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The Secret of the Way of the Karatedō (1 / 3): What is the Way


The Way, Master Funakoshi followed it from its beginnings around the year 1880, on the island of Okinawa. Others have practiced it before him, and so can we. The Way is indispensable to the practice of Karate - to that of "Art" as Gichin Funakoshi said - that is why the Karatedo was born.

The sources of the Way

The Buddhist influence

The term Karate-dō (空手道) means Empty hand path in Japanese. The Karate as for it corresponds to the discipline itself, grouping the kihon, kumite and the kata. Karatedo is not only a way of practicing discipline, but also a way of life. Let's discover how this Art consists.

Sokon Matsumura (松 村 宗 棍), considered the true precursor of Karate by the nature of his teaching, had renamed his discipline Shorin-Ryu - until then Shuri-te - to assimilate the discipline to Shaolin Shu. According to the information we have about Sōkon Matsumura, we believe that he came from this discipline, which was itself a result of Chinese Buddhist practices.

Shaolin Temple

Hanashiro Chōmo (花城 長 茂), disciple of Itosu Ankō, was the first to use the term Karate in its modern sense. Before him, the Kara (唐) meant Chinese - designating the Tang Dynasty [1] -, to give the Chinese hand. His namesake Kara (空) translates into Japanese as empty. The two ideograms are different, but the pronunciation is almost the same. Hanashiro Chōmo used for the first time the term Karate in the sense of empty hand in one of his personal writings of 1905. He used this term in reference to the principle of emptiness of Zen Buddhism.

The spiritual origins of Gichin Funakoshi [2] (船 越 義 珍) are uncertain. However, we know from his biography of 1956 [3] that his in-laws, and especially his wife, were fervent Buddhists.

The roots of Karate are not limited to Buddhist influence. However, as we will see, the similarities between Master Funakoshi's reflections and Buddhist principles are such that we can understand the principles of the Way by comparing the two.

Awakening and consciousness

The alt attribute of this image is empty, its file name is boudda.jpg.
Buddha statue

One of the major Buddhist principles is directly related to the presentation of the Way Master Funakoshi makes in his biography. It's about Bodhi (बोधि). It is the awakening of consciousness, by the emptiness of the mind - the Zanshin in Karate - The Bodhi aims to turn the heels at Saṃsāra (संसार), whirlwind of passions and source of suffering. This distinction is always found in Master Funakoshi's practice. It is found in the distinction between the humble and fierce practice - personal and conscious - and that of violent and proud passions - irrational and unconscious -.

He gives the example of an incident lived alongside Master Itosu against a group of hostile fighters. Avoiding violent passions is central to Karatedo, and the fight was avoided. Master Funakoshi describes his admiration for Itosu and his restraint:

"They were brawling people, badly trimmed, proud of their physical strength, and that night had judged us as a suitable yardstick to measure their skill. I understood then the finesse of the master who had made us take a different route to avoid other encounters. This is, I believe, that lies the secret of Karate. I blush violently at the thought that without Itosu, I would have used my technique and strength against inexperienced men. - Karate-dō, my way, my life, 1956, Gichin Funakoshi.

The body having a specific purpose - beyond mere physical gestures
-, it should never used to attack directly:

"No first attack in karate. - Second precept of Karatedo.

As we shall see, the practice of martial arts in Okinawa, and more particularly in Japan was at the time - and still today - turned to the practice of the body. In the West, on the other hand, the practice is more oriented towards theoretical analysis: it is more mathematical.

Imaginary apprehension of proprioception

According to the practice of most of the great masters in Karate, there is unit between body and mind. This is the reason whyesprit is achieved by the practice of corps. One forms a body / mind consciousness. The unity of these two components is central to reaching the Path in Karatedo. It goes through a phase of physical unity, a "must-go stage to gain self-control and optimal management of one's abilities. [4] Thephysical unitis the development of power by proprioception [5]. We will certainly discuss this topic in a future article.

We have seen that the roots of the Karate Way derive in part from Buddhist values ​​- Bodhi et Saṃsāra - and that the Karatedo part of the body to reach the spirit and unite the two. Let us now try to describe what the Way is, from the description given by Master Funakoshi.

What is the Way?

To explain what the Way is, we will take for reference a person: me ... No I'm kidding! You.

Think of the fact that you are a being provided with Life. Right now, here. In this Life lies peace. It depends only on your interior. You live in a world where other people evolve and everything moves and changes. You must remain attentive, or you will be swept away by the torrent of the world. One of your primary instincts is to defend this Life that you wear, staying alert for change. It's Prudence.

Eyes: one of the sensory entrance gates at the root of emotions

You must not lose this Life, and you know it. For this, most species work by instinct, allowing them to avoid dangers. Man too. However, he is the only "animal" to have lived the event that changed the situation there is about 70 000 years: the Cognitive Revolution. To understand his environment and better defend himself from it, he began to develop Thought. He started to calculate and plan. By dint of understanding, automatisms have been created. The emotions transmitted to him the essential information, and Thought refined them.

Thoughts - your mind - are now present at every moment. You hear a small voice in your head the instant you read these words. This voice began to speak at the time of the Cognitive Revolution, when developing more structured languages. Since then, she has not stopped being heard. Though.

The more you think, the more your Life of Departure is hidden from you - your life in the primitive sense, the one that holds Peace. This mental voice in your head is the one that prevents you from hearing your inner voice. Moreover, the more you think, the more you identify with these thoughts.

You feel sometimes guilty, jealous, choleric, anguish, stress etc. You call these emotions "negative," because they actually jostle your emotional routine and directly threaten your inner peace. Conversely, you describe as "positive" the emotions that do not threaten you, and that contribute to making you feel reassured in your environment. You feel so soon content, relieved, motivated, satisfied, iron, amused by a joke or a grimace.

Unfortunately, you live and evolve in a world in constant motion. Your emotional routine is constantly jostled. An event comes at every moment to hinder your serenity: you are late for an important appointment, you lost your keys, your son did not go to class today, you learn about the human losses caused by a tsunami, you think back to a conversation by thinking back to what you could have said best and so on.

La empty hand: the disarmament of the population on their return

Your mind is always busy and tons of effort is required. Instead of living fully, you are in a constant state of tension and defense of your present and future situation. You are biologically in Survival. So, all these cumbersome thoughts come from outside elements. The Way of the Karatedō is to find your interior, your Life
- your primitive life.

Since your mind was created for Survival, it can not reach Life - where Peace resides. To reach the consciousness of Life, it is necessary to act on another level: it is the aim of the Way in Karate. This is in my opinion the reason why Gishin Funakoshi titled his autobiography Karate-dō, my way, my life. The Way of Karate makes it possible to reach Life, where Peace rests.

We mistakenly consider peace as a positive factor. In reality, peace is not opposed to tormentsbut rather theabsence of torments. It is neither positive nor negative: it is simply based on another level.

To reach life by the path of karate, one must turn to theharmony : it's the Shin Gi Tai.

Reach the Way

Bamboo alley in Japan

As for Sōkon Matsumura, Chōmo Hanashiro or Gichin Funakoshi the Way has been essential in the development and practice of Karate, in the practice of Art. If we want to keep the Karatedo and the depth of his Art de vivre, discovering the Way is a real contribution to the discipline. Let's discover together in Article following [6] the fundamental link between the Way of Karatedo and other disciplines such as psychoanalysis, Christianity or Western personal development : to understand how the great karateka masters discovered life through practice. In the last article of the series [7], we will take inspiration from these great masters - mainly from Master Funakoshi - to find the keys of the Way.

Do not forget to give your opinion in the comments below! Or to develop an idea, if you are inspired 🙂

See you soon,

[1] Dynasty (from 618 to 907) marked by the rise of Buddhist thought and art in China. To see the Chao ye qian zai on the Shaolin Kung-fu of the time.
[2] The main figure of the deployment of Karate in the world: he is the founder of Karate Shōtōkan.
[3] Karatedō, my Way, my Life, 1956, Gichin Funakoshi
[4] Karate: efficiency at your fingertips, Areski Ouzrout
[5] Proprioception: perception, most often unconscious, that one has of the position of one's body in space. (CNRTL Definition)
[6] The Secret of the Way of the Karatedō (2 / 3): What Philosophers Say
[7] The Secret of the Way of the Karatedō (3 / 3): It's up to you to find the Way

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  1. Trackback: Fleeing Duality: Karate and Buddhism | Masterfight

  2. I do not understand the relationship that is made between Buddhism and karate.
    The Bodhi is the culmination of a state of understanding (awakening) that is realized when the ten impediments (or non-virtuous acts): kill, steal, sexual misconduct, deceive, lie, harsh words, frivolous words , envy, malice, erroneous views, are dissolved behavior. This state of awakening makes it possible to become aware of the existence of the cycle of reincarnations and of how to stop them.
    Samsara is the cycle of rebirth and suffering of a being not awake.
    These two terms are derived from the Theravada Buddhism which is the original one. Zen is different.

    • The concept of "non-duality between body and mind: Shikishin funi (色 心 不二)" of Nichiren Daishonin Buddhism can help deepen the relationship between Buddhism and Karate.
      Very easy, my dear Watson !!!

    • Hello GARCIA, your comment inspired me well, and I made an article on the MasterFight website (Karate and Buddhism: Should we flee Duality?)!

      Indeed, I totally agree with you. Although we do not have enough "place" in the article here to develop these points, the distinction you put forward between bodhi and saṃsāra is the one set out in the "What is the way ? " right here. The distinction Bodhi / Samsara corresponds to the distinction Life / Survival. In this part, it is developed the idea according to which the Way makes it possible to leave the torments and the sufferings (year reaching its own Life in the deepest). The Path is Bodhi and Survival is Sa ausāra. In our article here on the Way, this Way allows one to free oneself from the torments of Survival (often characterized as the terrain of duality in "Good" and "Evil"). Apart from this duality, there is neither good nor evil, but rather peace: a kind of awake and constant state. In the same way that the Way makes it possible to move away from the torments of the Survival, Buddhism makes it possible to leave this vulnerable state of the constant changes and constant sufferings: state called Saṃsāra. It allows to live the Bodhi, in which the duality of pleasures and sufferings of life no longer exists. It is this absence of duality that GABRIEL expresses with the term "Shikishin funi" (色 心 不二).

      Here is the article on MasterFight that inspired your comment:
      Karate and Buddhism: Should we flee Duality?

      See you soon !

  3. Michel Le Bouler at

    Good evening Bruno
    Following your article on the path of karate, very interesting, I think that on this subject karate is it an internal or external sport, actually it is both. the physical and the thought but certain martial arts practiced like the tai chi which I know a little is above all an art of practice on the internal energy and the balance.
    All art has these major qualities, I think it would be necessary to practice several disciplines and associates, to better know if such art is more internal or external. That's what I think and thank you for your advice and videos that are very constructive

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