Book Review: Shin Gi Tai
by Maxime Eluau

Why you train in Karate dictates how you train.

During my last visit to Albox in February 2013, Barrett Sensei asked me if I had found the time to read some of the books he had recommended to me, and whether I had found them interesting and useful for the improvement of my Karate. After giving a positive affirmation from my part and a quick sharing of my thoughts regarding those works, Sensei urged me to write an article expressing my opinions about one of them for the Shinsokai website.

Although all of the books I had the opportunity to read provided me with something useful for my development, I decided to focus this time upon the last publication by Mr Michael Clarke called 'Shin Gi Tai: Karate Training for Body, Mind and Spirit'. I chose to talk about this particular book because, from a personal point of view, it's one of the finest books to date to help guide me and open my eyes to a better understanding of what Tode is all about. It talks about the true essence of Okinawa's classical Karate and explains how anybody who hopes to grasp this essence has to make practice a part of their everyday existence.

Shin Gi Tai - Karate Training for Body, Mind and Spirit

I personally recommend this book to all serious practitioners, and even to less devoted karateka who are at the beginning of their study, as it may help them avoid taking the wrong direction from the earliest stages.

Shin Gi Tai is a very complete work which is enhanced by a direct and sincere writing style. Throughout the pages, Mr Clarke allows us to take advantage of his own analyses, which come from an unusual devotion to Karate study spanning almost 40 years. The book introduces the reader to the less popular martial practice that is Budo. Many Karate books offer the reader the possibility to learn self-defense techniques, kata applications (bunkai) or other subjects like how to improve their flexibility, speed, or strength, but few publications talk about the correct etiquette you should adopt in order to better understand Budo Karate and get used to its discipline. What is the correct attitude for the student to adopt, and how can he prepare his mind in order to get the most from the training sessions inside the dojo? In others words, this book explains how to behave properly when studying Budo Karate.

Shin Gi Tai is a work which provides a wealth of information about the practice of Karate, as well as the culture from which it comes. It explains the importance of Hojo Undo, how to prepare the body and mind using Junbi Undo, the strengthening of the limbs through Ude Kitae, some Ippon and Renzoku kumite strategies, and an introduction to Okinawa's culture through its music, language, architecture, cuisine and textiles. One sentence which caught my attention whilst reading this publication was 'To best understand karate, you have to put it back in its environment'. In other words, Okinawa's culture and Karate are one. They are inseparable.

Clarke Sensei raises many points which require a certain level of knowledge and understanding, but at the same time, he clearly explains the different types of Karate which exist and the differences between them. I personally consider this point very important for it allows the student to know which path they want to take before starting their apprenticeship. They can see the level of personal commitment involved, and learn what Kyogi (sport Karate), Kenko (Karate to maintain good health) and Budo (traditional Karate) training entails. Rather than only producing a compilation of Karate techniques, although this work does include a very interesting chapter about strategies from Goju-Ryu kata, the main message of this book is about the study of Budo and the personal reflections which are produced by its practice in order to better grasp the essence of Karate: to overcome without fighting!

In focusing our minds toward Budo, the author introduces different concepts such as the importance of self-realization (Jikaku) in the budoka's life, Shin Gi Tai (unity between the body and the mind, through the cultivation of the spirit), and Shu Ha Ri (to preserve, detach and transcend the knowledge of those who taught us). Clarke Sensei reminds us that it's vital to understand how our true nature can be revealed through the practice of Karate. This is the essence of Shin Gi Tai in action!

Regarding parts which are based more on technique (self-defense), several areas of this work caught my attention. In order to be able to apply your Karate during an altercation, it's important to develop Kuzushi (disrupting the opponent balance), Irimi (enter to move in on an attacker), Tai Sabaki (avoid by a body shifting) and Go no Sen (to block an attack and immediately respond with your own). The author reminds us during the execution of the exercises to bear in mind that "the question of 'best technique' doesn't exist in Karate. The only requirement a technique has, any technique, is that it works for you! Dynamic and effective and always with control, this is how Karate should be applied in circumstances where self-protection is necessary".

To develop body and mind harmonization through the study of technique, it's important to train daily in order to receive the benefits that are on offer to all serious karateka through following Budo. Train with passion in order to make this art a natural part of our daily lives. As Clarke Sensei said: "Sincere and consistent training in the dojo cultivates the spirit, which in turn, facilitates problem solving in your life outside the dojo. That's why karate is not only limited at its practice inside the walls of the dojo but totally designed to be used in our daily life".

One more thing by way of conclusion. I would like to mention something which in my opinion is crucial to the development of every karateka: it's important that everyone finds their own path through the learning of Karate. It's important to concentrate our efforts upon daily practice and not fall into the trap of comparing ourselves with others. The study of Karate is something personal, unique to each. As Barrett Sensei tells us regularly during the training sessions in his dojo: "There is no rush in Karate". That's why it's vital that the karateka focuses their mind upon themselves and takes responsibility for their study. They have to discover for themselves the resources and motivation to correctly practice Budo. Only after realizing and setting up these elements will the karateka begin to catch sight of benefits Budo can offer to our daily lives: the establishment of balance, and a sensation of inner peace...

Maxime Eluau

“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.”