Karate and Nuclear War
Shoshin Nagamine, founder of Matsubayashi Ryu Karate, was a Police Chief and an Okinawan political official for much of his life. In 1996 he was also recognized for his spiritual achievements. In his address “Karate and World Peace” he reflected on the spiritual heritage of Okinawan culture, as embodied in karate, and its role in the recovery following World War II.
He said “There is a Ryukyu chant which reads:
‘In a world full of conflict and strife, do not cry over the condition of the world, your life is the treasure.’”
He explained that Okinawa martial philosophy was not bushido, which in its early 20th century militarist iteration, devalued life. On the contrary, he said, the Okinawan martial ideal is devoted to life.
Shoshin Nagamine lived through the “Typhoon of Steel”, the months-long Battle of Okinawa fought between the Allies and Japan in 1945, during which a third of the people of Okinawa and many others, hundreds of thousands, were killed. Those Okinawans who remained alive were impoverished, disoriented, in grief, misery and shock.
Shoshin Nagamine’s revival of karate, and its unique spirit and philosophy in the following years helped restore the health, hope and dignity of the people.
In the historical perspective, a key factor of a nation being able to enjoy a healthy growth has been to maintain culture in one hand and martial arts in the other hand. That is, maintaining both of the above was critical in governing a nation. – Shoshin Nagamine
Shoshin Nagamine is referring to “Bun Bu Ryo Do” – “the way of both civil culture and martial skill.” Bun and Bu were, for 700 years, the two career tracks an ambitious Chinese man could choose: become a civil servant in the great government bureaucracy, or become a military leader, dedicated to protecting, preserving and expanding the empire.
The union of bun and bu was at the heart of the neo-Confucian ideal of national success and personal cultivation. It was the model of government administration for most of east Asia. For a leader – as for every responsible adult – the capacity for both civic virtue and martial skill, and the knowledge of when to apply them – is indispensable.
Literally translated “Karate ni sente nashi” says “Fists that does not strike first” or “Not hitting first”. A deeper extension of the translation is “the fists that give life”. (Note by translator Hideyuki Takahashi.)
As a karate practitioner, career law enforcement officer, government official and noted community leader, Shoshin Nagamine lived this ethos. The judicious use of force employed to protect innocent people, to maintain social order and justice, requires that we cultivate the martial and the civil in our own lives.
I truly hope that the people in the world would change their mind-set of aggression and first-strike to a philosophy of karate ni sente nashi. It is only through this philosophy that world peace will be achieved. – Shoshin Nagamine
Shoshin Nagamine saw the misery that results from arrogance and aggression. Instead of glory and triumph it brought degradation and death, which like an oil slick on the sea, spread and poisoned everything it touched.
He devoted his life and his vision to restoring the happiness of his people. He helped to create a peaceful renewed society which, by the 1950s and 60s, was rising like a phoenix from the ashes of the Second World War.
As a reminder: the Second World War was in part a nuclear war. But not like the nuclear war being contemplated by important people today. Then, in the 1940s, there were only a few, primitive nukes, and they were available only to one side.
In his talk “Karate and World Peace” Shoshin Nagamine reflected on the resilience of the Okinawan people under centuries of oppression following the Satsuma invasion in 1609 – a shocking change for them, after centuries of close, peaceful relations with imperial China. But as he explained this historical example he was not dreaming of battles of long ago. He was well aware that the fight for freedom continues:
I would like to emphasize here that Ryukyu people’s resistance with respect to the issue of scaling down the size of United States armed forces in Okinawa is a good example of exercising the supreme right destined to Ryukyu people from the Heavens. The people of Okinawa would never be pushed back even if governing people try to force the issue. In the end, the resolve of the people will surface and press the governments of Japan and the United States into a corner by forcing a popular vote by the people. I have to say that both governments should be fully aware of this. People will not be fooled by a short-term political solution.
His conviction that the will of the people will not be permanently suppressed has implications beyond local Okinawan concerns.
The unique martial spirit of Okinawan karate is urgently needed now, everywhere. Since we understand what it means to live these values, let’s use what we know, right now.
In December 1996, Nagamine Shoshin traveled to Hawaii to receive acknowledgment of his Zen realization – Ken Zen Ichinyo (Karate and Zen in Oneness) from the Archbishop of Daihonzan Chozen-ji, the 84th Dharma Successor of Rinzai Zen. The quotes above, in bold, are from the speech he gave at a Testimonial Dinner in his honor, in recognition of his commitment to world peace through the Way of Karate.
Post by Jeffrey Brooks, Mountain Karate, Saluda, NC, Yamabayashi Ryu Karate Dojo. He is the author of The Good Fight – The Virtues and Value of the Martial Arts and The Rhinoceros Tale – Martial Arts and the Path to Freedom. Post copyright © 2021 Jeffrey Brooks and Mountain Karate Dojo, LLC
Photo credits, US Marine Corps; Jeffrey Brooks, unknown, unknown. Please contact for photo credit.