A Peaceful and Free World: An Okinawan Ideal

Sakugawa O Sensei created our traditional Dojo Kun over 200 years ago. He lived, trained and taught karate in his community in the Ryukyu Kingdom (now known as Okinawa). The five Dojo Kun precepts make up a general moral code that can help anyone improve their own life. (That is why I promote them in my Dojo Kun Character Book children’s series.) More recently, Nakamura O Sensei wrote the Guiding Principles of traditional Okinawan karate on February 15th, 1964. More for martial artists, these include advice about training. Interestingly, one Guiding Principle talks about a peaceful and free world.

The Guiding Principle that Upholds a Peaceful and Free World

I know Guiding Principle number four’s English version. It is, “Strive to be a warrior for the construction of a peaceful and free world, by using the character building, morality and spirituality contained in the way of karate.” These words show the traditional values of the Ryukyu kingdom.

And they contain some of the most powerful words in Nakamura Sensei’s instructional document. Especially considering the tumultuous struggles of Ryukyu history. Even after all of the turbulence, Nakamura O Sensei still held high the ideal of a peaceful and free world. In fact, he instructed his students (and by extension, traditional martial artists in current times) to build such a world.

The Ryukyu Kingdom was a small island situated (strategically for ancient sailors) between Japan and China. And it is also between Japan and the Philippines. Ships would stop there in their travels to trade for fresh water, food and other goods. Pirates would stop there to steal goods and kidnap people to be ship hands and slaves.

But from the start, the Ryukyu people valued freedom. The book Okinawa: The History of an Island People has a written account from a visitor to the island centuries ago. He wrote, “They do not buy slaves, nor would they sell one of their own men for the whole world, and they would die over this…”

Peaceful History of the Ryukyu Kingdom

The Ryukyu Kingdom carefully navigated their foreign affairs to keep the peace. They had to show respect and deference to both of their superpower neighbors: China and Japan. For a number of years, both larger countries considered the Ryukyu Islands to be their own tributary.

Eventually, Japan took over the small island kingdom by force and threat of violence. The Ryukyu Kingdom acquiesced instead of fighting a war they couldn’t win. Such a war would have meant the death of most of their men. They made the peaceful, logical decision to go along with the Japanese takeover. And that was better than the alternative. Because of their decision, we still have some of their traditional values today. Many of those are taught through traditional Okinawan karate. They made the decision for a peaceful and relatively free world for the majority of their citizens.

War and Control in Okinawa

Then World War II came and the bloodbath of the Battle of Okinawa decimated their island. Unfortunately, there was additional self-inflicted violence added to the brutality of war. Many Okinawans took their own lives when the Allied soldiers arrived. The Japanese propaganda had them believing that was a better fate than what westerners would do to them. Not peaceful and not free at all.

Anger and despair could be an understandable conclusion for Okinawans by the second half of the 20th century. But they still looked at the bright side of the modern conveniences they received from both Japan and the west. And they still searched for harmony and freedom.

So much so, that in the 1960s, Nakamura O Sensei instructed karateka to try really hard to stand up for, and be willing to fight for, and build, a better world. That better place he envisioned is a peaceful and free world. How can we do that? As Nakamura O Sensei said, use the positive character traits, morals and spirituality found in the way of karate. One person at a time, one step at a time, one thing at a time. Keep on striving.

-Jenifer Tull-Gauger

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