Entering a dojo is not entering a dojo. It is entering a different matrix, in a different culture, in a different time-space continuum. A dojo is Japan at its best. Available for everybody in every corner of the world, but still so many miss it, because they bring their own full glass inside.
We live in a society not always perfect. On contrary. No manners, no respect, no elegance, no order, no gratitude, no silence. Europe had her golden ages, but somehow we don’t know how to extract the essence of knighthood, for example, and pass it on. There is a part of the world where this process of extracting the essence was perfected for ages. It’s Japan. It is not that they have invented martial arts, or calligraphy, or drinking tea, for example, this all originates in India and China and was imported, but Japanese have a fantastic ability of extracting the best in small portions and preserve it in the most gracious, pure and deepest form. One of the places that embodies to perfection the essence of the Japanese way is a dojo.
Respect, manners, gratitude is something very common even in the modern Japanese society. If you had the chance to visit Japan, for sure you were amazed by their politeness, by their kindness, by their rituals, by the minimalism of their architecture, by the way they perceive nature. All of this, and much more, was captured and transformed into essence in a place we call all over the world “dojo”. Translated from Japanese, dojo means simply “place of the way”. It’s a place where you practice a way of living. The Japanese warriors way. And this way is so different from what we learn most of the time in the Western society. First, even before entering the dojo, you must wear a karate-gi, or a do-gi, a traditional uniform for the practice of martial arts. It is the same for everybody, it is a symbol of the fact that we are all the same and we strive for the same values. When you enter a dojo you must take a bow and say “Osu” twice, once for the sacred place you are going to train, once for the forefathers that contributed to the development of martial arts. It is a form of gratitude so rare, it is like understanding that every time you enter this space it is a privilege, it is not something taken for granted like almost everything else in our lives. It is a place of silence, of introspection, of blood, sweat and tears build of the foundation of understanding that life is short and can end anytime soon. Before every training starts, you salute your teacher, and your teacher salutes you and the forefathers. You do the same when you finish your training, by saying thank you, by acknowledging the importance of what just happened and being grateful to everybody that contributed to your progress. You ask your partner for permission every time you work with him, you say “arigato gozaimasu” every time you finish. You understand, this way, that there is no possibility of progress without the help of your partners, of your colleagues. You say “Osu” all the time as a confirmation that you understood and to empty your mind. You do not jump and behave chaotic, you stay still and watch your posture all time. You do as you are commanded and trust your sensei with your life.
A dojo, if conducted the right way, is a time capsule of amazing deep value for all generations, but especially for the younger ones. It is a piece of Japanese utmost high educational value for the whole world to have and benefit. That’s why it is sad sometimes to see people training in shorts and t-shirts, jumping over the rituals, behaving like monkeys, high-fiving with the sensei. If you lose ethics and rituals, you lose everything that is important. It doesn’t matter if you become a good fighter without understanding Do, it has no real meaning and no real value.
The most beautiful part of bathing in this kind of environment is that, in time, your whole world becomes a dojo. You learn to say thank you to everybody, you learn that every place is sacred, being your home or nature, your learn to show respect, you learn posture and use it all time, you learn gratitude. And by being more grateful you become more aware, more conscious, more of a human. Thank you Japan for the dojo! Osu!
Why do we love so much to fight? This is a question that haunted me for a long time. And the answer arrived when I stopped looking for it, and after much training and fighting. Now I know. It is because the moment we enter the fight, the mind stops talking. All that chattering, all that continuous flow of thoughts stops. And this is a must, it is necessary, if not you will be knocked down. The body must stop thinking and start reacting. So fighting becomes, in a way, like meditation, actually it becomes meditation. It becomes that beautiful state of “no mind” where only observation and reaction exists.
I am sure you all heard about fighters saying that after the fight begins, all that nervousness disappears. It is because we get rid of the mind. Mind is a very useful tool, but sometime it can become a real pain in the ass if we cannot control it. And before almost each fight, the mind goes crazy. So in order to make it shut up, we fight. And who do we discover in that silence of thoughts? I think that ourselves, our true being, the observer, the witness as I like calling it. The one who knows that no matter how things will evolve, it will be all fine in the end. And this is the most precious thing we can discover in our lives, that we are not only the body, and we are not the mind, but something else that can’t be named. So, now I know why I love so much to fight. Thank you, Kyokushin! Thank you to all my masters, all my colleagues, all my friends!
What is a karate gi?
What is it? Is it just a piece of clothing, just equipment or something more than that? Of course it is a great piece of equipment, made to let you move without restrains, made to keep you warm, but in the same time to let you sweat. It is the type of equipment that helps you perform your technics better, with more control, with more accuracy, a garment that sometimes also camouflages your body from straight punches and kicks, it has no buttons or zippers, and for sure, hides your bruises. And that’s it? Oh, no, this is just the beginning, although for many it ends here.
Your karate gi was initially an traditional working equipment used by Japanese farmers in the country side. It was used because it was comfortable. But, as you all know, in the Japanese culture nothing is what it appears to be and everything has more meanings. The belt is made to keep your kimono tight, but also, the knot has a energetic function, it applies pressure on your hara, where the Japanese believe our soul lives, where the Indians locate Svadisthana chakra, our sacred chakra where our life force resides. Even the way the belt is tight resembles the way the chakra rotates.
In the beginning, the gi was not white, it was more brown-grey. Now, being white, it remembers as all in a symbolic way, that we are all the same even though our belts have different colors (this was later introduced by Jigoro Kano, the founder ofJudo). White is the color of purity, innocence, light, goodness, heaven, safety, brilliance, illumination, understanding, cleanliness, faith, beginnings, spirituality, humility, sincerity and protection. It makes us all one.
Later, Sosai added the Kyokushin kanji, which is not only decoration. It is a powerful symbol with amazing meanings which transforms our gi in a sacred garment. Our gi becomes a temple that we wear. It becomes a reminder of the way we are on. It makes us sit straight, it imposes a positive, spiritual attitude.
You cannot dance in your gi, you cannot behave like a punk, you must wear it with dignity and respect. It is disrespectful to wear it open, with your belt behind your neck, as we see so many times. The gi makes a big difference between martial arts, budo, and other sports. It is a reminder that we are on a spiritual way, not only on a physical one. This symbolic function should make us treat it with greater respect, and that’s why, sometimes I am sad to see that more and more people prefer technical clothes in training instead of the gi. We lose all what’s sacred and we become completely materialistic.
Enter the tatami
Fighting is one of the most powerful tools for self-knowledge. A quote from a book that I like comes to my mind : “How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?” Entering the tatami, all by yourself, is one of the biggest steps you can take in life to find out who you really are.
A question arises in the mind of many : why the hell fight, when, in this type of society we are living in today, I can chose not to fight ? For me the answer is easy now, but in my competition days it was not. It is to find out who you are. Because I think this is the most important question a human being can ask of himself, of the universe. Who am I ?
But the type of society we live in doesn’t want us to find out who we are. Because the society needs a slave, o working robot, a small wheel in the huge mechanism. This is why it sends me to prison-school, makes me memorize tons of shit I don’t need, puts me in front of a TV and keeps me asleep. Society needs a happy slave, mentally and spiritually asleep humanoid, in order to go on.
So, in order to fight this system, one must do a huge effort. And everything starts with this simple question : who am I ?
One of the more simple ways of answering the biggest and most important questions in the universe is entering a dojo, training karate and then, all by yourself, entering the tatami to fight. Fighting is a terible powerful tool of self-knowledge.
First of all it challenges you by fear. Everybody is afraid to fight. It is painful, you can get an injury, you can get knoked out, maybe you can die. But it is only this perspective of death that can really save your life and makes you appreciate it. Because if you are not ready to die when fighting, you can never find out what it is to live. In order to find the much acclaimed middle way Buddha was talking about 2500 years ago, one must go to extrems. Full-contact fighting is an extreme. This is why society doesn’t want you to fight (in many countryes full-contact fighting is banned, see Canada for example, thanks for the info Istvan), this is why society wants to cudle you, not in order to protect you, but to keep you asleep.
Fighting wakes you up. It awakes every cell in your body, it makes your mind go on fire, it stirs you up, it doesn’t let you sleep for weeks, it challenges you. And, just like in all the forgoten great initiation processes of all the great civilisations that were sending their youngs in the forest or in the desert to hunt and to survive, facing the risk of death, only to transform the boy into a man, you enter the tatami all by yourself. And not only that, but you face great dangers, pains, injuries, death. It is a storm inside yourself. And then you fight. And the absolutely beauty of fighting is that it doesn’t matter if you win or lose. Of course everybody wants to win, and loosing makes you sad, but in the big picture you gain so much only by fighting, only by entering the tatami, that winning or losing is not of outmost importance. And it becomes irrelevant in the test of time. But with every fight you enter, with every competition, a more conscious person comes out of the tatami.
Immediately after the fight, most fighters experience a sort of surreal state of calm. After every big storm the sun shines more bright. After every fight you are able to see things more clear, to understand more. And the more you fight the more clearer the picture becomes. You realize that under pressure, you can improvise, you can adapt, you improve, you become creative, you can overcome pain, you become a better person. All fighters who have entered the tatami many times are very calm persons, very understanding and mentaly strong people, free people, responsible people, action people. Because after you overcome the dangers of a real fight, what can scare you anymore ? So this is one of the reasons why we fight, not to become more violent, but to become better persons, to understand who and what we are. To all the young students that have the heart to first enter the tatami, I just want to hug you all and to tell you that finally, you have made the first step in a fantastic journey that is knowing yourself, a step that is so far away for most humanoids on this planet. Osu !
What good is an injury
If you practice contact sports chances are that sooner or later you will be confronted with an injury. It’s fact of life. The way people react to an injury is almost the same: suffering, sadness, depression, frustration. After going all my life through a series of serious injuries (broken bones, broken kidney, surgeries, actually now I deal with a broken ligament) I came to a conclusion that could also be helpful for others in the same situation (I just seen shihan Goncharenko on facebook looking sad with a broken knee).
It is not a joy to deal with an injury. But it shouldn’t be a drama. It can be used as a remainder. I think that most of mankind is living unconscious, like in a state of dream. Take for example the way we treat our health. Most of us, including me, we take it for granted. We forget the gift we were given. We walk unconscious, we run unconscious, we train unconscious. Some of us remember from time to time to be grateful for all of this, but the majority doesn’t. So, when an injurie occurs we feel perplexed: “Why did this happen’ to me?” “Why did this happened right now when I need my health most?”, and I could go on.
An injurie is a sign, it is a reminder. It is a reminder of a state that we should be surrounded all time, the state of gratefulness. It’s a wake-up call. Each and every second of our life we have to be present and grateful: when walking, when training, when playing, when eating, when sleeping.
If you did not experience the joy and exhilaration of walking after being forced to lay down in bed for three months, it’s difficult to understand what I mean. The first steps after a serious injurie are God. It is the greatest feeling you can experience! It is the moment when you understand that you were asleep for so long, taking things as granted, forgetting to be grateful, being unconscious. So, with every injurie you are blessed, even with bruises or concussion, you become a little more aware of the great gift we were given, and that is life, and that is health and the privilege of getting old.
Life is a journey, but it is also a school and some of the best tools are pain, accidents, suffering, because nobody ever learns from only being happy and carless. That’s another reason why I love karate, especially Kyokushin, because it delivers a sure load of pain and suffering, so necessary for the evolution of our soul, for becoming more conscious, more grateful. And in my opinion, the moment when you become grateful for every breath you take, for every step you take, for every training, for every person you meet, even for injuries and other “bad” things that can happen into your life, that is the moment that you become enlightened. Cherish your injuries, because they are here to help you become more conscious and aware. Osu!
The most important
Someone asked me a little while ago what I think is the most important thing in karate, in Kyokushin. I answered without having to think too much: etiquette.
Many will not agree with me and will say no, the fight is more important, kata is the most important, grades, competition, training, etc and they are right in way. What you consider to be the most important is, finally. But so many other sports have fight, they have competitions, they really struggle to be the best, they really need to be “samurais” to win. Do you think, for example, that marathon is easy? Or weightlifting? But what we have in plus, what makes the big difference between martial arts and other sports (although I believe all sports are martial arts) is the emphasis we put on etiquette. The importance of manners and respect.
We have a code for everything, from how to tie the belt knot, how to dress, how to enter a dojo, how to begin and end a training, how to approach a colleague, how to start a fight, how to end a fight, how to behave when you win, how to sit, how to stay, how to proceed when you are late, how to shake hands. This etiquette is actually the biggest thing that separates us from other sports. And teaching kids this etiquette, this moral code, I think is one of the best ways to improve our society, our world. Osu!
Never One Kyokushin
Internet, specially Facebook, is full of people asking for One Kyokushin, for unity, for One family, like it was on Sosai’s days. It will never happen people, stop being hypocrite. Funny thing is that usually it is the ones that changed organization at least one time that are asking for this stupidity.
When I was younger reading Nietzsche’s “Der Wille zur Macht” (Will of power) I was always assuming this is an exaggeration. It can’t be like that, people are more intelligent, kind, more idealistic. Now, I know for sure not only that the main force that drives humanity is the will of power, but I think that not even Nietzsche could imagine how far this has gone.
The will of power is the main reason that we will never ever have one Kyokushin. My prediction is that instead of this we will have many more organizations in the future. When Sosai was alive it was like this: you want to do Kyokushin, real Kyokushin? You are part of Sosai organization. No one dared to challenge that (of course, we have the exceptions of Steve Arneil and Shigeru Oyama, who were banned by Sosai, but thay had more like a dojo or two, not a real organization).
After Sosai passed away what happened? We had such a nice legacy, the odds were good. Will of power happened. Who started the split? The ones that had the most power at that time, Sosai’s best students. The split started from the birthplace of Kyokushin, from Japan. First in two, than three, than, exactly like a tree, in many more organizations. Yes, yes, I know, if you ask, reasons are always that the other guy is not good enough, that he is a dictator, etc, but real reason is will of power. It is much better to be a big boss in a little organization than to be “nobody” in a big organization. Truth is painful, I know, and it will piss people off, but this are facts.
In the past people had problems the same like today, but you had nowhere to go. What could you do? But now, someone is pissing you off? Bye-bye! Not only that other organizations welcome you, but you are treated usually like a king: here, have one more degree, here, you are branch-chief. Is it something else that you want?
I would have never written this, but I am sick of people shouting “One Kyokushin”. Accept the truth and embrace it. People love power and they will never give up what they gained (degrees, status) in order to be united. Instead we should be happy that we have the opportunity to train Kyokushin in our dojo, no matter what organization we are, and this is the greatest legacy. The rest is bullshit! Osu!
About the beauty of Kyokushin, illusion and meditation
I was always intrigued why all the great masters said that this world is an illusion. What are they talking about? How could all the objects, all my feelings, my thoughts, my body, myself, all be an illusion? They must be crazy! And then I started practicing the Kyokushin way. And the words of the masters became so real!
Starting more than 15 years ago, I shave my head. In the beginning people asked me why I did this, because I really had nice hair, and I always replied that it is more convenient for me because of the training. My real motive was something else. The moment I realized, mostly through Kyokushin, through meditation and reading, how superficial, how asleep and lost almost everybody around me was, I decided that I must do something. Like a reminder to go on the middle way, to walk between this material, instinct dominated and petty world, and the spiritual world. Actually the only real one. I refuse to go to a monastery, I refuse to hide myself, but in the same time, I refuse to become this world of agony and ecstasy. So I choose to meditate in the middle of the market. I want to continue to live among all the people, enjoying every moment, every blessing, because when you start to understand the illusion, everything becomes bliss, even the things that you considered “bad” in the past.
The beginning of understanding for me was the moment when I realized that I can perceive the same situation in different ways just by a simple decision. After experimenting some time with this technique I discovered a new one, the most important of all, for me. When you start meditating, one of the things the master is asking you to do is to try to contemplate, to observe your mind, the way thoughts come and go, how they grow if you feed them, how they fade when you change your focus. Funny thing is, that thoughts and emotions, feelings, wishes, they start to become so much less vital for yourself just by observing them. Just by becoming a witness. This is the most important technique that I know, and I use it lately all the time.
Have you noticed how, after one good Kyokushin training, all the problems you were thinking prior have become smaller? I am absolutely sure that all who train in Kyokushin have experienced this. How come? Because, during training, during kihon, kata, kumite, the mind becomes still, it must become so, if not, you are not doing it correctly, and because of this, problems shrink. So a question appears: If a problem can become smaller just by not paying attention to it for a while, how real can it be? It makes me smile even now, after so much time.
Things have not stopped here. Not only did I discover that the mind is “guilty” for all my misery, but by trying to contemplate my thoughts, my emotions, my cravings, my fears, by deciding not to get identified with them, I stopped judging situations and I started discovering perfection in all things, even in those considered really bad by most of the people. And seeing perfection has never left me since. Contemplation helps you not to get identified with situations, with emotions, with clothes, wishes, with who you “think” you are. This is so great! It is such a feeling of relief! After understanding, after becoming conscious, you become light like a feather. Even if you are sick, poor or in pain. There are so much more things to say, but in brief: observe, contemplate, meditate, do not get identified, laugh all the time, stop in the middle of the day to watch a child playing, a bird singing, do your duty, but do not forget who you are and what this world is made of. This is the middle way. This is why I shave my head. This is why I train Kyokushin. Osu!
“The way of the samurai is found in death”
Nowadays everything we are being taught is about life and how we should deal with it, how to become successful, how to behave etc. All education follows this path. In the past, things were a little different, and for me Kyokushin and all the philosophy behind it, the samurai code, the old warrior way offered a different perspective, a more healthy one, in my vision.
“Hagakure”, a spiritual guide for the warrior, written by Yamamoto Tsunetomo starts like this: “The Way of the Samurai is found in death”. And it continues with this advice: “Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one’s body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears and swords, being carried away by surging waves, being thrown into the midst of a great fire, being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake, falling from thousand-foot cliffs, dying of disease or committing seppuku at the death of one’s master. And every day without fail one should consider himself as dead.” For most this kind of technic is very disturbing, it is a thing of the past. This is not something new. More than 1500 years before Tsunetomo, Seneca, a Roman philosopher, advices one to do a daily calm meditation on all things that could go wrong, disease, illness, accidents, death. What is wrong with this people, why can we just go on living our lives in peace focusing on more positive things? Of course we can, and most of the people actually live like this. The word death is tabu for them, even hearing this word makes them uncomfortable. In my opinion this leads only to unconsciousness.
What does daily meditation on death and illness do, on things that could go wrong? It makes us conscious. One day, not very far from now, this events will eventually happen anyway. Problem is not this, this is only natural. Problem is that until then we live like we are immortals (and in a way we are ), and that means we do not appreciate people, events and things the proper way. We do not appreciate our meal, our neighbor, our daily training, our student, our master. Have you noticed how much we start missing lovers, friends and parents when they are far away? Have you noticed how much we miss our training when we cannot train because of an injury? This are only signs that we do not live in a proper way. And life should be about daily cherishing and loving your friends, your family, nature, our training, everything, even the “bad” things that happen only to make us more conscious.
Training in a dojo makes us conscious about many things. We discover how vulnerable we are, that life can sometime end with a single blow. We discover that we are not the body, but something else, more beautiful, that makes the body go on even after we think it can no longer function. We train how to end a life in order to appreciate it more and to protect it. What a beautiful paradox! So, I encourage you to do this meditation daily. This is a very old method, but we must make it new again, so we don’t start living as walking deaths. Meditation on inevitable death leads to life, a more beautiful and more conscious one.
More than 20 years ago, shihan Howard Collins asked me before a competition if I was prepared. I answered yes, of course. And then he told me something strange for me back then: “Win or lose, it doesn’t matter. Enjoy everything!” Now I finally understand. Osu!
For about three days I had the chance to spend some time with shihan Norichika Tsukamoto in our summer camp. For me, he was always a kind of a mystery. Sometimes I was truly amazed at his innovations, sometimes he made me laugh and sometimes he was confusing.
Towards the end of the camp I was about to receive one of the biggest physical, cultural and spiritual shocks of my life. I guess that watching his career from a distance, everybody wondered about his secret. How does he execute his amazing techniques, how can he be so efficient with very little effort seemingly? So we started whit technical questions. And he answered with the greatest kindness and benevolence. And we trained, and it was really great. But this was not nearly enough, somehow we felt that we are only scratching the surface of a huge volcano. So we tried more.
We asked about his special stretching and body adjustment program. And with his generosity he never hesitated to show us everything, his daily routine. And we had the feeling that we went a step further, a step deeper. We realized that the capacity of the body to perform efficiently without much use of energy was greater than we thought. We discovered lines of energy, circles and points. For some it was sufficient, maybe more than what they hoped for. I was still not satisfied. Still I felt this man is more than what we understood at this time. Where did his inspiration come from, his creativity?
So we started asking more questions. And we found out he emerges from a line of artists, his mother teaches katana, his grandfather was a sculptor. Himself, when he was a child, he never wanted to become a karateka, but a painter. And it came like a thunder: he became a painter, but his paint brush was his karate techniques and his canvas was the tatami, his force inspiration and improvisation. But this was still not enough to explain his strength, his endurance, his will.
And then, like sensing that somehow we were still a little baffled, on the last training sensei Tsukamoto shared his story with us. And so we found out that maybe the most important thing is to be part of a system. Of a cultural system that gave birth to the samurai and the Budo code and to sosai.
His life was not perfect, this man was very familiar not only with the glory of the heavens, but also with the dark shadows of hell. His journey was not all flowers and celebration, but also many encounters with depressing times and demons. The will to know more about himself and the health of the system he was part of saved him in the end. Great teachers, great students, his masters, Shinkyokushin. They all saved him from himself, from who he thought he was and he was not, from an egocentric life to a life of altruism and dedication. A life of understanding that doing something for the others is finally doing for yourself, for the completion of your personality.
And so, a formidable young world champion, with skills that come into manifestation once in a century, became a mature world champion with the same skills, but this time accompanied by understanding, empathy and a deep sense of belonging to something greater than himself, his family, his dojo, his senseis, his students, his organization, his country, his world, his universe.
Sensei, thank you very much for letting us take a glimpse into a wonderful human being, and one of the most inspiring and fascinating fighters of all times.
From my point of view, writing about Valeri is writing about Budo. Regarding every aspect that I understand of the way of the warrior. So, this short text is easy to write in a way, because I am not actually talking about Valeri, but about Budo. On the other hand, it is very difficult, because the Budo way is so deep, and so is Valeri.
I first met him in 2000, in Spain, when he became the first time European champion. He was kind of a mystery, very quiet, easy to pass, almost invisible. On the tatami you had to take notice. He was doing almost nothing, but he was winning in a very convincing manner. He was taking everything what was thrown on him, almost absorbing kicks and punching, and he was always going forward. Probably Sosai would have loved him dearly. I had to look at him from the second round of the competition because he fought with a very strong Romanian member of our team. Our fighter was doing everything, but with almost no effect. He lost in the second round because he was exhausted and it looked like Valeri was just waking up. So since then I have always watched him with interest and I was never disappointed. I don’t want to talk here about his countless titles, others have done it better, I want to talk about the man, the character, about his inner beauty as much as I can understand.
With time we became a little closer, exchanging thoughts, joking (mostly me, I am a joker), watching fights together and making bets about who was going to win. I always had a good time with him, and I think everyone who knows him considers him a very good company. But he is more than that. I always got the feeling that he understands more than he says and much more than he shows. He is very smart, but quiet, like the Budo way should be. He has a good word for everybody, he does not avoid anyone, his patience sometimes annoys me and makes me want to shake him.
I have never seen him angry. This worries me sometimes. I am joking. It was only once, at the last World Tournament, when he looked tired and worried. He was under so much pressure from everybody that I think he forgot for a moment about his true nature. But it was love that made him react like this. He did not want to disappoint his teachers, his team mates, his friends, his fans. But reality has sometimes a funny way of waking you up. And it did exactly this with Valery. After not winning the World Tournament, he changed. He become so much stronger, and I don’t mean physically, but mentally. He become one, he closed the circle. At the next competition when we talked, the World Cup from Lithuania, I asked him before the tournament if he was nervous. His answer was so good: “It’s just a competition.” He won first place. He finally understood the value of being in the present, to enjoy everything without judgement, without expectations.
Although he is a fantastic fighter, his entrance on the tatami is almost invisible, very humble, like he does not want to disturb something or someone. When he wins, he reacts in the same way like he lost. No reaction. This is understanding. Understanding of duality, of the nature of this universe of illusion in which we live. Enough suffering is produced by winning a fight against someone, you don’t need to make a spectacle out of this. And he doesn’t make it out of compassion, another characteristic of Budo.
When he came in Romania to teach in our summer camp, I told him that in my twisted mind, I see him like that beautiful character out of the cartoon movie Kung-Fu Panda, Master Oogway, the ancient wise turtle. He laughed, but he did not get mad. He has a very good sense of humor.
I was always fighting and contesting my teachers. I still do it now sometimes, but not so often. I have never seen him do something like that. He is the perfect student that any teacher would love to have, never protesting, always listening, always saying Osu! This is what will make him such a great master.
Some teachers, when they come to teach in camps, they know perfectly what they want to teach. Some of them are like an ocean that brings you waves of knowledge, technique and if you are lucky enough, fun. Valeri is not like that. He is like an ocean without waves. More like a mountain lake. Transparent and deep. He was always asking me before every training: “Harris, what do you want me to teach?” If you were intelligent enough to ask the right questions, he would answer any of them in the wisest manner, profound. Whatever you wanted he was giving with altruism and passion. But you had to have the right questions. No waves here.
He is one of the loveliest family men that I know, an ancient soul, taking care of his amazing children and his beautiful and intelligent wife. He is the embodiment of Budo in my view. I hate him sometimes for being good in every aspect of his life. I could write a novel about him, but we are in a time when people don’t have patience anymore.
Going over what I wrote I realize two things: I could only touch the surface in trying to describe Valeri, my friend, but, like Budo, it takes lots of practice and dedication to understand and to feel more. And secondly, it looks like a love letter.
Karate and stupidity
In Baku, at Sayonara party, I had a small talk with a man I love and respect, and between the ideas exchange he told me that his wife thinks that anyway most people who train karate are stupid. He did not completely approve this, stating that this is a generality common to the whole world, but I know better to appreciate a women’s intuition, and I completely agree with her.
Why do I think this. If you believe you can be offended by this words, please stop here, I don’t want to harm anybody’s feelings. Thing is karate is a very complex educational system, and like any other system it has good and bad parts. We are insecure, so we search for an educational system that could make us stronger, more confident, capable of expressing ourselves. And karate gives us this, and many more things, like health, self-defense abilities, friends… Problem is we get identified with who we think we have become. Because everybody starts calling us sempai, sensei, shihan, we actually think we are this. And we strive to get more grades, more diplomas, to be recognized as important. And in my opinion this makes us really stupid. For me, anybody who thinks he is important is stupid. So when I see people recommending themselves with shihan, sensei, bla bla it makes me so sad. When I see signatures on diplomas: shihan…
George Gurdjieff was one of the greatest masters of the XX century. One of my favorite quote from his work is this: “Identification is man’s only sin.” I really believe this to be true. Unfortunately too many of our fellow karatekas become identified with the grade, with the gi, with titles, with whom they think they have become. I believe in the Budo way, but identification is the way of the stupid. I have seen only a couple of people whom I think they are real masters in my life. But for me it is difficult to recognize one: the inferior cannot recognize the superior.
And then there is the problem of power. Abraham Lincoln said something really great: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Karate gives you this: power. And it makes no discriminations: it gives power to almost everybody, or at least the illusion of power. And what happens: you see people really clear. And yes, you see more stupid people in karate than in the “real life” and sometimes it can be funny, but most of the time it is only sad.
Is this going to make me stop training? Oh, no! I love karate, I love Kyokushin. My best friends train with me, I love my students, my teachers, my masters, I love to train. But in the same time I try not to forget who I am, and really I don’t know who I am. I came in this world without a name, without clothes and I will leave almost the same, with everybody forgetting who I was. And for me this is a beautiful mystery. And I will try my whole life to see in others beautiful, mysterious beings. So, my advice is, train, fight, get titles, get grades, but do not get identified with them, because this is not who you really are. You are so much more then this! So, stay humble, stay hungry, do not get satisfied. Evolve!
The winners pose
Don’t know who used it first in Kyokushin, but nowadays almost everybody is using it to mark his victory on the tatami. Originally, I think, it was invented by traditional non-contact karate as a way to make sure your wazari or ippon is noticed. It was introduced in the early days, at the first world tournaments and made very popular by the Brazilian fighters. Now almost everybody is using it. But what purpose does it have in Kyokushin, in a full-contact martial art, if your opponent is already laying down unconscious or in pain? None. It is just the winners pose, it is for show, but a poor one in my opinion.
It is a poor show because it resembles the toreadors pose after a successful kill, because it resembles the gladiators gestures of victory, because it is the opposite of compassion, because it is like any other sport, but most of all, because it lacks understanding. Understanding of the true meaning of Budo. All the great samurai and warriors look a little sad after a victory and sometimes smile after a defeat. It is because they understand. They know deep in their old souls that victory is just one side of the coin, and on the other side lays defeat. Victory and defeat are the same thing. So they welcome both with the same attitude and try to enjoy everything. And this makes Kyokushin and any other martial art so special.
Does fighting make us better persons? No, it just shows to everybody who we are. What does fighting say about a human being? Everything. It is like a scan. The way you fight, the way you win, the way you lose, everything speaks about you. Everything speaks about everything in the eye of a master. This is why sometimes we have a tendency to love more certain fighters even if they are not as successful as others, and this is why we dislike some, even if they are champions. They lack understanding.
Although I enjoy watching many fighters, my preferences are very few. This is why I like fighters like Valeri Dimitrov, Kunihiro Suzuki or Marius Ilas. Just look at them after an ippon or wazari, or when they are awarded victory. You will never see them jumping of joy, holding their fists tight, or even smiling. No. If you will look closer maybe you will notice some sadness. They are full of compassion, and know that victory is just the other side of defeat, and that no victory would be possible without the opponents help and dedication. So I love them, because I love understanding, I love consciousness, I love Budo.
During his life, the great master Lao Tzu was always saying that he was never defeated. The day he was dying, some of his students wanted to know his secret, the way of victory, so they asked him about this. But Lao Tzu laughed and told them that he was never defeated because in his entire life he never searched for victory.
Maybe next time when you see the winners pose you will think twice.