Kai Un and Unkai:
Developing our fate in a sea of clouds
by Katarina Lezova

At some point our karate path will reveal something to us. After years of training, we are rewarded to see a glimpse of something unknown which in return, takes our karate to a different level. We constantly need to re-discover things but sometimes out of the blue something clicks and we are rewarded for years of training with a little bit of additional understanding. In fact, this is the beauty and the challenge at the same time. The patience will eventually disclose something but we cannot tell at all when that moment comes. But once it does, it adds another piece to a huge mosaic of understanding. Yet – thinking of Kyu Do Mugen – the puzzle will actually never get complete (fortunately!). Similarly with kata, after years of training some technique will 'click', some image will pop into our minds, some situation will remind us of something and we suddenly see how this links to something else. Importantly, without thinking about it deeply – maybe even unconsciously – we will be able to use a technique in practice.

Perhaps that's why budo is practised by so few karateka. Patience is not something many are prepared to accept as a means to get somewhere. Quick results, a clear perspective and often quantity of things are what many seek. Budo is a completely opposite path though. It took me almost twenty years of practice to get to a point when suddenly all past training fell into place, everything was put into perspective, and links were created. Yet, that's when I really realised that I am actually just at the very beginning. Indeed, it was a point where suddenly karate became part of everything – an integral part of living and being. The beauty that I have suddenly become to witness is that I am able to link karate with everything else and the other way round.

Because karate is such a personal pursuit conducted mostly alone, many probably lack the 'socialising aspect' – something like being part of a large group. In karate, we have the lineage – which gives us a history to follow, a tradition to preserve and allows us to be a humble connection between past and future. So that in the present moment, we can 'borrow' this art for a little while, somehow look after it, keep it alive and pass it on. But everything else is up to us. So the question remains – can we take the responsibility? If we don't do the daily training, nobody knows. But could we face ourselves? Perhaps that's why karate fosters positive character traits because it sets us on a path where truthfulness is a prerequisite for any real progress. It puts 'us' face to face with 'us'. And deep down, we know the truth – we cannot lie to ourselves. Perhaps temporarily we could. But this betrayal would end very soon for in this way we cannot get on with budo as it would become just an empty concept. It would become unbearable and we would rather end up in a gym with weights, 'personal' instructors, set up time tables being unable to take responsibility for our acts and so seeking 'rewards' and 'satisfaction' through the commercial world as that offers plenty of it – plenty of illusions.

There is one thing that I have learnt – karate teaches us to let go of things because we are somehow asked to detach. In essence, the only ownership that we are asked to take is ownership of our karate/of our path and taking responsibility for our actions. These are all intangible things; there is nothing to grasp – and nothing to identify with. That is budo. Unlike sports karate, where you identify with a club, an instructor, an association... budo is a path that goes in a completely different direction. I think that budo enables us to understand how our ego works. By understanding it, we are able to control it, control our mind, disidentify and let go of things. But we have to stop resisting our weaknesses – or rather, first, we need to acknowledge them and accept them. Somehow the initial acceptance allows further work on the negative traits, including our weak points.

Once again, it comes down to Barrett sensei's 'don't compare and don't compete'. By learning not to compete and to compare, we, in fact, work on our ego and keep it in control. It is the ego that wants to compare all the time and that asks us to be better and to own more than others. But by comparing, we are just looking for others who 'unlike us' are wrong or worse off. By pursuing the budo path, we don't compare but focus on our path entirely. By doing this, we stop judging.

The beauty of karate is that there does not exist anything like 'if you don't do this by 30 you will never get there'; there are no limits or age boundaries. Some people get to certain understanding of karate in their twenties (the lucky ones), some have to wait until they reach thirties or forties or even later. And for some, that moment might never come. But the whole point is not to be overly concerned about getting somewhere but rather paying attention to the path instead and to the act of 'doing' rather than 'getting' somewhere and 'seeking' something.

And so, against this world's pressures related to beauty, good look and young age karate offers a different path; because it actually becomes better as we get older and wiser. The youth is a place for explorations, trying things and getting more understanding of where we want to get. And once something clicks – we kind of hear it like a calling if I might say so – we know perhaps that with one foot we have already left the times of youth and embarked on a different journey seeking more knowledge and knowing somehow more about our identity. It is that moment, when we begin to understand ourselves and who we really are that enables us to see a different avenue ahead of us.

As my teacher, Garry Lever sensei, once said: 'In a fight, don't give up, persevere and get up! It is your heart and spirit that make the difference'. I never forgot this. It has remained imprinted in my mind and I was constantly reminded of this whenever it was needed. In life, we cannot sometimes predict and plan how things happen. Sometimes, life throws things at us that we would like to erase rather than go through. But I believe that everything happens for a reason and somehow we 'are given' only as much hardship as we can take and only for reasons to move us one step ahead in our development and understanding and in actual fact, it all serves one purpose – 'to educate' us. But what we are always left with is a choice how to respond – be it in a combat situation or in life in general. And once we become aware of this, we are actually in control of what's going on. Because we always have a choice – we are the drivers on our path – nobody else is.

Gilbert, an American novelist, wrote an article on writing and among other things, she said: 'Always, at the end of the day, the important thing is only and always that: Get back to work. This is a path for the courageous and the faithful. You must find another reason to work, other than the desire for success or recognition. It must come from another place.' Despite the fact that this was written on the topic of creative writing, I find it so applicable to karate. It is exactly this: stop complaining about everything and about not having this and that and not being able to get where you want. Just get on with the things, focus on one step at a time, work on it and work towards it but stop complaining all the time! I had to learn this myself. At times, I used to be a master in complaining – I could have got a medal for that – and obviously my life looked accordingly. In contrast, now I realise that I have everything I need.

I believe that the karate path is in some way really a path for the courageous and faithful. And the reason for karate practice has to come 'from another place' too, perhaps that place is 'from within' as it has nothing to do with success or recognition. Once recognition comes to place it is a different story altogether. The issue with recognition is that it always includes others and their judgement and perspective. Once we embark on a path that involves 'art' in any way it is very distinctive from any other journeys we could have taken because it becomes very personal and no two artists' paths are the same.

Katarina Lezova

“No matter how you may excel in the art of Karate, and in your scholastic endeavors,
nothing is more important than your behavior and your humanity as observed in daily life.”