If you have ever trained in Japan, you have heard Soke talk quite a bit about the Kukan. Kukan roughly means “space” or “opening”. This can (and is) often be interpreted in a number of different ways. I find it easiest to think about it as “an opening where your opponent is vulnerable”. As simple as that sounds, it can be difficult to find that opening since it is so fluid.
Kata means “example” in Japanese, and each of our Kata are simply that; each kata is meant to demonstrate principles of timing, distance, and even where the Kukan is. This make sense if we look at a technique in terms of static steps: at point A this is here, at point B it’s here, etc. etc. However, in reality none of these movements are static – everything is in a constant state of flux. Move to early, or too late, and the Kukan or opponents vulnerability is lost – like a breath being exhaled. This is particularly important to grasp since fighting in real life is like this – with moments coming and going quickly.
You could also understand the ever changing opening in terms of quantum physics: in Physics there is what called the “Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle”. Put simply, it states the more you know the exact position of a particle, the harder it is to determine it’s momentum – and vice versa. You can visualize it as looking at both a photograph of a runner, and a movie of a runner. In the photograph you can see exactly where the runner is at a specific moment in time, but it’s very hard to determine how fast they are moving. If you watch a movie of the runner, you can better determine the speed of the runner, but it becomes more difficult to isolate exactly where they are at a given moment.
The Kukan is a bit like this; we know at each static point in a technique where it is, but it’s in between these points that it changes: where does it begin? Where does it end? How does it change from within the movements? How does it change with different opponents? This is where training comes in. As we rehearse these movements, we begin to find where the kukan moves, grows, and shrink within an example (this is why it is often described as “breaths” – expanding and closing). Eventually, we become adept at operating within it as it changes regardless of the circumstance, always finding the opening.
This can also – like most things – be applied to life. Where is your “Kukan” for your business? In your personal life? Where are there breaths of opportunity that you can function within outside of martial arts? Understand? Hai – play!
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