When the Japanese Made a Joke About 'Kara-Te': How ‘China Hand ' (唐手 - Tang Shou) Become ‘Empty Hand’ (空手 - Kong Shou)! (16.8.2022)
Author’s Note: My view is that the change of name from ‘Tang Hand’ to ‘Empty-Hand' was a blatant act of Japanese imperialist aggression and was intended to render an art full of ‘Chinese’ influence – into a fabricated state ‘emptiness’ - that is ‘empty’ of any and all Chinese influence! I am told that within the Japanese cultural milieu, this change (initiated by the Japanese Authorities in Okinawa) is considered ‘funny’ and an obvious ‘joke’ - even today! The problem is that whilst the Chinese people readily understand and know this to be the case – the Western (and other Asian and non-Chinese) people do not understand this situation and actively participate in this anti-China ‘joke’ by uncritically practicing ‘Japanese’ Karate-Do – even though it is clearly a martial art with deep Chinese historical, cultural and political roots! I am not suggesting a boycott of Karate-Do, far from it - I am encouraging the spread and utilisation of ALL Chinese cultural activities - but whilst doing this I am suggesting that all those millions of people who practice Karate-Do (空手道 - Kong Shou Dao) or the older ‘Karate-Jitsu’ (空手術 - Kong Shou Shu) - remember that these arts are ‘Chinese’ in historical and cultural origin and should be known as ‘Tang Hand Way’ (唐手道 - Tang Shou Dao) or ‘Tang Hand Art’ ((唐手術 - Tang Shou Shu), etc. With regards to the Chinese ideogram ‘手’ (shou3), it denotes an ‘open’ hand with the palm clearly showing and the fingers spread. This denotes four-fingers and thumb with various explanations associated with its structure. Sometimes, for instance, this ideogram is confused with the very similar ‘毛’ (mao2) which denotes the wing of a bird (and is used to refer to ‘fur’ or the ‘hair’ of an animal). However, ‘手’ (shou3) is comprised of the central particle ‘于’ (yu2) which can be interpreted as an ancient wind instrument (possibly held to the mouth by the hand to be ‘blown’). ‘于’ (yu2) is also viewed as a simplified version of ‘於’ (yu2) - which denotes an object, or a thing placed in a definite position (sometimes also used to refer to a ‘crow’ or black-feathered bird). This ideogram also suggests a ‘sudden’ interruption in proceedings! Added to ‘于’ (yu2) is the particle ‘一’ (yi1) which on its own represents the number ‘1’ (one) or ‘I’ in Roman numerals! Therefore, ‘手’ (shou3) represents a hand and palm with fingers spread which is both ‘open’ and in ‘motion’ - whilst being both ‘creative’ and ‘decisive’. It can be ‘closed’ if required or any part of it (such as a ‘palm’ or an ‘edge’) can be used to influence the environment in the martial context! The hand is only ‘open’ whilst in transit. The hand is ‘moving’ in a ‘fluid’ and ‘effective’ many whilst not being ‘limited’ to the ‘shape’ or ‘form’ it has to ‘assume’ or temporally ‘occupy’ whilst expressing a bewildering array of martial shapes, expressions and forms! To counter the supposed ‘humour’ of Japanese imperialism – I would confirm that ‘Kara-Te’ is ‘full’ (and not ‘empty’) of Chinese cultural inheritance! I would further add that I am in support of ‘loving’ the Japanese people – and ALL the peoples of the world who practice and spread the art of ‘Kara-Te’! ACW (16.8.2022)
Following the Meiji Restoration of 1868 – the Japanese Imperialist government embarked upon a rapid modernisation drive and an equally rapid expansion of Japanese political and cultural influence beyond its geographical borders! It is perhaps the greatest of ironies that Okinawa (Ryukyu) - an island nation politically and culturally associated with China for over a thousand years – possessed hundreds of highly trained martial artists (as well as thousands of amateur practitioners) - but did not possess a professional armed force dedicated to its own national defence! This is why the Japanese Imperial Army was able to land its forces unopposed in Okinawa in 1879 and the Japanese government was able to completely annex the island nation and separate and isolate its people from any and all Chinese cultural influence! The Japanese language replaced the Chinese language (and superseded the Okinawan dialect), and Japanese history replaced Chinese history. Despite these successes, however, the Japanese Authorities had to tread carefully as Qing Imperial China protested and threatened to send troops to the area – whilst the robust Okinawan people were more than capable of defending themselves against the over-zealous Japanese police and military!
Japanese Master Yoshitaka Inokuma (猪熊佳孝) Practices Shuri (首里) Ryu Karate-Do - and is 99 years old! As of 2019 He Has Been Practicing for 65 Years! He Lives in Takamatsu City, Kagawa Prefecture, He Says He No Longer Wears a Gi (White Uniform) or a Coloured Belt. He is Currently an 8th Dan and Still Teaches Students! His Approach to Teaching Karate-Do Seems Very 'Chinese' in Essence!
According to conventual thinking, within the Okinawan dialect (which is a mixture of Chinese, Japanese and indigenous languages), the Chinese term ‘唐’ (Tang) used to refer to the Tang Dynasty and for centuries taken to mean the country of China – is pronounced ‘Kara’. The Japanese Authorities substituted the Chinese ‘唐’ (Tang-Kara) for the Kanji Japanese equivalent of ‘空’ (Kong-Kara). The name of the martial art appeared to stay the same on the surface – ‘Kara-Te' - but changed completely beneath the surface! This was an act of blatant imperialist domination on behalf of the Japanese themselves, and despite such people as Funakoshi Gichin playing along with it (pretending the change had something to do with the philosophy contained within the Buddhist Heart Sutra), its only purpose was the complete eradication of all Chinese cultural influence upon the island! This process saw ‘唐手’(Tang Shou – Kara Te) - or ‘China Open Hand Martial Art’ - become instead the Japanese art of ‘空手’ (Kong Shou – Kara-Te) or the ‘Empty Open Hand’ - despite these many martial systems often incorporating the extensive use of traditional martial arts weaponry! Despite this change, the problem the Japanese Authorities had was that very few of the prominent martial arts Masters on the island took any notice of the ‘new’ name and continued to teach their martial arts as being distinctly ‘Chinese’ in origin, nature and expression!
It was not until 1936 (the 11th year of the Showa era) that this matter was resolved. Japan had begun military hostilities in China during 1931 and was gearing-up for a more serious and widespread confrontation with China. To assist this process the Japanese government had been propagating extensive anti-China propaganda and informing the Japanese people not to associate themselves in anyway with Chinese culture. It did not take long for this negative attitude to infiltrate Okinawa and influence the martial arts community. In the Okinawan city of Naha, a symposium of many of the country’s leading martial artists was held to decide upon a distinctly ‘Japanese’ cultural expression for their respective martial arts. All the ‘Kara-Te’ Masters discussed this matter and unanimously decided to change the name of their martial art from ‘唐手’(Tang Shou – Kara Te) to ‘空手’ (Kong Shou – Kara-Te) - with each ‘denying’ or ‘rejecting’ any historical or cultural link with China! Despite Japan losing the Pacific War (1941-1945) it had started with the US, and the Second Sino-Japanese (1937-1945) it had started with China (Japan actually began hostilities in Manchuria during 1931) - the situation regarding ‘Kara-Te’ did not change. Indeed, the post-1945 US government facilitated the spread of ‘Kara-Te’ around the world as a means to eradicate and obscure all Chinese martial cultural influences throughout the West! Despite Japanese Imperialism killing millions throughout Asia during the 1930s and 1940s – the racially motivated change of ‘Chinese Hand’ to ‘Empty Hand’ was allowed to hold fast despite making no historical or logical sense whatsoever! This is even true amongst reasonably intelligent Westerners who would otherwise protest about any form of racism should they encounter it! Indeed, Okinawan people should throw-off the cloak of Japanese and US oppression and reclaim their martial arts as being ‘Chinese Hand’ - whilst remaining proud of this fact!
Chinese Language Source:
Translator’s Note: Although ‘劍‘ is pronounced ‘Jian’ within Putonghua (which is the dialect of the Chinese language spoken in Beijing) - also known in the West as ‘Mandarin’ (the language of the scholar-officials) - within the Hakka language ‘劍‘, is pronounced ‘Kiam’ (in the ‘Sixian’ variant) and ‘giam’ (in the ‘Meixian’ version). As the Hakka language is considered far older as the language of Northern China used by the ruling elites, It would seem that ‘kiam’ and ‘giam’ were the normal ways of pronouncing ‘劍‘ - and that the Cantonese people of the South (originally the ‘Tang’ people of the North before they migrated en masse) - logically adopted ‘gim’ as their rendition of ‘劍’. Of course, I am assuming that the Hakka pronunciation is ‘older’ and probably the ‘original’ rendition of ‘劍‘. The Hakka people, in full or in part, probably ruled China through the Qin and Han dynasties from the North of China (but not Beijing), before being forced into a number of historical migrations Southward over two-thousand years. Certainly, our ancestral ‘Hakka’ village in the Sai Kung area of the New Territories of Hong Kong not only upholds the Hakka martial traditions of North China – but when I was young, we were taught to refer to the ‘long sword’ as the ‘giam’ - a tradition we retain to this day. The ‘long sword’ is used within our practice of the single and double sword routines as is exclusively associated with advanced Taijiquan practice. ACW (21.2.2021)
This ideogram dates back to the Bronze Inscription Characters of the Shang and Zhou Dynasties (c. 1600 BCE – 300 BCE) and was depicted in the following manner (amongst a number of similar of variants):
This means that swords designed to be ‘long’ and ‘thin’ to varying degrees (made out of metal) probably developed during this era. Today, these ‘劍‘ (jian4) swords are around three-foot long and constructed from a sharp double-edged blade. Although designed for the expert (and ‘effortless’) ‘piercing’ of the opponent – such a weapon can be used to ‘hack’ and ‘slash’ if the situation demands (although this is considered very much a ‘secondary’ skill). The Confucian scholar carries this type of sword as a symbol of his ‘learning’ and his ‘academic’ authority – although like with the bow and arrow – such a scholar was expected to be a ‘Master’ of self-defence, particularly if he held Public Office. The opponent’s defence (and body) must be decisively penetrated without any undue effort due to a perfect timing, positioning and movement. Furthermore, as such a scholar possesses a ‘calm’ and ‘wise’ mind – at no point in the execution of his sword technique does his weapon become ‘entangled’ with the weapon of the opponent! All ‘movements’ pursued with the long-sword must be effortless and ‘touch’ nothing other than the surface of the body that is to be ‘pierced’.
‘劍‘ (jian4) is composed of the left-hand particle ‘僉’ (qian1) - the top part of which is ‘亼’ (ji2) - an ‘inverted mouth’ that is used here, to denote the meaning of ‘gathering in from three-sides'. The bottom part of which uses a double ‘兄’ (xiong1) which refers to ‘an elder brother’. The right-hand particle is ‘刂’ (dao1) which refers to a ‘knife’ or a ‘single-edged; blade. ‘刂’ (dao1) is a contraction of ‘刀’ which within the Bronze Inscription Characters is drawn in this way (despite the character dating further back to the Oracle Bone Inscriptions:
When all this data is assembled into the ‘劍‘ (jian4) ideogram – it seems (to me) to read ‘community defence’. The elders of the community – symbolised by two mature but physically ‘fit’ older brothers used to bearing responsibility – unite to ‘protect’ a community (that is drawn together on three-sides) to form a more ‘solid’ centre that is easier to defend with ‘weaponry’. The ‘weapon’ in question has evolved from a simple (and shorter) single-edged blade – to that of a longer double-edged ‘sabre’ or ‘sword’ that requires an incredible amount of skill to use effectively in combat. As ‘劍‘ (jian4) is so complex when compared to the far simpler ‘‘刀’ ideogram depicting a short-knife – it would seem that an element of ‘elaborate’ ritual is implied in the formulation of a long-sword' that extends to its ‘ownership’ in peace-time, and its ‘usage’ in times of war!
Certainly, Confucian scholars are considered academic ‘warriors’ who often carry the scabbarded long-sword in their right-hand which means they have no intention of ‘drawing’ and ‘using’ it. Order within society is maintained simply by the ‘presence’ (and the ‘use’) of the long-sword – although this level of harmony and tranquillity manifest in the outer world implies exactly same level of attainment within the mind and body of the scholar-warrior! Should a ‘divine’ violence be required on the physical plane, then the scholar-warrior carefully places the scabbarded long-sword carefully into his left-hand whilst he right-hand secures a firm grip upon the long-sword handle... Having to resort to ‘violence’, however, would be thought of as a ‘failure’ by the scholar-warrior – as ‘peace’ is always preferable to ‘violence’.
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.