The scope of karate is limitless. If you expose a weak point for a moment, you are down; if you see a weak point in your opponent and grab that chance, you've won. Fast, smooth movements that leave no gaps. Sharp reflexes to take your chance. The strength of spirit to bear the tension of the fight. In karate, together with the physical and technical development of a sport, you have the martial spirit: fell or be felled!
The ultimate aim of karate is to forge a physical and mental balance. If, as I did twenty years ago, you concentrate solely on knocking your opponent down, you will not realize this precious aim. If flattening someone is your sole preoccupation, there are many other methods available without learning karate. Correctly used, a kitchen knife can become a lethal weapon, but this doesn't mean that a kitchen knife is something that must be employed as a weapon. It is an article with its own definite role to play in everyday life. Karate is the same. It does not exist solely to flatten people: it is a method by which you can toughen and improve yourself.
It may appear to be a contradiction in terms, but in order to know how not to hurt your opponent, you must first learn how to hurt him. In the karate I teach, techniques are there for felling your opponent, but at the same time, they are techniques to prevent him (from) being injured. If you can get into a safe position from which your victory is assured, there is no need to continue to inflict pain. However, unless your opponent realizes that he has been bested, he may resist forcefully, then you will have to knock him down. He will also have to realize that, having now been controlled, any further attack to him in that position will cause him massive injury. Unless he realizes this, then karate will be reduced to a mere tool for knocking people down and nothing more.
The martial spirit of karate lies in the self-control required not to fell an opponent when you know you can, and the modesty required to know that you can be felled and to acknowledge defeat before you are. If all those who practiced karate would understand this, there would be no need for the embarrassment of serious injury during training.
- Hideyuki Ashihara
Adapted from his book More Fighting Karate
Published by Kodansha Amer Inc, 1989