There are several translations of this Japanese. "Karate is for defense only." "Karate is not for attack." "Karate is not for fighting." "There is no first strike in Karate." All translations are correct. As a principle of teaching, learning, and practicing Karate, it is safe to say Karate does not allow first strike. Karate is for defense. It has a long history of defense.
The origin of Karate is Ryukyu Kingdom's Martial Art, "Te". The pronunciation of this word, "Te" is almost same as "tea". Historians believe that, in 15th - 18th century, Ryukyu Kingdom, now Okinawa Prefecture, Japan gave birth to their original martial art, Te. Te means "Hand" in Japanese. It was Martial Art focusing human body to be a weapon. Te started to gain an influence of "Kung Fu" in China around 16th - 17th centuries. They started to call "Te" "Karate" in 18th century. The word, Karate, consist of 2 Chinese Characters. First one means "China". Second one is "Hand". Originally, Karate meant a Martial Art from China. Later, it meant Martial Art with bare hand. As famous, it now means Martial Art without using a weapon.
Okinawa is now part of Japan. It was an independent kingdom until feudal domain of Satsuma attacked and occupied Ryukyu Kingdom. In 1613, the occupation army of Satsuma gave an order to prohibit to possess and use any and all weapons. Satsuma was afraid of potential power of Ryukyu would defeat Satsuma to regain independence. The people in Ryukyu needed to develop Martial Arts, which do not use any weapon. This was the reason Karate was developed in Okinawa, then Ryukyu.
The reason why the people in Okinawa developed bare hand Martial Arts was not fighting against then ruler, Satsuma. The real reason was to defend themselves from violent treatment from Satsuma soldiers. Satsuma soldiers were armed. Okinawa people were not armed due to the no-weapon order. Okinawa people needed to develop an art, which can defend them from weapons. They trained their own bodies to be the most reliable weapons. This is the reason Karate training includes "Shi Wa Ri", trial hits and kicks to check they are strong enough to break woods, ice, and roof tiles. Karate hits must be strong to break and defeat enemies. If the first strike is not successful, he would be the one killed by his enemy. Their attack must be strong enough to shut up their enemy.
Karate became deadly art to kill with one stroke of arms or legs due to their ruler's weapon prohibition order. It may be only Martial Art, which was designed to fight in bare hands against enemies with weapons. There is no wonder that masters in early age of Karate banned to use Karate for attacking. They banned the first strike to destroy their enemies. Karate is for defense only. Therefore, Karate does not allow the first strike. This is the first lesson and the last lesson of Karate.
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