The Aesthetics of Karate-Do (Beautiful Form in Budo)


What does Beautiful Karate look like?

I remember Izumiya Sensei’s (Instructor at the JKA Honbu Dojo) beautiful explanation of the aesthetic of Budo Karate. This was during a Koyo Camp in Ottawa, ON Canada last August 2014.

***(I am writing my interpretation of Izumiya Senei’s explanation from what I recall, of the translation I heard)***

Beautiful Karate cannot be made or adjusted to look beautiful. Beautiful Karate is not for the purpose of posing for a picture or a moment. If the technique executed does not have the intent of destruction, it is not beautiful. The technique becomes merely for show. Beauty in Karate is found in its purpose, in its capacity for destruction. When a technique is executed, it’s purpose is an uncompromising destruction, Ikken Hissatsu (to annihilate with one blow). When the technique executed completes its purpose, it is the epitome and form of Truth and Beauty.

**Karate Do resonates a meaning for Destruction, but in this form of destruction, True Beauty lies in the CREATION of this Destruction**

  An analogy he described was that of a Baseball Pitcher and a Golfer. A baseball pitcher’s aim is to throw the ball either as fast as they can, or at a specific position to strike out the opponent (batter). The pitcher throws their ball from their hand with the intention to pitch a strike out. This is the pitcher’s purpose. When the pitcher decides to focus on the technical formation of the arm and decide to shift its angle in order to have a superficial aesthetically beautiful throw, or focus on their glove holding the ball, or anything else except getting the strike, the purpose is lost and the pitch is not intending to strike out its opponent (batter), even though it may. The pitch does not look beautiful, it would be deemed a weak pitch because the batter may have a higher chance in hitting that pitch. The purpose of the pitch is to strikeout, and minimize the batter’s chances of actually hitting the ball. When this type of pitch is executed by the pitcher, their form during the moment of execution will be beautiful. When the throw achieves its purpose, the form that the pitcher performed to execute the pitch would be a beautiful pitch, as maximum efficiency was used to throw the pitch naturally. A beautiful form of a pitch lies in its perfection, when its intended purpose is met, striking out the opponent (batter). It means the pitcher’s body mechanics, arms, leg, hips, connected harmoniously to execute the throw of the pitch in its most optimum way that the angles of the arms, rotation of the hips, movement of the legs would aesthetically look beautiful, as it is executing a move in its maximum positions, moving naturally.
Some Deep Stuff. An example pitcher who executed beautiful form to me would be Randy Johnson.


Ikken Hissatsu

  The Analogy of the golfer starts with, What is the purpose of the First Swing off the tee? That first initial drive of the ball as a first stroke.   The golfer’s purpose is to drive the ball for the potential of a hole in one, if not at least get closest to the green, and closest to the hole as possible within the circumstances of external factors, e.g. wind. When the golfer swings naturally with maximum expansion and contraction, rotating arms, rotating hips, rotating legs, in a synchronized execution of total mind body and spirit connection, the golf swing is the epitome of beauty.
The moment the golfer decides to pay attention to the angle the arm is holding the golf club, or focusing on the positioning and rotation of the arm, torso, or leg, too much, the Drive of the swing is forgotten. This defeats the purpose of the swing. When Swinging with the purpose of maximizing efficiency with the intention to get the golf ball into the hole, the Golf swing will be the epitome of beauty in its technique, as it was executed in the perfect form, fulfilling its job, sinking that hole in one.  In essence stroking toward the path of least resistance for that hole in one.

This of course is forging that Karate mind, focusing on the target, and executing the technique in a state of Mushin.

Mushin - Musashi

My mind was just blown away when I heard Izumiya Sensei speak these words, (through a translator). One of my fellow Karateka who understood Nihongo (Japanese), tried his best to retranslate it, but stated he was also just as blown away almost to the point of tears in the beautiful delivery of this passionate understanding and explanation of the purpose of executing techniques in Karate-do.
If a waza-technique is executed with it’s intended purpose of destruction, all the positioning of the foot, aligned with the knee, rotation of the hip, release of the arm, expression of Kime, would be all properly connected and harmoniously present an aesthetically sublime form. That is because the path of the Technique fulfilled it’s intended purpose, maximizing its utilization, and efficiency, least resistance was given, and that is the definition of a beautiful technique. The Aesthetic of Karate-do lies within its practitioner performing and executing its technique with intended purpose- the body mechanics will naturally fall into its proper angles, position of hip, alignment of spine, arms, legs, positions of stance, accuracy of technique, and distancing (mai-ai)  when the technique is executed to purposely deliver the Ikken Hissatsu. If that strike in all its perfection and beauty fail to deliver the killing blow, the movement and execution of the successive technique will and should be also executed with the intended purpose of Ikken Hissatsu, and again through its action create another beautiful technique. Instead of multiple individual Poses (especially which sometimes can be seen in kata performances, for the sake of showcasing a feat of flexibility, agility, strength, balance etc.) the performance of the Kata should express an intended purpose of each individual technique as a separate battle against an imaginary individual opponent.

**The Beauty of Karate Do can be found in its Creation of Destruction.   My understanding of the Destruction created, though is stated for ikken hitatsu, or the Killing blow,  is rather not intended to destroy Life (my esoteric understanding) but rather to DESTROY any resistance prohibiting one to actualize one’s maximum potential for creating the execution of the perfect technique.  Therein Lies in the Beauty of Destruction…  The Destruction of resistance to achieve perfection…in so achieving the path of least resistance, the Beauty of Karate-Do is in the creation of the technique, A fulfilment of Life being actualized to its maximum.  Hitotsu- Jinkaku kanseni tsumoru koto (Seek perfection of character) **

The Aesthetic and Beauty of the techniques of Karate-do can be achieved through its practicioner executing the waza in its maximum naturalness that the body mind and spirit produce in harmony.

One of my favourite clips of Enoeda Sensei.  Can see his Tora (Tiger) Spirit.

The Beauty in his execution of the technique with the commitment of destruction, yet still beautifully controlled.

***Just like a Tiger’s Beauty lies in its nature of being known as a destructive animal, it’s perfection is based on its creation, this theme is expressed in the poem of William Blake- Tyger Tyger (See image below).

The Power, Beauty, Gentleness, yet Ferocity of a Tiger, is something that Funakoshi Sensei, and perhaps also his instructors/mentors (I have no source of knowledge on this just through my own speculation) may have looked into nature of the animals for inspiration.

The Tyger, written and illustrated by William Blake

Shotokan Tiger


*The Shotokan Tiger is drawn with its individual lines to signify the individual parts that create the whole.  Individually the lines may not signify much, but together it is complete, perfection, like the circle, like in a Kata.