Kyudo Mugen: Karate Is Like Boiling Water

By Jesse | 12 Comments

You know what I can’t stand?

People who take “pauses” from Karate.

  • “Oh, I’m so burnt out, I think I need a break!”
  • “Gee, I have too much stuff at school/work, I think I need a pause!”

Yes. Of course. Obiously. [Insert more sarcasm here]. Those 3 hours/week (note: there’s 168 hours/week) you spend in the dojo surely has got something to do with your work/school/social life problems and your perceived mental “burnout”.

Dewd…

Bro the heck up.

Either you quit or you continue. Yes or no. No pausing. No friggin breaks. Pauses and breaks are like *the* worst thing you can take. Don’t even look at them. No break. No paus. Either you practise or you simply don’t. It’s all very black and white.

Why?

My main man Gizzle Funakoshi said it best:

“Karate is like boiling water.”

Got that?

Karate. Water. Boiling is like.

When water is boiling, you have reached a nice smooth level in your training routine. Thereafter, you can keep the water at boiling point with less input (of thermal energy) than it took to get it there in the first place. Comprende? In other words, even though you might need to train very hard to initially reach a certain level of skill, from thereon it takes less effort to keep that level of skill.

It’s a very simple concept, yet so many people fail to comprehend it.

Just look at elite athletes: They practise like maniacs many days a week to get a good aerobic capacity level (VO2 max). But after they reach that desired level they can kick back, dig their toes into the sand and just chill! Almost. Because all they have to do now (to maintain their peak oxygen uptake level) is to practise once or twice a week – which leaves them free to practise other important stuff like strength, technique etc.

When the water is already boiling, it’s not that hard to keep it boiling.

The lesson is:

Karate is like boiling water; without constant heat, it eventually returns to its tepid state.

The problem is, people think it’s hard to keep water boiling. They think it requires the same amount of effort (heat) that made the water boil in the first place. So they turn the heat on, off, on, off in some sort of quest for things like “motivation”, “gradings” and “tournaments”, never even reaching a nice, decent level of boilingness!

(Yeah.

Boilingness.)

But you and I know doing things that way is not the way to boil water. Oh no.

In fact, doing things that way, the water will most likely evaporate before it boils — meaning, Karate itself will change or the practitioner will probably die before ever having reached a nice hot boiling level of skill! Totally unawesome if you ask me.

The solution is: Turn on that fire, turn it on high, and keep it on high. The way to boil water is in a single, continuous stream of intense heat. Forget your worries about whether or not the water is going to boil or whether your pot is the right colour, right size, right material — leave that to the laws of physics and your sensei — just focus on keeping the fire lit, because quite frankly that’s the only thing you can control (related philosophy sideline)

So stop stopping.

No pauses.

No breaks.

No “I’ll just finish this thing then I’ll get back to practise.”

Either you are a Karate-ka or you are not.

Like Minoru Higa, 10th dan grandmaster of the Kyudokan, Okinawa, says in his essay entitled “Kyudo Mugen” from my upcoming superbook The Karate Code (for the record, I’m no the 5th (!) proof copy at the moment! Dang perfectionist-me…):

Where there is no practise, there is no Karate practitioner.

Never fail to practise.

“Never fail to practise.”

I love that.

And you should too.

Now, I know that some people might write all this off as “obvious” or “self-evident”… But it is these obvious things that are the easiest to forget.

Paradoxically enough, the more something “goes without saying” – the more it seems to need saying.

Stopping is the worst thing ever. Stopping breaks your momentum. Stopping is the start of decay and regression. Of death (taking this too seriously? who, me?). When you choose to stop, you set yourself the task not only of getting back up to the same speed as before but also to the same altitude — the same level of Karate. In short: Each time you stop, you lengthen the road to awesomeness.

And that’s pretty unfair to yourself, considering how much time and money you have sacrified to get to the level you’re at. Seriously, think about it. I almost fainted when I did some calculations.

So stop disrespecting yourself.

Stop disrespecting your time, your money and your efforts.

Don’t stop.

Because that would be like saying “I’m not worth anything”.

When you “take a break” you quite literally become a symbol of futility like Sisyphus: Forever pushing the rock of your Karate ability up the hill, only to have it roll down each time you “pause”. And just like Sisyphus, you have to retread the same ground to get back up where you were. Always restoring, never progressing. Forever. A loser.

It’s a huge freaking waste of time.

And if you ask me, you seriously don’t “deserve” such a horrible punishment as a “pause” after A-L-L that you’ve done!

So keep practising.

Keep boiling.

You’re worth it.

About the author

is a self-titled Karate Nerd™, best-selling martial arts writer, unreasonably handsome elite athlete, autodidact, karatepreneur and carrot cake aficionado. He really thinks you should become a Karate Nerd™ too.

12 Comments

  1. Barbara H-schwerdt

    April 23, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    Karate training is what keeps me sane. If I’m burning out then I need to reorganise my life or look at how much training I’m doing. Sometimes I need to operate at ‘maintenance level’ for a while before I start pushing myself again to raise the standard of my karate. I stopped once, for 20 years, because of a serious injury. When I started again it was like finding myself after being lost. Won’t do that again.

  2. Felicia

    April 23, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    I train three nights a week -- each two-hour classes that I have to travel an hour each way to get to/from. I also teach two two-your classes a week (although I don’t have to travel nearly as far to do it) and I hit the gym on off-dojo days. All that is to say that for many of us, training is a whole lot more than three hours a week -- still I’ve taken breaks only twice before: one was a surgically induced 6-week pause and the other was a month off due to tight finances (couldn’t afford dojo fees) -- but I trained at home during the respites. In other words, I hear you and agree that you either are a karateka or you aren’t -- and anyone who can say “I used to train/do…” clearly ain’t.

  3. Tony Garcia

    April 24, 2011 at 5:20 am

    Like Barbara above I too train wholeheartedly. I train daily. When Sunday comes around I dread it. My training has got to a point where one day off is really all I need to recover. I also run 3 miles every other day to maintain my cardio and cross train with weights. But then again I’m a 34 year practitioner, dojo owner and head instructor of my dojo. I recently had an active competitor tell me he needed a break. I basically told him if you stop you will NEVER get back the time you will lose. Your opponents will not give you consideration for your time away from training. He acknowledged the mistake of his thinking and kept up the work. Every now and then we have the priviledge of having Antonio Diaz come by when he visits Florida and trains with us. Fortunately we are in the same organization. He has never taken “time off” due to “circumstances” and is the first to tell my kids never to stray from the path. For those of you who are actively competing this is an art where if you take breaks the consequences will be terrible. Keep the water boiling or find an alternative to karate altogether. Perseverance is key and one of the many lessons of our chosen path. “Keep that water from getting tepid.”

  4. Boban Alempijevic

    April 24, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    I started my training at the age of 13. stopped once at age of 15 and then last time at age of 18 when I moved away from me town. For somereason ( no friggin clue why to be honest :( ) I did not take up my trainign untill I hit age of 31 and had noticed that my body was screaming at me when I was getting up from a chair…. 31…. and my body complains about getting up from a chair.

    That is when I met my physiotherapist, the dude that gave me my life back to me, the dude that showed me the way to my new sensei in a new country that I had moved to. Now whenever I get a small injury keeping me from trainign I go nutters at home. I got a shoulder injury, fixed it… I got problems with me feets, fixed it… i got problems with my knees, fixed it..now my friggin lower back has gotten to a stage where I will go to a kyroprakt ( fix me english language I hope he will :D )

    Thing is, Karate has become life for me, taken me through hardships at work, at university, it is my place of peace, my place of freedom from thoughts and worries… Why did I ever stop it as a kid… My spirit grow back in the Dojo and now I am edgy like hell due to an injury that keeps from training… give me my life back you bloddy lower back :(

    • Viking

      April 25, 2011 at 10:12 am

      Investigate inversion tables, I got my life back.

  5. Sean

    April 25, 2011 at 5:36 am

    I started karate when I was 16, came out at 19 as a green belt (spiritual reasons). Stayed away for 12 years until my wife helped me realize karate was a part of me, and that to stay away would be like denying a part of who God made me. Turned out she was right.

    I went back to karate in ’08, back to school in ’09, and ever since my life has been about finishing what I started. Just passed my green belt exam two weeks ago, and I’m in college for something I really love (Sport Managment with a focus on Wellness & Fitness) so I’m officially picking up where I left off. It’s like my life is like this house I’ve been living in all my life, and I just opened a door to room I’ve never been in before.

  6. Martin Mallet

    April 26, 2011 at 10:34 pm

    I work 8 to 9 hours a day, 2 more hours of travel that makes 11 hours a day just office related, my sensei gives 4 hour lessons five times a week and that means an additional 2 hours of travel on tuesday and fridays, taking a month off training solved most of the issues in my life. Im returning to dojo on monday. Oss great article even if I disagree.

  7. Gregor

    May 4, 2011 at 3:35 am

    Thank you for quoting the principle of the Founder of our school Yuchoku Higa Sensei and our present Grandmaster Minoru Higa Sensei!

    “Kyudo Mugen” is one of the most important guidelines in my life since I met Kyudokan school.

    Greetings!

    Gregor

  8. Joshua

    May 14, 2011 at 8:54 am

    Mr. Enkamp,

    I find your articles motivational to the extreme; they make readily available information that is not taught enough in the modernized Dojo.Thank you, very much. Keep em’ coming.

  9. marziotta

    July 1, 2011 at 11:52 am

    You are so right. I had to stop for 6 weeks last year, due to a small operation, and sometimes I have to take breaks because I have to do overtime at work, and when I go back I need at least the half of the time of the break to cope with all I lost in the meanwhile.

  10. Maryam

    February 18, 2012 at 10:58 pm

    you see, saying all those things is nice but words are wind. I mean, I say all that to myself when I’m tired but I soon give up. With sensei there shouting “faster, more power!” it feels like you get nowhere -anyway eventhough if she seems content I myself think she wants to make me content…!! So damn me the-never-content and that’s not the reason as we all see!!

    So, come on Jesse give me a word I can keep up with it -- right now it just feels like Sisyphus with that huge weight on his shoulders -- which hereby would be mine own weight and e failing to carry it!

  11. Ian

    July 18, 2013 at 3:38 am

    “Karate is like boiling water.”

    Okay, if you expend all that energy to get water from room temperature to boiling, no sense letting all that dissipate and the water return to room temp.

    But.

    It takes a lot less energy to keep the water “almost boiling” and then bring it to a boil when needed. By which I mean, if a guy needs to take a “break” from karate, it probably depends on *why* and *how long* as to what the affects will be. (Taking a month off to heal up some nagging injuries? Probably a good idea. Taking a few years off because you are “just not feeling it anymore” … well, your karate will go downhill for sure.)

    Is it better to keep training really hard all the time? You bet. That’s what leads to success. But people devote themselves in different ways, to different degrees, and with different aims. Not everyone can go all-in and all-out all the time. Maybe their goal in life isn’t to become a Godan Shihan, or even just a black-belt, or membership in the national kumite team … maybe their goal is a bit of self-defensy-fitness, or whatever. Hey, if taking a break for a while is what keeps them engaged overall and keeps them from burning out, then that’s great.

    Maybe they need to let the water simmer for a while, to keep from burning out.

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