I love training in traditional karate for many reasons. One of those is the culture of the Ryukyu* people. These island dwellers have strong values that are worth learning about and promoting. One of those things that they value, and have valued highly for hundreds of years, is freedom.
A History of Freedom
George H. Kerr’s book, Okinawa: The History of an Island People, holds a detailed account of the long history of this region. He quotes descriptions from traders, including Thomé Pires, who wrote about the Ryukyuan traders around 1512-1515. “They are very truthful men. They do not buy slaves, nor would they sell one of their own men for the whole world, and they would die over this…”
The Ryukyu king and royalty had soldiers for protection, but the citizens did not. Their protection was up to them. And that included the protection of their freedom. I believe that this is why the citizens of Ryukyu found the life protection skills of martial arts so useful. And so they developed them and trained in them.
Much more recently, in 1964, the Okinawan karate master Shigeru Nakamura created the Guiding Principles. These are values and rules for karate students. He wrote them on behalf of his Okinawan Kempo Karate Dojo, and now we have a detailed English translation. Guiding Principle number four, in its entirety, reads, “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 are lofty ideals. But throughout the Guiding Principles it is apparent that Nakamura Sensei is talking about our daily, regular actions. A peaceful and free world is not a pie-in-the-sky pipe dream. It is an ideal for us to keep in mind daily as we create our world around us. We must work hard to be warriors (for Okinawans that means protectors) building a world that includes freedom. If we keep the big picture in mind, it will help us to choose and create our daily actions that will put us on a path toward creating that better world.
*The Ryukyu Kingdom, is the original name for the islands that are now called Okinawa. It is a prefecture of Japan, so now it is technically Okinawa, Japan. But long ago, the Ryukyu Kingdom was an independent country despite being a small island situated between several much bigger and more powerful countries. The Ryukyuan people, in their history, showed diplomacy, perseverance and survival, and regard for human life, among other things. These are the people who developed their martial arts through centuries. They brought karate to mainland Japan over 100 years ago, which ultimately introduced it to the world.