In English, the Japanese phrase “kihon waza” is sometimes translated as “basic techniques”. I don’t really like this translation, because many Western minds grasp this to mean “the basic stuff I need to learn, get out of the way, and then move on to the advanced stuff”. The translation I prefer is “fundamental methods.” These movements are the foundation of everything we practice. Advancement means internalizing and building atop the fundamentals.

In our art, and all others I am aware of, people who are really good practice fundamentals often. Take boxing, for example, there are only four basic punches – jab, cross, hook, and uppercut. Imagine the beginning boxer learning these four fundamental strikes in about a half an hour, now knowing that he has mastered all the “techniques” of boxing, and expect to enter the ring with a pro. That is a recipe to get killed.

However, go to the gym of a pro boxer, and what do you see them practicing? Jab, cross, hook, uppercut. You’ll see them doing a lot of conditioning, sparring, and jumping rope. Footwork will be basic, and sparring sessions will contain the same elements.

Why would a pro need to practice fundamentals every day?

There is a big difference between understanding how to throw a punch, and internalizing the action of punching so much that you no longer have to think about it. At a high level of skill the punch just happens, the timing is perfect, the targeting is spot on. This is not something which can be grasped intellectually, it is a visceral understanding.

Bruce lee once said, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” Why? Because a master of that one kick could deliver it powerfully, without thought, so fast you couldn’t see it coming, and plant it on a vital target.

At the highest levels of martial practice we have the concept of “mushin” or empty-mind. This means, basically, proper action at the proper time with the interference of thought. It is instinctive action. Whether you are swinging a sword, throwing a kick, or evading a charging grappler – you simply do what’s right without thinking, “I wonder what I should do here.”

The only path to get there is intense meditative practice of fundamental movements.

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