Wisdom from the Past
by Víctor López Bondía (2013)

Karate-do belongs to the old tradition of Eastern Martial Arts. From that tradition, valuable pieces of advice have been handed down to us. Studying the wisdom and teachings contained in these maxims we can enhance our own practice and also contribute to preserve those lessons so future generations of budoka can learn from them too.

Karate ni sente nashi

Karate ni sente nashi
Karate Ni Sente Nashi
(There's no first attack in Karate)

There's been some discussion about when we have the right to strike and how long we should wait before launching a legitimate counter-attack on an opponent. In my humble opinion this only deals with a shallow meaning of this maxim. To my mind, what 'Karate ni sente nashi' is pointing out is that Karate is not about fighting, but about self-defence. It has little to do with "when to strike" and a lot to do with "do everything you can in order to avoid conflict". It's been known since ancient times that winning without fighting is the highest victory. Thus, 'Karate ni sente nashi' reminds the karateka that they should never allow themselves to be easily taken into a fight. And that's why Karate encourages those who pursue it to develop a mild and easy-going character which will deliver them from as much trouble as possible when dealing with others.

On the other hand, we can view self-defence as something beyond repelling an attacker. What's the point in spending so many hours training for a fight which may never happen? What's the point in focusing on an external opponent we may never encounter when the most dangerous enemy is usually within ourselves? People truly concerned about self-defence should begin by trying to avoid attitudes, behaviours and bad habits which could prove to be dangerous and harmful or even just end up in unpleasant experiences from which nothing can be gained.

Bunbu Ryodo

Bunbu Ryodo
Bunbu Ryodo
(The way of both literary and martial arts)

In Budo, physical training is essential and demanding. Mastery of any art requires earnest devotion. However, just training the body is not enough. Karate must be both practiced and studied. There has to be a balance between mind and body, and that's the message 'bunbu ryodo' is trying to convey. Those who pursue the martial arts must strive to develop both their bodies and their minds. In the past, noted karateka were role-models who inspired and had the respect of their fellow citizens. They were not mere athletes or strongmen, but people who had been studying as well as practicing, who had gained understanding from their efforts, and who showed good behaviour and the capacity to make educated decisions. Those were the gentlemen who were called "bushi" on Okinawa.

Developing the mind is particularly important when we take into account that it is in fact the mind what controls our body and therefore our actions. The stronger the body becomes, the stronger the mind should become too. We have the responsibility to keep our strength and skills under control and put them to good use. Without moral values and the philosophical lessons they encapsulate, martial arts could easily degenerate into crude violence.

Onko Chishin

Onko Chishin
Onko Chishin
(Study the old to understand the new)

Probably first put forth by Confucius, "study the old to understand the new" highlights the importance of history. Barrett Sensei says that "we should try to figure out how what we do is still relevant today; but history is a good starting point". Even though studying the history of Karate is more often than not quite frustrating due to the scarce and unclear information we have available, looking back at what happened in the past provides a better opportunity to get to understand what we are doing now. "Standing on the shoulders of giants" we can see further ahead and take advantage of what those who came before us discovered. There would be little room for progress if every generation had to 'reinvent the wheel'. At the end of the day, Karate only survives in the hearts and minds of those who instill life into it by pursuing it now, but it is both interesting and useful to study and learn from the past, and we should never forget to be grateful and acknowledge the old practitioners for the great gift they left us.

Kyudo Mugen

Kyudo Mugen
Kyudo Mugen
(The way of the study is endless)

It is well known that the study of a martial art requires a lifetime. There's no limit, you can never reach a point where there's nothing left to be learnt or improved. With this comes the promise of endless progress, but also the challenge of a path without a finish line. It is no wonder that following the way of a martial art requires a lot of patience and perseverance.

Hatsuun Jindo

Hatsuun Jindo
Hatsuun Jindo
(Parting clouds, seeking the way)

The path of Karate is not always clear but often concealed by clouds of distraction. Normally, ranks, titles, prizes, and the desire for fame and fortune, do not contribute to make things easier. Furthermore, many content themselves with following others blindly; it comes as no surprise they never get beyond many years of shallow practice. But even the most sincere karateka may find it very difficult to find answers to their questions. Even Miyagi Sensei mentioned he felt like he was "wandering along a dark path". Inspiring and knowledgeable sensei and senpai will undoubtedly provide invaluable help, but we must never forget true answers come from within, so nothing can substitute your own enquiring mind.

Nana Korobi Ya Oki

Nana Korobi Ya Oki
Nana Korobi Ya Oki
(Seven times down, eight times up)

We human beings are all flawed and will inevitably make mistakes. However, a determined spirit which never gives up and the willingness to learn from your mistakes mark the difference between a budoka and somebody else. This is one of the most important teachings we can learn from Budo: have the courage to leave excuses behind and keep pushing forward. And this is how we improve ourselves.

Shin Gi Tai

Shin Gi Tai
Shin Gi Tai
(Character - Technique - Body)

If Karate is reduced to just a sport or physical activity, then it has lost most of what it has to offer. Also, as a means to improve our level of fitness, it is certainly not the most efficient activity. On the other hand, if all we do is relying upon our body, we will be helpless when we start to lose our youth, or when facing someone stronger. A fit and healthy body is of course needed and always desirable, but it should never be the only thing we are trying to improve.

The practical study of a martial art is the study of how to move efficiently. This is what we call "technique", and it is more important than strength, for technique will prevail whenever strength will fail us. If we can get to understand and absorb the underlying principles, we will be able to make techniques work, more effectively and with less effort.

Nevertheless, the ultimate aim of Karate-do is neither physical nor technical development, but the perfection of character, as Funakoshi Sensei expounded. At the end of the day it doesn't really matter how hard we can punch or how good our kata may be; it is far more important what kind of person we are and what kind of impact we have upon those who live around us.

Miyazato Sensei's Advice

Miyazato Eiichi Sensei left three calligraphies with important pieces of advice:

Go Ju Ichi Tai - Miyazato Eiichi
Go Ju Ichi Tai
(Strength and Gentleness in One Body)

Karate must help you develop a strong body and a gentle character. The true karateka is fearsome to those with bad intentions, but inspires hope and confidence in those looking for help.

Ju Gi - Miyazato Eiichi
Ju Gi
(Morality is Important)

As budoka we are expected to stand for justice and have the courage to do what is right. Morality is woven within the art, for Karate-do is meant to be an asset to do good. However, punching and kicking alone, irrespective of how hard the training may be, will do little to enhance our own sense of morality. A true sensei will provide the lessons required, both in and out of the dojo, and will teach by example. Students have the responsibility to prove they deserve those lessons and try to make the most of them.

Jo Kyu Mu - Miyazato Eiichi
Jo Kyu Mu
(Follow Your Dream)

Take ownership of your Karate, and of your life. Everybody has their own path, and no one else should walk it for you. Make your own decisions and be responsible for both your achievements and your mistakes. Live your own experiences, and do not content yourself with anything unfulfilling, for at the end of the journey you don't want your last feeling to be one of regret but one of satisfaction.

Víctor López Bondía

“No matter how you may excel in the art of Karate, and in your scholastic endeavors,
nothing is more important than your behavior and your humanity as observed in daily life.”