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Kara or Empty vs. Original China or Empty Hand transition from China Hand

Originally the Okinawan fighting system was simply referred to as Ti or Tii (pronounced like "tea"). It was a type of wrestling and boxing Okinawan style but morphed into Touda or Tii when they combined the indigenous system to China's boxing or Kenpo. [Okinawa indigenous fighting methods called te (手?, literally "hand"; Tii in Okinawan) were melded with Chinese Kenpo and Okinawan Wrestling to become Touda or Tii (pronounce like "tea").]

What I wanted to know is when they decided to change the name "karate or China hand to karate or Empty hand" why did they choose the term "empty?"

One source says, "... the name was changed from 唐手 ("Chinese hand") to 空手 ("empty hand") – both of which are pronounced karate – to indicate that the Japanese wished to develop the combat form in Japanese style." Yet this does not really explain why "empty" would express a Japanese form of martial art vs. say "koryu."

I have to ask myself why empty? I can guess that it may be due to the change from weapons to just your body so the loss of weapons from the hands of combatants would mean they now have to apply techniques with "empty hands." It may mean they wanted to refer to weapons, i.e. then the weapons ban - both Okinawan and Japanese dictates, being removed from the hands of civil/military persons so the hands become "empty."

Although this makes sense how to we prove it. I suspect there may be some elusive reference to why they chose empty to replace China. We all know, or think we know, that the change was also prompted by not wanting to reference China, an enemy of Japan, in this new form of fighting system introduced to Japan. But still why empty?

Is there some other reason other than my hypothesis (guess)? This also asks the question, why "hand" or "te in Japanese or Tii (pronounced "tea") in Okinawan dialect?"

Yes, this is most likely an old question, why hand when you use all parts of the body to fight, i.e. hands, elbows, feet, knees, etc.? It could be simply that it was the easiest term or set of terms to use much like the Chinese calling their form of fighting arts as "boxing." Especially when viewed from American perceptions of boxing being a fist-to-cuffs witnessed today in the boxing of America.

It could also come from the idea that the primary weapon in "hand-to-hand" encounters is the hand - open or closed fist. There may be no mystery at all since it was also easy to keep the pronunciation of kara where that character in Chinese meant China and in Japanese meant empty.  I can see that for expedience sake and to stay as close to the pronunciation of "kara te" which makes the transition easy, i.e. just change the character a bit, for both Okinawan and Japanese.

I suspect that if you tried to find a single word or character that would best describe the new system, at that time late 1800's to early 1900's, you would see that it would be very difficult, try it!

Do you call it "body vs. empty" since it involves all the body? Do you refer to it has limbs? You don't want to convolute it by saying it is hand-n-foot system. Even if the Japanese pronunciation sounded good would it be easy and isn't the ease of transition an important and vital aspect to have the Japanese accept the Okinawan system of fighting with out weapons?

Oh, one last thought ... coulda been simply a economic thing too. Think bout it.


openhand said...

My understanding of the “change” came about from purely political reasons. The time was the late 1920's to mid 1930's (somewhere around here I have a document on the subject, supposed transcripts of the meetings). The “goal” was to separate any ties made to China (seeing as how the Japanese were busy invading them at the time), anything Chinese was being belittled and/or discarded at the time, so they wanted a distinct separation from that tie.
Much as the Japanese word “te” refers to hand, it also refers to anything done or performed (skill wise). Japanese is often taken too literally (when translated). The majority of the language has a vague aspect to it (for numerous social reasons, it IS a different society, with different social etiquettes) with multiple readings/translations depending on how the kanji is utilized (further confused by the fact that the majority of the kanji used were originally Chinese, and used only for their “sound” (not meaning).
Keeping this in mind, the kanji for “kara” can be translated as “empty”, or “open” (two different concepts). Contrary to “modern” methods of instruction, “Te” was/is an “open” hand art (the closed fist, though a technique of te, was not the primary striking manner). The use of the closed fist (as a primary striking method) only became emphasized, when Itosu began teaching Te at the elementary schools (for “safety” reasons).
From reading the previously referred to papers, the term “kara-te” was also in dispute at the time (Okinawan's almost exclusively used the term “di” (“te” in Japanese). “Kara” Te, was primarily a mainland (Japan) term being utilized. The use of “kara”(China) was originally being used to link it to China (as everything “elite“ was (at the time) traced back to China (which was considered to be the most educated society at the time/area). Okinawa (always) had “Di” (or “Te”), when Chinese influences were added, some chose to call it “kara” (China) “te”(Japanese for “hand”).
Okinawa Te, was never an exclusively “non-weapon” system (so the “empty-hand” reference makes no sense).

Charles James said...

Open Hand: Thank you for your input. I don't necessarily agree with some points yet the view is interesting and worth the research.

If you would, I would love to see your transcripts, etc.