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Karate: an Intangible Cultural Heritage -

Evolved within a Diaspora - Minority Commune

Synopsis/Pre-reading for April 24, 2014 and July 31, 2014

Lecture by Gosei Yamaguchi


April 24, 2014

The karate instructors, in Okinawa, refer to the purpose of learning the art of karate

through the phrase, “hitoni utarezu, hitoutazu, kotonaki, kotowo, mototosuru.”

Translated, this means “...thus no one can harm you nor can you harm anyone,” and as

such both parties survive without hurting or eliminating others.

Another phrase they would introduce to you is, ”karate ni sente nashi” which means

“karate practitioners do not make the first move.” The practitioner never initiates a

confrontation; the first action taken by you is to defend yourself from an individual who

intends to harm you physically. This concept is reflected in all kata in that kata always

begin with a block. However, you counter this first attempt of defense by an offensive

move with all katas concluding with a defensive move.

Many have understood the principle behind karate as a discipline of self defense. And

yet, this interpretation has been mistakenly used to justify an act that could be used

against the offender that would punish them, and if necessary, fatally harm them. In

some Christian societies, there is a sentiment to justify an act of violence if that violence

was a result of defending one’s self or family.

On the other hand, ethnic cultures who are a minority within the community or a host

nation, develop a wisdom in order to survive - they have learned that it is not

advantageous to harm a member of the authority class or a member of the majority.

Within a ghetto or minority commune, the legal and civil rights of the minority may be

poorly protected by the host state or authority, therefore, their acts of self-defense will not

be protected.

Ryukyu or Okinawa once was a colony of the Satsuma clan of Japan and consequently

became a prefecture of Japan during the 19th century. While the islanders are now

Japanese citizens, they have maintained their traditional social ethics as reflected by their

cultural heritage.

Between 1930 - 1940, university students from mainland Japan were attracted to the

exotic Okinawa-originated martial arts, 唐手. They referred to this art as “karate” which

means “Chinese hand.”

This group modified the Okinawan art to include free-sparring forms despite the fact that

free sparring was strongly discouraged in Okinawa by Okinawans. At the end of the

Pacific War, during the U.S. occupation of Japan, General Douglas MacArthur purged

Budokukai, the Japanese legislature of martial arts. He and his staff were threatened by

the very institution which promoted military aggression of the Japanese empire.

Consequently, most of the martial arts as well as karate, were reformed into a competitive

sport in order to survive during the U.S. occupation of Japan.

It is my view that the tournament aspect of karate represents only a part of the art. I have

reminded the karate society in Japan to reevaluate the origin of the art as it evolved in

Okinawa. I suggested to my fellow instructors in Japan that their teaching method and

practices be more closely informed by teachings from the era of Okinawa, bringing about

a renaissance of karate. The athletic events of contests originated in ancient Greece. The

Olympic events started as far back as 6th century BC. The contest aspect of events in

Hellenism also contributed to the spectacles for public entertainment. Romans adapted

these ideas into the contests among gladiators of which we are familiar today.

To make martial arts more palatable to the authorities of the West, the practices were

converted into sports events as a political gesture to acquiesce to the war victors. This

enabled the arts to continue and the associated heritage maintained.

Since the reformation era beginning in 1864, the Japanese swiftly converted their

political and social structure into a nation state adopted from the European political

structure. According to 19th century historians, ancient Greek political philosophy

influenced Western culture. The concept of nationalism derived from the Greek political

philosophy, “big nation with big roots.” To convert the art of karate into the western

concept of sport was successful from a political point of view. However, in the process,

most Japanese karate instructors lost the thread in that they had lost the origin of the art.

The terms “post-colonialism,” “nationalism,” “globalism,” and “multicultural nation”

have been offered by scholars of the social sciences as concepts for intellectual discourse.

In this lecture I will explain to you the metaphysical ideals taught by the karate founders

in Okinawa and how these ideals fit into the modern multi-cultural nation (such as the

U.S.) as well as global society of our time.

July 31, 2014


July 31, 2014

The narrative of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11.1-9) describes how the variety of

different languages confused people, and therefore, instead of remaining in one

centralized community, the people scattered throughout the face of the earth.

That event has come to symbolize a condition which has not changed since those biblical

times. Our current international political society is composed of nations where

populations speak different mother tongues and are of different genetic make-up. This

has led to suffering among many particularly among the immigrant minority within the

hosting nation.

For example, the United States’ constitution and its various laws and regulations serve to

protect the basic human rights of the individual, including minority citizens. The United

States could represent a microcosm of a multicultural society, and extendable to the world

at large.

The Okinawan concept of the art of karate is effective as an educational tool to establish a

common sense of global citizenship. Every citizen needs to develop a mentality whereby

coexisting with different groups of people is a critical component of its values and

ideologies. To pass these values on to our children so that they are ready for that society

which then enables the society to flourish, we need an educational model to build the


The Okinawan mentality, “hitoni utarezu, hitoutazu, kotonaki, kotowo, mototosuru.”

would be effective to shape such a society.

The traditional hierarchical society, has groups of minorities who suffer and are

victimized by the hosting majority people and the authority the majority possess. Some

of those victimized have experienced many generations of anger, regret and envy. As

quoted by scholars of sociology, there is a significant sociological and psychological

tendency for a member of the minority community to feel some degree of hostility toward

the majority. The French term, “ressentiment”, is thus applied.

The late August Wilson, an African American playwright wrote the Pulitzer Prize

winning play, “Fences.” Here he presents a significant example of the black American

society and its resentment toward the majority.

We all could be a minority in one way or another due to our mother tongue, gender, racial

and physical appearance, financial status, political beliefs, educational and career status,

and even religious beliefs.

In this lecture, I would like to point out how to understand an exploited group of people

by studying “ressentiment” and how the Okinawan concept can ameliorate our

understanding of the multicultural world.


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