The International Study Group, Kokusai Seito Karate Kenkyukai (ISKK):
The ISKK was developed by a group of high ranking, senior karate men from locations around the world. With the hope of bringing together like minded individuals who can and will commit to the process of educating the public at large on the origins of all Karate from Okinawa, and teaching about the great teachers from whom we all owe our gratitude.
Without them, we would not be where we are today. Without the leaders of today we could not know our past. Karate from Okinawa is now practiced in many forms in virtually every corner of the world, and through its travels much has changed. What is important is to keep the truth, study the truth, and most importantly we must share the truth.
With that being said the following transmission of information follows the guidelines set by our teachers within the methodology of “Kuden”, or oral transmission of the knowledge. This work is not of just this author, but represents the knowledge of many masters from the beginning of time, to the present day.
In over forty years of study, it is the best I can humbly provide to those who come after me.
I dedicate this to my grandson Alexander Blake Matich. His heritage is that from many generations of warriors including Japanese Samurai, American Indian, and European heritage as well. His grandfathers have historically served as warriors for over twenty generations.
Some of the work described below is from copyrighted material of other authors. Yet I find it difficult to understand how any person can copyright history. I do acknowledge the author of the content provided and presented, yet I include it at my own peril simply because it is too important not to. I do hope they understand.
What is Karate ?
by Bud Morgan
What Karate is now, is many different things to many different people. Karate as we know it today, has it’s roots in Okinawa, but by it’s very nature has now spread across the entire Universe. Virtually every country on Earth has had it’s own impact on the art of Karate. Karate has grown into a magnificent sport that has attracted millions of follower’s into it’s fold. The vision of Itosu Sensei has truly blossomed. The art of Karate has now been made available to the masses, young and old. The level of sporting karate is at it’s very best technical level ever.
And yet, to the well trained karate-ka, the knowledge of how to revert the art of Karate back to the original art of Okinawa-te, a method of bujutsu, or the warring/combat aspects of the art, are readily at hand. This is the beauty of the art itself. Not only can it be taught at various levels, depending on the needs of the practitioner, but it continues to be a catalyst for developing the warrior skills from whence it originated.
The history of Karate’s beginning is somewhat obscure due to the lack of written records, and therefore much of the information we do have is based on oral transmission of the facts. The true beginning of Karate was based on the blending of Chinese Chuan Fa or Kempo and the Okinawan art of Te.
Satunuku “Tode” Sakugawa (1733-1815) is considered to be the first teacher of true (Seito) Okinawan Karate. Also called Kanga Sakugawa, he was an Okinawan martial artist who played a major role in the development of Te, the precursor to modern Karate. In 1750, Sakukawa (or Sakugawa) began his training as a student of an Okinawan monk, Peichin Takahara. After six years of training, Takahara suggested that Sakugawa train under Kusanku, a Chinese master in Ch’uan Fa. Sakugawa spent six years training with Kusanku, and began to spread what he learned to Okinawa in 1762. Kusanku is credited with development of both the “Hikite” or pulling hand and for the develpment of Kumiai Jutsu (Kumite), or fighting techniques. In most all styles of Karate, even today there exists a Kata by the name of Kushanku, or it’s derivative, ie. Kusanku, Kanku, Kosokun, or Kongsangun.
Sakugawa then begins to teach the new art of “Tode” and teaches many distinguished martial artists, among them Bushi Ukuda, Macabe Chokun, Bushi Matsumoto, and Sokon “Bushi” Matsumura. “Bushi” Matsumura (1797-1889) was by all accounts one of the top martial artists of his time. His style of Shuri-te (Tode) certainly formulated the beginnings of the Shorin Ryu style, although his student Ankoh Itosu (1830-1915) is generally credited with the founding of the wording “Karate”. Fortunately for us all, Bushi Matsumura left us a small, but important piece of information contained in a letter sent to one of his pupils.
The Precepts of Master Matsumura
You must first resolve to study if you wish to understand the truth of martial arts. This resolve is very important.
Fundamentally, the arts and the martial arts are the same. Each has three fundamental elements.
As far as Art is concerned they are Shisho-no-Gaku, Kunko-no-Gaku and Jussha-no-Gaku.
Shisho-no-Gaku is the art of creative writing and reading – in a word, literature.
Kunko-no-Gaku means to study the past and gain an understanding of ethics by relating past events to our way of life.
Both Shisho-no-Gaku and Kunko-no-Gaku are incomplete until supplemented by Jussha-no-Gaku, (the study of the moral aspects of the teaching of Confucius).
Have a tranquil heart and you can prevail over a village, a country, or the world. The study of Jussha-no-Gaku is the supreme study over both Shisho-no-Gaku and Kunko-no-Gaku.
These then are the three elements necessary for the study of the Arts.
If we consider Budo, there are also three precepts. They are Gukushi-no-Bugei, Meimoko-no-Bugei and Budo-no-Bugei.
Gukushi-no-Bugei is nothing more than a technical knowledge of Bugei. Like a woman, it is just superficial and has no depth.
Meimoko-no-Bugei refers to a person who has physical understanding of Bugei. He can be a powerful and violent person who can easily defeat other men. He has no self-control and is dangerous and can even harm his own family.
Budo-no-Bugei is what I admire. With this you can let the enemy destroy himself – just wait with a calm heart and the enemy will defeat himself.
People who practice Budo-no-Bugei are loyal to their friends, their parents and their country. They will do nothing that is unnatural and contrary to nature.
We have “Seven Virtues of Bu”. They are:
Bu prohibits violence.
Bu keeps discipline in soldiers.
Bu keeps control among the population.
Bu spreads virtue.
Bu gives a peaceful heart.
Bu helps keep peace between people.
Bu makes people or a nation prosperous.
Our forefathers handed these seven virtues down to us.
Just as Jussha-no-Gaku is supreme in the arts, so Budo-no-Bugei is supreme in the martial arts.
“Mon-Bu” (Art and Martial Arts) have the same common elements. We do not need Gukushi-no-Bugei or Meimoko-no-Bugei – this is the most important thing.
I leave these words to my wise and beloved deshi Kuwae.
– Bucho Matsumura
Around the turn of the century, Ankoh Itosu introduced Karate (Tode) to the Okinawan Board of Education, and was asked to develop a program suitable for inclusion in the Physical Education curriculum. This Karate was to be distinguished by a different Kanji, being read as “Kute” or as “Empty Hand”, instead of “Tode” or “China Hand”, however both are pronounced as “Karate”.
In 1904, Itosu introduced the “Pinan” Kata 1-5. He also designated a total of fourteen kata for his PE karate program. The kata’s named were Pinan Shodan, Pinan Nidan, Pinan Sandan, Pinan Yondan, Pinan Godan, Naihanchi Shodan, Naihanchi Nidan, Naihanchi Sandan, Bassai Dai, Bassai Sho, Kosokun Dai, Kosokun Sho, Chinto, and Gojushiho.
In 1908, Itosu presented his “Toudi Jakkajo” (Karate Report) to outline his less lethal form of Te by way of his famous “Ten Teachings”.
10 precepts from Yasutsune “Ankoh” Itosu
°Tode did not develop from the way of Buddhism or Confucianism. In the recent past Shorin-ryu and Shorei-ryu were brought over from China. They both have similar strong points, so, before there are too many changes, I should like to write these down.
°Tode is primarily for the benefit of health. In order to protect one’s parents or one’s master, it is proper to attack a foe regardless of one’s own life. Never attack a lone adversary. If one meets a villain or a ruffian one should not use tode but simply parry and step aside.
°The purpose of tode is to make the body hard like stones and iron; hands and feet should be used like the points of arrows; hearts should be strong and brave. If children were to practice tode from their elementary-school days, they would be well prepared for military service. When Wellington and Napoleon met they discussed that ‘tomorrow’s victory will come from today’s playground’.
°Tode cannot be learned quickly. Like a slow moving bull, that eventually walks a thousand miles, if one studies seriously every day, in three or four years one will understand what tode is about. The very shape of one’s bones will change. Those who study as follows will discover the essence of tode:
°In tode the hands and feet are important so they should be trained thoroughly on the makiwara. In so doing drop your shoulders, open your lungs, take hold of your strength, grip the floor with your feet and sink your intrinsic energy to your lower abdomen. Practice with each arm one or two hundred times.
°When practicing tode forms (kata) make sure your back is straight, drop your shoulders, take your strength and put it in your legs, stand firmly and put the intrinsic energy in your lower abdomen, the top and bottom of which must be held together tightly.
°The bunkai (application of kata techniques) should be carefully practiced, one by one, many times. Because these techniques are passed on by word of mouth, take the trouble to learn the explanations and decide when and in what context it would be possible to use them. Observe principles of torite(grappling) and applications will be more easily understand.
°You must decide whether tode is for cultivating a healthy body or for defense.
°During practice you should imagine you are on the battle field. When blocking and striking make the eyes glare, drop the shoulders and harden the body. Now block the enemy’s punch and strike! Always practice with this spirit so that, when on the real battlefield, you will naturally be prepared.
°Do not overexert yourself during practice because the intrinsic energy will rise up your face and eyes will turn red and your body will be harmed. Be careful.
°In the past many of those who have mastered tode have lived to an old age. This is because tode aids the development of the bones and sinews, it helps the digestive organs and is good for the circulation of the blood. Therefore, from now on tode should become the foundation of all sports lessons from elementary schools onward. If this is put into practice there will, I think, be many men who can win against ten aggressors.
The reason for stating all this is that it is my opinion that all students at the Okinawa Prefectural Teachers’ Training College should practice tode, so that when they graduate from here they can teach the children in the schools exactly as I have taught them. Within ten years tode will spread all over Okinawa and to the Japanese mainland. This will be a great asset to our militaristic society. I hope you will carefully study the words I have written.
Itosu Ankoh 1908
Two other Shurite experts assisited Itosu in developing the School PE Karate Program. They were Chomo Hanashiro and Kentsu Yabu. Although Hanashiro was the first to publish the Kanji for Karate as “Kute”, it is Funakoshi Gichin (1868-1957), the student of Itosu who was responsible for promoting the “Empty Hand” term on mainland Japan.
Funakoshi was one of the school teachers with some training in Shuri-te and was therefore sought out by Itosu and his assistants to promote and teach the new system of Karate. In 1917 Funakoshi went to Japan to introduce the PE Karate Program. He returned to Japan in 1922 and was to remain there for the remainder of his life.
Gichin Funakoshi is known as the “Father of Modern Karate”. His style became known as “Shotokan” with the construction of his Dojo between 1936 and 1938, which reportedly opened in January of 1939. The art of Shotokan Karate has taken on many changes throughout it’s history, with many of those changes being implemented by the JKA, or the Japan Karate Association after Funakoshi’s death. We know for certain that it is not the same as it was when Funakoshi brought the Original Karate Syllabus to Japan.
Funakoshi Sensei did leave us with some important pieces of work. The Niju Kun, or Twenty Precepts is an example of Funakoshi’s beliefs that karate could be used as a tool to develop one’s character.
While it has been suggested that the kun were documented by around 1890, they were first published in 1938 in a book The Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate in the form below:
1) Karate-do begins and ends with rei
Karate-do wa rei ni hajimari rei ni owaru koto a wasaru na
2) There is no first strike in karate
Karate ni sente nashi
3) Karate stands on the side of justice
Karate wa, gi no taske
4) First know yourself, then know others
Mazu onore o shire, shikashite ta o shire
5) Mentality over technique
Gijitsu yori shinjitsu
6) The mind must be set free
Kokoro wa hanatan koto o yosu
7) Calamity springs from carelessness
Wazawai wa ketai ni seizu
8) Karate goes beyond the dojo
Dojo nomino karate to omou na
9) Karate is a lifelong pursuit
Karate-do no shugyo wa isssho de aru
10) Apply the way of karate to all things. Therein lies its beauty
Ara yuru mono o karateka seyo; sokoni myomi ari
11) Karate is like boiling water; without heat, it returns to its tepid state
Karate Wa Yu No Gotoku Taezu Netsu O Atae Zareba Motono Mizuni Kaeru
12) Do not think of winning. Think, rather, of not losing
Katsu kangae wa motsuna; makenu kangae wa hitsuyo
13) Make adjustments according to your opponent
Tekki ni yotte tenka seyo
14) The outcome of a battle depends on how one handles emptiness and fullness (weakness and strength)
Tattakai wa kyo-jitsu no soju ikan ni ari
15) Think of hands and feet as swords
Hi to no te-ashi wa ken to omoe
16) When you step beyond your own gate, you face a million enemies
Danshi mon o izureba hyakuman no teki ari
17) Kamae is for beginners; later, one stands in shizentai
Kamae wa shoshinsha ni atowa shizentai
18) Perform kata exactly; actual combat is another matter
Kata wa tadashiku, jisen wa betsumono
19) Do not forget the employment of withdrawal of power, the extension or contraction of the body, the swift or leisurely application of technique
Chikara no kyojaku tai no shinshuku waza no kankyu
20) Be constantly mindful, diligent, and resourceful, in your pursuit of the Way
Tsune ni shinen ku fu seyo
The Five Dojo Kun
Senior instructors at the JKA developed the Five Dojo Kun, which every-one studying at the JKA commits to memory. With each practice session at the dojo, students kneel in the seiza position and repeat these five precepts out loud. This process reminds students of the right attitude, frame of mind and virtues to strive for both within the dojo, and outside. The number 1, or Hitotsu, was used to precede each of the following, in order to assure all five rules were considered equally important.
1) Jinkaku kansei ni tsutomuru koto Seek perfection of character
1) Makoto no michi o mamoru koto Be sincere
1) Doryoku no seishin o yashinau koto Put maximum effort into everything you do
1) Reigi o omonzuru koto Respect others
1) Kekki no yuu o imashimuru koto Develop self-control
Varying translations and interpretations of the dojo kun exists. Each translation differs in the terms used and the interpretations vary regarding the philosophical depth, meaning, and intention. The population of English karate practitioners has pushed one form of the translation into being the most widely accepted outside of Japan. Generally, the English translation states:
Each person must strive for the perfection of one’s character.
Each person must be faithful and protect the way of truth.
Each person must endeavour (fostering the spirit of effort).
Each person must respect others and the rules of etiquette.
Each person must refrain from violent behavior (guard against impetuous courage).
A more terse translation is used by many Dojo’s:
Seek Perfection Of Character
Refrain From Violent Behavior
In recent times we have began to realize the truth of what Karate was and what it has become. It was and is the product of Ankoh Itosu’s desires to spread the cultural fighting arts of Okinawa to many people.
He then developed a program for the youth of Okinawa, to be taught within the school systems. Although this program was elementary in it’s design, the true master of Karate (according to Kinjo Sensei and Mitani Sensei) is also aware of how to convert the techniques of Karate back to the art of Shuri-te, one of the original systems of Okinawa-te. This is what gives us the ability to teach our system correctly, and to teach to the students needs and capabilities.
Kazuya Mitani is the student of Hiroshi Kinjo. Hiroshi Kinjo was the student of Chosin Chibana and of Chomo Hanashiro. Hanashiro Sensei was both a student of, and an assistant to Ankoh Itosu. Through Mitani Sensei we were able to realize the truth of our roots. Karate had no styles in the beginning. It was simply Karate.
Master Funakoshi, in the middle of our last century, was known to have written the following poem and calligraphy:
“To search for the Old is to understand the New. The Old, The New, this is a matter of time. In all things man must have a clear mind.
The Way: Who will pass it on straight and well
On Karate and Budo
Written by Kazuya Mitani and Edited by Bud Morgan
Buddhism and Taoism are the main Oriental philosophies and although these two philosophies have a close relation in Budo, they are different. It is because it had united with Taoism rather than the pure Buddhism (Indian philosophy) of China.
It is in which the Buddhism imported by Japan was called Chinese-books Buddhism, and it was united with Taoism.
Budo was greatly influenced by this Chinese-books Buddhism, and many of theoretical basis of martial arts were obtained from here.
The cult which had influence important for Budo was the Zen sect. In ancient Japan, many martial art people received the instruction of a priest of high virtue. They trained their heart by Buddhism, and studied skill.
Here, a martial art and zen were united. This is called Budo in the present age.
It is such if it is roughly called the Oriental philosophy stated here. It is monism that this differs from an Occidental view fundamentally.
For example, the adjective which means two contraries is the opposite meaning in dualism. In Oriental philosophy, this is considered to be the same thing. The low thing is the same as a high thing. The ugly thing is the same as a beautiful thing. An attack and defense are the same things.
Zanshin (it leaves the heart) was also born from here. It is explained to leave the heart without leaving the heart.
It is difficult for us to explain this by means of words, and to understand by means of words. Then, it is said that it conveys to the heart from the bottom of its heart.
“Gokui to iu ha ishin denshin” The secret is conveyed to the heart from the bottom of its heart.
Simultaneity is in one of the secrets of Budo. A martial art requires a quick response. If a time lag is there, one thinks he cannot beat the opponent. Making this response time into zero is called for.
It is explained as the nimbleness to which one thread of hair does not fit in between. “Kan hatsu wo irezu.”
If a window is opened, the light of the moon will arrive on the floor. Did he open the window first? Or did the light of the moon enter first? It was simultaneous.
“Shoji akureba tsuki no sasu nari.”If a window is opened, the light of the moon will enter.
“Mizu no shizuku ni utsuru tsukikage.”The light of the moon is reflected in the drop of water.
These are the words for teaching the secret of budo. People made this word the hint and were told to understand the secret of budo.
I have to mention Oriental philosophy in many cases. I will carry out by carrying out, and I will stop at this juncture now, and speak of Karate.
Anko Itosu created karate with the duel purpose of improving one’s humanity and physical strength. This is how karate began.
Educational Karate is the original and the true karate. This is the biggest difference between the original karate and the karate we have today that attached style names.
Matsumura-Te, later to be known more commonly as Shuri-Te, is the mother of the original karate.
Shuri-te differs from that which was known simply as Te. Shurite, thanks to Matsumura, has a most excellent fighting technology (maniau) that was incorporated into karate. The purpose of Shurite was self-defense.
This is not the home page of pure “Budo.” I would need to cover other elements such as, “Bushido, Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, Shintoism”. Each of these could fill a book or even several books.
This is for considering karate and its relationship to the term karate-do. There are many errors in this regard as many Japanese are ignorant about these matters and in particular, karate teachers.
Another problem is that the term “zanshin”, which even Japanese people do not understand is also becoming out of control.
Is anything related to karate and zanshin?
I aim to provide you with information about Budo to help with your understanding of karate.
Generally it is said that “Karate is Budo” and not a sport.
However a part of karate is a sport, some hold the view that it is not a common sport, so what is karate?
Although this is a general view in Japan, what is the view in the world?
Seemingly, sport karate and Budo karate both exist in foreign countries. Is karate aiming to be a tournament sport? Then, what is Budo Karate?
Does Budo mean the art of self-defense?
What thing is Budo really? It cannot be argued whether karate is budo or is not if we do not know what Budo is.
If I express my opinion, I will only be involved in an argument without a conclusion or worse, it may also become the cause of karate war.
If I listen to the opinion of people in Japan about Budo, I will be surprised at their misunderstanding and ignorance. What is the situation in the world?
The opinion about karate is very confused. In Japan, it is because karate people are ignorant.
In the world, the difference of culture is a large barrier.
Originating in the difference in philosophy cannot overlook the difference of this culture, either. Probably, a word, an intention, besides feeling, etc. will be difficult for understanding the essential difference in culture.
I will explain Budo, Japanese culture, Oriental philosophy, especially Zen, and I will provide information about them.
I have been engaged in karate for a half-century. At the graduate school, I studied Budo.
I was also the karate teacher of a public high school in Chiba Prefecture. My junior students dominated in the All-Japan tournament for many years.
My dojo is known as the strongest dojo in Tokyo and Japan. I am the student of Hiroshi Kinjo. I know a few things about karate.
Present-day Japan is Japan, and is not Japan. It is also difficult in the environment of Japan today to understand budo or karate.
Is Karate Budo?
I explained what budo was from various angles. I want to ask you this “Is karate budo?”
I think that karate should be raised to budo in the future, but I feel it is very dangerous to be taken to task by people who do not understand budo, if karate is budo. What do you think?
Conditions to discuss karate as budo :
1. Demonstrate an understanding of Budo.
2. Understand Zen and Taoism correctly.
3. One does not have a huge ego.
4. Understand karate correctly.
Wouldn’t many karate teachers fail in an examination such as this?
The present condition of the Karate community :
People who do not know karate make noises about karate. People who do not know Budo express an opinion about Budo. Michi (Do) is discussed without understanding Oriental philosophy.
These things trouble me very much.
Degeneration of karate : A church depraves Christianity. A temple depraves Buddhism. That is because a religious group is organized and class is introduced.
This is the side on which the human world became dirty. The same will be said of the karate community.
Karate is not about Dan level. Karate is not a Kata list.
Karate is not the status and referee license in a federation.
I will mention several books. If you study Bushido, I will recommend “Bushido” of Nitobe in the first place. This is the best starting point for Europeans and Americans and it is written in English.
Although the study of Confucianism is not necessarily required, read “Rongo” if you are keen. This is a book about outstanding morality. Since it is not carried out by not learning about Zen, a book is not needed.
Zazensan which I mentioned is one piece of paper.
You do not need to learn about Taoism in my opinion.
Many English books are published about the above and you can begin research at any time. Although Zazensan may be difficult to locate, there are to many unnecessary books of Zen published.
The budo document called “Neko no myojutsu”(Skill which was excellent in the cat), “Teng Geijutsuron”(A tengu’s artistic discussion ), etc. is also published in English. “Neko no myojutsu” is the jujutsu book which enables one to understand Taoism.
The book “Ken to Zen” is another. I do not know whether there is any English translation of this book, but this is an outstanding Budo book which explains the essence of Budo pleasantly and intelligibly.
The author is Sogen Omori and he is the priest of Zenshu. Furthermore, he is the specialist of Kendo. His kendo is Jikishinkage-Ryu. He is Soke of the 16th generation Jikishinkage-Ryu.
Probably, all, such as Budo, Zen, and Bushido, are known with this one book.
Attaching a ‘style’ name is meaningless with karate.
I have always said that style karate is not true karate.
Karate was performed in the radius 500m or a little less in a narrow area in Okinawa.
There was no style etc. there.
But the martial art of a Japanese mainland is another story. Although it is a small country, Japan compared to Okinawa is huge.
Many styles were born there. Like karate, kata of the same name did not exist in a different style. People of each area produced the characteristic original styles.
Mitani Kazuya, President Okinawa Seito Karate-do SeitokukaiChiba, Japan
About Kumite and Tuite
By Mitani Kazuya (Translated by Joe Swift from the Seitokukai Japanese language web site)
I have already written on Kihon-gata and Kihon for Kumite. If Kumite and Tuite are the actual techniques, then kata is the Kihon.
This is the theory of Karate practice as written in Itosu’s 10 lessons, i.e. to learn Kumite through Kata and to practice on the Makiwara. I also learned this way, but I was interested in how styles other than Karate did things as well. Especially the competitive format as developed by the JKA.
As I watched this format, I believed that Karate could also be used in this arena, so I participated in the modern arena. I believed that 70-80% of Karate techniques could be used there. And, just as I thought the athletes from my organization showed the power of Karate. I also have interest in other styles fighting techniques.
Leaving this alone for a while, I also hear that Karate is based on kata, or that it is a Budo passed on through kata. I have believed this way of thinking was a bit odd over the years. The different kinds of Te probably had this tendency, but the Te of Matsumura had to have been Kumite and Tuite. The concept of “being in time” that Matsumura passed on shows this.
Karate uses Kumite and Tuite as its central practice as well, according to Itosu’s 10 precepts. Hanashiro Chomo Sensei (Kinjo Sensei’s teacher) wrote his “Karate Kumite” in 1905, the year Karate was established, so Kumite existed right from the very beginning.
Leaving Tuite alone for a while, this means that Kumite was a central theme in Karate. Hanashiro Sensei was one of the originators of Karate, and he learned Matsumura’s Te, meaning that the same was true of Matsumura’s Te. Also, as we can see from the 10 Precepts, Tuite was also used in Karate.
Karate was practiced mainly solo, but it was not Kata practice. Even if you practice kata every day you will not improve at Karate. This is also generally misunderstood.
Itosu Sensei distinguished between Kumite and Tuite, but I believe this distinction is comparatively recent. I believe that they were considered the same in the past.
On the “Oshima Hikki,” Te is referred to as Kumiai-jutsu. The person who was responsible for bringing it to Ryukyu was Koshankin. Thinking on the existence of Kushanku Kata, then it must have been Koshankin who disseminated the Kumiai-jutsu on which this kata is based. This Kumiai-jutsu may have been dying out or lost by the time Matsumura came around (this is why Matsumura’s Te was created), but it was the first art transmitted.
This Kumiai-jutsu, as we can see from the kata, must have considered Kumite and Tuite as the same thing. Looking at Motobu Sensei’s “Watashi no Karate-jutsu” and “Okinawa Kenpo Karate-jutsu” (he says Karate but it is really Shuri-te), he shows many photos within grappling range, showing that Kumite and Tuite were not clearly distinguished. (Comparing these photos with the Kumite photos in later books, we can see that Motobu Sensei was actually good at what he was showing).
Kinjo Sensei is the same in this regard: when facing him and exchanging blows, you are invariably grappled and tied up. Thus, Kumite and Tuite are actually one in the same, but they were broken up for the purposes of analysis.
About the Kata of Karate
By Mitani Kazuya:
Kata is not technology (waza) but a style (yoshiki). It is not the style but the technology of fighting that is useful to us.
Technology is in a style but the style itself is not technology. Many Japanese karate teachers do not know this.
Thus the great difference in the relationship between a style and technology is not usually known. Traditional karate differs greatly from other karate at this point. Although nobody knows it, this is the difference between Shurite and other karate.
I do not agree with kata competition. There are very few kata that relate to kumite. The only karate kata that I teach my students are Naifanchi Shodan and Pinan Nidan. I use the technology from these kata in kumite competition.
The technology of a kata competition is mostly the technology of dance. This is the reason I do not favor kata competition. I teach other kata only for kata competition. This is not karate but more like freestyle dance. I teach the following kata for this purpose: Nipaipo, Oyadomori Passai, MatsumuraPassai, Anan, Heiku, and some others.
On Pinan Nidan:
Pinan Nidan is the simplest kata. It is the stepping punch (oi-zuki) and the correct timing and proper distance (maniau) that I teach from Pinan Nidan. I do not know any others that teach this. Maybe there are no other teachers in mainland Japan who understand Pinan Nidan.
The stepping punch is delivered before the foot lands. It is the method of putting weight into a punch. There are few people who can understand oi-zuki from the instruction of many Japanese karate teachers.
When I see the Pinan Nidan (Heian Shodan) of Shotokan, Shitoryu and Wadoryu, I have to believe that Gichin Funakoshi, Kenwa Mabuni, and Hironori Ohtsuka could not have understood karate. It is clear to me!
There is no oi-zuki in the kumite lesson from Naifanchi. One of the features is not switching the body. It is “ushiro-te sabaki maete-zuki” that is demonstrated. It means that kizami-zuki is carried out, by defending with the rear hand. This is difficult waza in a kumite tournament. Therefore, I only teach this to experienced adult competitors.
I teach neither sanbon kumite nor ippon kumite. I do not teach ido kihon either. This kihon is for kata, not for karate. These are all methods developed by Shotokan. In the Japanese mainland, karate is wholly based on such training. I think it is a big mistake and will not lead to understanding karate.
I carry out the methods for practicing original karate. Karate practice methods are not about learning kata. Karate practices fighting techniques by using a makiwara. This is the difference between true karate and other karate. The “10 teachings of Itosu” is our textbook.
Funakoshi Gichin, the Early History of Karate in Japan
edited by Bud Morgan
The great karate master Gichin Funakoshi was a key pioneer in the development of modern karate.
In fact, he was one of the instructors responsible for bringing traditional Okinawan karate to Japan. He himself was caught in the great wave of social change sweeping through Japan and its prefectures. His contributions include authoring several of the first publications describing the previously secret art of karate, strengthening the connection between character development and karate training, and the development of modern teaching methods. Master Funakoshi supported the realization that karate would evolve from a provincial fighting system to a prominent member of the modern Japanese martial arts.
Funakoshi was born at the beginning of the Meiji Period (1868), a period of considerable change throughout Japan. Meiji means “Enlightened Rule” and with the reigns of power transferring from the Shogun back to the Emperor, modernization and social change became the order of the day. This was a time of considerable social change and exposure to new ideas. This period led to a new view of Japan in the modern world.
Because Funakoshi reached adulthood during this volatile period, he had great opportunity to witness and consider the nature of change within society. By his actions, Master Azato, one of Funakoshi’s primary teachers, demonstrated his insight regarding change during this period. Azato demonstrated his support for change by cutting his topknot off when they were first declared illegal. This enlightened view toward the reforms of the Meiji Period probably influenced Funakoshi.
The clandestine practice of karate persisted through the early years of Meiji. This would change also. Karate was about to come out of the dark and into the light of day. It didn’t take long before many prominent and influential members of society took notice of karate and its virtues. This departure from secrecy to open contribution to society should be viewed in the context of social changes brought on by the Meiji Period. Karate was being changed from merely a fighting art to an art which improves human beings through rigorous and challenging endeavor.
The value of karate as a means of self-improvement was a key point which Funakoshi became expert at describing when lecturing about karate. He widened the scope in regards to who should practice karate. He stated that karate “should be simple enough to be practiced without undue difficulty by everybody, young and old, boys and girls, men and women.” His opinion that karate training can contribute to both mental and physical health must have some genesis in his recovery from poor health during early youth.
He further described benefits of practice in the following way. “Karate-do is not merely a sport that teaches how to strike and kick; it is also a defense against illness and disease.”
Because of this way of viewing the value of karate, it began to make the all-important transition from jutsu (technique) to do (way).
One of the areas were Funakoshi exhibited a pioneering outlook was in his appreciation of different styles of martial art. Azato demonstrated an open mind toward the other martial arts by encouraging Funakoshi to study them also.
There was considerable rivalry between some of the schools of karate, with some claiming superiority due to their Chinese influence (ch’uan fa) and others claiming superiority because of their Okinawan heritage (tode). One of the chief areas of contribution by Funakoshi was to look beyond this situation of inter-style competitiveness and seek a synthesis of the best aspects from the different styles.
Given the open minds of his two primary instructors, Azato and Itosu, Funakoshi was in an ideal position to appreciate the strong points of the various styles of karate and begin integrating them together. He had been exposed to the different styles of the two masters, Shorei through Azato and Shorin through Itosu, and had trained with many of the other prominent Okinawan karate masters of the day. Funakoshi had become the most eclectic karateka of his day.
Karate was to undergo an important transition during the Meiji Period. It was time to evolve away from its secretive and lethal past and move into a new phase of public interest and contribution to society. It was perceived that karate had much to offer to a rapidly changing society during the upheaval created by Meiji Period reforms. In fact, the public’s interest in karate was aroused by several key events during this new phase of development.
The commissioner of public schools, Shintaro Ogawa, strongly recommended in a report to the Japanese Ministry of Education that the physical education programs of the normal schools and the First Public High School of Okinawa Prefecture include karate as part of their training. This recommendation was accepted and initiated by these schools in 1902.
So began a long, fruitful, and continuing relationship with the educational system. Funakoshi recalls that this was the first time that karate was introduced to the general public. Thereafter, karate was successfully incorporated into the Okinawan school system.
To what extent did Funakoshi, due to his background and personal familiarity as a teacher within the Okinawa educational system, play a part in this development? It seems evident that this new policy demanded an even-handed, unbiased approach to representing and teaching karate so nobody was offended by omission. Funakoshi performed the task of primary spokesman for Okinawan karate with the capability of a seasoned diplomat.
Some years later, Captain Yashiro visited Okinawa and saw a karate demonstration by Funakoshi’s primary school pupils. He was so impressed that he issued orders for his crew to witness and learn karate.
Then, in 1912, the Imperial Navy’s First Fleet, under the command of Admiral Dewa, visited Okinawa. About a dozen members of the crew stayed for a week to study karate. Yashiro and Dewa were thus responsible for the first military exposure to karate and brought favorable word of this new martial art back to Japan.
During the years 1914 and 1915, a group that included Mabuni, Motobu, Kyan, Gusukuma, Ogusuku, Tokumura, Ishikawa, Yahiku, and Funakoshi gave many demonstrations throughout Okinawa. This practice would have been quite unheard of during the earlier period of secrecy. It was due to the tireless efforts of this group in popularizing karate through lectures and demonstration tours that karate became well known to the Okinawan public.
In 1921, the crown prince Hirohito visited Okinawa. Captain Kanna, an Okinawan by birth and commander of the destroyer on which the crown prince was traveling, suggested that the prince observe a karate demonstration. Funakoshi was in charge of the demonstration. This was a great honor for Funakoshi and further established him as a prominent champion of Okinawan karate. It was shortly before the crown prince’s visit that Funakoshi resigned his teaching position, but maintained excellent relations with the Okinawan school system.
It was the Japan Department of Education which, in late 1921, invited Funakoshi to participate in a demonstration of ancient Japanese martial arts. In order to make the greatest impression, something more than a demonstration was called for.
With significant assistance from Hoan Kosugi, the famous Japanese painter, Funakoshi published the first book pertaining to karate, Ryukyu Kempo: Karate. This book was forwarded by such prominent citizens as the Marquis Hisamasa, the former governor of Okinawa, Admiral R. Yashiro, Vice Admiral C. Ogasawara, Count Shimpei Goto, Lieutenant General C. Oka, Rear Admiral N. Kanna, Professor N. Tononno, and B. Sueyoshi of the Okinawa Times.
Soon, Funakoshi was balancing his time between early university clubs (such as Keio and Takushoku), a main dojo, and speaking and demonstration requests. His age ranged from 50 to 60 over this period — he was supposed to be approaching the autumn of his life and was instead introducing karate to Japan!
Funakoshi’s background as an educator was helpful for presenting ideas in concise and systematic fashion. Funakoshi pioneered the organization of karate instruction into three fundamental categories of practice: kihon, kata and kumite. In fact, practice of kumite was rather new and aroused great enthusiasm among the young university students. Competition between university karate clubs helped fuel the interest in kumite and the popularity of karate.
Once in Japan, the universities became fertile ground for karate study. Was this also a result of Funakoshi’s educational and intellectual background? Was it because karate represented a wonderful blend of physical and mental challenge, combined with a sense of tradition and history? The popularity among the intellectually inclined was very fortunate for karate. The university groups helped transform karate from a mysterious, arcane art to a scientific martial art and modern sport.
Master Jigoro Kano, the father of modern judo, was instrumental in acknowledging karate as a valued Japanese martial art and in encouraging Funakoshi to stay in Japan. Even several sumo wrestlers became students of karate-do during this early period. They clearly recognized a noteworthy and potent martial art. During a period where Funakoshi wasn’t able to use floor space at the Meisei Juku, H. Nakayama, a great kendo instructor, offered Funakoshi the use of his dojo when not in use.
Later, the time came when constructing Funakoshi’s own dojo was ripe. About 1935, supporters gathered sufficient funds to construct the first karate dojo in Japan and in 1936 it was dedicated as the Shoto-kan. By now, many initial students who trained with Funakoshi earlier and had moved to other cities due to work, had also created a demand for instruction throughout the country.
With the acceptance of karate by other established martial arts and with a growing number of dedicated students, the introduction and popularization of karate in Japan was now well underway.
Funakoshi was an advocate of karate’s health benefits. His strong conviction that karate training can enhance physical health must have been influenced by his dramatic recovery from poor health during early youth.
Funakoshi may have subconsciously realized that karate-do, when seen as a well-rounded and highly challenging form of exercise and health maintenance would greatly expand its public appeal and value.
Other qualities had to be learned before Funakoshi could become a successful pioneer. He gained a great sense of humility and modesty from Azato and Itosu. “If they taught me nothing else, I would have profited by the example they set of humility and modesty in all dealings with their fellow human beings.” These qualities were clearly evident when, struggling to make a living upon arrival in Japan, Funakoshi swept the floors and grounds of the Meisei Juku.
The quality of humility was fostered by his two primary instructors. As Funakoshi stated, “Both Azato and his good friend Itosu shared at least one quality of greatness: they suffered from no petty jealousy of other masters.
They would present me to the teachers of their acquaintance, urging me to learn from each the technique at which he excelled.” All indications are that this demonstration of humility and respect made a life-long impression on young Funakoshi.
He learned valuable diplomacy skills as a young school teacher. As an example, he was asked to mediate a dispute involving two different factions by the village of Shaka. The issue was political and stemmed from Meiji reforms. Tact and intelligent arbitration was required to resolve a vexing situation.
Also, his wife became known throughout their Okinawan neighborhood as a skillful mediator. When the neighbors grew quarrelsome, it was often Funakoshi’s wife who interceded on behalf of reason and peace. He had great respect for his wife and probably learned from her diplomatic qualities.
Because of his study with the other prominent karate masters of the day, his integrity and fairness, and his respected position as an educator, Funakoshi evolved into the primary Okinawan karate “public relations” spokesman. He represented a unique blend of well-rounded physical expertise, intelligence, foresight, and conviction. He was articulate, sensitive to tradition and propriety, appropriately humble, and conveyed a sense of balance. Funakoshi felt the pull of Japan and found a nation fertile with eagerness for a martial art with the depth of challenge that karate-do represented. This is surely part of the reason Funakoshi had difficulty ever leaving Japan to return to his family in Okinawa.
The Meiji Period represented a time of great social change in Japan and consequently Okinawa. With the covert aspect of karate practice no longer necessary, it was soon perceived that karate had much to offer to a rapidly changing society. Karate underwent a profound change — it evolved from merely a fighting art to an art which improves the character of its practitioners. This adaptation from a purely self-defense art to a method of self-improvement was probably a response to the social changes initiated by Meiji reforms.
Master Funakoshi described the new notion of karate in the following manner. “Karate is not only the acquisition of certain defensive skills, but also the mastering of the art of being a good and honest member of society.”
This statement indicates the importance of self-improvement and contribution to a better society. No longer could “good” karate be defined simply as a fast punch or powerful kick. Qualities of character were also now a part of the equation. This concept is captured concisely by Funakoshi’s statement that “Karate begins and ends with courtesy.”
Funakoshi performed the task of primary spokesman for Okinawan karate with the capability of a seasoned diplomat. He expertly guided karate through a transition from a clandestine, provincial, feudal period, fighting system to a modern, widely-practiced member of the Japanese martial arts. His efforts and foresight provided the foundation for the wide appeal and eventual internationalization of modern karate.
The importance of Master Funakoshi’s accomplishments and contributions cannot be understated. Rather, events such as described below seem to poignantly capture Funakoshi’s sense of achievement.
“I still vividly recall every single moment of that day when I, with half a dozen of my students, performed karate kata in the imperial presence. The impoverished Okinawan youth who used to walk miles every night to his teacher’s house could hardly have foreseen, even in his dreams, such a high point in his karate career.”
At the end of his life, Funakoshi remembered this event as significant. Events such as this came to signify the emergence of karate as a traditional Japanese martial art. Events such as this also signify the pioneering role that Master Funakoshi so expertly performed. Master Funakoshi died on April 26th, 1957, leaving behind a legacy that continues to this day. He will always be remembered for the role he played in securing Karate for the entire world.
Shinken Taira, the great Okinawan Kobudo Master
By Bud Morgan
Shinken Taira was born in Okinawa on June 12th, 1897. His birth name was Maezato Shinken, but it was his mother’s maiden name of Taira which he would become known by.
He was the second son in a family of three boys and one girl, and it has been said he was given up for adoption as a child, (not an uncommon practice in old Japan), and that he was somewhat a mischievous child. At some point in his early life he took on his mother’s maiden name of Taira, and would be known as such for the remainder of his life.
As a young man, Taira Sensei worked in the sulfur mines in Minamii-jima. He suffered a badly broken leg when he was trapped in a mine collapse, having to dig his way free.
This accident caused permanent damage to his right leg, and much hardship for Taira Sensei. It is said that he would carry a limp in his right leg for the remainder of his life.
In 1922, after traveling to Tokyo to find work, he was introduced to Funakoshi Gichin, a fellow Okinawan and Karate instructor who was just settling permanently in Japan. Taira Sensei became a deshi (student) of Funakoshi Gichin in an effort to properly learn Karate-do.
In 1929, Taira Sensei began his studies of Ryukyu Kobudo under Master Yabiku Moden. Yabiku Sensei, who like his colleague Funakoshi Sensei, was working for the promotion of Karate-do as well as Ryukyu Kobudo on the Japanese mainland.
In fact, both Yabiku Sensei and Funakoshi Sensei were quite well acquainted having both received instruction in Shuri-te from Ankoh Itosu Sensei on Okinawa.
During his study under Yabiku Sensei, Taira Sensei mastered the use of such weapons as the Roku-shaku Bo (six foot staff), Eiku (oar), Sai (metal truncheon), Tonfa (right angled hand truncheon), and Nunchaku (wooden flail).
In 1932, after studying Kobudo for approximately three years and Karate-do for 10 years, he received permission from his masters to open his own Dojo. Taira began to teach Karate-do and Kobudo in the quaint hot springs resort town of Ikaho, within Gunma Prefecture, Japan.
Taira Sensei had an insatiable appetite for Budo knowledge. He continuously trained, and researched, finally assimilating his findings into a Kobudo system that remains to this day.
It was because of this constant search for knowledge that, in 1933, Taira Sensei was introduced by Master Funakoshi to Karate and Kobudo master, Mabuni Kenwa . In 1934, Taira Sensei would invite Mabuni Sensei into his home, where he became a deshi, or personal student of Mabuni Sensei.
Mabuni Sensei graciously accepted Taira’s invitation and taught him Karate and Kobudo up until Taira Sensei would return to Okinawa in 1940.
During those six years, Taira housed and paid Mabuni Sensei for his instruction and under the close scrutiny of Mabuni Sensei, Taira expanded his knowledge of both kata and techniques of the Bo and Sai.
In 1940 Taira Sensei returned to Okinawa and shortly after the death of Yabiku Sensei in 1941, he established the beginnings of the Ryukyu Kobudo Hozon Shinkokai.
The curriculum of Taira’s Hozon Shinkokai included instruction in the use of nine different weapons and their respective kata. These included kata which he had learned throughout his years of instruction, as well as kata which he had created himself.
He also continued to make frequent trips to both the Kanto and Kansai areas to teach and promote Okinawa Kobudo on the Japanese mainland. His students on the mainland and in Okinawa were a virtual “who’s who” of Karate greats.
Karate giants such as Sakagami Ryushou (Shito-ryu), Hayashi Teruo (Shito-ryu), Kuniba Shogo, Eizo Shimabuku and his brother Tatsuo Shimabuku, as well Mabuni Kenei (son of Shito-ryu founder Mabuni Kenwa) were all frequent practitioners of Taira Sensei’s Kobudo.
In 1955 he officially established the Ryukyu Kobudo Hozon Shinkokai, to promote the Ancient Okinawan Martial Arts as passed down to him by so many great masters.
In addition, in the early 1960’s Taira published the first comprehensive book on Ryukyu Kobudo in Japanese entitled, “Ryukyu Kobudo Taiken” which added greatly to popularize the art on Okinawa.
Later in the 1960’s Taira Sensei formalized and strengthened his association by appointing his students to different positions within the Shinko Kai and established testing and licensing standards for his students.
Also in 1963, to further the growth of Karate-do and Kobudo at an international level, the Kokusai Karate-do Kobudo Renmei was formed with Higa Seiko as Chairman, and Taira Shinken as Vice-Chairman.
Later in 1964 Taira Shinken was recognized as a master teacher of Kobudo by the All Japan Kobudo Federation and was awarded his Hanshi certification.
Taira Shinken is credited with bringing together many of the Okinawan’s oldest and most prominent weapons traditions into one comprehensive system of weaponry training.
He left behind a legacy as an innovator of combining unarmed and armed combat, and as an inventor who developed the Manji-Sai. He was by all accounts a truly brilliant martial artist.
Taira Sensei was succeeded in Okinawa by Eisuke Akamine of the Ryukyu Kobudo Hozon Shinkokai, and in mainland Japan by Inoue Motokatsu of the Ryukyu Kobujutsu Hozon Shinkokai.
Although there is some dispute as to who was the senior student of Taira Sensei, it is the opinion of this writer that this is an issue of political nature only. These two masters have had the greatest influence on the world-wide preservation of the ancient weapon traditions collected by Taira Sensei, and respectively, they continued the traditions of their teacher in the best way they saw fit.
In the same way that Itosu Ankoh Sensei had formalized the exercises of karate (kata) to establish a more comprehensive system of training, so too did Taira Shinken bring together many of Okinawa’s oldest and most prominent Kobudo traditions.
Taira Sensei also developed his own innovative training exercises (kata), many of which themselves later became standardized Kobudo Kata.
They included kata for the Nunchaku, and the Sansetsu-kun, a three sectioned staff.
With such an extensive collection of Bojutsu knowledge (more than twenty separate traditions) Taira Sensei also decided to create a single kata, which embodied the central elements of cudgel fighting.
This creation, his kata Kongo-no-kun, best illustrates his mastery of the art of Bojutsu.
In an effort to teach the principles of Tekko-jutsu (knuckles dusters), Taira Sensei also developed another kata called Maezato no Tekko. The unique configuration of this kata is believed to have been based upon the foundation developed while learning under Funakoshi Sensei, and is an excellent example of kata. The kata can be performed both with Tekko, and as an empty hand form.
After many years of dedicated work bettering the art of Kobudo, the great master Taira Shinken died at his home in September of 1970 from stomach cancer.
Although gone now from this world, Taira Shinken will not soon be forgotten. His efforts to research, preserve, and promote the ancient fighting traditions of the Ryukyu Kingdom shall live on forever through the enormous legacy he has left behind.
The Shuri-te of Gusukuma Shinpan
by Ernest Estrada, Okinawa Shorinryu Kyoshi
One of Yasutsune “Ankoh” Itosu’s students was Gusukuma Shinpan (1890-1954) who was also a peer of Chibana Choshin. Gusukuma, also called Shinpan Shiroma by the Japanese, is virtually unknown due to the fact that he was a very quiet individual who was not interested in spreading the art that he so loved. His only concern was to teach good karate and hence only had a few dedicated students.
Shorin-ryu Training In The 1950’s
Although a peer of Chibana Choshin, very little is said about the master technician, Gusukuma Shinpan. He began teaching shortly after WWII and was close friends with Miyagi Chojun, Kyoda Jyuhatsu and Kyan Chotoku. He taught regularly at Shuri Castle and had a dojo at his home in Nishihara City. He was a school teacher by profession but his first love was Shuri-style karate.
One of his former students was Iha Seikichi (who presently resides in East Lansing, Michigan) who often talks about his teacher. The following are some thoughts concerning how it was like to train in the l950’s under Gusukuma:
Training under Gusukuma-sensei was very strict and traditional. It was a lot of self-training where he would watch to see how hard you wanted to learn. All students would first become an apprentice student and help clean the dojo for six months to a year. They could watch training but could not take part in receiving instructions.
When Gusukuma-sensei thought that they were ready, he would then tell them to join in. Sensei never actively taught but would have the senior students do all the teaching. Sensei would only teach the top two or three students and then have them pass on the knowledge. This was a very traditional way of teaching.
During class, sensei would evaluate every student and advise them of their weaknesses. He would allow each student to demonstrate two kata for him while he watched. Sensei would then tell them that they needed work on their stances, or their power, etc. They would then train themselves based on sensei’s evaluation. Sensei would sometimes show a student a technique and then say, “Ha, I showed you something! You are very lucky I did this! Now go train!!!”
Gusukuma-sensei would personally teach the top two or three senior students and it was then their responsibility to pass on the methods to the rest of the students. One senior would always be there to teach while sensei observed or trained by himself.
Sensei was about 5’1″ and weighed about 125 pounds. He was extremely strong and trained his fists and toes on the makiwara everyday. He believed a karate-man must be able to generate power equivalent to three times their own body weight with either fist or foot. Needless to say, the students were constantly repairing the makiwara punching boards.
If a student did not train hard, Gusukuma-sensei would tell him that he should leave and come back when he was ready to train. If the student continued with this attitude, Gusukuma-sensei would tell him not to come back unless he was serious about learning and training.
Sensei was hardest on students that did not listen. He had a good memory and would often tell a student to work on his punch or kick or kata. If the student did not do this then sensei would bring it to their attention and kick him out of the dojo for wasting his time by not listening.
All styles of Okinawan karate-do stress the importance of the makiwara board. It is said that training with the makiwara develops power through concentration of technique. This ability to “focus” is external power developed internally.
Through constant training with the makiwara the student starts developing confidence in their technique. They see that it is stronger than those that have just started and find that through this confidence they are really able to punch and kick harder.
This is the usual difference found in Okinawan karate as opposed to the others. Their focus is on power – and the power is extracted from the makiwara. A lot of people can look good punching the air but their power can be seen as lacking or in some cases, non-existent. So, through makiwara training, one can readily see the power generated by training with these ancient pieces of equipment.
Gusukuma Shinpan stressed and possessed great power for a man of his size (approximately five feet tall). He believed in being able to hit the makiwara with the equivalent of three times your own body weight. So, if one weighed approximately one hundred pounds, Gusukuma felt that this individual must be able to hit with approximately three hundred pounds of force.
Gusukuma strived to developed this kind of power with both hands and both feet. He kept this level of power through training with the makiwara board and striking it approximately 300 times per day with each weapon. He was a firm believer that a measure of a karate person was in their ability to produce this kind of power.
Gusukuma’s teaching methods consisted of kata, kata and more kata. He believe that kata provided the foundation of the body and spirit.
He said that the Japanese sword is sharp and beautiful but that in order to get to this end (that is, sharp and beautiful) it must be pounded and tempered with the sweat of one’s body.
So the teacher must do the same to the student. If the student is dedicated to the hard training of Okinawan karate, then he can be molded into something sharp and beautiful. After all, Okinawan karate-do, if done correctly, is “sharp and very beautiful” to watch. And like a sharp and beautiful Japanese sword, it is also very deadly.
In the kata kusanku-dai, in the kick and the drop down technique, Gusukuma stood supreme. He could kick and travel about eight feet before he dropped down.
Gusukuma changed a number of Itosu’s kata and techniques to coincide with his own personal “enlightenment.” He stated that this is a common practice by all karatemen and that it is merely based on human nature to try and improve what one has learned.
Gusukuma Shinpan had no fingernails because of his constant practice of the spear hand technique (nukite) on the bamboo bundles that he used as training aids.
The Bus Driver
In Okinawa, one of Gusukuma’s students was a bus driver. One time a drunk got on board the bus and started to cause trouble with the passengers by trying to pick a fight. The student yelled at the drunk, “do you really want to fight?”
The drunk was quick to take up the challenge and demanded to fight now. The student then said that he would be more than glad to show him his fighting prowess. At this the drunk became very angry and demanded that the driver open the door so that they could go at it. When the door opened the drunk stormed off and readied himself by taking off his coat.
As the drunk got off, the student just simply smiled, quickly closed the door of the bus and drove off with the drunk in hot pursuit. After a several hundred feet run, the drunk fell and threw up on himself. The driver had nothing to prove to the drunk or to himself. All the passengers laughed and told the bus driver that he had used good strategy.
Gusukuma Shinpan has three sons and one daughter that are still alive today. During WWII he received a severe concussion from the American bombing that continued to bothered him for the rest of his life. He use to have severe headaches centered around the back of his right ear.
The first son is presently a school teacher, the second son is handicapped from falling three stories on his back and his last son is presently a fireman. None of Gusukuma’s sons have equalled their father in his karate skill but the first and the third son are strong enough to teach. None do.
Gusukuma Shinpan always told his students that he would refuse to become bedridden or get to a point where he could not take care of himself. On the day of his death, he taught class and trained for two hours. He ate a light dinner and went to bed early. Three hours later, when his wife checked in on him, they found that he had died in his sleep.
That day his students stated that Gusukuma had spoken of his own death. He had said, “My body is strong but everyday my will gets even stronger. I will pick my day and die at peace with no long illness or discomfort for my family. Wait and see.”
Gusukuma, The Teacher
Gusukuma Shinpan was a school teacher and very educated while Chibana Choshin never finished high school. He saw the practice of karate as a hobby and never accepted payment for lessons. It should be noted that the common way of paying an instructor during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s was to bring food for all to share after training.
Guskuma’s Trip To JapanJust before the war and when Gusukuma Shinpan was in his prime he vacationed in Japan and saw a martial arts demonstration. He watched a group of female yari (spear) experts who had a dojo by his home in Tokyo. He was so impressed by their focus that he decided to take lessons in the yari from the female Sensei.
Gusukuma then went to her dojo and requested lessons. He also stated that he would only be in Japan for about three months because he was a high school teacher in Okinawa and that he had to return to teach. The teacher then gave him a wooden yari and showed him how to perform “nuki” (a spear thrust). He was then told to practice for about two or three hours.
Gusukuma continued to go to the dojo every day for three months and the only technique he practiced was the “nuki.” Just before he returned to Okinawa, he asked the Sensei if he was doing well and whether he should practice other techniques.
She replied that he was doing well but that he needed more practice before he could learn another technique. He then asked her what was the average time it took to go on to another technique. She replied, “about three years.”
At the end of his stay in Japan, Gusukuma once again approached his Sensei to advise her he was returning to Okinawa. He thanked her for her time and stated that he would continue to practice and would be back next year.
She then took a long look at the great Gusukuma and said, “I’m glad that you’ll continue to practice. We all need to do this in order to learn the WAY. Thank you for your efforts and good-bye.” She then walked away.
Gusukuma Shinpan often spoke of the eight considerations in kicking and the four considerations of the punch.
Considerations for kicking:
1. When kicking in kata or kumite, the back must be straight and true so as to allow you to punch if blocked.
2. The quickest kicks are of the snapping variety.
3. The kata kicks are performed with the toe-tipped foot.
4. The most important kick is that done to the chudan (middle) area.
5. Consider the knee the “hinge” of the kick.
6. The ankle must be strong in kicking as the wrist is strong in punching.
7. The leg is loose and flexible while the toes are tight. Just like a punch, the arm is loose while the fist is tight.
8. When kicking, kick with both legs.
Considerations for punching:
1. The large knuckle finger and the thumb squeeze the index finger in a good fist.
2. In making a strong fist, the index finger is folded first.
3. Punching is done with a loose arm and tight fist.
4. You strike with the index knuckle first.
The following are a group of writings that have been published in a Book, though the authors name has been disguised for the reason of not wanting to start the war of words within the Karate community. However this is the truth, and if you read the words carefully you can come to know who this author is……..
In Consideration of Kata
by Gennosuke Higaki
(Part 1) Is A Kata Merely a String of Basic Techniques?
Section 1 What is Kata?
It appears that the understanding of kata in modern karate is that it consists of basic techniques strung together. According to bunkai kumite, which has been passed down by my master, one can see that techniques consist of various complex movements.
A movement that is called a block is not necessarily expressed as a block. Therefore even if one can perform the basic techniques such as punches, kicks, and blocks separately, a kata is not just made up of those individual techniques. “A whole is not a gathering of its parts, rather it is a union of its parts.”
For instance let’s take a jigsaw puzzle. At first, all of the pieces are in a box or a can. At that point, all of the pieces are separate, and one cannot see the picture or photograph. They are only physically together in one place. That is the condition that the pieces are simply “gathered” together. In order to complete the photograph or picture, the pieces must be put together in their correct positions. By doing so, the picture or photograph is completed. This is the condition where the parts are “united” to form a whole.
Accordingly, if one just removes individual techniques from a kata, such as punches, kicks, and blocks, they alone will not be able to express the original intended meaning. It is through the learning of how to put the techniques together that one can understand the application and recreate the original meaning of that kata. So we can see that no matter how much one practices the basic techniques, they will not be able to grasp the essence of the kata.
(Part 2) A Means to Record Offensive and Defensive Techniques.
Katas were created to record techniques. In the case of martial arts, each technique is recorded as a kata. There are written records of the steps and explanations for these katas.
Okinawan karate was influenced by Chinese martial arts and employed as a means of training, the practice of arranging numerous techniques in one kata. A close friend told me an interesting example relating to this. He said that it is easier to learn individual vocabulary when learning them with a melody, as in a song.
If one learns katas by actually performing them, there will be no need for texts.
(Part 3) Oral Instruction
The purpose of katas is to transmit the knowledge to the next generation. To learn a kata is to learn that kata’s techniques, so the idea that one knows the kata but not its application is, to the rational mind, impossible.
Accordingly, if one learns a kata, but hasn’t been taught the application of the techniques, then one cannot say that they have learned the kata. The masters who created the katas of course knew the meaning of the techniques and left a tool by means, which future generations could recreate the moves of the kata.
That tool is the oral instruction of bunkai or Kuden. Master Anko Itosu, in his “Ten Principles”, said that “one must understand the meaning before practicing. Also, the real usage is often explained orally.” As Master Itosu wrote, katas have been handed down together with an oral explanation of the bunkai, and the reason this has not been passed down is that many instructors themselves have not been taught.
(Part 4) Training
When one speaks of training there is a tendency to interpret it as referring to physical training. In Japanese, the word “kiso” (foundation) is related to the word kisotairyoku (fundamental physical strength). I believe the general conception is to equate “kiso” with “stamina”, and “training” with “power”.
Here, I will use the word training to refer to the effort to learn how to use proper body mechanics, which is the foundation for use of techniques.
Through the practice of katas and their bunkai, one can learn the dynamics of proper body mechanics in the process of perfecting these techniques. As this knowledge, then, is passed down through several generations, a certain amount of techniques are amassed and the terms “tips” and “points” undergo a linguistic transformation, and individual techniques become and independent technique.
Understanding these various techniques is useful in hastening ones advancement in karate. Therefore, without the knowledge of bunkai, it is very difficult to understand proper body mechanics as it relates to karate.
Moreover, once can imagine that the reason one should begin practicing simple katas like Naihanchi and Seishan for three years, is because the simpler the kata, the easier it is to master the techniques. Another way to look at it is that the purpose of practicing these katas is to create correct body mechanics for the practice of karate. This information, as with the bunkai and kata, has been passed down orally.
Section 2 Kumite Makes Katas Useable.
Today, kata and kumite are two separate entities in competition. Originally, though, the purpose of kumite must have been to be able to use katas. The key to that was the application of the katas, or bunkai kumite. Unfortunately, though, much of that has not been handed down or lost.
The proper order to practice was to first understand the bunkai kumite, then after one has thoroughly practiced a kata individually, begin to practice kumite with a partner. In this progression the practice of kumite enables the use of katas.
In “Okinawan Karate Gai Setsu”, Master Kentsu Yabu states that Master Sokon Matsumura practiced kumite with a partner. Today, however, much of the bunkai kumite that one sees is for beginners, and as similar to the kirikaeshi in kendo, and it is not the real bunkai for katas. Regarding the assertion that, “If one practices a kata for many years, they will be able to understand it by themselves.”
It may be true in some instances, but the odds of that are slim, and there is the danger of losing many techniques to future generations. More than anything, though, if one were generally able to learn by one self, then they would not require teachers.
Furthermore, if, for example, one were supposed to learn independently, then all of the practitioners of karate from its introduction about 100 years ago to the present should be able use katas.
The bunkai of kata is fundamentally meant to be learned along with the oral tradition from one’s teacher. No matter how genius one is, katas, which are the accumulation of the wisdom of generations of the masters, are not that simple as to be solved through only on lifetime of practice. I believe that the biggest challenge facing us is to begin to organically connect katas with kumite through the understanding of bunkai.
Section 3 Kumite Did Exist
(Part 1) Kumite Did Exist-Part 1
Historically speaking with regard to karate, the common explanation is that long ago the individual practice of kata was the principle method of practice, and that kumite was not practiced, rather the practice of challenge matches akin to fights was common. Is that really true? Could martial arts training really have been complete with just the practice of kata? Did they just suddenly go from kata and use the techniques in real combat situations? Were all karate practitioners a bunch of thugs who roamed the streets looking for fights anytime they saw someone who looked strong?
If someone began learning karate, only practicing kata and hitting a makiwara at their dojo, or at home, and then went out to town selling karate through challenge matches, like some kind of street fighter, what would people think? That seems pretty strange, actually when we think about it.
Since karate is stylized, one must understand the actual bunkai kumite, because there are many movements, which are not obvious from the outward appearance. Naihanchi is a truly representative example of this.
Even if one were to practice Naihanchi for 3 to 5 years, could one truly use the techniques in a real fight?
Since the practice of challenge matches is practiced secretly, if one were to just diligently to practice kata as one is instructed by one’s master, it is would be insufficient as a martial art.
So we see that when we carefully examine these commonly held notions we are left with many questions and doubts.
I will cite several pieces of circumstantial evidence to support my premise that they are incorrect.
(No. 1) In Chinese martial arts, which is the basis for Okinawan karate, in addition to the practice of kata by oneself, there is a method of practice with a partner.
(No. 2) In 1867, at a demonstration for the Chinese envoy kumite using weapons as well as bare hands was performed.
(No. 3) Since Master Sokon Matsumura of Shuri style karate was quite talented at Jigen Ryu swordsmanship, it is only natural that he was familiar with the fighting forms of swordsmanship.
(No. 4) It is said that Master Kosaku Matsumora of Tomari style karate learned kumite from his instructor.
(No.5) In 1905 Master Chomo Hanashiro, a student of Itosu, wrote a handwritten book entitled Karate Kumite. It indicated that kumite was a part of karate.
(No. 6) It is said that when Master Itosu made the Heian katas, his partner was Master Chomo Hanashiro. So, at least for the Heian katas, bunkai kumite existed from the beginning.
(No. 7) In Goju ryu and Uechi Ryu there is a method of practice involving 2 persons, called “kakete”.
(No. 8) There are photographs of Master Chojun Miyagi, the founder of Goju Ryu practicing kumite when he was young, and also instructing his students in kumite.
(No. 9) There is a photograph of Master Chotoku Kiyan and a student facing each other in a fighting stance.
(No. 10) I have heard stories of sensei Kubota practicing kumite with master Funakoshi.
There is more that I can add, but in terms of circumstantial evidence, I believe this is sufficient. I believe this evidence points to the existence of kumite.
In Master Funakoshi’s Karate as My Way of Life it nowhere states that he practiced kumite. Rather, he stresses the practice of katas individually.
It is likely that because of the “secret pact” of which I heard about from sensei Kubota, he did not write about kumite.
(Part 2) Kumite Did Exist-Part 2
The first person to introduce kumite to the mainland was Master Choki Motobu, in his book entitled My Okinawan Karate there is a section called “kumite”. The gist of that book was that in Okinawan karate, both basics (kata) and kumite existed. In that book, however, it did not specify how to do it, but it could be practiced after learning basic kata, as a kind of “uke hazushi” (blocking and countering). So it was something like bunkai kumite, or ippon kumite. Also, there that is evidence that the term “kumite” existed apart from teachings from individual teachers.
(Part 3) Kumite Did Exist
In Kempo Gai Setsu (Published in 1930) by Jisaburo Miki, and Mizuho Takada, there is an interview entitled “The Distinguished master and Experts of Ryukyu.” In it he interviewed some of the masters who were considered distinguished at the time. The following excerpt touches on kumite.
(Sensei Kentsu Yabu Yamakawa cho, Shuri shi)
Currently he is teaching at the Instructors School. He has also spent some ten years in America giving lectures on Okinawa Kempo at various seminars throughout the United States, as well as taking challenge matches to show karate’s true power.
His serious efforts undoubtedly gave birth to many American karate students. He has not only been a close friend, but he has trained for many years with sensei Choki Motobu, but his main objective has been actual fighting.
In his youth, he frequently fought matches and challenged other dojos on occasion. He said that his method of training is to engage in serious practice sparring matches with Master Matsumura (Yabu’s instructor) after practicing kata 3 or 4 times, without the use of protective gear. I was able to gain valuable insight into his method of offense and defense.
Master Kentsu Yabe is known as a student of Master Anko Itosu, but he was originally a student of master Sokon Matsumura and apparently he was a fellow student of Master Itosu.
From the above article, we see that master Yabu, a student of Master Itosu, spent more time on practicing with a partner than individual kata work. By the way, there is a photograph of Master Yabu engaging in kumite with Mr. Miki, who is wearing protective gear.
Section 4 Consideration of Heian Katas
It is said that Master Anko Itosu (1830 – 1915), the father of the revival of Shuri Te, introduced the Heian katas and used them as a part of the curriculum in schools in 1904. The popular belief is that master Itosu used an existing kata, removed the dangerous moves and created a new set of katas for the purpose of teaching karate in physical education courses in public schools. Recently they have become widely used as beginning katas, and often used only for promotion test, but they are rarely used after one puts on a black belt. I would like to take a look at the Heian katas in the following manner.
(Part 1) The Historical Background When the Heian Katas Were Created.
I found a website which investigates the opinions on the mainland concerning the movement to introduce martial arts into the educational curriculum in the Meiji period. This is comparable to the period when Master Anko Itosu introduced karate into the school education in Okinawa.
Also, in the case of Kendo, which had fallen into decline after the Meiji Restoration, there was a heightened movement to start kendo in the public schools around the early 1880’s. The Ministry of Education began an investigation into whether martial arts were appropriate for introduction in to public schools, in response to petitions to do so from the civilian sector.
In 1883 the Ministry of Education charged the National Gymnastics Institute with carrying out the investigation. While recognizing its physical and mental merits, it was deemed inappropriate because it would be difficult to teach as a regular course due its dangerous and violent nature, and its insanitariness.
After the Japan- China War of 1893 and 1894, with the establishment of the Dai Nippon Butokukai, and the increase in popularity in Kodokan’s judo, the day to day interest among the general population was high.
In 1896 the Ministry the same Institute to investigate the merits of including kendo and judo in the public schools. They gave the same answer as before, that martial arts were inappropriate as a regular subject. In 1904 the Committee for Gymnastics and Recreation was established. After meeting 37 times, it too, concluded in a report that mainly from the standpoint of its growth and development, and the fact that was inadequate research into its method of instruction, it should be denied introduction as a regular subject.
After that the movement to allow kendo to be introduced as a regular course continued to be taken up in committee, and the “Proposal for Physical Education” was submitted and approved. Even then, though, the Ministry did not move on it, and finally the proposal was recognized but martial arts did not become a regular course, rather in fact a mere elective.
So, we see that it took over 30 years for a martial art, which began in the early 1880’s to bear fruit. I can cite various reasons for this, including the lack of equipment, the lack of facilities, and the dearth of qualified instructors, but perhaps the biggest reason was the fact that there was no clear method of instruction.
In 1908 the final proposal to introduce martial arts as a regular course was approved in the Diet. After that there were changes in the regulations of the Ministry of Education, and in 1911 the “Ordinances and Regulations For Normal and Junior High Schools” was made public. At that time kendo developed as a regular course in physical education.
As we see from the above, it took 30 years for the Ministry of Education to decide whether or not to introduce martial arts into the education curriculum. It is important to note that, even in the case of kendo and judo, they were passed over because they did not have a reliable method of teaching.
Let’s take a look a Master Itosu’s activity around that same time. In 1901 he taught karate at Shuri Elementary School. In 1904 he introduced the Heian katas. 1905 he taught at the Dai Ichi Jr. high School and normal School. In 1908 He submitted the “10 Principles” for the practice of karate to the Prefecture Office. When he submitted his “10 Principles” it was during the above historical background as a reply to the investigation of the Prefecture Office. Of course, the Okinawan Prefecture office was aware of the activities of the Ministry of Education, as well as the rise in popularity of Kodokan judo, and kendo.
(Part 2) The Intent of Itosu’s “10 principles”
In his “10 Principles” he used such phrases as “one person against ten opponents” and “a useful part of a militaristic society”. Such phrases make it clear that he viewed karate as a martial art, with a philosophy, which was the opposite of modern day sports.
When the “10 Principles” was written, Japan had just ended the Japan-China War (1888 – 1895) and the Russo-Japan War (1904 – 1905), and the trend toward creating a prosperous and militaristic country was growing daily. Also, when Master Itosu submitted his petition to have karate introduced into the public schools, the governor of Okinawa was reported to have said that “if the training in karate is so effective for the realizing the confidence of body and mind of soldiers, we should recognize its value, and for the encouragement of the youth of the prefecture, it should be adopted as a part of the physical education program immediately.”
Master Itosu, who submitted the proposal, and the Governor, who approved it, both recognized the value of a militaristic education.
(Part 3) The Characteristics of the Heian Katas
The characteristics were, as Master Itosu wrote, “They were designed so that one could advance through them in a short time. And they can be used for a quick attack, and the application must be transmitted orally.”
As we saw earlier, in order to successfully introduce karate into the public schools, it was essential to establish a method of instruction. Until that time the most common way to learn karate was to learn Naihanchi from such and such an instructor, then learn Passai from another instructor, and so on, learning from various instructors.
It is believed that Master Itosu created the Heian katas because he felt it was necessary to educate instructors, and create a system to facilitate the spread of karate. The terms ” shodan” and “nidan” are the same used in the Jigen style of swordsmanship to denote the order of steps.
Thus they were created with the idea of advancing step by step. He said that if one were to train 2 to 3 hours per day for 3 to 4 years, one would possibly be able to understand the hidden parts of the katas. It is also believed that the Heian katas were made with a great deal of consideration to the effectiveness as an immediate means of self-defense, without lowering the traditional technical level.
Also, since in olden times it was common for karate practitioners to know only 2 to 3 different katas, he believed it necessary to use the technical framework from many different katas in order not lower the overall technical level. Therefore it can be said that the Heian katas embody the essence of Shuri Te Karate.
(Part 4) Are They Simply Beginning Katas With Dangerous Techniques Removed?
The common notion is that Master Itosu removed the dangerous techniques to make the Heian katas appropriate for the public school education in physical education.
Is this really true, though?
In his “10 principles” he wrote that “It (karate) is extremely appropriate for soldiers.” And that “Some students will be able to learn the inner secrets in 3 to 4 years.”
In other words he was training the ability to respond immediately in a combat situation. For example, if one were to create a new kata, would one create something that was unusable as a sport like version that his students would unable to use?
I think one would create a kata which is easier to learn, and is more effective. In Itosu’s “10 principles” he wrote that “There are many oral teachings concerning the application.”
This indicates that there were oral teachings concerning the Heian katas. Thus there is the possibility that the Heian katas were created in such a way that they were not effective without the oral teachings that were meant to accompany them. In reality the oral teachings, which I learned from Sensei Kubota about the Heian katas’ bunkai are simple, but are amply effective, and they included dangerous techniques.
(Part 5) What are Dangerous Techniques?
Generally speaking, “dangerous techniques” are considered eye gouges, and groin kicks. These are stipulated as prohibited techniques in many combat sports.
But, were those techniques really removed from karate and the Heian katas? If we look at the writings of masters Funakoshi and Mabuni, we see that they included groin kicks, and nukite.
In “Kempo Karate” published in the year 1933, the explanation for a front kick is that it is a groin kick.
Additionally in the book “Karatedo Taikan” (Genwa Nakasone), which was written to introduce karate to elementary school students, groin kicks are included. So, from these examples, one can conclude that the idea that dangerous techniques were excluded is impossible. There exists the explanation that groin kicks were changed to front kicks.
Anyone, however, can change a front kick to a groin kick. Also, there is also groin kick where you kick up with the instep. So, I think the basis for that explanation is weak.
It has also said that the face punch was changed to a body punch. But if you pull in the opponent’s hand they will lose their balance and their head will be at body level so a mid level punch becomes an upper level punch. The same is true for eye gouges; they have not been removed from karate texts.
(Part 6) Would Karate Have Been Able to Last Had it Not removed It’s Dangerous Techniques?
The idea that in order for karate to survive after the Meiji period, it was necessary to make it a part of the school curriculum is problematic. I do not believe that as the case.
Even though karate was prohibited by governmental policies, and was for a while forced to be taught in secret, and not in public schools, it was still able to survive and be passed down generation after generation.
It is a well known fact that, while judo removed the dangerous techniques from randori practice, they still remain in katas.
Other disciplines such as traditional jujutsu, and kenjutsu have maintained their dangerous techniques, and yet managed to survive. Moreover in the age of a militaristic society, at that time, there was ample room for the existence of martial arts.
In conclusion, what was important for making karate acceptable for public school education was not to remove dangerous techniques, but to establish a methodological teaching system.
The Characteristics of the newly created Heian katas is that they progress in difficulty from Shodan to Godan. In addition to that master Kentsu Yabu created the etiquette, and the warm up exercises under the influence of military training.
(Part 7) About the Fact That There are Various Different Versions of Heian Katas.
Currently there are numerous versions depending on the style. Why do they exist, and which ones were newly created in the Meiji years?
The photograph entitled “Kata practiced at an Okinawan elementary school” shows the students doing a zenkutsu dachi (front stance) and a gedan barai (down block). In Shotokan they are performing Heian Shodan. It is often said that master Funakoshi changed the kata, but photograph of master Funakoshi teaching Heian katas on the mainland is approximately the same as the photograph of the Okinawan elementary school.
On the other hand, it is different from Shito Ryu’s neko ashi dachi (cat stance), tettsui uke (hammer fist block), and motodachi (basic stance).
According to Sensei Hiroshi Kinjo the karate that Master Itosu taught could be divided into “the karate, which he taught at his home” and “that which he taught at schools”.
It may be that the photograph shows the “karate, which he taught at the schools.”
Sensei Kinjo also wrote in his book “Karatedo Taikan” that Master Itosu altered the traditional katas, so even among his own students there was a differences among his students before they were changed and those who studied with him after the changes.
Master Mabuni, in his book, Kobo Kempo Karate do Nyumon, wrote that the original name for the Heian katas was Channan.
Thus, indicating that the katas were not named Heian when they were created. In the same work he wrote that there were differences in the katas known as Channan and Heian.
It appears that there was a divide in the transmission of the kata in Okinawa, even before it was taught on the mainland.
Also, according to “Karate Kenkyu (Youju Shorin) master Choki Motobu was reported to have learned Channan from master Anko Itosu. It makes reference to the fact that Heian and Channan were different. Sensei Motobu was from 17 to 25 years old during that period. So, since he was born in 1870 that would have been 1887-1895. Since the Heian katas were officially introduced in 1904, we can imagine that the Channan, which is considered the original existed for quite some time before that.
From these facts we can guess that various versions of Heian katas existed even in their creator/master’s lifetime.
Section 5 Consideration of Shotokan Heian Katas.
So, it is generally believed that Shotokan katas have been altered, but in exactly where and in what way manner have they been altered?
Here, I would like to do a comparative examination of the katas in Karate Kempo. Karate Kempo was written by Mr. Mizuho Mutsu in 1933 he studied under Master Gichin Funakoshi, but wasn’t satisfied, so he went to Okinawa with Mr. Jisaburo Miki around 1928 to study under sensei’s Kentsu Yabu, Chomo Hanashiro, Chodo Oshiro and Chotoku Kiyan, who were considered to be the leading students of Master Itosu at the time.
These sensei’ were co-disciples under Itosu. Mr. Mizuho Miki also co-wrote Gaisetsu of Okinawan Kempo, which contains interviews with Mr. Jisaburo Miki in 1930, and he also was an instructor at the Tokyo University karate club from 1933 – 1936.
In the table of contents of that book, in section 2, there is a portion of bunkai, under the heading “The Meaning of Individual Postures”.
Then, after that there are some illustrations of katas explaining the “Method of Katas”.
In that book 20 Shuri katas; Heian, Naihanchi, Passai Dai, Kushanku Dai, Jitte, Seishan, Wanshu, Jion, Chinto, Passai Sho, Kushanku Sho, Niseshi, Chinte, and Gojushiho.
(Part 1) A Consideration of Shotokan’s Side Kick.
Basically, the katas, which Master Anko Itosu taught, did not contain side kicks. It is said that Master Gichin Funakoshi altered Master Itosu’s katas.
One of the things, which he changed, was the side kick. This side kick is Shotokan’s signature technique, and it is a major characteristic of its katas.
When Master Gichin Funakoshi came to the mainland, the Side kick was already in the kata. Master Funakoshi was born in 1868, and was in his fifties when he came to the mainland. It is pretty hard to believe that he changed a leg technique from that time.
It is believed that he practiced and used the side kick from when he was younger. Let’s look at where the side kick came from. It is said that master Funakoshi was taught it by his first teacher, Sensei Anko Asato (1827 -1903).
Sensei Asato was one of Master Sokon Matsumura’s early top students. If we look at traditional oral lore, Master Funakoshi is his only student ever listed. In 1902 in the Ryukyu Shimpo Newspaper there was an article dictated by Sensei Asato, and written by Master Funakoshi entitled “Okinawan Combat Techniques”.
In that article, there is a reference to a leg technique that attacks from “below the field of vision”. I believe that there are many who value hand techniques over secret leg techniques, but sometimes leg techniques can be more valuable.
From this article one can surmise that Sensei Asato was very good at leg techniques.
Section 6 The Mystery of Naihanchi (Tekki)
(Part 1) Karate’s Biggest Mystery.This kata was originally called Naihanchi or Naifanchin. In Shotokan master Funakoshi changed the names of katas from their Chinese pronunciation to Japanese pronunciation.
At first it was changed to Kiba Dachi and then to Tekki. In Shuri Te, karate, before the creation of the Heian katas, it was the first basic kata which one learned, and it was said that students were made to practice this kata for 3 years. It is believed that it took its present form when master Itosu improved upon kata called Channan.
Itosu further broke down the one kata into its Nidan and Sandan forms. In the dialogue “Speaking About the History of Modern Karate” (Shinkin Gima, Ryozo Fujiwara) the following conversation is introduced concerning the karate in Okinawa around the time the ” Bubishi” was introduced. I would like to take an excerpt from it.
Fujiwara- This is a story, which I heard from when I visited Okinawa about 10 years ago. Around the end of the Edo period, there were some Chinese drifters who came to Tomari who were quite skilled at martial arts. They built a log hut near the Tomari cemetery, where they lived. It is said that Masters Sokon Matsumura and Kizo Teruya paid a certain amount of money for tuition and took lessons in Chinese martial arts from them. When the Chinese were going to return home, they asked for some paper and a brush. In a few days they handed a scroll to Master Sokon Matsumura.”
Gima- “There is also a story that says Master Anko Itosu learned Chinese kempo from Channan, a Chinese drifter who was living near the Tomari cemetery.”
Fujiwara- “Yes, that is the kata Naihanchi, which Master Kenwa Mabuni learned in his youth.
In other words, Master Mabuni learned the kata Naihanchi from the pupil of Sokon Matsumura, Sensei Morihiro Matakichi. Years later, when he performed that kata in front of Master Anko Itosu, he was told by Itosu that “That is the original form of the kata which he had learned from the Chinese drifters. The current kata is one, which I have altered after careful study. So stop practicing the old form, and practice the new form.”
There are conjectures about the identity of Channan; that he was a Zen priest, that he was a spy, or that he was a pirate, but it is certain that he was a practioner of martial arts. It is also true that Master Anko Itosu learned the kata Naihanchi from him.”
This kata is representative of those katas, which are difficult to explain. There many interesting explanations for the embusen (line of performance), which is in a straight line horizontally.
Some say that it is for fighting with one’s back to a wall, or that it is for fighting on a bridge, or for fighting in a narrow space like a hallway. I think these explanations came about because few people actually know the actual application.
It is said that Master Choki Motobu, a master of actual combat, knew only this one kata. (This, in fact, is a misconception because it was only transmitted to a few disciples.)
It is a mysterious kata, though, which is effective for fighting, but the application is practically unknown. Currently, the application of this kata is probably one of the biggest mysteries of the karate world.
(Part 2) The Alteration of Naihanchi
As we have seen, a legend about Master Kenwa Mabuni was that he was told by master Itosu that “That is the form of Naihanchi before I changed it.” Because of this it is said Master Itosu changed the kata. But to what degree did he actually change it?
Master Mabuni began studying under master Itosu in 1903 around the age of 14. Since this coincides with master Itosu’s introduction of Okinawan karate into the public schools, he may have been referring to the changes, which he made for teaching at school.
In an interview with Choki Motobu, in “Karate Kenkyu” (Genwa Nakasone) he states that Master Matsumura and Master Itosu’s Naihanchi were different. Master Matsumura performed the hook punch diagonally in the front, and Master Itosu performed the hook punch with a bent elbow. Master Matsumura performed the nami gaishi by putting his foot down quietly, while Master Itosu stomped his foot fiercely.
In Hiroshi Kinjo’s Karate Taikan, he wrote that in generations before his time (1919) the double handed hook punch was performed open handed, and the hand that supported the uraken (back fist) was a nihon nukite (two finger thrust).
Currently, those are the changes that are believed to have been made. If the bunkai had been passed down with the kata these would not pose a problem. If Master Itosu did make major changes in the movements, it would be radically different from the Naihanchi of other styles, but even if we compare it to the Tomari Naihanchi, except for the direction of the moves at the beginning of the kata, there is not a recognizable difference.
(Part 3) Did Master Itosu the 2nd and 3rd Parts to Naihanchi?
It is reported that Master Itosu created Naihanchi 2 and 3. Since other styles also have 2 and 3, it raises some doubts about that. I think it is natural that they existed already.
(Part 4) The Characteristics of Naihanchi
1: Learning Basic Posture
One can learn basic posture from standing in a kiba dachi (horse stance). Master Choki Motobu said that “The posture of the legs and hips in Naihanchi is the basic posture for karate.”
Also, “Whichever direction one turns, to the left or to right, they will be in a correct fighting position, and all of the hidden movements (meaning) are included.”
The width of the stance is the length of the shin plus two fists. One should stand on the ball of the foot. At that width, if one turns their body diagonally to the front and places their weight to the front, it becomes a zenkutsu dachi (front stance). And if they adjust their weight to the rear, it becomes a kokutsu dachi (back stance).
In this sense, it is a basic stance. Also, through the repetition of the basic movements, it effectively trains the body.
2: Application for Close in Fighting
Contrary to the stereotypical notion that Shuri Te style karate is for fighting at a distance, the application for Naihanchi, the first kata taught, is for close in fighting. It is a good text for learning to immobilize one’s opponent before striking, which a basic principle of combat. If one were to describe this kata in one word, I believe it would be that it is surprisingly “complete”.
Seito Karate: The Explanation, The Truth
as written by Gennosuke Higaki
What is Karate?
Section 1 The Definition of Karate.
When one is asked the question: What is Karate? What comes to mind to differentiate it from kickboxing or Chinese Kempo? They are all martial arts, which employ punches and kicks, but there must be some essential difference between them.
Although we use the term “karate”, there is an extremely large number of “karates” that exist today. First off they can be divided by style.
Beginning with the four major styles on the mainland, and the three major Okinawan styles, there are countless numbers of organizations that have arisen as styles have split or new branches of styles have been formed.
Then there are styles divided by rules. There are various competition rules, the main ones being “non-contact”, “full padding”, “full contact”, and “glove rules”, etc., and even those, which have added elements such as, mat techniques, etc.
There are so many variations in styles and rules that it is impossible to get a precise overall picture of karate. This phenomenon is not found in other martial arts such as Kendo and Judo. In fact it may be correct to say that there is no definition of karate.
That, however makes it difficult to further discuss this topic, so for the purpose of this conversation, I would like to divide karate into the following categories. Okinawan karate before it was imported into the mainland of Japan, and the karate that was developed on the mainland after it was imported.
Also, since I concentrate on the bunkai, or the use of katas as its main thrust, I will not include those new wave styles, which do not maintain the practice of kata. This deals only with those styles which predominately practice Shuri style katas which were created in Okinawa.
While I realize that there are many different views and philosophies about martial arts and karate, I will use certain terms for the sake of practical expression and organization.
From a historical standpoint, I will concentrate on karate after it was imported to the mainland. I will concentrate on other details elsewhere. I have also written about other martial arts, such as the traditional arts of jujutsu and kenjutsu, and the modern art of judo for the purpose of comparison. Karate has been influenced most, perhaps, by traditional martial arts, the best known being Shinkage Ryu Heiho (kenjutsu).
I will also refer to “shintai sousa” (proper body mechanics), which has received considerable attention recently, as “jutsu”, or a complete technique and the form of punches and kicks as “waza” as separate techniques. “Kata bunkai” refers to the use of kata.
Section 2 What is Kata?
With the spread of karate much thought has been put into different methods of holding competitions, such as “non contact”, “use of protective equipment”,” full contact”, “gloves”, etc. The World Karate Federation World Championships have reached their 17th year and are becoming more and more extravagant. There is even talk of karate becoming an Olympic event.
Along with kumite competition, there is also the extremely interesting part of karate, kata competition. Recently the WKF rules have changed to “tournament style”, increased the number of shitei(compulsory)katas, and required the kata bunkai for the finals in team events. All of these events have increased the need for further study of bunkai in Japan, the birthplace of karate.
The question, which arises here, is “What is kata?” The martial art of karate developed on the island of Okinawa under the influence of Chinese Kempo; under the historical backdrop of the domination of the Satsuma feudal lords. It is believed to have developed in a unique way. The major characteristic is that it was transmitted orally, using no written training manuals. An exception to this is the “Bubishi” of the Naha style, but that is really believed to be the transmission of the White Crane kata of Chinese Kempo.
A major difference between Okinawan karate and karate practiced on the mainland is that because it was prohibited by law, Okinawan karate was practiced in secret, and passed down orally. On the mainland, while there were some schools, which adhered to the principle of “Mongai fushutsu”, or keeping the knowledge within the school, for the most part, many styles were given names and transmitted openly.
Characteristics of martial arts of the mainland are:
1) Since katas are practiced with two people, the roles of defense and offense are clearly defined so the use of the techniques is easy to understand.
2) There are instructional manuals. (Techniques are clear)
3) There is a system for advancement in rank.
4) The styles have names. (The lineage of instructors is clear.)
5) For the most part they have been handed down by masters who were part of the samurai class.
Okinawan karate, on the other hand, differs from other martial arts in that it was not taught in dojos, it did not give names to its styles, and it was taught in secret. The following are its characteristics:
1) It was passed down through katas performed individually.
2) There were no written texts.
3) The method of advancement was unclear.
4) There were no styles.
5) For the most part it was practiced by the samurai class, but because it was practiced in secret, there was no system, which clearly defined one person as the founder of the school.
In the end, the only thing we are left with in Okinawan karate is the katas. Thus, in order to know the meaning of karate, it is necessary to know the meaning of the katas, which have been passed down. In other words, we must clarify the katas, which have been left for us in order to know what the true nature of the original karate was.
Until now, most of the study of kata has been concerned with such literary issues as to which Chinese character to use or superficial things such as how each movement differs from style to style. There has been no written discussion, however, of the technical meaning of the actual techniques involved. I believe that it has not been possible due to various factors, such as problems within the different styles, or organizations, or between teachers and students.
The primary purpose of kata was to provide a record of offensive and defensive techniques. Of course the person who created a kata knew the meaning of its movements. There was a possibility, though, that future generations would not know the meaning of the movements by just looking at them, so there was a need to orally pass down the meanings of the techniques, so they could be could be recreated. As I stated earlier, if one understands the bunkai, or meaning of a kata, the external differences need not be such a problem.
Section 3 Okinawan Karate.
Because karate was practiced in secret, it is not known for sure when it first began. References to karate were seen in print around the middle of the Meiji period (Meiji period: 1868~1921) after the passing of Masters Anko Itosu of Shuri style and Kanryo Higaonna of Naha style. Before that, because it was passed down orally, there were no written records.
Also, according to oral legends, there are many stories of various masters being taught by Chinese emissaries, or having gone to China to learn first hand. Thus, it is believed that Okinawan karate was influenced considerably by Chinese kempo. Since the history of this period is covered elsewhere, it is beyond the scope of this work. I will only introduce an outline after the Meiji period.
After the Meiji Restoration (1868) the interest in martial arts fell into decline. Around the time of the Seinan no Eki (Coup d’etat) in 1877 the study of kendo and judo gained popularity under the government’s plan to “enrich the nation and build strong a defense”. In 1876 a bare handed means of self defense was recognized under the government’s proclamation against the use of the sword.
In 1879 Master Anko Itosu opened the first karate dojo in Okinawa and began teaching his first students openly. Only his students received attention for being awarded the rank Koushu (High rank) in the military conscription examination. They went on to return home as decorated heroes after the Japan-China war of 1894, and Japan-Russia war of 1904.
In 1901 karate became part of the public school curriculum. At that time Okinawan karate was practiced individually, and there were no style names, rather, it was referred to as “someone or some place’s hand”. In 1904 Master Itosu created the Heian katas as a tool for teaching in the public junior high schools. That same year karate was first introduced in the mass media.
An article written by Master Gichin Funakoshi in which he interviewed Master Anko Asato appeared in the Ryukyu Newspaper. Karate gained interest, not only as a method of self-defense, but also for physical education, and there was a concerted effort, including the use of public demonstrations, to introduce it to the general public.
In his “Ten Principles of Okinawan Karate” (1908), Master Anko Itosu wrote “One should know the meaning and application of a kata before practicing it.” From this we know for a fact that the meaning (application) for katas existed at that time.
Section 4 Introduction of Karate to the Mainland.
The two public demonstrations by Master Gichin Funakoshi in 1916 at the Butokuden in Kyoto, and the other at the Tokyo Physical Education Exposition in 1922 were the first to introduce Okinawan karate to the mainland. For some reason 1922 is given as the date of the introduction of karate to the mainland in written documents.
In that year Master Funakoshi was invited by Dr. Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo, to teach karate for several months at the Kodokan. So, if we are talking about the spread of karate rather than the introduction, then the year 1922 can be credited as the beginning. Master Funakoshi never returned to Okinawa, concentrating instead on spreading karate throughout the mainland, primarily in the universities.
There were, however, certain difficulties in having karate recognized, compared to judo and kendo.
1) Judo and kendo already had national organizations.
2) Dr. Jigoro Kano had endeavored to unified judo.
3) Okinawa did not have equal status on the mainland.
4) Katas were practiced individually, so it was difficult to access karate’s true ability.
In 1924 Master Funakoshi promoted his first student to first-degree black belt.
In 1929 Master Chojun Miyagi created the first “style” of karate.
In the year 1931 Okinawan karate was recognized as a part of judo by the Ministry of Education. The Chinese characters were changed from “Chinese hand” to “empty hand” around this time.
Master Kenwa Mabuni established Shito Ryu in 1934.
Likewise, Shotokan Ryu, which took until 1935 to formulate and develop its curriculum, established its full time dojo, Shotokan in Soshigaya, Tokyo in 1939. Although Master Funakoshi did not give his style a name, other styles and schools such as Goju ryu and Shito ryu began to appear. Unlike judo and kendo, which unified jujutsu and kenjutsu respectively, karate became further divided into separate styles.
I would like to summarize these trends. Judo and Kendo moved toward unification.
1) After the Meiji Restoration, there was a move to unify these systems, while maintaining the old styles.
2) Competitions were established according to unified rules enabling a clear method of evaluating ability.
3) A standardized system of awarding belts was employed.
4) Katas were unified and recreated.
Karate moved in a factional direction.
1) In the Showa period styles were established, and further divided into numerous branches and sub styles.
2) There many different rules for competition.
3) Promotions for rank were held by the Japan Karate Federation, but each style recognizes their own ranks.
4) Katas were not unified.
The war ended and the Federation of all Japan Karate Do was established. The different styles joined, and “non-contact” rules were unified for kumite, and the first tournament was held in 1957. The problem of how to unify katas, however, was left up to each style, and remained unsolved.
A system to teach beginners comprised of basics, moving basics, and one-, two- or three-step sparring was established. To this day, however, there has evolved no teaching methodology for intermediate and advanced students. This is especially true since only fairly basic katas have been introduced openly, and many practitioners are not satisfied with the bunkai, or application, which has been introduced.
Section 5 Karate as a Sport.
The original meaning of karate as an art of self-defense has become lost with the development of karate on the mainland. Also the trend for it to become a competitive sport has become stronger. Especially after the war, martial arts have become known primarily as a sport. Martial arts had been once considered an important part of a military education. After the war, with the introduction of democracy, there was a trend to change the name from a “martial art” to a “sport”.
The introduction of judo as an Olympic sport in the Tokyo Olympics in 1959 spurred this trend. Thus begun the great epoch where, while there was kumite before the war, rules were established and kumite developed into an official event.
Just as judo and kendo were spread with competition at its core, with the use of mats and protective gear, making competition possible, karate followed along the same path. As the number of tournaments increased, the purpose changed from defending one’s self to winning in competition, and more and more practice was spent on kumite competition and kata as well.
In competition rules, unlike in self-defense, certain dangerous techniques are forbidden, so only those techniques, which are applicable to the competition, are emphasized, and that is what makes a sport. As a side note, it has been said that the reason kata competition takes place before kumite competition was to determine whether or not the competitors have sufficient ability to compete in kumite.
Problems Facing Karate
Section 1 Unusable Katas.
The greatest problem facing modern karate is the gap between kumite and kata. In other martial arts, almost all katas are practiced with two people, so it is possible to learn the bunkai, or application from the beginning. In judo, for instance, the throwing kata for a Seoinage is the same as an Ippon Seoinage. Therefore it is impossible in judo not to know the application of the Seoinage.
In contrast, the chasm between the movements of kumite and the movements of kata is large, and there is no explanation for how to get from one to the other. Furthermore, bunkai or application of katas is not clear, or the explanations that exist are not practical. This is the unfortunately situation for many karate practitioners.
So, the fact that only strikes and kicks can be used is a simple problem that most karate practitioners face at some time.
It is possible to come up with two major reasons why katas cannot be used.
1) They are unusable due to insufficient practice.
2) The explanation itself is incorrect.
Let’s look at both of these possibilities.
Part 1 Katas are Unusable Due to Insufficient Practice.
Accordingly, unless one practices a certaintechnique a specified amount of time, they will not be able “own” that technique, so the notion that a “technique cannot be used without sufficient practice is valid.
Also, since there are some techniques, which are prohibited in kumite competition, it is possible that they will not be practiced.
It is often said that “unless one practices for 20 -30 years, one will not be able to actually use it.” Is that really true, though? It has been over 80 years since karate was introduced to the mainland. There are many karate practitioners who have been training for over 20 – 30 years primarily using katas, but there are perhaps only a small percentage who able to apply them practically.
Furthermore, if it takes 20 to 30 years of practice to be able to use a technique, it can hardly be considered practical.
In the case of other martial arts on the mainland, historically there are many instances where it is possible to attain a master ranking after training for five to six years. Of course polishing one’s techniques takes a lifetime, but if it takes too long to learn the techniques of a particular style, then the very existence of that style may be in danger.
In the days when the life expectancy was fifty years, if it took thirty years to master the techniques of one’s style, then they would die before they would be able to pass it on and the style would die out in one generation.
Thus we see that the idea that insufficient practice is responsible for kata being unusable is not applicable here.
Part 2 Explanations for the Katas are Incorrect to Begin With.
Currently there more than a few instances where the bunkai, (application) for katas which one has learned is not practical. This may not be a problem for beginners, but after one has trained for a while, or if they have trained in other martial arts many may have questions about whether certain bunkai are really applicable or not.
Even if one learns from a great master, if the bunkai is not applicable, what they have learned is merely a dance, and has no meaning as a martial art.
So, why are there techniques, which cannot be used? I believe we have to accept the possibility that the bunkai itself is incorrect. If one accepts that fact, then even if one practices for twenty to thirty years, it makes sense that they will still be unusable. This would the same if one were to practice a Chinese character beautifully, but incorrectly for many years, one would not be able to communicate the correct meaning to someone else.
Practicing incorrect characters is the same as practicing incorrect techniques. One will not be able to overtake one’s opponent. If an instructor teaches incorrect techniques, the people who have learned from will have wasted a lot of time and energy. In the case of incorrect explanations, we can assume the following:
1) One hasn’t been taught.
2) One has been taught incorrectly.
One Hasn’t Been Taught:
Actually there are many instances where one knows the movements of a kata, but doesn’t know the bunkai. It is also possible to pass a black belt examination by only performing a kata by itself. As a result, there are many instructors who do not know the bunkai for katas, and those instructors produce instructors like themselves again and again.There some who say that even if one hasn’t been taught bunkai, if they practice long enough they will be able to figure it out on their own naturally. In fact, though, as I previously mentioned, even if one practices a kata for a long time, if it is incorrect, they will not be able to use it.
One is taught the Bunkai incorrectly:
In olden times, one would be at a disadvantage if their techniques were seen by others. Perhaps the same was true when karate was introduced to the mainland and the Okinawan karate masters decided to only teach the most basic katas. In other words, they were influenced by the so-called traditional Japanese practice of Mongai Fushutu or Isshi Soden (Not letting the body of knowledge to be known outside the school, or passing on the body of knowledge only to one’s own child.)
Okinawan karate was no exception from other martial arts in that only those who were deemed of sufficient character were allowed to begin training. Other than a teacher putting himself in a disadvantageous position, there were two reasons for that. First, since they were teaching potentially killing techniques, it was necessary to determine whether or not the student would act violently. Second, it was necessary to judge a person’s character in order to prevent that master’s teachings from being leaked to the outside.
When Okinawan karate, which became strictly disciplined in such a manner, was taught in schools after the Meiji period, there were bound to be problems with teaching such dangerous techniques to the general public. Thus there was a need to protect the core teachings while opening it up to the public. There arose a need to make a distinction between “regular students” and “technically advanced students”.
Martial arts on the mainland developed a system of beginning level, intermediate level, and advanced level, so that the regular student could continue learning techniques, while not showing the advanced or hidden techniques to the general public.
Compared to that, Okinawan karate had no such system. It is believed that the masters changed the techniques or changed the explanation in order not to openly teach to beginners or regular students.
Until now, it has been written in karate articles that certain movements were changed or abbreviated on purpose. This may account for unusable katas.
Part 3 Is it Possible to Block to the Front and Back Simultaneously?
One of the most difficult techniques in karate is the yama kamae or manji kamae. The bunkai explanation for it is that it is a defense against multiple attackers (to the front and to the back). It is not as if we are a super hero, so why does such an explanation exist? I believe it is because either they are confusing movie action with reality, or they have never seen the original bunkai for this technique. It is hard enough to defend against an attacker from the front, I don’t believe it is possible to defend against an opponent to the rear who you can’t even see.
If you try to defend against two opponents simultaneously, you will see that you would have to train as if you were a stunt actor. If, let’s say one could defend against attacks from the front and the rear, and even manage to counter against the opponent in the front, the rear opponent is not going to wait for that attack to finish.
Also, even if one is attacked from the front and rear, one can avoid both attacks by moving. There is no need to increase the risk factor when one is already in a dangerous situation. Even beginners can understand this if given a rational explanation.
Part 4 Original Form and Application.
The people who originally created katas, in order to teach certain techniques to future generations, made them based on a set pattern of movements against an imaginary opponent. At that time they were probably practicing with a partner, or if one did not have a partner, one could practice against a pretend partner, like shadow boxing.
That was how the original katas came about. That is also where the original application exists. Depending on the movement, however, a technique could have different applications, so when a master taught his students the kata he would also teach them the different applications. This was a cause for confusion.
In martial arts on the mainland katas are practiced with a partner, and there are teaching materials, so the original techniques are passed down. Also, the application is taught separately within the framework of the curriculum of that particular style, reducing the confusion between katas and application.
In the case of karate, however, where katas are practiced individually, when numerous versions of bunkai are taught, from the point of view of the learner, the original kata, the application, and the bunkai are all the same.
In that case, depending on the whim of the instructor, the importance of the kata and the application may be reversed, and through the creation of new applications of the application itself, it is possible that it may end up quite different than the original form. If that is the case then the movements of the kata themselves may be influenced by the new application and undergo change.
This explanation is believed to be the reason for so many different variations of the same kata. The only way to know which of those is the original would be to go back in a time machine and ask the person who made it. I do believe, though, that we can recreate something close to the original by reenacting the most rational bunkai.
Section 2 Why do We Practice Unusable Katas?
Why do we practice katas, which are unusable? One can think of several reasons for that. I would like to categorize them as follows.
Part 1 Katas as Tradition.
The techniques, which have been passed down from the past are important to traditional martial arts and traditional arts, and they must be preserved. That is because the wisdom of generations are built into them. Even in modern judo and kendo it is understandable that kata remains as the theoretical aspect of those martial arts.
Also in certain martial arts, there are those katas, which are important since they express the identity and theory of that particular style. Through the practice of those katas, which have been created by the founder of the style, it is considered ideal to become as close to the founder as possible. Likewise in the case of karate, it is thought to be important to learn techniques though the correct practice of traditional katas, which have been passed down.
Part 2 Preventing the Deterioration of Techniques.
An often heard reason for practicing katas is to avoid the deterioration of techniques. In other words, if one doesn’t practice basics and kata, and only practices free sparring, their techniques will deteriorate and they will need to fix them through the practice of kata. At the basis of this idea is the notion that “basics are important”. This is a common theme central to all knowledge, not just martial arts.
Let’s look at an example from judo. To learn the application of seoinage, one starts to learn by “uchikomi” practice, where they learn the basics, such as “kuzushi”, “tsukuri”, and “kake”, leading up to the actual technique. Then they actually perform the technique in “randori”, or free style with the opponent resisting the throw.
So, unlike uchikomi practice, one isn’t always able to able to execute the throw using proper form. If one only practices free style or “randori” their form will deteriorate so they have to practice “uchikomi” to correct their form. To be sure, there is no real difference between the form and free style practice, so there is no problem with this method of teaching.
In karate, however, where the katas have been stylized, this method may not be appropriate. This is because the purpose of the stylization is, apart from the real meaning, to strive for beauty when performing them. It is important to consider this and think about exactly what the basics are.
Part 3 Feudal Student Teacher Relationship.
Vestiges of the feudal system still remain in Japanese martial arts. And, even up until recently, it was considered taboo to question one’s teacher.
A unique system of progression has arisen throughout the long history of Japanese traditional learning. Under this system the order of advancement is specified in a detailed manner, from beginning, intermediate, and inner knowledge, to secret hidden knowledge.
Since one could not advance until they mastered the problems given to them by their instructors, it was until recently considered proper to obey their instructor, and it would be taken as rude for one to ask questions of one’s teacher. It was not uncommon for students to be chastised by their instructors if they asked questions by saying that it is 10 years too early!
Moreover, it was said that “it takes 3 years to master one kata”. The notion that the core of practice should be the diligent practice of kata for more than three years has had a large influence on many instructors who have been taught this way.
Part 4 The Organization of Karate.
Whereas, originally there was no system of styles in Okinawa karate, the different styles arose around the beginning of the Showa Era (1926). With the setting up of styles, there arose the need to differentiate each from the other and form each style’s own identity. That difference essentially meant a difference in katas. Thus it was necessary to rearrange the katas, establishing their own set of katas. Even within the same styles there were differences between the katas taught to the early students and those, which were taught later.
An example that represents this is the Heian katas created by Master Anko Itosu. Introduced less than 100 years ago, there are already numerous variations by the time karate was introduced to the mainland. Master Itosu, himself was responsible for this. Depending on when he taught the katas, the movements differed. Even the same katas taught under Master Itosu were different, resulting in their existence as different styles.
If, at the time the bunkai had been clearly specified, this problem would have been minor, but since it wasn’t, the differences in movements were passed on, and led to different styles’ katas.
Part 5 Competition.
It cannot be denied that one’s interest in training is heightened and the level of perfecting katas is raised, thus contributing to the preservation of katas when competition is the goal.
Essentially, this is a good thing, but recently it has led to a trend to rearrange katas. An often quoted example of this is the kata Chatanyara Kushanku. The competition version of this kata is quite different from the original. If this is so, then it would appear that competition also caused some damage to katas.
Also, because it is difficult to win in competition unless they perform high-level katas, beginning students skip the basic katas, and only practice advanced katas. Furthermore, as katas of other styles are performed in tournaments, students are required to perform those katas as well. So the strange reality arises where, not only must one practice one’s own bassai, but the bassai katas of other styles in order to compete in tournaments.
The biggest problem with this phenomenon is that in tournaments competitors are not asked whether or not they can use the kata, so they brazenly perform katas for which they do not know the bunkai.
Thus we can see that are many reasons to practice katas, which are unusable. By understanding the bunkai, though, we can lessen this problem.
Team kata is a part of kata competition. It is difficult to understand the reason for several people to move in a synchronized manner from a martial arts point of view. Recently, however with the change in the WKF rules, it is necessary to perform the bunkai in the finals, sparking an interest in bunkai. This is basically a good trend, I believe.
Section 3 What is Meant by “Styles”?
“Style” denotes a group arising from technical differences. In kenjutsu different styles, such as Shinkage Ryu, Nen Ryu, and Itto Ryu, have arisen due to philosophical differences among the founders. Therefore, unless there is no change in the body of technical knowledge that style should bear the same name as it is passed down through each generation.
To the continuation of the body of technical knowledge, the founder or grand master will approve those instructors who have mastered the body of technical knowledge. The founder or grand master will be the guide for that school.
In large schools, not only the founder or grand master, but other masters are granted the right to certify students, and in some cases, practitioners have come to Edo (Tokyo) to receive their master certification, and returned to their homeland to teach, giving rise to new schools. Unless there is a change in the technical knowledge, though, the style should be the same. They should be thought of as factions within the same style. Thus, the emergence of certain factions (ha) within the same style (ryu) will arise.
In karate, one can observe the peculiar phenomenon whereby two students of the same master may profess to belonging to different styles. This can be attributed to several reasons. Since there is no standard for the qualification of instructors in karate, and also, because the curriculum is unclear, it is understandable that instructors may develop individual interpretations of the technical knowledge. In fact the main reason that karate, unlike judo and kendo, which are moving toward a consensus, is moving toward a splintering is the confusing trend toward the emergence of different factions within the same style.
Also the different factions within karate are not moving apart so much from technical differences as differences in competition rules. The major differences are “non-contact rules”, “protective gear rules”, “full contact rules”, and “glove rules”. The basis for this problem lies in the fact that the rules for karate competition were not clearly defined.
It is clearly known that judo is the creation of Dr. Jigoro Kano, and that its roots are in Jujutsu. There is a vast difference between judo, a martial art that was developed by one person, and karate, which was developed by many persons. With this in mind, I believe it is necessary to redefine what karate is.
Section 4 Consideration of the Changes on the Mainland.
Since the teaching of the bunkai for katas was not complete when it is was introduced to the mainland, it was necessary to fill in the gaps, since “necessity is the mother of invention.” As a result, karate developed in its own fashion on the mainland, and the gap between kata and kumite widened. I would like to organize the factors responsible for this.
Part 1 The Explanations for Katas Were Not Understood.
All of the problems can be solved if one rectifies the causes. Moreover, they are the result of the overlapping of various factors. Those causes are:
1) The explanations were lost in Okinawa.
2) The explanations weren’t passed down in Okinawa.
3) The explanations were passed on only to certain persons.
4) The explanations were passed on to certain persons, but they did not pass them on.
Part 2 The Ideological Difference in the Practice of Karate in Okinawa and the Mainland.
I believe there is a significant difference in the attitude toward the practice of kata in Okinawa and on the mainland. Martial arts on the mainland were practiced mainly by two persons paired against each other. Even Iaido is practiced with two people at the advanced level, even though one generally imagines that it is practiced by oneself, as in basic kendo.
In Okinawa, on the other hand, the thinking is the opposite, as characterized by the quote of Sensei Hiroshi Kinjo, that “Kata is a stylization, not the actual technique” in Gekkan Karate Do, and that of Sensei Kiyoshi Arakaki that “there is no value in applying the techniques of katas to kumite or real fighting situations.” excerpted from “Karate Sangokushi” Gekkan Karate Do.
They believed that through the individual practice of kata one would be able to temper and understand their body movements, and become able to use the katas and apply them to kumite.
It is possible that the masters who introduced karate to the mainland did not understand this difference in ideology, and that difference may actually have contributed to the fact that karate developed in a unique manner on the mainland. Free sparring, may have begun as an adaptation of bunkai kumite on the mainland.
Part 3 Characteristic Differences Between Judo and Karate.
In the history of the development of judo, one notes that there were confrontations with traditional jujutsu around the beginning of the Meiji period (1968~), with boxing around the Taisho period, and with wrestling around the Showa period (1926~). Also, Kodokan was engaged in a rivalry with the Butokukai of Kyoto, so they established the Traditional Martial Arts Study Association, and encouraged the senior students to study Aikido and Jojutsu.
The martial art, judo that Dr. Jigoro Kano envisioned was a modern martial art which included overall free sparring practice which included kicks and punches.
Master Gichin Funakoshi’s demonstrations in 1916 in Kyoto, and in 1922 in Tokyo were held during this time, so I am sure that they were of great interest. Dr. Kano invited Master Funakoshi to come to the Kodokan and teach karate to his senior students for several months.
Then he went to Okinawa the following year, where he publicized karate, and encouraged Masters Kenwa Mabuni and Chojun Miyagi to go the mainland.
It appears that Dr. Kano considered making karate a part of judo. In 1931 he submitted a report to the ministry of culture entitled “Karate as a Part of Judo”.
On the other hand, the major karate masters had hoped to establish karate as one of the three major martial arts along with judo and kendo. Accordingly, they elected to accentuate its uniqueness in order to keep it independent of judo. It seems that, even though Okinawan karate contained throws and joint techniques, the decision was made to emphasize kicks and punches, in order to distinguish it from judo and traditional jujutsu.
Part 4 Understanding Karate.
It is said that Master Funakoshi began the practice of yakusoku kumite (practicing with a partner) around 1929.
Apparently, until then everyone only practiced katas or punches against a makiwara. Master Funakoshi had been teaching at the Tokyo University Karate Club since 1926, but they became dissatisfied with his instruction, and they began they own tournaments using protective gear.
In 1930 Mr. Jisaburo Miki of the Tokyo University Karate Club published a book entitled An Outline of Kempo. He wrote that book as an antithesis to Master Funakoshi’s method of only teaching kata. Seeking the real thing, Mr. Miki traveled to Okinawa, and studied under the top masters. He was, however, unable to solve his questions. In one chapter, he questions the notion that karate does not include grabs, throws, and holds.
Part 5 Simplification Through Free Kumite.
What will happen if we introduce free kumite without any holds, and throws, only punches, strikes, and kicks? Obviously what will develop will be completely different from the original.
The original purpose of free kumite and kumite matches was to test the techniques that one had learned. One can easily imagine that once the idea of competition enters the picture, the notion of “testing” will change to “winning”.
In to prevent this from happening, sensei Jigoro Kano explained that one must compete in free practice and competition with the “presumption of losing”. For if one only concentrates on winning, one will not improve their techniques.
This is because at first, one will not be proficient and they will lose often, but if one avoids losing then there will be few chances to test one’s techniques and their progress will be impeded as a result.
Furthermore, since advanced techniques are more difficult to use, they will likely be exchanged for simpler techniques, which are easier to use, and the more they are used in competition, the more they are likely to degenerate.
Sensei Kubota commented that “no matter how much I teach certain techniques, if they are not applicable to competition, no one is interested in learning them.” I hear similar stories from other schools and styles that if the students cannot use techniques in competition, they show no interest in learning them.
Part 6 The Abundance of Tournaments.
There are tournaments, which decide the winner in overtime for kumite. It is human nature to want to win, as long as one has entered the tournament. One competes within rules, which are in place to guarantee safety. From a judging standpoint difficult or more complex techniques are given more value.
Long ago, people did not learn karate to compete, rather most people learned in order to become stronger. Also since there were so few competitions, only the very best students were chosen to compete. More and more, in order to win, competitors have begun to utilize their practice time efficiently by practicing only techniques, which are allowed under the rules. As a result, with the number of tournaments increasing, this trend is increasing.
Part 7 The Prevalence of Various Rules.
After the war, karate became a competitive sport, influenced by judo and kendo. At that time non-contact and rules using protective equipment became prevalent. Also, the experiment of wearing gloves already existed by 1955. In 1965 the karate world would experience Full Contact Karate.
For all of the different types of competition, the goal was to maintain safety while coming as close as possible to real fighting. Each of these sets of rules, however, had their own advantages and disadvantages.
Recently it appears that there has been even further minute differentiation of these rules. Since each these different types of rules are based on principle of competing safely, many techniques, which are found in kata, have been eliminated. Conversely new techniques, which are effective under certain types of rules, have been developed.
Section 5: Are Practice Methods Effective?
Part 1: Outside Block as an Example.
From my limited experience, it seems that there are many questions about the manner in which karate is taught and practiced, especially compared to judo or kendo.
It seems as though the more we contemplate such questions as “what is the correct bunkai for kata?” or “What are the correct stances or postures?” or What is the relationship between basics and kumite?” the more of a confusing maze we seem to find ourselves in.
When confused, the proper strategy is to return to beginning. Judo and kendo were preceded by jujitsu and kenjutsu. There are many articles and artifacts, which allow us to research their original basics.
In the case of karate, though, there are no written records, and it is not certain whether or not it has been handed down completely, therefore it is difficult to get an idea of its original form.
As I was watching a program on TV about the Athens Olympics, I learned that there are many scientific approaches to training in order to establish new records. In particular, the swimming head coach earned his position essentially based on his analytical skill, and the gymnastics team produced wonderful results with the implementation of organizational measures over the last 20 years.
Judo, under a plan proposed 20 years ago by Coach Yamashita sent children to compete abroad to gain international experience. Those children achieved exceptional results at this Olympics. Already, we can see that it is extremely difficult to set a world record at the Olympics solely through individual based efforts.
Recently, many books have been published which relate the shintai sousa of traditional martial arts to sports. In one of these that dealt with namba running (the traditional style of running in Japan whereby the same arm and leg are used together) it was written that, due to an error in translation, the Japanese were taught to run incorrectly. Upon reading this I strongly felt the need to research such issues as they relate to karate.
In comparison, it is true that there is not as much activity in the field of karate. When we think of a scientific approach in karate we usually come up with tests to measure the force of a punch or kick.
I am sure that are other sports oriented theories, but if we take a diversified approach to the technical aspects and instruction methods, then it may be possible for karate to flourish again. As karate advances with the Olympics in its field of vision, varied scientific research is bound to take place.
Is the manner in which karate is practiced efficient?
Let us return to the topic. I have doubts whether the training methods, which were created after karate was introduced to the mainland, are effective.
In the case of kata bunkai, if we look at each bunkai, it is possible to come up with something completely different, even if it is for the same kata.
The training method consisting of basics, moving basics, kata, one-step sparring,and free sparring, was said to have been created by Master Kentsu Yabu, and established after the introduction of karate to the mainland.
Compared to other martial arts, karate has a relatively short history and it perhaps has not stood the test of critical analysis.
I would like to take a careful look at one example. Of the basic techniques; punches, strikes, kicks and blocks, it is true while punches, strikes, and kicks are used effectively in competitive kumite, when it comes to blocks, it is not possible to say that the movements that we learn in basics and kata are not effectively utilized.
In particular, let’s take a look at soto uke (Shotokan terminology). As an exercise, let’s look at various hypotheses’, which would explain why a soto uke cannot be used in kumite.
1) The unusable technique was passed down incorrectly.
2) Insufficient practice
3) Incorrect usage
1) The unusable technique was passed down incorrectly.
Since the same technique is found in many other styles, including Okinawan styles, the possibility of soto uke itself being incorrectly passed down is not likely.
Next, one may imagine that the technique was incorrectly named, and that soto uke is not really a block. It is easy to imagine that the real purpose of a soto uke is to take out an opponent’s elbow joint.
In maser Choki Motobu’s “Kumite Technical Manual” soto uke is paired with a reverse punch, thus we can assume that soto uke is indeed a block.
2) Insufficient Practice
In practice, soto uke is primarily used in yakusoku kumite, and it is difficult to use in free sparring. Whether or not the amount of practice is insufficient, or whether the technique itself is so difficult that one tends not to practice it, is like asking which came first, the chicken or the egg. The result, though, has been influenced by both.
If, on the one hand, one increases the amount of practice and the movement in its basic form does not afford a difference in ability, then it is essentially unusable. Thus, I believe that it is not just a simple matter of practice time.
3) Incorrect Usage
In shotokan’s 20 principles, there is an article, which states that “kata should be correct, and actual fighting is a different thing.” If one takes that literally in actual fighting it is okay not to use the exact technique in its basic form.
Moreover, since it is true that kata is a stylization of kata, in actual kumite one can use it (soto uke) if it is used as a parry with the bottom of the fist to the inside. Therefore, one can see that there is no problem if it is used as a basic movement. I believe this is satisfactory to most people.
Is That Really True?
Why don’t we, however, take it a step further and examine whether this is really acceptable. Let’s approach it from a different angle, looking at the differences between kata and kumite.
The major differences are:
In kata, soto uke is performed moving forward.
In kumite, soto uke is performed moving backwards.
Thus, the difference is in the forward and backward movement. Unlike kata, it is impractical to move forward when blocking in yakusoku kumite. This is because, since the attacker is moving forward so if the defender moved forward, as well, the distance would be too short and the technique could not be executed, therefore, in order to maintain the correct distance in yakusoku kumite, the defender needs to take a step backwards when performing a soto uke.
If one blocks while stepping back, though, the attacker will not be taken off balance, so they will be able to attack again. As an example, if an opponent attacks with only a straight punch, then it is just like three step or five step sparring.
Furthermore, if the opponent throws a one-two combination attack, then the possibility of the second punch being faster than the defender’s block and counter punch is high. If that is the case then why do we even practice it?
From the above, we see that whether retreating or advancing, the soto uke is not effective. The question is “what can one do to use it effectively?” Let’s look at the following experiments in an attempt to solve this problem.
1) Perform a Soto Uke Stepping Forward as in the Kata.
Try to do this by doubling the starting distance, and both the attacker and defender step in and block. In this experiment, we found that he opponent is thrown off balance. It is not realistic, however, for both to step forward. This is because the attacker would not initiate a straight punch that would not reach, and a defender would not purposely step in t block a punch that would not reach.
2) Add a Switch Step.
A switch step has been added to maintain a realistic distance. With a switch step, if one steps in half a step, and steps back half a step, from a visual perspective, it creates the situation as stepping in. Also, the entire body weight can be applied to the block, making the block stronger. If one blocks in such a manner, the opponent’s posture will be thrown off balance, and they will not be able to deliver a one-two attack, and the defender can counter with a reverse punch.
3) Why is the Opponent’s Posture Thrown off Balance?
A fist in karate is typically made by clenching the first and second fingers with the thumb tightly around them. In this state it is easy to move the opponent’s arm along the plane in the picturestures.
In other words, when an opponent attacks with a left straight punch, it will be easy to take the attack off balance when moving backwards diagonally to the right. Therefore to defend against this attack, the defender should perform a soto uke while stepping backwards diagonally to the right. In this case, the opponent will be thrown off balance.
From the above experiments, we can see that in yakusoku kumite if a soto uke is performed while stepping back, the opponent will not be thrown off balance. Therefore, if an opponent uses a one-two attack, stepping back and performing a soto uke and counter reverse punch is not realistic.
4) When the One-two Attack is a Feint.
What would happen if the one-two attack is a feint? In that instance, if one performs a junzuki (kizami zuki) with the front hand after performing a soto uke, there is a likely possibility of it getting in before the opponent’s reverse punch. Sensei Choki Motobu said that “blocks must also be attacks” It is possible to recreate this.
5) Examination of Written Records.
In support of the above hypothesis sensei Choki Motobu said that ” In true Okinawan karate combination punches are not possible.”
That is because in true Okinawan karate, if a block is performed properly, the opponent would not be able to initiate another punch.
In photographs of kumite left by sensei Motobu we can see numerous instances where he is using a soto uke. In all of these photographs they are using a half step forward.
6) Sensei Kubota’s Kumite.
Sensei Kubota’s kumite can perhaps be characterized by many techniques, which attempt to move around to the back one’s opponent.
When asked in what manner one could move around to one’s opponents back, sensei replied, “You must bump in to them” .
This conversation seems like a Zen riddle, but if we keep it in mind, we can understand the explanation that “if one blocks while moving forward, they will unbalance their opponent, and then turn them around so one can attack their back.
7) The Results of Testing the Premise.
According to the above tests, the result is that the movement of the block is not incorrect. Rather, the movement of the feet is incorrect.
Since these tests have not been applied to all situations, they are nothing more than test results of one hypothesis. These results do not necessarily prove that the method of practicing yakusoku kumite is incorrect.
It is quite obvious, though, that there is a need to evaluate it from various angles. Here, I have introduced one notion based on an idea from sensei Nagata’s concepts. From this time forward, many old techniques are sure to be reevaluated and modernized by many people.
Part 2: The Divergence of Free Kumite and Kata.
In his book entitled “Koubou Kempo Karatedo Nyumon”, Master Kenwa Mabuni explained the relationship between kata and kumite by saying that the purpose of kumite is for the practical application of kata.
Currently, though, kata and kumite have developed into separate entities. In Master Gichin Funakoshi’s 20 principles, it says that “kata should be performed correctly and that actual fighting was different”.
I believe that this has been misconstrued by some to mean that kata and actual fighting are completely different.His real intent was that kata should not be used in its actual form, but rather, it should be adapted to fit the situation in actual fighting.
Because the application of kata is not clear, problems arise where the techniques of kata cannot be used in kumite. Thus kata and kumite have developed in separate directions.
In judo, dangerous techniques such as punches, kicks and reverse techniques are not allowed in competition, but are practiced in kata. In karate, however, punches, and kicks, which are considered dangerous in judo, are the mainstay of karate, so they must be used in competition, making it difficult to differentiate between competition and kata.
Judo: kata = dangerous techniques
Karate: kata = ?
From the above we see that the guidelines for kata are not clearly defined. Furthermore, since the application of kata is unclear, the trend has leaned toward stylized esthetics, and very solid stances in an effort to show strength. Kumite, on the other hand has seen the need to adopt a different means of footwork in order to win.
Kata: solid stances
Kumite: light / quick footwork
One can see at a glance that the methods of practice will conflict. Because of this there are many kumite competitors who do not practice kata at all. This will obviously cause more and more confusion in the karate world.
Part 3: Karate and Okinawan Kobudo.
In Okinawa, Ryukyu Kobudo has been passed down in the same manner as Okinawan karate. On the mainland karate was introduced as a superior empty-handed method of fighting. It developed primarily within the framework of kumite and kata competition after WWII.
Ryukyu Kobudo, on the other hand has not gained popularity in dojos in Japan. Of those practicing it, Sensei Shinken Taira of the Ryukyu Kobudo preservation association is the foremost instructor.
This trend has come about after the Showa period. Originally, it is said that bo and sai were used by the samurai class and the tonfa and kama (sickle) were practiced by the common people.
It appears that Ryukyu Kobudo is commonly taught in dojos abroad. Whether this is because American servicemen, who served on bases in Okinawa, could learn directly from Okinawan masters, or whether there was more of an interest in the self-defense aspect, the interest level for weapons was high.
Since both disciplines were developed simultaneously, it is best to learn both. Recently it has become possible to make special weapons using polyurethane, or rubber tubing together with lightweight protective gear enabling the possibility of weapons competition like some kind of samurai sport.
Section 6: Is Karate Incomplete?
From what we have examined thus far, while it is only a hypothesis, we can see that as a school of martial arts, karate was passed down incompletely.
Compared to other martial arts of the mainland:
1) It has been passed down unclearly.
2) The application of kata is unclear.
3) The system for advancement is unclear.
Part 1 Bunkai Has Been Passed Down Incompletely.
It is not clear who created many of the katas in karate. Oral tradition states that many katas were taught by Chinese teachers. The names have been passed down orally, but there remain few written records. The pronunciation indicates that they are essentially Chinese. The manner in which, and to what degree martial arts were taught by Chinese and to what degree they changed in Okinawa is absolutely unclear.
Even the relatively new Heian katas, made by master Itosu in the Meiji period, are though to be based on a kata called Channan taught to him by a Chinese by the same name.
Furthermore, it was common to learn different katas from different teachers who specialized in particular katas, such as Naihanchi from one sensei, and Passai from a different sensei. Okinawan karate was more of an individualized discipline. I look forward to further study in this area.
Part 2 The Application of Kata is Unclear.
Previously I have touched on the fact that the application of kata is unclear. It is inconceivable, though in other martial arts that the method of application could be unclear. The whole purpose of learning a martial art is to learn how to apply its techniques in a real situation.
We know that the use of kata as a method of practice came from Chinese martial arts. Merely studying kata, however, is not the same as studying martial arts. It is only when one studies the application of techniques that one can say that they have begun to learn.
Certainly other methods of practice, as well as methods involving weapons are necessary. The departure point for martial arts, though, is the study of the application of the techniques. If one is not taught application, the techniques will not function as a martial art. What can one hope to gain from ineffective study year after year?
Master Anko Itosu, the creator of the Heian katas, wrote in his 10 principles in 1908 that “one should learn each movement in a kata, making sure of their application before practicing that kata.” From this statement, we know that the application did exist in Itosu’s time, and it is unacceptable that the application of katas is unclear today.
Part 3 Method of Advancement is Unclear.
In the Shuri style of Okinawan karate, before the creation of the Heian katas it was common to learn Naihanchi and then Passai or Kushanku. There was no specific order after Naihanchi, and as previously stated, it was customary to study under different teachers, so the system of advancement through novice, intermediate, and advanced levels as in other schools of martial arts on the mainland was unclear.
Since the system of advancement was unclear, there was also no certification system, nor was there a clearly defined teaching curriculum. Under these conditions it is very difficult to get a full picture of the technical body of knowledge.
In those styles which have a historical background, one can see attempts to establish a system of advancement in ranking, since there was a need to establish a successor.
In Chinese martial arts, which were there forerunners to Okinawan karate, there existed training methodology. The creation of the Heian katas by Itosu was an attempt to introduce a system of advancement. From Heian 1 to Heian 5, they progress in order of difficulty.
In his 10 principles, Itosu stated that “one should be able to advance to an advanced level in 2 to 3 years, so we know that there was a method for practice at that time. Unfortunately, though, since the methodology is unclear, it is difficult to measure the results.
Oral Instruction of Bunkai For Kata
Karate’s katas cannot be used just as they are. The reason for this is two-fold, one is to insure secrecy to outsiders, and the other is to maintain a progression of advancement from beginner to advanced level.
Katas have also become stylized for the purpose of presentation in competition, further confusing the line between usable and unusable katas. In order to unlock the information encoded katas, oral instruction in bunkai is necessary.
It may be possible to recreate the original meanings of katas through repeated practice of the movements, but it will involve much time. Books on bunkai published in foreign countries have taken that approach, and while they are still lacking, they should be valued for their efforts in that direction.
Just as Master Anko Itosu wrote in his “10 Principles of Okinawan Karate”, in 1908 “There are many oral instructions.”, the accompanying oral instruction is necessary to understand the bunkai for katas.
The following key phrases were taught to me directly by Sensei Kubota:
In order to understand bunkai, it is necessary to understand certain combat principles of karate. These can be broken down into countering the first contact and measures taken after that. Some of these techniques will overlap with those presented in the next section, so I will cover only a few of these here.
Combat Techniques Of Karate
Section 1 There is no First Strike in Karate.
This is the second of “Master Funakoshi’s 20 Principles of Karate”. This is commonly taken as a moralistic statement meaning that “Those who practice karate should not act in a violent way.”
From a technical point of view, however, I believe this aptly characterizes an important combative principle of karate. One is able to maintain a safe position when countering an opponent’s attack. Using that countering method, one is able to deliver an effective attack.
Section 2 Think of Your Hands and Feet as Swords.
The 15th of the “20 Principles of Karate”, “think of your hands and feet as swords” was a continuation of Master Anko Asato’s philosophy. It is said by some that the model for karate is Jigen Ryu Kenjutsu. Whether this is true or not aside, it was certainly thought of as a means of self-defense.
Weapons existed throughout the history of combat. Empty handed fighting is actually the exception. It was not possible to block an armed attack with one’s body alone. In such an attack, it was likely that one would have carried a weapon, so Master Asato felt that it was important to practice as if one’ were carrying one. In other words, in order to truly protect oneself, one should practice as though “One’s hands and feet are swords.”
Section 3 Counter Methods.
The most common combative technique in karate is a counter.
A counter is where an attack is blocked and an attack is executed. In Master Choki Motobu’s teachings there is an interesting concept. He said that “the blocking hand must immediately become the attacking hand. It is not a true martial technique to block with one hand and counter with another. As one progresses, the block and counter attack will be simultaneous, and that is the true martial technique.
This is why “there cannot be multiple attacks against true Okinawan karate, because if an attack is countered properly, there can be no further attack.”
Section 4 Immobilize The Opponent Before Striking.
According to Sensei Kubota, Master Funakoshi often said “Immobilize your opponent before striking.”
What this means is to render your opponent into such a state that he cannot attack again, or even move, before executing a strike or a kick.
As one progresses in their understanding of bunkai, this concept becomes clearer. Just about whenever I practiced bunkai with Sensei Kubota, I was rendered into an immobilized state.
Section 5 The Names of Movements have Been Disguised.
Originally there were no names for movements. Names were given when karate was introduced to the mainland.
Since Okinawan karate was taught on an individual basis, an instructor could show a movement directly to his student, there was no need to give them names. On the mainland, though, karate was taught primarily at universities, it was necessary to establish set terminology and create textbooks. It wasn’t until about 1935 that Shotokan established its terminology and method of instruction (warming up, basics, moving basics, kata, and kumite).
There is a problem with this terminology, though, and the real meaning of the techniques was hidden. In the bunkai, which Sensei taught me, many techniques that were called blocks were really attacks. It is not possible to understand the bunkai for katas if one is fooled by the terminology.
Section 6 Kick Low While Grabbing The Opponent.
There is a saying that goes “Kicks are meant to be delivered below the belt.”
Also, if we take a look at most of the bunkai for katas, they are executed while grabbing the opponent.
In that manner, one can avoid the unstable situation of “standing on one leg”. Moreover, by grabbing one’s opponent and knocking them off balance, the opponent will not be able to execute a counter attack.
In close fighting where one can grab an opponent, the field of vision is limited, so it is difficult to defend against a low kick. In the Book Kempo Karate, written in the late 1920’s, most of the kicks it showed were described as groin kicks. Also in the kumite matches that used protective gear at the University of Tokyo’s karate club, point were awarded for front kicks, which hit the groin cover.
Section 7 The Development of Power.
Techniques essential to the development of power are also hidden in katas.
For beginners it is sufficient to grab an opponent and punch while pulling them in to you. But how is one to develop the power required to execute a “killing blow”, which is the catch phrase of karate?
The answer is in proper posture and movement. A hint is hidden in Heian Shodan’s first movement, down block, straight punch. The method of moving in karate is walking, not a connected gait. For purposes of practice, the simpler the better, so the Heian katas and Taikyoku katas were designed for that purpose.
Section 8 Throws and Reverse Techniques.
The common perception is that karate consists of kicks and punches, and Mr. Jisaburo Miki, in his book Karate Kempo Gaisetsu, defined karate as having no throws or reverse techniques. If one carefully examines kata bunkai, though, they will find that there are many throws, reverse techniques, and countermeasures against weapons.
Master Funakoshi, in his early writings introduced many of these techniques along with photographs. Also in 1956, in a 35 mm film produced by the Nihon Karate Kyokai many throwing techniques were recorded. In Karate Kempo and Karate-do Kyohan published in the late 1920’s, “disarming a short sword” and “disarming a wide sword” were introduced. Also in his book, Master Kenwa Mabuni wrote, “karate is not only kicks and punches.”
Even though the masters who introduced karate to the mainland clearly stated that Okinawan karate contained throws and reverse techniques, there was a discrepancy in the understanding of the students who learned from them.
Section 9 Parts of the Body That are Used.
In karate, many various parts of the body are used for attacks. Techniques such as nakadaka ippon ken, nukite, shuto, kentsui, and hiraken can be used effectively. There is a possibility, though, that they will be forgotten along with the bunkai for katas. Also grabs will be forgotten unless they are practiced.
Section 10 Weapons.
Karate is basically an empty handed martial art, but if an opponent attacks with a weapon, it is not necessary to defend oneself empty handed.
In karate there is a saying that goes, “weapon for a weapon”. It sounds like “an eye for an eye”.
No one goes into war without their weapons. Taking weapons into war is a fundamental principle of combat. In times of peace though, we can’t carry weapons.
In Okinawa, the governmental ban on weapons, created the environment where the practice of weapons developed secretly. An added value of practicing weapons is the weight of the weapons themselves, which aides in the training of the body.
When karate was introduced to the mainland, the use of hands was emphasized, so the practice of weapons was not common, but it is a good idea to practice Okinawan weapons and karate together.
Questions Facing Karate
Section 1 The Reason That Katas are Unusable
Reviewing the issues which we have looked at up to this point, we come up with these three points:
1) The bunkai for katas is not understood.
2) Bunkai cannot be used within the rules of competition. (in Japan)
3) It is possible to win using only simple techniques.
Part 1 The Bunkai for Katas is Not Understood.
This is because it was not possible to introduce Okinawan karate in its original form to the mainland.
It appears that until now no specialized research has been carried out concerning the fact that kata bunkai is unclear. “An Instructional Text for Karate”, published by the Japan Karate Federation is the only book about the bunkai for the Heian katas. It states in its preface, however, that “this training manual is not about the original combat aspects of karate, rather it maintains the educational standpoint of competitive sports based on the rule of mutual respect.”
Since that publication, no other works dealing with the martial aspect of bunkai has been published.
Recently WKF competition rules require the study of bunkai. I believe that, as the study of bunkai advances, the interest in using different techniques will increase.
Part 2 Bunkai Cannot be Used in Competition.
Karate was introduced to the mainland primarily as a martial art consisting of kicking, punching, and striking.
According to “Explaining Kempo”, published by the Todai Karate research Society, “There is nothing else in karate except kicks, punches, and strikes.” Accordingly, many competition rules prohibit grabbing. World Karate Federation rules, however, permit grabs under a few seconds and throws are used aggressively. There appears to be an overall trend to return to the basics.
Part 3 It is Possible to Win Using Only Simple Techniques.
Currently, since most kumite competitions are won mainly by kicks and punches, emphasis is put on perfecting fairly easy techniques. It is a fact that it is better to practice fewer simple techniques, which are easy to use in tournaments. One can also not deny the trend to practice techniques, which are rewarded higher points according to WKF rules. Consequently, as the number of tournaments increases the tendency to practice only techniques for use in competition will become stronger. Indeed, if one doesn’t, it will become more and more difficult to win.
Section 2 How to be Able to Use Kata?
Part 1 The Definition of Bunkai.
Because Okinawan karate was taught in secret to a small number of disciples, there is nothing similar to a textbook explaining the movements of katas. Currently, it is common practice to practice katas without knowing the meaning behind the movements.
Learning a martial art involves learning the techniques, which have been passed down through that particular martial art. In the case of karate, though, bunkai for katas (the body of traditional techniques) is mysteriously unclear. To practice katas individually after one has learned the application of the techniques is meaningful, but merely the individual practice of a kata without knowing the application, is like performing a dance or gymnastics.
On one hand it has been sated that “katas should not be changed.” In fact, though, katas had already undergone changes before Okinawan karate was introduced to the mainland.
The fact that a person’s name has been attached to a different katas, such as such and such a bassai, or such and such a Kushanku, itself proves that katas had undergone change from their original form.
If katas changed from their original forms, then it follows that their bunkai changed too. Thus, we see that the problem lies not in the changes of simple movements, but in changes in the techniques themselves.
Recently one hears stories where people imitate winning katas, which have been arranged (changed) in order to win. If that is true, then katas will continue to change more and more. Since the standard for winning in tournaments is whether or not the kata is strong and beautiful, not whether or not it is applicable, this phenomenon will increase.
In the case of other martial arts on the mainland, katas are traditionally practiced by two people, and there are written texts, which contain the techniques being practiced, so even though there may be differences in the outward appearance, there are no major differences.
Therefore I believe that it is impossible to correctly teach kata unless it is taught together with bunkai, working with two people. Consequently, I believe that kata texts should not just describe the sequence of moves, but should include and explanation of the bunkai of the kata.
Part 2 The Need for a System of Advancement in Rank.
In addition to learning bunkai, it is also necessary to introduce into karate a systematic method of advancement with regard to the mastering of techniques and advancing in rank.
In schools of martial arts on the mainland, there is a framework within which the transmission of techniques occurs. This system begins with “shoden” novice, to “chuden” intermediate, and to “okuden” advanced.
This system was developed in the Edo period when it was customary to pass on the set of skills to one child. It was not possible to guarantee, though, that a suitable successor would be born into one’s family, so the head of the family would choose a successor and teach him the body of knowledge.
Recently there are many books and videos about body mechanics. Some of them relate the style of movement of top Olympic athletes to the body mechanics of traditional martial arts. One gets a sense of the systematic method that Dr. Kano had in mind when he decided to introduce the basic technique of breaking the opponent’s balance as the first technique to learn in the syllabus of judo.
In traditional Japanese arts the curriculum advances in a prescribed way. Karate, on the other hand has not established the same unified system for advancement, and there are many questions, which arise, such as: How can one use the katas, which are the accumulation of the technical knowledge? Where does the practice of kata fit in to the overall curriculum? What is the relationship between basics, kata and kumite?
The order that was proposed by sensei Kentsu Yabu; basics, moving basics, one step sparring, kata, and kumite is sufficient for general purposes, but I do not believe it is sufficient for the advancement of higher level students.
Part 3 The Need For Logical Rules For Technical Advancement.
Because of the need to practice specifically for tournaments, there is a trend toward not practicing or studying those techniques, which cannot be used in tournaments. In martial arts, it is necessary to test one’s strength against another. Apart from that, there is a need to have rules, which evaluate the degree to which one has mastered the techniques, which they have learned. In karate, as well, it is necessary to create a situation where one must use specified techniques in order to win. If the rules require the use of bunkai for katas, then the need to practice bunkai will arise.
If, for example, one must master certain work skills in order to make a living, they would desperately learn that skill. If one purposely creates the condition where a technique must be used, then the techniques, which are appropriate to that situation, will be practiced and improved upon.
In an article in the magazine Gekkan Karatedo about free sparing in Goju Ryu, the system whereby one’s ability is urged by how well they use the techniques, which are in the Goju Ryu’s katas. I believe this is an extremely good system. If the method in this example is used more often, then the connection between kumite and kata will be strengthened, and the level of karate will be raised.
Section 3 Karate as a Means of Self Defense.
I believe that more research is necessary in this area, since karate was originally developed as a means of self-defense.
One can also imagine that the interest in self-defense among the general public is heightened these days due to the recent worsening of public safety. I believe it is also one of the duties of martial arts is to respond to the needs of such people. For the purposes of self-defense, it is necessary to teach the technical ability to fight off on attacker when the need arises.
The need to fight an attacker must be available now, not in 10 to 20 years. In other words, the content must be such that one can use those techniques which they have been taught, or to the extent to which they have practiced them.
In that sense, if ones one kata, and they practice it so that they will be able to use it, they should be able it to a self-defense situation.
Of course there is a world of difference between knowing a technique and being able to use it. Let’s take the example of the over the back throw of judo. Much practice is required to use it effectively. Even though one trains every day with a partner and then does free style practice, it will be quite some time before one can actually throw an opponent. With this in mind, one can understand the fact that master of old did not learn a great number of katas.
Heian Shodan, for example, is made up of 5 different combinations of techniques; gedan barai (down block), oizuki (straight punch) as a defense against a chudan zuki (mid section punch) and mae geri (front kick), kentsui (hammer fist), and oizuki, as an escape from a hold, a jodan age uke (upper block) as a defense against a jodan (face) attack, and a shuto uke (knife hand block) as a defense against a chudan attack and throw.
If one were able to learn these techniques alone and be able to apply them, they should be able to defend themselves using those techniques. Additionally if one studies the use of weapons, one will learn how to defend oneself using objects close at hand.
Sensei Kubota was purported to have been one of the last of master Funakoshi’s top students to whom he entrusted his final words.
Articles about Sensei Kubota appeared in “Karate and Martial Arts” in 1985 in the February, April, May, June, and July issues, and in “Modern Karate” in 1986 in its February issue.
April 1935, Sensei Kubota entered Tokyo Shoka University (Currently Hitotsubashi University) and began training under master Funakoshi.
1941, He was awarded 3rd degree black belt by Master Funakoshi upon graduation. (At that time were only 5 levels of black belt.)
1944, As an infantry Second lieutenant of army he demonstrated to Master Funakoshi the results of his instruction of martial arts to his subordinates and was awarded a fourth degree black belt.
1947 – 1950, Taught at karate clubs at Chuo University and Senshu University. During that time, he restored the karate club to his alma mater, Hitotsubashi University to Shotokan style. For the ten years after 1947 he concentrated on “tournament training”. He met Sensei Zenya Kunii of the Kashima Shin Ryu style of kendo, and was asked by him to succeed him as the Grand master of that style, but he declined.
1951, He moved to Osaka. He received a fifth degree black belt from Master Mabuni Kenwa.
1952, Taught karate to officers from the US Air Force physical education department as a representative of karate instructors organization, of which Master Funakoshi was head.Participated in the foundation of the Japan Karate Association.
1954, He held the first red/white match at the Tokyo Gymnasium.
1957, He moved to Nagoya. He instructed at Nagoya Kogyo University and Aichi Gakuin University.
1961, He was invited to take the post of technical advisor to the Japan Karate Federation. He declined, however, due to a conflict with his own karate values.
1962, He was tournament advisor for the World Karate Tournament held at the Nippon Budokan.
1965, He became the instructor for the Hitotsubashi University karate club, and taught martial arts karate to alumni of the same club, “Ikukai”. President of same club.
1972, Resigned as president of “Ikukai”. Supreme instructor for junior students.
1976, Sensei Kubota passes away.
Section 2 Katas Can be Used.
When I first met Sensei Kubota, he showed me Heian Shodan. I knew that he was a karate instructor, but I could not recognize the kata that he performed as Heian Shodan. It looked liked some kind of Tai Chi kata. Thus was my first encounter with him.
Sensei Kubota believed that the Heian katas contained the essence of karate in a very concise form. In particular, he believed that Heian Shodan was central among them.
In fact, the first move (gedan barai), and second move (chudan oizuki) contain important hints to explain katas, but in reality it is often looked upon lightly as a kata for beginners.
Section 3 The Secret Pact.
Before meeting Sensei Kubota, I myself, believed that one could not use kata for kumite. According to Sensei Kubota, katas were altered on purpose when they were exported to the mainland.
The following is what I was told by Sensei Kubota:
When Master Gichin Funakoshi introduced Okinawan karate to the mainland, there was a “secret pact” made among the practitioners of Okinawan karate. Karate was primarily spread at universities, and the explanation, which Sensei Kubota learned, was about the same as today.
It was, however, completely different than what he was taught at night by Master Funakoshi at his house. When asked “Why did he teach something different than in the day time?”
His answer was that ” Master Funakoshi was actually not supposed to teach it.”
In other words, because of a “secret pact”, whereby he was not to teach the “yamatonchu” (The slang for Japanese mainlanders) or to teach them katas which they cannot use.
When he taught his ordinary students he taught them katas, which they would not be able to use.
Sensei Kubota also learned from Master Kenwa Mabuni. Master Mabuni who also divided his teaching into “the original form” and ” the other form”. Sensei Kubota learned Naihanchi when Master Mabuni offered to teach him the original form of Naihanchi. In return, he said that he taught Master Mabuni the Shotokan side kick and it’s defense.
There is a well known saying in karate that goes; “Even if you teach the kata, don’t teach the actual techniques.” I believe this phrase expresses well the contents of the “secret pact.”
According to Sensei Kubota, in order to unravel the kata, it is necessary to know the oral instruction, which will restore the bunkai to its original form.
When I myself learned the bunkai for the first movement of Heian Nidan, I felt that it was handed down incorrectly, but rather it was clear that it had been changed deliberately. This is true also of the Shuri style katas, which seemed to have been changed to make the movements of the katas as far from the original bunkai as possible.
Section 4 A Consideration of the Secret Pact.
Was there an organized movement in the karate world at that time?
The “Okinawan Karate Kenkyu Kai” was established in 1918 with Master Kenwa Mabuni in charge. The members included Masters Kentsu Yabu, Chomo Hanashiro, Gichin Funakoshi, Choshin Chibana, Anbun Tokuda, Shinpan Shiroma, Chozo Oshiro, Masasumi Tokumura, Takayuki Ishikawa, and Chojun Miyagi.
Is there any evidence that Master Funakoshi was in contact with Okinawa with regard to teaching Okinawan karate on the mainland?
In the book Karate, my Way of Life by Funakoshi, he states that in 1922 he sent letters to both sensei’s, consulting with them about teaching Okinawan karate on the mainland. It is believed that the content of those letters was deliberated upon by the “Okinawan Karate Kenkyu Kai”.
Was there a necessity for Master Funakoshi to consult with Okinawa?
Master Funakoshi did not originally go the mainland to teach, rather, he went to demonstrate Okinawan karate. Therefore, I believe it was only natural for him to consult with his fellow colleagues, as well as the “Okinawan Karate Kenkyu Kai” about teaching on the mainland. This is because he had planned to eventually return to Okinawa. Life in the countryside is the same everywhere. The consensus of the community is very important. There was the possibility, that not only he himself, but also his family as well, could not ignore it for fear of losing their support. Moreover, with his family still in Okinawa, and he planning to return to Okinawa, one can surmise that he was not in a position to ignore the opinions of his colleagues and the “Okinawan Karate Kai”.
What actions did the central figures of Okinawan Karate take after that?
If we look at the fact that the 12 katas which were established by the Okinawan Karate Shinko Kyokai (consisting basically of the same members as the Okinawan Karate Kenkyu Kai) were similar to the katas, which Taikyoku organized for beginners, we can that the leading figures in Okinawan karate at that time were considering how to disseminate Okinawan Karate. In other words they had already begun to differentiate katas between those for the general spread of karate, and those for their own style.
Have the proper body mechanics and kata bunkai?
Unfortunately, even for such basics katas as the Heian katas, there is no acceptable bunkai today for these katas.
Section 5 Discrimination Against Okinawa at that Time.
One can find assertions by both Masters Gichin Funakoshi and Kenwa Mabuni in their writings that “Okinawan’s are Japanese” and that “Okinawan karate is a martial art”. It may seem strange to us in this day and age, but I believe those claims were necessary amid the social backdrop of discrimination that existed against Okinawa. The following historical event sheds light on the social mood of the day.
The Human Museum Incident
In 1903, from March to July, the government held its 5th Industrial Exhibition at the Osaka’s Tennoji. At the same time, unrelated to the exhibition, various for profit side show booth sprang up around there. One of those was a thatched hut called “Academic Human Museum.” Listed as its academic research credentials, it had North Koreans, Hokkaido Ainu, Taiwanese Mountain Villagers, Indians, Javanese, Turks, Africans, and Okinawa’s on display.
Needless to say, the “Academic Human Museum” became embroiled in sharp criticism and protests from Okinawa. In addition to that, in a journal kept by Master Chojun Miyagi, the founder of Goju Ryu, referred to discrimination, which he encountered.
It is easy to imagine the ideological background in which, with respect to the exportation of Okinawan karate to the mainland, the Okinawa’s were anxious to actively progress toward assimilation into Japan in order to improve their social standing. At the same time one can imagine that they felt some antipathy toward the Japanese who had dominated them.
It is not curious in the least that there would have been a conscious effort toward “not teaching the essence of Okinawan karate to the mainland Japanese.”
Section 6 If You Teach Karate, Do Not Teach the Real Techniques.
Part 1 Katas Really Can Be Taught.
There is a saying in karate that “Even if you teach the kata, do not teach the hidden techniques.” I believe that the techniques they are referring to are bunkai and proper body mechanics.
Also, since another way of saying “Do not teach the hidden techniques.” is “hidden techniques can be taught.” In other words they can be taught, but they should not be taught.
In traditional martial arts on the mainland, one cannot learn the intermediate techniques while they are beginners. In the case of karate, though there is no clear delineation of technical levels, so what has happened is that the movements of the katas have been taught, but the bunkai hasn’t. The result is that only the superficial techniques like kicks and punches are taught, while the other techniques are kept under cover.
Part 2 Choose Who You Teach To.
Because karate is a martial art containing potentially deadly techniques, the masters of old could not teach it to just anyone.
That is also part of the idea that they should not teach the hidden techniques when they taught katas. Consequently it was necessary to judge one’s character before teaching them. Thus the saying “karate is a virtuous man’s martial art”. This does not mean that one will become virtuous through the practice, rather that unless one were virtuous, they would not be taught.
Accordingly, it was common to only teach the basics until the teacher would ascertain whether or not the student was of sufficient character to teach the hidden techniques.
Part 3 To Whom Could They Teach?
In the case of martial arts on the mainland, the rank of menkyo-kaiden (master rank) meant that they were allowed to be taught the secret techniques.
In the case of karate, though, because it was practiced in secret, there was no system of certification. Until one was told that they were ready to be taught, they could not be sure of their own level.
Also, there was some confusion due the fact that it was the practice to learn different katas from different instructors.
Accordingly it was difficult for the karate teachers to objectively judge the students’ level.
Section 7 Oral Instruction Is The Key To Unlock Katas.
Originally oral instruction explaining the meaning and application of katas existed. Sensei Kubota, passed down this oral instruction for the bunkai of katas.
It is similar to the “Principles of Kaisai” in Goju Ryu. Once one learns the oral instruction, katas become full of a sense of reality. For example it is said that the front hand is for offense and the back hand is for defence. If this oral instruction is applied to the first move of Heian Nidan, it will look like the picture is from the book Karate do Kyohan written by Master Funakoshi. His opponent is Master Otsuka, the founder of Wado Ryu.
Heian Nidan was the first kata that I learned, and I was fond of it, but I had some questions about the normal bunkai. The bunkai shown is the first bunkai that I learned from Sensei Kubota. It most certainly characterizes the phrase ” to strike straight from one’s eyesight”.
The normal bunkai for this is a left inside block of the opponent’s right upper punch. With this method, the following attack would be a second count. On the other hand, Master Funakoshi’s bunkai indicates a left upper block and a right upper cut. In this case the block and the attack are executed in a single count. In other words, the method of countering an attack according to the common explanation is the opposite of the true bunkai. Since this is true for other styles, as well, it cannot be attributed to mistakes or changes. Rather, it is clear that a conscious effort was made to make it the exact opposite.
Section 8 Demonstration Katas Versus Actual Combat Katas.
Sensei Kubota divided katas into “katas for demonstration” and “katas for combat”. Katas for demonstration are for show, so the movements have been stylized and in order not to be revealed, the techniques that are executed in one count are broken down into two counts.
It is safe to say that most katas which one sees are this type. Just performing these kinds of katas, which are used in tournaments and demonstrations, they will not be able to actually use them. Katas for combat are those, which show the bunkai, and can actually be used. Generally speaking, they are almost unknown. They are devised so that they can be used directly for bunkai kumite.
Katas should be practiced together with oral instruction in order to be able to use them. There are various ways to practice these katas; breaking them up into blocks, performing them quickly, or slowly. One should not however practice them in the same manner as those for demonstration.
There is a similar method of practice in Shinkage Ryu Heiho (kenjutsu), which I studied. In Shinkage Ryu, One technique is broken down into to two steps for the purpose of teaching. For beginners a technique is practiced in two counts or movements. The same technique is practiced in one count or movement by advanced students. Therefore if someone only practices a technique as a beginner using two counts for many years, they will not be able to use it effectively. It is necessary to graduate and practice it at the next level.
Section 9 Sensei Kubota’s Teaching Method.
Sensei Kubota, as with most old fashioned martial artists, would not easily teach the bunkai of katas. Instead of teaching me, he would constantly ask me, “What is the meaning of that move?” When I couldn’t answer, he would just laugh and say that it’s your homework, and leave.
The next time I saw him, I would show him the results of my research and have him critique it. He would continue to give me the same problem until I was able to solve it.
If I was having a hard time figuring out a move, he would say to me “Come at me.”
Then we begin kumite. Sensei Kubota, however, would ask “how would you attack from here?” But would be twice my normal distance, and I did not know what techniques he would use, so I was so fearful that I could not get close to him.
Itosu’s Ten Precepts of Okinawan Karate
Chapter 1 The Origin Of Karate.
Modern karate began with Master Anko Itosu (1831~1915). Not only did Master Itosu bring karate out from the veil of secrecy, he organized traditional katas in a unified manner, and created new katas. Moreover, he established a foundation whereby Karate could extend beyond Okinawa to mainland Japan and to the world, by teaching it to many students, and introducing it into the school system itself. I believe these meritorious contributions are comparable to those of Dr. Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo.
In this chapter I will look at the starting point of karate based on Itosu’s Ten Precepts (The Ten Principles Karate), which he wrote in 1908.
Section 1 A Brief History of Master Anko Itosu.
Master Anko Itosu studied Shuri-Te (Shuri style Karate) under Sokon Matsumura (1809~1899), Naha-Te (Naha style Karate) from Master Nagahama, and Tomari-Te (Tomari style Karate) from Master Kosaku Matsumora (1829~1898), and was very famous for his powerful breaking ability. Also, as a secretary for the Kingdom Of Ryukyu, his calligraphy was excellent.
After Okinawa was annexed to Japan in 1879, Master Itosu continued to work as a secretary and taught karate to regular students at his home.
He received attention from the prefectural government due to the fact that all of those who passed with a high physical classification for the conscription examination were students of Master Itosu.
After that, the tide turned toward the introduction of karate into the school curriculum.
In 1901, Shuri Elementary School adopted karate as a part of its physical education program.
Master Itosu introduced the Heian katas in 1904.
In 1905, Master Itosu became an instructor of karate at the Prefectural Dai Ichi Junior High School, and the Instructors School.
In 1908, Master Itosu announced the Ten Precepts (The Ten Principles of Karate)
Master Itosu passed away in 1915.
Chapter 2 A Consideration of Itosu’s Ten Precepts. The Original Text and a Modern Translation
I would like to consider the true nature of karate by examining Master Itosu’s so-called “Ten Precepts”.
Master Itosu submitted what he called “The Ten Principles of Okinawa karate” to the Okinawan prefectural office in response to questions concerning the nature of karate.
I will refer to the explanation provided by Sensei Hiroshi Kinjo, who has carried out extensive research concerning Itosu’s Ten Precepts.
I first cite the original text, but since it contains obsolete characters, I have provided a modern translation.
Karate did not develop from Buddhism or Confucianism. In the past the Shorin school and the Shorei school were brought to Okinawa from China. Both of these schools contain certain characteristics that I will delineate now so they may be preserved without too many changes.
1) Karate should not merely be practiced for one’s own physical benefit, rather it should be used to protect one’s family or lord.It should not be used against a single assailant (for personal fights), and if at all possible one should attempt to redirect the confrontation when attacked by a villain or ruffian. In no case should one use punches and kicks to injure someone.
2) The purpose of karate is to make the muscles and bones hard as rock and train the hands and legs so that they will become like spears, thereby becoming naturally courageous. If children were to begin training in karate while in elementary school, they would be well suited for military service and other martial arts. Remember the words of the Duke of Wellington after he defeated Napoleon “The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of our schools.” I believe this quote is truly apt.
3) Karate cannot be learned quickly. Like a slow moving bull, that eventually travels a thousand miles, if one trains diligently everyday for one to two hours, in three to four years their body structure will become different from that of an ordinary person and in many cases they will be able to master the advanced aspects of karate.
4) The training of punches and kicks is important in karate. So training with a makiwara is important. To do this, one should lower their shoulders, open their lungs, taking (out) their strength, grip the floor with one’s feet and lower one’s energy to their abdomen (tanden). Practice in this manner using each arm one to two hundred times.
5) In karate it is important to practice the stances with a straight back, shoulders lowered, taking (out) one’s strength, putting one’s strength in their legs, lowering one’s energy to their abdomen (tanden). It is important to maintain proper balance between the strength of the upper and lower body.
6) Practice katas often, learning the meanings and when to use them before practicing them. There are many oral instructions for the strikes, blocks, escapes, and grappling techniques.
7) Before practicing kata, decide whether you are training for physical development or for learning the technical application.
8) When you train you should train as if on the battlefield. Make your eyes glare, lower your shoulders and harden your body. If you train with the same intensity and spirit as though you are striking and blocking against an actual opponent, you will naturally develop the same attitude as on a battlefield.
9) When training, be careful not to use an inappropriate amount of power for your body. If you do, your energy will rise to your upper body and your eyes and face will become red, which is dangerous for the body.
10) From the past there have been many karate masters who have enjoyed long lives. The reason for this is that it develops the bones and muscles and aids in digestion and circulation. If karate were introduced as a foundation for physical education in public schools, and widely practiced, we would be able to produce many students who have mastered it enough to be able to defeat ten assailants.
In keeping with the above ten precepts, I believe that by having the students of the teacher’s school practice it and, upon graduation, after receiving detailed instruction, they would be able to teach it at various elementary schools. If taught correctly, within ten years it will have spread not only throughout Okinawa, but through the entire country of Japan. I believe it will be of tremendous benefit to our nation and military. It is my hope that you will give this serious consideration.
Anko Itosu October 1908
Kata Specifications in Karate
Kata Specifications in Karate I (first part)
by Kenji Tokitsu Sensei
As you know, for a long time Karate was practiced and transmitted only in esoteric circles. Until the end of the 19th century, people always avoided being seen when they practiced Karate. They used to train at night, in the master’s garden or in solitary places, such as a lonely beach or cemetery. It was not strange for karatekas to keep their practice secret even from the members of their own family.
A master had only a very few trainees. Some even refused to take on pupils, with the result that their art disappeared when they did.
Since this is the way that Karate was practiced, it is clear that no thought was given to others. There was a total absence of concern for spectacular technical stances. A show or performance mainly strives for visual communication with an audience, but in this system, the presence of outsiders was strictly forbidden.
Techniques were practiced to make them effective, but the effectiveness sought was very different from the image created as a result of modern-day Karate. In many cases, the vision of contemporary karatekas has been deformed by prejudices heavily influenced by films, TV series and demonstration performances such as the ones seen on “Martial Arts Night”.
All of this is done for the sake of connecting with outsiders, to render effectiveness visible to them, as is the rule of show business. But the consequence is that a false view is spread of the reality of combat and its skills. The show has its strong points, but we have to know how to distinguish between performance and martial art. To my mind, the effectiveness of Karate, and of all martial arts, is based on elements that are scarcely, if at all visible. I will develop this point later.
To better understand Karate, we could explore certain questions about it during the period when it was defined solely as a martial art. If I do so, it is not merely to delve into the past, but because I feel that in order to develop a Karate that is suited to our way of life, we must base it on what went before so that it can be carried forward.
Ancient Karate was developed and transmitted within an esoteric system, whereas modern Karate is practiced and conveyed within an open system that seeks to show it off. In the course of this development – going from one system of transmission to its opposite -, wouldn’t there have been a loss of technical know-how? And if there was, what exactly was lost and how important was it?
In the ancestral system, Karate training focused on repetition of the kata. Practitioners trained with very few kata – one, two, or maybe three. A karateka’s skill was judged according to the degree of integration of a kata. His knowledge of many kata was of no importance. If someone had said, “I know twenty kata”, another would have thought to himself scornfully, “That’s because you don’t know any of them well. As a karateka you have no value”.
Karate experts had to put a great deal of energy into a single kata, showing through it the skills they had acquired. A kata was learned and repeated from many different angles. It was not thought of as a unique, authentic form. A kata needed to include technical variants that enabled one to respond to the multiple situations of combat. Kata had the pragmatic, very complete role of teaching and honing truly valid skills. It was a true technical support.
For example the Jion kata included a number of Age-uke and Gyaku-tsuki passages. In the normal repetition of the kata, these passages were executed, like today, in the simplest fashion, linking them with the preceding and following movements. But these passages, like all the others, also had to be worked on independently as basic techniques.
In doing so, instead of practicing them as in the kata, moving forward in a straight line and without any break in rhythm, a karateka would execute them in different ways. For example, the Age-uke block would be practiced with subtle oblique shifts of the body in order to be able to respond to an adversary’s attack from different angles.
Clearly, there are many ways of changing the angle of the body. This is why, in the kata, these multiple shifts are expressly omitted and only the gestural skeleton is shown. It is as though only a central path were traced out, whereas in reality there are many possible paths: to the right, left, on an angle, turning, etc.
For true technical training, you obviously have to study all these possibilities because this is the only way for technique to become thoroughly operational – i.e., capable of varying according to the situation.
A kata was important for a trainee because it enabled him to learn these hidden technical variants. A single gesture contained within itself dozens of variations. To know a kata meant learning and mastering this complexity, and this is why a single kata was sufficient.
It was not by practicing in a single fixed way that the trainee found a kata interesting. As a student improved and progressed, the master would open his eyes to underlying techniques. He might say, “In the kata, the forms executed are at their most condensed and simplified. You must now execute each one of the passages in different ways. You have to find the subtlety with which to alter the angle of your body. That’s the essential thing for combat. But you don’t need to experience it in executing the kata. The kata is a bone, which you flesh out with knowledge. Nourish your flesh well, without showing it to others.”
This way of learning a kata was only possible within a system of personal transmission which, however, could involve more than one student. It became impossible in an institutionalized system which accords official status to only one form of execution.
In this regard, I like to quote T. NAKANO, one of my karateka friends:
“Human beings are strange. Many tend to feel anxious, unsure and insecure when faced with a veritable treasure that will open the doors to freedom and innumerable possibilities. On the other hand, they feel safe and secure with poverty and mediocrity, simply because they have the garland of “official” authority, which releases them from the need to think about other possibilities. There is a little of this in the strength of the organisations. They represent an authority based on assigning value to a single form of each kata, to training models, to rules, to ranks. In the old system of Karate, none of these allures existed, simply because they were not necessary for martial arts. Today what is required by sports, but not by martial art, is what dominates in the world of the latter. Isn’t this a sad state of affairs?”
When someone says, “The kata are important, essential even for Karate”, the statement is based on the ancestral system, whether the speaker knows it or not. In other times, the kata were regarded with respect according to their content. But as we have seen, the “ancestral” kata of today are not the same in practice as in teaching. A kata cannot have as many meanings in the modern system of Karate where each style or school refers to a fixed model regarded as the only legitimate one. To see this you only need to examine the kata that you practice.
Karate developed within a system of communication that was closed to the public. Today, dominated as we are by the show system, how can we fully access that knowledge? Surmounting such a problem is not easy. Just revise the kata that you know and try to apply their passages to see the totality of the kata.
Are you able to explain the meaning and purpose of each technical move in a satisfactory manner? Don’t you perform the technical moves simply because that’s how you’ve been taught? If you can’t fully feel the meaning and purpose of a technique, I think that it will serve for very little as a combat technique.
In any case, when I felt stuck about twenty years ago, I asked myself all these questions. I felt overwhelmed by a sensation of emptiness and wondered, “What have I been doing until now? How, in the modern system, can I access all the riches developed in a closed system?” With these questions in mind, I began my search into the history of Karate.
Kata Specifications in Karate I (second part)
by Kenji Tokitsu Sensei
The three categories of kata:
One of the problems in practicing the kata comes from the ambiguity of their meaning. In order to delve further into the subject, we should distinguish three types of kata, which are generally confused with each other, namely the rintô-gata (combat kata), hyôen-gata (demonstration or performance kata) and rentan-gata (energy or strength building kata).
The rintô-gata are the original kata. In other times they formed the contents of what was taught in esoteric transmission. The other two categories were developed to facilitate access to the original kata. That is, they were developed to enable the trainee to attain the skill necessary for executing the rintô-gata. Almost all the kata that we know today belong to these last two categories, while the rintô-gata have practically been forgotten, and form part of the ancestral modes of esoteric transmission.
You can say that you know the kata whose bunkai (analysis or application) is clear, but this is not the quality that determines the rintô-gata. Let me explain this further.
The Sanchin kata, for example, is a typical rentan-gata like the Naihanchi (Tekki) or Sesan (Hangetsu) kata. However, most kata include, in varying proportions, elements of hyôen-gata and rentan-gata. Under this classification, the rentan-gata, which are the energy kata in the broadest sense of the term, include a number of formalised Qi Gong exercises.
Combat techniques are characterised by their complex mobility. The hyôen-gata present the movements in simplified, partial form, accentuating the standard positions to make them more accessible, thus frequently giving them a ceremonial appearance. This appearance is accentuated in the kata that are executed in performances. They are the ones that we see most frequently in Karate tournaments and matches.
In modern kata, the three categories are more or less mixed, and elements of rintô-gata are found only at the bottom of these kata.
It is usually said that a kata’s bunkai is done or not, but most bunkais are series of techniques well coordinated with a view to the exercises. The most real forms of combat techniques are not shown except in the rintô-gata (combat kata), which are more flexible and dynamic that the kata of the other two categories, since they arise from an effective form of combat.
Even after a new revision, most of the movements of the rentan-gata and hyôen-gata are not truly satisfactory techniques from the point of view of the timing of velocity and body position in combat. “Satisfactory techniques” is an apt expression, because we can justify any technique if our partner agrees.
Just look at how many harmful techniques flourish with the kata under the pretext of application or bunkai. The possibility of bunkai is not sufficient proof to rate as a rintô-gata. A bunkai is nothing more than an intermediate exercise prior to engaging in real combat. One who knows the bunkai well is not necessarily able to fight effectively. Just look at how the kata are practiced today.
The bunkai of the sêpai kata, for example, is very clear and each move can constitute an interesting technical repertoire, but as you well know, you do not fight according to the kata. They are sequences of gestures that are useful for executing techniques, but not rintô-gata techniques.
Because this is a true reference for combat and each technique includes possibilities for change depending on the adversary’s response. I think that the following examples will help us to understand the rintô-gata and to see how they are lacking in today’s Karate.
Rintô-gata : the original kata
In the years following the war, the late Master Yasugi Kuroda of the Kaïshin-Ryû school fought against four Yakuza armed with short swords. It was an aggression and Master Kuroda prevailed armed only with a fan. After this experience he said, “There was no difference between the kata that I practice every day and the combat I engaged in. The actual fight was neither pleasant nor interesting.”
What Kuroda is talking about here is the rintô-gata. It wasn’t a question of applying such and such a technique against such another one, but instead of something spontaneous like the teaching of its kata. Do you know this side of the kata in Karate? Personally, I do not. You can say perhaps that I, or some other master, is capable of combat executed like a kata, but then I would say we are not speaking of the same thing. To help us understand what combat is, especially with a knife or sword, let me give an example.
Master K. Kurosaki is the first karateka to have had a public match against a Thai boxer, thereby contributing to the creation of kick boxing in Japan. At the age of sixty, today he has a reputation of being a realistic fighter, which he unquestionably is, having engaged in a great number of matches with no rules. Here is what he says on combat against an armed adversary in his video tape entitled “The Training of a Demon Fighter”.
“If you are faced with an adversary armed with a knife, what should you do? The answer is easy. You should have a weapon that is longer than his. Otherwise, you’d better turn around and run. There are some people who are so ingenuous that they dare to demonstrate unarmed combat against an armed adversary, thinking that they can win as though they were the hero of a comic strip, never realising the danger entailed by the sharp blade of a knife. A blind man is not afraid of a serpent. This, at least, is what I have learned from experience.”
With these two examples we can see the difference in level between the two masters. We can imagine the level of Master Y. Kuroda’s art and also the existence of the technical support of sword art underlying the form of the kata in his school.
Some of these highly rigorous kata have been transmitted selectively. I can confirm this dimension of the kata after having studied the art of the sword according to this school.
But I do not encounter this dimension in the Karate kata of today. This is not, however, from lack of knowledge. If that were the case, I would count myself lucky, for the possibility would exist of learning it one day. But I do not believe in that possibility because karate has developed by giving foremost status to the rentan-gata and hyôen-gata, which are much more accessible than the rintô-gata. The latter have been shoved to the bottom of the kata since the beginning of the twentieth century.
Let us recall again the fact that karate was an extremely selective pursuit. If it has become accessible to everyone, it is not because the doors have been opened but because major qualitative changes have been introduced in content and mode of transmission.
I think that a karateka in search of the greatest value within Karate should broaden the scope of his search to include the rintô-gata, the kata of extreme rigour which in themselves comprise the most complex method of Karate. I repeat that it is because of the difficulty entailed by this rigour that the rentan-gata and the hyôen-gata were developed, thereby helping to popularise Karate.
How to gain access to the rintô-gata.
I can see only one way to judge whether a kata is rintô-gata, or to recreate a rintô-gata based on the reformed kata of today.
You have to study as many versions as possible of a given kata. This will enable you to make detailed comparisons of its overall technical structure.
For example the Gojûshiho kata, taught today in Shôtokan, in Shitô-Ryû and in Shorin-Ryû, has variants in each of these schools. I have compiled about ten Gojûshiho. You can enumerate the number of technical sequences comprising this kata. In a general comparison, you can break each of the sequences down into the position of the adversaries, the quality of their attacks and strategy, while at the same time studying your own technical possibilities, the strategy that you use, the bodily and mental stance to be adopted, etc.
You can construct the combat situation based on all these assumptions and actually carry out the combat to experience this situation. The idea is to find all the possibilities and all the difficulties. A great number of the latter are going to appear. So you must devise a way for overcoming each one. You must work until all these problems are resolved in a satisfactory way for carrying out the combat in the most authentic way possible.
For each sequence, it is necessary to find the technical mode that will, at the same time, help to hone the technical skill you are using. The rintô-gata is known as a highly pragmatic method. If true effectiveness for combat is missing, a kata cannot be a rintô-gata. Otherwise, how could the karatekas of old, who had no time to waste, train as thoroughly as necessary, and why did they hide their art from everyone else? Because they had true wealth and found it in a single kata.
It is with this outlook that I am now engaged in my research on the rintô-gata.
Reconstructing the rintô-gata .
I’ll take as an example for analysis the first sequence of the Gojûshiho kata. The technical objective here is to get close enough to the adversary to attack him with an ura uchi punch.
In these sequences there are two main requirements.
Advance rapidly without receiving an attack from the adversary. That is, advance rapidly keeping your guard up. You must not expose yourself to attack from your adversary.
The moment you execute the ura uchi, you should not be vulnerable.
The gestural sequences of the kata should provide you with a means of properly acquiring these technical abilities. It must give you an efficient repertory of skills while at the same time teaching you a way of moving that will enable you to develop the qualities necessary for executing this technique. The movements must be realistic and instructive at the same time. It is only under these conditions that you can internalise technique by respecting a kata.
If you examine kata you know from this perspective, you will find many detrimental movements. For example, you distance yourself from the timing of combat, you leave your face open to attack from the adversary, you stiffen your body and let your technique become rigid, instead of making them mobile. By respecting this kind of kata, you will never attain a “budô body”, a body able to execute efficient techniques, with good regulation of energy in the body’s vital areas.
I have studied about ten variants of Gojûshiho. All of them have the same overall structure, but the technical details are different. Through this study, and with the help of oral transmissions, I have made a comparison and analysis to discover the technical objective of each sequence and the main requirements for executing it.
The variants of a kata correspond to different technical interpretations and also to the greater or lesser deformation of its form and strategic content over time. The value of a kata is quite different depending on the variant you are examining.
At any rate, we can say that if the Gojûshiho kata of a school enables you in this first sequence to develop and master the skill of advancing rapidly towards your adversary without exposing your vulnerable spots, then this kata is good. If not, the kata is not worth doing.
A kata is a practical tool. Its value depends on its capacity to meet the technical objective for which it was designed. Whatever the authenticity label of a kata, it must be considered faulty if it is impossible to discover the means by which it will train you and meet its original objectives.
Kata Specifications in Karate II
by Kenji Tokitsu Sensei
We began by raising questions about the future of contemporary Karate, examining the potential of the kata and its situation at present.
If this article proves difficult to follow, it would be a good idea to (re)read the previous ones first.
Under the ancestral system, karate practice was practically the same thing as kata training. By practicing the kata, practitioners increased their strength. The role of the kata was more important than it is today, because learning came through the complex technical ramifications of each of the techniques being taught.
Let us go back to the first question we posed: spectacular technique vs. barely visible technique. To address this question, let me first ask the following one: how and under what conditions can a combat technique be effective?
Perhaps you’ll say through strength, speed, timing,…
But then you would be forgetting something crucial: combat technique is effective when it can’t be seen.
The effectiveness of any technique is raised to the maximum if it is employed in such a way that the adversary can’t see it. One of the roles of speed is to decrease the visibility of a blow. Otherwise, if the adversary manages to see it coming, its effectiveness will be diminished.
Obviously, therefore, when we think about a single technique, we overlook the need to understand the phenomena of combat and transmission.
In the times when martial arts were effective enough to play an important social role, skilled fighters honed their technique in this way. That is, they worked to make their techniques as little apparent as possible, to make them truly invisible. The main concern in training was to find a way to make this or that technical move without allowing the adversary to see it.
The techniques developed with this idea in mind were handed down secretly, because it was necessary to keep them hidden from possible adversaries. It was necessary to avoid making known the specificity of one’s school. Allowing others to watch training was out of the question.
Let us stress again that insofar as technical quality and the system of transmission were concerned, classical Karate was based on a hidden, esoteric system, whereas today it is based on the opposite system, a system of performance and exhibition.
In classical Karate, demonstration in public did not make sense. If occasionally a festival or exceptional event was held, what was shown were “the flowers” of Karate techniques, but “the fruit” was kept hidden.
The noble karatekas of the Shuri castle valued the sober, efficient techniques that called for a minimum of gesture, and disdained “spectacular” movements. These they called “peasant techniques”.
Their eyes sought to find, during the execution of a kata, the instants when techniques were truly “cutting” and the skill with which they were disguised by apparently ineffective movements. Skilled fighters cared only about the opinion of their peers. Aware that some might be in an audience, a karateka would never put on a demonstration to please the crowd.
The disappearance of this mindset spelled the beginning of change for Karate in Okinawa. I have heard a Karate master from Okinawa say: “In the karate dojos located near tourist areas, techniques changed frequently. The demonstrations held grew increasingly spectacular, with the result that teaching was transformed.”
Bruce Lee contributed to the development of Chinese martial arts and popularised Karate. His talent as an acrobatic actor is undeniable. What he shows in his films are “the flowers” we were talking about. “The fruit” is generally impossible to convey in a film.
Regrettably, many would-be specialists in martial arts do not know how to make this primary distinction.
The same is true of the late Toshiro Mifune, who died at the end of 1997 and played so well his roles as a master sword fighter. He was not skilled in sword combat, but was an excellent actor in sword scenes – an important difference. In Japan, when combat scenes are filmed, they are directed by action specialists. Such scenes are called “tateshi”. The specialists are masters of combat performances. They have more or less experience in martial arts, but they cannot be confused with masters of the art of combat.
What is invisible is not conveyable by a visual system. The transmission of ancient Karate consisted of directly communicating to one’s pupil, through practice, the technical subtleties that are invisible to the ordinary eye.
To become a skilled fighter meant learning how to see to the bottom of things. When what is essential lies hidden under a layer on which a show has been painted, the skilled karateka is one whose eye is capable of penetrating that layer. Isn’t that the specific quality of an expert? In an art worthy of the name, it takes the skilled eye of an expert to appreciate quality. The same thing applies to karate. However, most of today’s Karate has become a show that does not require a skilled eye to be appreciated.
Martial arts shows are made for audiences who are generally not practitioners, and even the details of the movements can be seen. Here, techniques should be visible, highly and totally visible in fact, in order to be appreciated.
As we have seen, the most efficient technique is the one the adversary is incapable of seeing. How could a technique that is invisible even to the eye of a trained adversary be visible for inexpert spectators?
Isn’t it time to acknowledge and publicise the fundamental difference between the spectacle of the martial arts and true martial arts?
One of the problems of modern-day martial arts consists of the confusion between these two entirely different phenomena – i.e., martial arts and martial shows. The latter are a sort of parasite of the former. To be credible, they feed off the martial arts and then relegate them to the realm of myths.
To keep from denaturalising the martial arts, it is necessary to distinguish between true martial art and martial shows, and to attribute to each its relative value. It’s not a question of rejecting the existence of martial shows, but of practitioners’ freeing themselves of the suffocating idea of performing, convincing themselves instead that they can build mastery and a way of practice open to the view of true experts.
As for the show facet, there is no ambiguity in circus art, which goes to the limits of the visible. There, non-specialist spectators see a degree of daring and applaud accordingly. Circus specialists could stage a much better martial arts show than any karateka could.
It is sufficient to distinguish performance mastery from bodily discipline. The one tends toward the visible, and the other toward the invisible.
How did this distinction come about?
Karate reform in the early 20th century.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, Karate began to emerge from the classical period. Karatekas sought to affirm themselves in modern Japanese society, on which the island of Okinawa depended.
In 1905 Karate was adopted as a new physical education discipline for school children in Okinawa. This marked the beginning of the expansion of Karate into the public domain.
If esoteric martial art suddenly became popularised, it is not because the doors were simply opened. There was also a reform of Karate. This should be understood today. But what kind of a reform was it?
Here I will mention briefly only the two most important reforms that took place:
1. The teaching and training model
2. Combat technique
The reform of the teaching and training model.
First, in order for Karate to be accepted as a school discipline, it was necessary to convince national education experts of its educational value.
Also, parents of the children had to approve it. Consequently a reform of classical Karate was necessary to make its values comprehensible to the eyes of non-practitioners. The inspectors had to be convinced that Karate was as effective a discipline as the physical education reference models of the period, namely, the Western model of military training.
It was for these social reasons that Karate was transformed into a disciplined means of training groups of people. Before, karate instruction took place individually or at most in groups of two or three students. Consequently, there was no ritual of discipline: line-up, formal bow, calling off “one”, “two”, “three”, ?, turn, back, stop. Thus the collective salute to the master under the orders of the highest ranking student parallels the military salute under the flag.
Let me stress that all these features which are considered to be a Japanese tradition are in fact a replica of Western discipline. In Japan in the times of the Samurai and on Okinawa during the classical Karate period, discipline was very different from that of contemporary Japanese martial arts. I will explore this point further in other articles.
Reform of combat technique.
The way that the teaching of Karate was organised influenced its content. A large number of technical reforms were made in the years between 1905-1915. We will discuss this in a forthcoming article.
“Messages from Within”
The following email excerpts, and/or articles of information, are documented here as they may contain important historical and/or technical data that may be used for reference……Bud Morgan
( One )
Dear CD Members, Over the last three weeks there have had many posts concerning the Hakutsuru methods being propagated outside of Okinawa by many that do not seem to have a solid, verifiable background in the crane methods. I have spent a considerable amount of time researching the origins of the Hakutsuru methods on Okinawa and how they have come to be of such great importance to some proponents outside of Okinawa. IMHO you can break down the modern day influence of the crane methods on Okinawa to two sources: 1) Go Kenki and 2) Hohan Soken.
The Go Kenki influence can be traced to Matayoshi Shinko and Matayoshi Shinpo along with Kyoda Juhatsu. It appears that only the Kingai Ryu of Matayoshi and To’oon Ryu of Kyoda Juhatsu have kept kata that are credited to Go Kenki either through transmission or creation from his influence. The influences of Go Kenki in these methods are documented and have a long history of crediting the crane influence on their training methods. The Hohan Soken influence on the crane methods practiced today is unclear of where the methods came from. Some sources indicate that Soken learned these methods from a “Nabe” Matsumura or perhaps while he was in Argentina. A third possibility is that Soken learned some crane methods from Go Kenki before his departure to Argentina. The crane methods of Soken are not well documented and the crane kata methods do not appear to have a long history with Soken.
There are conflicts of the validity with both sources: Go Kenki, with certainty, a historical figure that lived on Okinawa and had appreciated Chinese crane methods left little in the way of a following outside of what we see in To’oon Ryu or Kingai Ryu. The Hakucho of Matayoshi and the Happoren and Nipaipo kata of To’oon Ryu are credited to Go Kenki but other than these two sources no one else is documented to having relationships with Go Kenki that have survived after the war. One of the mysteries of Go Kenki is why did he come to Okinawa other than to sell tea and what were the circumstances behind his premature death. Go Kenki has been reported to have been a Chinese agent, which was his purpose of being on Okinawa, and he was killed by the Japanese military in 1939 when the Japanese army occupied Okinawa for the purpose of prosecuting the war through Indochina. How close are these methods of those of Go Kenki’s white crane methods? How much were they influenced by the Kingai Ryu methods learned by Matayoshi Shinko while in China or by Kyoda Juhatsu’s training with Higaonna Kanryo. We have no way of knowing but it would appear that only one generation has passed from the transmission of these methods so the probability is great that the methods are close to what Go Kenki transmitted. Hohan Soken’s crane methods on the other hand cause some concern as to their validity due to several reasons:
1. The Hakutsuru methods that are claimed to have come from Matsumura Soken prompts the question why did the other senior students of Matsumura Soken not receive these methods or at least have some reference to them?
2. Hohan Soken did not study with Matsumura Soken but an unknown figure that is only referred to as “Nabe” Matsumura. “Nabe” as is widely known, means uncle or older relation. The problem is making a claim of gaining transmission of the Hakutsuru methods through someone that no one has been able to document through their full name, where they lived, etc, etc causes concern over the validity of the claims. There are no records of a Matsumura Soken relative that carried on his teaching. While Soken may have received significant instruction from someone in the Matsumura lineage before leaving for Argentina there has been no documentation of who that person was other than “Nabe” Matsumura.
3. Soken received the crane methods while in Argentina. If this were so it would seem that he would have given credit to his teacher and had a full system of crane methods to propagate upon his return to Okinawa versus the one kata that is demonstrated on video.
Over the last few weeks the discussions have led to trying to identify the promoters and backgrounds of the crane methods on Okinawa. Other than the identified sources above there appear to be no other crane influences known today. I have asked several times for contact information that I can follow up with during my April visit to Okinawa but as yet have not had any input. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org_ (mailto:email@example.com) if you have any contact information or source information that I can research.
I have tried to look at these sources objectively without the influence of my relationships with various teachers on Okinawa but it appears to me that there is no evidence that would lead me to believe that there is a credible source on Okinawa connecting Shorin Ryu to the White Crane Methods.
Gambatte Dan Smith
( Two )
Dear CD Members, Pat’s suggestion that I visit Kuda (deceased) and Nishihara is appreciated. I visited Kuda sensei several times over many years to observe his training and agree with recent post that he did not have a Hakutsuru kata.
I have seen Nishihara’s karate over the years and only in the last few years has he been pushing the crane kata theme along with Yabiku. It appears to me that they also developed their crane theme sometime after a Patrick McCarthy visit to Okinawa. Perhaps this was coincidental but either they had their interest piqued by Mr. McCarthy or perhaps there was another precursor that caused their sudden dissemination of the crane methods.
I am not in any way trying to come across as having seen all methods on Okinawa but I think after living on Okinawa for several years and having visited Okinawa, arguably, as much or more than any other foriegner over the last 38 years (I recently had to get a new passport as it was 10 years old and as I was going through the old one I counted that I had made 17 trips to Okinawa in the last 10 years) I would have seen the crane methods that are on this small island.
I can say without question that the only crane methods I have observed before the last few years were those demonstrated by Matayoshi Shinpo, who I studied Kobudo and a small amount of Kingai Ryu, the Happoken and Nipaipo of the Goju Ryu lineage of Juhatsu Kyoda and in the last few years that of Fuse Kise (I observed Kise’s karate for more than 30 years before there was any crane methods included).
The point I am making is that after watching many island wide demonstrations at various events I have yet to see any of the crane methods demonstrated to the Okinawan karate public. It would appear to me that as all the karate elements come together several times a year that someone would demonstrate these crane methods. Someone will counter this and say that these methods are kept secret, etc but if that is true why are there so many present video and demonstrations of crane methods and organizations in the US that are centered around crane methods.
My question remains. I request that the crane method people in the US provide me the names and addresses of where I can find the crane teachers on Okinawa and I will visit them in April and provide documentation to what I find to the CD.
As some of you may recall I made a similar offer several years ago about the lineage of Seki Toma and Mr. Roy Hobbs. I went with my teacher to visit Mr. Toma to find out exactly what the relationship was and then reported to the CD.
Another time we were discussing a certain teacher on Okinawa and his methods so I was able to go and train with him. He did not take foriegn students. On the second day of training he looked at me and one of my students and said, “the only reason you are here is how could I refuse a request from Shimabukkuro sensei.” He then specifically requested that I not share with anyone back in the US that we trained with him for reasons that he explained.
Again, the point is that not only myself but others who go to Okinawa regularly can follow up on subjects raised on the CD and share what we find. Why continue with discussions based on second hand information and claims by people who have little or no connections with Okinawa?
On a last note. A recent post by one of Kuda sensei’s students mentioned that Kuda sensei had stated that Hakutsuru was found in all the Shorin Ryu kata. I agree with this statement if in fact the Shorin Ryu kata have the principle of “whipping action” but one element does not mean that you have to find a crane method in every movement. Obviously, some methods of Shorin Ryu were influenced by methods from China but Okinawan karate became a distinct method within it’s self.
Gambatte, Dan Smith
( Three )
Kuden no Uke Waza
1) Uke waza, like keri waza and tsuki waza, are impacting waza by nature. However the design of uke waza was meant to be used along with body change waza as a method of removing yourself from the line of attack, while at the same time aligning yourself for the counter attack, from a position of advantage.
2) Of primary importance is understanding that unlike keri waza and tsuki waza, the uke waza do not remain static as they appear in kata. Kicks, punches, and strikes symbolize “final” ending positions, while uke waza does not imply that at all. The position you see in kata reflect the “interim” position, or intermediate movement of uke waza only.
3) To not understand that uke waza allow you to lead the opponent to the application of torite waza, would be a shortcoming in fighting strategy.We have all heard the maxum, “There are no blocks in Karate”, but this does not imply that they must only be strikes.
4) Also in this light, keep in mind the “movement analysis” (Bunkai) of all uke waza include the motion of the head, body, shoulders, upper arms, and elbows, waist and legs….not just the forearm and fist area of the blocking appendages.
5) Gedan Barai (as a waza) is descriptive of a “movement” (lower level sweeping). This movement once analyzed, plays many important roles, the least being a “blocking” tool (as viewed from the end of the fist/hand). IMHO far too much emphasis is placed on looking at the “end placement” of the hand/fist, and not on the action of the arm itself.
6) Its usefulness in karate should be observed as an “interim movement” that is continued into another waza, ie. lifting, sweeping, grabbing, pulling, throwing, and striking. From this perspective the Gedan Barai becomes a waza of prime importance, one that has a multitude of possibilities, and that is the reason that it is was always taught as one of the first techniques learned. It is really that important, and it is somewhat a shame that it has been relegated to such a lowly status in many modern styles.
7) The basic premise of receiving the attack includes body movement/shifting, which may or may not be the first action, as the controlling factor is/was/will be the speed/velocity of the attack itself, coupled to the surprise factor, and your individual readiness and capability to respond to it.
8) The uke/blocking/parrying action may actually come at the same time, or in front of, or behind the body shift. This will be determined by your response time, and therefore your actual ability at perceiving the threat in real time.
9) This is why I like to block with the whole arm vs just the wrist or hand, and I for one am a mawashi-uke style receiver when/if my attacker allows me to be. This is a blocking and/or receiving method that has great flexibilty, and can be used at all levels and with several directions.
10) What happens next is what determines the outcome of most attacks. Are you able to utilize your response as a bridge to allow you to control the situation further to it’s conclusion?
Bud Morgan, Shotoshinkai Karate Dojo
( Four )
Karate Combat with “Kiseme” by Kenji Tokitsu Sensei
It is necessary to acquire an enhanced sense of the space we occupy during combat in order to tell what the adversary’s intentions are. We often express this through an image: turn your upper limbs into a radar scanning the field of combat. In order for the body to obtain this heightened sense, you first need to be able to sense the body itself in its entirety, and then extend sensation of the body to surrounding space. There are exercises that cultivate and develop these internal and external skills, and which also serve to strengthen the body from the inside. Examples include certain currents of Chinese Qi Gong and Japanese introspective breathing exercises.
“Modern” karate is almost entirely lacking in these exercises, however, since for the most part, its practice is structured round competition and is often basically incompatible with these principles.
In any case, when facing an adversary, you sense the movement of his will through his gestures and the energy that emanates around him. When he is about to launch a tsuki against you, you sense his intention to do so before he executes the move. If you succeed in reacting against this mental movement, your action will precede his. You are ready to respond as soon as the adversary decides to attack. As for him, if he’s able to sense your potential response, he’ll withhold his attack because he’ll realise that it’s already been rendered useless. If he’s not able to sense your reaction, he’ll follow through with his attack and will receive your response, which most likely will be successful because it is guided by a perception that precedes that of the adversary.
If both one and the other are at a sufficiently advanced level, and if each is capable of perceiving and sensing the adversary’s intentions, the match will unfold implicitly before each attack is executed. In order for this type of combat to take place, both combatants must be open to perception. If it is blocked in one of them, such a match cannot occur.
( Five )
The Kyoshi Dan Smith Letter’s
LETTER 1. – Kata & bunkai
In response to some of the post on bogus bunkai and some Okinawan instructors and dojo not having bunkai that seem to be anything but block/punch.
I would agree that there are dojo on Okinawa that fall into the above category. Please remember that we are discussing human beings and the frailties and shortcomings are the same whether you live in Okinawa, Japan or the USA.
I believe that Goshiki (sp) is right in relating other’s observations to him that their is a lack of bunkai understanding in Okinawa. But there is some very good reasons behind the lack of the focus on bunkai training.
I believe the most important factor was the dissemination of karate to Japan. The entire method of training was changed to cater to the teaching karate as physical exercise in the public schools.
The next factor was the rapid development of karate styles in Japan. It is hard to imagine that from 1922 to 1937 there was no less than a dozen different styles developed by Japanese on the mainland. So, in 15 years you had this many people move up to the position of leading their own school. Why there are countless of us in the USA and Okinawa that have been with the same teachers for thirty years and if we started our own group we would be soundly criticized.
How did this effect the bunkai of the kata ? They did not stay with the Okinawans long enough to learn and the karate that was taught in the beginning was kihon only.
The Japanese had a strong desire to use what they were learning and they developed the jiyu kumite as a supplement for not knowing the bunkai. The sparring matches became their method of measuring their karate skills whereas the Okinawans had only used the measurement of being able to defend themselves and live long lives.
The Okinawans became victim to this same thought process after the war. Why? Because only a handful of the older teachers were left and many of the teachers who began teaching after the war were trained in school karate where the emphasis was on body and spirit development.
The method of training on Okinawa followed the Japanese for many years with the emphasis on bogu jiyu kumite. The training methods were changed or adapted in many dojo to improve the ability to free spar vs. actual combat.
I am not saying that all Okinawan schools followed this way but many of them did. I believe most of all the senior teachers had the knowledge of what karate had been but due to the changing times they designed their instruction to meet the perceived needs of the day.
I have observed over the last nine years in Okinawa a resurgence of traditional Okinawan karate. A symposium was held in August of 1990 after the Uchinanchu demonstrations to establish the direction of Okinawan karate. I was fortunate to attend this symposium and witnessed the senior teachers calling for a return to traditional Okinawan karate and kobudo.
Since that time much effort and expense has been expended to put the emphasis on re-establishing Okinawan karate as it should be. I have been to Okinawa 14 times in the last nine years and have seen a dramatic change on the emphasis being placed on training methods.
In the late 60’s when I lived on Okinawa more emphasis was put on kihon, kata and jiyu kumite. One of the reasons was that is what Americans liked and enjoyed. Many of the Okinawan teachers made their livings teaching servicemen. Most of these men were only on Okinawa for 18 months so the training was geared to having them experience the Okinawan karate and enjoy their time on Okinawa.
Yes, I know that most of the servicemen who were there on Okinawa during this time will say that they learned more than just kihon, kata and jiyu kumite and perhaps some did but those that will be honest with themselves should answer just as the Japanese should have from what they learned from the Okinawans and that is they did not even hear the word bunkai from the Okinawans.
The word bunkai is not even Unchinanguchi. The Okinawans that I trained with used the term ti chi ki, which I was told meant showing what the hand is doing.
I have rambled on enough about all of this so please forgive me. The point is that the Okinawans knew and still know the bunkai of the kata. They were just emphasizing something different.
I have an acquaintenance that I have known for about thirty years. He is an 8th dan now and several years ago I had the opportunity to train in his dojo frequently over a period of a year while on business trips. He would ask me questions concerning bunkai of kata and I would give him answers thinking all along that he was just pulling my leg when he would say he had never seen the explanations of the kata like that.
He asked me how did I get this information. I told him that my teacher’s father would show me during our morning classes. After a couple of months had gone by he said he thought that I must be making these applications up. He said they made sense but he knew that if his sensei (different than mine and very highly thought of on Okinawa) knew these applications he would have taught him.
Sometime after this he and I went to Okinawa together and he asked his teacher in front of me some kata bunkai questions. His teacher readily gave him similar answers that I had provided even though we are from a different school. He said why haven’t you taught me this before ? The reply was that you never asked me and I thought you were satisfied with what you were getting.
I believe the point to this story is that the Okinawans were giving the Japanese and Americans what they thought they wanted. Surely this must have been easy to think because neither the Japanese or Americans ever went back to Okinawa for much training after their initial introduction to Okinawan karate.
How many Japanese that created these various schools ever went to Okinawa and trained for any length of time? What do most of the students who come into your dojo want? What are you giving them? How many times have we as teacher’s wanted our students to want more, and we were willing to give it to them, but they demonstrated by their actions that they were satisfied with kick/punch.
I will close for now and hope that I have not dragged this out to much. One thing I did not discuss was the thought put forth by some that there are no blocks in karate bunkai. I would like to discuss this at a later date if anyone has an interest. Thanks for reading all of this if you did and I apologize if I took to much bandwidth. Oh, a question for the members who attended the Okinawan Rengokai seminars. Did you see any bunkai applications of the kata ?
Gumbatte, Dan Smith
LETTER 2. – Kata & bunkai
I certainly did not mean in my post to give the indication that all Okinawan schools did not continue to practice bunkai as an integral part of their training.
I wrote that there are schools in Okinawa just as any other place in the world that do not have the full curriculum that other schools have. I certainly would not mention those that I think do or don’t. I know Iha Sensei’s background as well as his teachers are and were well grounded on bunkai of the kata.
My comment was one of a general nature only depicting that there are bogus people all over the world. No one country or race has a monopoly on ignorance or charlatism. It just appears that the USA has more than our fair share.
Concerning the Japanese not understanding the bunkai from the Okinawans. I think I can fairly state that bunkai from the Okinawans perception was not part of their curriculum. They took the parts of the Okinawan karate that they wanted for their purposes and developed that part to a high degree.
You cannot deny that the gymnastic, athletic movements of the Japanese styles is not better developed than the Okinawans. Someone mentioned in a post yesterday that the way the Japanese had changed karate or taken the Okinawans “school” karate and spread it world wide and would we rather have karate spread out for everyone to enjoy or have kept it like the Okinawans developed it.
My response is that I would rather have the “school” karate spread through out the world if that is what it takes to build the karate-do spirit and body for so many people to have gotten benefit from.
Perhaps Itosu sensei knew that the real Okinawan karate was just for the few and school karate was for the populace. I am teaching school karate to the all of the young people that come into my schools with hopes that they will develop the body they need to grow to an adult and then began learning karate.
I hopefully will retire from my business career in a couple of more years and then I would like to teach in the middle and high schools along with the colleges in my area. I have been thinking for sometime what I would teach given the opportunity to teach hundreds of people in that environment.
I keep coming up with the same concept that Itosu used. Modern karate as developed by the Japanese with a kick start from Itosu and Funakoshi is for the masses and there has been and continues to be a great benefit from this training.
The traditional Okinawan karate is not for the masses and it was never intended to be that way. I had the opportunity when I lived on Okinawa to train in both methods at the same time and in the same school.
I trained in the morning with Zenryo Shimabukuro sensei and at night with Zenpo Shimabukuro sensei. The morning class was dramatically different. Zenryo sensei never had us line up to begin a class. The people who attended this morning class came at various times. Began training on their own in whatever part of the dojo they could find to practice by themselves. Zenryo sensei would observe us practicing kata, give corrections, instructions on how to perform the movements and demonstrate to us individually what the kata movements where.
The night time training was heavily geared toward kihon practice, kata and sparring. We did weight training and ippon kumites, which were extracted bunkai movements from the kata, and we ran. The training was geared to developing the body and the tools of karate.
After training at night many seniors would stay late and practice the kata bunkai that Zenryo sensei was teaching in the morning.
I share the above with you about my own training to show you how someone could have come only to the night training and developed only the kihon because they were training in large group classes. They did not make themselves available for the in depth training. This happens in our classes today all over the world.
Just as I mentioned yesterday the people get what they want from the training. The teacher may have much more to give but the student is satisfied with less. Sometimes because that is all they want or do not realize their is more. I hope that this clarifies that on Okinawa there is much to learn and you have to put the time in to enable the learning process.
Many Japanese and Americans stopped short due to time constraints and being satisfied with what they had so they did not learn the in depth meanings of the kata.
Gumbatte, Dan Smith
LETTER 3. – Are there blocks in Okinawan kata?
I remember when this no block question in karate began in the mid 1980’s. As I recall it came about when people started being exposed to the Okinawan kata bunkai and finding out that not all blocks were for just blocking.
It is my belief that this line of thinking got completely out of control as people started trying to understand each movement of the kata and making it some exotic explanation to further their position in the world of how much they knew about the kata. Many of these people following this line of thinking were those that stated that the Okinawans were hiding all the deadly techniques from westerners and even the Japanese.
Some even went as far as saying that the Okinawan senior teachers got together after World War Two and decided not to teach the deadly art of Uchinandi again.
Are there blocks in Okinawan karate kata ? Certainly and the number of blocking techniques that are used for protecting you against attack are far greater than those that are used for release from a grab. The basic teaching of all Okinawa kata is the same regardless of style. The following three principles are taught in the same order by each teacher and is developed through the understanding of the kata. The words that I use to describe these three principles may not be the same but the actions are.
1. Get out of the way – tai sabaki. This is accomplished in varying ways depending on the teacher but it is all the same. If someone attacks you the first thing you want to do is get out of the way. (This helps disrupt the kuzushi of the opponent)
2. Protect your vital areas as you move out of the way of the attack. You do this with blocking. You may not actually block (whatever that is) the attack but you certainly want to protect your vital areas while you are getting out of the way. Addtionally by making contact with the opponents attack with a block (no matter what type of block it is) you give the opponent the feedback that they are looking for. They have made contact. (This helps disrupt the kuzushi of the opponent)
3. Attack the opponents vital areas that have been exposed by their attack, your evasion and blocking. The Okinawan concept is to do this as one movementif possible (ikkyo).
If you use these three principles in concert you should accomplish ikken hisatsu. The Okinawans spend many hours developing the blocking movements so that they can apply them as I have outlined above. It is just as important to learn how to move and block as it does to attack and is more vital to your safety. What happens when the scenario above does not work is where in the kata the techniques of escaping a grasp or your own counter attack being blocked is where the confusion can come from understanding whether a technique was a block as described above or not.
In my opinion I have answered several questions posed on the CD over the last few days.
What is kuzushi ?
How is Kuzushi applied from the kata ?
Are their blocks in Okinawan kata ?
Is there just bunkai from Okinawa that has onlyblock/punch applications ?
Is there use of blocking and striking simultaneous in Okinawa karate ?
IMHO all of these questions are answered in the three principles. Of coursethere is much more to be found in the section of what techniques are used when these three principles cannot be applied. I believe that most people want to find this answer before understanding the first three principles. Once you can apply the above principles it makes understanding the ti techniques that are woven into the kata, understandable.
I hope that this was helpful to those that are asking the questions and I hope it will interject thinking about the kata from a different perspective.Everything starts with the footwork.
Gumbatte, Dan Smith
LETTER 4. – About Hakutsuru kata.
Michael, you are right about Matayoshi teaching a Hakutsuru kata. The name is Kakuken. Even though he reserved the kata for some of his senior kobudo students in that he did not teach karate at all in his dojo.
His comments still stand, ” the crane is for your health and not for killing like Okinawan karate “. Whenever you and Rand come down to Atlanta for a visit I will get the taped interview out and show it to you and let you make your own interpretations as to what he is meaning. Since I have known Matayoshi for many years I think I know when he is serious and joking. He was not joking.
Second, the reason for my question to him about the Kakuken was that I knew that he had not taught it to many people and that the popularity of the “crane” was growing in the USA. I asked him why so many people were now coming out with crane kata. He said ” everyone trying to be somebody. If crane was so good for fighting then Okinawans would have kept. Not made Uchinandi.” He then proceeded to demonstrate on the tape the crane movements and the bunkai that I asked him about.
Third, I did not learn the Kakuken from Matayoshi sensei. I learned this kata in 1969 from a gentleman by the name of Tomagusku. He had no students and practiced on his own. He lived in the same village that I did and knew that I
was a serious karate person. He knew my teacher and respected him. After watching me for sometime without my knowledge while I practiced at home on my makiwara he volunteered to teach me his kata. He informed me that the kata came from Go Ken Ki and that he had studied it before the war. I learned the kata and kept it all these years.
I left Okinawa in 1971 and returned in 1975 and could not find Tomagusku or his niece who had been our maid. They had
moved from the area and with my limited language skills at the time I could not find them.
Over the ensuing years I have demonstrated this kata to many Okinawans and have gotten no response from them as to it’s authenticity until I demonstrated to Matayoshi sensei. He proclaimed to me that the kata came from Go Ken Ki. Until many years after I learned the kata I had no idea who Go Ken Ki was. After Matayoshi sensei verified that the kata was bonafied I then began in earnest to research the history.
I found that Go Ken Ki only had one kata. I also found out that if Matsumura had a white crane kata it would have been similar to the one Go Ken Ki had. I also found that Go Ken Ki taught at the Okinawan Kenkyu and that he did not teach the entire kata but the concepts of the kata.
Many Okinawans that trained at that time on a limited basis picked up bits and pieces and apparently have created many forms with a crane flavor. Yes, some of the Shorin Ryu kata have a crane flavor to them such as; Passai, Gojushiho and Kusanku but they do not have the crane power. The Okinawans developed their own power for these kata.
Personally I find the crane power contradictory to the Okinawans method of making power. I find just as Matayoshi sensei said, “crane is for health and Okinawan karate is for killing.”
Sorry for the long winded response. I never thought thirty years ago that any of this would have any value. I kept the kata because it makes me feel good and is good to warm up with. I am amazed at the interest in something that the Okinawans do not consider important. Maybe we have missed something. I am glad I kept the kata.
LETTER 5. – About kata practice.
It is hard to disagree with most of what has been written about this subject but I have a few comments that I hope will be helpful.
I agree with Shogiki’s comment about having “faith” in practicing the kata. Faith is defined as hope in what is not seen. All of us that practice the kata without knowing the complete meaning of kata are practicing faithfully with the hope that what we are practicing will produce the results that we have predisposed in our mind.
I think that this will satisfy as a definition of kata. There are so many levels of understanding kata that you cannot limit yourself to one meaning or one by product of your effort.
Again that faith word is important. All of us who have trained for some time without having to actually use some of the movements that we envision that will work are going forward on faith that the techniques will be there to provide us safety, health and well being not only form physical attack but from ourselves.
Perhaps this is what kata was designed to do. The concept of kata is an enigma as to it’s origin and original purpose. Many followers of the practice of kata have continually preached it’s importance but only have faith that the kata practice produces what we are looking for.
So why was kata created ? The preservation of techniques, a method of teaching techniques in an orderly fashion, a method to develop the body equally or a method of teaching the body to move instinctively ?
I think it is all of these but the latter is the end result. Based on 39 years of kata training, which over half of that was on faith alone, I have found that the purpose for me is training the body to move instinctively. To achieve this instinctive movement does not necessarily require that you have the understanding of the bunkai or principles of movement, but the more you mentally become aware of the purpose and methods the more effective the results are.
Does a beginner need to know the bunkai and principles of movement ? I have taught both ways. At first when I returned from Okinawa in 1971 I was so full of all the bunkai knowledge that is all I wanted to share with my students due to when I trained before going to Okinawa I had no clue of what bunkai was. After some months of trying to insure that “the” bunkai was taught as the kata was learned I found that the students would alter the movements of the kata to cause the effect of the bunkai and that is when I remembered my teacher stressing that there were many bunkai and not to change the kata movement to accommodate the bunkai movement.
Each kata movement has a purpose outside of the obvious and these movements are what teach the instinctiveness. If you have one bunkai in mind and do not concentrate on the perfection of movement then you will not develop the instinctive mind. The focus should be on the perfection of the movement and the applications flow from the movement and creativity of the mind or the spontaneity of the situation. “Faith without works is dead”.
Gumbatte Kudasai, Dan
LETTER 6. – About Tegumi.
I think that many people are off on a tangent concerning grappling, Te Gumi, Toride, etc., etc. etc. when analyzing Okinawa karate. I understand the need some people have when they consider having to grapple with someone and the Okinawan kata takes provides for this but not in the way that is being represented. Okinawan karate focuses on the basic understanding of:
1) get out of the way of an attack. Even if you are grasped you use movement to escape not grappling.
2) Parry the attack as you move to give yourself the added protection from the attack and to create an opening to counter attack.
3)Attack the vulnerable points on the body as the openings are created through movement.
Yes, there are a few techniques in Okinawa kata that teach you how to block and grab as you apply a strike to the opponent. There are techniques in the kata that teach you how to react if your attack has been blocked and grabbed and techniques that teach you how to react when seized by the opponent but these are minimal when considering the vast number of techniques that are describe in 1 to 3 above.
My teacher on Okinawa taught four techniques against being grabbed. He stated that he only thought he would be grabbed in four ways. I thought about the many ways someone could grab you but the teacher said he only needed four because he believed that he would prepare himself to be only grabbed in the four methods that he could not guard against. Go through the kata and list how many ways someone can seize you. It is not many than four. You only have an arm, upper front body, upper back body and shoulders to defend. If someone tries to tackle you, the kata of Okinawa gives you two choices or three if you count the one move in Uechi Ryu out of Seisan.
My point is that much is being made about a small number of techniques. It is true what someone said on the CD, if you are someone who practices atemi waza then kensetsu waza is something special and if you practice grappling then atemi waza is special. IMHO the Okinawans specialized on 1 to 3 above. And while I am espousing stuff that probably causes concern. Ikken hisatsu is not an Okinawan concept. It comes straight from kenjutsu. The Okinawans simply say fight until there is no fight.
Gumbatte, Dan Smith
LETTER 7. – Sente no kata.
The context IMHO that Funakoshi was using the term “sente no kata” means that there is no first attack in the kata. Kata is ubiquitous for karate, the term we all know that has become synonymous with Uchinandi.
Can you or should you use the intermediary movements of “karate” to stop a potential attack at the moment you anticipate it ? IMHO that is up to the person. Is there a moral question as to whether you should attack the potential attacker first ? Again it is up to the individual and the circumstance.
Unless you are a mind reader how can you know someone will really attack you ? Sente no kata again IMHO is the fighting strategy of Uchinandi. In Okinawa there is two basic scenarios that a fight will take. One, a surprise attack,and two, a situation that escalates into a physical encounter. The kata fighting postures (kamae) and intermediary movements are designed for these two scenarios. These two scenarios are driven by the fact that Uchinandi is a self-defense based solution and works best when the opponent makes the first movement of attack and Uchinandi can be used in a counter movement.
In the escalation scenario the kata and two man drills are used to prepare you to defend yourself. Again the defense is seen as the best way to take advantage of the opponent. In Japan, for reasons that have been well documented by others, the Butokukai required that there be a measurement of skill of the new martial art, “karate”, so therefore the ippon shobo kumite was devised. With this innovation karate introduced a new scenario to a potential fighting situation, mutual agreed upon combat.
With the addition of the mutually agreed upon combat scenario the techniques of the kata did not produce the skills needed and the kata began to change along with the kihon of “karate”. Mutually agreed upon combat is not consistent with the dojo kun or the philosophy of Uchinandi so the process of change began in the kata and techniques of karate.
The purpose of the kata was changed. This change has brought on a vast misunderstanding of Uchinandi that is evidenced by numerous articles and opinions in karate magazines and internet discussions venues that discuss the relative ineffectiveness of the old ways vs. the new modern ways.
In a recent article in Black Belt Magazine a prominent personality in the world of “karate” was featured showing how the old techniques of Tang Soo Do do not work in the ring. Well I guess they should not work since they were not designed for mutually agreed upon combat and scoring points. Also in the same issue of the magazine was a gentlemen that was showing the differences of the old blocks of karate and how they had been misrepresented and now hewas showing how they really should be used. All of his demonstrations were designed against an opponent that was not attacking by surprise or and escalation of a physical situation.
I might add this article was written by someone representing themselves as an Okinawan stylist). IMHO the above has led the gross population of people practicing “karate” to misunderstand the techniques and therefore not have confidence in them.
This loss of confidence has led people to change the techniques for what they think will serve them best. The Japanese did it and the rest of the world has followed.
Sente No kata is a descriptive term of Uchinandi. It is a key that leads to the understanding of the kata.
The terms that were mentioned in some post; sen no sen, go no sen, and sensen no sen are as most of you know from Kendo. The origin of these terms are from the strategy of fighting with a sword.
Combat in Japan took the form of all three scenarios and therefore these strategies work and work well but they are not from an Okinawan perspective part of Uchinandi.
All three concepts violate Uchinandi except for go no sen, which is the moment after the initiative. Please remember the word kata was Japanese and was introduced into Okinawan karate by the Japanese. Prior to the word kata being used the Okinawans simply applied the term “di” after the name; for example “Seisan di”. Just my opinion because there are no facts.
Gumbatte, Dan Smith
( Six )
Following are twenty oral transmissions (Kuden) for the understanding of kata as taught by Kubota Shozan (a student of Gichin Funakoshi), from his student, Higaki Gennosuke:
1. Countering: Motobu Choki commented that the blocking hand must immediately become the attacking hand. It is not a true martial technique to block with one hand and counter with another. When the block and counter-attack are simultaneous that is true martial technique. “There cannot be multiple attacks against true Okinawan karate, because if an attack is countered properly, there can be no further attack.”
2. Immobilize the Opponent before Striking: The opponent must be rendered into such a state s/he cannot attack again, or even move, before executing a strike or kick.
3. The Names of Movements have been Disguised: Originally there were no names for the movements. It wasn’t until about 1935 that Shotokan established the terminology to teach large groups. However the terminology hid the meaning of the techniques. Many “blocks” were actually attacks.
4. There are no Techniques that End with a Block: There is no combative movement that ends with a block; there is always a counteroffensive movement. Moves that are called blocks are really attacks.
5. Block with Both Hands: In reality it is difficult to block an attack with one hand. When the hands cross across the chest, it hides a double block, which holds the true meaning. This is based on the fact that it is a natural movement to raise both hands when something comes suddenly at you.
6. Grabbing Hand and Pulling Hand: You pull your hand to your hip because that pulls the opponent into position for attack. The opponent will be pulled off-balance, you double the speed and power and the grabbing and pulling can be used for the beginning of throws and joint techniques.
7. The Front Hand is the Attacking Hand: By attacking with the front hand you attack from the closest possible
distance. (The back hand is the blocking hand).
8. Perform a Movement that Consists of Two Counts in One Count: Many movements in kata that are shown as two count are really one-count techniques, which can be explained by a switch step.
9. Switch Step (Fumi kae): Most of the movements in kata use a walking gait. To correctly use the movements, it is
necessary to change to a switch step. When this is understood, the meaning of kata will deepen. More power can be
applied to the punch when the feet slide and the distance can be adjusted between you and the opponent as well.
10. Kicks are Performed Low While Grabbing the Opponent: “Kicks are meant to be delivered below the belt.” In most of kata bunkai, kicks are executed when grabbing the opponent. This helps stabilize a person when “standing on one
leg.” Also, in close fighting where one can grab an opponent, the field of vision is limited, so it is difficult to defend
against a low kick.
11. There is One Opponent to the Front: Do not be fooled by the embusen (performance line). As a rule, there is only one opponent to the front. S/he is actually being dragged to the front and rear and to the left and right in a
Copernican (the method of tori maintaining the center) change.
12. Hang the Opponent to Sky: This is the same as a forearm twist (yuki chigai) in Aikido. It is represented in between techniques in kata.
13. Re-block and Re-grip: This refers to controlling the opponent by shutting down the attack by using both hands. The first three blocks of Heian Sandan cross the opponent’s arms (fushu in Chinese; juji garami in Aikido).
14. Take the Opponent’s Back: This is the most difficult position for an opponent to counter attack from.
15. Crossed Leg Stance: Signifies Body Rotation or a Joint Kick
16. Jumps and Body Shifts: Represent Throws
17. Break the Balance: in a triangle whose Base is the Base of the Opponent’s Feet, and the third point being the Head, the center of balance can be manipulated accordingly.
18. Me-oto-te (The Use of Both Hands Together): An example would be morote uke. The supporting hand (against the elbow) is the grabbing and pulling hand. The “blocking” hand makes the attack.
19. Cut the Forearm: Try to use a technique similar to kendo in which the forearm is “Chopped” leaving damage to the tendons.
20. The Kamae is an Invitation: When you know where the attack will occur, it is easier to defend against it.
How The Masters Got their Rank
Origins of the Karate Rank System
Throughout the course of our karatedo training, we take for granted the grading system that awards our belt ranking and titles. Sometimes this system is manifestly personal, with the headmaster–and only he–bestowing each promotion directly, according to his own standards. Often, the testing for and awarding of rank is a more bureaucratic affair, with a committee exercising a perfunctory duty in a formally standardized and even routine mannerless ceremony, yet somehow more officious.
The recent writings of Hanshi Richard Kim of the Butoku-kai (Dojo Fall 1993) taught how the dan/kyu (degree) system was adopted by modem budo systems, promulgated by the Butoku-kai, and codified in its final form for Japanese karatedo by the Federation of All Japan Karatedo Organizations (FAJKO). To truly understand this ranking system, it is important to gain a clearer insight into how the various masters obtained their ranking, since that forms the basis for your rank.
This much we know for certain: On April 12, 1924, Gichin Funakoshi, the “Father of Modern Karate,” awarded karate’s first black belt dan upon seven men. The recipients included Hironori Ohtsuka, founder of wado-ryu karatedo, Shinken Gima, later of gima-ha shoto-ryu, and Ante Tokuda, Gima’s cousin, who received a nidan (second degree) black belt. Like Gima, Tokuda had trained extensively in Okinawa before coming to Japan proper. The others were Kasuya, Akiba, Shimizu and Hirose.
This beginning was a highly personal, yet formal ceremony in which Funakoshi is said to have handed out lengths of black belting to his pupils. Still there is no evidence that Funakoshi himself had ranking in any budo under the dan/kyu system.
Actually, Funakoshi was greatly influenced by Jigoro Kano, aristocratic founder of judo, and originator of the dan/kyu system. Kano was a highly respected individual, and Funakoshi prided himself on being an educated and “proper” man who rightly believed that he was acting correctly.
Kano’s system was not only being applied to judo, but to other budo as well under the aegis of the Butoku-kai and the Japanese Ministry of Education. Funakoshi, then, just adopted the order of the day: a ranking system officially sanctioned by Japan’s greatest martial arts entities.
Funakoshi’s own rank was of no consequence, since it seems that belt ranking was really just something for the students, not for headmasters.
For its part, the Butoku-kai issued instructor’s licenses: the titles renshi (the lowest), kyoshi, and hanshi (the highest). It would be a while before the dan/kyu system became universal in karate.
By the end of the 1930s, each karate group was called upon to register with the butoku-kai for official sanctioning, and in 1938, a meeting of the Butoku-kai’s official karatedo leaders was held in Tokyo. Its purpose was to discuss the standards for awarding rank within their art. Attending, among others, were Hironori Ohtsuka of wado-ryu, Kenwa Mabuni of shito-ryu, Kensei Kinjo (Kaneshiro) and Sannosuke Ueshima of kushin-ryu, Tatsuo Yamada of Nippon kempo, Koyu Konishi of shindo-jinen-ryu, and a young Gogen Yamaguchi of goju-ryu.
Most of these men were founders of their own styles, and as such automatically became the highest rank that their agreed-on respective standards allowed. Yamaguchi assumed leadership of goju-ryu because, we are told, goju-ryu’s founder, Chojun Miyagi, personally asked him to take the leadership of the style in Japan. About then, Funakoshi also finalized the grading standards for use at his Shotokan dojo.
Of course, the Butoku-kai continued to sanction head teachers directly. This was not without controversy, however, since Konishi sat on the board that awarded Funakoshi his renshi and Konishi had been Funakoshi’s student. Of course, Konishi had inside ties to the Butoku-kai by virtue of birth, something the Okinawan Funakoshi could not have.
Back on Okinawa, the dan/kyu system did not become universal until after World War II. It was not unknown there, however, and some individual teachers did utilize the black belt. Judo had been practiced on Okinawa at least since the 1920s. In fact, it was at a Judo Black Belt Association (Yudanshakai) meeting on Okinawa that Miyagi and shito-ryu’s Kenwa Mabuni demonstrated karate kata (forms) for Jigoro Kano garnering praises from the judo founder.
Miyagi, it should be noted, became the first karate expert given the title of kyoshi (master) from the butoku-kai in 1937. Miyagi was then appointed chief of its Okinawan branch.
After the ravages of war in the Pacific, the surviving karate leaders had to begin anew. With the Butoku-kai administration shut down for years to come, each karate group was on its own. The acknowledged leaders of each faction, as well as individual dojo chiefs, gave out dan ranks based upon all original sanctioning by the Butoku-kai or mandates inherited directly from the ryu’s founder.
Rushing in to fill the vacuum left by the Butoku-kai, various dojo coalesced to perpetuate the art and legitimize its members’ ranks. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, each new association, including the Gojukai, Shito-kai, Chito-kai, Shotokai and Japan Karate associations codified their rules and issued rank accordingly.
Generally, several instructors created a board of directors or council to govern the association. Some officer, be it the chief instructor, president, director or chairman would have signature authority on menjo (rank certificates). In this way, the senior-most members would attain their rank by being acknowledged and “signed off” by the board or committee.
Other times, a senior member of one faction would attain high enough rank from the faction-head to then go out and form his own style or organization. Supposedly, the famous Masutatsu Oyama received his eighth dan from Goju-kai head Gogen Yamaguchi. Oyama later formed his own style that was not completely a type of goju-ryu.
Usually in a legalistic and officious way these groups would simply adopt or adhere to some even higher authority or granting agency to further legitimize their actions. Recognition by the Japanese Ministry of Education was the ultimate sanction for individuals and groups in these times. Also new associations — both in Japan proper and in Okinawa — appeared. These became the grantor ranking authority, much in the way the Butoku-kai had acted previously. These new organizations were to set the pattern and be the original source for today’s ranking.
As with the single-style clubs, the head instructors often assumed the rank for which they were qualified, based on criteria they wrote themselves.
One of the first was the All Japan Karatedo Federation, which seems to have started shortly after World War II as a confederation of headmasters such as Funakoshi, Chitose, Mabuni, Yamaguchi and Toyama.
They regularized the dan/kyu system to some extent, and with this group the modern Japanese karate ranking system became the norm. This unity did not last however. For example, the ranking was not consistent from group to group in the upper levels. The shotokan associations such as the JKA and the Shotokai only used up to godan (fifth rank) at this time. As a result, some groups had ceased to participate by the early 1950s.
Even more reminiscent of the Butoku-kai was the International Martial Arts Federation (IMAF), known as the Kokusai Budoin. Originally named the National Japan Health Association, IMAF was launched in 1952 by powerful martial artists from several disciplines.
From judo there was Kyuzo Mifune, Kazuo Ito and Shizuo Sato. From kendo came Hakudo Nakayama and Hiromasa Takano, and from karatedo there was Hironori Ohtsuka. Its first chairman was Prince Tsunenori Kaya.
From the start, IMAF was set up by senior martial artists to preserve and promote various budo to create a mutually supportive network. A ranking system consisting of first through tenth dan, as well as the title system of renshi, kyoshi and hanshi, was adopted. Now highly respected and skilled instructors could have a direct avenue for promotion themselves. Several karateka including Gogen Yamaguchi, Hironori Ohtsuka (I and II), and more recently, Hirokazu Kanazawa of shotokan, received their highest grades through IMAF.
For Okinawa, the dan/kyu system did not really take hold until 1956, with the formation of the Okinawa Karate Association (OKF). Chosin Chibana, first to name his system shorin-ryu, was the first president.
According to the historical data of the Shudokan (a Japanese group started by Kanken Toyama in Tokyo), Chibana and Toyama were officially recognized by the Japanese Ministry of Education to grant any rank in the art of karate, regardless of style. Chibana helped organize the OKF, and it was then that the mainstream Okinawan groups, on a widespread basis, began differentiating their black belt ranks as other than simple teacher and student demarcations.
A talented and, some say, colorful character, Toyama gave several certifications as largess to dojo heads in Okinawa and Japan proper. These were usually shibucho (“superintendent,” from the feudal area commander title) diplomas. These certifications set up the individuals so named as head of their own branch of the All Japan Karatedo Federation and, by extension, of their own groups.
Eizo Shimabuku, founder of the shobayashi-ryu/shorin-ryu faction (a Kyan-type tomarite/shurite shorin-ryu blend), traces his own tenth dan to a Toyama certification.
Shimabuku’s assumption of the tenth dan, and his wearing of a red belt, was not without dispute, and it was controversies of this type that led most Okinawan leaders to eschew the red belt altogether.
The AJKF did not last as a unified group of different styles in Japan proper. Toyama’s foray back to Okinawa did lead later to the formation of the AJKF-Okinawa Branch with the organizing help of Isamu Tamotsu.
Tamotsu became a student of Okinawa’s Zenryo Shimabuku (of Kyan-type shorinryu) and would become known as the soke (style head) of the Japanese faction of Shorinji-ryu.
In 1960, the Okinawan branch of the AJKF organized with Zenryo Shimabuku as president. A constituent group of this AJKF was the Okinawa Kempo League headed up by Shigeru Nakamura and Zenryo Shimabuku as a loose confederation of various technique sharing dojo.
Like other associations, the AJKF Okinawa Branch provided for the ranking of its member instructors. It operated as a rival to the Okinawa Karate Federation. However, it did not last long either and its member schools drifted away and formed other alliances. Its emblem did not die, however. The same patch is still used by Tsuyoshi Chitose’s Chito-kai.
The senior karate leaders continued on their own or became part of other groups, using authority inherited mostly from members of one of the original Okinawan organizations, the most significant is the All Okinawa Karate and Kobudo Rengokai. Formed by Seitoku Higa as a successor to the Okinawa Federation in 1967, the Okinawa detail of the emblem was used to distinguish each member group. Seiyu Oyata can be seen wearing this patch in Dojo, Fall 1993, page 13.
Chitose was a founding member of the original Japanese AJKF, but his tenth dan was issued in 1958, according to the Chitokai, by the All Okinawa Karate Kobudo Rengokai. His hanshi title was issued by the same group in 1962. This is confusing however, since the AOKK-Rengokai was not formed until 1967.
It grew out of an earlier group: the Okinawa Kobudo Federation that was organized in 1961. This later group was organized by Seitoku Higa (of various lineages related to shorin-ryu) and Seikichi Uehara (molobu-ryu). Higa had been ranked by Toyama while living in Japan and may have been connected with the original AJKF.
As we learned from Richard Kim, the most significant event in the use of the dan/kyu system in karate was the formation of the FAJKO in 1964. All the major groups and factions of Japanese karatedo were brought under FAJKO’s umbrella. By 1971, a ranking structure was adopted that standardized all the systems. High rank was issued to FAJKO member instructors by the organization’s board. In this way, heads of constituent organizations could be upgraded, much as in earlier attempts at confederacy. An earlier, but smaller, confederacy of schools with rank-sanctioning authority was the Japan Karatedo Rengokai, which still exists and is a member of FAJKO.
After the birth of FAJKO, the JKA upgraded its own ranking requirements to conform. Sixth and eighth dans were awarded in the JKA back in the mid-1960s, and Hidetaka Nishiyama in Los Angeles was one of those upgraded at that time. Though not all groups participate in FAJKO these days, most still are tied to that organization in terms of rank structure and sanction. Others, not so tied, have conformed to the FAJKO criteria and standards nonetheless.
Shortly after FAJKO was launched, the Okinawans formed the All Okinawa Karatedo Federation as a successor to the old OKF. Members of both the OKF and AJKF-Okinawa Branch became part of the new association. Some of Okinawa’s most mainstream karate leaders formed the AOKF board. These included Nagamine, Zenryo Shimabuku, Meitoku Yagi of gojuryu, Kanei Uechi of uechi-ryu and Yuchoku Higa of shorin-ryu. They adopted a dan/kyu and renshi, kyoshi, hanshi (plus a hanshisei) system almost identical to FAJKOs.
Other karate leaders continued on their own or became part of other groups, using authority inherited mostly from members of one of the original Okinawan organizations. Probably the most significant is the All Okinawa Karate and Kobudo Rengokai. Formed by Seitku Higa as a successor to the Okinawa Kobudo Federation in 1967, the Okinawa Rengokai also adopted very similar standards to the AOKF. Higa’s organizations had certified as hanshi–and hence supreme instructor–several who were style or group heads in their own right. These included Shinsuke Kaneshima of Tozan-ryu from shurite, Hohan Soken of matsumura shorin-ryu, Shinpo Matayoshi of matayoshi kobudo Kenko Nakaima of ryuei-ryu, Shian Toma of shorin-ryu (Kyan type) and motobu-ryu, Tatsuo Shimabuku of isshin-ryu, Shosei Kina of uhuchiku kobudo, and Zenryo Shimabuku of shorin-ryu.
It is clear that karate ranks sprang from several original sources — a relatively modem construct on an old martial art. It was issued by individuals and institutions with set standards that were recognized by other prestigious groups and individuals.
And this is the crux of the matter: For rank to be recognized, the bestower must be recognized within karate’s mainstream community. It must be based in tradition, and linked to a body or sanctioned individual who is perceived as beyond reproach.
The standards by which rank is achieved and given must be recognizable, and conform to already existing norms in the Okinawan/Japanese martial arts hierarchy. Anyone can print up or write a fancy certificate, but absent of any governmental or legal guidelines, it is the recognition and acceptance by existing groups and institutions that give each ranking group or individual its legitimacy.
The development of the ranking system is a typically human development, with rivalries and contradictions, and our own masters received their rank in different ways. The highest-ranked of the old masters did not-could not-receive the tenth dan from their “style.” They were invariably ranked by someone else and applied this grade to their own group. This is still true.
As in a medieval European knighting, originally any knight could dub another, then regal institutions took over. However, it is the skill and knowledge that gains the rank, not vice versa. The quest for rank, per se, misses the point.
Shaolin Five Animals in Okinawan Karate:
by Dr. William Durbin and edited by Bud Morgan
In the development of Okinawan Karate there have been three main influences. First of all is the unique Okinawan aspect which can be symbolized by the term Te. Te which is usually simply translated hand has a secondary meaning of skill, which the martial artists of Okinawa strove to develop in an abundant fashion in regard to their fighting ability. At least one Okinawan historian claims that it was by martial arts skills and strategy, that the kings of Okinawa held their post, until the occupation by the Satsuma in 1609. Those belonging to the royal families developed special skills which included certain ‘secrets’ which were passed on only to family members. These royal martial artists protected their skills and maintained a level of secrecy that existed until modern times.
A second influence came from certain members of the Minamoto family of Japan, who after the Hogen Incident, used Okinawa as a staging area, in preparation of a return engagement against the Taira. It is believed that while the Minamoto trained in their arts, they also shared their skills with the Okinawan royalty. There are several reasons why they might have done this.
First of all, some of the leaders and Samurai married Okinawans during this stay on the island, thus to share the art with them was simply to share the art with family members.
Second, in case of an attack by the Taira, who were too busy taking care of business in Japan proper to care about the group on Okinawa, the Minamoto wanted their Okinawan allies capable of fighting effectively by their sides.
Finally it is believed that the Minamoto thought of their martial arts as a very special treasure, which they shared with the Okinawan royalty for giving them sanctuary.
The third influence, which has been greatly emphasized in the past, is the Chugoku Kempo influence. Chugoku Kempo, Chinese martial arts, were believed first brought to Okinawa from monks spreading the Buddhist religion. The original date of when Chugoku Kempo first entered Okinawa is unknown, but it is believed that the ancient fist art of Shaolin entered Okinawa early and contributed to the primary use of the fist as an Okinawan weapon. Prior to the sixteenth century, Shaolin Chuanfa was mainly a palm and fist art.
In the sixteenth century Chueh Yuan expanded the Shaolin Chuanfa, along with Li Cheng and Pai Yu Feng, into the 170 movements and the five animals which are famous today.
In order to understand how the five animal form of Shaolin Chuanfa, pronounced Shorin Kempo in Japanese, became such a great influence in Okinawan Karate it is necessary to look at three of the great Okinawan masters of the past and see their training and emphasis in teaching. These three masters are; Sakugawa, Chojun Miyagi, and Zenryo Shimabuku.
Sakugawa is credited with opening the first Dojo in Okinawa. His training began with Te under the old warrior turned monk Takahara. It is believed this art was a combination of ancient Okinawan martial arts and Minamoto martial arts. During this time the Okinawans were very interested in the martial arts skills of the Chinese who were living on their island and trading with them from the main land. Sakugawa began training under a Chinese man by the name of Kushanku.
There are many disagreements as to what Kushanku was, some say a business man, others a military attaché, and still others a monk. Regardless of whom he was and what he did, nearly everyone agrees that he taught a version of Shaolin Chuanfa, most generally thought to be of the Hung Chuan variety.
It is said that Sakugawa merged Te and Kempo creating what was then called Tode or Karate, meaning Tang hand.
On his death bed, Takahara called Sakugawa to his side and instructed his student to open a public school, so that anyone wanting to learn the martial arts, could have the opportunity to do so. It is believed that until that time, only if your parents were royalty and knew martial arts, or if you were fortunate enough to convince a monk or visiting Chinese martial artist to train you, or the least of the methods, convincing one of the sailors who had picked up some martial arts skills during trade voyages to teach you, could you learn martial arts.
It is said that Takahara, having once kept skills secret as a warrior, saw the real value in the arts for all people during the time he was a monk, and thus instructed his top disciple, Sakugawa, to open a public school.
This is why Sakugawa found it necessary to set forth the Dojo Kun, a code of conduct for a school.Having trained in the Hung style of Shaolin martial arts, Sakugawa would have been greatly influenced by the Hung family’s attitudes, which included the idea that the white crane skills were of the highest level of martial arts.
That is why today you can find Shorin Ryu styles that teach the white crane as their ‘inner secret’. Interestingly enough, other Shorin Ryu styles promote the dragon as the highest level of skills, which is reflected in northern Shaolin Chuanfa systems.
This points to the fact that at some time northern Shaolin Chuanfa also entered Okinawa, and not just the southern Shaolin styles, of which Hung Chuan is a branch.
Many styles of Shorin Ryu especially point to the fact that the white crane skills included grappling which have been hidden in the modern Karate Kata that are a part of modern Okinawan development.
It should be noted that while the Okinawans adopted many skills from the Chinese influence, they did not accept any forms directly from the Chinese source, but rather, in modern times created their own Kata.
The second master to greatly increase the use of Shaolin five animal skills in Okinawan Karate is Chojun Miyagi. Miyagi studied under Kanryo Higashionna who had studied Hung Chuan under a Chinese master known as Ryu Ryu Ko.
Miyagi, while a young man, decided to travel to China to study under Ryu Ryu Ko, as his master had done, but upon visiting there, could no longer find him. However during that one year visit he did train in Hsing I, Pa Kua, Tai Chi, and a composite art known as I Chuan. It is believed that he also trained under a man by the name of Gokenki, who was also a Hung Chuan master who especially emphasized the white crane aspect of the art.
When Miyagi created the Kata for his style of Goju Ryu, he emphasized the soft movements he had learned in the internal systems he had studied in China with the white crane movements of the Hung Chuan. He also developed the grappling exercise of Kakie from the white crane grappling techniques and his study of the Okinawan grappling skills from Choyu Motobu.
The other notable Okinawan master who added much to Okinawan Karate from the Shaolin martial arts is Zenryo Shimabuku. His main teacher had been Chotoku Kyan, who many consider the actual founder of Shorin Ryu. Kyan was very famous as a great kicker and fighter in spite of the fact that he was a very small man. It is said that Shimabuku also loved to kick and sought to constantly improve his kicking skills.
Finally, having been told of the great influence of Chinese Chuanfa on Okinawan Karate, he traveled to China where he studied northern Shaolin Chuanfa. The kicking techniques of the white crane, dragon, and snake, were especially influential in Shimabuku’s training. Upon returning to Okinawa he joined in forming the Okinawan Kempo Association with Shigeru Nakamura, and was very influential is having kicking skills improved and expanded in many Karate curriculums.
Looking at the five animals, it is possible to see the actual influence which the Shaolin Chuanfa had upon Okinawan Karate. It is important as well to realize that Okinawan martial arts were already highly developed before the Chinese influence and that it was the variety of hand techniques, kicks, and finesse that drew the Okinawans into an in-depth study of the Chinese martial arts.
Each of the five animals has something specific which the Okinawans absorbed into their art. However, one particular point needs to be acknowledged, even as the Okinawans absorbed elements of other countries martial arts into their own, they did so with their own particular flavor.
No Okinawan art is merely the transplanted martial art of another country; rather the Okinawan arts are the techniques adapted from other martial arts systems into the skills of the Okinawan warriors and martial artists.
It is accurate to say that the ancient art of Bushi Te, the warrior art, was adapted from Aikijujutsu of the Minamoto clan, yet it is distinctly it’s own creation, based on the genius of the Okinawan Bushi. Ancient Karate, the Tang hand, is very much adapted from Chinese Kempo, and yet it is not simply the Chinese art relocated, but revamped into a truly Okinawan creation.
We may see some of the Chinese influence by looking at the typical movements of the animals, and how they were changed by the Okinawans for their own use.
Let us begin with the Leopard. Since the leopard is the most fists oriented of the five animals, it was already in harmony with the fist art of Okinawa, which was influenced by the ancient Shaolin Chuanfa, Shorin Kempo. In a typical example of the leopard punch, the arms from the wide position are swung close to the body and then out in the delivery of the strike.
The Okinawans refined this, bringing the fists to load at the hips, and torqueing the body in the execution of the punch. It is easy to see how the Okinawans refined their punch from the Chinese movement. Primarily this is the contribution the Okinawans made to the martial arts, whether the techniques came from Japan or China, the Okinawan masters sought the most efficient and direct method of delivery.
The inside forearm block of Okinawan Karate is also derived from a leopard technique. But where the Chinese tend to extend the arm a little more at the elbow, the Okinawans kept the arm bent tighter at the elbow, preferring not to extend it past a 90 degree angle; this was then whipped into the attackers arm for a more punishing strike. The inside forearm block also was used as a soft parry when the Okinawan martial artist wanted to blend into a softer technique.
In an example of the white crane, the Chinese martial artist might once again begin with the arms spread like wings, and then shift to a block and counted attack with the heel of the hand. The Okinawan would more likely keep a tighter defense and as the block is executed, load the striking hand onto his/her hip, and then strike from there.
In kicking the arms might once again be ‘wing’ like in a Chinese variation, but the Okinawans choose to keep the hands in close, in order to protect the body. Many say that Okinawan styles of Karate do not kick above the waist; however, this is erroneous in that many Okinawans were famous for their kicks. Such masters as Chotoku Kyan, Zenryo Shimabuku, and Bushi Takemura, have gone down in history as incredible kickers.
The actual Okinawan attitude is for each practitioner to develop all the general skills associated with Okinawan martial arts, and then for the individual to excel in whatever their forte might be, such as kicking, or throwing, or punching. However, the rule was always being good at everything.
In many of the tiger strikes, the Chinese tend towards both hands striking simultaneously, while the Okinawans are more inclined to strike with one hand so that the entire power of the body could be generated in the strike.
One of the misconceptions currently being stated today by some martial artists is that the retracting hand of Okinawan Karate was nothing more than a mistake or a method used to teach beginners that had no validity in real combat. This is very far from the truth. The returning hand along with the torque of the body that should accompany it is in fact an excellent way of generating power in actual combat. Many have missed the timing and rhythm necessary to make the actual use of this skill possible and so deride it. However, before anyone ever discards such excellent techniques, they need to train hard in their use and discover the validity for themselves and not allow others to make the decisions for them.
The snake is another technique which the Okinawans refined down to a smaller movement. Most snake strikes in Karate have taken on the aspect of Nukite, penetrating hand, strikes. But due to the fact that they are generally aimed at vital points rather than power hits, body rotation is not as important for striking, unless the martial artist is trying to increase the distance of the strike.
Snake strikes are generally done with the two fingers, one finger, or whole hand. In Okinawan Karate these are generally called, Nihon Nukite, Ippon Nukite, and simply, Nukite, respectively. One change that might be noted, though this is more a matter of individual taste rather than a stylistic difference, is that the hand not doing the strike, instead of being extended as in a Chinese method, is kept close to the body as a guard.
The final animal is the dragon, and in some of the Karate systems, this is the style of grappling. Kept as a secret in some styles, the claw of the dragon is the griping hand for jointlocks and throws. It is the contention of some, that the dragon of Okinawa was merged with the Minamoto skills to hide the grappling techniques from other practitioners.
Others feel that the Chinna, Chinese grappling, of Shaolin Chuanfa were added to the previous skills. In any case many sophisticated throwing maneuvers are a part of the dragon techniques. The dragon was also the art of ground fighting, this included delivering strikes from the ground with both legs and hands, sacrifice techniques, which use the fall to the ground to throw, or simply being laying on the ground and using a jointlock or body throw.
Dragon techniques also include leaping and flying methods, including hand strikes and kicks. This is where the beautiful flying side kicks and other aerial kicks of Okinawan Karate originated.
Okinawan masters of the martial arts were unique and fiercely independent human beings, who saw the value of many nations martial skills, and yet who had a genius all their own.
As the Okinawan warriors and martial artists began to research and absorb Minamoto Bujutsu and the five animal fists of Shaolin Chuanfa, they applied their own unique principle of strength management to them, heightening them and adapting them to their own physiology and psychology.
In particular, the five animal fists of Chugoku Kempo, contributed many skills, techniques, and strategies, to the Okinawan martial arts. Yet it must be remembered that in the Okinawan arts of Bushi Te, Karate, and Kempo, is seen the peerless and unequaled genius of the Okinawan masters.