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The average person, having been strongly influenced by the mass media, has an image of karate as being a violent sport. The practitioners are often viewed as using karate as a convenient vehicle for violence. In reality, however, nothing is further from the truth.
Karate gradually evolved in Okinawa (not Japan, as many people believe). Okinawa, the largest of a string of islands south of Japan, is today the poorest prefecture of Japan, however culturally and historically Okinawans have their own traditions.
Nonviolence is part of the Okinawan life style. In fact the Okinawan people have had a long standing reputation for being among the most peaceful people in the world. Even Napoleon, upon hearing about Okinawan nonviolence, remarked, "I cannot understand a people not interested in war!"
To many, the practice of karate and nonviolence is paradoxical. However, to those of us who are long-term practitioners of karate there is no paradox. A mother, for example, who might normally be a peace-loving person, will typically fight ferociously to defend her child. Life is precious to her, especially the life of her child, and most of us would not deny her the right to preserve her life and the life of her child. In fact we would not think that her defensive actions contradict her peaceful nature.
The true karate practitioner is also nonviolent who would not use karate skills for any reason other than for the preservation of precious life, and then s/he would apply these skills as a last resort. The difference between a typical mother and a mother who also is a karateka is that the latter will defend her child with far greater skill based on steady training. Furthermore, this skill and training gives her more presence of mind to make better, reality-based decisions allowing her to choose what level of force she needs to control the attacker(s). If she chooses to negotiate she'll be negotiating from a position of strength rather than bluff. Often potential predators will sense this and back off if they think their prey is competent.
Shijin Gushiken, a highly accomplished karate master in Okinawa, summed up his philosophy as "having a skilled fist but never using it."
© 1997 Bernd Weiss
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