When I was taking karate growing up, one of the things I loved about it was the translation of the word itself: the two characters mean “empty hand”.
It helped me to understand that I didn’t have to hit someone over the head with a stick or cut someone with a knife. That idea was immensely appealing to me. There was something in the world inspiring people to learn how to protect themselves…without weapons!
Decades later, as I’ve progressed in my training, I’ve come to see that actually I was a little off the mark. “Empty hand” self-defense or “the art of the empty hand” isn’t the art of fighting without weapons at all. In fact, it means “an open hand” – having the courage to extend a hand to people that need it. Or extending our open hand to reach and climb our way up out of a ditch, a mental dark spot.
“Empty hand” is really much more of this idea – sustainability and longevity for when we’re looking at a lifetime of practice.
Very few martial arts practitioners that I know of are able to engage this concept. They choose instead to focus on how to actively hurt others. But those few who are focused on much broader ideas are taking martial arts to a new level.
For students, there’s no doubt that it’s a tall order. In fact, just the other day, Sifu Vizzio said to me, “most people get off at the self-defense level; very few will learn to walk on water.” The expectation is that you’ll have to transcend the “normal” way of approaching the dojo, the training, even your own ingrained habits.
Sometimes it looks like a “David and Goliath” situation. But resources are available – we just have to know where to look. The “empty hand” principle is still present in the martial arts, but it is much more of an active approach, an encouragement to use our resources to open up to others rahter than to close ourselves off.
So yes, it is imposing. And it cuts against the grain. But I have to tell you something: I think you can do it.?
– Gene Dunn & Foundation of Love
For more about our larger project of cooperative Jiu-Jitsu and martial arts training, please visit the
Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (Brooklyn BJJ) website here.