Brenda Guiled has been a kindred spirit friend since 1995 when we started our journeys in Okinawan go-ju (hard-soft) karate. While my life journey took a different path, Brenda continued on. In 2002, she graduated to 3rd-degree black belt and soon after founded the Salt Spring Shorei-Kan dojo on Salt Spring Island, BC, continuing since then as chief instructor. Recently, I found my old belt and recalled the wisdom in the metaphor of a black belt’s transition back to white through dedication and sustained commitment. I asked Brenda to share her journey through karate and its influence in her life. May Brenda’s story nudge your curiosity to discover where your own experiences and perspectives interweave. Thank you, Brenda for your always-curious creativity.
“White Bird” (monoprint) by Brenda Guiled.
We talk about “getting it together”, to centre our life and somehow keep it that way. Big ‘somehow’!
There are reliable ways to do this and countless approaches. It comes down to one thing: bringing mind-body-spirit into such harmony and joy that it’s the normal state of being. ‘Mind’ is first in this modern-world arranging of these elements, with the body to carry it around, while the spirit is some ineffable other.
In the Okinawan karate way that I study and teach – truly a ‘way’, far more than self-defence and definitely not a tournament sport – we have a deep breathing exercise called Sanchin. It means “three battles” and aims to bring mind-body-spirit into one. It’s an ancient Zen-in-motion practice from Shaolin Temple in China and farther back still.
To be powerfully whole and centred for a brief time, then longer and longer, can then spill into everyday life, separate from intense practice times. Eventually – this is the heart of Zen – such capability becomes separate from ever doing the exercise again.
What this tells us is something I put into graph form, shown here, for a talk given to the British Columbia Explorers’ Club. Members go on amazing, often arduous journeys to the ends of the Earth, then report back to each other. How did my inner struggles fit with their rugged outdoor ones?
Charting this was an exploration, too, because I didn’t know how it was going to come out.
The timelines covers 17 years of karate practice. (The colour of the dots is the ranking of my belts.) The yellow and purple lines – my mind and spirit – bounce around with what’s happening in karate studies, as the lights go on and off in my head and emotions rise and tumble. In the PowerPoint talk about this, I give the reasons for the ups and downs.
But look. All along, regardless of the mind-spirit rollercoaster, my body keeps steadily growing more capable. Even being totally dispirited and bummed out doesn’t affect my progress. After 14 years, the body’s higher plane of movement, breath, and focus pulled up volatile thoughts and feelings to that level. They’ve stayed integrate then, without fail.
As this graph shaped up, I laughed. It shows exactly what Okinawans have known for long centuries and have built into their gift of karate to the world: trust the body. Tend to it; keep improving coordination, flexibility, and patterns of moves, all with good breath.
Physiology and kinesiology studies bear this out: when we learn to move in new and better ways, we learn to think in new and better ways. It’s just the way we’re wired, every one of us. And these quiet triumphs lead to more stable emotions and, ultimately, sure-fire harmony tapped deeply into joy.
And thus, body-mind-spirit explains the essential relationship.
Is it worth intensive practice and years, perhaps, to get to this place? Better than the alternative, to keep talking about “getting it together” without learning to embody this powerful need.
About the artwork: “White Bird”
White Bird is part of Brenda’s “Black Belt” panel. The images have a black belt in them, with a thin gold thread through the belt. Black belt is not an arrival, but a beginning. There’s pride in achieving it, but it’s daunting too, because responsibilities increase dramatically. By chance, in the printing process, a little bird appeared in the upper left corner. Fitting serendipities increase as ability and understanding grow.
Enjoy more of Brenda’s Shorei-Kan art: Karate Abstractions