I recently sat down with 10th Dan Hanshi Stephen Kaufman. The man’s in his 70’s and he can still move like a 20 year old. I figured he had a few things to teach us about training and life in the martial arts.
So I came up with this list based on what he said to me. In no particular order. Just me throwing some knowledge your way and letting you know it came from the horse’s mouth. Enjoy.
1. There’s a big difference between doing something and actually living it. Now a days in the martial arts you have a lot of people that do martial arts. They come from the group-on generation. They try something and then, when they get tired they try something else. There’s nothing wrong with that. But those people never really get to understand the real benefits of training for a long period of time. They’re just doing the thing, just like you do tennis or golf or basketball.
Then there are people that actually live the arts. Their whole persona is changed by the fact of their involvement. The arts bleed into every aspect of their lives. And that’s the way martial arts work the best, when they seep into you slowly and gradually.
So if you find yourself checking your horse stance while waiting for the subway or dreaming about your kata or figuring out what items you can use as weapons from the counter at your local dinner, then you might be one of the latter.
2. Don’t always trust what’s being offered to you. Hanshi Kaufman said to me that when he first became interested in karate, while he was stationed in Okinawa, there was a street in town that had four karate schools in it. You could go from corner to corner and see the different schools at work. In one you would find the Army guys, in the other the Air Force and so on. Hanshi went to these and all he saw was a bunch of guys beating each other up.
Something in him told him that there had to be more to this karate thing than this. So he continued to search. Eventually an Okinawan friend took him to a restricted part of town where introductions were made. The moment Hanshi walked in he knew he had found what he was looking for.
Class was unassuming and the instruction was straightforward. The Sensei immediately showed Hanshi how to make a fist and how to position his arms.
That’s how he got started. No secret handshake or having to sweep the floor for five months. Just people wanting to train and dedicating their lives to something.
So, don’t always trust what you’re being offered at first. If you think there’s something better. There probably is. Trust your instincts. You’ll rarely go wrong.
3. There are no secrets. Martial arts are practice. The secrets are the knowledge that reveals itself to you as you work and get to know your ability and your body. There’s no secret formula or magic pill. In the west we have grown accustomed to wanting quick results. We just want to do that two month exercise program and have our bodies change forever. But things are seldom that easy. If somebody’s offering you a quick master program, odds are it’s just a fake.
You have to dedicate time and effort to something in order for the secrets to reveal themselves to you. The knowledge is there for anyone who wants it. You just have to be willing to pay the price.
4. Share your knowledge. When Hanshi Kaufman came back from Okinawa he started the first official Air Force branch of the Japanese Karate Association. At that time martial arts were new to the United States. There were a lot of servicemen coming back with knowledge. Hanshi said to me that they would go into each other’s schools and say, hey I have some good stuff, if you show me some of your stuff I’ll show you some of mine.
The arts became richer because of this. This spirit of community has been lost a bit now a days. Schools tend to be very zealous of their knowledge.
They are doing the arts a great disservice. Knowledge is meant to be shared. It makes the arts stronger and it spreads them over a greater space. Keeping things secret can only lead to your art disappearing from our world.
5. Accept responsibility for the power that you now have. The martial arts, when practiced correctly can be deadly. If you train diligently you will develop awesome skill. Own up to it and remember that with great power comes great responsibility.
Hanshi Kaufman was telling me that he could, at some point, put a fist through four inches of wood. This is with no spacers. That’s four inches of solid wood! Think about that for a second. If you were to strike somebody with that, the damage could be considerable, maybe even fatal.
That’s an incredible amount of responsibility. That means that when you strike, you better know that the strike was necessary and not just a whim of anger.
You’re wielding great power and you have to be aware of the consequences of using it.