The world of martial arts is one that is steeped in history, ritual and tradition. For centuries Senseis have passed on these ancient systems to their students and from generation to generation the practices and teachings have stood the test of time. So graceful in form, there was little reason for these methods to ever change. But what use is tradition if it becomes obsolete? What use are rituals if they become ineffective? After all, the history books are there to be rewritten.
Once in a blue moon, an individual comes along that changes the face of the establishment forever. Enter Master Meiji Suzuki. To the world of martial arts, Master Meiji was exactly that individual. A phenomenon in the discipline of karate, Master Meiji’s dedication to the art form could not be questioned. Ten hours a day you could find him practising and honing his skills. His physical execution of the techniques could not be faulted and his ability in combat unparalleled. And yet, he somehow felt that everything he was learning missed the point. Every punch and kick he had practised and spent years to perfect did not feel perfect. In fact, he felt that they needed to be perfected.
It was at this moment that Master Meiji realised – he had to go back to basics. In approaching each technique, he asked himself not how do I execute this punch, but instead, the real question was, why do I execute this punch.
For example, a traditional-style punch in karate involved a wide stance with the front hand raised and the back hand clenched by your waist. You then lunge forward with your back foot, punching with your back hand to the midriff of your opponent and leaving your fist outstretched at the point of impact. Now, unless you are able to take down a adversary with a single blow (assuming you connect, that is, after telegraphing your punch with an unnecessary lunge), failing to snap your arm back will more often than not result in your own demise as it leaves you exposed to a counter-attack.
Enter the question: why do we punch?
The point of combat is to defeat your enemy. The point of a punch is to assist you to do so. Executing a punch which causes you to become more vulnerable than the damage it may cause your opponent totally defeats the objective of why we punch. It is from asking why that Master Meiji developed the primitive stages of a new way in martial arts sculpted from the principles of speed, efficiency of movement and, more than anything else, purpose.
As Master Raf always tells us – the first rule of combat? Don’t get hit. Second rule of combat? Hit your opponent. Third rule of combat? Don’t forget the first rule. It is only possible to keep to these rules if you have a martial arts system that allows you to do so.
Xen-Do owes a great deal to Master Meiji. A controversial figure in some ways but also an inventive and forward thinking martial artist. His determination for innovation and modernisation of karate was the beginning of the Xen-Do.
Master Meiji Suzuki: a pioneer, an innovator, a trailblazer.