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.
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.
"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.)
know WHY the hands are empty. But when are the empty hands
NOT really empty?
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.
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.
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.
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.
A brief history about the banning of weapons
on Okinawa from shorinryu.com website
*[The first ban was by] their own royalty
in the 1420's the Okinawan King Hashi from Chuzan and First
* 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