The seeds of Tri Ha began when Sensei Kowalski began studying martial arts in 1970. He was introduced to the Okinawan karate tradition of Isshin Ryu by his teacher Sensei Dale Jenkins, who in turn studied with Master Kichiro Shimabuku (head of Isshin Ryu). This martial art, loosely translated as “one’s heart, one’s mind way,” set the stage for practices that align the heart (spirit), mind, and body. Even though karate is commonly known as a form of self-defense, practitioners discover that it is ultimately intended to improve one’s character. Sensei Kowalski expanded his martial arts training with another Okinawan karate tradition, Goju Ryu, learning from Sensei Teruo Chinen, who in turn studied with founder Chojun Miyagi. Goju Ryu can be loosely translated as “the firm and gentle way,” emphasizing the balance of yin and yang, as well as the importance of breathing. Aikido was another key influence on Tri-Ha. Sensei Kowalski learned from Sensei Bill Gleason, who in turn studied in Japan with the students of O-sensei Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido. This martial art loosely translates as “the way of harmonious spirit,” setting the stage for practices that redirect energy, instill harmony and compassion, and channel larger forces (including sound and chi). Sensei Kowalski continued his studies in various holistic practices, such as Shiatsu, Shintaido, Yoga, Laughing Yoga, Qi Gong, and Macrobiotics. It was then that he concluded that martial arts alone were incomplete in developing well-being among practitioners.
With this background, Sensei Kowalski set out in 1995 to establish a practice of holistic well-being, originally called Tri Hara. The name invokes the three centers (haras) of body, mind, and spirit. The curriculum is designed to hone the body in yin and yang ways to become flexible yet strong; hone the mind similarly to become open and adaptable yet disciplined; hone the heart to become compassionate and loving yet courageous and committed; and bring all three into alignment in order to go forth in the world as a fully realized human being capable of deeply emitting and receiving. Many of the exercises are best practiced outside, where practitioners can connect with nature, take in the breath of life (prana), and surrender the ego to let larger energy through one’s body, mind, and spirit. The curriculum includes aspects of Isshin Ryu, Goju Ryu, Aikido, Shiatsu, Shintaido, Yoga, Laughing Yoga, Qi Gong, Tai Chi, Edgu, hara work, breath work, staff exercises, core fitness training, meditation, and visualizing the four elements of earth, water, air, and fire.
In 2008, Sensei Kowalski moved to Kauai. There, he learned Hawaiian concepts that underscored and augmented the principles of Tri Hara: Ha breath, Aina energy from land and nature, and Mana life energy and power. He modified the name to “Tri-Ha”, still invoking the three centers of body, mind, and spirit, now with the breath as the meeting point of the Aina and Mana. He added a logo, three waves forming a yin and yang symbol. Tri-Ha is a practice to polish the mind, massage the heart, and have a flexible and strong body…all in alignment. The curriculum is still largely the same as Tri Hara, with additional Hawaiian concepts, continually refined in Kauai, where East meets West. Exercises are designed to empty the cup (clear the body, mind, and spirit), fill the cup (take in new learning and capabilities), stir the cup (shake up preconceptions to see ourselves as we are and the world as it is), and finally, be the cup (consciously connecting in the present with ourselves the world).
As one of Sensei Kowalski’s teachers told him in 1990, “The Masters and Samurais always change their art to meet the times.” Tri-Ha is an ancient practice for modern times. We are in a time of unprecedented change, especially with technology unleashing great benefits, but also great terrors into the world. Now more than ever, we need conscious, capable communities to step up as figurative warriors for peace and harmony. It is my hope that Tri-Ha serves this purpose in the years ahead.