CHANGEd 60-60-60: 空手道:どう (karatedō)

Thinking about What if we used karate belts instead of averages? 60-60-60 #25 and reflecting…

When learning, aren’t we supposed to start as novices and grow to great understanding?

This evening, Bo’s provocative post took me on another word hunt (my first was CHANGEd 60-60-60 #5: rehearse). Interested in the word history of karate, I quickly found out that it means “empty hand.” Then, I began to wonder how karate and aikido differed, as I have a good friend who recently achieved yondan (4th Dan black belt) in his aikido practice. As I searched a bit more, I came across an interesting addition to the etymology of karate.

空手is the word karate in Japanese. If one adds 道:どう to 空手, karate becomes karatedō, or 空手道:どう. The entry on Wikipedia describes this addition as follows:

Another nominal development is the addition of (道:どう) to the end of the word karate. is a suffix having numerous meanings including road, path, route, and way. It is used in many martial arts that survived Japan’s transition from feudal culture to modern times. It implies that these arts are not just fighting systems but contain spiritual elements when promoted as disciplines. In this context is usually translated as “the way of ___”. Examples include aikido, judo, kyudo, and kendo. Thus karatedō is more than just empty hand techniques. It is “The Way Of The Empty Hand”. (emphasis added)

“The Way of the Empty Hand.” How might this word history affect the way we think about learning and assessment?

Because “when learning, aren’t we supposed to start as novices “with an empty hand” and grow “pursue the path” to great understanding?”


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