Empty Hand: The Essence of Budo Karate
© 2010 EJMAS, all rights reserved
The Essence of Budô Karate
Ed. by Carlos Molina
232 pages, num. fig.
Paperback, 210 x 145 mm
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
(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
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
Some of my notes from the first section.
- In the old days, the kata were unique and could be traced to
different teachers. Now with books, videos and competitions it is all
- A kata is a form, or a shape, it's not a model or a type. It is not a mold, it's not static, it changes with need.
- There should be a public kata, which may be flashy and
standardized, and then a budo kata which is martial in attitude and
- Europeans may be more interested in the budo aspects of Karate,
while the Japanese may be more interested in the sporting aspects.
- Karate is especially good for students of Kendo and Iaido because
Karate came about as an answer to the climax of the sword forms,
specifically to the Jigen ryu which was used to rule the
- There is no first attack in karate, this is learned from the kata
themselves. Every kata begins with a block but this is not passive,
this is used to study the opponent. A block can also be an attack, just
use a bit more power.
- Do not do kata to a beat, don't use headphones or listen to music while practicing, if it has a beat it's easy to defeat.
- All the techniques are found in the kata, one can always find new things in the kata.
- There are three principles of budo.
- Widen the chest and drop the shoulders
- Open the eyes and pull back the chin
- Concentrate energy in the tanden
- There may be a looming a crisis in budo karate, there may not be
enough experts left to teach the competitive karate people after their
competitive careers are over.
- It may be useful to develop new kata for sport, this would allow
the budo kata to be preserved without the kind of change
associated with sport.
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.