Think outside the – – – WHAT!?!

4 Apr

Though the within is inspired by events related to the martial arts, it is submitted to all journeymen who walk life’s path freely thinking, imagining, innovating and creating. The within is another example of how the ideas and concepts derived from the martial arts can transcend the bounds of the mechanism of inspiration (the martial arts) and extend to life in general. To all bold adventurers, and innovators, I hope the within inspires you to – – Think outside the – – – WHAT?!

The following events occurred in the middle 1990’s. I had attended a training session in the Art of Kobudo (The Way Of Ancient Weapons). The training session included Kata (martial arts dance-like forms), Bunkai (practical application of the techniques contained in the forms) and Kumite (fighting). During breaks in the training, the Sensei (See Endnote 1) conducting the session would discuss the methods and techniques being taught. It was during such a discussion that Sensei had made the following statement.

KATA AND BUNKAI TRAINING WILL GIVE YOU THREE CORNERS OF A SQUARE, IT IS UP TO YOU TO USE YOUR IMAGINATION TO DRAW THE FOURTH CORNER TO COMPLETE THE SQUARE.

Sensei stated that as much as Karate and Kobudo had rigid requirements, an integral component was the imagination of the practitioner. Although this concept is far from generally accepted maxim, it is not a new concept. When Sensei used the above metaphor, all in attendance, including myself, nodded our heads in agreement and were thankful for the insight Sensei had provided. On the drive home from the training session, it occurred to me that although Sensei’s metaphor was expressed in terms of Kata, it extended to life in general. As such, the word “Life” can be substituted for the phrase “Kata and Bunkai”. The metaphor would retain it’s efficacy. Thus, it may be said

LIFE WILL GIVE YOU THREE CORNERS OF A SQUARE, IT IS UP TO YOU TO USE YOUR IMAGINATION TO DRAW THE FOURTH CORNER TO COMPLETE THE SQUARE.
Sensei’s metaphor, as applied to life, is a corollary to the well known metaphor “To think outside the box”. Both metaphors provide a means to encourage imagination and innovation. Clearly, if life gives one three corners of a square and innovation and imagination completes the square, then, conversely, ultimate innovation and imagination may be said to occur outside of the square (a box).
 
Back in the mid-1990’s I used the metaphors often in the Issho-Dojo to express my thoughts on the topic of innovation and imagination as a birth product of the Kata experience (Endnote # 2). In the intervening years and through continued practice and dedication to Kata, I again analyzed my thoughts and conclusions. I began to realize that, while the metaphors profess to encourage independent thought, imagination, and innovation, in reality they both symbolically limit such creative expression.On the one-hand the statement pertaining to Kata (and by extension life) accurately reflects the ideology that Kata is, to some extent, rigid, limited and governed by laws (imposed by the dictates of one‘s style of martial art). As such, as applied to the statement, it can correctly be said that the Kata provides three corners of the square. Once again, by extension, life is, to a vast extent, structured. Societal dictates are imposed upon the manner in which one conducts one’s life by way of laws, mores, ethics and the like. Such structural convention permits one’s life to conform to the three sides of a figure. Imagination and innovation (individuality) then provides the fourth side. Now comes my revised analysis., structured. Societal dictates are imposed upon the manner in which one conducts one’s life by way of laws, mores, ethics and the like. Such structural convention permits one’s life to conform to the three sides of a figure. Imagination and innovation (individuality) then provides the fourth side. Now comes my revised analysis. 
 
 The metaphor implies that through imagination and innovative understanding of the Kata and basic Bunkai you then progress to complete the fourth side of the square. After deep devotion and dedication to my Art, I now understand, and submit that in utilizing the term “Square“, as the shape to be completed, the metaphor actually limits one’s imagination. The limitation is set forth by the conclusion that a “square” must be the final shape to be completed. A square, by definition is rigidly constructed. It must be constructed of ninety degree angles, the sum of which totals three hundred and sixty degrees. A square cannot be constructed outside of these geometric dictates. Thus, the metaphor eliminates the possibility of completing the unfinished shape into a finished shape that may include a square, but doesn’t have to. By way of illustration, and in no means meant to be all inclusive, the unfinished three cornered shape may be completed into a shape that could include a semi-circle, or a triangle (like a house) or a wave-line as the completion of the final shape. Such a “free-form” completion would represent the product of individual imagination and innovation. Therefore by saying “complete the square” a limitation is implicitly imposed upon the limits of one’s imagination. Again, extending this line of reasoning further, the same argument can be made as to the metaphor to “think outside the box.“ Similarly, that metaphor also limit’s the scope of imagination. One must wonder why the configuration that is chosen to represent the process of innovation and imagination is the rigidly constructed square or box?
 
Many years ago, Shihan Norlander and his Yudansha visited my Issho Dojo which was then located in East Rutherford, New Jersey. During the training session, which naturally included Kata, I introduced the above analysis. Through group discussion the following metaphor was proclaimed,
 “Kata and Bunkai will give you three corners of a figure, it is up to you to use your imagination and intuition to complete the figure.”
 
 We also proclaimed the following corollary metaphor,
 “Think outside the geometric configuration.”
 
It was believed that both revised metaphors expressed imagination and innovation in the most unrestricted means we could conceive. For many years I was pleased with both metaphors and utilized them often within the Dojo and during seminars and lectures.
 
It seems inevitable, or perhaps it is simply my curse, that I continue to think about not only my Karate, but also my methodology and ideology derived from such a creative Art. So, after many intervening years and a relocation to the State of Arizona, I was compelled to again reanalyze my conclusions as to both metaphors. It was one day last year (the summer of 2009) after I concluded my outdoor training session, I realized that I omitted a very simple aspect from my analysis. Perhaps it was continued innovation, or perhaps, I merely dehydrated from the one hundred plus degree temperature, but the light of imagination shone as bright as the sun upon me (the sunshine that day was a factor thirteen on the ultra-violet ray index). The aspect that I previously omitted from my analysis is so simple, that I am somewhat surprised that it had escaped me all these years. I realized that the metaphor that Kata provides three corners of a geometric shape, and imagination will provide the remainder of the unfinished shape is wrong! The metaphor appears to infer that one is asked to ADD to the unfinished shape so as to complete it. Now after years of sweating profusely in the barren desert, I realize that one’s imagination need not be compelled to add to the unfinished shape. I now realize that I missed perhaps the ultimate “completion” of the unfinished shape. Such ultimate completion would be to complete the unfinished shape by metaphorically erasing the three existing lines and thus completing the shape to a state of nothingness. Thus, the completed shape escapes visual detection. Perhaps by erasing the unfinished shape, we can illustrate the ultimate understanding of Kata. That is to say that Kata is everything. As such, Kata, in reality, has become nothing; all has existed and what remains is only the purest element of POTENTIAL. “Nothing” has now become potentially “all“. Much like the micro-second moment of the universe immediately before the “Big-Bang” all that exists at the highest form of understanding of Kata is mere POTENTIAL.
 
Through an accident of time, sweat, devotion, frustration and a plethora of human physical, spiritual and metaphysical effort that the potential is momentarily realized only to disappear. Thus the cycle would begin anew.The new metaphor should be
Kata and Bunkai will provide you three corners of a configuration, it is up to you to use your imagination and innovation to do with the configuration that which it seems appropriate.
By extension, the same can be said of life. When the above analysis is extrapolated to our own lives, we can understand that by completing the metaphoric configuration of life by erasing the pre-existing configuration, life has symbolically become an aspect of potentiality. Thus, again, life’s potential is realized for a moment in time (a completed figure) and is lost (nothing, the figure is erased). Once again, the cycle begins anew (nothing becomes the three sided figure to be completed). Similarly, when we symbolize the process of innovation and imagination with the metaphor “Think outside the geometric configuration”, we continue the process of encapsulating our potential within the boundary of the physical realm. Therefore, I suggest that we learn
“To think outside the realm of our perceived reality.”
Thus perhaps we can perceive and conceive our fullest potential.One may choose to adopt the two metaphors I propose. Obviously, I have commenced utilizing them within and without the Dojo. One may also choose to not agree with my revised analysis. One may attribute such analysis to an over indulgent imagination. One may even say that the analysis provides proof that one should not perform Kata regularly outdoors in temperatures that exceed the bounds of human endurance. Perhaps all are correct. Or perhaps I am doomed to continually reassess and rethink the path that I walk upon. Until then journey forward,
Life will provide you three corners of a configuration, it is up to you to use your imagination and innovation to do with the configuration that which it seems appropriate.
Until the next article, I remain thinking outside the realm of perceived reality,
Sensei John Szmitkowski, Soke, Jiriki Kata-Do
ENDNOTES:
 1. Please excuse me for not naming this Sensei. He has since returned to his homeland in Japan and I have lost contact with him. As such, I do not think it would be appropriate to name him without having first contacted him.

2. For the benefit of my Karate-Do readers, it must be remembered that whenever I refer to Kata, I also incorporate the study of Bunkai (practical application). While some Karate-Ka view each as separate entities, in my view, they are always to be viewed as forever intertwined like lovers. Much like Romeo and Juliet, there are those that would like to keep them separate, but Kata and Bunkai are forever destined to be intertwined.

3. The pictures used in this article are as follows: Persistence Of Time by Salvatore Dali and a photograph of the Orion Nebula taken from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: