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The Way of the Empty Hand. Twenty Precepts.

This article is part of the Twenty Precepts from the Way of the Empty Hand series.

What is the way of the empty hand? Karate-do (空手道, literally ’empty hand way’) is a simple and practical martial philosophy. This martial way seeks gentleness when it can, discipline when it’s required.

Beyond the physical training required, there are many aspects of the martial arts that deserve appreciation. The Twenty Precepts from Gichin Funakoshi are axioms for a thorough contemplation of this way of the empty hand. And, an indication of the deep thoughtfulness of this Okinawan art.

Below is a translation, transcription, and transliteration of the Twenty Precepts. As time goes by, there will be links to other articles exploring these ideas. Enjoy!

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松濤館二十訓 Shōtōkan nijū kun

First, karate-do begins and ends with bowing.
一、空手道は礼に始まり礼に終る事を忘るな
Hitotsu, karate-do wa rei ni hajimari rei ni owaru koto o wasuruna

First, there is no first strike in karate.
一、空手に先手なし
Hitotsu, karate ni sente nashi

First, karate stands on the side of justice.
一、空手は義の補け
Hitotsu, karate wa, gi no tasuke

First, first know yourself, then know others.
一、先づ自己を知れ而して他を知れ
Hitotsu, mazu onore o shire, shikashite ta o shire

First, mentality over technique.
一、技術より心術
Hitotsu, gijutsu yori shinjitsu

First, the heart must be set free.
一、心は放たん事を要す
Hitotsu, kokoro wa hanatan koto o yosu

First, calamity springs from carelessness.
一、禍は懈怠に生ず
Hitotsu, wazawai wa ketai ni seizu

First, karate goes beyond the dojo.
一、道場のみの空手と思ふな
Hitotsu, dojo nomino karate to omou na

First, karate is a lifelong pursuit.
一、空手の修業は一生である
Hitotsu, karate-do no shugyo wa issho de aru

First, apply the way of karate to all things. Therein lies its beauty.
一、凡ゆるものを空手化せよ其処に妙味あり
Hitotsu, ara yuru mono o karateka seyo; soko ni myomi ari

First, karate is like boiling water; without heat, it returns to its tepid state.
一、空手は湯の如し絶えず熱度を与えざれば元の水に還る
Hitotsu, karate wa yu no gotoshi taezu netsu o ataezareba moto no mizu ni kaeru

First, do not think of winning. Think, rather, of not losing.
一、勝つ考は持つな負けぬ考は必要
Hitotsu, katsu kangae wa motsuna; makenu kangae wa hitsuyo

First, make adjustments according to your opponent.
一、敵に因って轉化せよ
Hitotsu, tekki ni yotte tenka seyo

First, the outcome of a battle depends on how one handles emptiness and fullness (weakness and strength).
一、戦は虚実の操縦如何に在り
Hitotsu, tatakai wa kyojitsu no soju ikan ni ari

First, think of hands and feet as swords.
一、人の手足を剣と思へ
Hitotsu, hito no teashi wa ken to omoe

First, when you step beyond your own gate, you face a million enemies.
一、男子門を出づれば百万の敵あり
Hitotsu, danshi mon o izureba hyakuman no teki ari

First, formal stances are for beginners; later, one stands naturally.
一、構は初心者に後は自然体
Hitotsu, kamae wa shoshinsha ni ato wa shizentai

First, perform prescribed sets of techniques exactly; actual combat is another matter.
一、形は正しく実戦は別物
Hitotsu, kata wa tadashiku, jisen wa betsumono

First, do not forget the employment of withdrawal of power, the extension or contraction of the body, the swift or leisurely application of technique.
一、力の強弱体の伸縮技の緩急を忘るな
Hitotsu, chikara no kyojakutai no shinshuku waza no kankyu o wasuruna

First, be constantly mindful, diligent, and resourceful, in your pursuit of the Way.
一、常に思念工夫せよ
Hitotsu, tsune ni shinen ku fu seyo

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Theos Bernard~ Hindu Philosophy pg.2

“Hindu Philosophy does not attempt to train one to discern meta-physical truths; it offers a way of thinking which enables one rationally to understand the reality experienced by self-fulfilled personalities,and thereby to lead one to the realization of Truth.

In this light, philosophy is seen as an art of life and not a theory about the universe, for it is the means of attaining the highest aspirations of man. It is not for the discovery, but for the understanding of Truth.”

-Theos Bernard~ Hindu Philosophy pg.2

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First, There is No First Strike in Karate

This article is part of the Twenty Precepts from the Way of the Empty Hand series.

First, there is no first strike in karate.

This axiom (from the Twenty Precepts for Shotokan, 松濤館二十訓 (Shōtōkan nijū kun) by Gichin Funakoshi) seems pretty self explanatory. But, like the others, it can be quite the rabbit hole…

Imagine this, a martial art with no preemptive striking?!? It doesn’t seem very logical for a fighting system to purposefully remove tactical advantages. Unless, of course, this fighting art is concerned with compassion, not advantage. The 道 (do)  in 空手道 (karate-do) means ‘the way’ and is meant to imply a  philosophical mindset, that the only conflict to be resolved is internal.

This little axiom removes the super huge element of surprise.

Don’t initiate violence, ever. No sucker punch, ever. No sneak attack… ever.

First, there is no first strike in karate.
一、空手に先手なし
Hitotsu, karate ni sente nashi

Outwardly this little bit of philosophy makes me feel very safe and friendly with the world, and everyone in it. Now, if I turn this precept inward, not initiating negativity or self-doubt, not looking for motives to start storms and strife, my life can become calm(er).

Useful stuff… Try it, it really works.

 

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Theos Bernard ~ Hindu Philosophy pg.67

Bondage is claimed to be purely an illusion caused by incorrect knowledge of the true nature of things. .

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Theos Bernard ~ Hindu Philosophy pg.98

The power of expression means the working of ideas, and not the mere production of vocal sound

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Theos Bernard ~ Hindu Philosophy pg.97

All these senses (indriyas) constitute the awareness and reactive responses which the Self makes to the objects that follow, the means whereby enjoyment is had, which is the will to life. Existence is the tying of these experiences together into an endless chain; life is the force that holds them.

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Theos Bernard ~ Hindu Philosophy pg.90

The Yoga system is based upon the principle that there is but one law that governs a single force which operates in all conditions of nature, manifest and unmanifest. That force is called life.

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Theos Bernard ~ Hindu Philosophy pg.86

The philosophical basis of Yoga is the Sāṁkhya. The ancient teachers (ṛṣis) have extended the laws that govern the evolution of the universe to cover the evolution of the individual, showing that the individual is but the microcosm of the macrocosm. The system as it applies to the individual is called the Yoga Philosophy. It is said that there is no knowledge equal to the Sāṁkhya and no power equal to Yoga.

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Theos Bernard ~ Hindu Philosophy pg.vii

According to the classic schools of Hindu Philosophy, the method by which the individual can evolve himself during this life is through the practice of Yoga. This is the universal technique recommended to enable man to acquire actual insight into the true nature of things. All schools agree that until the faith is fortified with understanding, little progress can be made, for knowledge without application is like medicine that is not taken.

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Hindu philosophy

To understand correctly Hindu Philosophy, it is paramount that one realize that the basis of all the schools is the same.

~Theos Bernard

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First, Karate-Do Begins and Ends with Bowing

This article is part of the Twenty Precepts from the Way of the Empty Hand series.

In all aspects, karate-do aims for simplicity. But, let’s not confuse simple with easy. There are lots of rules. Physical rules, like correct weight distribution and placement. Mental rules, like cleanliness, courtesy, and diligence. Rules that straddle the border, like:

First, karate-do begins and ends with bowing.
一、空手道は礼に始まり礼に終る事を忘るな
Hitotsu, karate-do wa rei ni hajimari rei ni owaru koto o wasuruna
~ Gichin Funakoshi

Bow before coming into the dōjō (道場) space proper. Bow when leaving. Bow when the teacher comes on deck. Bow to your kumite partner. Bow before starting a kata, bow when finishing. Extra bowing is not usually frowned upon.

Why so much bowing?

Respect. Humility. Gratitude.

All good.

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Zen Sand Garden in Kyoto, Japan
Zen Sand Garden in Kyoto, Japan

It’s like the recitation of a mantra; it’s there to protect the sanctity of practice. Little nudges in the right direction. Little clean spots. Once a day is barely enough, so entertain small notions frequently, and make reminders often.

Beginning with a proper mindset makes the whole practice click. Distractions aside with full concentration, anything’s possible. Ending with a proper mindset sets all the goodness in place.

A simple story:

So there’s a monk, who’s traveling along and being grateful (for his practice). Some guy comes along and asks him if this grateful attitude changes anything tangible in his life. To which the monk answers:

“Not really, but it is a wonderful feeling.”

So, this little parable is something along the lines of “chop wood, carry water,” and other stories defining the worldly worth of enlightenment.

Furthermore, if the path to enlightenment isn’t enough, bowing is a good way to train balance and the abdominals.

So, grasshopper, bow in the beginning. Try to bow somewhere in the middle. And, most certainly, bow at the end.

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