inside your shoulder width, with your hands on your sides. Stretch your spine towards the ceiling. Relax.
Slide your hands up to your hip bones, as in the picture.
Move you hands away from your body with your shoulders relaxed, with your forearms and finger tips (important) facing straight downward. As you relax, your finger tips might curl in, but you have to resist this tendency and keep your fingers pointing straight downward.
Lower your stance by 2-3 centimeters by bending your knees only. Make sure your body weight is not on your heels. So far, this is a basic Ikken posture, called Tanto, described in detail in Part 2 of my essay on Ikken. Right here, you can begin your training by holding this posture if you go back and read the detail given in Part 2. Remember that the first half of what makes an Ikken exercise is EITHER posture OR movement. This exercise, Tanto, is like standing zen meditation except that there is a specific required visualization designed to help you learn to localize your Ki energy. If you were going to stop here and practice Tanto, hold this position for five minutes every day, and later 20 minutes, and after a year of practice, one hour. Without the visualization, remember the exercise is fairly useless. Look back to Part 2 and you will understand. In the mean time, I’m simply using this posture to walk the reader through to an understanding of Hai, as I continue through the photographs below.
Now, moving beyond Tanto, to Hai, raise your ten fingertips to where your thumbs are at eyebrow level and point all ten fingertips, (and your elbows) straight forward. Note that the students’ elbows in the photo are not sticking out to the sides, but are rather pointing straight down as if relaxed and suspended (like noodles) from their hands. Note their stance is still lowered (by bending their knees only), and that their shoulders are completely relaxed. Remember (from the essay Part 2) that your task is to relax the muscles in your body that start to burn as you hold a position (Tanto) and try to figure out how to “float” your body on your Ki energy, or nervous (electrical) system. In this case, your shoulders (traps) will start to burn as you hold this position (since your arms are high, over your head), but if you maintain the image of your arms, relaxed as if suspended from your hands (as if they are suspended from the ceiling), your muscles will start to relax, as your nervous system starts to take over the work of keeping them held high.
I have turned these students around to face the wall to help you understand the required visualization. They are pressing gently on the wall. Their balance, and central nervous system, respond accordingly, “priming” the body to perform the work of pressing on the wall.
Now I’ve moved them 6 inches off the wall, while they continue to visualize the task of pressing on the wall. Of course they are not actually touching the wall, so there is no actual task. But, by VISUALIZING the task at hand, their central nervous system (and balance) primes itself for performing a task that the muscles don’t actually perform. Here lies an edge-in on an understanding of what Ikken is all about: By visualizing work that the body doesn’t actually do, the brain “primes” the body’s electrical system for performing the work, and we, through the practice of Ikken, start to become aware of the type of role that our electrical system plays in performing body motions. With practice, we can use (manipulate) that electrical force to supplement and enhance our physical motions, to make them far more effective (if not lethal). I.e. before we learn to manipulate Ki energy, we have to discover that it exists, and learn to feel how it applies. Before moving on to the next photo, remember that the students are keeping an IMAGE in their head of performing the task of pressing on the wall, even though their fingertips are not actually touching.
Now, lets get to the actual image that Kancho teaches us we should maintain during this exercise (i.e. because it’s NOT one of pressing on a wall). In order to help you understand I have Don pressing forward (above, as if pressing on a wall) as Amy provides resistance by keeping the white belts taught. The correct image is not of one pressing on something in front of you; it is rather of your pulling something, immensely heavy, that’s behind you as if your ten fingertips are tethered to ten unbreakable cables which stretch back behind you, an infinite distance (all the way to the horizon), where the other ends of them are tethered to an immense object. Kancho tells us to visualize a giant Oak tree, and that it is our task to drag it, roots and all, through the soil behind us. While practicing, the student should “balance” the image of the ten cables extending straight backwards, with his/her line of sight (gaze), extending straight forward as if staring off to look at the horizon, an infinite distance in front. Note that while Don’s resistance (above) is on his palms (where the belts cross his hands) the belt is only here to help you understand the image, but while he trains he’s visualizing his ten fingertips as the contact points (i.e. on which he has to press).
Now, finally, for the motion. And it’s really quite simple! The students are going to stay low (knees bent, not spine) and walk forward in slow motion, semi-circular steps, right and then left, while maintaining their gaze (forward to the horizon) and the image of those ten cables stretching from their fingertips, an infinite distance behind them, to a giant Oak, while they drag it through the soil. The exercise, remember, is good for balance and lower-body strength. (If you don’t believe me, do this for ten minutes straight!) But if you add the IMAGE it becomes a Ki energy training because throughout the motion your electrical system primes itself for performing the work of dragging this immense object behind you, and you become AWARE of the work that your electrical system does. Remember that Kancho strongly encourages this training, and that all of Hiroshige Shihan’s students who became champions, practiced it during the time they were preparing for their tournaments. Watch the video below and you can see how it’s done. Perhaps count ten seconds as you move your right foot forward, then ten as you shift your body weight forward onto it (i.e. and off your left foot), and then ten more seconds as you move your left foot forward, and repeat. Here you see one-minute sets. Do this for fifteen minutes straight, and you’ll start to see what it’s all about!