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For the martial artist, kata [forms] are a sort of dynamic kôan, the riddles Zen practitioners must grapple with. Even if Tom solved the problem presented by the seemingly impossible footwork of Tekki Nidan (he did), he would soon discover there are even more difficulties in kata training that seem to defy logical solutions. These koan are out there, lurking for every budôka [martial arts practitioner]. As a student goes on his merry way, for instance, assuming that he understands a particular sequence in a kata as a defense against an attack, the sensei [teacher] will--without warning--ask the karateka [karate practitioner] to demonstrate the sequence against an attacking partner. The movement he's carefully practiced will be set up, the attacker will cooperate, but the sequence will fail. It just doesn't work the way the karateka believed it would. This can be discouraging, but it is, in reality, merely another koan that has been put in his path. He may be able to solve this one intellectually, work it out logically. But he may also find that it is another opportunity to develop his kufû [non-logical strategy, device, or scheme].
Seeking an answer through means other than rational reasoning is not wholly foreign in Western philosophy. Approaches similar to kufu occur in a number of realms of Western religions and philosophical systems. The Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard postulated that should an individual believe that he could, on his own, accomplish a lifetime of good, eventually he would be forced to change his mind, dramatically so in some cases. Faced with all the evil around him and within himself, he would have no choice.Confronted with the overwhelming evidence of his own inability to solve the problem of evil, Kierkegaard suggested man would eventually have to take a "leap of faith," jumping into the arms of God, trusting entirely to a higher power in meeting life's travails. What Kierkegaard was describing, some might argue, is a sort of Christian approach to kufu.
Even though examples of kufu exist in Western thought, it is through a serious encounter with the budô [martial ways] than many non-Japanese are being introduced to the concept. Given our heritage of logic and rational reasoning, there can be a lot of resistance to the notion. At every step, when we run into difficulties in the dojo, we are tempted to resort to our comfortable modes of working out problems intellectually. And, of course, intellection has its place and is valuable for us. But when it fails to give us the answer we need, we must press on. We must practice our kata, immerse ourselves in the training as if these constitute our own, personal koan. We need to strive for solutions that cannot be discovered through our logic. This is a much, much more difficult process than it might appear, as people like Tom can tell you. Kufu is, I suspect, the goal sought by a swordsman of old Japan, who wrote this poem, describing his own inner struggle with the Way:
Under the sword lifted high,
There is hell making you tremble.
But push on,
And you will enter a land of bliss.