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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.

Categories: General Karate