Karate Thoughts Blog

Contents   /   Email  /   Atom  /   RSS  /  

1700+ Posts... and Counting

Unarmed Martial Arts

Another thing that Stan Henning mentioned in his lecture about Chinese martial arts, was that the most important weapon in China for hundreds of years (perhaps longer) was the bow and arrow. I thought that the sword and spear were the most important weapons. However, it makes sense that the bow would be much better long distance weapon.

I imaging that the sword and spear looked much better in Kung Fu movies. Most people would not be that interested in watching people shoot each other with arrows.

But Stan also mentioned something that sounded familiar to me -- that the unarmed martial arts were used when you lost your weapon or your weapon was broken. Think about it -- unarmed martial arts only make sense when you are not armed. If your opponent has a weapon, you would want to have a weapon too. While there may be instances in which an unarmed martial artist defeated an armed warrior, such cases are few and far between. The more likely outcome would have been that the unarmed martial artist ran away or was killed.

Warriors were skilled in the use of weapons. Only when a weapon was lost or broken would the unarmed martial arts come into play -- and then only until a weapon could be obtained.

What makes Okinawan Karate so interesting is that it is a martial art built around unarmed techniques. In Karate, unarmed techniques are primary, not secondary.

In addition, Karate is a civilian martial art. It was not designed for use by the military. It was designed for use on the street (or to defend your home), not on the battlefield.

It is said that Karate developed because the people in Okinawa were prohibited from carrying weapons by the invading and occupying Satsuma samurai. However, it is also said that the social conditions in Okinawa were such that the people did not carry weapons. As a center of trade between China, Japan, and other countries, Okinawa was known as the land of courtesy, not warfare. Okinawan (Ryukyu) nobles did not carry weapons because it was not necessary or considered proper for them to do so. It may have been that such nobles actually had many weapons -- but would generally not carry them.

Many of the nobles were educated in China and Japan, where they could have and probably did learn about the use of weapons. The early Karate experts, particularly those of the noble and higher classes, were most likely trained in the classical weapons of the time. Matsumura Sensei, for example, was an expert of Japanese swordsmanship. I also heard stories about Kentsu Yabu teaching the use of a short, two edged sword in Okinawa.

As for the "common people", I have often been told that the most plentiful and readily available weapon in Okinawa, was a stone. Okinawa is a very rocky island. A stone could be thrown or put in cloth and swung like a flail.


Charles C. Goodin