Karate Ni Sente Nashi
|There is no first attack in Karate.|
|Funakoshi performing Naihanchi Shodan.|
|Motobu performing Naihanchi Shodan.|
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?
- 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...
A real-life example of a surprise attack.
The aggressor is clearly showing his intentions here...
- 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...
- 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.
This is not what the original Masters intended their teachings for...
- 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.
- 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. An example of a sporting contest, not an example of the application of Karate Kata.
- 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?