“Be Still and Know”

May 2017 - Click Here to Download the Full .pdf pdf icon2

As much as the movements involved in karate training are difficult at first, being still and not moving at all is sometimes even harder. When students line up to bow in at the beginning and end of class the command in Japanese is kiyotsuke, which is the military equivalent in English of “ATTENTION”. What this command requires is that students should stand up straight with their heels touching and their hands by their sides. Blinking and breathing should be the only movements discernable. While this exercise is very difficult, it is important that students should do their best to practice. Sitting in seiza (kneeling) also affords a similar opportunity to be still.
In music there are rests between notes and pauses between movements. In karate practice there are points of essential stillness within certain combinations and between techniques, that create the dynamic balance essential to the rhythm and timing involved. This is especially evident in kata practice, where a good rule of thumb is to pause for one second at the end of each combination, and for two seconds at each kiai. The more absolute the stillness at these times, the more effectively it sets off both the movements that preceded it, and those which come afterwards.

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(World Forms and Weapons Champion Sensei Jeff Liotta demonstrates stillness in action!)

Effectively, the message is, that in order to understand and benefit fully from movement, you must understand and comprehend the benefit of stillness.
In our everyday lives it is not just what we do that defines something of who we are, it is also a matter of what we do not do. Our search for self knowledge may be assisted by an awareness of how we do all of the activities that we are involved in on a day-to-day basis. This is the art of everyday life; a practice of being at one with ourselves in action. We can also benefit from investigating how we are when we do nothing; when there is no activity. How well can we be still and conscious and awake at the same time.
Certainly in terms of a student’s progress in the Martial Arts, this is measured not only by their competence in action, but also by their competence at attaining and maintaining a state of stillness. I’m reminded of the motto of my Alma Mata, the University of Sussex in England, where I read (studied) Developmental Psychology; “Be Still and Know”. If you can practice enough to become truly still, the knowledge that arises from that stillness can be absolutely profound. As the poet and artist Genece wrote “Come to the place of stillness, a place of calm knowing, that carries you into the sanctuary.”


Shihan Robert H. Mason © May 2017