In December 1996, Nagamine Sensei came to Hawaii
to receive acknowledgment of his Zen realization--Ken Zen Ichinyo
(Karate and Zen in Oneness) from the Archbishop of Daihonzan Chozen-ji
Tanouye Rotaishi, the 84th Dharma Successor of Rinzai Zen. The
following is his speech given at a Testimonial Dinner held in his
honor for his commitment to world peace through the Way of Karate.
Karate is a martial art born and raised
in an isolated island chain in the Pacific--Okinawa. Its marvelous trait
has been widely recognized and has established world wide popularity.
Today it is also widely acknowledged that Okinawa is the main breeding
ground of karate-do.
It is a well known fact that Okinawa’s
karate culture has expanded all over the world. The School of Shorin
Karate has established branch dojos in such various places as India,
Germany, the United Kingdom and Australia. Other schools of Karate have
also established their own branch dojos in similar locations. As such, in
terms of numbers, karate has grown to the extent which we had never
Karate-do is a culture of hand to hand
fighting sprung from a technique of fist fighting. Every country has its
own art of hand to hand fighting, which is based on the human nature of
self defense and survival of the species. The art of hand to hand fighting
can be categorized into two types based on the traits and cultural
standard of the people of each country. The first type is the one
sublimated into sports. The second type is martial arts (budo)
which includes the development of virtue.
Karate-do is definitely a martial way,
and its identity lies in do or principles. Any martial art without
proper training of the mind turns into beastly behavior. Martial way
training is a process to put forth effort to reach an eventual stage of
"emptiness". What you attain through this training is called butoku
(principles of warriors).
I cannot help thinking that post war
martial arts in Japan, possibly because of the influence of occupation
policies, have turned into just martial technique and have lost their
substance. Martial art students tend to be overly concerned with wins and
losses and only seek reputation and awards. I am truly concerned with the
fact that we have forgotten the way of mind - shin-zen-bi (truth,
honesty and beauty) and lost the essence of the martial way.
In recognizing the contemporary trend,
Okinawa being considered the Mecca of karate-do, I would like to take
advantage of this opportunity to discuss the origin of Okinawa karate in
reference to the history of Okinawa, its legends as well as its
traditional folk songs and proverbs.
I truly believe that it is the duty of
Okinawa karate people to adapt the principle of shin-gi-tai-ichinyo,
(oneness of mind-technique-body), to the modern world, to pursue the
traditional spirit of shin-zen-bi (truth, honesty and beauty), and
to proudly transfer karate-do to future generations.
Kokoro (Spirit) of Okinawa (Ryukyu)
Mr. Kazuo Tatsuo, an editor of Asahi
Shimbun newspaper, has an essay titled "Ryukyu Islands." In this
essay, he states:
I had a chance to ask Mr. Shuncho Hiki,
an excellent historian from Okinawa, what is the Kokoro or spirit of
Okinawa (Ryukyu). Mr. Hiki responded that it was guchoku, or
being simple and pure. Mr. Hiki further explained that Okinawans are
simple and pure but have deep inner strength. Because of this, they have
difficulty in changing or adapting to circumstances. Mr. Hiki added "I
have lived for over 90 years. I have not been good at adapting to
circumstances, because of which I have incurred losses. However, I feel
this is acceptable for me."
In Okinawa, there is a saying, "your
mind does not get disturbed by being beaten up, but by (you) beating up
others." Simply speaking, it means that Okinawans prefer or accept the
life style of being tricked and being taken advantage of, rather than
hurting other people or asserting tricks on them. This saying expresses
the typical Okinawan spirit of being simple and pure. The idea of being
simple is not the thought of those controlling or governing other people;
or those who cunningly adapt to circumstances to be controlled; or of
subjects just giving into the fate of being governed.
I believe the kokoro or spirit of
Okinawa is one which shows an extreme non-resisting resistance action,
beyond our imagination, when someone is cornered and/or when standing up
What was brought about from banning
Shoshin-O was enthroned at the age of
thirteen. He, a believer of Buddhism, had many temples built in various
areas. He stripped the local lords of weapons such as swords and spears
and had them put away in warehouses inside Shuri Castle. He then declared
that weapons should be used only to defend the nation and forbade the
people from using any weapons for personal struggles. Moreover, he
relocated the local lords to Shuri Castle and had them appointed as
representatives to govern their territory. This was the way Shoshin-O
eliminated the possibilities of fighting and stripped the lords of any
means of revolting.
Chusan Kingdom, thanks to wisdom of
Shoshin-O, could enjoy peaceful years until the invasion of Satsuma in
1609. It was a well known story that Napoleon could not help exclaiming
"What? How could such peaceful islands exist in this world without any
weapons!" when he was informed of Ryukyu Islands by a visiting British
It is ironic that the people of this
peaceful island, not having any weapons, were put under a hellish misery
by the ruling Satsuma. Ryukyu people, under the tyrannical governance of
Satsuma, bearing the mind-set of being simple and pure, eventually
expressed an extreme action of rejection, and created te (karate),
and various other splendid cultural arts through the spirit of
non-resisting resistance. History indicates that people of Ryukyu have
developed, without holding arms, an honorable and peaceful kingdom of
culture for over 300 years.
View of death by the Ryukyu people --
its difference from those of Japanese culture
There once existed a custom of
attendants setting themselves on fire following the death of their master.
This custom was stopped by Shoshin-O who forbade people from committing
immolation approximately 500 years ago in 1477. One day, Shoshin-O, who
had just lost his mother, was deep in sorrow. He noticed a boy crying out
loud. After inquiring the reason from the boy, he was informed that the
boy had been ordered to immolate himself. The boy said, "My mother does
not know that I was ordered to immolate myself. How deeply saddened she
will be when she finds out that I am dead!" Deeply disturbed by the severe
fate of being immolated and sympathizing with the depressed feeling of the
boy, Shoshin-O decided to ban immolation. This historical episode reveals
how much the Ryukyu people respected life.
There is a Ryukyu chant which reads:
"In a world full of conflict and
strife, do not cry over the condition of the world, your life is the
This chant, composed by well known
Ryukyu artist, Yamazato Nagayoshi, was written to describe the feeling of
Shotai-O, the last king of the Shuri Clan, as he was evacuating his
castle. Ryukyu people sublimed their respect of life, beginning with the
ban on immolation, up to the stage of reverence.
A Ryukyu proverb describing the mind of
a Ryukyu warrior says, "even if you lose your glory, you should never give
up your life." In other words, this proverb means that even if you lose
your class or rank because of a new regime, you should not waste your life
but try your best to survive the worst and then stand up again.
The most precious treasure in this world
is your life. It is because without your life, you cannot accomplish
The order banning immolation was issued
by the Edo Bakuhu government in 1663. Let me discuss the viewpoint towards
life from the Japanese bushido (Yamato Damashi-Spirit).
Miyamoto Musashi is a well known sword
master. He was a master who, through training of Japanese swordsmanship,
comprehended and mastered philosophy, religion, values and arts. He left a
book titled Gorin-No-Sho (Book of Five Rings) to his followers. A
distillation of Musashi’s ideas was contained in Doku-Ko-Do,
(Principles of Going Alone). Doku-Ko Do consisted of 21
articles, which he drafted to give to one of his senior disciples, Terao
Magonojyo, on May 12, 1654. In Article 20, he wrote Mi o sutetemo myori
wa sutezu - "Even though you may have to sacrifice yourself, you
should not throw away your honor." In other words, he meant that if and
when you disregard your honor, you are failing to follow do, principles,
and gi, justice. In short, we should try to defend our honor even though
we may need to sacrifice our life.
I would like to talk about Hagakure
Bushido, Hagakure Principles of Samurai or Japanese Warrior. Yamamoto
Tsunetomo, the sage narrator of Hagakure, was born at the castle
town of Saga in 1659 and died at the age of 61 in 1719. Hagakure, a
dictation of his philosophy, was published in 1716. Hagakure was
adopted as a sole text book to instruct bushido to the samurai of
the Saga clan. The spirit of Hagakure is summarized in the
following four oaths:
In bushido, never be left behind.
Always be ready to serve your master.
Be dutiful to your parents.
Be merciful at all time and assist other people.
The Hagakure stated that if you
pray these four oaths to Buddha and the Heavens every morning, then you
will be able to receive their energy.
The Japanese military, who led the
Japanese people into World War II, claimed that it was a sacred war not
only to the Japanese but to the world and emphasized the essence of
Hagakure Bushido as "always be ready to die". They claimed that
Hagakure was the same as the military way of thinking, taking the
lives of soldiers very lightly and leading millions of people to perish.
In the post war era of Japan, we are in
the wave of Kokusai-ka or internationalization. The people of the world
are more interested in knowing the traditional culture of Japan which has
been the fundamental basis of the Japanese economic growth. However, many
of the Japanese are not confident enough to explain our culture to
outsiders. Taking advantage of strength in the Japanese economy, more than
ten million Japanese are visiting abroad and having opportunities to meet
many foreign people. I am very concerned that the foreigners will form a
misunderstanding that the Japanese culture is economically based and
consists of only people with money.
In the historical perspective, a key
factor of a nation being able to enjoy a healthy growth has been to
maintain culture in one hand and martial arts in the other hand. That is,
maintaining both of the above was critical in governing a nation.
True bushido could be explained
in the following saying, "the best victory is the one attained without a
battle." A group of us were deeply concerned that in the post war era,
this supreme spirit has been lost. In 1993, we decided to establish
Butoku Gakkai (Warriors’ Virtue Association) under the leadership of
Mr. Saburo Ishimoto, President of Chuo-Gakuin, and several other prominent
people. At the beginning of our charter, it is declared that:
Martial arts and virtue must be
unified as one.
Martial arts without virtue is simply violence.
Martial arts with virtue will purify society and culture shall flourish.
Karate master, Matsumura Shokon, who was
born in Shuri, Ryukyu in 1809, taught three consecutive kings seven
virtues to serve as guidelines for karate which contributed to maintenance
of Ryukyu as a peaceful kingdom.
We, the people of Ryukyu, have learned
the importance of human life through the banning of immolation. We also
have learned human piety from the governance of religion and politics
together. Moreover, we have created a spirit of mutual assistance. Through
these lessons, island people, in peace without any weapons, have
formulated an unprecedented and incomparable philosophy of karate ni
sente nashi or "fists that does not strike first."
Translator’s note: Literally
translated karate ni sente nashi says "fists that does not strike
first" or "not hitting first". A deeper extension of the translation is
"the fists that give life". As written in Nagamine Sensei’s Okinawa
no Karate-Do: "As a karate-ka, the kokoro
(spirit/mind) of shin-gi-tai (mind-technique-body) is attained
through spiritual forging in zazen. When oneness of the three,
shin-gi-tai, is attained through spiritual forging, a true katsu
jin ken (the fist of a person who gives life) emerges and for the
first time one is able to win without a fight. Then one will truly
understand karate ni sente nashi.
Ryukyu has overcome the tyranny of
Satsuma which had lasted over 300 years since its invasion by adopting the
extremely strong philosophy of resistance without resistance, as was
described by Hiki Shuncho.
Karate, primarily a martial technique of
self defense, has formulated a philosophy of karate ni sente nashi
which still exists today. This philosophy could not be understood by the
people based on the distorted interpretation of bushido spirit
which took human life lightly. In a time when all the people but yourself
are enemies, it was considered a matter of fact that you, holding swords
on your side and carrying guns that were ready at all times, have to kill
others to save your own life. The Pearl Harbor attack is one good example.
I cannot help but admire the philosophy of karate ni sente nashi
formulated by our predecessors whenever I see people in the world who are
put in the midst of anguish because of weapons.
I truly believe that exercising the
philosophy of karate ni sente nashi is the basis of true peace in
the world. I have learned it from the history of Ryukyu in which they
showed their respect toward human life and created a peaceful and wealthy
kingdom of Ryukyu.
I would like to emphasize here that
Ryukyu people’s resistance with respect to the issue of scaling down the
size of United States armed forces in Okinawa is a good example of
exercising the supreme right destined to Ryukyu people from the Heavens.
The people of Okinawa would never be pushed back even if governing people
try to force the issue. In the end, the resolve of the people will surface
and press the governments of Japan and the United States into a corner by
forcing a popular vote by the people. I have to say that both governments
should be fully aware of this. People will not be fooled by a short term
I truly hope that the people in the
world would change their mind-set of aggression and first-strike to a
philosophy of karate ni sente nashi. It is only through this
philosophy that world peace will be achieved.