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The path of the empty hand


For millennia, physical exercises in the form of martial arts have preoccupied the people of many cultures. In general, it can be established that this development embodied two paths since time immemorial: the inner, spiritual one and the outer physical one. The harmonious linking of these two ways leads to the development of the holistic human being. This personal journey through life is that which previously formed the martial arts in contrast to military campaigning and today represents the difference from pure combative sports.
Japanese karate as we know it today actually originates from Okinawa, the biggest island of the Ryukyu archipelago. The original forms of Chinese Shaolin martial arts mingled with the inventive fighting techniques of the island's inhabitants. In the 17th century, a strict ban was imposed by the Japanese governors, expressly forbidding any possession of weapons. This led directly to the further development of the various arts of unarmed combat. These were practised at that time in the underground world of secret societies.

The founder of modern karate, Gichin Funakoshi, designated this art as the 'path of the empty hand'  (in Japanese Karatedo). The philosophical idea that forms the basis for this expression is the search for unity: The body and the mind are to be trained to such an extent that actions arise from an unintentional inner 'emptiness'. This 'emptiness' finds its expression, by extension, in this word: 'kara' means 'empty' and this not merely in the meaning of 'unarmed'.


Karate first turned up in the West in the mid-fifties. Japanese masters amazed both Americans and Europeans with their demonstrations of a hitherto unknown art. With their bare hands, they smashed bricks, boards and stacks of roof tiles and poked holes in melons with their outstretched fingers. The story goes that Master Matsutatsu Oyama even managed to knock the horns off a bull using his hand. These 'exotic tricks' were carried out with extreme precision and accompanied by rituals involving great concentration. A few years later, young people in many different lands had mastered the feats of the Japanese masters. Karate conquered the world and today is an internationally recognized form of competition, characterized by the spirit and culture of East Asia.


Matsutatsu Oyama, the founder of the Kyokushinkai-style, was one of the most conspicuous masters in Japan, due to his radical views and his impressive personality. He was born on the 27th of July 1923 under the name of Yong I Choi in the south of Korea. As a nine-year-old, he learnt Chinese Kempo (fist-fighting) in Southern China. At twelve, he was already competent in judo and boxing. For a long time he trained as a pupil of Gichin Funakoshi at the University of Takushoku. For Funakoshi, the educational value of karate was uppermost in his mind. In his classes, the perfection of technical precision took up a higher significance than training in freestyle fighting. However, Oyama wanted to fight and therefore changed for two further years to Gogen Yamaguchi, known as 'the cat'. This master of Goju Ryu Karate ('School of hard and soft force') possessed a unique and charismatic strength and on account of his extraordinary mental abilities was a role model for many people following the path of the martial arts. He recognized Oyama's strength and supported him in its development.


Inspired by the writings of Miyamoto Musashis, a famous Japanese warrior from the sixteenth century, Oyama made his way at the age of 23 to Mount Miobu. In complete isolation he trained tirelessly for twelve hours a day. At night he performed his ablutions by candlelight or played on his bamboo flute. After 14 months, Oyama came back down from the mountain and won the national championships in Japan. Everyone seeing him fight was very impressed by his assertive nature. Oyama embarked on numerous journeys and made a name for himself across the world as a practically unbeatable fighter. He competed against anyone who challenged him. His 270 opponents all landed on the canvas. Hardly any fights lasted more than three minutes.


The power of karate reveals itself in action rather than in contemplation and discussion regarding the philosophy on which it is based. The main focus is formed by training and the discoveries and experiences that accompany its study. Oyama's personality and the stories that are told about him impressed and inspired Andy when he was just a teenager. Externally he appeared as gentle and kind, but inside his mind was firmly made up that one day he would achieve his set aims without making any compromises. Andy's conduct, both as a martial arts performer and in the way he mastered difficulties in training and in life, was exemplary. He became aware early on that he could learn something new again and again and would thus always remain a pupil.


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