36. Return of the Gyo Essay; Empty

Ben Howard from UCSD poses a question about a statement from Gichen Funakoshi;

In my searches for some good martial quotes (I loved Sensei P.Billimorias’!), I found one from Gichin Funakoshi that I wanted to learn more about, in the Karate-Do Kyohan, under “Maxims for the Trainee:”

“The mind is the same with heaven and earth.”

Since some of my favorite kata have celestial themes, (Kosokun, Seisan), this saying got my attention.

Is it a reference to Yin and Yang, the yielding and the strong? (It sounds like a Chinese saying). Are grandeur and vision qualities of heaven, support and growth being qualities of earth? Or is it something else entirely? Should the martial artist’s mind be the same no matter where it is?

“The mind is the same with heaven and earth.”

To discover the essence of the quote is a life-long pursuit. It is intimately tied into the Tao Te Ching and into the fifth chapter of the Go Rin No Sho.

Gichen Funakoshi changed the name of karate from Tode (Chinese Hand) or Te (Hand) to sora-shu or kara-te (the same characters). He knew the mind of the Japanese well enough by 1922 to understand that they would accept nothing Chinese or Okinawan as valuable. He needed to elevate the impression of the Okinawan art in the minds of the Japanese. He did so by reference to the void of Musashi, a Japanese indigenous book, while subtly incorporating the Tao from China. (incidentally sora and kara mean empty, empty like the void of the sky, in fact, sora is the Japanese word for sky.)

It was not pedantry, it was wisdom that made Funakoshi change the name and offer the depths of his art to the Japanese. Kara is Sora. Both are the same kanji character. They mean empty, but they also mean empty like the sky. The sky is empty but yet filled with space, everchanging but always about the same, no-ending eternal, blue-in-day, black-studded with light at night. The sky has no substance that we feel with our hands but abounds with substance that we feel with our soul. Just go out tonight and look up. Look at the bright lights; look at the dim lights; look at the clouds of dust and star so far away that you can only see them as specks when you look away from them. Marvel in magnamous, elusive, distant; then know that it is all one, that you are that one, not separate, not INDIVIDUAL, but a part of that whole, a part of that dynamic whole. Your breath moves water and air in and out of that whole. Your body radiates back to the farthest distant stars and will reach to some of them a million or more years from now. We are one.

In individuality and separatism we fight; in oneness we share. The starving child in Ethiopia or Sub-Saharan Africa is you and me. The astronaut viewing the Earth from on high is you and me. The ocean at the bottom of the Marianna Trench is you and me. Some water that was once in us is now there at the depths. And some of the water that is now there will be back in us before we know it. Take a deep breath; with each breath you inhale over a million oxygen molecules that Leonardo D’Vince once breathed through his body. But then so goes it with Oliver Cromwell, too, if you care to be a part of him.

We are one. I believe that God has made us into the oneness. He could well have made us totally independent. But he didn’t. I believe this is one of God’s greatest lessons to us, and, unfortunately one that we have missed. We are not separate; we are joined, and joined to all of heaven and earth and each other.

“The mind is the same with heaven and earth.”

Perhaps, Ohshima could better have translated the statement, “”The mind is one with heaven and earth.” His translation, I believe, is more along the line of martial strategy; that the mind is unmovable through all of the heavens and earth. Typhoons roar I remain undisturbed. It is but a subtle difference, one, however, that make a vast difference in implication.

My feeling towards the great martial-philosopher Gichen Funakoshi is that he grasped the Japanese by the hands and led them to his KARATE while walking on the pages of the Book of the Void in Musashi. And they followed him, some knowingly, some unknowingly, but they followed him anyway.

Our souls are best suited to life when they have the emptiness of the sky.