Kyoshi's Technique of the Week

August 11th, 2013

From Sensei Larry Link

Empty Hands are NOT Empty

As a new deshi, one of the first things we learn about Karate is the meaning of the word "Karate" - a Japanese word comprised of two kanji characters; "Kara", meaning "Empty" and "Te", meaning "Hand" - Empty Hand.

Whenever I explain this meaning to my non-karate friends, I always use a word they already know for comparison - "Karaoke", or "Empty Orchestra". This explanation tends to result in a knowing smile, nod and brightness in the eyes as the meaning becomes clear.

But why "Empty Hand"? Why are the hands empty? The hands are empty because beginning in the early 1400's, the Okinawan people were subjected to various banning of their weapons over many centuries. (For those of you who would like to research this further, I have excerpted a brief note about the history of the banning of weapons on Okinawa at the end of this TOTW.)

So we know WHY the hands are empty. But when are the empty hands NOT really empty?

The hands are FULL of TENSION
To be effective in Karate, your hands must be tight. In the fist, we roll the fingers into the palm and squeeze, creating white knuckles. No air can be allowed to seep into the hand or between the fingers. In Shuto, or knife-hand, strikes, the entire surface of the hand must be tense, with the fingers locked together and the thumb pulled down and tight. Tension is the only way of protecting the hand and turning it from the delicate, marvelous instrument that it is, into a hammer, a knife, or a spear.

However, it is important to note that tension in the hands (and the whole body) is only summoned at the very end of each technique, ONLY ON CONTACT with the target. In the travel towards the target, the hand should be tension FREE, the fist "almost" closed, the hand shape formed but loose and relaxed on its' way towards the target. We do this because tension slows down the speed of the strike, creates tension in all the muscles involved and can render the block or strike ineffective. With pinpoint timing, at the exact moment of contact, your hands should be FULL of TENSION.

The hands are FULL of PURPOSE
The 19 kata of Shorin-ryu Karate are filled with an amazing, almost unbelievable, variety of blocks and strikes. Hanshi's Red Book details each of the specific techniques, naming each one with both their Japanese and English names (See page 38 - 41 of the Red Book). When we practice, we must research and find the purpose behind each technique, block and strike. The hands must form the proper shape (fist, spear, beak), travel on the correct line and land on a specific target. In other words, your hands must be FULL of PURPOSE.

The hands are FULL of SPIRIT
As we learn and grow as practitioners of Karate, our movements will reflect our spirit. When we are feeling sluggish, our karate will appear sluggish. When we are alive and energized, our karate will be alive and energized. When we are lost, Hanshi reminds us of the correct direction - "JOY AND VIGOR!" Practice with your hands FULL of SPIRIT.

Arigato Gozaimasu Hanshi!

Sensei Larry Link


A brief history about the banning of weapons on Okinawa from website

*[The first ban was by] their own royalty in the 1420's the Okinawan King Hashi from Chuzan and First Sho Dynasty.
* In 1469, King Sho-En, Second Okinawan Sho Dynasty, outlawed possession of weapons by the people. He placed the ban to please China's royalty and governmental court and also to protect himself and the throne from his enemies.
* Sho-Shin reign, Okinawan 1477-1527, during this time period and including 1527 to 1609 Okinawa was left to itself, more or less, by Asia which was torn by war and by Japan which was in a state of anarchy. The RyuKyu islands remained for decades in a relatively peaceful state again without its people bearing arms. The Okinawans were benevolent to the continued visits and trading of peaceful merchant ships. During this time period, karate enjoyed its development throughout the islands.
* 1609-1879 Japan's Satsuma clan reinstated the ban on arms including the ban of ceremonial swords. Japan occupied and overruled Okinawa during this time period, allowing China some dictate in the Okinawan political system which was ruled by Japan. Japan did tolerate and there did exist, undisturbed for three centuries, a succession of puppet-like Okinawan kings and royal courts. However the Japanese soldiers, like most any occupying force had little respect for the indigenous Okinawans, their homes or their peaceful way of life.