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The #1 Rule of Martial Arts

Two karate-ka sparring in a dojo

The Humble Hero

Shortly after the end of the Second World War, the residents of a quiet street in Osaka were startled to hear shouts of anger, and the low, anguished moans of a sole voice.

The residents streamed out of their homes to find the source of the commotion: seven inebriated foreigners mercilessly beating on a Japanese man who was curled up in a ball on the ground, bleeding heavily.

“Please help me!” he cried.

No one moved. Japan had, after all, just lost the war, and the Osakans feared retaliation from the occupying authorities. They stood by helplessly as the drunks continued to beat the man.

Suddenly, a man elbowed his way through the crowd, toward the whimpering and now badly beaten man. He picked him up by his arms, dragged him to the edge of the crowd and to an onlooker, he ordered, “Take this man to a hospital, quickly!” 

A small crowd of people tended to the wounded man, whisking him away.

The good samaritan turned to face the drunks who wasted no time bombarding him with a burst of explosive, yet uncoordinated fist rage. They pushed and punched the man, shouting hostilities and making repeatedly fruitless attempts to knock him to the ground. 

Graphic of man man practicing martial arts with a weapon

Despite now bleeding from his mouth and nose, the man stood motionless and watched as the seven men pounded his body.

The crowd was awestruck.

“Why doesn’t he fight back?”

“They may as well be punching an oak tree for all the damage they are doing.”

“They are like feeble toddlers trying to defeat a grown man,” 

The bloodied man was now smiling as if to say, 

“Little boys, don’t you think the game is over? Go home.” 

One by one, the drunks realized their efforts were useless against this man. Any fun that existed quickly evaporated.

The men retreated, seven pairs of eyes locked into their adversary. Despite the wounds inflicted, they understood that victory was not theirs. They looked around at the crowd, then at each other, and fled. 

The good samaritan calmly wiped the blood from his face and turned to the crowd. He bowed and slowly walked away. 

In the crowd, a young man who had watched the whole scene, turned to the elderly man next to him and said, 

“I recognize that man. He is a karate sensei. He could have defeated those men. Why did he let them beat him like that?” 

The  elderly man said, 

“He knew these men would have killed that poor man and instead, he let them beat on him because he knew he could take their blows.”

The Mirroring of Energy

Martial arts training is an expression of self-defense. If an attacker attempts to strike you, you must find a way to deal with this energy or risk injury and possible death. After all, a broken knee never fully heals, a punctured eye will never see, and a blow to the skull will likely end in your death. 

The most logical solution to such an attack is to return the energy back to its source. If the attack is high intensity, then the required response to this attack will be high intensity, otherwise you will be overcome. This is not a strategy to employ in the spirit of anger or revenge but of self-preservation, where the ultimate goal is to bring the violence to an end as quickly as possible.

Heart as the Center

Sensei Richard Kim, a highly revered martial artist who has been instrumental in the making of The Vancouver Dojo through his teachings, wrote in his book, The Weaponless Warriors,

Where the morality of karate is missing, there is no karate.” 

Graphic of man wearing a karate gi and bowing.

All martial arts embody this sentiment.

Unfortunately, there may be times in our lives when we are faced with violence. Despite this reality, no person has the right to lay a finger on another without consent and if they do, the receiving person has a right to refuse. In the martial arts, this “refusal” is manifested as the transfer of energy, back to the aggressor.

Martial arts begin and end, not with aggression but with defense. This is the essence of the martial arts and the #1 rule.