No first attack in Karate

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    Gichin Funakoshi is famous for saying that there was “No first attack in Karate”, but in a description of what to do in a street confrontation in ‘Karate Do Kyohan’ he says (I paraphrase); ‘if you cannot escape then distract the opponent and strike them as hard as you can in a vital spot.’ This means that you would be striking first.
    I have come to the conclusion that what he means is that a Karateka should not start a confrontation, should do all they can to talk one down if it starts or escape if possible but if not possible they should strike first and finish the conflict if no other way can be found to stop the violence.
    In Britain you are guilty of assault once you have raised your hands threateningly – therefore once someone begins to make threatening gestures I believe it is time to act decisively if there is no alternative.
    As a veteran of the mental health service and a specialist in working with violent people on the street I know how fast violence can erupt at close quarters and that if you leave your response too late you can find yourself in trouble fast.
    Grappling both vertical and horizontal is a backup for me rather than a first choice.
    What are people’s feelings about this.


    As a person who has taken up martial arts in my early fifties, I total agree with view that karate should be used as a last resort. I currently work in the security field where I have daily contact with drug addicts and parolees. I feel more confident today as I study Shotokan and TKD, but as a police officer stated so wisely a few years ago, “We become to lax and then suddenly you have a situation.”

    Personally, I believe our society in the US has changed and has become more violent. Very good observations of human behavior actordaddy.


    I agree that we should be very vigilant.In self defense, if I was attacked or faced with impending doom I would target the throat, groin, and eyes. One needs to stop the attacker immediately.I have an amazing book by Shoji Nishio, the late aikido master. He writes about about the importance of budo applied to all techniques!!!!!One getting into an opponents dead space ( blind spot) using half steps and and tenkan movements. An example would be applying ikkyo ( arm pin). My primary martial art is Iwama aikido. This style of aikido uses atemi (strikes), so shotokan compliments this really well. I really enjoy the one steps and katas!!!!!!!


    My background includes Wado Ryu Karate; which was heavily influenced by Jujitsu and Aikido. I also studied Aikido for 7 years. My work on the street has shown mw how different situations require a different response. Controlling an upset drunken friend is not going to go well if all you know is strikes to vital points. Punching is not much good when grappling on the floor. What I have found, though, is that the most important thing is to train in reading the behaviour of potential aggressors and trusting your instinct about if and when they will attack.
    I think that often not enough attention is paid to this in the dojo.
    I agree that society seems to be becoming less honourable than I remember it to have been.


    Good point Actordaddy. Verbal descalation, reading non verbal cues, and trying to assess the risk of a potential attacker is essential for all martial artists. I use mindfulness, which I learnt from Zen Buddhism, using zazen in the dojo and from my professional CBT therapy studies. Mindfulness has assisted me to focus and reduce anxiety when confronted with stress, including angry irritable people. I agree that this should be in a martial arts curriculum.


    I suppose it depends on the definition of “attack” – and “attack” does not mean “strike”.

    The moment an “opponent” (which could just mean some random hoodlum who chooses to harass you) makes an offensive act with the intent to continue/escalate such acts, that’s the “first attack”.

    The intent to continue is the key: some moron walking by and saying “nice shirt, sissyboy” and continuing to walk by is an idiot, but not an attacker. The same moron grabbing your shoulder and saying “nice shirt, sissyboy” obviously has the intent to continue. Even in the latter case, de-escalation should still be attempted, but in Funakoshi’s perspective, you have been “attacked first”, and you should prepare a response. In the former, you should still pay attention and be prepared for some form of continuation, but it would not be considered a first attack in-and-of itself


    Choci, I began Zazen 33 years ago and began systematic training in mindfulness 25 years ago. They have run alongside my martial arts and informed my attitude.

    Webbeyes, if someone grabbed my shoulder then I would consider that an attack and act accordingly. I think that we should train to notice the intention to attack and this is a big part of what we should be doing in the Dojo.

    Also I have noticed that often if there is too much competition training and not enough power training then the tendency to pull strikes gets trained in – which can have tragic consequences in the real situation. The safest option in any fight is to go for a clean knockout before you get to grappling range or into a square off. In the latter two instances there is more likelihood of injury to both parties.

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