Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Karate Ni Sente Nashi

There is no first attack in Karate.

Funakoshi performing Naihanchi Shodan.
    I've written about this topic, in passing, in a few articles so far; but I thought it would be a good idea to create a separate post to directly address this important, yet often misunderstood maxim.  Funakoshi is often cited as the source of this quote which means: "there is no first attack in Karate"; but it is unclear if he is the originator, or just responsible for its popularity.  The author of this statement is, for our purposes, unimportant.  In fact, I think it is important to read it without regard to its author.  Reading something within the context of presuming to understand the author, beyond his writing, is always dangerous and results in analyses like: "knowing how Funakoshi felt about other things, I think he must mean this."  Rather than attempting to understand what Funakoshi means by the statement, I think it is more important to really understand what the statement means (regardless of Funakoshi's understanding of it).  Motobu clearly was familiar with the expression, and Funakoshi's connection with it, and he offered a different spin on it by saying, do not take it to mean that once the fight is imminent, one should wait to be hit.  One must take the initiative to defeat one that means you harm.  Some interpretations of Karate ni sente nashi translate it as "there is no initiative in Karate", and Motobu clearly states, Karate is initiative.  But are those two views opposing views?  I don't 
Motobu performing Naihanchi Shodan.
believe they are, and though Motobu certainly is intending to disagree with Funakoshi, I think they are in agreement.  Motobu himself did concede that if you take it to mean Karateka shouldn't run around starting fights you are partially correct, or at least, he agrees that you shouldn't run around starting fights.  But he, like myself, think that stopping your evaluation of the expression there is to stop short of understanding its actual message.  To Motobu (and others, like Mabuni and Nagamine), saying you shouldn't start fights is not even worth saying.  It is simply obvious.  Think of it like this, if the maxim was, "in karate, one should always open doors for little old ladies", Motobu would say: "Right.  No kidding.  You should be doing that anyway".  Is there an Okinawan maxim somewhere for non-martial artists that says: "At all times one should randomly attack people?"   I Googled it, and I still haven't found that maxim.  So what is the point of creating a maxim that is obvious, even to non-martial artists?  Karate training never aims to remove what you know, and replace it with "Karate everything".  There is no maxim on how a Karateka should brush their teeth.  No maxim concerning late filing of your taxes.  And when Karate teaches you how to strike and block, it never says ignore what you already know about fighting, it says "here is extra stuff you don't know, and that requires training to learn, and
builds upon what you already understand".  In one of the earliest written works on Karate, The Study of China Hand Techniques By Morinobu Itoman, he speaks at length about how effective Karate techniques are in conjunction with things like screaming at your opponent, or spitting at him, or dirty fighting (like biting or attacking testicles and eyes etc), sucker punches, head butting etc.  The intention is, whatever you learn will supplement and build upon what you know, not replace it.  So let's get to the meat of this.  What can we learn from Karate ni sente nashi?  
  1.  Karate is for defense only/Preemptive Strikes.  While I do agree that reading it to mean that you should use your Karate only for defense (or in other words never to attack) is a good start, I don’t think that is necessarily useful or informative, but still true.  This fact is necessary in the understanding of Karate ni sente nashi, but not sufficient.  For instance, it does not mean that you can’t strike first; it means you can’t attack first (or initiate the confrontation).  If I identify you as an opponent, you have already attacked me be it verbally, physically, or through implication or perceived intent.  I don’t have to wait for the bad guy in a ski mask with a drawn gun to actually shoot me before I take action.  Is that how you practice gun self-defense?  Do you wait to be hit by the first shot before taking action?  How do you reconcile that with “Karate ni sente nashi?”  The answer is clear: that is not all it means.  There was a famous incident involving Motobu.  Someone approached him in a restaurant and challenged him to fight.  The attacker was wielding a knife, and Motobu said: "I will not fight with weapons, especially a knife", to which the attacker insisted it was happening anyway, and Motobu said "if you are intent on this, then let's go outside."  As they headed to the door, Motobu kicked his would-be attacker in the back, avoiding a knife fight (or any "fight" for that matter).  Though he struck first, Motobu did not show initiative in attacking; he showed initiative in defending himself.  He knows that no matter how good his Karate is, he isn't about to be cut-up all over.  No one wins a knife fight.  Someone just lives a bit longer.  And it is important to know the distinction between a fight, and self defense.  Karate is not ever fighting.  It is self defense.  A fight is a contest.  Motobu said "I will not fight with weapons/knives".  He didn't say "I will not defend myself at all costs against weapons".  That is the true essence of Karate.  Motobu didn't fight that person.  He dispatched his enemy.  Motobu did not attack, the brandishing of the knife was the attack.  Motobu preempted harm coming to him.  Just like he said he would.  That is part of Karate ni sente nashi.                                                                                                                                                                          There are some critics of this reading, however.  Some people dislike the idea of allowing Karate ni sente nashi to be read in a way that allows preemptive strikes.  I think that the above serves to quell any argument that it is wrong to strike an attacker first, after the threat is clear.  
    One method of preemption explored...
    But another opposing viewpoint that has emerged is that you can't go around preemptively hitting people in every altercation.  They may say "do you know how many times a guy has approached me, posturing like he wanted to fight.  Everyone of those instances dissolved without physical violence.  Now imagine if I had just punched him preemptively.  I would be the attacker and he would be defending."  To me, that is simply a misunderstanding of what it means to preempt an attack.  Like I said before, learning Karate doesn't mean you unlearn everything else you know.  In this scenario, you are talking about someone that you weren't entirely sure was going to attack you.  And ultimately, he did not.  Do you know why?  Because you preempted his attack verbally.  That is still Karate.  You don't have to strike someone to win a fight.  You were not in a physical altercation at that stage.  You were having a verbal altercation with the chance of becoming physical.  By all means, talk your way out of it.  That is still preemptive, in fact it is essentially the highest expression of preempting a fight there is.  People ask me if I've ever used Karate, and I say "every time I've never gotten in a fight."                                                                    Some critics also hold that it cannot be read to allow preemptive strikes because it is impossible.  They would say that no violent attacker will let you know they want to harm you.  That they will surprise and overwhelm you when you aren't expecting it,
    A real-life example of a surprise attack.
    and they will cause you extreme violence with no intention of a fight.  They just want to harm you.  Well, yes that is true.  There are certain attackers that make no overture of their intent.  You can also have a bomb fall on your house, or die in an earthquake.  No Kata can prepare you for that which is entirely unpredictable.  Karate teaches you how to defend yourself in situations that are defensible.  Does that mean the statement cannot be read to mean one should preempt an attack?  Of course not; for two reasons.  First, In this surprise attack scenario, think of the statement as "since there is no first attack in Karate, I won't be attacking anyone, but at any moment I may be attacked by someone that doesn't practice Karate."  Your adversary here is not a person, but the threat of a violent person.  Funakoshi said, when you leave your house, imagine there are enemies awaiting you everywhere.  Outside is your opponent here.  So, is it not best to preempt?  Before someone surprise attacks you on a crowded bus by stabbing you in the kidney as they get off the bus, perhaps you should stand somewhere that you have a view of the entire bus.  Or if it's too crowded to safely assume no one will stab you, then you are obligated to wait for the next bus.  Don't walk around dangerous neighborhoods at night.  Have you not preempted an unpredictable attack?  Preempting can also mean removing yourself from situations of danger, as well as talking your way out.  Another criticism of the idea of preemptive striking is that an attacker will never let you know of their intent.                                                                    
    The aggressor is clearly showing his intentions here...
     That is an absolute fallacy.  In fact, the same people that say they have been in countless situations where someone seemed threatening, are the same that say no one will let you know their threatening intent.  So beyond that clear problem of their own logic, let's address people not showing their intent to harm you.  Certainly, as we discussed, there are cases where you cannot know there even is an attacker, in which case prevention (not being there) is tantamount to preemption.  But, I think it is far more useful for most of us to imagine more common situations.  An agitated drunk person on a subway looking for a fight.  Confronting someone that tried to take your girlfriend's purse.  Someone that thinks you bumped into them at a bar.  Confronting someone that is hitting their girlfriend.  Someone that thinks you were talking to their girlfriend and starts pushing you and talking tough.  Aside from random violence, gang violence, muggings, or a prison attack, most altercations tend to have the verbal phase which helps the attacker work himself up to the attack.  Or at the very least violent posturing, and chest shoves etc.  Sometimes those scenarios dissolve, and sometimes they do not.  Whether verbal, or physical, it is still best to preempt.  And that doesn't mean you have to hit them before they hit you.  You might miss.  They may be faster than you thought.  But even if they hit you, you will attack even stronger in response, thus preempting any real harm coming your way.  You can preempt by talking, by hitting first, or by hitting sufficiently to end the altercation.  
  2. Any misfortune that befalls the attacker is the attacker's fault.  Another very powerful aspect of this precept is that it describes a sort of contract that a Karateka enters into.  When confronted by an aggressor, that aggressor has tacitly entered into the same contract.  Our training teaches us how to respond to violence.  And in many cases, the response is necessarily violent and fast.  If someone pulls a knife on you, you don't slap him in the face and prepare to exchange blows like a tournament, you break his arm and run.  Someone punches you, you block and go for the throat, you don't take a stance and prepare to spar.  We train to attack vital areas as a means of defense.  We arm ourselves with natural weapons, and train to use them.  By attacking me, you agree that I can do anything I want to do, or have to do in order to stop you (whatever is necessary and sufficient).  If you punch my stomach, I will go for your eyes, because you will not have a chance for the second punch that may knock me out, or worse, your second punch might be a knife.  Motobu said, if you attack me with a knife, I will not be fighting you, and understand that by you attacking first, all bets are off and my conscience is clear to disable you, even if I hit you first.
    Attack a Martial Artist at your own risk...
     It is basically a moral license for a Karateka telling him that it is OK to use what he's learned without feeling bad, as long as it's always in defense.  There is no such thing as an extreme defense.  You have been attacked, and you are obligated to defend your life, however you deem necessary.  And, no matter what, you have the moral stance of "he started it."  
    Karate ni sente nashi is a lot like saying, "I don't start fights.  I finish them."  There is no first attack in Karate because when you do attack, it will be the final attack.  There is also no third attack in Karate, it should be done by then.  So, you are morally obligated by Karate ni sente nashi to use your art for defense only, and if you do, you should not feel bad about it since the attacker directly asked you to harm him by engaging you to begin with.  Had the attacker just left you alone, you would never have attacked him.  He did not leave you alone, so you responded.  And you can sleep peacefully knowing you did the right thing.  That is the moral importance of Karate ni sente nashi.                                                                                                                                                                                                         
  3. You are not fighting another Karateka in Kata.  To me, a very important consequence of Karate ni sente nashi is in understanding our Kata.  Kata is very difficult to interpret, and I feel that many Karateka mistakenly assume that "if I am practicing a Karate Kata, it must address fighting against Karate".  That makes a lot of sense from a certain viewpoint.  Here is how to do something and here is how to get out of it.  That is the slippery slope of Sports.  I haven't seen many old Jujutsu books address escapes from Jujutsu holds, but they all address using Jujutsu against weapons, and against Western Boxers.  Judo books however, do address reversals, and escapes from Judo techniques.  Why?  Because Judo is a sport.  It is the sport form of Jujutsu, meaning that it is intended to be used against Judo.  Only to the highest level students did Kano teach Kata intended
    Contemporary sport-versions of Martial Arts, like Judo,
     train to defeat each other in competition.
    for self defense against real attackers.  True Jujutsu is preserved in the context of those Kata.  What is interesting here, is that when Judo was formed, Kano held competitions to prove the efficacy of his methods.  These competitions were held against the existing Jujutsu schools of the time.  Who will better win a fight against a Jujutsuka?  One trained to get out of every known Jujutsu technique, or one who knows how to apply every Jujutsu technique as a means for defeating any 
    other known attacker?  That is the fallacy of modern Karate; that skill in Karate is determined against Karateka.  None of our traditional Kata are intended to fight against another Karateka.  For multiple reasons.  First, it cannot be against a Karateka because there were no Karateka.  Okinawans, prior to Karate as we know it, still had fighting methods.  Some trained, and some untrained.  If you were trained, you had the knowledge of what others on Okinawa might be trained with.  And you certainly know how the untrained would fight.  Much like we assume a cowboy swing to the kisser by an untrained fighter, Okinawa had their equivalent.  Karate, however, was something new.  Something being developed in secret to defeat all known methods, while at the same time, building upon them
    This is not what the original Masters intended their teachings for...
    and incorporating them.  Your Kata cannot be against a Karateka because, first of all, there were none. But also because, 
    a Karateka would not be attacking you without reason.   We just covered that a Karateka cannot initiate a confrontation, so he isn't attacking you for no reason.  And he wouldn’t have reason to strike you first (preemptively), because you as a Karateka wouldn’t initiate a confrontation with him either.  The power of the quote is not a moral or ethical assertion; the power of the quote is in understanding our Kata, and that it is not against a Karateka.                                                                                                                                                          
  4. Counter attacking  Another interesting lesson to learn from "Karate ni sente nashi" is that Karate is most effective as a counter measure.  If you insist on reading it simply as "there is no first attack", and insist on that meaning you can never strike someone first, that is still OK.  Here, while part of the meaning of the statement is to use Karate for defense, in this instance, it can be useful to interpret it to mean Karate is most effective when used to exploit your opponent's attack.  As in, wait for their attack and then eliminate the threat as quickly and effectively as possible by recognizing the openings they create by attacking.  In other words, Karate is only for defense for two reasons.  1. The moral implications (and most obvious rationale) that one should not seek violence or to harm others, and 2. That Karate is most effective when used in defense.  
    For a technique to have maximum effect, the attacker must completely commit to a powerful attack.
    This is really quite true in most, if not all, martial arts.  Aikido for example, relies upon the strength and momentum of the attacker.  A popular saying is that one should pull when pushed, and push when pulled.  What should one do if no one is pushing or pulling you?  You do nothing.  For two reasons.  1. No one is attacking you, so why would you.  And, 2. because your techniques are ineffectual until the opponent engages.  Same is true of Judo.  A technique will only work once your opponent is unbalanced.  And the best way to unbalance an opponent is through your reaction to their attack.  You can trip an advancing opponent, but not a stationary one.  You cannot block a punch until one is thrown.  You cannot put someone in a wrist lock until they have grabbed you.  Karate ni sente nashi also means, wait for your opponent to commit to his attack, and then use that attack to create the openings your counter attack will exploit to end the altercation.                                                                                                                                                                                     
  5. Be Ready Always.  I touched upon this earlier, but another interesting lesson contained here is that one should always be ready to be attacked.  As I mentioned, one of Funakoshi's other precepts (Karate ni sente nashi is only one of twenty precepts) is
    A contemporary spin on Funakoshi's ideals.
    "When you leave home, think that you have numerous opponents waiting for you."  Why?  Because that precept is derivative of "there is no first attack in Karate."  What you know as a martial artist, because of Karate ni sente nashi, is that without a doubt, you will not be attacking anyone.  Nor will any other Karateka.  Which means, anyone you encounter that is not a Karateka may attack you.  And understand that saying "you are morally bound to never attack" is equivalent to saying "no one else is morally bound not to attack."  Which is not to say they are morally bound 
    to attack you; but they are not guaranteed to leave you alone either.  So again, in the interest of preemption, assume they will attack you, and prepare to disallow that.                                                                                                                                                                          I hope that this sheds some light on the real power of the lessons from the past.  As I discussed in my Shotokan article, I take issue with people doing whatever they want and then trying to justify it by citing the old masters, with no actual understanding of what the old masters said.  Like Funakoshi said, Karate training is not just in the Dojo.  That means you should take Karate with you everywhere you go, not just practice it in the Dojo.  But that also means that, to mature, it needs to have the influence of other areas.  Just as you shouldn't leave your Karate in the Dojo, you shouldn't leave critical thinking, logic, and reason outside of the Dojo.  A true Karateka would understand that what Funakoshi means by this is more than "practice at home."  He means, when you read a philosophy book,apply what you learn there to your Karate.  When you read a science book, apply what you learn there to Karate.  If students read Funakoshi's Precepts nearly as often as they practiced stationary punching in the air, or as thoroughly as they worked on making their Kata snap, they would see how far from the man they credit as their founder they really are.  They have done as Funakoshi feared, and made
     An example of a sporting contest, not an example of the application of Karate Kata.
    Karate a sport.  The final reading of Karate ni sente nashi I will leave you with is this:
  6. Since there is no first attack in Karate, if you attack first, you are not practicing Karate.   Sport Karate faces two "Karateka" against each other and asks one of them to attack first, often rewarding that competitor. That is not Karate.  This is precisely what the 20 Precepts attempt to prevent.  Funakoshi was terrified that his Okinawan art would be corrupted by those that don't take the time to study it in a deep way.  This is why he criticized the emphasis on sparring with each other, because it would lead to training to fight each other.  I think it is distasteful and insulting to consider Funakoshi the "Father" of modern/Japanese Karate (which means Sport Karate).  He is nothing but the Father of being entirely ignored and misinterpreted, yet credited all the same.  Motobu criticized Funakoshi as only knowing the outer portion of Karate, not understanding its real depth.  If that's the case, what would he possibly have to say about all of us?