Zen and the Art of ‘Car’ate Maintenance.

By Gary E Swift Hanshi

To me, the art and practise of Karate can be associated, in many ways, with the art of the automobile and the elements associated with it.

For example:

The traditionalist is the one who would keep and maintain the vehicle in the original condition he expects it be, in full original working order for it to last him a lifetime.

The Sportsman would be the one who would change the engine and running gear to accommodate the trials and expectations of the competition circuit.

The Custom enthusiast would tinker around and change as much as he could in order to achieve the pride and joy he sees within the machine, even though the eventual end product may be nothing like the original model he considered in the first place.

However, whichever direction or path the individual would take it; there are still many aspects that we can associate, with the general running and maintenance of our ‘Carate’.

Firstly, to drive carate we need to get the proper paperwork in order. Do we have the insurance, MOT and Road Tax (insurance, health-check, club membership) to be able to get on the ‘road’? Do we have the right driving licence, and is it up-to-date? All these elements have to be in place before we can consider taking our carate onto the road for the first time, plus ensuring it is all in place during the whole period of time we are involved with it.

Traditional driving lessons and classes from a traditional driving instructor, I feel, are the most important things to consider, even extending that knowledge into advance classes. Would we want to learn how to drive from someone who has changed or forgotten all that he has learned? Additionally, would we want to learn from someone who has picked up numerous habits, whether good or bad? Even good habits for him may be bad for you (and others), especially when they are not what the driving examiner is expecting to see for the driving test.

So, don’t learn the habits, learn the skill. Find your own SuHaRi.

First lesson: Mirror, signal, manoeuvre. Hands on the steering-wheel in the required ‘10-minutes to 2’ position. Yes, after many years, we may feel we have become much more efficient in our driving skills and habits; however, we must not make the mistake of changing anything traditional until we have done what is necessary to pass our tests.

Su: Learn all we can about correct road-craft and the understanding of the road and all that is associated with it. Again, mirror, signal, and manoeuvre (when safe). Hand back on the steering wheel after each gear-change. Look out for hazards and possible interruptions in our direction of travel. Keep to the speed limits. Learn all the basics and prepare for the understanding of driving the carate safely and skilfully. Take advise from ALL those who have the correct knowledge to drive safely and in readiness for our tests. Have the common courtesy and humility to appreciate this knowledge from those who have parted their knowledge to us. We all bow to those who have travelled the road before us… Yes, you may come across many arrogant carate ‘experts’ along the road, but remember, this part of your journey is the most important journey for you, as this is your foundation – be a better and self-improving carate-ka.

Ha: After passing our required tests we can now start to learn how to develop and evolve our own driving methods and skills. However, never forget Su; as the Su ‘mind-set’ we will still need and to be with us and guide us, especially in respect to new & extra knowledge that may come our way – keep your beginners’ mind.

I can now find I can pull away from traffic lights in 2nd gear on a slight downward slope. Although I can do that, I would still need to keep my 1st gear for the future, especially for steep uphill starts. Haven’t quite mastered the use of the car yet without the use of 1st gear – I’ve got it, but very rarely use it now. In fact I have found I can now jump from 3rd gear straight up to 5th without stressing the car too much, making my gear-changes that much quicker and efficient for me. I can even react much quicker than before.

Ri: I can now drive without being aware of what gear I am in until I have reached top. I don’t need to be so defensive in my driving as I can now also detect earlier the traffic conditions and slow up earlier. My peripheral view on my environment is much clearer now, and I can predict pedestrians in many of their own habits, such as not looking left & right to cross the road, as they are distracted by looking, with a blinkered vision, at iPhones, etc. Driving the way I now do has allowed me to get a better view of both myself and all my surroundings. I am more proactive and less reactive. However, occasionally, I can still get surprised. But if surprise does come my way I have a better understanding of how to deal with those circumstances, as I have fully-heightened zanshin, plus still have the capacity to implement Su.

traditional karate

The Traditional Carate.

I keep my carate well maintained, cleaned and serviced.

Every day you may see me polishing the body-work; and especially working on the interior. I would also be changing the oil frequently, to keep it well lubricated, plus checking all the other fluid levels, checking the steering and the braking systems. Sometimes I may even strip the engine down to replace various engine parts or just to figure out what’s going on to make the engine continually work efficiently in the way it does. There may be a replacement part required, and if so this is resolved almost straight away when discovered. However, if I do need to replace any worn or overlooked parts, you will only see me replacing these items with genuine & original parts. I use the best grade oil, top quality tyres and always on top of the slightest blemish, malfunction or defect. I feel I am getting close in knowing my carate almost inside and out. But, I need to keep the maintenance up as there is still work that can be done to improve and maintain the quality of what I drive. This car will last me all my life. It won’t get rusty, as long as I keep polishing it.

sports karate

The Sports Carate.

I have decided to change the engine again, as the last one just wasn’t fast enough. I only need to use the minimum, as I don’t have to consider any other aspect other than winning, as winning against those who are on the same track as me is of singular paramount importance.

Get rid of the back seats, roof lining, carpets, dashboard, windscreen-wipers, indicators, spare-wheel, jack, toolbox, and anything else I can think of to reduce the weight. All I need is the body shell, tuned-engine and running gear. If I have less to work with I can become as efficient as possible for the job at hand; as I only need to perform on a race track.

Those high revs took its toll on the big-end bearings, at the last race, and has also stressed and prematurely worn much of the drive linkage. The downside of the faster engine is that I now need to upgrade the drive-gear, differentials, tyres and tyres. I have even noticed that my brakes have been overheating, so I now need to upgrade to vented discs. When I first bought this carate I didn’t realise how much this was going to cost, both emotionally and financially, and how much work I would need to put into it just to win a trophy. I have had to change and focus everything to winning, so in turn found that I had forgotten most of what I originally started with. Maybe I shall have to buy another original, in the not-too-distant future, as this one is starting to feel old already; and if I want to keep driving I may have to retire it, or just use it when I need it. However, the other advantage in having two at the same time, or more, I can chop & change parts around from one carate to another.

A quick pull away from the traffic-lights, to show the car next to me what I could do, ended up with me being side-swiped by another coming from the right – Totally unexpected. It was not good being in hospital from something I could have avoided, if only I had remembered what my original driving instructor said, “Before pulling out from a junction observe your environment on your right and left sides, to make sure they are clear!” And, most importantly, “Always expect the unexpected!”” Some people are saying that I may only have another couple of years left, in the game with this carate, although I am hoping to keep my drive and not let my body or mind fail me now…

Anyway, I must not dwell, as I need to focus on the only thing I want, and that’s to get ready for the next race – The European Championships to get that gold.

custom karate

The Custom Carate

Yes, I thought I had a good carate at first, but I needed to change it completely to suit my individuality as time went on. I have now replaced all the original drive for a different one, as I found this new drive a lot easier to work with, as I designed it myself. Why keep banging on with the same old thing, especially as there is so much other stuff out there I can put into my carate, to make it look and feel better. I found a faster way to improve the power of the engine, firstly by simply using alternative fuel, as well as later adding a turbo. I also added some extra chrome, mainly to cover up some of the parts that I thought looked quite ugly, or just didn’t work or feel right for me. The original engine couldn’t cope with some of the mods so I put a bigger engine into it; however, I found I needed to change some of the chassis and bodywork as well, to cope with the extra size of the engine-block. With all the mods and changes I was working on, and not keeping up with the many original aspects, I have noticed some of the parts getting rusty. So, as not to make it show and also save time, I simply replaced them with chrome too. I was not too happy with the shape at first, but after some more body-styling modifications and a couple more resprays the car looks good now. So what if it’s not efficient or doesn’t perform well on corners, or even has a tendency to understeer? I don’t care how well it works, as long as it looks really cool and flashy in the driveway. It works for me, so people will just have to take it as it is.

I’ve been working on this project over quite some time now, and have found that I have been losing a bit of direction on many aspects, but that’s all going on my ‘to-do’ list until I get around to sorting it out. All the time it looks good, I feel good. People are always stopping and staring at my wheels and new paintwork. Sometimes I get asked to lift the bonnet to show the ‘muscles’ underneath. I feel my carate really reflects my individual personality, big time. Next year, if I get enough money, I shall lower the suspension, even further, to make it look even flashier… I hope the paintwork lasts the season, at least, as that rust is starting to pop back through again in places; although I can always just paint over that for now. Although the car looks good to me I don’t know how long I can manage to keep up with all the work, as I’m not getting any younger trying to maintain so many changes & aspects of my carate, plus I’ve been losing track of what I have done or what I need to cover next. Anyway, no need to worry about that now. At the end of the day, mine is the best, so stuff the rest!

The Neglected Carate

abandoned karate

Gary Swift
wado ryu jujutsu