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Moving Zen – One Man’s Journey to the Heart of Karate

C. W. Nicol


Review by Stan Schmidt

In 1963 I had the good fortune of befriending and training alongside CW Nicol – known to all as “Nic” – at the Japan Karate Association Headquarters in Yotsuya. Those were wild and woolly days for us foreigners endeavoring  to keep up with the superb and potent karate techniques of the Japanese; but even more so having to struggle with the Japanese language, as all classes were  conducted in that language. Having Nicwho was beginning to master the nuances of the Japanese language, and our close friend Seto, made it a little easier to cope with the severe and demanding training regimen that I later nicknamed “The Hornets Nest.”

I first read Moving Zen back in the 1970’s and like a hungry fellow craving food I gulped the book down far too quickly.  Of course I loved it. It was right down my alley. There were no such books on the market, and I embraced Moving Zen with fervor. Essentially what it gave me were critical insights into how the mind of a Japanese Budoka works. I needed this as I was visiting Japan once a year to train and up-­date my skills and knowledge. As head of the South African branch of the Japan Karate Association, and having attained the 5th Dan rank in 1973, I needed to soak up as much information as possible. I needed to be responsible for what I was teaching the thousands of students under my jurisdiction. Nic’s book provided me with much of what I sorely needed to know to survive, and propagate the Art throughout South Africa and other parts of the world. From the outset I told the members of our association that Moving Zen was a must read.

My second reading of Moving Zen was in 2001 when Nic presented me with a signed copy of the updated version: Moving Zen – One Man’s Journey to the Heart of Karate. It was always such a heart-warming experience meeting him from time to time over the years, which just seemed to flash by. I was amazed by his diverse accomplishments and his subtle insights into the complex Japanese culture.

One of the highlights of my karate life happened in 1995 when our mutual friend Seto and I took a train to Kurohime station. Here are a few lines from my book “Beyond Spirit of the Empty Hand” describing the amazing scene:

Seto and I were driven by Land rover to a spacious, modern, wood-and-glass-type country residence set at the foot of mount Kurohime, on a glade surrounded by a dense forest of trees. As we entered the expansive lounge, dining room and kitchen combined, two people rose from their chairs next to a wood fire to greet us. One was a huge bearded man with a bush of curly hair and naughty twinkling eyes – Nic.

“Welcome Stan. Welcome Seto,” said Nick handing me a glass of dry white wine. The other man, a Japanese, I recognized, but I couldn’t remember who he was.

“Ikeda!” he beamed. “Oh yes. You are the kendo man and sculptor in Nic’s book, Moving Zen.”

The four of us hugged one another. I was humbled to be a part of this magic little piece of history in the making. This was a reunion of the most splendid order. Some unforgettable and amazing things happened on that day. Nic invited each of us to tell his story since we last met. Then he asked Ikeda and I to demonstrate our Art. Ikeda’s rendering of Kendo skills was absolutely amazing – flowing and dynamic all at once. I then performed my own special kata. I had to do it three times because Nic kept calling in his rangers to watch. They finally named the kata Uki – meaning floating tree. Ikeda penned an illustration of me doing Uki and gave it to me.

A week ago (now in 2013) Nick and I after not hearing from one another for a long time, re-connected. The result of this is that I have just finished reading Moving Zen for the third time. I turn 77 soon and hold a number of higher Dan’s, and so forth and so on, but the story and it’s philosophical content elevated me into a fresh and higher level of understanding of the story. Moving Zen is not only a story; it is an organic work of art. We call ourselves Martial Artists. Well CW Nicol has graphically created what we all so badly need to know and apply and integrate – into our Martial skills – true Art. Read Moving Zen on Kindle, or be

the poorer for not doing  so.

May God bless us all! 

Stan Schmidt Melbourne, Australia.  September 2013







Moving Zen – One Man’s journey to the Heart of Karate

C.W Nicol

How many Karate books are out there on the shelves?

Let’s narrow the scope a little, how many Shotokan books are out there?

So many, that you might not expect one individual book to have any real effect, let alone inspire a generation. In that sense, ‘Moving Zen’ can be seen as somewhat of a ‘wonder’, for to this day, despite it’s many reprints it still sits at the forefront of any karate bookshelf.

Why, I contemplated just moments before I read it?

When I actually sat down, and read it cover to cover in my one sitting, I completely understood why!

You can practically ask any Shotokan karateka throughout the world what they thought of ‘Moving Zen’, and they will tell you openly and clearly, with an unabashed announcement that it inspired them to their core. Many will tell you that they first started karate because of this book. Many will say it opened their eyes to the wider world of karate and even more people will tell that their book is dog-eared from repeated reading.

Even I must admit that the first reading wasn’t enough. Not because it was pointless drivel, but because it injected a surge of excitement that only normally happens when you’re stood in front of the Masters that this book talks about.

This book chronicles one man’s journey, following ‘the way’. No doubt many would love to do so, but the restrictions of modern life such as financial boundaries simply don’t allow such liberties. I want to tell you that if you just read this book, then your desire to follow ‘the way’ in the heartland will burn in the blistering heat of the Japanese sun. But unfortunately I cannot. This book I must admit, only enhances such dreams, for the vibrancy of the writing jumps out from the page, ties you up in an obi and pulls you in. You cannot resist, and nor should you.

Most of us will never travel to the so-called heartland, and it would be totally ignorant to insist that all actually want to. This book however does give an insight, both factual and philosophical, and it will widen your knowledge and understanding of Karate-Do.

The book chronicles, Nicol’s journey from a junior grade and beyond, exploring his relationship with Master Kanazawa and the many other greats he encountered during his time in Japan. To accompany Nicol’s writing comes a foreword from Master Kanazawa who describes this book as ‘the saga of one karateka in search of himself’.

Written with honesty, this book discusses even the smallest of details, giving you a rich and vivid insight into the world that Nicol had experienced during his stay in Japan. With real vibrancy, he talks about life within the Japanese culture, and his relationship with his peers and teachers. Despite the hardship of life and training during this time, the writing keeps its chin up and remains positive and wide-eyed.

Beautifully illustrated by Munehiro Ikeda, and photos of Nicol and Master Kanazawa, this book is a wonderful piece of writing and will inspire even the jaded of us. This book will put a smile on your face, and if you’re unlucky enough to have gotten stuck in a rut and uninspired, please give this book a read and just feel your inspiration battery get quickly charged back up.

Shaun Banfield