Interpretation of Motto by Brian Berenbach, Shihan

Spiritual Development of Individuality In Mind And Body
by Brian Berenbach, Shihan

One of the first things that new students learn on beginning the study of Shorinjiryu karate is the motto “Spiritual development of individuality in mind and body”. We find this motto in our advertising, on our web sites, and inscribed on plaques in the dojos. But if you ask practitioners what this means,you will typically get a different answer from each of them. One reason for so many viewpoints is that we are all one or more generations removed from the founder of our style, Kaiso Kori Masayoshi Hisataka, and, like any expression, the motto is open to interpretation in the absence of a formal definition. I think there is general consensus about the “mind and body” part; where I usually find disagreement is over the “individuality”.

Where is it possible to have individuality? There are many kinds of variation. For example, diffrent karateka may interpret a kata differently (bunkai) and this might consequently affect timing and the application of power and breathing.We have also seen great variation from style to style, and even between dojos in each style. But I think perhaps, that this begs the point Note the word “individuality”, that is, the individual. As one of the few students who have studied with Kaiso, Shihan Yam azaki, and Shinan Masayuki Hisataka, I may be able to shed some light on the original meaning of the motto.

To understand why Kaiso had this motto, we must first understand the environment in which he taught. In Japan, education of any kind tends to be formal and rigid.This is especially true in karate. Everyone kicks the same, punches the same, and does kata the same. For example, the official shotokan organization, The Japan Karate Association, has gone so far in its publications as to describe minutia in excruciating detail, e.g. “in a back stance 70% of the weight shall be on the back foot and 30% of the weight shall be on the front foot”, … “when executing gedan uke from a front stance the blocking arm shall be parallel to the forward thigh”, etc. So to invite any hint of individuality among students in Japan in the late 1940s was a real, daring break with tradition.

Today, of course, it would seem as normal as a cell phone, but to break with tradition in Japan was to invite ostracism and ridicule. Just how slight a variation from the norm in Japan can result in ridicule can be seen by reading the famous 1906 novel, Botchan, by Natsume Sōseki (aside: m any years ago my then Japanese girlfriend used to refer to me as “Botchan Brian”). In the novel Sōseki writes about his experiences teaching in a boarding school. The then young school teacher goes to a restaurant and orders Soba Tempura. He likes it so much he has the effrontery to order a second bowl.The next day when he teaches, all day long from the back of the room in the classroom and when he is leading the students during assembly he can hear the cry ”Soba” and “Soba Tempura!”.Apparently the entire school has learned, through the grapevine that he ordered two bowls instead of just one, and thus violated the norm and the rule of moderation.

So we can see that the principle of “Spiritual development of individuality in mind and body” was incredibly radical in Japanese society when introduced by Kaiso. What exactly did he mean? Did he mean that two dojos can have kata variations? No. Did he mean that two Shorinjiryu styles can punch differently? No. He meant that individual student in the same dojo at the same time can do things differently. For example, Yamazaki sensei was very short. When he did a punch out of turning form, he would use a side punch and deliver the technique while sailing thru the air (e.g his leading foot was still airborne when he made contact). Other, taller students would land on the front foot and then use the twisting of the hips to get power When kicking some students at the Hombu, located in the Shinjuku ward, would use lighter faster kicks that resemble a Shotokan snapping kick; others would use longer harder thrusting kicks. Similarly, there was a profusion of different techniques that nearly drove me crazy when I tried to copy from Yamazaki-Sensei or Hisataka-Sensei. I could go on describing the endless variations from student to student but I think you get the idea. After I had been driven to a near nervous breakdown by trying to copy a variety of techniques, I finally broke down and did the unthinkable: I asked my senseis why they punched and kicked differently (this was another Japanese taboo — asking questions).

The answer was astonishing in it’s simplicity. Kaiso understood that different physiognomy required different techniques and therefore not only allowed, but encouraged variations between student where they made sense. So back to today when I teach I try to explain some of the possible variations in stance, blocking, punching and kicking I encourage my student to try different approaches and then use the one that works for their body. Of course, it does take a certain level of achievement to recognize when one technique works better than another, but after reaching a certain level, it was Kaiso’s belief, and is mine, that in karate as in life, we have to adopt to what works best for us, and not blindly copy from our teachers. “Spiritual development of individuality in mind and body”, groundbreaking in karate in Japan in 1945, and just as valuable a philosophy for karate and life; today and tomorrow.


Dojo Hyogo – Dojo Motto

The motto of Shorinjiryu karatedo is‘ Doku Ji Gyo Sei Ki ‘ ,

In English: “Spiritual development of individuality in mind and body” 

In French : “Développement spirituel de l’individualité mentale et physique “

The Shorinjiryu motto was coined by Kaiso Masayoshi Kori Hisataka (1907-1988), Kaiso meaning founder, and expresses his view that individuality is an important trait developed in a karateka.

Hanshi Shunji Watanabe explained the meaning of the Shorinjiryu Kenkokan Karatedo motto, from Kaiso Hisataka as the following: “Shorinjiryu karateka are like trees in a forest. All the trees have common characteristics, but no one tree is the same as another. In the same way, Shorinjiryu karateka share common techniques, philosophies, and knowledge, but no practitioner is identical to another”.

It is from this comparison that we can understand how each of us simultaneously learns from and enhances Shorinjiryu karatedo according to our individuality.

Although the base of karate should be consistent, each practitioner will emphasise their own strengths and account for their limitations.

This motto is not a license for individuals to change forms or methods at their own discretion.

At the Shorinjiryu Kenkokan Karatedo honbu dojo (headquarters) in the Waseda area in Shinjuku Ward of Tokyo, Japan,  Kaiso Hisataka painted the motto in kanji on a large wooden board which remained on proud display at the front of the dojo since 1955 until recent renovations to the dojo in 2011.

What to Bring to Karate Class

What you should bring when you come to our Karate class ?
by Allen Yuen, Sensei

For beginners a plain white T-shirt with fleece or nylon track pants are all that is required to start training.

We train in our bare feet, but if you have arch problems or other foot issues, please wear running shoes that you would use only for training, not for everyday walking around. There are also specific martial arts shoes available for purchase on-line from martial arts suppliers.

After you have trained for a while, you will feel that a Karate uniform or Judo uniform will be more suitable for training. This is not only highly practical, but you may find that it helps put you into a martial arts mindset.

I highly recommend bringing the following to each and every class:

– All white Karate uniform (with appropriate rank belt)

– Plain white T-Shirt or Shorinjiryu Genbukan Federation T-shirt to wear under the uniform top.

– Sandals or Flip-Flops for travelling between the change room and the dojo.

– Reusable water bottle.

– Skipping rope.

– Hand Towel (Small).

– Mouth guard.

– Protective groin cup and supporter (Optional).

– Backpack or gear bag to store your street clothing and personal belongings during practice.