Kyokushin-kan Instructor’s Seminars – Concept #2 Part 2 – What is Ikken?


Students practicing tanto, the basic standing form of Ikken.

This author thought it would be beneficial to the Kyokushin-kan community to summarize, to the best of my ability, some content of Kancho Royama’s Internatinoal Instructors’ Seminars, held every year in Japan. Although I do have the dual advantage of having attended more of Kancho’s seminars than any other American, and of having acted as Japanese-English interpreter for those seminars in many cases, the reader should understand that, still, I can only do the best I can to explain concepts presented by Kancho and other high-level instructors in Japan. I do have the advantage of having been there, but my level of understanding in karate is only just what it is, and I can only explain what Kancho and others explain, through the lens of my own limited understanding. Yet to assist the development of Kyokushin-kan in the West, I will do the best I can.

In part one of this discussion of Ikken, I tried to give an overall introduction what what Ikken is. Please be sure to read Kyokushin-kan Instructor’s Seminars – Concept #2 Part 1 – What is Ikken? by clicking on the Instructors’ Seminars in Japan tab above. In this second section, as promised, I will endeavor to describe some of the training method. 

Students practicing tanto, a basic standing form of Ikken.

Students practicing tanto, a basic standing form of Ikken.

We know that in karate we can divide our training into parts: kihon, iddo, kata, bunkai, kumite, etc., and that the most basic training is kihon. Analogously, the most basic training of Ikken is called Tanto, which is very similar, in appearance, to ritsuzen (standing zen meditation). Of course I am discussing Ikken from the standpoint of a beginner, but because it made the most sense to me when it was described in these terms, I would recommend that you explain Ikken like this:

When a person practices zazen (seated meditation), yes they’re sitting, but what is the purpose, what are they doing while they sit? The answer is that the answer will come to the practitioner as he/she practices. I.e. Just do it, and you’ll start to see what it’s about. Likewise, consider Shanchin (kata). We’re told that two kata, naifanchin shodan and sanchin, are the two kata most integrally connected to kumite. But why? What is is about Sanchin (that’s relatively slow and very basic and very repetitive and has all this strange breathing in it . . ) that’s so important to becoming a strong fighter. But the answer is similar to the above regarding zazen. Just do it, and you’ll start to see what it’s about through practice.

Of course a little guidance, a hint as to what the answer is, never hurts. In the case of zazen that hint might be that the practitioner “is seeking mindlessness,” and in the case of sanchin that hint might be that the practitioner “is seeking to learn full body coordination; the full-body coordination that connects the body’s weapons (fists) to the planet (stance) through the critical connecting point (the tanden). In both of these cases, it’s easy to SAY what the answer is, but it’s much harder to actually find the answer, since the answer can really only be found through tireless training.

It’s the same for Ikken, and it’s the same for Ikken’s most basic exercise, Tanto: The first answer for the novice, is just to say, “just do it. Practice the exercise like I tell you, and you’ll start to understand, over time, what it’s about.” Let’s talk about the basic practice for two basic tanto posititions (seen in the photos on this page), lets talk about “what you’re supposed to do”, while you’re stading there holding a posture for 5, 10, 20, or even 60 minutes of training, and then, finally, I’ll give you the “hint” alluded to above regarding what it’s all about.

Integral both to understanding the “position” of tanto, and to answering the question “what am I to do  (during tanto)”, is visualization. In each ease there is an image, or a collection of images that the practitioner must keep in mind. The image refines the posture, and leads us toward that answer. In the two photographs on this page the students are are standing in two different tanto positions that are  virtually the same except for the position of their arms. Let’s look at the lower picture first, in which the students have their arms down near their sides. The points to keep in mind are:

  1. stand completely straight and look completely straight ahead at the horizon (your feet should be parallel, shoulder width apart)
  2. imagine that there’s a cord attached to the top-back of your skull, pulling your spine completely straight towards the sky
  3. lower your stance by just 2 or 3 centimeters by bending your knees only, never your spine or your neck (both 2, above, and 3, here, should be applied simultaneously, i.e. spine pulled upwards, stance lowered by bending the knees slightly towards a squat)
  4. if your weight is to rock anywhere towards the front or back of your feet, make sure it’s front, i.e. don’t stand on your heels (really your weight should be about centered to slightly forward towards the toe-end of your feet)
  5. with your arms straight down at your sides (and touching your sides, finger tips pointing down), slide you palms up your thighs to your hips (your elbows will bend away from your sides), then move your palms (still facing your hips) outward to about a fist’s width on either side of your hips as in the picture
  6. point all 10 finger-tips downward, allow your eyes to rest half-way closed (still looking towards the horizon), RELAX your body completely, especially your arms, shoulders, and midsection (do not tense your abdominal muscles)
  7. maintain the following image (image #1): you are standing on a square plank of wood that’s not bigger than your stance, and that plank of wood is floating on the surface of a still lake. If you don’t keep perfect balance (exactly 50% of your body weight on each foot), that plank will shoot out from under you and you will fall into the water. Imagine that there are 10-foot-long needles protruding from your ten finger tips, and those ten needles are stuck straight down into the soil at the bottom of the lake, thus aiding in your quest for balance. Thus there are two opposing images: 1. your spine pulled UP to straight by your skull, and your stance lowered (DOWN) with just the legs and 2. your weight pressing DOWN into an imaginary plank on an imaginary lake, while, with your arms, you are able to pull UP through your fingertips and those imaginary spikes going down into the soil in order to keep perfect balance. I will hold image #2  and image #3 for another day. (For now, just consider that this image is meant to be kept throughout the training, and there is additional levels to the image that will deepen the training once you’re comfortable with this one.)
  8. Relax everything while holding this posture. Slow your breathing and concentrate on your low belly when you breathe. Parts of your body will start to burn with the effort of holding the position for a long time. Your Trapezius and shoulders, and your thighs first of all. Your hands will want to curl inwards but keep them pointed straight down, and slightly separated. The reason why your body starts to burn is because you are engaging your muscles (without break) to hold the position. Relax those muscles; stop using them. Make your body “float” on your central nervous system. Where your muscles start to burn, relax those muscles. Hold the position without the use of your muscles.

Now, that’s the posture. What do you “do” while you’re holding that posture for 5, 10, 20 or even 60 minutes? And what’s the “hint,” that will help you understand the purpose of the training?

Well, it goes like this: The purpose of the training is to train your understanding, awareness and manipulation of your ki energy (remember from a Western standpoint, we can say “central nervous system” although Kancho would tell you that there’s far more to ki than just ones central nervous system). The most basic way that we become aware of our ki energy, and learn to use it, is by performing some kind of work, while denying our muscles to help us in performing that work. The zen master might enjoy saying it’s “doing work while not doing any work.” While holding this basic position your body must carry a load; if you just relax completely you would collapse to the floor. However by fatiguing the muscles holding the position, and thus becoming aware of what work those muscles are doing, and then by trying to deny those muscles “permission” to help out in achieving the task, we find that we can “float” this work on our ki energy, on our central nervous system. We find that our muscles stop burning because we’re no longer depending on them as heavily, and eventually, when we get really good at it, we find that we don’t have to use our muscles at all, and that we can use ki to perform work that we’re used to our body doing alone.

One might say, therefore, that the entire purpose of ikken is to train ones use of ki. The most basic exercise is this one, tanto, in which we can become aware that there is a real force in our body that the Chinese and Japanese refer to as ki or chi. I will get to more of this later in another article, but before quitting today, I will mention that a friend of facebook this week told me that he had trouble believing that one could actually use ki in the absence of physical power to defeat an opponent. Well, we all are aware of the “magic” stories of nutcases who claim to be able to use ki to start fires, or blast people across the room without even touching them. Please put that kind of thing out of your mind. You will not use ki like Luke Skywalker uses the “force.” Is ki a real force inside your body, however, that you can learn to manipulate and apply during kumite? Absolutely. No question. More later.

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