In this article I would like to humbly share the meaning for me behind "Enso" or "circle" and how I try to use it in my day-to-day training, and life in general.
Wikipedia defines "Enso" as follows:
Enso is a a Japanese word meaning "circle" and a concept strongly associated with Zen. Ensō is one of the most common subjects of Japanese calligraphy even though it is a symbol and not a character. It symbolizes the absolute enlightenment, strength, elegance, the universe, and the void; it can also symbolize the Japanese aesthetic itself. As an "expression of the moment" it is often considered a form of minimalist expressionist art.
At surface level when drawn the circle is "perfect" with no beginning nor end. Upon closer examination a drawn circle is neither perfect or unending, there is always a starting point and an ending point from where your writing utensil starts and ends the circle. Enso shows this imperfection in an obvious way with a clear "imperfection" at the top of the circle. Some artists draw Enso with an opening in the top of the circle while others draw a complete circle. It is said that Japanese artists practice drawing Enso on a daily basis and are said to hope to draw the perfect Enso once in their lifetime. This is one of the attributes I admire in Japanese culture, the strive for perfection in what are seemingly everyday things.
In my opinion Enso typifies the zen philosophy of beauty through simplicity, while at the same time holding profound meaning. The circle has been one of the most important and ancient shapes throughout human history. When looking at Enso the viewer can see various things depending on your perspective. One can focus on the black lines of the circle or one can focus on the emptiness inside the circle. One can focus on the strength of the shape or one can focus on the imperfection as described above. In short, it is what you choose to make it.
One thing is certain in life and in the universe at large, there is seemingly a beginning and an end to everything, yet at the same time there is no ending. With life comes death, and through death comes life. We can see this is in the birth and death of a star or a microscopic cell as much as we can in the beginnings and endings of people, events and things in our lives. Scientifically we know the universe is made up of energy, and that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It just manifests itself in different ways, shapes and forms. For example, this week my family is dealing with the death of an extended family member while at the same time my young daughter will celebrate another birthday. This "circle of life' sometimes is hard to grasp or know how to deal with, so we get caught up in our daily lives to avoid having to face this fundamental duality and the "meaning of life".
So what does this have to do with karate? In my opinion....everything. To me, karate is more than just a sport, a way to stay in shape or a vehicle in which to socialize with other people...although it does provide all of those things. Karate is about the pursuit of the perfection of character. It is a journey that will never end and is symbolic of the journey we all travel in our lifetimes.
Take performing kihon or katas for instance. The more you train the more you discover the hidden movements and techniques with them, and the more you discover these things the more you realize how much you don't know or how much you need to improve or perfect the techniques. There is no beginning or end to your learning. It has been said many times that when one attains a black belt your learning just begins. The "end goal or destination" for many when they initially start training is really just a new beginning. The "imperfection" of your technique keeps you striving to perfect the technique or complete the circle. By focusing on what you have attained (using this analogy the edge or lines of the circle) you also see the void or what is still missing (the inside of the circle).
Allow me share another interpretation of Enso with you. My former sensei used to tell us that we are not training for ourselves but for those who have come before us and after us. In this sense, we are not only upholding a martial tradition and art form from past generations to be shared with future generations, we are also tapping into that universal energy, or spirit, or "ki' or however else you want to describe it. When I look at Enso during my training I am reminded of this.
Lastly, karate is beauty through simplicity. The seemingly basic movements are truly an expression of art when performed at a high level. The snap of a gi when punching or kicking correctly, the choreographed movements of kata and/or the relentless pursuit of perfection through repetition are all expressions of art in my opinion.
There are many more interpretations of the parallels I could continue to explore in this article however I will stop here. The point is that like the circle or "Enso", karate how you look at it, what you make if it and most of all...is a journey rather than a destination like life in general.
Since 1988, Way Of Life Shotokan Karate has been committed to teaching traditional karate and values for a modern world. Under the leadership of Norman Smith Sensei, Way Of Life Shotokan Karate instructs hundreds of students at our various locations from beginner to advanced levels of all ages that come from across the New York City metro area. Our unique way of combining martial arts training, etiquette and philosophy with the modern concepts of fitness, self-defense and competition is unparalleled. We ensure your training is vigorous, while maintaining a safe and fun learning environment that encourages students to reach their fullest potential.
Way Of Life Shotokan Karate Do martial arts school is now offically open at 501 East Boston Post Road, Mamaroneck NY, 10543 serving the local Westchester County communities of New Rochelle, Larchmont, Mamaroneck, Harrison, Rye, Port Chester, Mount Vernon, Scarsdale, White Plains and Yonkers as well as the Bronx and NYC metro area.