Karate Koan from 把握不能心

We practice karate, 空手, empty hands. Hands empty of what?

“A weapon,” people say.

A hand can take many forms. It can punch or grab. It can release or withdraw. It can tear flesh from bone, build a house, play the piano, caress a loved one.

A hand has no fixed form. We can learn to use it skillfully, to adapt to whatever is needed. We don’t need to think much about it: a quarter of our brain is devoted to our hands. 

An empty hand grasps nothing. Our hands are empty of a fixed nature; they have no permanent form, no fixed set of qualities. Those are the things that our hands are empty of.

If we grasp this idea we have freedom. 

An empty mind is not a mind empty of content, of life, of will, of feeling, or of ideas. An empty mind is empty of a fixed nature. It can take any form required, as conditions change; as they change, it changes. This was Takuan’s point when he taught the unfettered mind to Yagyu Munenori 500 years ago. This was Musashi’s point in chapter five of his Go Rin No Sho.

We practice “empty hands.” Empty of what? 

Our mind is not fettered by clinging.

As we practice our hands hold onto nothing. 

What is the question?


Post and photo by Jeffrey Brooks, Mountain Karate, Saluda, NC, Yamabayashi Ryu Karate. 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. Copyright © 2022 Jeffrey Brooks and Mountain Karate Dojo, LLC

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