by George E. Mattson
An exerpt from his new book: “Dynamic Uechi-ryu Karate”
This passage in the book deals with the concept of “A mind like water” as it applies to dealing with violence. When Paul Verge asked me the question about how an average person reacts to danger, I felt this segment might help answer the question.
There is no reason why you cannot perform a kata, drill, exercise and spar without consciously thinking about what you just did and what you have to do! Get in the middle of your “self” and “live in the now”. My uncle Ed Radke was a Marine in the second world war. He was wounded during the battle of Iwo Jima when his unit landed on the beach in February, 1945. During the month-long battle that helped seal Japan’s surrender, 20,000 Japanese soldiers and 7000 US Marines died! I remember him telling me, years later, how he reacted on the first day. Naturally, everyone in his unit was scared and nervous. As the PT boats approached the beach, many of his buddies were in a state of shock. Some had never been in combat before. Ed had been in action, but this battle was different. He had the feeling that he wasn’t going to make it through the day. The sky was ablaxe with rocket fire from our navy. The enemy was strafing the PT boats with everthing they had.
What stuck in my memory was his vivid description of his first few minutes on the beach. Although many lives were lost during the landing, most of his unit made it to cover. Ed’s heart was racing and his mind was disoriented and sending mixed signals to his body. Part of him wanted to burrow into the ground and stay there until the end of the war. Another message told him to turn and swim back to the ship. He was convinced that his body was paralyzed, regardless of what direction he took.
A voice penetrated through the confusion and noise, yelling for the unit to move forward. In what probably amounted to only a few seconds, Ed remembers entering a void that stretched out those few seconds into what felt like an eternity. He had this complete and utter reconciliation with the situation. . . he was going to die! Simple, fact. He was a physically functioning dead man! Once this realization sunk in, a calmness overcame him that stayed with him throughout the battle. Once he accepted the fact that he was a dead man, there was no need to worry about getting through the day. He simply functioned, using the skills taught to him by the Marine Corp. and his own superb physical conditioning.
Once he entered this state of mind, he discovered a near superhuman effort possible. Everything he did was performed on automatic. His “thingking” brain was turned off! This feeling lasted until after he was hit and was picked up by medics. He lost the “no-mindedness” once he discovered that there was a chance for his survival! Then all the familiar feelings of fear returned.
Ed’s experience surfaced in my memory after my teacher told me the story of two samurai who were involved in a death duel. I forget the details of the fight, except that one of the Samurai was a vastly superior swordsman and should have won easily. The less experienced fighter, recognizing his battle was lost before it began, accepted the inevitable outcome. The superior fighter, knowing he was a better fighter, believed he would survive the fight. The superior Samurai was fighting in a tentative manner, obviously trying to get the match over, but without getting injured himself.
The other Samurai, not concerned about living, fought gallantly and was actually succeeding in gaining an advantage. Now the irony. . . Once the less experienced fighter became aware that he had a chance of winning this battle, his consciousness returned. He might get out of this alive! Now, functioning on equal emotional levels, the physically superior fighter easily killed his opponent.
I’m not suggesting that we face danger with the thought . . .”I am dead!” However, the same, no-mindedness that Ed experienced through fear and the inexperienced Samurai mustered through acceptance of the inevitable, we can learn through Sanchin. Like so many other strange and foreign phenomenon that we experience in karate, amny elude us until something happens to draw our attention to it, at which point we can begin to perfect it. Ed thought he was crazy when he entered the sacred “no-mind” zone, that martial artist spend many years trying to achieve.