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The Enso Philosophy

O’Sensei Gichin Funakoshi, revered around the world as the man who brought Shotokan to the world’s attention, famously wrote

“The ultimate aim of karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants.”

After 44 years of study, I have found this to be true, but it is beyond difficult. However, we must persevere and Enso translates in the Zen philosophy as symbolizing enlightenment, strength, and elegance - all part of Shotokan Karate’s gifts, for those who train hard enough to find them. Very rarely enlightenment will come in the form of a technique or Kata done to the very best of your ability. Strength and power are fundamentals of good solid Shotokan and elegance can be found in the most skilled technique in Kihon, Kata, and Kumite.


Enso is also a physical entity where the practioner of Sumi, or Japanese ink painting will draw in one quick movement a circle which may be open or closed. If the circle is incomplete, it allows for movement and development and ultimately perfection. When the circle is closed, it symbolizes perfection as we strive for in our training in the dojo.

Within the Zen philosophy, they relate to the idea of what the Japanese call wabi-sabi which translates as the beauty of imperfection. The club logo is built around the incomplete circle, as it reminds me that my effort and endevour has to be about perfecting my technique, no matter how impossible.

That, after all, is what my Shihan, Sensei and dear friend Cyril Cummins, 8th Dan, would expect as a matter of course, nothing more, nothing less. So Enso reminds me what Sensei Funakoshi taught his student Sensei Keinosuke Enoeda, who in turn taught his student Sensei Cyril Cummins, who in turn taught me.

So quite rightly the circle continues and if you want to join the journey you are most welcome.

Sensei Austin Birks, 5th Dan

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