Like-a-Stick-of-Straw

There is the working hypothesis of a prototypical combative method of indigenous Ryūkyūan origin and design. It predated imported methods of kenpō and was handed down personally without interruption ever since. This combative method is generically described as “.”

The term of appears to have debuted in the Okinawan karate circles around the early 1960s, most probably through the network of persons related to Uehara Seikichi and Higa Seitoku.

provides a practical approach that bypasses what is sometimes derogatively termed “educational karate” which– while having been based on older teachings – is considered to have been deprived of its former combative effectiveness.

The idea of allows for a huge field of combative interpretation – actually it is completely unrestricted by form, style, school, xyz-ryū, a certain sensei, or technical content.

The only necessity is that some Okinawan on Okinawa must have taught it. So, it allows – or necessitates – maintaining a connection to Okinawa, to Okinawans, and to old Ryūkyū.

Therefore, Tī might be termed an “open-architecture edition of karate from Okinawa.”

Yet, hitherto it is impossible to tell whether Tī is the original “form” of Ryūkyūan combative methods, or whether it is a modern and technically liberated and enhanced re-invention of karate, interwoven into a scenic historical narrative.

In addition, while Tī proponents like to claim that all educational karate was sanitized and is not practicable, the karate circles actually do the same thing as the Tī circles: they also simply adopt a more open-ish framework and practice all sorts of martial arts under the appellation of karate with its uniform, vocabulary, etc.

So today , or karate – or however you refer to your chop suey kungfu brew – might just include and be anything as long as it includes some karate-ish clothes and belts, and some karate-ish kata and terminology etc. In other words: You can make karate whatever you like.

In one sentence: It is free, as long as you wear a gi.

For this reason, I once proposed – with a wink – to designate it as “karate-fu.” I still believe this is a proper linguistic representation of what karate is in many cases. Unfortunately, this idea did not receive much approval from the WKF. Actually, it received no approval at all. Karate is a very serious topic for Karate people.

In the beginning I referred to as a working hypothesis, and I maintain this view. That means, at this point Tī is not yet a theory. This is because there is no such thing as found among the names used for martial arts in the primary sources of Ryūkyūan history. The only solution to the “crux of Tī” is to generally define it for what it is tacitly perceived: a retrospective working hypothesis for all kinds of prototypical combative methods of indigenous Ryūkyūan origin and design which predated various imported methods of Chinese kenpō and which was handed down personally without interruption ever since.

The other option is to continue to weave a Gordian knot of historical, terminological, and traditional absurdities.

When looking at names that include (), the legendary hero “Tōdī” Sakugawa comes to mind, or the old school of combat called Motobu Udundī, or the technical category of karami-dī and things like that.

Well, the suffix ~te (, ) is found in a number of classical Japanese as well as Chinese martial arts. As a famous example, let’s consider the various combative hand techniques that found their way into the Bubishi. These hand techniques originated from southern Chinese boxing styles, such as the Hong-Family-Boxing, the White-Crane-Boxing, or the Iron-Sand-Method – thrusting fingers into gravel, slapping things with the palm of the hand etc. Altogether six such methods where recorded. They are collectively called Rokkishu 六機手.

When considering the various meanings and etymology of the individual characters of this compound word, various interpretations are possible. Before doing so, let’s take a look at this compound word.

The first character roku 六 unambiguously refers to the attributive numeral six. The second character ki 機 is a descriptive noun. The last character shu 手 is also a noun, literally meaning ‘hand.’ Furthermore, the illustrations accompanying the Rokkishu show hands and these hands are the means of performing the techniques. Therefore Rokkishu is conclusively considered to mean something like “Six-Pivotal-Hands.”

However, here follows another perspective with a slightly different twist.

That is, the orthographic/grammatical function of the last character shu 手 is not that of an independent noun, but that of a classifier in the linguistic sense. More precisely, per lexical definition it is a classifier for skill. That is, shu 手 is an affix that classifies the referent ki 機 as an otherwise undefined type of skill.

What skill? As is obvious from the context, in this case it is an empty-handed combat skill. In short, the character shu classifies the character ki as an empty-handed combat skill.

What combat skill? This is defined by the referent ki.

With this fundamental insight the interpretation of the compound word Rokkishu can commence.

First, in a broad figurative sense it can be interpreted as to constitute the crux or linchpin in the specific school it belongs to.

Second, in a general sense it can be understood as to describe skillful and quick-witted techniques.

Third, it can refer to “techniques of opportunity,” i.e. such as applied in specific cases under specific circumstances.

Fourth, in a specific physical sense it refers to the hands as “biomechanical machines” – however odd that may sound to us –; hands that manipulate something. This last interpretation actually matches with a lexical explanation of the middle character ki in the meaning of manipulating, directing, controlling, and dominating.

Since it summarizes and represents the above deduction as a whole, I think “Six-Pivotal-Skills” constitutes a proper interpretation of Rokkishu.

Well, Rokkishu is the Japanese pronunciation of the characters. In standard Chinese the same characters are pronounced Liujishou. What would an Okinawan pronunciation sound like? Probably something like the typical corruptions of the Fujianese pronunciation, i.e. something like Rūcchin or something. At this point note that – just in case of Sūpārinpē, Ūsēshī and others – the affixed classifier – here shu – remains unpronounced.

Miyagi Chōjun is said to have brought Rokkishu back from Fuzhou, or to have adopted it following his return from Fuzhou. So this would have been around 1915 or 1916. It was also reported that the name Rokkishu was used until the early Shōwa era, that is, at least until 1926, when Miyagi taught Rokkishu at the Karate Kenkyū Kurabu 唐手研究倶楽部. Later the name Rokkishu was reformed to become Tenshō 転掌, which is considered Miyagi Chōjun’s masterpiece. Tenshō literally means to “turn or to rotate the palm of the hand”.

How did Miyagi Chōjun develop this kata? It is said he developed it by grafting each of the six hand techniques of the Rokkishu one after the other into the model structure of Sanchin. While this sounds logical and this theory is often accepted, there is also opposition to this oral tradition.

For example, one Okinawan martial arts master says that the six hand techniques of the Rokkishu are not to be found within Tenshō. The same person readily quotes a Chinese master of White-Crane-Boxing from Yongchun, who himself – as the Okinawan martial arts master says – maintained an original form of Rokkishu, and that it is different from Tenshō. That Okinawan martial arts master continues to explain that Tenshō is notwithstanding similar to the methods called “8 Appropriate Behaviors”( Bāfēncùn 八分寸) and the “White-Crane Joint Methods,” (Báihè Jiéfǎ 白鶴節法), which he presents on a DVD.

In other words: Just ask a Chinese master and already complicated things become finally unsolvable.

But there is another, more widespread example of opposition against the theory that the six hand techniques from the Bubishi are found within Tenshō.

This is based on the technique called “Like-a-Stick-of-Straw” (Yīlùcǎojìshǒu 一路草技手). It is technique number 6 as found in Mabuni Kenwa’s 1934 book “Sepai no Kenkyū”. See for yourself:

6 Hands of the Bubishi from Mabuni Kenwa’s 1934 book “SEPAI NO KENKYŪ”

6 Hands of the Bubishi from Mabuni Kenwa’s 1934 book “SEPAI NO KENKYŪ”

Mabuni’s picture of 1934 clearly shows the “Like-a-Stick-of-Straw” technique with an extended index, while and all other fingers folded in. It is a gesture that resembles what today is referred to as Ippon-nukite – or one-finger-thrust. This is considered the one and only 6th hand from the Bubishi.

And so, people who learned and practice Tenshō will tell you straightforward that this technique cannot be found in this kata. While the individual and collective Karate soul continues to prove itself unlimitedly inventive in finding an explanation for even the most unexplainable, I will not get into any of the attempts for explaining the discrepancy between the kata and the historical picture source.

Instead, I will directly point out that Mabuni’s “Like-a-Stick-of-Straw” technique is different from the “Like-a-Stick-of-Straw” technique as found in the Bubishi of the Miyagi Chōjun tradition. And since Miyagi’s tradition is where Tenshō came from, it might be a good idea to at least consider it.

It is just too bad that Mabuni’s 1934 picture is found in basically ALL Bubishi works, especially the Western adaptions. On the other hand, Miyagi’s “Like-a-Stick-of-Straw” hand is nearly nowhere to be found. It is therefore no wonder that even in the times of “Karate swarm intelligence” still today it is said that Tenshō cannot have been created from the 6 hands of the Bubishi. Or otherwise, that Tenshō might have used these 6 hands, but not all of  them.

Therefore, I present the venerated reader here with “Like-a-Stick-of-Straw” from the Bubishi of the Miyagi Chōjun lineage (where it is #4, not #6 btw):

"Like-a-Stick-of-Straw’" from Miyagi lineage Bubishi.

“Like-a-Stick-of-Straw’” from Miyagi lineage Bubishi.

Yes, I know: You are not only disappointed with the artist’s unpretentious execution of the drawing, but actually think this is a joke.

No, it is not a joke.

And the artistic execution is not the point. The point is that this drawing shows a completely different technique than at Mabuni. It is a technique that appears to be what today is referred to as Hiraken – or flat fist, also referred to as leopard fist. To be exact, it is a fist formed by the proximal interphalangeal joints of the four fingers, with the thumb attached towards the palm of the hand.

Of course, Hiraken or a similar technique is also difficult to detect in Tenshō, too. However, it might simply refer to Teisho-ate, which is abundantly found in Tenshō. This makes it so much more plausible than Mabuni’s index finger technique.

So, what does it mean? It has become clear – hopefully – that the argument that “Tenshō is not or not fully based on the 6 hands of the Bubishi, because one technique is definitely missing” is based on false grounds. This is also true for all attempts following therefrom to explain that matter.

However, the above does not constitute prove that – in converse conclusion – Rokkishu and Tenshō are actually based on the 6 hands of the Bubishi. But you may agree that a long lasting and difficult argument has been neutralized here, i.e. everything that was based on Mabuni’s index finger illustration. So you ought to relaunch the iterative process of assessing this topic by using this tiny little new piece of information as presented here.

BTW, since everybody is so interested in practical applications, I also would like to present the revered reader with the accompanying text to above picture:

“This technique is called ‘Like-a-Stick-of-Straw’. It is used to be smashed into the shoulder blade or spine. When struck by this technique, medical treatment must promptly be sought. If left untreated, the person will invariably die in six months.”

Ain’t that amazing?

It is just my personal guess, but maybe the name ‘Like-a-Stick-of-Straw’ is an analogy for the spine, like in “All along the spine”, with the internodes of the straw being the vertebras as the era of attack??? In any case, I’d like to leave this to all those Karate/Kempō/ Kyusho/Atemi/Tuidī/Kungfu/Jiujitsu etc.pp. experts out there.

© 2017, Andreas Quast. All rights reserved.

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