Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Empty hand

Karate is written "empty hand" in kanji. At first, Okinawan people imported Chinese martial arts. It was first called "Tang Dynasty hand," but Okinawans evolved these skills. In the militaristic era of Japan, Shotokan founder Gichin Funakoshi's group change this martial art's name to today's "empty hand."

Some critics said that Japanese nationalism effected this name change, but the phrase "empty hand" has a philosophy behind it.

Lyoto Machida is nikkei nisei -- a second-generation Japanese immigrant. His father Yoshizo moved to Brazil in 1968, and took it is a challenge. He said he wanted to do something not everyone did. When he left Japan, he got only 100 dollars from his father.

He started his dojo in Belem, but there wasn't enough people for him to teach, so he moved to Salvador. His karate survived against other martial arts like capoeira and jiu-jitsu, and earned him students. At his height, he had 1200 students in Salvador.

Enjoying his success, he met a pretty girl, Ana Claudia, at a party. He asked her for a date the first time he met, a very rare approach for the Japanese. When people asked him about it, he said, "I wanted to try it first. People here don't know how Japanese are, so they just think all Japanese people are like this."

He married her, and together they had four sons and adopted another. While enjoying the success of his dojo in Salvador, an old student asked him to return to Belem. Yoshizo told him, "If you give me a farm, I'll come back," never expecting that it could happen.

His student made enough money to buy him a farm, making Machida come back to Belem. Machida started a cacao farm, but it failed economically, and he as forced to sell it. When he was asked about the farm, Machida said, "Since karate means 'empty hand,' that's not a big deal. Everything is about trying, losing is nothing."

In Lyoto's post-fight interview after the Evans fight, you heard him say, "Go hard, it's possible." I don't think he's talking just about effort.

When Yoshizo was asked about how to teach karate, he answered, "I don't use books often, because there aren't many things being taught except concepts and philosophy. I find out new things every day because I need to teach students, and they're bored if I always teach the same things." Yoshizo still learns from others. He said he still goes to Japan annually to get lessons from the Japanese karate community.

Yoshizo also compared his sons' aptitude for MMA.

"Lyoto is passive compared to Shinzo. Since it's a streetfight-type of sport, it is good to be passive. He also has a soft body compared to Shinzo, which is good for fighting."

Being passive doesn't mean he's weak, it just means he respects his opponent's skill. Karate's elite practitioners have the hardest training. It isn't always logical, but karatekas push themselves to the limit to develop a calm mind. A Japanese Shotokan master evaluated Lyoto and said that he's at the same level of pure karate competition as a Japanese qualifier for the Shotokan international tournament.

If you re watch Machida-Evans after reading this, it's hard not to feel uplifted. I'm not against rationalism, but somewhere in your heart, the world is not just that. Lyoto and his family create a wonderful sense of spiritualism in us for these reasons.

Internet Radio: 100 Years of Japanese Immigrants from Brazil, with guest Yoshizo Machida

Big thanks to Jordan Breen for English support.