The book “My Art and Skill of Karate” presents the technical knowledge and original accounts imparted by famed Okinawa karate master Motobu Chōki (1870-1944). This translation was created in close cooperation with the author’s grandson, Motobu Naoki sensei. It also includes a congratulatory address by the author’s son, Motobu Chōsei sensei, the current head of the school. Moreover, this year marks the 150th anniversary of Motobu Chōki’s birth. In other words, three generations of the Motobu family were involved in this new translation, connecting the history and tradition of karate from the 19th to 21th century.
(Note: The Kindle version does not include the glossary index and only a rudimentary TOC, so navigation is less reader-friendly than in the print version)
In addition to accounts about old-time karate masters in Okinawa, the work features thirty-four photos of Motobu performing Naihanchi Shodan, including written descriptions. Moreover, it includes twenty kumite with pictures and descriptions as well as five pictures of how to use the makiwara.
What makes it even more unique is that the existence of the book was unknown until the 1980s, when the wife of a deceased student sent the book to Motobu Chōki’s son, Chōsei. Until today this edition remains the only known original edition in existence, and it provided the basis for this original translation. This work has to be considered one of the most important sources to assess and interpret karate.
My Art and Skill of Karate (Ryukyu Bugei Book 3), by Choki Motobu (Author), Andreas Quast (Tr./Ed.), Motobu Naoki (Tr.)
Troubled about the future of his only son and heir, a royal government official of the Ryukyu Kingdom wrote down his ‘Instructions’ as a code of practice for all affairs. Written in flowing, elegant Japanese, he refers to a wide spectrum of artistic accomplishments that the royal government officials were ought to study in those days, such as court etiquette, literature and poetry, music, calligraphy, the tea ceremony and so on.
The author, who achieved a remarkable skill level in wielding both the pen and the sword, also informs us about various martial arts practiced in those days. Translated from Japanese for the first time, from centuries-long puzzling seclusion the state of affairs surrounding an 18th century Okinawan samurai vividly resurrects in what is considered ‘Okinawa’s most distinguished literature.’
Okinawan Samurai — The Instructions of a Royal Official to his Only Son. By Aka/Ōta Pēchin Chokushiki (auth.), Andreas Quast (ed./transl.), Motobu Naoki (transl.).
5″ x 8″ (12.7 x 20.32 cm)
Black & White on Cream paper
First Printing: 2018
Translated from Japanese for the first time!
“I think it is epoch-making that Quast sensei decided to translate the ‘Testament of Aka Pēchin Chokushiki,’ and not one of the famous historical or literary works such as the Chūzan Seikan or the Omoro Sōshi. … I believe this translation has significant implications for the future study of karate history and Ryūkyū history abroad. (Motobu Naoki, Shihan of the Motobu-ryū)
“It is one of THE most important primary sources for truly understanding the unabridged history of our arts first hand by a member of the very class of people who spawned Karate in the first place!” (Joe Swift, Karateologist, Tokyo-based)
“I highly recommend this new work by Andi Quast … as a MUST BUY book …” ( Patrick McCarthy, foremost western authority of Okinawan martial arts, modern and antique, anywhere he roams)
“I’m sure I’m going to learn and enjoy this book.” (Itzik Cohen, karate and kobudo man from Israel)
In the era of Old Ryukyu, a legendary warrior of Okinawan martial arts appeared on the center stage of the historical theatre. Due to his unique appearance and powerful physique—reminiscent of a wolf or a tiger—the people of that time called him Oni Ōshiro, or «Ōshiro the Demon.»
Also known as Uni Ufugushiku in the Okinawan pronunciation of his name, he had been variously described as the originator of the original Okinawan martial art «Ti» as well as the actual ancestor of a number of famous Okinawan karate masters, such as Mabuni Kenwa and others.
This is his narrative. Gleaned from the few primary sources available, which for the first time are presented here in the English language, the original heroic flavor of the source texts was kept intact.
«I invoke the Gods, To quake heaven and earth, To let the firmament resound, And to rescue the divine woman—Momoto Fumiagari.»
This is the true story of the seven virtues of martial arts as described by Matsumura Sokon. Considered the primary source-text of old-style Okinawan martial arts, the “Seven Virtues” are admired for their straightforward advice. Handwritten in the late 19th century by Matsumura, the most celebrated ancestor of karate, they are considered the ethical fountain and technical key to understand what can’t be seen.
This work includes the rare photograph of the original handwritten scroll, approved by the Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum as well as the owner of the scroll. It also shows the family crest of the Matsumura family, sporting the character of “Bu.”
Matsumura himself pointed out that the “Seven Virtues of Martial Arts” were praised by a wise man in an ancient manuscript, a manuscript that has remained obscure ever since. Now the ultimate source of this wondrous composition has been discovered and verified. Presented and explained here for the first time, it is not only the source of Matsumura’s “Seven Virtues of Martial Arts”… In fact, it is the original meaning of martial arts per se.
5″ x 8″(12.7 x 20.32 cm)
Black & White on Cream paper
BISAC: Sports & Recreation / Martial Arts & Self-Defense
Matsumura Sokon: The Seven Virtues of Martial Arts. By Andreas Quast, 2020.
A Stroll Along Ryukyu Martial Arts HistoryPaperback– May 15, 2015
by Andreas Quast (Author)
Paperback edition: available at Amazon US ($14.99), Amazon UK (£9.79), Amazon Germany (EUR 14.97), CreateSpace eStore ($14.99), and at online and offline bookstores and retailers, as well as via public libraries and libraries at other academic institutions.
Based on his acclaimed previous studies, the author here presents a synopsis of the development of Ryukyu martial arts. The events described herein are all real, that is, they are all historical. Strolling along the chronology of martial arts of Ryukyu provenance, a large number of verified events are not only detailed, but also decorated with dozens of precious illustrations. As such “A Stroll Along Ryukyu Martial Arts History” is for martial arts practitioners as much as it is for aficionados of history and Asia. It simply provides a pristine ground to stand on for the practitioner who wishes to understand the primordial origins of Ryukyu martial arts.
For those who read “Karate 1.0”: this new book here is a synopsis of Karate 1.0 plus the “chronology (Part VII)” without significant changes. It is an easier read without all the reasoning and footnotes, but instead with nearly 80 illustrations to make it more suitable for the general public, and not only academic people.
Among the unique information that cannot be found anywhere else are also some of the illustrations. For instance, there is only one picture scroll that shows the Chinese investiture envoys (sapposhi) and their military retinue. Here, for the first time you might see how famous Kusanku actually might have looked like.
Not too long ago communication between Okinawa and the world as well as between sensei and students was slow. Things would sometimes take months if not years to reach anybody, if ever.
My colleague Filip Konjokrad just provided his translation of the recent interview with Sadayuki Taira published in the Okinawa Times. It is super-interesting for several reasons, most importantly for its note on the origin of Sēpai, a famous kata of the Gōjū-ryū school of karate. There it is said:
Seipai (18 hands) is a kata made by Chojun Miyagi sensei (1888-1953), the founder of Goju-ryu.
BTW, around twenty years ago I came across the same statement in a 1986 article from a karate mag. It was written by Kisaki Tomoharu, founder of Yuishinkan Gōjū-ryūkarate–dō. Most people know him indirectly because he was the initiator of the commemorative monument for Higashionna Kanryō and Miyagi Chōjun at Matsuyama Park in Naha. It is funny not even Okinawan sensei ever heard about that but Kisaki actually chose the stone for the monument in Fuzhou and had the front characters chiseled in by a Chinese master carver.
What also none of the persons knew that I talked to in Okinawa was that the names of those who participated in the erection of the monument are all written on the foundation stone. That stone memorial for Higashionna Kanryō and Miyagi Chōjun was solemnly unveiled on May 23, 1987, commemorating Miyagi Chōjun’s centenary birthday.
Here follows the part in question on Sēpai, plus a few more excerpts from the 1986 article. Back then we were all stunned and wondered if the translation was correct, but there was no doubt. I stopped talking about it many years ago. People were rather contemptuous towards the idea that Sēpai might not be a century-old kata from China handed down by Higashionna to Miyagi.
Sēpai is the Chinese pronunciation of the characters and it is one of the open-skill kata (kaishu-gata) created by Miyagi Chōjun himself, the founder of Gōjū-ryū. The movements always switch over from defense to attack, in which great speed and dynamism is required for the attacks.
When performing the kata you have to stick to the basic forms of the movements as much as possible. As part of and as a sign of progress in kata, however, the founder Miyagi Chōjun himself expressly supported and encouraged the process of varying these movements. That means, as in calligraphy, where different types of writing exist such as block letters, semi-italic letters and italics.
In the kata, shiko-dachi is used to thrust down with both hands. At that moment the face is facing forward. In the original kata, however, it was correct to look down in the direction of the thrust.
Nowadays, however, there are groups that even simplify and modify the Kata Sanchin, which is the basis of Gōjū-ryū, so that it is easier to learn and teach. This is a big mistake in kata practice. A foundation must remain a foundation. It seems to have been forgotten that karate in itself is the hard part of it all.
In summary: only those who continue practice (in Okinawa it is called “the suffering”) continuously and repeatedly can acquire the kata.
I might add that Sēpai is very specific when it comes to techniques. It does not have the typical Gōjū-ryū opening of Sanchin and others and features a variety of locks and twists of various body parts rather than emphasizing classical uke, tsuki, and keri techniques. That is, it is full of torite-class techniques, or tuidi in Okinawan pronunciation.
Another important point is that – if it is true that Miyagi created it – there is a chance that Okinawan karate people created new kata during the early 20th century and gave them names that sounded as if they were taken from the Chinese language and corrupted to old-style Ryūkyūan language. This is a point to consider when it comes to the issue of the “invention of karate,” i.e. the chance that karate was not really that old but rather a 20th century invention, albeit based on traditional physical culture and fragmentary martial arts traditions of bygone eras.
Source: Kisaki Tomoharu: Sēpai, Part 1. The True Essence of Karate Technique. Gōjū-ryū Kaishugata: Learned in Personal Instruction from Miyagi Chōjun. Kindai Karate, Juni 1986 (Issue Nr. 25). Tōkyō, Bēsubōru Magajin-sha 1986.
Note: The article in copy was given to me by Christian Winkler Sensei. A German translation was provided by Rina Obi Sensei shortly afterwards. The late Uli Schlee Sensei’s was also involved in the project.
The Inutabu Riot occurred on April 23, 1864 (old lunar calendar: March 18, Bunkyū 4) in Inutabu Village, Tokunoshima. From the peasant’s point of view it is also called Inutabu Crusade (Inutabu gisen 犬田布義戦), emphasizing the righfulness of the action.
Background: The Amami Islands, which produced sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum), were exploited by the strict sugar policy of the Satsuma Domain at that time and the islanders were prohibited from buying and selling sugar. The origin of the turmoil is said to be that one of the farmers, Niiyama Tamenari 新山為盛, was arrested and tortured on suspicion of diversion of sugar.
Over 150 Inutabu farmers rioted to rescue Tamenari, besieged the Satsuma magistrate’s office (kariya), chased the government officials, and stayed in the forest as their stronghold for seven days. Unable to to declare all villagers criminals, the magistrate’s office just exiled seven people to resolve the case without bloodshed. This turmoil became known throughout the Amami Islands and the subsequent sugar management was greatly eased.
As Nagamine Shōshin has pointed out, it is important to study the history of Ryūkyū to understand Okinawan martial arts. During Ryukyu kingdom times existed private tutors called “Yaka.” It was not an official government position and therefore there are hardly any records.Well, Motobu Naoki sensei wrote an article about Yakā in 2016.
Well, as some may have heard about, there is a kata called Yakā no Sai. It has been handed down in the Taira Shinken lineage of Ryūkyū Kobudō. There are a few videos of it online now, most importantly by Okinawa Prefecture, Nakamoto Mamoru of Bunbukan (see video below), Frank Pelny (Tesshinkan; this is Taira-Akamine-Tamayose lineage), and Maarten Van Bloois (Taira-Inoue lineage). I also uploaded an 1970s vid of it.
This kata is usually outside the teaching curriculum, that is, it is above the grading to 5th Dan in Okinawan dōjō belonging to the Taira lineage of Kobudō. It might also have been lost in one or another branch of this lineage. Otherwise, while finding it simply listed among the sai kata on various websites, I doubt that many people ever actually trained it. Mario McKenna pinned down what was known about the kata but the page is offline.
Yaka is the name of a small village north of Uruma. So it seem likely that “Yaka no Sai” refers to this place, especially since many kata names are place names or personal names. That is, it is the first thing that comes to mind if you only call it “Yaka no Sai.” But then, discovered by thorough research, the kata’s full name is given as “Hama Udun Yakā no Sai” (浜御殿屋嘉阿の釵) (BRD 1978 and elsewhere). This name implies that it is “The Sai Kata of Yakā of the Beach Residence.” This “Hama Udun” or “Beach Residence” was located in the central Yonabaru region, not up in the north where the village of Yaka is.
What are these residences called Udun? The Japanese term Goten 御殿 denotes the residential house of a noble person, a magnificent residence, a palace, or a castle. In the Ryūkyūan language the same term is pronounced Udun and had a twofold meaning. As for one, it was the honorific name used for the mansions of the Anji Estate stewards (Anji-jitō) living in Shuri. And two, it was a honorific designation for the family of this Anji. Additionally, it was also used to refer to the families of the king’s heir and the other princes.
Because the Udun families administered the various districts (magiri 間切) of the kingdom, they often bore the district‘s name as their family name. At the time of the abolition of the feudal fiefs (1872/79) there were the following twenty-eight Udun families in Ryūkyū: Kunigami, Ōgimi, Gushi, Haneji, Nakijin, Motobu, Nago, Ie, Kin, Urasoe, Ginowan, Misato, Yuntanza, Goeku, Yonagusuku, Gushikawa, Oroku, Tamagusuku, Gushikami, Tamagusuku, Mabuni, Takamine, Makabe, Kyan, Tamagawa (Kaneshiro district), Ōmura (Chatan district), Matsuyama (without an actual district), and Nakagusuku. Among the above, Nakagusuku Udun was the mansion of the heir of the king, while Ginowan and Matsuyama Udun were the mansions of the other princes.
The villas of the king were also referred to as Udun: Shikina Udun and Ochaya Udun. Shikina Udun is well known as the place were Matsumura Sōkon served as a royal guard (Cf. Yoshimura 1941). It is also well known that martial arts performances took place at the Ochaya Udun in 1867 (Cf. Shimabuku 1956).
Another place related to royalty is the Hama Udun. It was not a residence but one of the age-old places of worship called Uganjū, which were often affiliated to large open spaces used for all sorts of communal meetings during Ryūkyu kingdom times. The place called Hama Udun was located close to the well (fountain) known as Yonabaru Ōgawa at the east coast of Yonabaru (see attached map, in relation to Shuri castle). It was one of the places of worship closely related to the royals and visited on occasion of pilgrimages to pray for various things. In order to break the influence of indigenous religion, the king was prohibited by Satsuma to perform these pilgrimages himself, and thus send his vassals instead. These pilgrimages were called Agarimawari, i.e. pilgrimage to the places of worship.
It should be noted that the Hama Udun was probably only a provisional residence at the place of worship or Uganjū. That means the Hama Udun was temporary built for certain occasions only, for example at the time of the inauguration ceremony (oarao 御新下り) of the Kikoe Ōgimi, i.e. the high-priestess of the Rykyū kingdom who was a close relative of the king. At this Hama Udun, a ceremony for the purification of water from Yonabaru Arakawa was performed. These were all sacred rituals.
Itmight be that at this Hama Udun a guardian martial artist (Yakā) took care of security. Therefore the name Hama Udun Yakā no Sai.
I was able to verify the name Hama Udun as such a sacred royal place in one tenable source only. It might also be considered that this kata was somehow related to the place of worship (Uganjū). It should be noted that these Uganjū served multiple functions such as for judiciary court, festivities, and even sports.
Putting it all together, and with Motobu sensei’s article conclusively explaining the meaning of Yakā for the first time, this is what the name “Hama Udun Yakā no Sai” implies:
“The Sai techniques of the Yakā (guardian martial artist) of the sacred Royal Beach Residence.”
One last thing to note: The kata has largely the same enbusen as Hama Higa no Sai. It’s speciality is a unique combination called the Yakā swing (Yakā no furi), which is not found in other saijutsu of Taira lineage; however, it is a main part of the Ufuchiku lineage saijutsu. The kata has a variety of other techniques, such as kake-uke and kiri-oroshi in gyaku-te, and a double Tsuki with the tips of the sai.
Traditional Okinawa kobudō uses a shield with one hand in combination with a weapon in the other. There are basically two variants. One is the shield known best from Matayoshi lineage kobudō, which uses loop and handle, and which is combined with a machete in the other hand. While often manufactured from metal probably for the sake of weight, durability, and easy production, this kind of shield in both name and design is clearly modeled on the historical Chinese tengpai widely used in the 19th century.
The other model is the shield of Taira lineage kobudō, which is grabbed at a central handle and in that uses the same method as the medieval buckler. It is usually designed as a turtle shell – quite histrionically screaming “Okinawan culture!”
Both designs are referred to as tinbē (shield) and rōchin (machete/short spear). The shield is held in the left hand and the machete/short spear in the right hand.
Naturally, shield and sword or pike were weapons used in most regions of the world during ancient conflicts. In Ryūkyū, too, long before Chinese weaponry became popular as a historical reference among Okinawan kobudō troupes, military technology was imported from Japan. This can be seen in the “Omoro (ballad) of Kume Island,” which uses Japanese names to describe iron helmet, iron armor, leather shield, and lacquered pike (Omori-sōshi, Vol. XXI, Chapter 53):
As regards techniques and tactics, there is nothing special to it in either design, however, as has been pointed out by Inoue Motokatsu (1972), the tinbē (shield) in Taira lineage is used to hide both intention to fight and the weapon in the other hand.
Earlier today I wrote a piece about a current design of an ueku (oar), which you can read here. I would like to add a short note about the various designs of the ueku and what the design means for the techniques used with it.
This is the first time that I share these specifics about the ueku. At the former Matsubayashi-ryu Nagamine dojo “Kodokan” were stored a large number of ueku in the corner at the right front side. These were of the most intruiging designs – quite sturdy, some covered with old paint, these ueku had extremely long blades and proportionally short handles and were just much bigger than any other I have seen. The blades were actually at least half of the total length of the ueku.
While this sounds weird, in practice, it is possible to swing them even with one hand, which is due to the specific balance generated by the blade lenghts. They almost operate like a sword such as that you can cut and all without the rear end hindering your free movement of the implement. This kind of technique is almost impossible to achieve with other ueku designs.
However, this old design seems to have been completely neglected and almost forgotten. Below you see a collection of five of such ueku, with handles of somewhere between 30 and 40 mm in diameter and big blades half the total length of the ueku. It would appear that this would make the handling difficult when compared to smaller and lighter ueku, but the point I am about to make is a quite contrary.
You can actually swing these ueku with just one hand and cut with it like with a sword. This is possible almost only with this kind of ueku with an extremely long and big blade relatively to the handle. Since these ueku are quite old, and when comparing them to more new designs, it gets apparent that the over time the blades became shorter and shorter and the handles got longer and longer so that the blade today sometimes constitutes a mere 1/3 of the total length.
It may be that this design modification is the result of a simple misunderstanding of the technique of the ueku probably due to some bad ueku design. As a consequence, not only the design changed over time, but also the original techniques of the ueku were replaced by something different. In the following photos you can retrace what I mean by change in blade length over time.
Then, assuming this is one possible and valid explanation, the Okinawan saying that “The ueku was the sword of the fisherman” might have to be taken literally. Because those old ueku could actually be operated very similar to a sword; In the video below I swing the ueku with just one hand a number of times, look for it. This is possible almost only with this kind of long-bladed ueku because you can handle it with the hands close to one another and drive it, similar to how it is done with the sword handle. Of course it is not exactly the same, but you get the idea.
It should be noted that the big and long blade is exactly the trick which makes the ueku well balanced and in turn allows for this kind of technique. It may be time to reinvent it.
At the beginning of the 20th century, while young men’s associations in all places worked to promote sports, the Young Men’s Associations of Shimajiri County carried out a survey about recreational pastimes:
“Right now, this county’s citizens compete in only a few recreational pastimes. Therefore, we submit a plan to the committee at the general assembly to advance the practice of recreational pastimes.”
In other words, they wished to promote and enhance the athletic activities among the general populace. Subsequently, additional amendments were made and covered in the newspaper (see Ryūkyu Shinpō, December 10, 1909). There, new (!!!) pastimes and sports to be adopted included karate, while older traditional athletic culture to be continued included Okinawan sumō, bōjutsu, and implements such as the bō-ishi (stick-stone) and the tsuchi-ishi (hammer-stone).
According to the (now defunct) Shuri Naha Dialect Dictionary of the University of the Ryukyus, the tsuchi-ishi (hammer-stone) was referred to as chīshī チーシー in Okinawa language. This chīshī is considered to consist of the characters chī 手 plus shī 石, that is “handle-stone.” Note that the character “hand” (te 手) here is pronounced chī 手 and in all probability refers to handle, not hand. In any case, if this is so, the syllable chī is a pronunciation for te 手 (hand, skill), such as I already mentioned here.
Of course, the chīshī — aka chīshi-gwā — is known as a training tool used for karate. You hold the handle and move it back and forth, left and right, and up and down to train your wrists and waist.
While such tools have been adopted into the practices of karate, tools such as the sashi-ishi and probably others already existed previously within the traditional athletic culture (undō bunka) of Okinawa. Accordingly, it can be said that the meaning and definition of karate also included weight training. Such traditional athletic culture was positioned not only as a recreational pastime or “pre-sport” among the general public, but was also performed during customary and even religious events.
Sashi-ishi refers to a stone with a wooden handle pierced through it, so that both ends of the handle stick out on each side of the stone so that it can be lifted and handled.
It therefore seems that a number of implements of traditional athletic culture (undō bunka) of Okinawa were cumulatively integrated into karate practice during the earlier 20th century, thus showing a trend of cumulative development of practice contents.
Starting kobudō is easy; grab a broomstick and get going. Swing, twirl, strike, and poke. Then, after some time you want and deserve good quality equipment, but most weaponry cannot be easily produced. Therefore, you look for a supplier to provide professional equipment for a good price in a safe and fast order process and there are a number of companies and individuals such as Don Shapland of Tesshinkan, whose tinbē and rōchin are second to none. Maybe it is time for a full list of kobudō equipment manufacturers and suppliers but today I would like to draw your attention to Dreametal Kobudo.
Mr. Christos Papapanos — a studied industrial designer and owner of an engineering company as well as Dreametal Kobudo — has been designing kobudō weapons for many years. Recently he launched a Shimbukan signature series, that is, bō, sai, uēku, and other weapons that are approved by Akamine Hiroshi Sensei of Shimbukan Ryūkyū Kobudō in Okinawa.
While all of Dreametal’s weapons are well designed and manufactured from high-quality materials, there is a characteristic feature in the Shimbukan uēku no other commercial supplier meets: they are comparatively small and light. For example, I own two others of Dreametal’s uēku, but these are quite bulky and most uēku by other suppliers are likewise large and heavy with big diameter shafts and are often unbalanced in their shaft/blade lenght and weight ratio. Heavy-duty uēku certainly have their advantages, most importantly in case of heavy contact during combative application or makiwara. However, for kata performance the “big guns” are almost unfeasible in the current Shimbukan performing style, are too difficult to control from their sheer inertia, and just look and feel tardy.
What makes the Dreametal uēku different is that it is customized to the current Shimbukan performing style; In recent years the Shimbukan has moved away from the heavy tools of old and began to favor lighter weapons. This uēku is an example of this. Actually, the uēku at the Shimbukan ten years ago were small, light, and of inferior wood quality, and were more like theatrical equipment. I remember being scolded by sensei for breaking one of them; the head broke off and flew all through the dōjō. This is not what you want from a weapon and it is also not safe. While maintaining the advantages of light weight, and while based on that previous design, Dreametal’s Shimbukan-approved uēku has now also solved the safety issue by using better wood and it also has a slightly longer handle which is necessary particularly for the many gyaku-uchi in the kata. Incidentally, I have been told that the design of the new uēku has been provided by Akamine Hiroshi sensei.
I must add one cautionary note: If you want to use an uēku for heavy contact — such as cutting down a banana tree, or chopping a melon in halves, or combat applications, or makiwara work –, I’d recommend using a sturdier one, analogous to the differentiation of “bō for kata” and “bō for contact.” There’s no need to destroy your gala weapons.
The total length is 151 cm of which 98 cm is the handle. The balance is excellent. That is, the weight distribution ratio of handle and blade as well as the resulting balance point is exactly where you want it to be in both static and dynamic operation, which is a rather rare feature. One more advantageous feature is the comparatively short overall length of 151 cm; It allows living room practice without taking fright at grandma’s porcelain.
Another thing to mention is that most kobudō practitioners themselves might be great masters but are unfit to design and produce weapons according to their personal preferences, or even just to find someone who can. Therefore, much of high quality kobudō weaponry comes from a few professional suppliers such as Shureidō. For example, I have yet to find an equivalent in quality to their 196cm length / 25mm diameter bō made of Japanese oak. There was also the custom weapons maker Kamiunten in Okinawa, whose Tonfa I reconstructed from an original model. They are the best Tonfa I ever used due to a few small and simple constructive features (trade secret): Hokama Sensei, knowing of Mr. Kamiunten’s quality production, told me these Tonfa are priceless. BTW I am looking for a manufacturer for these (I have created a technical drawing and 3D data) so if you’re a manufacturer let me know if you’re interested in a joint venture. Moreover, there are others who produce their own customized weapons, such as Maeda Kyomasa sensei, who makes excellent quality bō all customized to his style and the individual user. This is the way.
As regards service, Dreametal is a pleasure to work with. Mrs. Sundy Papapanos takes care of the email correspondence, about weapons specifications such as materials and sizes, the shipping confirmations with tracking numbers, etc. Note: Since it happened to me, you may need to validate money transfers to Greece with your bank first. A note to your bank and they will fix it immediately.
BTW, a reason for the shift in weapons weight might simply be due to the specific body dynamics – sharp, quick, and short kime combined with a timed rear-heel stomp – of Akamine sensei’s karate and the wish to transpose it on the kobudō weaponry, too. This particularly makes sense in case of all the short weapons, and it also works for this uēku. Previously bō were heavy and with bulky 3 cm diameter so they were difficult to make use of by an average person, looked and felt lame, and necessitated the workaround of the “double-hip,” which was not only impractical but also looked somehow like a mix between a drunken giraffe and a tube man. The sheer inertia of such as tool is such as of a Bidenhänder as compared to a rapier. This issue has also finally been fixed in recent years within above mentioned innovation process and Dreametal offers a Shimbukan-approved tapered 25mm diameter bō. While this development is most welcomed – especially when compared to the previous almost compulsive inistence on unwieldy and poorly designed tools by some keepers of tradition (and preventers of improvement) – I am not sure if these bō fulfil the requirements set out for tournaments on Okinawa, which are usually at least 900 grams for male and 800 grams for female (Article 10.1 of 1st Okinawa Karate Kobudo International Tiournament Rules). On the other hand, the very advantageous point of this is that 25 mm light weight allows for more people to use the tool, which will greatly help smaller and frailer people such as kids appreciate kobudō more. Also, everybody just looks cooler.
Finally, if you’re a Shimbukan practitioner going at it for godan and want to score high points from the examiners, you want to use exactly this uēku, since the stipulated motion specifics and “kime” are difficult to achieve with any of the heavy-duty versions.
To wrap it up: Technical expression and style largely depends on equipment! If you’re looking for an uēku that’s light enough for a sharp kata performance, heavy enough for the right feel, and robust enough to take a full swing, then look no further than Dreametal’s Shimbukan-approved uēku.
A number of recent articles about Soeishi-ryū bōjutsu raised a lot of interest in bōjutsu circles. One of the schools which have a kata by the name of Soeishi is the Matayoshi Kobudō. The following is a written description of this school.
The kata of bōjutsu that are being handed down in this school [=Matayoshi Kobudō] include Shūshi no Kon, Sakugawa no Kon, Chōun no Kon, Tsuken no Kon, and Soeishi no Kon. … Soeishi no Kon was created by Soeishi Uēkata (martial arts instructor of the Ryukyu King), who was a feudal lord in Shuri about 300 years ago. Soeishi was a master of karate (tōde) and nicknamed “Shuri-te Soeishi.” (Matayoshi 1999:22-23)
In the same document, a person named Soeishi Ryōkō is positioned as a kobudō master in their lineage, while Soeishi Uēkata probably refers to Soeishi Ryōtoku as described in the research of Nakamoto Masahiro.
The first note on Soeishi in a bōjutsu context however is found thirtyfive years earlier, in Taira Shinken’s 1964 book. In fact, Taira places Soeishi at the first position of fourteen masters of kobudō:
Master Soeishi (lived more than 100 years ago): He was a feudal lord of Shuri and in particular studied various types of bōjutsu. He created the kata “Soeishi no Kon” and “Chōun no Kon.” (Taira 1964:14)
Taira planned to publish a description with photos of Soeishi no Kon at a later date, but this never actually took place.
Some time later, in 1972, Inoue Motokatsu also noted on Soeishi. Apparently, Inoue had researched the topic and was able to add some facts.
Name: Soeishi Era: Kingdom (late period) System of Kata: Soeishi no Kon, Chōun no Kon, Shūshi no Kon Notes: Feudal lord in Shuri. He was a distinguished expert of bōjutsu. “Chōun no Kon” and “Shūshi no Kon” are said to be products [made] from “Soeishi no Kon.” (Inoue 1972:4)
Inoue here states that the bōjutsu of the Soeishi school consists of Soeishi no Kon, Chōun no Kon, and Shūshi no Kon. Moreover, in Volume 1 (1972) and 2 (1974) of his comprehensive work “Ryūkyū Kobudō” he presents two versions of Soeishi no Kon.
Finally, there is Tawada Shinjun. He was a nephew of the head of the Soeishi family and his younger brother, Tawada Shinchin, has studied Soeishi-ryu bōjutsu. In 1973, Tawada described Soeishi-ryu bōjutsu as follows.
Soeishi no Kon (it consists of Chōshi no Kon and Shūshi no Kon) was handed down by the Soeishi family who held the post of the martial arts instructor of the king of Ryūkyū. It was a secret tradition that was treasured and never shown in public and only taught to the king and the eldest son of the Soeishi family. It is said to be a secret tradition left by an investiture envoy (sappōshi) to train the mind and body of successive kings. (Tawada 1973:153)
This is very telling. One important point is that the original name was Chōshi no Kon. It might have been later confused to Chōun no Kon. Moreover, Shūshi no Kon was also part of this tradition.
That is not all. As an eyewitness of the technique, Tawada also described the actual features of Soeishi-ryu bōjutsu. For example, each strike, whether shomen-uchi or yoko-uchi, ends horizontally and the bō is always tucked under the armpit. Another point is that all thrusts are done as a nuki-zuki, that is, by letting it slide through the front hand, as in the techniques of the spear.
From above features you can already see that the characteristics of Soeishi-ryu bōjutsu – that is, “royal bōjutsu” – do not correspond to the current bōjutsu as seen in Okinawan schools. Quite on the contrary, it seems that current bōjutsu on Okinawa corresponds more to simple folk bōjutsu as previously thought. Matayoshi Kobudō does not tuck the bō under the armpit, but outside the forarm. The thrusts are not sliding thrusts (nuki), and the bō is not horizontal in the end position. In Taira lineage, the bō is also not tucked under the armpit, but at placed at the hip. Most of the middle-level thrusts are standard and there are only few sliding thrusts (nuki).
While based on older traditions, most bōjutsu schools of today have forgotten just as much of the original technical features as they have newly created more recently. And so it seems there is no pure, original style in existence which can claim actual personal tradition in Soeishi-ryu bōjutsu. Well, current schools of bōjutsu have laid out their aims and understand themselves as martial arts schools, so their technique is indeed quite functional and comprehensive. But as regards an actual personal tradition, it might be “Soeishi” in name only.
In June of 2020, Lara Chamberlain uploaded a bo-kata video from the archives of Fred Christian sensei. Neither the performer nor the kata were known or could be identified. However, from some of the signature techniques I thought right away “this is a version of Soeishi no Kon from the Taira Shinken lineage.” But people asked for proof other than my expertise. As is most often the case in research, there is no quick Facebook chat answer, but such tasks take time to be researched and clarified.
It took about six month. Over time each issue has been taken on one by one, until recently the last issue was solved. So here is the condensed answer without all the pulling out books from the board and the back-and-forth communication with Okinawa and Japan.
First of all, the date and place of the performance has been verified as April 5, 1980, at the Naha City Hall. Occasion was a martial demonstration meet to commemorate Nagamine Shoshin’s receiving the Okinawa Prefectural Merit Award as well as his 70th birthday.
While this is impressive, by 1964, Takamura was also a managing director of the Ryukyu Kobudo Hozon Shinkokai of Taira Shinken. In other words, he was a kobudo student under Taira Shinken and his peers and an official of Taira’s association since at least the early 1960s.
Now, the kata Takamura performed in the 1980 video does not fully match any of the kata of Taira’s students. However, as I determined before from its signature techniques and combos, and with the fact verified that Takamura was a leading master under Taira Shinken, there can be no doubt that it is a version of Soeishi no Kon from the Taira lineage. For reassurance, I compared Takamura’s version technique by technique with Soeishi no Kon Dai (Inoue 1972), Soeishi no Kon (Akamine 1984), and Shishi no Kon no Dai (Shimabuku Tatsuo). While there are differences, the signature techniques and combos and specifics of the enbusen (lanes of martial performance), there can be no doubt left that Takamura performs a version of what today is known as Soeishi no Kon of the Taira lineage.
It should be kept in mind that it is not the one and only, but a version of Soeishi no Kon. There are three major reasons why it cannot be stated more precisely.
First, no-one really knows to what extent Taira continued to collect, create, and alter kata during the 50s and 60s. Also, no-one knows how much his students altered the kata.
Second, it is possible that Takamura adjusted the kata over time or for the specific performance. For example, there are two techniques in it that are not part of Taira-lineage Soeishi no Kon, but which (in combination) are found exclusively in Chinen Shikiyanaka no Kon. However, they might have been originally part of Soeishi no Kon and only shifted to Chinen Shikiyanaka no Kon at some point. Again, it is unclear to this day to what extent Taira collected, created, and altered the choreographies and combos of kata during the 50s and 60s, or whether he aligned them all somehow.
Finally, modern Taira-lineage Soeishi no Kon has left-and-right side-lanes which are performed twice. Takamura’s version, on the other hand, performs the left-and-right side lane only once.
The above are just points of interest. They don’t change the fact that it is a version of Soeishi no Kon. Actually, and while it can neither be proven nor disproven, it might even be a more old or original version of Taira’s Soeishi no Kon.
Here is the video in half speed.
When comparing kata, combinations, or techniques, it is always good to carry out a morphological analysis. This is usually done just practically, but this is limited. A written morphological analysis is more work at the beginning, and results take longer, but it almost always more accurate, even more so when facilitated by photos and movies. So here is the written description of the eighty-nine individual movements I traced. While creating the analysis it became clear that some of the techniques obviously did not make it in current versions of Soeishi no Kon.
Lane 1 – Direction front
1. Step forward with the right foot, strike to the front (shomen-uchi).
2. With the feet as they are, raise the bō with a scooping block (sukui-uke).
3. Inversed strike to the middle-level (chūdan-ura-uchi).
4. Defense posture (mamoru kamae, or harai-uke).
5. Strike to the front (shomen-uchi) and immediately assume kamae.
6. Step forward with the left foot, left reverse horizontal strike (gyaku yoko-uchi).
7. Ura-age-uchi preparation (as in Chinen Shikiyanaka).
8. Ura-age-uchi (as in Chinen Shikiyanaka).
9. Step forward with the right foot, right horizontal strike (yoko-uchi).
10. Age-uchi preparation (as in Chinen Shikiyanaka).
11. Age-uchi (as in Chinen Shikiyanaka).
12. Scooping block (sukui-uke).
13. Inversed strike to the middle-level (chūdan-ura-uchi).
14. Defense posture (mamoru kamae, or harai-uke).
15. Strike to the front (shomen-uchi).
16. Immediately continue with a double soto-uke.
Lane 2 – Direction left
17. Place the right foot back in direction right and rotate 90° counterclockwise to direction left, take the right hand to the front and from there perform left hiki-otoshi-uchi.
18. Step forward with the right foot and strike upward from the bottom to the top (gyaku-age-uchi), left hand on right shoulder.
19. Strike to the front (shomen-uchi).
20. Immediately continue with consecutive soto-uke and oase-uke.
21. Strike to the front (shomen-uchi).
22. Scooping block (sukui-uke).
23. Inversed strike to the middle-level (chūdan-ura-uchi).
24. Defense posture (mamoru kamae, or harai-uke).
25. Strike to the front (shomen-uchi).
26. Immediately continue with a double soto-uke.
Lane 3 – Direction right
27. Place the right foot a little over to the left [in direction rear] and rotate 180° counterclockwise [to direction right], take the right hand to the front and from there perform left hiki-otoshi-uchi.
28. Step forward with the right foot and strike upward from the bottom to the top (gyaku-age-uchi),left hand on right shoulder.
29. Strike to the front (shomen-uchi).
30. Immediately continue with consecutive soto-uke and oase-uke.
31. Strike to the front (shomen-uchi).
32. Scooping block (sukui-uke).
33. Inversed strike to the middle-level (chūdan-ura-uchi).
34. Defense posture (mamoru kamae, or harai-uke).
35. Strike to the front (shomen-uchi).
36. Immediately continue with a double Soto-uke.
Bridge – 90° to direction front
37. With the right foot as it is, place the left foot towards direction front, and rotate 90° counterclockwise, and in this way turn to the front (shōmen), and perform lower-level block (gedan-uke) directly from the previous position.
38. Lower-level thrust (gedan-zuki).
Lane 4 – Direction rear
39. Place the left foot a little over to the right (direction right) and rotate 180° clockwise towards direction rear. Take the right han down and the left hand up and perform the defense posture (mamoru kamae, or harai-uke) towards direction rear.
40. Strike to the front (shomen-uchi), immediately followed by kamae.
41. Step forward with the left foot, change hands of the bō (mochi-kaeri), and perform a left chūdan-yoko-uchi.
42. Step forward with the right foot, change hands of the bō (mochi-kaeri), and perform a right chūdan-yoko-uchi.
Lane 5 – Direction front
43. Place the right foot forward and rotate 180° counterclockwise toward direction front (shōmen), with the bō in hassō-no-kamae.
44. Prepare to strike by placing the left hand at the end of the bō; pull the right foot up to the left foot (in musubi or heisoku) and strike jōdanyoko-uchi; swing with the right hand and with the strike, bring right hand to left hand in rokushaku-mochi.
45. Rotate the bō downward and backward on your right side. Continue to swing it upward and forward while taking a large step forward with the right foot. While pulling up the foot to the left foot (musubi or heisoku), strike down a jōdan-shomen-uchi (left hand in rokushaku-mochi,right hand in goshaku-mochi.
46. Step backward with the right foot. Pull back the right hand while you let go your left hand. Once the right has passed the left, grip the bō with the left from above (gyaku-te mochi).
47. Step forward with the right foot and change the right hand to honte-mochi. Perform a scooping block (sukui-uke) immediately followed by an inversed strike to the middle-level (chūdan-ura-uchi).
48. Defense posture (mamoru kamae, or harai-uke).
49. Strike to the front (shomen-uchi), kamae.
50. Step backward with the right foot, change hands on the bō (mochi-kaeri) and perform a left horizontal strike (yoko-uchi).
51. Step backward with the left foot, right horizontal strike (yoko-uchi).
52. Defense posture (mamoru kamae, or harai-uke) towards direction front.
53. Strike to the front (shomen-uchi), immediately followed by one round soto-uke/kamae.
54. Pull right foot back to left foot into (musubi or heisoku) with a short soto-uke/kamae. (Note: 53 and 54 are consecutive. They are just like the double soto-uke, with the first part of it in 53 and the second part in 54)
55. With the hands as they are, cross the left foot in front of the right foot.
56. Step forward with the right foot into shiko-dachi and sliding thrust (nuki-zuki). Immediately pull back the bō into kamae.
57. With the hands as they are, pull right foot back to left foot into (musubi or heisoku).
58. With the hands as they are, cross the left foot in front of the right foot.
59. Step forward with the right foot into shiko-dachi and sliding thrust (nuki-zuki). Immediately pull back the bō into kamae.
60. With the hands as they are, pull right foot back to left foot into (musubi or heisoku).
61. With the hands as they are, cross the left foot in front of the right foot.
62. Step forward with the right foot into shiko-dachi and sliding thrust (nuki-zuki). Immediately pull back the bō into kamae.
63. Pull the right foot back in front of the left (kōsa-dachi) with soto-uke.
64. Place the left foot back and immediately pull back the right foot to the left foot in musubi/heisoku, with a double soto-uke.
65. Place the right foot backwards and assume hassō-no-kame.
66. Step forward with the right foot and yoko-uchi, immediately continued into kamae. It is done with a slight feel of “combing up.”
67. Cross the left foot in front of the right foot (kōsa-dachi) with a sliding thrust (nuki-zuki).
68. In the previous position, pull back the bō and then step forward with the right foot and a thrust (tsuki).
69. Without pause, immediately place the right foot 45° to the right and strike an inversed strike to the middle-level (chūdan-ura-uchi) to direction front right 45°.
70. Place the right foot to the front again and assume the defense posture (mamoru kamae, or harai-uke) towards direction front.
71. Strike to the front (shomen-uchi). There is o soto-uke at this point.
72.Age-uchipreparation (as in Chinen Shikiyanaka).
73. Age-uchi (as in Chinen Shikiyanaka).
Bridge – 180° front to front
74. With the right foot as the axis, rotate 180° counterclockwise in neko-ashi, and raise your arms into jōdan-kamae.
75. Jump from the left foot, pull up the right knee and perform a 180 ° turn in the air. Land with the left knee on the ground in the back and the right knee up in front (right hanza or half-knee stance), towards the front. Perform yoko-uchi.
Lane 6 – Direction front
76. Still in right hanza, assume the defense posture (mamoru kamae, or harai-uke) towards direction front.
77. Stand up with a strike to the front (shomen-uchi), immediately followed by soto-uke/kamae (or, by jōdan-mawashi-uke followed by chūdan-osae-uke).
78. Pull back the right foot to the left foot in musubi-dachi; take the bō back into the starting position at the right side of the body.
79. Raise your right knee and strike upward from the bottom to the top (gyaku-age-uchi),left hand on right shoulder.
80. Set down the right foot to the front and strike to the front (shomen-uchi). There is no soto-uke at this point; immediately continue with following technique!
81. Without pause, and with the feet as they are, raise the bō with a scooping block (sukui-uke).
82. Without pause, inversed strike to the middle-level (chūdan-ura-uchi).
83. Without pause, swing around the left side of the body. This movement is an interims movement and performed without any stop.
84. Without pause, rotate the bō down and back at the right side of your body and continue up again into a jōdan-kamae. At the same time, pull the right foot back to the left foot into musubi-dachi.
85. Without pause, continue the previous movement: step forward with the right foot, immediately pull the left foot forward into musubu-dachi, and while doing so, strike jōdan-shōmen-uchi (right hand in yonshaku-mochi, left hand in goshaku-mochi).
86. With the bō as it is, raise the left foot (sunakake with the left foot) and place it backwards on the floor, in shiko-dachi. At the same time, pull back the bō with your right hand.
87. From the previous position, quick sliding thrust (nuki-zuki), immediately followed by a pronounced soto-uke/kamae.
88. Pull back the right foot to the left foot, into musubu-dachi. At the same time, take the bō back into the starting position at the body, right hand low, left hand up at the right shoulder.
89. Place your left hand on the outside of your left thigh. Bow. End.
Translation of an article from Okinawa Times, April 17, 2017.
“Kobudō is my life. I have been pursuing it all my life, but research is endless.” Nakamoto Masahiro (79), who was selected as the only intangible cultural property holder in the field of Kobudo designated by the prefecture, wakes up at 3:00 every morning and devotes himself to researching and practicing the methods of using eight types of weapons such as bō and nunchaku. It has been 55 years since he decided to succeed Kobudo, which was in danger of decline, and knock at the gate of master Taira Shinken at 24. The skills and heart he has cultivated are taught at the “Bunbukan,” the headquarters of the Okinawa Traditional Kobudo Preservation Society in Shuri Torihori Town, Naha City.
He was raised in a single-mother household, and life was poor. While attending part-time senior high school, he got a job at the United States Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands (USCAR, 1950-1972). From the age of 20, he studied Karate under Chibana Choshin of Shorin-ryu, a friend of his father, but had nothing to do with Kobudo.
The turning point was when he was 24 years old. “Karate remains, but Kobudo will perish. Do not only Karate but also Kobudo,” said Shannon McKune, a civil affairs officer who was the boss of the workplace. He said he had worked in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) department for registering cultural heritage. At this time, “I realized my destiny.”
Taira refused him many times, but he begged in front of his house on one cold winter night, saying, “I won’t go home until I get started,” and was finally allowed to begin training. The world of Kobudo that he saw for the first time made him “immensely curious because it had a lot of weapons.”
Although he was worried about doing the same thing many times over, he spent every day entirely. “By doing Kobudo, you can understand the strengths and weaknesses of weapons, and you can add depth to karate.” He learned it parallel with Karate and qualified as a Kobudo shihan (master) in 1970. He was appointed as a branch of Taira’s dojo and became independent in 1982.
A long time ago, he had the opportunity to try and thrust a karate master’s chest with a bō and knocked him down easily. “I think it would have been dangerous if it was the solar plexus. After that, that master told his disciples, ‘Everyone should go to learn Kobudo.’ The Karate circles are sometimes jealous of Kobudo, but there were also such humble people.” Like this, he recalls the experience of mutual recognition.
Because you cannot actually injure your opponent, he says that he often aims at the legs with the bō. “That’s why I also train my legs.” I was surprised to see him hitting his shin with an iron hammer in front of an international student who came to the dojo.
When talking about the past, he often uses the word “luckily/fortunately.” He studied under Chibana and Taira, and many others. He visited the headwaters of Kobudo and studied abroad in China as a government-financed international student, and learned the ground fighting techniques that had declined in Okinawa from a Living National Treasure. Blessed with many teachers, he compiled the ancient martial arts of Okinawa. “The encounter with important persons when I was young changed my life,” he said.
“Both Taira Sensei and Chibana Sensei were gentle and kind,” says Nakamoto. He treats his disciples in the same way.
Currently, about 60 people are enrolled in the dojo. He had about 3,000 students over the course of 45 years, including international students. “Today, karate teachers also have become more aware of Kobudo.” Envisioning the ideal form of Karate and Kobudo, “I hope they can run smoothly as two wheels of a cart (=two halves of the whole).”
Profile: Nakamoto Masahiro was born on January 15, 1938, in Shuri, Naha City. From the age of 20, he studied under Shuri-te master Chibana Choshin. At the age of 24, he started Kobudo under Taira Shinken. In 1982, the Okinawa Traditional Kobudo Preservation Society was established. In 2013, he was certified as an “intangible cultural property holder in the field of Okinawa Karate / Kobujutsu” designated by Okinawa Prefecture.