It was a fall evening, late in the
season, with the characteristic Northwest mixture of
rain, cold, and pitch darkness. It was to be another in
a long string of demonstrations originating somewhere in
the distant past, continuing regular as the seasons,
taking us to all corners of the Pacific Northwest.
Back then, Sensei was sensitive about his talents.
People could beg or bribe to see his skills, but to no
avail. On the other hand, if he took a liking to a
someone, he would share all and on more than one
occasion spent hours instructing, demonstrating, and
refining for a new friend.
Some months previous, two young men visited our workout
area as invited guests. They were athletic, and one had
been an accomplished wrestler in high school. During the
span of the afternoon, Sensei made believers of both,
but more importantly, made two new friends. They were
Christians from some church up north. They came from
affluent families. Sensei, who was a common man, and
loved common people, was invited to demonstrate his
skills before a youth group at their church. Because of
the new found friendship, Sensei was quick to accept,
but later, dreaded his art and antics might be
considered uncouth by the more affluent fellowship.
Demonstration night came, and we looked for a place to
set up our equipment. We scheduled to start at 7:30 pm,
but arrived our usual 30 minutes early. No one was
around. Quite a disappointment, given we drove nearly
two hours through horizontal rain to arrive on time.
Finally, close to 7:30, people started arriving. The
organizers, our two friends, finally appeared but had
not yet decided where to have the show take place. Quick
to react and improvise, we worked around the
inconvenience and were nicely set up within minutes.
Despite the weather, people began pouring in. In short
order, the room was filled to capacity. Curious folks
drifted in from other events in adjoining buildings, a
wedding member here, choir member there, a few wearing
I led off the demonstration with an overview of the
martial arts, and how different arts developed in
various countries stimulated in part by social issues
and needs of the inhabitants. The message was that
almost anywhere you went, fighting arts took root among
ordinary people and reflected their great dedication
toward perfection of discipline.
After my introduction, I demonstrated the Filipino stick
fighting art of Arnis, after which my son did a
demonstration of kicks and punches and Kata.
It was clear the audience was impatient for Sensei to
come on. Out of deference to myself and the other
demonstrators, he sat patiently behind a screen where no
one could see him. When his time drew near, I gave a
lengthy introduction, billing him as the greatest
martial artist I had ever known.
He walked out in his blue satin Chinese style uniform,
wearing his red sash. Even in this crowd of society's
elite, his innate nobility radiated through.
"All of the compliments, the titles, the
honors mean nothing. I don't teach Karate," he said in a
mocking, half-sneering voice, baring his teeth as the
word "Karate" dragged across his palette. "I don't teach
Kung Fu either."
From out of nowhere came his imitation of Bruce Lee as
he uttered the words, "Judo, Ai Ki Do, Tae Kwon Do, Goju
Ryu, I don't teach any of those. What I do teach is
"Take Bill. This man (pointing at me). He knows
Karate styles. When he came to me, he knew kicks,
punches, blocks, tactics, and all of the weapons. But I
could still beat him! Because I had discipline and he
did not! Now, I've taught him discipline. Watch out!"
"When I talk to my Christian friends, they say how can I
profess to be a Christian and teach people to fight, to
stab, to kill? My reply again, is that I teach
discipline. I call it 'Mind over Matter.' Your mind over
"How many times do we hear ourselves say that we are
willing to sacrifice for the Lord, willing to forego
consumption and pleasure to ease the burden of our
poorer fellow man? How often do we say we are willing to
pay the price it takes to be a good practicing
Christian, or Buddhist, or Muslim in this difficult
time? Like many things, it’s easy to say, hard to do. If
you had the discipline I teach, you could do anything
you decided to do. If you wished to be what you profess,
you could, because with discipline, you choose what you
want to do, then you truly do it, and nothing less.
Tonight, you'll see what it means to have discipline."
The first part of the demonstration
involved a series of spontaneous defenses and reactions
to my random attacks. We had done this many times
before, but in fact, had never choreographed a routine.
As he had said in the past, "When you have talent, why
confine yourself to a script." For a period of thirty
minutes, he threw, twisted, tangled, tied, curled and
disabled me into submission, no matter what attack I
initiated. Before long, members of the audience were
hollering out attacks for me to try on him. Eventually,
Sensei tired of playing with me, then turned to the
audience and asked people to come out and attack him. Of
course, no one would, but Sensei always had the next
move, and by then, he spotted the largest and most
physically impressive male specimen in the group. At
Sensei's urging the audience encouraged the strong man
come up and attack. It was always an enormous crowd
pleaser to have their local hero ending up helpless, on
After winning the crowd over, Sensei
proceeded to his breaking demonstration.
Now, many people dismiss breaking demonstrations with
uninformed comments like, "Bricks don't strike back."
Yes, bricks don't strike back, but the discipline of
breaking is not the same as that of fighting.
Therefore, whether or not bricks fight back is a moot
point. Breaking exercises the principles of discipline,
concentration, commitment, and courage. Without
developing these traits to their fullest, Karate has no
substance. True breaking involves an almost mystical
relationship with the target. One picks up the piece of
wood, or the brick, and studies it closely. After
careful scrutiny, somewhere in the artist's mind, the
decision is made that "I can break this." It is set down
on the stand, the artist focuses, and almost
unconsciously, adopts techniques of power and breathing
rooted in the shadowy wisps of time. The crowd, the
sounds, and the environment drift into the distance. The
demonstrator takes aim, breathes once, clearing his
mind, then exhales. He breathes again, reaffirming
commitment to the break. He breathes a third time,
lifting his striking arm, then drives his energy and
focus downward at the target, smashing it to bits.
There is no finer feeling than a
Sensei, as master of the iron hand, was especially
theatrical that evening. Before I realized what he was
up to, he had placed two heavy metal supports center
floor. Crowning the supports was a bridge of cinder
bricks, some standing on their sides and arranged to
form an I-beam, rather than laying flat and horizontal.
He expained, “I do it this way to augment the difficulty
of the break, that way you know I'm for
real.” From out of his bag, he pulled a can of
lighter fluid and ignited the newly formed tower. I
nervously eyed the overhead sprinklers.
"This is my discipline," he said, as he put his hand
into the midst of the flames. Five seconds went
by. The crowd began to gasp. Ten seconds.
Was that the smell of burning flesh in the air? He
pulled his hand from the flame, skin still smoking and
steam rising from the surface. He postured himself into
a solid breaking stance, concentrating completely on the
target to be broken. He raised his hand and delivered a
powerful hammer fist that resonated along the floor to
the feet of all in the room. The bridge of bricks
Next came the rocks. No matter what people could say
about breaking bricks and boards, and driving nails into
pine, no one could argue that breaking rocks was
anything less than awe inspiring. Sensei began passing
the rocks to members of the audience. When they returned
to the front, fully inspected, he laid them alongside
the breaking stands. One after the other, he proceeded
to pulverize them.
Then, he reached into his basket and pulled out a large
boulder. It was huge! Turning to the audience, he said,
"I found this rock today, I'm gonna try to break it!" As
a courtesy to the audience, he passed it around for all
to see, feel and inspect. When it came to the front, he
placed it on the stand. He delivered a thundering blow,
and the rock shuddered beneath the force of impact. But
it did not break! Again, he struck, and again, and
again. He got up, adjusted the rock's position, and
attacked it with different strikes. After five minutes
of striking, he turned to the audience and said, "I was
thinking. How much like some of you in the
audience tonight, this rock is. It comes here as a rock,
and chooses to leave as a rock. How many of you will
fail to hear the message of love that I bring tonight?
How many of you will fail to see the love of your
brothers and sisters in this group tonight? I believe in
the Creator, and I know that through the Creator's love
for me, I will split this rock.
Then, in mocking self deprecation, he said, "I don't
know when I'm going to break it, but I know I'm going to
break it tonight, and I'm going to stay up here until I
do. I hope all of you stay with me to see this through."
What followed was a demonstration of discipline,
perseverance, humility, and commitment unlike any I had
ever witnessed in the past. Sensei repeatedly smashed at
the rock, never wavering from his commitment. Five
minutes passed, then ten, and all could sense that with
each strike, the rock was on the verge of breaking, but
had somehow managed to resist one more time. Suddenly, a
sound of submission emanated from the rock, as Sensei,
driving his hand through the boulder, split it perfectly
into two sections. With a smile of satisfaction, he
picked up the two nearly equal halves of black stone,
and passed them to the audience for inspection. The
crowd was silent.
Though he learned his arts in the Temple, and his
beloved masters were Buddhist monks, later in life
Sensei always professed his Christianity. This was
fundamental to everything else. In my writing this, he
would want for me to tell, at least once, about his love
for Jesus, his Lord and Savior. I hope I've done justice
to his philosophy and his teachings with these words.
When the demonstration was completed, Sensei was
surrounded by admirers from the audience. Off to the
side was a professional looking woman, holding one of
the pieces of rock which she was about to put into her
carrying bag. I went over to ask if she was taking a
souvenir. Her response was that she was a geologist, and
recognized from the outset that this particular rock was
one of the most difficult of rocks to split. It was her
intention to take the rock sample back to the university
lab, and have it tested for ability to withstand stress.
She said she was certain that he never could have broken
the rock without the Lord's direct intervention.
I responded, "Sooner or later, he always breaks the