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Another Old Karate Article (Late 1940s)

The following description of Karate appears on pages 77 through 79 of "about... Okinawa" by Lucy C. Bond, which was recently acquired by the Hawaii Karate Museum. In the Foreword to the book she writes, "The information contained herein is a composite of articles done by someone, whose name I do not have, who was attached to the 34th General Hospital on Okinawa during the early days of American occupation." One of the articles was from 1946. I estimate that the book was published in the late 1940s or early 1950s.


Although not "officially banned," but tacitly "ignored," Karate is no longer taught in Okinawan schools, but may still be used for exercise and sport competition. Karate was more of a military art than a sport under the Japanese. After the Island was no longer under the military control of the Japanese, following World War II, the sport was frowned upon except for demonstrative purposes. No actual competitive matches are held nowadays.

Here is how it goes. The contestants, lined in double rows facing each other go through the fundamental positions assumed in Karate practices. These slightly resemble those in boxing, but it can be noticed at once that the art or full swing of Western boxing is missing. Instead, the arms are held clamped tightly against the sides and the blows are delivered straight forward, in piston-like jabs with incredible swiftness. The feet are also used with several instant thrusts with the legs on a level with the opponent's chest or even as high as his face.

For each offensive thrust there is, on the part of the opponent, a defensive position. Thus, these positions of Karate are not a number of rather arbitrary rules, as in Western boxing, but a scientific arrangement of all physically possible blows and defenses. Each of the basic exercises is effective only when the entire body is used, doubled through the use of both hands and feet as in Karate.

It is the rule, rather than the exception, that the third knuckles of all Karate fighters' hands be broken through the sport until the fist presents a flat and calloused surface capable of blows which can splinter wood or crack paving tile! The fingers are strengthened until they can deliver blows which rupture internal organs and inner blood vessels. The toes are capable of paralyzing a man for life.

This "strengthening" process begins in the study of Karate with the student thrusting out-stretched fingers into sacks of rice until one thrust enables him to reach the bottom. He must be able to hit a reed-covered post until he is able to deliver a full blow without breaking a knuckle or bursting a blood vessel. He must practice kicking until, with the ball of his foot, he can break in two at least seven layers of thin boards or five layers of roofing tile. By this time, he has a set of "weapons" as deadly as swords or clubs!

Karate was an Okinawan sport as far back in their history as five hundred years ago when King Sno [sic. Sho] (who ruled at the time Nakagusuku Castle as erected here in his defense) prohibited the carrying of arms, except by his own policestate. Two hundred years later, when the Ryukyus had been made a vassal state of the Satsuma Clan of Japan, an even firmer clamp was placed on the Okinawan's use of weapons.

It was during this period that Karate, then known as OKINAWA-TE, grew in leaps and bounds in undercover practice as the only available means of self-protection, until the Satsuma lords found that their armies were no match for the Ryukyuans with this deadly art of defense.

When in 1873 Japan began the conscription of Okinawans for the army, they had to admit that these Karate-trained soldiers were superior both in mind and body for combat. Consequently, in 1900, Karate was made a regular subject of study in Okinawan male normal schools and the first middle school. In 1905 a group of experts from Okinawa was sent to Kyoto to hold a demonstration of this "art," one which quickly spread all over Japan!

However, as in Judo, the blood-thirsty aspect of Karate has not always been stressed. The translation of TE means "void" or "vacant," as well as being another word for "dead body." A literal translation might, therefore be "the use of the hands and feet while the mind is vacant."

It is known that in earlier times in China, also known as KARA, the Buddhist priests studied "Kara-te" to overcome exhaustion and that it was considered more as body-training rather than the war-like use to which it was later put by Okinawans for self-defense measure against the oppressive Satsuma Clan warriors. Later, under Japanese occupation, preceding World War II, stress was placed on self-protection and destruction of one's enemy.

Today, the sport is allowed here only for a competitive sport in a demonstrative form, along with the JODAN-OMETE. Jodan-omete, now a thing of the past, was once very popular on the island. It is a form of Karate and means literally, "smiling face." This title was derived no doubt from the grimace of the broken jaw or skull of an opponent.

Think we had better stick to baseball, don't you?

I hope that you enjoy this early English description of Karate. While there are some errors in the article, there is also some very interesting information. Since the author of the original article was stationed in Okinawa, this information may be a little less filtered than contemporaneous descriptions from authors on mainland Japan.

We will keep looking for old Karate books and articles! Who knows? We might even find Motobu Sensei's two books one day.


Charles C. Goodin