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Reluctance, Restraint... Because

I often state that the most important traits for a Karate student are reluctance, restraint, and overriding intent to "hold back" and not use Karate techniques unless and until it is truly a last resort. I seem to be in a small crowd when I say or write this.

I do not mean this as a general or aspirational thing. I really mean it. To me, the student needs to learn to hold back his hand, not to extend it unnecessarily. It is like saying that the best place for a sword is in its sheath (saya), not being waved around. People here in Hawaii said, "A hand is a treasure in the pocket." Exposed, it is a terrible thing.

But I have come to realize why some people do not feel such a need for reluctance, restraint, and holding back. If Karate is taught as a sport or simply for health, then deadly and dangerous techniques are not taught. Sport Karate is rule bound. Heath Karate is aimed at improving the body.

Old time Karate was not a sport and was not simply for health. Old time Karate was deadly. Students did not learn to punch "legal" targets. Students learned to strike, punch, poke, tear, rip, kick, stomp, and gouge the most vulnerable targets with death or serious injury as the likely consequence. Punches and kicks in Karate were like stabbing with a knife, both in mechanics and result.

Put simply, old time Karate was serious. Students learned to defend themselves seriously. When it was a last resort, the sword was drawn, the hand came out of the pocket. The can was open and anything went.

A simple throw? No. An attacker might be thrown into a fire hydrant or the corner of a cement wall. A simple punch? No, a punch might actually be a poke to the eye followed by pulling the attacker using his eye sockets like the holes of a bowling ball.

Sound terrible? It was... and that is why reluctance, restraint and an intent to "hold back" was so important.

Imagine a policeman learning to shoot and then running around waving his gun and taking pot shots for fun. Policemen protect and serve the public. A policemen would never endanger the public by acting so irresponsibly. Only in the line of duty would he discharge his weapon.

The same goes for Karate students. At least the same should go.

Learning Karate is a serious responsibility. The deadly and dangerous techniques of the art must be restricted and controlled. That is why holding back is so important. It is not a sport or a game. It is a matter of life or death. Really.

I may sound overly dramatic. Perhaps it is just the Karate people I have known and know.

The more dangerous a Karate student becomes the more he or she must learn to hold back, unless and until it is a last resort.


Charles C. Goodin