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Funakoshi's Precepts #2

Posted by texperkin on 30 January, 2018 at 22:40

It's been a couple of weeks so I'm getting back to Funakoshi's 20 precepts. Here is my take on the second one.

2: There is no first attack in karate (Karate ni sente nashi)

While not actually original to Funakoshi, this is perhaps the most controversial of his 20 precepts and is, perhaps not surprisingly, the most famous. I believe it is also the most misunderstood. This misunderstanding revolves around whether the instruction is moral or tactical.

A superficial understanding here would seem to indicate that karate practitioners should all aspire to be pacifists. That under no circumstances should a karateka permit themselves to strike first. This gives potential assailants an obvious advantage and is particularly relevant today where there are many notable examples of assailants getting only one strike on an unsuspecting victim which renders the victim seriously injured or even dead. One punch can kill! Therefore, under scrutiny, this ‘tactical’ way of thinking about this precept is flawed. Why would we, as people who spend their time learning how to ward off an attacker, intentionally give the advantage to that attacker?

This apparent paradox evaporates in light of the fact that this is a moral instruction rather than a tactical one. To put the precept another way: A good karateka should never be the cause of violence.

Training in karate has obvious physical benefits but its social benefits are also there. It was on this basis that Funakoshi managed to promote karate into the Japanese school system. It is true that we should never promote violence and that we should not instigate an attack but this is not to say that we should allow an attacker the first hit either. In any situation we must always avoid violence where we are able however if this proves impossible, always take the initiative. Get in, neutralise the threat and get out. This is of course the very last stage and you will have tried to avoid danger, be aware of developing situations and if one does arise, de-escalate or escape. However there is a tipping point at which an attack is inevitable. In this case you MUST strike hard, fast and first.

Knowing when this point is can often be obscure and good training can definitely help. Scenario-based training is a great idea as is research-based knowledge of the stages of violence. This is a bit beyond the scope of what I wanted to cover here but make sure you are getting the instruction you need.

One final side point - you need to make yourself aware of the legal situation in your jurisdiction. Each state or country is different so there are differences and don’t just rely on rumour or hearsay.

Nevertheless, the point remains that a good karateka should never be the cause of violence.

Funakoshi's Precepts #1

Posted by texperkin on 15 January, 2018 at 1:35

Gichin Funakoshi is often referenced as the father of modern karate since he was the main force that drove karate into the Japanese school system and was the founder of Shotokan, one of the 4 main styles of karate. As I write that there are a number of points we could investigate there and I'm happy to discuss however one of the great things Funakoshi did was write prolifically. Amongst these writings, Funakoshi laid down 20 precepts for karate and it is these that I would like to explore.

1: Karate begins and ends with courtesy

I have seen the original translated as 'bow' rather than 'courtesy' but I think the intention is that you need to be courteous. This is the first precept for a very important reason as it should underpin all of your training.

In most dojo, students and teachers alike bow as they enter and exit. This continues through solo training, with a partner in drills, in sparring and grappling and even (especially!) in pressure testing and reality-based training. The reason should be obvious in this context however to be clear, training courtesy and respect for yourself and your fellow karateka helps ensure relevant, safe, and effective progression. We need to be able to trust each other and that we each have the ultimate well-being and improvement of the others in mind with everything we do. Seniors need to be patient and forthcoming rather than looking to ‘win’ and newer students need to be mindful and attentive in order to be able to assimilate knowledge and to progress. Similarly, trying to ‘score a point’ on a senior student won’t do anyone any good.

Following on from this, being attentive to others’ limitations, well-being and physical and mental state helps keep everyone safe. Surely the reason we train is to keep mind and body together, running smoothly and injury free. Yes, this is true if we’re ever in danger outside the dojo but what irony to be injured inside the dojo in the pursuit of safety.

Finally, Funakoshi often extended karate outside the dojo. In fact his eighth precept can be translated as “Do not think that karate training is only in the dojo.” Taking these two precepts together, I would contend that Funakoshi would say that in order to be a true karateka, you must use courtesy in every single aspect of your life. Not only is courtesy a better way to diffuse a potentially violent situation when confronted by a thug looking to ruin your day than mirroring his anger and discourtesy but being courteous is not a bad idea in business, family life and any other relationship.

Therefore, when training (and when not) it really is necessary to give your own and your partner 100% of your focus, showing yourself and others respect and courtesy.

Original Traditional Karate

Posted by texperkin on 5 January, 2018 at 1:30

What does 'traditional mean'? Cheyne made the point in the original Facebook post that we teach "ORIGINAL traditional karate" as opposed to what most refer to as "traditional karate."

The basic difference is that what many still believe is traditional karate was an innovation in the early 20th century. It was the vision of Anko Itosu first and then his student Gichin Funakoshi to expand and protect the legacy of karate by bringing it into the PE curriculum of the school system, first in Okinawa and then in Japan itself. The focus was more on things like producing good, strong citizens and less on the brutal self-defence aspect. Quite sensible really since teaching children to punch in the throat isn't responsible behaviour.

To a large extent, this was the 'traditional' karate that was propagated throughout the world which is where we get the military, count-by-(Japanese)-numbers karate. Practitioners can spend many hours punching and kicking with no resistance and no time at all falling, locking, breaking or wrestling. There is also a well-documented tendency not to ask questions and never to deviate from the teachings of senior grades.

This is very good for developing a disciplined, physically fit person but arguably not as good for developing someone capable of defending themselves.

'Original' karate goes back to the art practiced by those prior with the very pragmatic primary objective of self defence.


Posted by texperkin on 15 December, 2017 at 1:25

A bit about me, or at least my karate experience for those of you who are interested (and you should be if someone is putting themselves out there as your teacher).

The first time I stepped into the martial arts world was when I was 14. From that distant memory (well over 30 years ago) that was on the second floor in York Lane in Burwood under the ultimate guidance of Shihan George Barounis, Myagi Kan Go Ju. I had no idea what I was getting myself into - just that I wanted to be able to take care of myself if needed and if I was being honest, be Bruce Lee.... or a ninja. My choice of school was based purely on convenience.

Eventually, that dojo moved down to Enfield and after a few years I had a basic idea of what I was doing before I had to cut a lot of things out of my life to concentrate on my final year of study at high school. Unfortunately I never went back to Go Ju but during university I did train with a few Shotokan practitioners and some Kung Fu people. However, my main regular training was with Master Sung Do Kim in Strathfield who taught HapKiDo. Again, I didn't worry too much about what I was being taught but really enjoyed the close fighting, throwing, locking and breaking there which I felt was an area lacking in karate. It was only literally decades later when I realised that these techniques ARE in traditional karate - I just wasn't exposed to them or thought to seek them out. This is sadly still the case in many karate schools.

I stopped training regularly for a number of years at the point where I left my tertiary studies in favour of working long hours and eventually moving to England where I started a family. I do regret taking that extended time off although I was keeping fit with running. I did 2 marathons and lots of other shorter distances in that time, mainly because you can run whenever you have a spare hour. A lot of my training for the London marathon in 2002 was well before the sun came up and most martial arts schools don’t really open the doors at those times.

On moving back to Sydney with two young children, I started training again with the local Go Kan Ryu class. Amongst other things, this was very useful for getting my MA fitness back – very different to that which I had cultivated through running. It also reaffirmed my love of the martial arts and now that I was a bit more mature, lead me for the first time to question what I was being taught. They trained hard but I felt there was something missing and I started asking questions about why we were there and what we were learning. The other thing GKR introduced me to was a larger network of karateka who were also asking the same questions.

After a few years there and through some more pragmatic research, I started training with Sensei Mark Greville in Shorin Ryu at Collaroy. The Shorin school traces its lineage back through Chosin Chibana who was a student of Anko Itosu, the founder of modern karate. It was through a study of this legacy that I finally began to understand what karate had been in the past and what it is now. More detail on this topic is probably best left to another piece.

My time over several years with Mark Greville included not only the art we know as karate but also traditional Okinawan weapons known as kobudo and kenjutsu, or Japanese swords.

During this time, I had been corresponding with Sensei Bob McMahon in Brisbane which ultimately culminated in the family and me moving there in 2010. There were of course several reasons for the family move from Sydney however I was extremely keen to train with the McMahons as it was obvious to me that they had travelled the path I was on a lot longer than I had and had a lot of knowledge to impart. I trained with Bob and his son Cheyne whenever I could before moving back to Sydney at the beginning on 2016. I am pleased to say that I can continue to count them both as my mentors to this day, in the same way that they count Mitani Kazuya Sensei theirs. We can discuss Mitani Sensei at another time as well.

As a karate black belt, my continued passion for karate sees me taking advantage of many different sources and I hope to be able to help others do the same.


Posted by texperkin on 12 December, 2017 at 1:25

Welcome to the Australian Karate Academy, Sydney. We teach karate under the auspices of the Australian Karate Academy.

We focus on traditional karate and it's application as a system for self protection as distinct from the sport aspect. This is not to say that this is not an extremely valuable pursuit and we also do not avoid this part of the art however our main interest in the martial arts is as a tool to protect oneself and those we love who are unable to do so.

The other dimension of karate which is sometimes overlooked or assumed to the detriment of the practitioner is strength and fitness which we also focus on as part of a total self protection system. This has obvious benefits to the individual but if (and I hope you never do) you actually ever need to defend yourself physically, you need to be able to withstand the rigours of an encounter. They're messy and ugly but they're also exhausting.

So, if your goal is to get fit and strong and at the same time learn a beautiful art that has the benefits of strengthening mind and body, we can help.