From day one, karate class had a certain structure. Classes always began and ended with formalities. In-between the formalities – we sat seiza (on our knees) and meditated – then we did our warm ups including stretching, calisthenics, kihon (basics) and other warm ups. That was part one. After that, we went on to kata training, self-defense applications, one-step sparring and regular sparring. That was part two. This was usually the order but not always.
I used to think part two was the good stuff, but the good stuff was the hard work we did during part one. It’s that good hard work that makes a person strong for life. Drilling, honing, then more drilling of the basics is what gave me mental and physical strength. To this day, one of my favorite joys is to train right along with the students and work the basics while allowing an assistant to lead so I can concentration on good technique.
I really enjoy the meditation, however, for the past 30 years or so – I’ve allowed the meditation to mostly be left up to the students to do on their own time. Just the White Cranes (60 + with exceptions) do the meditation during class on a regular basis. We do sitting meditation where the attention is placed on breathing and relaxation and follow with standing meditation where the focus is a no-mind visual exercise involving the eyes, tanden, body weapons and focal point. After that we do moving meditation. I was taught the standing and moving meditations from my teacher, the late Shihan George Owens. We choose not to use the seiza sitting style in any of our classes – and with good reason – not because of discomfort.
Of all the parts of the karate class structure, the formalities – which I’ve embraced as early on as I can remember – are the most important. Those formalities (combined with the dojo rules and protocol) have served as a guide for seeking fairness and sincerity in the competition arena and in the training hall. When martial artists abondon them, things always go haywire. You see it at open tournaments and you see it during sparring when the sparring directives are not being adhered too. I’ve always respected those who respect the formalities and looked up to those who’ve helped teach them to me by word and deed. – Floyd Burk