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Kenpo Gokui

The lines of the ken-po goku-i are set from an atomistic aspect simply because it is the manner in which the brain learns. Its nature is completely holistic and like the I Ching must be in a form that promotes learning and understanding so a person can see, hear and grasp the nature of a holistic system. The gokui is a method to teach us how to be holistic. Its terseness is the best that can be done to convey its holistic meaning.

A person's heart is the same as Heaven and Earth while the blood circulating is similar to the Sun and Moon yet the manner of drinking and spitting is either soft or hard while a person's unbalance is the same as a weight and the body should be able to change direction at any time as the time to strike is when the opportunity presents itself and both the eyes must see all sides as the ears must listen in all directions while the mind must grasp all the tactual data not seen on all sides and not heard in any direction.

A person’s heart is the same as Heaven and Earth while circulatory system is similar to the cycles of the moon and sun yet the breathing methods are either hard or soft while one’s posture should allow one to advance, retreat, engage, and disengage as the body should be able to act in accordance with time and change so that one must enter a state of emptiness (mushin/zanshin) allowing the eyes must see all sides and the ears should listen in all directions while the mind must grasp all the tactual data not seen on all sides and not heard in any direction. - My rendition per translation from Andy Sloane Sensei.

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The Ken-po Goku-i Convolution

Caveat: This post is mine and mine alone. I the author of this blog assure you, the reader, that any of the opinions expressed here are my own and are a result of the way in which my meandering mind interprets a particular situation and or concept. The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of other martial arts and/or conflict/violence professionals or authors of source materials. It should be quite obvious that the sources I used herein have not approved, endorsed, embraced, friended, liked, tweeted or authorized this post.

The kenpo gokui is one of those considered important gifts presented to graduates of the Honbu Dojo for Isshinryu Karate as created and named by Shimabuku Tatsuo Sensei. The convolution involved here is how it translates into English, or any other foreign language for that matter. Translations are always tuff simply because of the influences from the translator, i.e., their interpretations as governed by their personal perceptions as also derived from that persons culture and belief systems. Our minds, for each human who takes on such a Herculean task of translation of characters/ideograms, tend to lean heavily toward our experiences and interpretations that effect those encoded experiences as well as our human mind tendency to shift retrieved thoughts, etc., according to the moment and to circumstances - all that effect translations. Regardless, it is a worthy effort and kudos’ should be extended to those professionals who go the distance to provide us, foreigners outside Asian culture and belief systems, the means of greater understanding and accumulation of knowledge.

This post is another of many attempts to understand what it was that Tatsuo-san hoped we would gain from its study along side the physical/physiokinetic study of his creation - Isshinryu Karate. When Tatsuo-san awarded a grade or level at the end of a tour of duty or training he would also present that person with a copy of the gokui (shortened for brevity) along with instructions that fundamentally urged continued practice, training and study with emphasis on attempting to learn and study the Okinawan culture. A culture that permeates the very essence of Isshinryu.

Here are the characters/ideograms of the gokui silk certificates presented:


The accepted original translation as it may have appeared on those early silk presentations.

Now, the most common translation of the gokui is the one used and distributed by the first generation graduates of Tatsuo-san’s Isshinryu karate late 1950’s and early 1960’s. This translation is as follows with a graphic of the characters/ideograms and English translations. 

1. A person's heart if the same as heaven and earth.

2. The blood circulating is similar to the sun and moon.

3. The manner drinking (inhaling) and spitting (exhaling is either hard or soft.

4. A person's unbalance is the same as a weight.

5. The body should be able to change directions at any time.

6. The time to strike is when the opportunity presents itself.

7. The eyes must see all sides.

8. The ears must listen in all directions.

Anyone who has read my postings on Isshinryu will know that I question a lot of things passed down from those same first generation students. I have found that everyone easily and readily accepts the above translation without question. I also feel strongly that the English translation is actually heavily influenced by those same first generation graduates for the following reasons:

First, the mere fact that the lines in English are numbered when there are no numbers presented in the characters/ideograms/kanji. As a Marine (inactive) I always added numbering or at least bulleting to my list of things similar to the above gokui listing. The Marines in question are heavily influenced by such formatting due to the military itself that lives and breathes such things. In the end I removed my interpretation of the gokui numbers as a distraction and influence on study and interpretations.

Second, when the Japanese characters/ideograms translators came out and available through technology, i.e., the Internet, I found that the translation of those individual characters and the grouping of each line did not translate to the above English renderings. The words for each character/group of characters did not really provide a complete and understandable meaning, at least for English, that would connect the English above with the characters/ideograms above. 

Third, even when western students or graduates talked to Okinawan’s about a translation the language barriers left a lot to be desired. Add in various cultural and belief issues it may be that to keep harmony among the group they deferred to the translation above. Of course, as with all thinks Okinawan and Karate from Okinawa, there are no real documented facts other than what is written, influenced and provided by Westerners. 

Example (first line for brevity):

As a group on the Tangorin translator, 人心同天地 you get no actual translation of all the grouped characters but you do get individual character/ideogram meanings that will come next. In google translate you get, “Jinshin do tenchi, human nature the same heaven and earth.” 

Individually the characters/ideograms mean, “人心同天地, first character means, person, second character means, heart; mind; spirit, third character means, same; agree; equal, fourth character means, heavens; sky; imperial, fifth character means, ground; earth.”

If Tatsuo-san’s English were good (I understood that it was not ergo why he needed a translator when teaching Americans or when something important were to be discussed and that translator falls prey to the same foibles any translator has per the above) and if the gokui were as important as it has been presented then I question who actually wrote out the English as rendered in the above references?

If I were to take “person, heart, means/same, heavens, earth” I would end up with a sentence like, “Person heart same heaven earth.” In my language along with my education and read gives no real meaning to this sentence and it does not actually mean we must assume a person’s heart is the same as heave and earth, especially without the modifiers that indicate such words, important words for translation and meaning for English, as “A,” “is,” “the,” “as,” and “and.” As we all know well, those modifiers, etc., add or remove a great deal of meaning from a sentence. 

Add in that because of the numbering it presents a meaning of singularity for each set so that one might assume that each was meant to be separate and distinct from each other that actually takes away a holistic view of the gokui for meaning as it interconnects with a more holistic practice, training, understanding and application of Isshinryu, i.e., the presumed wholehearted one that is the essence of the system or style. 

As one translate the group/individual characters of the other groupings/sets you find, as is normal in that character/ideogram usage, many different translated words or phrases as appropriate to is use in a given discussion/situation and so on. Even when you take from one group and associate them accordingly you get different meanings and translations, i.e., example: “Jinshin [人心]” means, “Human nature; human heart; human spirit; kindness; sympathy.” Who is to say that spirit or kindness or sympathy was a meaning in lieu of heart or human?

As an example, Andy Sloane Sensei of Isshinryu has provided a different translation of those same characters. They all are found in the translators via Internet sources and they all make sense, to me anyway. As personal preferences go I would agree with and tend to convert to his meanings or translations. Here is the English he provides:

Jinshin wa tenchi ni onaji – A person’s heart is the same as Heaven and Earth.
Ketsumyaku wa nichigetsu ni nitari – The circulatory system is similar to the cycles of the moon and sun.
Ho wa goju don to su – Breathing methods are either hard or soft.
Shintai wa hakarite riho su – One’s posture should allow one to advance, retreat, engage, and disengage the opponent.
Mi wa toki ni shitaga hen ni ozu – The body should be able to act in accordance with time and change.
Te wa ku ni ai sunawachi hairu – In combat, one must enter a state of emptiness.
Me wa shiho wo miru wa yo su – The eyes must see all sides.
Mimi wa yoku happo wo kiku – The ears should listen in all directions.

Now, his actual translations of just the characters/ideograms are (dashes added for clarity of reading the words; words are considered separate translations of the separate characters/ideograms):


Anyone not well versed in the belief systems that Tatsuo-san was exposed to and lived might not really understand those terse words or phrases - assuming we are supposed to connect or inter-connect those characters/ideograms/words. Take “weight advance retreat disengage meet.” One, depending on their perceptions and perspectives might make assumptions that are diverse/different from any other person even if they are exposed to the same type of circumstances as to perceptions and perspectives driven by individuality as exposed to circumstances driven by that persons past experiences, learnings and understandings, etc.

I think at this stage of my post everyone is beginning to get a feel for the complexities of this seemingly easy and terse rendering of the gokui. Add in that actually, from my perceptions and perspective and studies, I feel strongly that the entire gokui is a single wholehearted holistic Zen Koan like symbolic form that should look like:

人心同天地 血脈似日月 法剛柔呑吐 碼進退離逢 身随時應變 手逢空則入 目要視四面 耳能聽八方 (note: spaces added only for readability/clarity/seeing, etc.)



Another indication I feel is missing in the original way of rendering and translation is when presented as a single entity of study, even with the extra modifying words, it leaves a lot of room to infer meaning that often will be unique to just the one individual who studies the gokui. This is how I came up with my version, a version that as I write this post will result in more changes. Changes are what karate, martial arts and the more esoteric principles underlying all martial systems give that study and practice its essence and its growth over lifetimes of practitioners. 

It also helps, as it should in my book, the practitioner take literal translations toward a more expansive understanding that goes beyond the mere physical into the full spectrum of fundamental principles of martial systems. In other words it takes us beyond mere physiokinetics and techniques into theory, philosophy, chemical and defensive sub-principles often left out and forgotten in modern practice and training, etc.

In the end, I feel strongly that such studies as the gokui, such contemplative study of the gokui as a Zen like martial “koan” leads us out of our comforts and into a realm of growth and potential. In addition that study should connect us with stronger ties to the origins of our martial systems, the culture and beliefs of the Okinawans and by historic connectivity those of the Japanese and Chinese and so on.

A person's heart is the same as Heaven and Earth while the blood circulating is similar to the Sun and Moon yet the manner of drinking and spitting is either soft or hard while a person's unbalance is the same as a weight and the body should be able to change direction at any time as the time to strike is when the opportunity presents itself and both the eyes must see all sides as the ears must listen in all directions while the mind must grasp all the tactual data not seen on all sides and not heard in any direction.

Andy Sloane Sensei's translation of the characters/ideogram, click for larger view.
My sincerest appreciation and thanks to Sloane Sensei for his permission to use this translation in my posting of "The Ken-po Goku-i convolution." 

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