One of the things all serious martial artists aspire to attain is the
ability to sense sakki, which literally means "air of murder." Sakki is a
word used to describe the feeling, or vibration, that comes from an attacker
just before he is about to attack. It is said that if one can learn to sense
this feeling, a counterattack can be applied before the actual attack
In Japan, people will even say that certain swords or works of art emanate
this mysterious force, and it is very common to hear references to swords
that have an air of murder, a la King Arthur's famous blade, which he
plucked from the rock.
In the West, almost everyone has sensed a sakki at one time or another. It
is the vague feeling of uneasiness that permeates the mind and body for no
particular reason when we walk into a room full of unfamiliar people.
Sometimes we just get the feeling that "something's not right here."
Mothers are renowned for their uncanny sense of sakki, which manifests
itself in them in late night calls to children far away. "I just had an
uneasy feeling about you," they say. Mothers call this intuition.
But no matter what it is called, the ability to sense sakki is a high ideal
of the martial arts, and if a person could actually develop the ability to
sense things in this manner, he or she would be taking a giant step toward
After decades of training, I have come to believe that it is possible to
develop this sense, but I also think it takes a lot longer than a mere
couple of decades to get the gist of it.
In the Japan Karate Association, one tale of sakki is told by virtually
every master to virtually ever black belt holder, and while the story is
ascribed to Masatomo Takagi, the Vice Chairman of the JKA, all Takagi would do when questioned about it was smile, nod, and say, "Yes, that's true. It happened to all of us."
The story goes that before World War II, when Gichin Funakoshi was traveling around Japan giving demonstrations to promote karate, he would take along a senior student or two to assist him. It was the duty of this assistant to help the instructor with the demonstrations and to tend to his personal needs. When they visited a university club, Funakoshi would sit on the side in a state of deep concentration and direct the actions of the assistant who was teaching the class.
Funakoshi one day told his senior assistants that it was difficult for him
to train consistently because he was traveling so much. Therefore, he said,
the seniors should help him train so that he, too, could progress in his
"The way you can help me," he told them, "is at any time, under any
conditions, simply punch me or kick me. If you can hit me, it will mean that
I'm not aware enough and that I must train harder."
The seniors had no intention of doing such a thing, of course, because they
loved the old man, and they were afraid they might hurt him. But as time
went by and no one attacked him, Funakoshi became irritable. "I told you to
help me train, and you have disobeyed. I want you to try to punch me and
kick me. It is the only way I can progress."
So the seniors decided they would abide by his wishes, but would use control
so he would not be injured.
One day as Takagi was teaching a class, he noticed that Funakoshi, who was
sitting on the edge of the training floor, had dozed off and was snoring
"Now's my chance," Takagi thought. "I'll punch his face lightly, and he will
see that this is a silly thing for us to be doing."
Continuing to talk to the class in his normal tone of voice, Takagi
gradually positioned himself within striking distance of the snoring
Funakoshi. When he was convinced that the teacher's snores were rhythmical
and genuine, he suddenly snapped around and drove a blindingly fast punch at the old man's head.
Without opening his eyes, Funakoshi leaned his head to the right, deftly
avoiding the punch with at least three inches of space to spare. Opening his
eyes, he looked at the startled senior and said, simply, "Not good enough,
Takagi. You need to train more." So saying, he closed his eyes and was soon snoring again.
As Takagi told and re-told this story to the other seniors, he was scoffed
at and teased. "Sensei was tricking you," they said. "He wasn't really
sleeping. He was just playing cat and mouse with you. Nobody can defend
himself when he's asleep. Try it again when there is no chance that he's
awake, and then we can be done with this nonsense."
Takagi's chance came not long after, while he was accompanying Funakoshi on a demonstration tour. After a demonstration and lecture in a village in the country, Funakoshi retired to his rented room, and Takagi took the
instructor's clothes to wash them. When he returned, he peered into
Funakoshi's room and saw that he was lying on his back, snoring, with his
arm across his eyes.
"This is perfect," Takagi thought. "Even if he's awake, he can't see through
his arm. I'll get him for sure this time."
When Takagi entered the room and laid out Funakoshi's clothes, the old man didn't stir. So Takagi crept stealthily toward the old man and stopped about four feet away. Sensing no movement in Funakoshi, Takagi began thinking that this really had gone too far. He didn't want to hit the defenseless old man, and besides, he decided, he could simply tell his teacher in the morning that he had stood beside him, punched close to his face, and that would be that.
While Takagi stood there clenching his fists and thinking about it,
Funakoshi suddenly said in a clear, loud voice, "Takagi, if you're going to
punch me, please do it and get it over with! I'm an old man, and I need my
It is said that Masatomo Takagi, then fifth degree black belt, backed out of
Funakoshi's room at great speed and never again tried to attack his teacher.
This article is written by Randall G. Hassell, copyright 2006.
All rights reserved. Available at: www.empirebooks.net
Sensei Hassell is also the chief instructor of the American Shotokan Karate Alliance: www.ShotokanCentral.com