The “do” of music and the music of Karate – Part 2: Rhythm of the Spirit

musical enso?

In my first post The “do” of music and the music of Karate – Part 1: Being and becoming an artist , I focussed on the internal process commonalities in my Karate and music practice. In this second post, I plan to focus mostly on the external and more practical similarities between music and martial arts.

As I mentioned in my first post, I have been involved in music for nearly my whole life but only started Karate (as a complete newbie) less than 2 years ago. I am not sure if it was my music back ground or the fact that many of the people I trained with or who were / are my instructors also had music backgrounds and could effectively incorporate musical analogies and teaching strategies, but I fairly quickly noticed that learning Karate is quite a lot like learning music.


1. Practice

What seems insurmountable at the start is always possible with time, effort, and practice. I remember seeing some pretty tough choral / vocal scores and instrumental works in my time, and thinking: “Whoah…..I am never going to nail this! It is completely beyond me.” Whilst at the time when I first clapped eyes on the piece, that probably felt true, by the time I had chipped away on it for a while, I would be thinking: “OK…..well this is getting easier now.”, and then wanting to work on it even more. And of course working on it more meant it got even easier, and eventually I would realise that it was totally achievable.

Learning a new kata is completely like that for me. Kata (full stop) used to scare me, quite frankly. I got over that with some pretty serious self – inflicted exposure therapy and an excellent instructor. A couple of months ago though, I was taught and have since had to learn a kata several kyu ranks above where I am now* (in addition to learning the ones I need for my upcoming grading). When I first watched it performed by our Sempai and our Sensei, I will admit I was pretty scared, and thought “How am I ever going to be able to do this, let alone in a couple of months?”. Yes. I was scared, but also pretty determined, since we were learning it together and I didn’t want to be the one to let the team down. I saw a clip of us doing the kata together last week and I was amazed and also very moved. There we all were, in sync and looking pretty slick about it. What an achievement! Sure I still need to work on it and understand it a lot better, but the pattern,the rhythm, the timing, and most importantly, the spirit, were all there, which far exceeded what I expected to achieve in that time span.

Basically, in both music and karate, you get out of it what you put in. If you don’t practise between classes / rehearsals, you are unlikely to improve. Practise is a continuous cycle with the (unachievable) aim of perfection, however, a good starting point I have found, both in music and in karate is to practise something until you can’t get it wrong, rather than to practise something until you can get it right. OK, so you may have to practise until you get it right as the first step…..just don’t stop there expecting it to be anywhere near good enough!

2. Ensemble

Practising by yourself and doing solo performance is all well and good but it can get a bit lonely, and you need to be very self motivated and disciplined to do it in the absence of any other training / playing. Practising with others and working together to achieve a common goal is a fantastic way to build spirit and feel like part of a team. There are many aspects to team work that make this happen. One of them is that a team (or ensemble) is often made up of people with different levels of experience (in music or karate) but also different life experiences that can be brought to the table. Everyone can benefit from this in terms of learning and teaching. If you are newbie (like I am in Karate) hanging out with the old hats makes you reach for the high bar they set, and besides they are generally happy to help you out when you get stuck. If you are an old hat (like I am in music) you can help others by leading by example and helping the newbies when they need direction, because everyone remembers what it was like to be that new kid, don’t they? I know I do! The life experience part is more complicated to explain but it gives a family atmosphere to an ensemble or dojo and it adds to the general atmosphere.

3. Feeling the rhythm of the beat!

Timing is of the essence in both music and karate. In music ensemble work and team kata this is essential. You don’t want any “unintentional” solo parts! Singing in a rest is as much a mistake (and a highly more notable one) than leaving a note out. You also need to be able to listen to others and feel the essence of the music you are making together. Your part may be the one you know best, but it isn’t necessarily the most important one the whole time! In solo performance rhythm and feeling is very important; you would look pretty bad if you just sang what you felt like rather than what the composer intended. In team kata or even practising kata as a dojo, you need to know the agreed rhythm and timing and you need to be able to lead as well as follow in much the same way as singing / playing as an ensemble without a conductor.

In kumite or in self defence timing and sensing / pre-empting your opponent is paramount. Timing could mean the difference between successfully connecting your strike with your opponent or an opponents strike connecting with your head. (Hit and run or be hit and not be able to run, need I say more).

I find it useful in music to mark in my beats in my score and clap or count out tricky rhythms when I am learning them. Learning the rhythm of kata and combinations with instructors who counted through or even gave me the rhythm of combinations (in such a way that I could notate it later in standard musical notation in my karate notebook) has been really useful.

4.  Passion / love, drive, dedication / commitment and owning what you do is what matters.

Music and Karate both require considerable time, physical and cognitive investment. You need to love what you do to keep going. Am I the worlds greatest musician? No. Does my music give people (including me) pleasure? Yes. Will I ever be a world kata champion? Not impossible, but improbable…..and ultimately not important. Does Karate make me a stronger, more confident and more thoughtful individual? I believe so.

You can’t be the best at everything, but you can be your best. And that folks, is why I am still in the game(s).

PS: *I wrote this post many weeks ago (not long after part 1) but held off posting. This was due to the fact that the kata I mentioned learning with the dojo (Surinja) was being learned to video and send to Hanshi (our Sensei’s Sensei) in USA, in honour of his promotion to 10th Dan on 21st November 2015, and I didn’t want to spoil the surprise. Congratulations Hanshi!

More locally, I watched my Sempai grade to 2nd Kyu and another training buddy from a sister dojo grade to 4th Kyu on the same day (very auspicious!) and Surinja kata is one of the grading requirements for our second kyu. Ganbatte ne, to both Sempai and my training buddy. We are all very proud of you. 🙂

It’s not easy being green.

At the time of writing, it’s two weeks or less until I go for grading. I’ve worked hard for the past six months, so I should feel prepared. Even so, it seems inauspicious to post this until after the fact, so I won’t…..but I will leave it as it is; a record of what I am feeling and going through right now.

When I graded to yellow, just shy of six months ago, at what is now my home dojo, I was still a visitor. At that stage I was cross training and had been invited to grade alongside everyone else. Looking back, I can see this was a turning point for me. It was an honour to be invited to grade at all really, and possibly something a bit outside the box. It threw a few spanners in the works too, at least at the time, but in the end everything worked out ok, and here I am now, a happy member of the gang, training alongside a phalynx of keen karateka, hopefully about turn green together. I guess all things happen for a reason even if at the time, you can’t fully fathom what that reason is.

I digress. As I prepare for grading, from a physical perspective, (daily kata work, kihon, as well as general fitness and flexibility), I have also been doing a lot of mental preparation. I’ve read the grading requirements and I’ve watched someone undertake the test from yellow to Green. It’s quite a step up in terms of what one needs to know, and be able to demonstrate. This is highly significant.

Green seems to be the line in the sand, that separates the men/women from the boys/ girls, the wood from the trees, or, more explicitly, the serious karateka from the less serious. So, actually, it’s not all about action, but it’s also about intention, commitment, and mindset.

To achieve even the physical requirements alone, requires a degree of dedication that extends well beyond the physical walls of the dojo. Unless you’re some sort of karate prodigy, (which, I hasten to add, I am most certainly not), training for a few hours per week during class, with no outside practice, is not likely to cut it. The kata are too difficult now to learn by osmosis, and the standard of kihon expected is higher; just going through the motions is not good enough.

To fully prepare oneself for being green, one needs to embrace the fact that karate is part of who one really is. This isn’t even just about making time and space to physically practice karate outside the confines of the dojo. It’s more about making time and space within oneself for an internal kind of dojo; the kind of dojo one carries throughout life. You are making a commitment to travel. Now is the time to start packing your things and preparing for the journey that starts at shodan and continues however long you let it. You may not have booked your flights just yet, but you are definitely putting money away for the ticket.

Train hard, friends. Hope to see you all on the other side. Osu


16th November 2015: Newsflash – The grading test was tonight and we are now team green machine! Osu!

Dojo twins’ Double Mocha Almond Fudge Cake (raw, vegan, gluten free)


Happy Birthday Sarah (and Me) for yesterday…..I hope your wish comes true. And Gambatte Ne on getting your 6th kyu with your two yoko geri ;)!


  • 1/2 cup cashews (or use coconut or extra almonds or other nut of choice / any combination of these to 1/2 cup)
  • 1 1/2 cups almond pulp (tight packed) – I used the results from making almond milk from 2 cups almonds.
  • 2 cups dates soaked, just covered in decaf plunger style coffee (overnight if time otherwise minimum 15 minutes in boiling water coffee) and enough of soaking water to form a thick dough to press into tin
  • 10 tablespoons cocoa
  • 8 tablespoons coconut
  • 1 teaspoons vanilla essence
  • 1 teaspoon coffee essence (optional)
  1. Process cashews to flour and remove.
  2. Process dates (minus soaking water) with vanilla and coffee essence if using.
  3. Add in cocoa and coconut and process to combine
  4. Add in nutmeals and process to combine, adding enough soaking water (ie coffee) and coffee grounds to form a thick dough.
  5. Press 1/2 mixture into a 20 cm diameter tin lined with baking paper.
  6. Place another layer of baking paper over the first layer and press the other half of the mixture in.
  7. Place another layer of baking paper and pop in the freezer to firm while you make the icing.


(makes enough for this cake – ie double layer, and the other cake I made for the family which was a flourless mocha cake I blogged the otherday)

  • 2 cups dates (soaked to just cover in plunger coffee including grounds) including soaking water.
  • 1/2 cup raw cocoa
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil (I used my homemade one which I make with dessicated coconut only)
  1. Process all ingredients together until smooth and glossy.
  2. Add enough coffee / grounds to form spreadable icing.
  3. Spread about 1/3 icing over one layer of the cake.
  4. Place the second layer over the first and spread another third of the icing over the top.
  5. Cover with baking paper to smooth and then freeze.
  6. To serve remove from freezer and put in fridge for an hour or so (can serve from frozen but is harder to cut).

BYO birthday cake (Mocha almond mud cake)

So, it is that time of year again where I get officially older. I am away with my karate widower husband on my actual birthday, which will be serene, but Mum has volunteered to hold the regular family dinner and celebrate then. She has kindly offered to make (and delegate) most of the food ensuring it will meet my dietary preferences but….she still can’t get her head around vegan / whole food based cakes so for the 3rd year running it is BYO birthday cake time for me. At least I had my little helper this time to share the baking experience (and be the taste tester for the small one we made at the same time).

Actually, I have made 2 cakes this year, since I now have a dojo “twin” sister, so at class the night after our birthdays, we will celebrate us both getting older and wiser and hopefully celebrating another milestone for her and her small fry too.

I might blog that recipe later. It’s sort of the raw sister to this one actually and I plan on using the left over icing from that one to decorate this one anyway. Watch this space for the other recipes…..I want to wait so I can post pictures of the other cake because I iced it all fancy 🙂 I am not sure if I will really decorate this one (though Miss 4.75 wants me to put love hearts on it…..we will see!).


  • Almond pulp from 2 cups of soaked almonds (used to make milk or just drain and grind)
  • 1/2 cup cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon coffee essence
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 1.5 cups dates soaked (preferably over night) in decaf (or regular) coffee (I used cafe press style straight in with boiling water) including soaking water and grounds.
  • 3 tablespoons flax meal and 12 tablespoons water (mix and sit at least 5 minutes to make flax eggs)
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil.


  1. Preheat oven to 160 degrees Celsius.
  2. Put dates / coffee / essences in food processor and puree.
  3. Add all other wet ingredients and process until smooth.
  4. Add remaining ingredients and process to combine.
  5. Line 20cm tin with baking paper.
  6. Scrape mixture into tin pressing it all the way to the edges, then smooth the top.
  7. Bake about 30 minutes or until skewer inserted into centre comes out clean.
  8. Cool in the tin.
  9. May be eaten as is or decorated with mocha ganash (recipe to follow).
  10. Can be frozen (wrap in foil or plastic).