Taikan and Feeding the Monster

dancingalone

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I know from a previous thread that many of us here have seen the movie Kura Obi or Black Belt. In the movie, there is one disciple named Taikan that craves becoming the best at fighting, so much so that he deliberately seeks out violent opportunities to prove himself after his teacher died.

How much of Taikan should we have in us? Obviously he is an extreme example as is the cartoon-ish John Kreese from Karate Kid fame, but are there any valuable lessons to be learned from following even a little of Taikan's philosophy? I suppose it depends on whether we practice karate foremost as a "do" or not. Please discuss.

I myself like to pad up in my Redman suit from time to time and let me students try to blast me if they can. I think it's good occasionally to feed the 'monsters' inside us all if we want to be able to harness our karate as a destructive force.
 

granfire

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Is that one of the 'Awesomely Bad MA Movies'?

Interesting question. I am only used to harnessing the read eyed monster...never really had an opportunity to unleash it.
 
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dancingalone

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Is that one of the 'Awesomely Bad MA Movies'?

Interesting question. I am only used to harnessing the read eyed monster...never really had an opportunity to unleash it.

No, it's a fairly good movie, particularly if you practice some form of karate or taekwondo. The movie is an examination of various themes like peace vs. conflict or karate-jutsu vs. karate-do in the backdrop of WWII Japan.

The fight scenes are pretty decent too. The protagonist is a skilled Goju-ryu man in real life and the actor playing the antagonist (Taikan) is a Shotokan black belt.

I recommend borrowing it from Netflix if you have a membership as I did.
 

granfire

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Ha, darnit, I do collect the awesomely bad ones from the bargain bin....

But that is taking it away from the original thought: How far do you go down the dark path to develop skill...
 

Chris Parker

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Hi dancingalone,

I mentioned this in another thread, but feel it is relevant here as well.

In personal development, especially when it comes to men, the use of stories is common. And when it comes to men, one of the most common themes is the Hero's Journey, which in a number of old European forms involves the finding and slaying of monsters and dragons. However, in a number of these stories, the slayer finds themselves taking the place of the monster, or dragon, and then must await the next hero to come and slay them. This theme also appears in the new Chronicles of Narnia film, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by the way.

The lesson that these stories teach is that you should be careful when slaying dragons that you do not become one yourself. In other words, don't become the thing you're fighting against.... if you are fighting a bully, take care not to become a bully yourself, if you are liberating a town from a tyrant, don't become a tyrant yourself etc.

When it comes to Kuro Obi (love that film, by the way), you have two extremes, and a middle ground, with one (Taikan) becoming the Dragon, and another (Giryu) goes in the opposite direction, refusing to fight the Dragon in the first place. The third takes the middle ground, which is the balanced position, although he is really too much of a fence-sitter, refusing to take sides at all.

Taking Taikan as the focus (as the film does, to a great degree), you can see the issues with becoming a Dragon. So how do you avoid becoming a Dragon when fighting one? Ah, that's not easy. It basically comes down to not allowing your emotional responce to take over. If your training is based on aggression, that's going to lead you to become a Dragon. If it's based on fear, there's a good chance you will become a Dragon (through fear you over-react). So if you are finding this tendancy, I'd suggest looking at the mindset you are engaging when training.

The first time I heard this was when my instructor pointed it out to a fellow student. We were looking at avoiding confrontation by using verbal defusion (in this case, gaining distance, then triggering an adrenaline rush in the opponent with firm, definate words ("STAY BACK! NOT ANOTHER STEP! YOU WANT TO END UP IN HOSPITAL, TAKE A STEP FORWARD!" and so on). The other student was creating the distance, and while yelling the adrenaline-inducing phrases, he was starting to move forward towards the opponent (rather than maintain the necessary distance), and as such was becoming the aggressor. He had this pointed out, and was advised "Don't become the Dragon".

So, ideally, going down the dark path and moving towards becoming a Dragon is relatively natural for human beings. Training is designed to help stop that while you develop skill. At least, ideally.
 

Cirdan

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I think it's good occasionally to feed the 'monsters' inside us all if we want to be able to harness our karate as a destructive force.

Indeed. Allowing ourselves to know the monster can help us understand the incredibly violent nature of Karate. Many do not allow themselves to do this. I haven`t discussed this with my sensei, but she has told me I understand a lot.

Choki Motobu is a good real life example of someone who tested himself similar to Taikan.
 
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dancingalone

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So, ideally, going down the dark path and moving towards becoming a Dragon is relatively natural for human beings. Training is designed to help stop that while you develop skill. At least, ideally.

Chris, I enjoyed your post. I'm not sure I entirely understand the premise however. Self-defense can be very, very ugly. We're talking about damaging or incapacitating another human to the extent that they desist their attack on us, after all. I find it difficult to reconcile myself to the idea of a passionless, efficient karate-ka who is always able to calculate precisely the exact level of response needed to end an attack without any other physical or emotional spillage. I know that is not what you mean, but I suspect stopping violent attacks against ourselves and our loved ones means becoming a bit of a monster ourselves.

At our annual training camps, I sometimes explore the idea of transforming fear or anger into action. Emotion can be a tool to empower the individual if properly harnessed.
 

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Hi Dancingalone,

The big emphasis is that you shouldn't go so far in your defence that you become guilty of assault. If you do go to the extent that you damage or incapacitate someone, it had better be justified (legally). Otherwise, frankly, what makes you better than the attacker? After all, you have literally just exchanged position with them, becoming the attacker yourself (becoming the Dragon).

When it comes to the emotions you describe, that is actually the opposite of Japanese martial traditions. The aim there is described as Mushin, meaning "no thought, or no mind". The concept is that there is no emotional extreme, as they cloud your vision and perception of the world, causing you to over-react, or miss certain key signs of danger. This is where we get phrases like "blinded by rage, frozen with fear, rose-coloured glasses" etc. So while it can be common to try to use emotions, it is a limited approach (from a Japanese system point of view).

The way we train that is to experience moving from fear, moving from anger, moving from a "happier" state of mind, and then from a Mushin state. It quickly highlights the limits of the others, and the usefullness of Mushin. Add to that methods (based on training rituals) that are designed to instill this approach as well.
 

Bruno@MT

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I know from a previous thread that many of us here have seen the movie Kura Obi or Black Belt.

I think that should be Kuro(i) Obi if it has to translate to black belt.
Kura(i) Obi translates to 'dark belt'
EDIT: it is Kuro 黒
Kura would have been this kanji 暗

In the movie, there is one disciple named Taikan that craves becoming the best at fighting, so much so that he deliberately seeks out violent opportunities to prove himself after his teacher died.

How much of Taikan should we have in us? Obviously he is an extreme example as is the cartoon-ish John Kreese from Karate Kid fame, but are there any valuable lessons to be learned from following even a little of Taikan's philosophy? I suppose it depends on whether we practice karate foremost as a "do" or not. Please discuss.

I myself like to pad up in my Redman suit from time to time and let me students try to blast me if they can. I think it's good occasionally to feed the 'monsters' inside us all if we want to be able to harness our karate as a destructive force.

Those are 2 different things.
Seeking out confrontation was done in the old days to test skills. Takamatsu sensei did a lot of this reportedly. But that is completely separate from allowing emotions to overtake you and trying to beat the crap out of your opponent.

I am in Chris' camp on this topic, preferring the simmering calm of mushin to being fueled by emotion.
 

Cirdan

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Notice I said knowing the monster rather than becomming one. For me this means focusing on destructive strategy and taking a certain satisfacton in this like a job done, rather than red-eyed anger and taking pleasure in violence. You can also use the tactics of the monster to instill fear. It might be a fine line at times.
 
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dancingalone

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Hi Dancingalone,
The big emphasis is that you shouldn't go so far in your defence that you become guilty of assault. If you do go to the extent that you damage or incapacitate someone, it had better be justified (legally). Otherwise, frankly, what makes you better than the attacker? After all, you have literally just exchanged position with them, becoming the attacker yourself (becoming the Dragon).

I've never equated a moral dimension with the practice of my karate. Certainly I could recount on one hand, the number of times my own teacher, an Okinawan, bothered to say anything about our Dojo Kun. It was pretty much all physical training all to the end of being able to defeat an attacker, and certainly if you are in a violent altercation, yes you likely will be counter-attacking yourself and you will be held responsible legally for any outcome stemming from it.

When it comes to the emotions you describe, that is actually the opposite of Japanese martial traditions. The aim there is described as Mushin, meaning "no thought, or no mind". The concept is that there is no emotional extreme, as they cloud your vision and perception of the world, causing you to over-react, or miss certain key signs of danger. This is where we get phrases like "blinded by rage, frozen with fear, rose-coloured glasses" etc. So while it can be common to try to use emotions, it is a limited approach (from a Japanese system point of view).

Absolutely. In my practice of Aikido, there is some exploration from time to time of the ideas O'Sensei and his students acquired via their study of Omoto and Zen.

Aikido has an ethical self-defense philosophy. The ideal scenario would be where you could avoid physical conflict altogether or if you do come to blows, you only do as much damage as necessary to save yourself (ideally none).

But Aikido is not karate, at least not my karate, the one I learned from my teacher. I maintain the split in my mind as I practice and teach both arts.

Perhaps I am being misunderstood about harnessing emotion however. Obviously, you don't want to see red like a bull and act upon your violent impulses. That's actually far from what I teach as a goal. Instead, I teach that one should recognize the feeling of fear or anger and then seek to channel the emotion into energy and determination/resolve instead.
 

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No, not misunderstanding you (at least, I don't think so), I was just using an extreme to make the point. But even with just recognising the emotion, what we teach is that even that skews things, so our process is to recognise that you are experiencing the emotions, then supress them in favour of Mushin. The energy is not channelled, it is let go of.
 

Narges

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Hi
I've watched Kuro Obi at least 4 times and I sympathize with Giryu much more than Taikan, although not completely. I believe in 'Karate ni sente nashi' one hundred percent, but imho even when you have not started the conflict it is perfectly possible that you may need to use strikes (even deadly ones in extreme situations) which is what Giryu learnt at the end of the movie. Besides, I disagree with the sensei when he says to his students 'You must not fight them even if they are wrong' . It's true that the inner battle is more important (in my opinion at least) but you should stand up for yourself and for what you believe is right. As for Taikan, personally I believe that he was right in saying fighting (or in other words competition) will make us stronger, but to actually go as far as killing people just because you can is slightly irrational!
 

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I'd just like to say thanks for creating this thread as i hadn't heard of the movie and have since watched it and thought it was excellent!
 

Ojisan

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I feel I need to raise the question as to whether or not those posting regarding mental attitude when attacked have ever themselves been attacked, faced with possible physical harm, or have ever struck someone with intent. I don't mean to challenge people but it is my experience that when confronted with real danger, you do not have much control of the effects of the adrenalin dump. Scenario practice can help you handle the physiological effects of adrenalin but you cant prevent them.

If you are scared, youre scared. If you are not scared, then perhaps the danger does not rise to the level where you have to hurt someone. Legal issues aside, if you come at me with intent to harm, then I will respond with massive retaliation. I am not willing to roll back my response and risk injury because I might be able to stop you with lesser force.

As far as mushin goes, I have found that once you engage, you just do, and you dont really have time to think or even care. Just my experience
 

Chris Parker

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Hi Ojisan,

For my part, yes, I have. A few times, actually. Best scenarios were defused before any violence occured (still set off my adrenaline, though!), the worst was a five-on-one assault.

In terms of Mushin, one of my students, after class last night, brought up the question of what to do in more of the "heat" of the moment, when they got adrenalised and scared, for want of a better term. I replied that what needed to happen was to focus on training to quieten the mind, suppress emotional responces, and so on.... then asked if that sounded familiar from anything we had already gone through. Earlier that night (and really for all this month) we went through a longer sequence kata for Swordsmanship. I had been telling them that what I was wanting them to all focus on was the mindset (Mushin), keeping that under the stress of a continuous sequence, with an attacker constantly moving forward (I also acted as Uke for a number of them, so they could feel a continuous attack).

The student mentioned the sword training, and I smiled, and said "Yes. I didn't take you all through that because of the likelihood of meeting a Samurai while you're carrying your sword down the street tonight, it was to generate the correct mindset. And that needs to be taken across into the "street" training as well".

The Mushin training is because under a serious adrenaline dump your conscious mind pretty much just tries to get out of the way, and the Mushin concept gives you the ability to move from that position, rather than freezing (or otherwise over or under reacting due to emotional filtering). It really is just the traditional Japanese way of training for adrenaline.

PS You may want to visit the thread on Adrenaline's Effects in the Kenpo Technical section, an interesting discussion on this very topic there.
 

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Hi Chris,
Thanks for your reply. I don't think I adequately expressed what I was trying to get at. I think the concept of mushin is great when you are in a situation such as a duel or an escalating confrontation. Certainly in a challenge fight the ability to enter a state of mushin is a great advantage. In my opinion, karate, more specifically the old practice of Tode, addresses (through kata) two types of violent engagement: sudden assaults and escalating confrontations.

If you attack me without warning, reflex and training will either save me or fail me in the first few seconds. There is little conscious thought or reflection. On the other hand, If you get in my face and try to threaten or provoke me, then mushin is my friend. In a confrontation you have time to realize you are in danger and the adrenalin dump has time to overwhelm you. It's not that the adrenalin doesn't affect you in the assault scenario, its just that you are immediately engaged in the assault and do not have to make a decision to act. In a confrontation, fear can immobilize you.

If you are engaged with someone in a sudden assault, the adrenalin will make it difficult for your conscious mind to understand what is happening. Who is attacking you? How many? Are they armed? Why? Until you are in control of your adversaries, or have incapacitated them, I don't think you can enter mushin.



Maybe I do not understand the definition of mushin. I consider it a dispassionate mind set where we can clearly discern objective reality. In a violent melee, you cannot go all out for more than a few seconds. In the pause before you re-enter the fray you may be able to dispassionately asses the situation, but when you are going "balls to the wall" there is no thought or reflection.

Just my thoughts. I made my original post to call attention to the difference between dojo theory and real life. The thread started from observations on a cartoon. I know that there are some on this forum that well understand the difference. I just wanted to point out that theoretical scenarios are just that.

With respect
 

Chris Parker

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Hmm, yeah, it sounds like you've got kinda the wrong idea about Mushin there. It really is a way to handle adrenaline, and should be something that can be accessed instantly. It really is a way of handling a sudden adrenaline dump more than anything else.

Ideally the way it works is that you experience the adrenaline (in training) and then suppress your emotions, adopting your mushin mindset. Many seem to have the idea that it is only something that relates to spiritual development in a peaceful environment, which it can be useful for. But it's real use is for remaining alive in combat by dealing with the less-desirable effects of adrenaline, just packaged up in exotic Eastern terminology. It's actually more efficient at that than the training I've gone through in RBSD seminars, where you train to simply "wear" the initial assault, and become acclimatised to it. The Mushin concept is far more immediate and better suited to a sudden assault. But really, just like the RBSD training, it's just about handling the adrenaline.
 

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It really is a way to handle adrenaline, and should be something that can be accessed instantly.

OK, I understand the words but I am unfamiliar with a way to "instantly" handle the adrenaline dump. I am familiar with what you mean about "wearing" the adrenaline rush. I don't know how to mentally take control instantly if I am surprised. Give me a few moments, or if I am reflexively handling the assault and I can take control of my emotions, but I don't understand the mechanism or methodology to access that immediately.

Are you saying that through dojo training you can achieve the ability to immediately surpress the adrenaline dump? I can push it down in some situations but there are times I cannot.

There is a lot of discussion about this on the Uechi forums where LEOs and Corrections Officers talk about violent encounters in their daily work. They seem to be of the school of thought that while you can get used to "wearing" it, you are better served in accepting the initial rush as transitory and using the surge in muscular power for gross motor movement in supressing the attack.

I don't encounter violence on a regular basis. I would like to think that training would give me the ability to stay in emotional control but my experience is that "Sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes the bear gets you."

I practice entering mental stillness in the opening and closing of my kata. In sparring I don't experience the adrenaline rush because I'm very familiar with the people I train with.
Is there a particular practice that you use to develop your mushin?

With respect
 

Chris Parker

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Okay, I'll see how I go trying to explain this here....

Within NLP there is the concept of "anchoring", in other words using one set of circumstances to trigger a particular response. This can be done verbally (with a particular word, phrase, tonality etc), or kinetically (typically with a gesture, touch, movement, or other action). Thing is, though, although most think of this type of thing as looking to manipulate other people (I touch your shoulder, you feel sad, I touch your hand, you feel happy....), it is far more powerful, and originally designed, to be used on yourself. You literally "program in" the response or action you want in any particular set of circumstances. That's kinda the way this works.

In essence, you train yourself that as soon as you feel adrenalin, your triggered, or anchored response is to adopt a Mushin state, suppressing emotional extremes, and quitening your conscious mind. The way this is achieved is to experience it, deliberately triggering your adrenalin (in a small way to begin with), and then will yourself to adopt the Mushin mindset. As you go along, the adrenalin gets more and more "serious", and you take less and less time to adopt Mushin. The ideal, obviously, is instantaneous adoption once adrenalin is triggered, but that is a long-term approach, not something done in one or two sessions, and certainly not by only paying lip sevice to the concept of Mushin that I have seen a number of practitioners do (mainly Western proponents of Japanese systems who don't really get what Mushin is in the first place).

What it is not is suppressing the adrenalin dump itself, though. It is a method of using the adrenaline's strengths and benefits while limiting it's less-useful aspects (in a combative sense... it should be remembered that adrenalin is a survival trait in us, and that is more to do with escaping predators than fighting en masse battles, or even duels or bouts). With the LEO's, and similar, it's not surprising that they look to simply ride the adrenalin and then gradually take control, as that is far more immediately accessible to most people. And LEO's require something that they can take out with them on the street now, not something that will take years to develop.

Mushin goes far beyond that. Personally I see it as part of the personal development that exists within the martial arts themselves, something that takes a lot of time, a lot of effort, but has huge rewards. It is certainly no "quick fix", though! In regards to your comment about "sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you", that remains true, but the longer you do this, the more experience you gain, the better you get at it, the less the bear wins.

With your kata, I may suggest that if you are only experiencing "stillness" at the beginning and end, you might try maintaining it throughout the entire sequence. Typically, the idea is to adopt Mushin at the beginning, use that throughout the entire kata, then end with Zanshin (Mushin with a follow-on spirit, one of awareness). In the sparring, you aren't experiencing adrenalin as you are (unconsciously) recognising any danger present. My guys know me (or are at least fairly familiar with me, I should say), and know that they are safe with me.... but I can and do still get an adrenalised reaction in them when I need or want to. In fact, last week in class I was discussing this concept (we've been looking at it via sword techinques), and one of the students mentioned it in relation to aggression. I adopted a Mushin state and just looked at them. This was while I was sitting in the front of the class, and the rest were seated looking at me. Within a few seconds there were half a dozen students shifting rather uneasily, trying to avoid my gaze, basically feeling a little surge of adrenalin, as they were unconsciously recognising the danger I represented. To be absolutely frank here, sparring is rather useless for adrenlin training, as it is always seen as "safe", and therefore doesn't trigger that survival part of yourself. Danger needs to be felt.

In terms of methods we have, there's a few. They are all based around the above concept of experiencing adrenalin (through exposure to danger, or at least recognising danger on an unconscious level). That can be anything from physical techniques in class to certain visualisation methods we use as well.

As a demonstration, again last class we were going through sword techniques, which were a fair bit longer than the class were used to, involving a fair amount of back-and-forth between the two partners. I explained that what I wanted was for the students to be able to maintain a Mushin mindset throughout the entire technique, so don't worry about going fast, just take it at a slow pace. Walking around, I saw that no-one was actually doing that, they were consciously thinking through the movememts instead. So I acted as the "attacker" for a number of them, still at a slow pace, but commited and without any pauses. Every student I did that with at some point completely froze, not sure of what to do next, even though we'd spent about the last 25 minutes going through it repeatedly. I pointed out that that was a lack of Mushin showing through there, and now they were to train without thinking through the kata, just reacting the way the kata taught. There was a marked improvement each time, due to the fact that a sense of danger was introduced, allowing them to actually understand and experience what Mushin is about. Without danger, there is no growth in martial arts, really.
 
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