I Practice The Way Of The Empty Hand, But I’m Not Always Empty-Handed

For the most part, when people ask me what martial arts I study, I tell them I do Karate Do, or the Way of the Empty Hand. “Karate”, as it’s known in the Western hemisphere, is a striking art that predominantly includes punching, kicking, knee and elbow strikes as well as a variety of blocks and open hand techniques (hence the name).

Although different schools will tell the history differently, all karate is descendent from Chinese martial arts.  This is a hard reality.  In fact, karate was create and adopted on Okinawa in the mid to late 1300’s, after large groups of Chinese families moved to the Ryukyu Islands and introduced aspects of their culture, including martial arts.  There have been some mild exceptions, such as the originator of my style having migrated to China and studied with the monks, who subsequently taught him the style of Kung Fu he brought back and adapted to become a style of karate.

But before I get lost in a history lesson, many schools of karate include the use of weapons, but they mainly focus on empty-hand fighting because, well… karate MEANS “empty hand”!  But there have been a number of weapons incorporated over the decades including, but not limited to the tonfa, bo staff, sai and nunchaku.  But the primary style I’ve studied over the past three decades, Uechi Ryu,has not included the use of weapons.

So what do you do if you find yourself in a self-defense situation where your opponent has a weapon in his/her hand?  Sure, it’s great to have confidence in your hands and feet but let’s be realistic: if someone swings a baseball bat at me, I’d feel a lot better if I could block it with a similar weapon (especially if getting the hell out of there isn’t an option).

An aspect of my martial arts training that I have rarely spoken of, is my weapons training.  I’ve always been a firm believer that one must focus one’s attention on one style at a time.  But realistically, should you be lacking a piece to this puzzle, you should make every effort to fill that gap.  That’s what brought me to Kendo.

Without slipping into ANOTHER history lesson, Kendo or “The Way of the Sword” is a Japanese martial art that focuses on the use of the sword.  It is a descendent of Kenjutsu.  The carrying of swords by the samurai and warrior class was outlawed in the late 1800’s during the Meiji Restoration, but police and military were still permitted to carry a sword. In an attempt to try and standardize the style of sword techniques that police would use, certain techniques and forms were uniformly adopted, and this birthed the art of Kendo.  More or less.  There’s a long history involved, but it’s too long for me to write all of it.

Back in 1994, I began studying the sword under an instructor back in New Brunswick. I had a couple of options, such as a local school of Kobudo,which is the Okinawan style of weapons training.  I felt this would be a good addition to my repertoire, since I was studying an Okinawan style of karate anyway.  Made sense, right?  But the multiple weapons and all their associated forms and techniques left me confused and I quickly lost interest.  It flew in the face of my belief that one must focus on one aspect in order to master it.  So when I found the Kendo school, I was enthused.

I studied for about 11 years, if memory serves correct.  During that time, I was exposed to techniques, forms and strengthening exercises that used the sword.  I thought a sword was pretty badass, if I’m being honest.  I had the benefit of focusing my attentions on one weapon, and it was a cool one.  If you think about it, most civilizations have had swords included in their history at some point.  So it was a fluid and practical weapon to learn.  My parents even bought me my first sword, as they had learned their lesson many years before about how effective “forbidding” me to study any fighting art had been for them.

I also considered it the best weapon to adapt to non-bladed situations.  What I mean by this, is if I find myself in a self-defense situation, the Kendo techniques can be applied to just about any length of material I wrap my hands around; a stick, broom handle, a pipe… anything!  In fact, even though it’s been almost 20 years I still remember enough of my Kendo training to apply some of the basic concepts to the kali sticks I use in Kendo while doing escrima.  And one of the defense tools I use on the job also allows for the application of Kendo techniques, even if it is not a sword.

So yes, it’s always best to focus your attentions on one style of martial arts at a time.  It’s exceptionally hard to master techniques from multiple style at the same time. Eventually, the techniques and forms begin to blend together and become convoluted.  But there’s nothing wrong with allowing yourself to keep an open mind to other possibilities.  And supplementing one “type” of training with another is certainly not a bad idea either. ☯

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I am a practitioner of the martial arts and student of the Buddhist faith. I have been a Type 1 Diabetic since I was 4 years old and have been fighting the uphill battle it includes ever since. I enjoy fitness and health and looking for new ways to improve both, as well as examining the many questions of life. Although I have no formal medical training, I have amassed a wealth of knowledge regarding health, Diabetes, martial arts as well as Buddhism and philosophy. My goal is to share this information with the world, and perhaps provide some sarcastic humour along the way. Welcome!

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