King Wu Once Buckled On His Armor: The Seven Virtues of Martial Arts

by Andreas Quast

King_Wu_Once_Buckled_Cover_for_KindleKING WU ONCE BUCKLED ON HIS ARMOR is the story of the seven virtues of martial arts as described by Matsumura Sokon.

Notice: There will be an update of the book with a special addition. I except to go live again around the end of April. 

Considered the primary source-text of old-style Okinawan martial arts, the “Seven Virtues of Martial Arts” are admired for their straightforward advice. Handwritten in the late 19th century by Matsumura Sokon, the most celebrated ancestor of karate, they are considered the ethical fountain and technical key to understand what can’t be seen.

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 and undiscovered ever since. Now the 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.

Get your copy now at:

5″ x 8″ (12.7 x 20.32 cm)
Black & White on Cream paper
80 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1523685981 (CreateSpace-Assigned)
ISBN-10: 1523685980
BISAC: Sports & Recreation / Martial Arts & Self-Defense

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A Stroll Along Ryukyu Martial Arts History

A Stroll Along Ryukyu Martial Arts History Paperback – 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.

Kindle edition also availableUSUKDEFRESITNLJPBRCAMXAUIN

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.

About the Author

The author began Karate in 1994, went to Japan first in 1999 and continuously studied Ryūkyū Kobudō since 2000. Besides, he has seven years straight experience in Jiu-jitsu. He trained with a large number of internationally acclaimed budōka. For close to two years in total he lived and trained on Okinawa, Japan, honing his skills in the dōjō of various prominent masters.

In 2011 he performed Kobudō at the German Okinawan Festival held in Okinawa, which was well received by the German ambassador to Japan as well as the German Honorary Consul to Okinawa.

His unquenchable passion for various martial arts of Ryūkyūan provenance results in regular print and online publications frequently reaching an international audience. With two decades of practical experience, extensive travel, and published research he still considers himself being merely on the verge of understanding Ryūkyū martial arts.

The author is a certified engineer, technical writer, and antiquarian bookseller living in Düsseldorf, Germany, where he continues his training and research.

Product Details (Paperback edition)

  • Paperback: 180 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (May 15, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1512229423
  • ISBN-13: 978-1512229424
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 0.4 x 9.7 inches


Available at Amazon US ($19.99), Amazon UK (£12.79), Amazon Germany (EUR 19,25 ), CreateSpace eStore ($19.99)

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Karate 1.0: Parameter of an Ancient Martial Art

The most comprehensive study on the parameters of primordial Karate, this work intrigues readers with rich detail and insights into these ancient combat traditions, the pride of Okinawa.

KARATE 1.0: Parameter of an Ancient Martial Art. Düsseldorf 2013, by Andreas Quast.

cover (4)

Karate 1.0 front cover

  • Pages: xxvii, 502 pp.
  • Language: English.
  • Hardcover binding in green linen material with gold foil stamping, size 8.25″ x 10.75″ (20.95cm x 27.31cm).
  • Full-color dust jacket in matte finish.
  • Inside: black and white printing on cream archival paper (60# weight). White exterior paper (80# weight).
  • Forewords by Patrick McCarthy, Miguel Da Luz, Cezar Borkowski, Jesse Enkamp, Dr. Julian Braun, Soke Leif Hermansson, and Dr. phil. Heiko Bittmann.
  • All copies ship from the United States.
  • Price: $75.00.

Only the highest quality both in content and production: get it now from!

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Abolish the Buddha and Destroy His Statues

It is true: most of the time it is sufficient to consider things based on readily available information and experiences. This is called WYSIATI — What You See Is All There Is. It means, you don’t consider what you don’t know. And indeed, usually it is not necessary. Yet, at times whole conceptions might shift once previously unnoticed details are added. The bothersome reality in the conversational realms of karate is that even tiny new details might demolish the ideological frameworks of others. This is the point where dispute frequently emerges. Because, who wants to start all over? Even karate’s various swarm intelligence collectives —  from small dōjō to global organizations — have developed effective defence mechanisms to protect their half-timbers from too much shaking.

So when talking or writing about beliefs in karate, I’d like to remind myself — and you should, too — of Flannery O’Connor, who finished her reply letter about the complete misinterpretation of one of her texts by “ninety students and three teachers” by the wise closing remark:

My tone is not meant to be obnoxious. I am in a state of shock.

This article is about the following sentence once penned down by Itosu Ankō.

Karate did not originate in Confucianism or Buddhism.

The meaning of it can easily be explained: There are no religuous implications to Karate whatsoever. While this is good to go, there might be a slightly different perspective, too.

And this is related to the expression haibutsu-kishaku 廢佛毀釋. It refers to the destruction of Buddhist temples, statues, and scriptures, and the abolition of the privileges of monks and temples during the Meiji era. “Haibutsu” means “to abolish Buddha, and “kishaku” means to “destroy the teachings of Buddha.” In short, it means “Abolish the Buddha and Destroy his Statues.”

In Japan the expression generally refers to the series of anti-Buddhist movements that occurred throughout the Meiji Era (1868 – 1912) and which aimed at the removal of all Buddhist influence from Shintō (shinbutsu bunri 神仏分離).

Following the restoration of imperial rule on 9 November 1867, the haibutsu-kishaku of the Meiji era was caused by a number of government policies established by the new government. Most importantly, these included the “Order on the Separation of Buddhism and Shintōism (Shinbutsu Bunri-rei 神仏分離令, Shinbutsu Hanzen-rei 神仏判然令) proclaimed by the Grand Council of State (Dajōkan) on 5 April 1868. Moreover, it includes the imperial rescript of 3 February 1870 (Daikyō-senpu 大教宣布), i.e. the “religious-moral-political enlightenment” movement which defined the Emperor of Japan a godsend divinity and made Shintō the religion of state, thus redefining Imperial Japan a de facto theocracy.

"Itosu Anko said..."

“Itosu Anko said…”

The movement was referred to as haibutsu-kishaku (abolish Buddha and destroy his Statues). Within the abolition of the syncretism of Shintō and Buddhism, the use of Buddhist statues and other objects of worship was prohibited and Buddhist elements eradicated from Shintō shrines. The movement saw the determination of certain shrines, the abolition and reorganization of Buddhist temples, the conversion of Buddhist priests to Shintō priests, the destruction Buddhist statues, images, and ritual implements, and the prohibition of Buddhist memorial services and the like. On 5 January 1871, the Grand Council of State proclaimed the order of confiscation of land owned by Temples and Shrines (Jisharyō Jōchirei 寺社領上知令), which exempted only the precincts itself.

A small and not unified movement which opposed the events ceased already two or three years later, in 1871.

The large Buddhist monastery with two towers situated within the pre-Buddhist Sumiyoshi Grand Shrine in Ōsaka was destroyed in 1873. The dining hall of the Kōfukuji 興福寺 in Nara was destroyed in 1875. At the “Three Mountains of Dewa” (Dewa Sanzan 出羽三山, i.e. Gassan, Yudono and Haguro Mountains) the haibutsu-kishaku began in 1874.

Mount Nokogiri in southern Chiba Prefecture had 500 statues of Buddhist saints (arhat) who gathered after the death of Buddha for a convent (Gohyaku-rakan 五百羅漢像), which were all destroyed. Although they have been repaired, the scars of destruction remain on the statues. Moreover, the cemeteries of the hereditary peerage of the Empire of Japan (kazoku 華族) were also forced to change the Buddhist method to that of Shintō.

At the Ise Grand Shrine, with the reigning emperor being its chief priest since the establishment of state Shintō in early Meiji, the abolition of Buddha and destruction of his statues was relentless: more than 100 Buddhist facilities once closely related to the Ise Shrine were destroyed. Particularly in Ujiyamada (in today’s Ise City), the number of Buddhist temples was reduced from nearly 300 to only 15.

The Meiji government had designed Shintō at the nucleus of its national consolidation policy. Partly spearheaded by scholars of ancient Japanese literature and culture, and based on the argument that it was a foreign religion, Buddhism was stripped of its property, status, and a variety of other privileges it enjoyed until then.

There are a huge number of other hair-raising examples, like Buddhist temples being crushed and sold as fire wood for a few yen. Or the thorough enforcement in the Satsuma fief, were 1616 Buddhist temples were destroyed and 2966 monks secularized: the confiscated temples’ territory as well as property and personnel were diverted to strengthen the military. For a true Buddhist believer, this must have been the ultimate abasement.

So what Itosu Ankō might actually wanted to emphasize was probably not so much the refusal of Buddhist and Confucian influence on karate. Rather, his words might have been the implied postulation – in fact the fait accompli – of karate as a small wheel within the “religious-moral-political” trinity of the Daikyō-senpu 大教宣布. Karate, then, was permitted to exist and nurtured solely by the grace of Emperor and Shintō, and therefore the theocracy of Imperial Japan.

If this is considered true for a second, how is karate – at least at the time of Itosu – not related to religion?

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The Goddess Mazu, Guardians, and a Drawing of Wang Ji, Chief-envoy of the Investiture Mission of 1683

This short article shows how the Chinese guardian deity and patron goddess of seafarers Mazu 媽祖 is related to chief-envoy Wang Ji of 1683, and presents his portray.

As had been pointed out, there was a whole “Mazu Culture” which spread from Fujian Province and the southeastern coast of mainland China to Southeast Asian and East Asian coastal cultures, including Ryūkyū and Japan.

Depiction of the arrangment of figures in a Mazu shrine. From: Oshima Hikki, Ryukyu Daigaku - Iha Fuyu Collection.

Depiction of the arrangment of figures in a Mazu shrine. From: Oshima Hikki, Ryukyu Daigaku – Iha Fuyu Collection.

Two shrines were dedicated to Mazu in Ryūkyū, built during the years 1403–24, and on Ryūkyūan ships statues and images of Mazu were also enshrined. From the illustration found in the Ōshima Hikki (1762) shown on the right, we get a glimpse of the arrangement of such a Mazu shrine on a Ryūkyūan ship during the middle of the 18th century.

I want you to pay attention to the two fierce-looking, muscular and armed figures numbered 3 and 4. These two guardians seemingly invariably flank Mazu in a large number of depictions. They are often shown with fangs and horn-like protrusions of the skull.

Number 3 is hawk-eyed Qianli yan 千里眼 (Thousand-Miles Eye), usually portrayed in red and with two horns; he shields his eyes with one hand, and with the other carries a halberd.

Number 4 is quick-eared Shunfeng er 順風耳 (With-the-Wind Ear), usually portrayed with green skin and one horn, with one hand pointing to his ear, while carrying an axe in the other.

Both were once evil spirits, who, after having been defeated by Mazu, became her servants. Nothing is known about their origin, but it had been noted that they were “simply nautical symbols, for which it is unnecessary to try to find historical prototypes.” (De Groot, cited in Ruitenbeek 1999: 319).

Wanshu, in: Nagamine 1977: 256-57.

Wanshu, in: Nagamine 1977: 256-57.

In 1683, chief-envoy Wang Ji 汪楫 and vice-envoy Lin Linchang reached Ryūkyū as the 17th investiture mission, for the enthornment of King Shō Tei. The mission had 453 members and stayed on Okinawa for 146 days. In karate circles Wang Ji is considered to be the origin of the kata called Wanshū.

He was a highly educated man who held the rank of an “Examiner of the Imperial Hanlin Academy” 翰林院檢討臣. In his official investiture report (Shi Liuqiu Zalu 使琉球雑録) he also gives us a rare insight into his beliefs in the sea goddess Mazu, who appeared in his dreams.

In the third month of 1682 Wang Ji and Lin Linchang were entrusted with the mission of investiture to the Ryūkyū kingdom. Wang Ji requested an imperial order to make an offering to Mazu, which was granted. Before starting their journey to Ryūkyū, both envoys held a large offering ceremony at the Mazu temple of Yishan, west of Fuzhou. At that time, the wind had been from the east, but immediately after the offering a strong southern wind began to blow. Within a few days the port of Naha was reached, and the locals reported that never before had a ship made the journey so quickly. On the way back, however, the envoys’ ship ran into a storm, but they were saved by Mazu.

While Wang Ji’s investiture report survived, apparently he had ordered an artist to make a painting of his journey. Unfortunately neither the name of the painter nor the whereabouts are known. However, a lengthy description on the painting of “Wang Ji’s Voyage Over Stormy Seas” has been preserved (written by Zhu Yizun 朱彝尊; 1629-1700). At the end of the description the author writes:

“When I unfolded the painting, the foam-tipped breakers were still a terrifying sight. They made my eyes dazzle and my heart pound, while my ears seemed to hear the roaring of the billows. The colors were so delicate, the ink so splendid, who designed this? I judge him to be a man who has seen a great deal during many sea voyages…”

Anyway, I further studied about Mazu and Wang Ji. While doing so, I stumbled upon a painting which in fact shows the arrival of Wang Ji and Lin Linchang at Naha harbor, in 1683. On the deck of the ship, three Chinese officials are shown. Wang Ji, as the chief-envoy, is the person depicted in the center.

18th century painting showing Wang Ji, Lin Linchang, and another official, as they reach Naha harbor in Okinawa, in 1683.

18th century painting showing Wang Ji, Lin Linchang, and another official, as they reach Naha harbor in Okinawa, in 1683.

The above painting is part of a series about the miracles ascribed to Mazu during sea voyages. A good start on studying Mazu in English is found in: Ruitenbeek, Klaas: “Mazu, the Patroness of Sailors in Chinese Pictorial Art.” In: Artibus Asiae, Vol. 58, No. 3/4 (1999), pp. 281-329. It is available through JSTOR.

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Ōshima Hikki – 005 – The Description of The Ryūkyūan Crew Members (II)

Among the sailors are many islanders from Ryūkyū islands other than Okinawa, as well as carpenters, blacksmiths and others. They serve on the ship as craftsmen as a substitute for tribute payments payable by all the various islands. At the current occasion many of them are from the Kerama Islands district 馬歯山間切, located about 30km to the west of Okinawa Main Island. The islanders from Kerama districts such as Zamami and Tokashiki are all good swimmers. Entering the water, they can keep their bodies from the torso upwards above the waterline [i.e. they swim].

Those persons who climb the masts well are called Aban 亜板, and Kanagusuku 金城 is such a person. Those who excel in their tasks can become promoted to an assistant clerk (Saji 佐事). A person who raises and lowers the anchor is called Dōten 頭掟.

Because some of the sailors 水主 must be well versed in the Chinese language, they study Chinese. Sueyoshi 末吉 seems to be proficient in speaking Chinese.

The assistant clerk (Saji 佐事) Tedokon 手登根 has the special duty of overseeing the ritual prayers for the deity → Tenpi 天妃.

In Ryūkyū itself, Nagamine 長嶺 serves as a Chikudun 筑登之 under → the government of Naha. Within the Satsuma liaison he serves as a subordinate government official. During his current assignment he is employed as a clerk (hissha 筆者) of the ship captain 船頭. He serves in these jobs to support his family.

Nagamine belongs to the Hei-clan 平姓 and his name is Seishō 世祥; therefore, his Chinese-style name is Hei Seishō 平世祥. His given name is Tansei 但成; therefore his official name is Nagamine Chikudun Tansei 長嶺筑登之但成. The name of his son in Ryūkyū is Tankyō 但恭.

Nagamine has a “Japanese appearance”, i.e. his looks, face, physiognomy, etc. About this, I felt covertly suspicious and, before he returned home to Ryūkyū, I asked him about these and other family details. He told me that he was a descendant of the Taira-clan. He said that a long time ago – at the time of the → Genpei War 源平の合戦 – there was a person who belonged to the Taira-clan 平氏 and who fled to the country of Ryūkyū. And Nagamine is a descendant of this person.

Besides the Nagamine family, there are currently numerous family branches [of the Hei-clan 平姓] who gradually branched off from the above-mentioned Taira-clan member.

Nagamine writes in the calligraphy style of the → Oie-sama 御家様 and is good in Japanese writing and poetry. On one occasion Nagamine also went to Beijing and he can speak Chinese.

Well, Nagamine left his mother of over 70-year-old in the country of Ryūkyū. He had hired on the ship to provide and care for his old mother. But now he is concerned if his old mother is concerned about him because the ship drifted away and things did not happen as expected, and he also shed some tears.

Depiction of Tenpi (Mazu) from the Ōshima Hikki, Kōchi Prefectural Library.

Depiction of Tenpi (Mazu) from the Ōshima Hikki, Kōchi Prefectural Library.

Note on assistant clerk Tedokon and Tenpi 天妃: Tenpi is the Chinese guardian deity and patron goddess of seafarers and safe maritime travels. It is also known as Mazu 媽祖. Referred to as the “Mazu Culture” by scholars, over centuries it spread centered in Fujian Province and the southeastern coast of mainland China. It had a significant impact on Chinese and East Asian coastal culture, including Ryūkyū, Japan and Southeast Asia.

In Ryūkyū, two Tenpigū 天妃宮 shrines are dedicated to this goddess. They were built during the years of the Yongle Emperor (1403–24), so they have a long history. Originally, before the establishment of the Meirindō in 1718, the two Tenpigū shrines in Okinawa were used as educational facilities by Kume teachers.

Furthermore, on Ryūkyūan ships, statues and images of Mazu were enshrined.

Therefore, Tedokon’s duty were rituals or prayers for the sea goddess Mazu. This might have taken place on the ship itself, but also before and after safe return at the Tenpigū shrine in Okinawa.

Note on the government of Naha 那覇官: It is called the “government of Naha” here, but might more specifically refer to the Mono-bugyō and/or the Naha Satonushi.

Note on the Genpei War 源平の合戦: The Genpei War was a conflict between the Taira and Minamoto clans during the late-Heian period of Japan. It resulted in the fall of the Taira clan and the establishment of the Kamakura shogunate under Minamoto Yoritomo in 1192. This eyewittness acount by Tobe Yoshihiro is very interesting in connnection with the legend of Minamoto Tametomo, who is said to have come to Ryūkyū and his son becoming the first king Shunten. This tale was included in the official Ryūkyūan history called Chūzan Seikan, written by minister Shō Shōken (Haneji Chōken). It is considered a concession to Satsuma which retrospectively justified the historical claims of Satsuma over Ryūkyū.

Note on Oie-sama 御家様: This refers to the school of calligraphy called Son’en-ryū 尊円流. This school of calligraphy was created by Son’en-hō Shin-ō 尊円法親王 (1298–1356), the 6th son of Emperor Fushimi (伏見天皇, 1265–1317) and the 17th head priest of the Shōren-in temple in Kyōto. The style is also referred to as Shōren-in-ryū 青蓮院流, Oie-ryū 御家流, and Awata-ryū 粟田流.

While it might appear a negligible bit of data, this Son’en-ryū was the official calligraphy style in Ryūkyū. In fact, the recruitment tests for the Yuhitsu 右筆 or amanuensis had to be written in exactly this style of calligraphy. In other words, persons like Itosu Ankō, who was a Yuhitsu 右筆, more likely than not knew and used this writing style.

Acknowledgement: Many thanks to Motobu Naoki Sensei for his full and benevolent support in clariyfing various difficult issues in the translation of various terminology and historical backgrounds.

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Asymptotically towards 100%

As many other people, I also study some Kobudō from Japan as well as from Okinawa. Within this study, I conducted a technical survey of 1700+ individual techniques, which comprise of 100+ different methods of what is called bōjutsu or the “fencing techniques of the long staff.” This is from one single branch in the Taira tradition only.

By 2015 I had added the complete techniques of another branch from the same Taira tradition. A small visual basic program allowed further identifying, qualifying, and quantifying any combination of techniques found in all these kata.

So I was able to compare the designations, combative contents, deviation in the order of combinations etc.pp.

Of course I’ve been asked to share the tables, but I think it would be wrong and wouldn’t actually help anybody for various reasons. First of all, you would need to know all the kata, second you would need to know how the application works, and third you would need to have a result that you want to generate by it. 

As regards the latter, the important thing is not the mere collection of techniques etc. in a table, but something completely different. People asked me if I’ve done something similar for the unarmed kata of karate, so I’ll explain it using this topic.

Well, I am sure you see the first huge difficulty already: If you want to identify, quantify, and qualify techniques, you first of all need a systematic terminology within a style. If a style doesn’t have this, you don’t have a reference model.

For example, the meaning of the word “uchi-uke” doesn’t properly describe the causal relationship between the term and the possible applications. However, you can still use the term “uchi-uke” to identify all of the moves that belong to this category, within a certain tolerance. Now you might have found out like 200 different applications for this “uchi-uke-like”-move.

Combination of "Jodan-uchi" + "Furi Age-uchi." Given are (from left to right) Name of the kata the combi is found, number of the technique in source, ..., left or right side, name of technique, stance.

Combination of “Jodan-uchi” + “Furi Age-uchi.” Given are (from left to right) Name of the kata the combi is found, number of the technique in source, …, left or right side, name of technique, stance.

With the table you’ve made you can now find any position in any kata that includes such an “uchi-uke-like”-move, and you can assign your 200 applications to any of it. Maybe sensei showed you a secret application for one of them only …  but you just mirror it to all other occurences. In miliseconds.

You simply add or substract any number of “new” applications to any of these “uchi-uke-like”-move in any kata. You also add or substract kata to the list, or change the definition of your “uchi-uke-like”-move: The reference model already established will simply update.

Then you spent days going through videos and look for “uchi-uke-like”-move in Rambo movies, in real or in sports fight, in MMA, wrestling, judo, or medieval manuscripts. The moment you come across any application which might suit your “uchi-uke-like”-move, you just add and document it to your application list. And this, of course, is assigned to any “uchi-uke-like”-move at any position in any of your kata.

In this way, gradually, the number and combative content of the applications you found for your “uchi-uke-like”-move will cumulate asymptotically towards 100%. It is therefore similar to finding ever more decimal places for pi, if you like.

Above I considered individual techniques only. Now think of what happens when you extend this to combinations…

In other words, when it comes to the combative application of techniques in kata, either karate or kobudo, you will probably never again need a seminar in your life. However, It should be noted that the fabric of martial arts is made from the brother- and sisterhood of people, and not only from technique. But that’s what seminars are for.

Anyway, in the above way your inventory of your “application warehouse” will not simply reach the next level. It will cumulatively converge asymptotically towards 100%.

And the best thing is: you can always access it. Even if you forget it. One day we just use an interface and let robots do it. Using CABD (Computer Aided Bunkai Design™).

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Ōshima Hikki – 005 – The Description of The Ryūkyūan Crew Members (I)

Since the House of Shiohira originally served the Sasu-no-soba 鎖の側 (Department of External Affairs), it was a high-ranking family involved in the liaison management with foreign countries. Therefore, still now the family serves as Zashiki officials.

In the country of Ryūkyū, ranks are determined in such a way that succeeding generations do not simply adopt a high rank attained from their predecessor. Even if the father served in the high-rank of an Uēkata, and although the first born son would succeed the family headship following his father’s demise, the first born son would not simply be appointed to Uēkata, but instead would first be appointed Satonushi Pechin 里之子親雲上 without a fief, or otherwise be appointed Pēchin with an administrative fief 地方親雲上, and only afterwards may further rise in rank and be appointed Uēkata; but not necessarily, and not hereditary. Based on the family ancestry of a family like that of Shiohira, the highest attainable official position attainable in the future is that of an Uēkata.

His parents died when Shiohira was still at a young age. He had eleven siblings and since his youth he served in official positions and also gradually found partners to marry for his brothers and sisters. Because at the present time he holds the fief called Shiohira, his official name is ‘Shiohira Pechin’ 潮平親雲上. The name of a Pēchin 親雲上 is derived from the name of the territory the person is assigned to. Shiohira 潮平 is the name of a village in the district (magiri 間切) of Kanegusuku 兼城 [in today’s Itoman City]. It has a fief income of about 30 koku 石. However, although 30 koku is the nominal fief income, it might be partly payed in actual goods as an ‘income in kind.‘ Therefore it might not actually amount to 30 koku in rice or grains.

Shiohira’s residence is situated in the Akabira 赤平 neighbourhood of Shuri 首里. He is from the Ō-clan 翁姓 and his name is Shiren 士璉; therefore his Chinese-style name is Ō Shiren 翁士璉. His given name is Seijō 盛成; therefore his full official name is Shiohira Pēchin Seijō. The Ō-clan is one of the four big clans of the country of Ryūkyū, namely the Princely Shō-clan 向, the Ba-clan 馬, the Mō-clan 毛, and the Ō-clan 翁.

Shiohira Pechin 潮平親雲上 was already called by the name Shiohira before he held the village as a territory. It is a byname of this family [reserved for the oldest son, who would become head of household and inherit the Shiohira fief].

Gisushi Satonushi Pechin 宜壽須里之子親雲 is Shiohira’s younger brother and therefore is also from the Ō-clan 翁姓. As regards the designation Satonushi Pechin 里之子親雲上: it denotes a Pēchin who did not yet receive a territory to administer. The name of the place Gisushi 宜壽須, therefore, in his case does not refer to an administrative territory, but is simply a byname used by this family.

Teruya Satonushi 照屋里之子 is Shiohira’s cousin, therefore he is also from the Ō-clan 翁姓. His Chinese-style name is Ō Bunryū 翁文龍. Although he belongs to a Pēchin household, he is currently ranked Satonushi 里之子. The rank of a Satonushi is similar to a noble’s page 小姓. On the current occasion he goes to Satsuma to study abroad.

Shiohira Shī 潮平子 is Shiohira Pechin’s third son. His first-born son is referred to as Shiohira Satonushi Pēchin 潮平里之子親雲上. His second-born son succeeds a different family of the Ō-clan 翁姓 [into which he was adopted] and is called Toyomura Pēchin 豐村親雲上. And Shiohira Shī 潮平子 is his younger brother. They have two sisters, one of whom is already married.

In the designation ‘Shiohira Shī’ is also found an example of the hierarchy of government officials [it refers to Samurē or Yukacchu; Tobe probably didn’t know these words] in the country of Ryūkyū. When a persons reaches the age of fifteen years, this is notified to the Sanshikan 三司官. With the coming-of-age-ceremony he changes his boyhood appearance (童形) by shaving the middle of his head and tying up his topknot. He is then permitted to use the byname of Shī 子, assumes the name of his parent, and is referred to as ‘so-and-so Shī’ – accordingly, in the case at hand, he is called Shiohira Shī. A certain number of years later he will be appointed to the rank of Satonushi 里之子, and after further time he will be appointed to the rank of Satonushi Pechin 里之子親雲上. Since right now Shiohira Shī is fifteen years old, he is only permitted to bear the title of Shī.

Since it is not possible to go to Satsuma in the rank Shī 子, as in ‘Shiohira Shi,’ he used the name ‘Goya’ 呉屋, using the example from a person from among the common people of Satsuma. His Chinese-style name is Ō Bunshū 翁文秀, his given name 名乗 is Seifu 盛布. Before he began using the title of Shī at age 15, he was referred to as Shiohira Sanrā 三郎 [with Sanrā being his childhood name].

Ufuda 大田, Uechi 上地, and Higaonna 東恩納 are all hereditary retainers 家頼.

Moromizato Chikudun 諸見里筑登之 and Sakima Chikudun 崎間筑登之 are warehouse clerks (tedai 手代). Tedai 手代 are subordinate government officials [a merchant, an employee between the head clerk and an apprentice; dealing with routine tasks or duties]. In general, Chikudun 筑登之 are lower ranking officials subordinated to a head official 頭役. Sakima belongs to the Chō-clan 張姓, his name is Tekichū 迪忠; therefore his Chinese-style name is Chō Tekichū 張迪忠, and his given name is Reibin 麗敏; therefore his official name is Sakima Chikudun Reibin.

The Buddhist priest Sogan 租願 went to Satsuma three times per ship to visit a temple. He is also a relative of Shiohira. Generally, Buddhist priests belonging to the country of Ryūkyū do not travel to a foreign country. However, Sogan went to Satsuma to visit a temple. Sogan 租願 had lived Miyako Island 宮古 [old name Taiheizan 太平山 =Tai Ping Shan, a name used in various 19th century Western accounts] for a long time. This time he will visit the Daiji-ji 大慈寺 temple in Satsuma, where he is a disciple of Rinsō 林叟 of the Raikō-in temple of the Rinzai sect 臨濟宗来光院. In the country of Ryūkyū all Zen priests belong to the Rinzai sect, which is a school of the Japanese Myōshin-ji 妙心寺 founded by Kanzan Kokushi 関山國師 [AKA Kanzan Egen (關山慧玄, 1277–1360)].

The name of the ship captain 船頭 is Takara 高良. Altough he is called a ‘ship captain’, the designation doesn’t mean that he is a person from a fishing village, but it means that he is the captain of a ship owned by the king. Because this is an official government position, he has the official rank of an Okite (Ucchi) Pēchin 掟親雲上. Therefore he also wore official headpiece and clothes 冠服 when he sailed to China before. The helmsman 柁取, the assistant clerks 佐事, the permanent extras 定加子 etc. are all subordinates of the ship captain 船頭. They are all officials and receive an official salary from the country of Ryūkyū.

Note on the Sasu-no-soba: The Sasu-no-soba 鎖之側 can be translated to “Department of External Affairs.” Sasu-no-soba is an indigenous Ryūkyūan term which figuratively means as much as ‘custodian’ or otherwise gate guard, sentry, sentinel, patrol, lookout, watchman. Because it was an office in charge of external affairs, it figuratively implies a guard of the kingdom’s gates to the outside world. It should be noted that one agency organized under Sasu-no-soba was the “Local Guard of all Coasts” (Shoura Zaiban 諸浦在番). That is, the Coast Guard of the Ryūkyū Kingdom.

Note on Kerai: The original notation was 家礼, in the meaning of serving a household. It can also be written as 家頼 and 家来. It means:

  1. A person who serves and pledged allegiance to a feudal lord. A vassal, a retainer.
  2. A persons who is hired and serves a family or a household. An attendant, a valet, a servant. A vassal, a low ranking vassal.
  3. Homage of a child towards a person other than his father.
  4. A person who learns manners and traditions from a family of court nobility.

Note on the Zashiki official: It either specifically refers to the 4th minor court rank, or it generally refers to the class of the medium ranked Keimochi. Zashiki originally meant a room for meeting at Shuri castle. Only members of the upper Keimochi were allowed to enter the room.

Note on the Daiji-ji 大慈寺:  The Daiji-ji is a temple with a long history. It opened in 1340. Completely lost during the Haibutsu kishaku (廃仏毀釈) (literally “abolish Buddhism and destroy Shākyamuni”) in 1869, the temple was restored in 1879. In addition to the temple guardians found in front of the temple gate, since the foundation of the Daiji-ji a large number of valuable cultural assets were collected, such as a letter by Emperor Go-Kashiwabara 後柏原天皇 (1464–1526, reign 1500–1526), writings by the 1st generation founder Gyokusan Ōshō 玉山和尚, a written lesson by 2nd generation Gōchū Ōshō 剛中和尚, a Mahāprajnaparamita-Sūtra 大般若経 (sūtra of the supreme wisdom) produced in China durign the Song dynasty (960–1279) and others. Other than these, as a historic site of the old temple region, at the west side of the main temple building is found the gravesite of the lord of Shibushi castle 志布志城 , who built the Daiji-ji, as well as the tombs of successive generations of chief priests and the tomb of Ishizawa Kashiwashū Ōshō 石沢柏州和尚, a priest loyal to the emperor who helped the restoration of the Daiji-ji during the closing days of the Tokugawa shōgunate.

Acknowledgement: Many thanks to Motobu Naoki Sensei for his full and benevolent support in clariyfing various difficult issues in the translation of various terminology and historical backgrounds.


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Ōshima Hikki – 004 – The Order of Ryūkyūans Who Drifted Ashore (琉人漂着次第)

Below are given the 52 persons from the country of Ryūkyū who drifted ashore in Ōshima. Given are the duty, the name and rank, and in brackets the origin and the age of the person.

Master and servants of Shiohira Pēchin (52 persons)

Illustration of clothes and headgear of Ryūkyūans.

Illustration of clothes and headgear of Ryūkyūans.

Manager (4 persons):

  • Shiohira Pēchin 潮平親雲上
  • Gisushi Satonushi Pēchin 宜壽須里之子親雲上
  • Teruya Satonushi 照屋里之子
  • Shiohira Shī 潮平子

Retainers 家頼 [=家来?] (3 persons):

  • Uechi 上地
  • Higaonna 東恩納
  • Ufuda 大田

Clerks 手代 (2 persons):

  • Moromizato Chikudun 諸見里筑登之
  • Sakima Chikudun 崎間筑登之

Buddhist priest (1 person)

  • Sogan 祖願

Ship captain and retinue (2 persons):

  • ship captain: Takara 高良 (Nishimura)
  • helmsman: Tōma 当間 (Kumemura, 33)

Assistant clerks [Saji 佐事](7 persons):

  • Gushiken 具志堅 (Nishimura, 56)
  • Ufugusuku 大城 (Nishimura, 38)
  • Sueyoshi 末吉 (Izumizakimura, 52)
  • Heianna 平安名 (Nishimura, 52)
  • Takaesu 高江洲 (Nishimura, 38)
  • Maezato 前里 (Tokashiki-mura, 44)
  • Aragaki 新垣 (Nishimura, 49)

Permanent extras 定加子 (6 persons):

  • Teruya 照屋 (Higashimura, 45)
  • Yamagusuku 山城 (Wakasa-chō, 41)
  • Shimabuku 島袋 (Nishimura, 34)
  • Tedokon 手登根 (Wakasa-chō, 29)
  • Kobakura 手登根 (Tokashiki-mura, 48)
  • Kyan 喜屋武 (Zamami-mura, 29)

Sailors 水主 (26 persons):

  • Tomori 当盛 (Nishimura, 25)
  • Tedokon 手登根 (Wakasa-chōson, 33)
  • Ōmine 大嶺 (Nishimura, 25)
  • Nishihira  西平 (Nishimura, 19)
  • Ishikawa 石川 (Tochimura, 20)
  • Nakaima 仲井馬 (Tokashiki Maemura, 30)
  • Tomisato 富里 (Tokashiki Maemura, 29)
  • Kobakura 古波藏 (Tokashiki Maemura, 32)
  • Aragusuku 新城 (Tokashiki Maemura, 26)
  • Komine 小嶺 (Tokashiki Maemura, 20)
  • Taira 平良 (Zamami-mura, 22)
  • Miyahira 宮平 (Zamami-mura, 24)
  • Taira 平良 (Zamami Asamura, 21)
  • Geruma 慶留間 (Zamami Aimura, 29)
  • Kyan 慶留間 (Zamami Aimura, 28)
  • Togesu 渡慶須 (Zamami Aimura, 25)
  • Tomisato 富里 (Zamami Akamura, 29)
  • Nakandakari 仲村渠 (Zamami Akamura, 29)
  • Kanagusuku 金城 (Tokashiki Aharen, 31)
  • Taira 平良 (Zamami Asamura, 28)
  • Nakandakari 仲村渠 (Zamami Asamura, 21)
  • Tōma 当間 (Zamami Asamura, 21)
  • Nakandakari 仲村渠 (Zamami Asamura, 29)
  • Tomisato 富里 (Zamami Asamura, 22)
  • Aragusuku 富里 (Tokashiki-mura, 19)
  • Tomisato 富里 (Tokashiki-mura, 23)

Ship captain 船頭 (1 person):

  • Nagamine 長嶺 (Wakasa-chō, 29)


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Ōshima Hikki – 003 – About the Tribute Ship (Kaisen 楷船)

The ship is a tribute cargo ship (kaisen 楷船) in the service of the royal government of Ryūkyū. The products loaded are destined to be landed at the Ryūkyū Kariya 琉球假屋 in Satsuma.

At the time when the tribute ship goes to Satsuma, the managerial post is referred to as the Ryūkura-yaku 琉蔵役 (Ryūkyū warehouse manager). Shiohira Pēchin 潮平親雲上 served in this post. Pēchin describes the rank of the leader (頭投) assigned to a certain task.

Kaisen 楷船 are a specific kind of tribute ship used by Ryūkyū. They were originally used for bringing tribute to China, in which case the bringing of tribute is referred to as shinkō 進貢.Therefore, these ships are called Shinkōsen 進貢船, or ‘China-tribute ships.’

For the use as a Kaisen tribute ship to Satsuma, the raised storehouse for weaponry is removed and the embrasures closed (yellow circles). The royal coat-of-arms (orange circle) flies at the bow of the ship. From: Ōshima Hikki from Kōchi Prefectural Library.

For the use as a Kaisen tribute ship to Satsuma, the raised storehouse for weaponry is removed and the embrasures closed (yellow circles). The royal coat-of-arms (orange circle) flies at the bow of the ship. From: Ōshima Hikki from Kōchi Prefectural Library.

These Shinkōsen have a raised storehouse for weaponry (yagura 矢倉) and embrasures (hazama 狭開), where artillery 砲 is placed in, and they are equipped with bows and arrows as well as guns and other weapons. This is necessary as a security precaution against the pirates of the seas 海賊. After such a Shinkōsen had been used three times for the journeys of bringing tribute to China, the raised storehouse for weapons (yagura) is removed, the embrasures (hazama) sealed, and it is then used as a Ryūkyū royal government tribute ship going to Satsuma. The ship is now referred to as Kaisen 楷船.

When boarded in springtime, they are more specifically referred to as Harisaki Kaisen 春先楷船 (springtime tribute ship), and when boarded in summer they are called Natsutate Kaisen 夏立楷船 (summer tribute ship).

As a flag the ship sports the mitsu-domoe 三巴 coat-of-arms on a dark blue cloth, which is the symbol of the king of Ryūkyū. Even if the ship doesn’t carry much official and personal cargo, this coat-of-arms without fail always decorates the bow of the ship.

Note on the Ryūkyū Kariya 琉球假屋: In 1613 for the first time a new year mission from Ryūkyū reached Kagoshima. Ever since that time a Resident Commissioner from Ryūkyū and his staff stayed in Satsuma, acting as an intermediary between the two countries. For this purpose an agency for liaison and coordination called Ryūkyū Kariya was built, located in the area below Kagoshima castle. It served as a diplomatic consulate, a trading facility, an education facility etc. Official functions were carried out all year around.

Read all about the Ryūkyū Kariya in my book Karate 1.0


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Ōshima Hikki – 002 – The Course of the Ship

On 1762/04/26 a Ryūkyūan tribute ship (kaisen 楷船) bound for Satsuma set sails from Naha harbor towards Unten in northern Okinawa. Unten is about 20 ri 里 [80km] distant from Naha (1 ri = 3,927m).

The ship had fifteen sails, was approximately 36m long with a width of 8.20m and carried an additional rowboat.

The ship repeatedly attempted to leave Unten, but due to bad weather it had to return to the same port every time. Finally the ship was able to make for the open sea on 07-13.

From the evening of the 15th to the 16th day they encountered a violent storm. The main mast had to be cut and was washed away; the helm broke, and large parts of the cargo were lost.

In furious southwestern winds they caught sight of Yakushima 屋久島 (about 36 ri [141km] from Yamagawa 山川 harbor in Satsuma 薩摩). Several times en route the ship was about to sink. Like this the ship drifted for three days and three nights towards the North-northeast.

While trying to maintain control of the ship with its broken helm and torn sails, within heavy fog they sighted a mountain-shaped island. Unsure of what country this was, Shiohira said it looked like a foreign country, maybe China. However, on board of the ship was a person named Yamagusuku 山城, who 19 years ago (1744) once drifted to Ōshū 奥州 (in Mutsu province). According to the compass direction and various things that he recognized, he said this might be the region of Shikoku 四國 in Japan. In this way they roughly understood where they had drifted.

Because their ship looked strange when compared to Japanese ships, they took the mast from the stern 艫 of the vessel and inserted it in a hole above the entrance of the kanzō 官藏 (the cabin of the chief officer) more close to the bow of the ship.

On the 21st day they entered Kashiwajima 柏島 [in Tosa province, Shikoku] from the open sea. Discovered by the government official (yakunin) of Kashiwajima, the Ryūkyū tribute ship was told to drop anchor at this place. There was also a consultation about this with the Satsuma no Kami 薩摩守.

Afterwards the Ryūkyūan ship was pulled by tugboats to Ōshima, and on the 22nd day of the 7th month of 1762 they entered the harbor of Ōshima and dropped anchor.

At a guesthouse run by the local government on Ōshima, Tobe Yoshihiro 戸部良熈 met with the Ryūkyūans and inquired about all sorts of things. Tobe was a Confucian scholar and subordinate official retained by the feudal lord (daimyō) of Tosa province. He interviewed the leading member of the crew, namely the warehouse manager Shiohira Pēchin 潮平親雲上. From what he saw and heard, Tobe produced an authentic record in three volumes, called the Ōshima Hikki 大島筆記, or the ‘Ōshima Notes.’

Notes on Places: For the various places mentioned in the text, see the this Google map. It shows the locations of Naha as the starting point, Unten harbor in northern Okinawa, Yakushima which they passed by, Kagoshima as their original target location, Kashiwajima were they stranded, and finally Ōshima, which became the namesake of the Ōshima Hikki.

Locations of Oshima Kashiwajima in (orange) and Ōshima (green) in today’s Kōchi Prefecture, Shikoku, Japan.

Locations of Kashiwajima in (orange) and Ōshima (red) in today’s Kōchi Prefecture, Shikoku, Japan. Click picture to see the complete map.

From the Oshima Hikki of the Ryukyu University Library.

From the Oshima Hikki of the Ryukyu University Library.

Notes on the ship: The tribute ship itself as well as the rowboat is depicted in some of the editions, for example in the Iha Fuhyu Collection of the Ruykyu University Library. The Ryūkyūan ship was a Chinese-style ship, with a mast in the stern. So once they noted that they had entered Japanese waters, they wanted to make the ship look like a Japanese-style ship, which has no mast in the stern. While their main mast was broken and washed away, they took out the mast from the stern and inserted it in a hole above the entrance of the kanzō 官藏 (the cabin of the chief officer), which is more close to the bow of the ship. In this way they made it look like a Japanese-style ship. The reason for this measure was probably the sakoku (closed-country) policy of Japan in those days, when foreign ships caused alerts, were considered threats and probably would have resulted in an encounter with unfriendly Japanese coast guard samurai.

Many thanks to Motobu Naoki Sensei for his full and benevolent support in clariyfing various difficult issues with the ship and the interpretation of the mast construction, as well as general guidance on the translation of various terminology.

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Ōshima Hikki – 001

In 1762, a Ryūkyūan tribute ship bound for Satsuma drifted ashore at Ōshima, a small island off the southern tip of Tosa province in today’s Kōchi Prefecture 高知県. From the exchange with a Ryūkyūan named Shiohira Pēchin, the young Confucian scholar Tobe Yoshihiro 戸部良煕  created a comprehensive record. This is called the Ōshima Hikki 大島筆記.

At that time the author Tobe inquired in great detail about Ryūkyū, and especially also about China. Moreover there are around 60 ryūka or Ryūkyūan poems recorded in it, including explanations, and also pseudoclassical Japanese-style stories as well as a myriad of other topics from government organization to chitchat.

Among karate people the Ōshima Hikki is most famous for its note on the Chinese military officer referred to as “Kūsankū”.

Probably because the work has only compariatively limited value within Japanese studies, and because it is an obsolete and difficult language — and generally because most students have different focal points than that –, it has never been translated into English. It appears also never to have been translated into modern Japanese.

Illustration of clothes and headgear of Ryūkyūans.

Illustration of clothes and headgear of Ryūkyūans.

Especially among karate researchers this “emphasis on ignorance” is even more astonishing when recognizing the actual value and content of the Ōshima Hikki in terms of Ryūkyūan history, culture, and of course martial arts — the real martial arts of that time.

On the right, see an illustration of clothes and headgear of Ryūkyūans from the Ōshima Hikki edition of Kōchi Prefectural Library.

For the above reason I start a number of short installments in an attempt to show some of the unique und fascinating contents of the Ōshima Hikki. That is, I will attempt to interpret some of the matters.

It should be noted that there are a large number of different editions of the Ōshima Hikki, and their content is generally not 100% identical, but there are subtle differences. So far a detailed comparison and revision of the contents has not been carried out. When adding up the contents of various editions, it is about the following that emerges as a table of contents:

    • Order of Ryūkyūans Who Drifted Ashore (琉人漂着次第)
    • Conditions in Ryūkyū (琉球国躰)
    • People and Customs (人物風俗)
    • Broad Outline of a Whole Year (年中大略)
    • The Matter of Offices and Ranks (Official Ranks) (官位之事)
    • The Matter of the Dynastic Dress Code of the Nobility When Serving or Attending Court (朝服之事)
    • Place Names (地名)
    • Broad Classification of Products (産物大様)
    • Broad Outline of the Ryūkyū Language (琉語大略)
    • Conversations Part I (雑語上)
    • Conversations Part II (雑話下)
    • Reconsideration (再考)
    • Pictures and drawings (図絵)
    • Encounter with Chinese and Japanese poetry (出会詩歌; karauta 漢詩 and waka 和歌)
    • Songs and poetry of Ryūkyū (琉球歌)
    • Waka poems of the Ryūkyūans (琉球人和歌)
    • “The Tale of the Rainy Evening” (Amaya-monogatari) (雨夜物語)
    • Nagamine Wabun” (永峯和文)

Info on the sources

The main text I used here was prepared by Yokoyama Manabu in:

  • Okinawa no Rekishi Jōhō Kenkyūkai: Okinawa no Rekishi Jōhō Dai Roku Maki. Gazō to zenbun tekisuto dēta bēsu (II): 4. Ōshima Hikki gazō to tekisuto dêta bêsu. Yokoyama Manabu sakusei. 2. “Ōshima Hikki” gazō to tekisuto dēta bēsu. 沖縄の歴史情報研究会。沖縄の歴史情報 第6巻。画像と全文てきすとでーたべーす(II)。(4)「大島筆記」画像とてきすとでーたべーす。横山學作成。2. 「大島筆記」画像とてきすとでーたべーす。宝玲山田氏本「大島筆記」乾。宝玲山田氏本「大島筆記」坤。

It used the 1. Kenkadō 蒹葭堂-edition of the Ōshima Hikki from the Cabinet Library (naikaku bunko 内閣文庫), 2. the Ōshima Hikki of the Universität of Hawaii, Hōrei Bunko Yamada-uji (ハワイ大学宝玲文庫・山田氏), 3. Ōshima Hikki der Universität von Hawaii, Hōrei Bunko (ハワイ大学宝玲文庫) and Nishijō Bunko (西荘文庫), and furthermore the – Ōshima Hikki from the Kyōto University Library 京都大学図書館, – Ōshima Hikki from the Kagoshima Prefectural Library 鹿児島県立図書館, and the – Ōshima Hikki from the Kōchi Prefectural Library 高知県立図書館 (Mori Uji Bunko 森氏文庫).


  1. ‘Sky’-Volume and the ‘Earth’-Volume of the Hōrei Yamada-uji Hon 宝玲山田氏本「大島筆記」乾 and 「大島筆記」坤.
  2. Ōshima Hikki from the Iha Fuyō Bunko 伊波普猷文庫 from the Okinawa Special Collection Digital Archives of the University of the Ryukyus Library.
  3. Ōshima Hikki from the Kōchi Prefectural Library 高知県立図書館 (Mori Uji Bunko 森氏文庫).
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A Paraphrasis of Article 1 from “Itosu’s Ten Maxims”

"Itosu Anko said..."

“Itosu Anko said…”

There was a discussion recently in an online forum, which touched the topic of karate as a 1) civilian self-defence system for use against 2) untrained attackers. We hear these two arguments all the time. The disourse circles around a perceived paradox: as it is considered a civilian self-defence, why would it only be designed against untrained attackers? The discourse is stuck in the simple problem that, if 1) is true, 2) must be wrong, and vice versa.

But what if it was neither designed as a civilian self-defence system, nor against untrained attackers?

I’am aware probably 49 out of the 50 million karateka worldwide scream “bats in the belfry!!!” now.

Well, it is not the question if today’s karate works or can be made to work as a civilian self-defence. Rather, the question is whether it was created to serve as a civilian self-defence.

So let’s revisit Itosu’s Ten Maxims. The internet says:

  1. Karate is not merely practiced for your own benefit; it can be used to protect one’s family or master. It is not intended to be used against a single assailant but instead as a way of avoiding a fight should one be confronted by a villain or ruffian.

Very well. Let’s re-examine it. I will spare you the original text in Japanese, but the following is the translation of it, as good as possible:

  1. Karate is not merely limited to train physical education, but also strengthens the intent to formally consecrate one’s own body and life at any time, without regret, loyal and courageously for ruler and parents. One should never bear the intention to wage a fight against an adversary. Therefore, should the unlikely event (or emergency) occur that one encounters a thief, burglar, or robber, or an otherwise lawless person, thou shalt as much as possible avoid striking. The quintessence should be, by word of honor, to never injure human beings by means of one’s fists and feet.

Maybe this clarifies the meaning already a little better than the initial internet attempt. However, as it is a literal translation, it does not take into consideration any circumstances, intentions, or anything else of the era and topic: it still leaves too much room for interpretation. Therefore, in order to get a real grip, the text needs to be paraphrased. The following paraphrase resorted to the scholarly assessment of the text by an Okinawan karate master (sorry, I don’t share my sources in this blog post):

  1. Karate does not only serve the purpose of physical education of individual private persons, in fact not at all. In case that serious affairs should befall lord and parents in the times ahead, it means to take upon oneself the moral duty to consecrate oneself without hesitation and at any time, without even sparing one’s own body and life, with justice and courage, for the progress of society and empire. Therefore, it is by no means intended to fight against one enemy. Because this being the case, in the unlikely event that you are attacked by a thief, burglar, or robber, or an otherwise lawless person, whenever practicable you should act towards bringing to bear your everyday training, skillfully handle the situation well, and put him to flight. Never intend to harm a person by punches or kicks. This is the true spirit of karate and it is what you want to deeply engrave on your heart.

Very different, isn’t it?

As can clearly be seen from the development of this interpretation, karate – in Itosu’s mind – was apparently not created to serve as a “civilian self-defence system.” It was also not created for “use against untrained attackers.

Not at all.

During the era of the Ryūkyū kingdom, what was to become karate (and kobudō) appears to have been a matter of various royal government duties fulfilled by all levels of society. In other words, it doesn’t seem to have meant a “civilian self-defence” at that time, but rather a means to control society, and in fact along Neo-Confucian thought. Influences from a methodical system of “civilian self-defence” were marginal at best.

Therefore, the question is: When exactly did karate become a “civilian self-defence system?”

1950s onward?

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