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The Principles of Karate #2

(Adapted from Gichin Funakoshi’s Book, The Guiding Principles of Karate)

2.) There Is No First Strike In Karate.

This principle as taught by Master Funakoshi may be one of the most misunderstood principles.

It is thought by many that a practitioner of Karate must never “strike first!” The belief that a student of Karate must always wait until the potential assailant attacks first is incorrect.

We teach at NEMA Dojo that a person should “hide their Karate” and only use their physical skills of self-defense as a last resort. If at all possible, one should walk (or run) away from trouble rather than fight.

A basic tenet of the Samurai of ancient Japan was, “ A sword must never be recklessly drawn!” It was believed that it was more honorable to bear things to your limit before taking action. Only when the samurai reached the point of no longer tolerating one’s aggressive action was the blade drawn from it’s scabbard (saya).

Although the Karateka relies on his or her feet or hands instead of a sword, the principle of “there is no first strike in Karate” is an extension of the samurai principle.

Avoiding the reckless use of defensive skills, one must practice patience and forbearance.

Famous Karate master Yasutsume Itosu wrote, “When it becomes necessary, one should not regret laying down one’s life for the sake of lord or parents, courageously sacrificing oneself for the common good.”

He does emphasize however that the true meaning of Karate, and this principle of “No First Strike” does not apply to an enemy who is trying to cause you or your family bodily harm.

On the contrary, if a thug or assailant is attempting serious bodily harm, it is your responsibility to defend yourself and loved ones wholeheartedly and without concern for life and limb. When circumstances are out of control, it is time to let your martial art prowess shine and to respond to the best of your ability.

However, even in this event it is important to try to avoid striking a mortal blow.

Even further to the point, it is important to avoid injury to others with your feet and fists whenever possible.

To avoid striking a fatal blow can be likened to the practice of hitting an attacker with the back ridge of a sword rather than with the cutting edge. It is crucial to allow an opponent time to reconsider or regret his actions if possible.

Although some would argue that “budo” or the martial way is based on the principle of striking first, the two kanji characters that make up “bu” actually mean, “to stop” and “halberds” or “spears.” A martial art stops fighting!

It is interesting to note that the kanji character for “endurance” or “forbearance” is an ideograph derived from a blade or sword being supported by and controlled by the mind or spirit.

It is only when one faces a situation so unbearable that he or she is unable to tolerate it or put it to an end without confrontation that the sword should be drawn…or that the Karateka delivers the first blow.

And in a worst-case scenario where combat is unavoidable…where one is in fear for their life…it is proper to take the initiative, attacking time and again until victory is achieved.

This is the real spirit of Budo.

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