Physical Training May 2010
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Empty Hand: The Essence of Budo Karate

copyright © 2010 EJMAS, all rights reserved

Kenei Mabuni : Empty Hand

Kenei Mabuni
Empty Hand
The Essence of Budô Karate

Ed. by Carlos Molina

232 pages, num. fig.
Paperback, 210 x 145 mm
Palisander Verlag
ISBN: 978-3-938305-13-3

Review by Kim Taylor

Why read the book? For a discussion of the history of karate, a discussion of teaching style as it is encountered in kata training, a discussion of budo vs sport and the mutual benefit one can be to the other, and because it's a pretty good read compared to most of the martial art books out there on karate. You should also read it because it's not a "how to" book and does not have lots of photographs of techniques that will make you the ultimate fighter.

The introductory section presents a history of karate that is a bit different than the common hagiography. Mabuni does not claim any lengthy history, but instead is quite plain about the origins and development of the art over the last hundred years or so. What attracted me immediately to the book was his discussion of the influence of the Jigen Ryu on the art, and a mention of kendo and iaido relatively early, and throughout the book. Mabuni establishes the position of karate in relationship to the other martial arts of Japan, as against the usual attempts to make it something exotic and unconnected.

(My father) wrote: "The essence of Japanese budo can be described as drawing a circle with a straight line." ... In Iaido it can be well observed that the arms are drawing a straight line forward while the sword is carrying out a circle. That means that a straight line describes a circle. It is also true that the Jigen ryu "flame cloud" speed that is reached when the sword hits the target cannot be obtained with a circular motion alone. According to master Arakaki, the maximum energy generated by the circular motion is transfered to the target in a straight line that is the shortest possible distance.

The book is written in two sections. I took extensive notes on the first "Budo Karate" and ended up mostly just reading the second " The Spirit of Budo" without the distraction of  thinking about this review.

Some of my notes from the first section.
  1. Widen the chest and drop the shoulders
  2. Open the eyes and pull back the chin
  3. Concentrate energy in the tanden
The second section begins with stories of past masters. It continues with a comparison of karate with the concept of muto (no sword) from Itto ryu and Yagyu ryu. All of this is to illustrate various aspects of the spiritual practice of karate.

I suggest that one just read this section, there is not much to comment on, if you understand it, good, if you don't, it's not much good trying to explain it in a review.

Overall I recommend this book to any martial artist, but especially to those who study a kata based art.

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