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Karate - do
Until the 20th century, karate was shrouded in secrecy, and tracing it's history is difficult due to the lack of documentation. Its origins go back many hundreds of years to the 6th century when the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma made the perilous journey from India to the Shaolin Temple in south central China, and founded what was to become Zen Buddhism.
Zen Buddhism came to Okinawa late in the 12th century and with it probably came some form of self-defense, which may well have been Shorinji Kempo. It is thought that both Shorinji Kempo and Wutang, one of the six styles of Nei Chia, the international school of Chinese boxing, reached Okinawa before the 15th century. It was in Okinawa that karate originated.
The shadows of secrecy began to lift in 1902 when a commissioner of education recommended the inclusion of karate in the curriculum of certain schools in Okinawa Prefecture. This was the dawn of the history of modern karate, and in 1906, Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan Karate-do, and his colleagues gave the first public demonstration. It was in 1922 that the rest of Japan was introduced to karate, for it was in that year that Funakoshi arrived in Tokyo to participate in the first National Athletic Exhibition.
The word kara-te is a combination of two Japanese characters: kara, meaning empty, and te, meaning hand; thus, karate means "empty hand." Adding the suffix "-do" (pronounced "doe"), meaning "way," implies that karate is a total way of life that goes well beyond the self-defense applications. In traditional karate-do, we always keep in mind that the true opponent is oneself.
Shotokan founder Gichin Funakoshi has said that "mind and technique become one in true karate." We strive to make our physical techniques pure expressions of our mind's intention, and to improve our mind's focus by understanding the essence of the physical techniques. By polishing our karate practice we are polishing our own spirit or our own mentality. Eliminating weak and indecisive movements in our karate helps to eliminate weakness and indecision in our minds--and vice versa.
We must be strong enough to express our true minds to any opponent, anytime, in any circumstance. We must be calm enough to express ourselves humbly.
What is Karate - an excerpt from "Karate-do Kyohan"
by Master Gichin Funakoshi
In Okinawa, a miraculous martial art has come down to us from the past. It is said that one who masters its techniques can defend himself readily without resort to weapons, and can perform remarkable feats: the breaking of several thick boards with his fist, or ceiling panels of a room with a kick. With his shuto ("sword hand") he can kill a bull with a single stroke; he can pierce the flank of a horse with his open hand; he can cross the room grasping the beams of the ceiling with his fingers, crush a green bamboo stalk with his bare hand, shear a hemp rope with a twist, or gouge soft rock with his hands.
Some consider these aspects of this miraculous and mysterious martial art to be the essence of karate-do. But such feats are a small part of karate, playing a role analogous to the straw cutting test of Kendo (Japanese fencing), and it is erroneous to think that there is no more to karate-do than this. In fact, true karate-do places weight upon spiritual rather than physical matters. True karate-do is this: that in daily life, one's mind and body be trained in the spirit of humility; and that in critical times, one be devoted utterly to the cause of justice.
The Meaning of Kara (from kara-te)
The first connotation of kara indicates that karate is a technique that permits one to defend himself with his bare hands and fists without weapons.
Second, just as it is the clear mirror that reflects without distortion, or the quiet valley that echoes a sound, so must one who would study karate-do purge himself of selfish and evil thoughts, for only with a clear mind and conscience can he understand that which he receives. This is another meaning of the element kara in karate-do.
Next, he who would study karate-do must always strive to be inwardly humble and outwardly gentle. However, once he has decided to stand up for the cause of justice, then he must have the courage expressed in the saying, "Even if it must be 10 million foes, I go!". Thus he is like the green bamboo stalk: hollow (kara) inside, straight, and with knots, that is, unselfish, gentle, and moderate. This meaning is also contained in the element kara of karate-do.
Finally, in a fundamental way, the form of the universe is emptiness (kara), and thus, emptiness is form itself. There are many kinds of martial arts, judo, kendo, sojitsu ("spear techniques"), bojitsu ("stick techniques"), and others, but at a fundamental level all these arts rest on the same basis as Karate-do. It is no exaggeration to say that the original sense of Karate-do is at one with the basis of all martial arts. Form is emptiness, emptiness is form itself. The kara of Karate-do has this meaning.
"The ultimate aim of the art of karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants."
to the Dojo Kun
Each line of the Dojo Kun begins with the number one. Master Funakoshi felt that no item of the dojo kun was any more important than another, therefore each begins with the number one. Read and study the dojo kun, and think of it as your training progresses. As you do, you will come to understand it better each and every time you read it. The Dojo Kun is recited at the conclusion of every karate training, allowing the student to reflect upon the guiding principle of karate-do.