Snippet on Ti 手(ティー)

19stumbling over an old e-budo post of mine, I found the hint that in the Okinawan language the honorific term for hand was nchi ンチ. I ponder if this is related to Naifa’nchi? For instance, assuming Naifanchi was written 内法手, then in Mandarin it would be pronounced Nèifǎshǒu. That sounds a bit distant, though. Maybe it was 内法戦, making it Nèifǎzhàn. 

Although I am totally unsure of this, and I am not a philologist, when affixing the Okinawan nchi it would become Nèifǎ’nchi. In any case, the following is the original post I wrote at on July 17, 2005. I kept it like it was.

Hi all,

the “Shuri-Naha Dialect Dictionary” gives the following meaning for Tī (there are various possibilities):

[1] The whole arm from the (shoulder) joint to the fingertips. Also: the part beginning from the wrist (i.e. the hand). [although this seems kind of obvious, the following may be interesting:] The honorific term for it is nchi (その敬語は ンチ ) [maybe as in Naifanchi?!]

[2] A handle; a grip; a knob. A hilt, a haft. A handgrip.

[3] Ability [shuwan]. Art/technique [waza]. Art; means; way to do [jutsu]. Furthermore, grade; rank; level [dan]. Method; process; manner; way; means; technique [hōhō]. Tōdī [唐手]. The art of Kenpō. Example sentence: 1. Tī chikajun (To employ Tōdī. Also: To perform the techniques of Tōdī.)

And on Tōdī the dictionary says:

Tōdī: Also simply called Tī.


So, according to the dictionary the term Tī in its meaning forms nothing more than the Ryūkyūan pendant to the Chinese and Japanese terms for method, art, technique, ability etc. (i.e. jutsu, waza, , kata, wushu, quan, bujutsu etc.), and thus – from its meaning – it seems to be interchangeable with those (always considering the sociocultural background of Ryūkyū being influenced by, but yet in the end differing from, both of them; and additionally, the diminishing factor always to be considered for Ryūkyū in comparison to China and Japan).

It simply seems to be a question of semantics. The terminology evolved in Ryūkyū to denote a method of fighting is not analogous to the Japanese and Chinese ways of description (e.g. Quanfa, Bujutsu). It is rather a a description of their own, one time helping itself from Chinese, another time from the japanese side, according to the historical context.

One the one hand, Bujutsu 武術 is thought of as the classical martial arts of Japan, and on the other hand Budō 武道 as to be the more modern and spiritual enhanced disciplin. The Japanese prefix Bu 武, however, is also found in the Chinese term Wushù 武術, being written with exactly the same ideograms as Bujutsu, however nowadays in the simplified form 武术 (here 术 being a radical of 術 ).

One more overlapping example is Bīngfă, found in Sūn zi Bīngfă 孫子兵法 (Sun Tsu’s military strategies and tactics). Bīngfă 兵法 in Japanese is pronounced Heihō, a term nowadays mostly exclusively used in connection with Japanese martial arts.

But it is true that neither 武 in its Chinese reading Wu nor in the Japanese reading Bu have been employed – historically speaking – in Okinawa, or Ryūkyū respectively, in order to label a method of fighting (there are exceptions to this rule; for example, there was a dance called Bubu 武舞, i.e. Dance of the Soldiers, in which six soldiers, dressed in wide, black and white striped garments, a golden wreath upon their heads, were fencing against each other with white sticks to the beat of the music.). This is also true for jutsu, kata, waza etc.

This is simply due to the confusing mix of using native, Chinese and Japanese words.

So they used the Okinawan term dīgua 手小, literally meaning “small hand.” The dictionary entry tells us that  denotes a kinf of method, art, etc. The suffix –gua, literally meaning small, is only there to tell us that  is used as a “nickname” (for a fighting method).

 is found in the names of four of the Gōjū-ryū Kata (see e.g. Nakamoto Yū’ichi) [the Kata are Sēsan, Sēpai, Sansērū, and Sūpārinpē. Note the corrupted Chinese pronunciation.)
So maybe one original Chinese meaning was “technique” (McCarthy, Bubishi: p. 166) and also “method” (Ibid., see the 48 techniques).

Althoug Tī (手; ディー ) is used as the term for a martial art of Ryūkyū, it here simply means “method of fighting” or “martial skill.” In consequence it would be appropriate to put any prefix before the  in order to further clear up what method or skill is talked about, for example.

– Dī 手: early native “method” of Ryūkyū
– Tōdī 唐手: Chinese or foreign method
– Uchinādī (jp: Okinawa-te) 沖縄手: Okinawan method
– Nafadī (jp: Naha-te) 那覇手: Naha method
– Suidī (jp: Shuri-te) 首里手: Shuri method
– Tumaidī (jp: Tomari-te) 泊手: Tomari method

Also in this context: was Tī 手 an exclusive weaponless method? The traditions of Chatan Yara or Sakugawa Tōdī Kanga prove this is wrong.

Look at:
Chikin Sunakachi nu Uēku-dī 津堅沙掛けのウエーク手, “the Chikin oar methods of throwing sand.” Here Tī clearly denotes and is used in the meaning of “method”. [Sunakachi is one of the mentioned terms, which in Japanese would rather have been called Metsubushi o kuwasu 目潰しを食わす. Thus the terminology is differing, but not the meaning]

Yonamine Kōsuke with a move from the first lane of Chikin Sunakachi no Uēku-dī. Yonamine was a member og the Ryūkyū Kobudō Hozon Shinkōkai for many years, and at times was even vice-president.

Yonamine Kōsuke with a move in Gyaku-te-mochi from the first lane of Chikin Sunakachi no Uēku-dī. The hand changes at the paddle are the key to this Kata. Yonamine was a member of the Ryūkyū Kobudō Hozon Shinkōkai for many years, and at times was even vice-president. (Cf. Shōhei-ryū Jinmyaku no Shiori [Guide to Personal Relations in Shōhei-ryū]. Chatan 1996).

As a side note: when the term Tōdī 唐手 was changed to Karate 空手, it was translated as “empty hand.” At that moment, Tī 手 – the general term for armed an unarmed fighting methods in Ryūkyū – has been substituted by the literal Japanese meaning of “hand”. With this translation and at the same time emptying of sense, the historically proven reference to the weapons techniques has been eliminated; this was retroactively understood for Karate, and sometimes as well for Tī and Tōdī.

Even though Tī 手 is a term of Ryūkyū, which had been long used instead of the usual Chinese or Japanese terms, it is possible to make comparisons. After all, I think Tī 手 in terms of semantics is comparable to the Japanese Jutsu 術 (which also doesn’t mean that much at all, denoting only some certain technical skill).

In some cases the comparison to the Japanese ryū 流 (style)or the Chinese quán 拳 (boxing, pugilism) seems obvious. Hō 法 (method, priciple, model) is one more possibility. In the end and in this connection it would be also absolutely possible, to equate Tī 手 with Kata 型 (template, model) or Kata 形 (form).

Following the Meiji-restoration, Japanese influence dominated in Okinawa. With this (Japanization and de-Sinization, and with many Okinawans needed to go to mainland Japan for economic reasons) the natural adoption of budō-spezific Japanese terms took place, continuing far into the 20th century. Terms like Karate-jutsu 空手術, Kobudō 古武道 etc. came in use, or the concept of Goshin-jutsu was adopted widely on everything in connection with Karate (or Tī ), completely forgetting the cultural part of the tradition (which seems to have much bigger than the martial component in times of Ryūkyū kingdom!), the styles took names like Tawada-ryū 多和田流; Gōjū-ryū 剛柔流 etc., in lieu of the old term Tī (as in Uchinādī, Nafadī etc.) 

So Ti 手, in my opinion, may has to be understood as an equivalent to the following terms, which have been employed likewise in the Japanese as in the Chinese language (in brackets): – Jutsu 術 (shù): art; means; way; trick. Example: Bujutsu 武術 (Wushù 武术 ) – Ryū 流 (liú): stile. Example: Shōrin-ryū 松林流 – Ken 拳 (quán): fist, style, pugilism, boxing. Example: Taikyokuken 太極拳 (Tàijíquán) – Hō 法 (fă ): Method, princople, model, system. Example: Kenpō 拳法 (Quánfa) – Kata 型 (Xíng): modell, template, type.  – Kata 形 (Xíng): form, style. 

Finally, there have been many terms used for methods of fighting or certain concepts. The choice of the term seems not to have been following a narrow and fixed path, which maybe seen in the first written mention of Karate in written form in the West [Seiji Noma], for the native Okinawan martial art was only simply called te-kobushi 手拳 (Kobushi is the Japanese reading of the Chinese quán 拳 in the meaning of “fist”). As this was experienced by the author sometimes between 1905 and 1907 or so, this term would need to be put in consideration, as at that time Karate was usually called Tōdī by most authors, and the styles were divided into Shōrei-ryū and Shōrin-ryū, which were further divided as the methods (!!!) mainly employed in Naha, Shuri, and Tomari.

© 2013 – 2015, Andreas Quast. All rights reserved.

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