Site of Uchaya-Udun

Note: Click links for the locations on Google Maps. 

The Uchaya-Udun is a detached royal residence built in 1677, for the sightseeing of the king, and for friendly reception and entertainment of Sappōshi and the like. In addition, since it is located east from Shuri Castle, chief investiture envoy Wang Yi in 1683 named it Tōen or Eastern Garden.

In the Uchaya-Udun, various artistic performances were held, such as tea ceremony, flower arrangement, martial arts (bugei). In addition, many poems and Ryūka remain, such as Tei Junsoku’s “Eight picturesque sights of the Eastern Gardens”, by poets who visited here. After the battle of Okinawa, the ruins of the Uchaya-udun became the Shuri Catholic Church, and the vegetable garden ruins became the Jōnan elementary school. As a remembrance of the past, a stone lion (1.6 m high) remained at the southern side slope, but since there was fear of a landslide, it has been relocated close to the Amagoidake hill.

Posted in Sightseeing | Comments Off on Site of Uchaya-Udun

Ryū’ei-ryū 劉衛流 (self-narrative)

Recently, the Motobu-ryū detected various contradictions in the personal histories of Karate styles told up to now in Okinawa, Japan, and elsewhere. In this connection, he touched one oral tradition – or maybe better self-narrative – of the style called Ryū’ei-ryū.

By the way, the name Ryū’ei-ryū 劉衛流 is composed as follows:

  • Ryū 劉 refers to Ryū Ryūkō (Ch.: Liu Longgong), a Chinese person who is said to have taught Nakaima Kenri.
  • Ei 衛 refers to the Ei-clan, of which the Nakaima House was a branch family.
  • Ryū 流 means style or school that came through a tradition.

Therefore, Ryū’ei-ryū means: the (martial arts) school of Ryū Ryūkō and (the Nakaima House of) the Ei-clan.

Here follows the self-narrative by 4th generation Nakaima Kenkō.

Ryū’ei-ryū is an ancient comprehensive martial art that inherited the legitimate Chinese Kenpō (unarmed methods) and Chinese Heihō (armed methods) from Ryū Ryūkō (Ch.: Liu Longgong) – according to one theory also referred to as Sho Tsushō (1852–1930), or by the common name Rūrūkō. The style was brought about by Nakaima Chikudun Pēchin Kenri of the Nakaima House from Kume village during the era of the Chinese Daoguang emperor (1820–1850).

Kenri’s uncle from a branch family was a doctor and at the height of his career and prosperity at that time. Additionally, his sister worked as a midwife. Born into a wealthy family like this, from a young age Kenri followed the path of the skills of the Kume Shizoku and studied sciences and practiced the martial arts (shubun renbu). As a young adult, at the age of 19, he took the opportunity to study abroad in Beijing or otherwise to Fuzhou.

There he was introduced to a former military escort officer of a Chinese investiture mission to Ryūkyū (sappōshi) called Ryū Ryūkō. Before long, among the students of Ryū Ryūkō, Kenri became an uchi-deshi or in-house disciple of the master.

After several years of unswerving determination in training, not sparing his life for the worthy cause, Kenri was granted the formal confirmation of a student’s awakening by his master of Hōden (transmission of the method). Not only did he receive approval of technical skill, but he was also granted the secret books “Account on Military Preparation” (Bubishi), the “Account on Criticism” (Heironshi), the “Methods of Healthcare” (Yōjōhō), the “Tokitsuke” (Twelve double-hours spread throughout the day and assigned to the twelve signs of the zodiac), and the “Method of Boxing with a Brave Heart” (Kenyūshin-hō). This was when he was 25 years old.

In the year before his return home, in order to gather experience Kenri betook on a warrior pilgrimage from Fujian via Canton to Beijing. When he returned home to Okinawa he also brought with him various kinds of ancient weapons.

Asked about the whereabouts of the above-mentioned secret books which had been granted to Kenri, 5th generation Nakaima Kenji clearly recollected that these scrolls had been placed in two large oblong chests stored in a wall closet. Regrettably, during the air raid on the 10th of October 1944, together with the weapons having been brought from China and stored at home, they ended up in ashes and dust.

3rd generation Kenchū would often tell his son 4th generation Kenkō that “When converted to today’s money, the amount of money spent by Kenri for training in Qing China would probably be worth several hundreds of millions of Japanese Yen”. Evidence of the pains Kenri took to cover the instruction fees and for traveling back and forth between China and Ryūkyū can be seen in the genealogical records (kafu) and in extant promissory notes.

Since Kenri, the style was handed down within the Nakaima family, silently keeping the bloodline consecrated over three sons, and preserving the doctrine until today. The style was “carefully preserved and not given out the house” (mongai fushutsu) and “transferred as a secret technique from father to son” (isshi sōden) as follows:

  • 1st generation Ryū Ryūkō
  • 2nd generation Kenri
  • 3rd generation Kenchū
  • 4th generation Kenkō
  • 5th generation Kenji

As the designated successor to Ryū’ei-ryū, 4th generation Kenkō was strictly trained by his father Kenchū since his childhood. He was born December 23, 1911. At the age of 37, he received “Initiation into the mysterious principles of Ryū’ei-ryū” (Ryū’ei-ryū kaiden). During his time at the Okinawa Teacher’s College, he studied Kendō with masters Tomikawa Moritake and Ishihara Hiroshi. Later he studied under Ishihara Masanao (8. Dan Hanshi). His Karate instructors at the Okinawa Teacher’s College were master Ōshiro Chōjo of Shuri-te (his Karate was of the Itosu system, his kon [bōjutsu] was of the style of Yamanni from Shuri Kanagusuku village) and Yabu Kentsū (his Karate was Matsumura system). At the end of his life, Kenkō was a Hanshi of Karate-dō, a Hanshi of Kobudō, and a Kyōshi of Kendō. His legal domicile was in Kume 2-8-8, Naha City, his actual address was Miyazato 166, Nago City. As an occupation, he served as a principal of public elementary and middle schools in Okinawa.

Nakaima Kenchu (1856-1953)

Nakaima Kenchu (1856-1953)

Even today it is said that secrecy is very strong in China and that “walls are thick when trying to research other schools”. However, at the age of 60 years, 4th generation Kenkō opened the doors of the school and took disciples. It doesn’t mean that he took the family constitution lightly. It was around this time, during the 1970s, that the name Ryū’ei-ryū was first used to describe the school.

The Technical Contents of Ryū’ei-ryū

  • Kenpō (unarmed methods) (present-day Karate-dō)
  • Heihō (weapon methods, Chinese Kobudō)
  • “Methods of Healthcare” (Yōjōhō)
  • “Method of Boxing with a Brave Heart” (Kenyūshin-hō),
  • Others (Ninjutsu-ish actions)

Dan no mono (called “kata” today)


1) Sanchin, 2) Sēsan. 3) Nisēshī. 4) Sansērū. 5) Sēyunchin. 6) Ōhan. 7) Pāchū. 8) Ānan. 9) Paikū. 10) Heikū. 11) Paihō

Heihō (the use of weapons)

1) Sai, 2) Kama, 3) Renkuwan, 4) Tinbē, 5) Gekiguwan 6) Kon, 7) Bisentō, 8) Yari, 9) Taofā, 10) Suruchin, 11) Dajō, 12) Nunchyaku, 13) Tankon, 14) Gusan.


1. We take pride in passing down legitimate Ryū’ei-ryū as has been handed down by Ryū Ryūkō.

2. By excessive sportification and competition-ization, Budō will lose its life.

3. Ryū Ryūkō was the supreme instructor at the “Military Officers Cadets Training School” at the time, and supreme censor at the “Official Examination Place for Military Officers”. (story told by Kenchū)

4. Sakiyama Kitoku crossed over to the Qing Dynasty together with Nakaima Kenri and studied with Ryū Ryūkō. He was a person from Naha Wakuta Village. His childhood name was Tarū. He especially excelled in leg techniques, for which talented military officers envied him. His grandchild generation migrated to Kumejima and their subsequent information is unknown.  (story told by Kenchū)

5. A disciple of Sakiyama was Bushi Kuniyoshi (Kuniyoshi Shinkichi) from Kumoji. He had an outstanding power and the best boxing method of that time. He also excelled in horsemanship (bajutsu), and for some time also lived in the root house (negami-ya) of Nago Miyazato. There is no person that descended from this orthodox line. Kuniyoshi and Higaonna were called the “two walls” of east and west Naha. Kuniyoshi and Higaonna did not differ much in age and they were close friends, but they did not try to determine superiority or inferiority of technique between each other but respected each other. Kuniyoshi said to Higaonna, “If I get kicked by your leg, I will break into pieces”. Higaonna said to Kuniyoshi, “No! If I get punched by your fist, I will break into pieces. (story told by Kenchū)

6. Bushi Higaonna’s boxing was a kenpō that he personally learned in China. His light footwork was particularly outstanding. It is well-known that he was the teacher of Gōjū-ryū founder Miyagi Chōjun. (story told by Kenchū)

7. Kuniyoshi and Higaonna were junior colleagues (kōhai) of 2nd generation Kenri, and senior colleagues (senpai) of 3rd generation Kenchū. Also men of Naha, and in the line of Chinese Kenpō, they were particularly good friends. Incidentally, Higaonna and Nakaima were related by marriage.

8. Master Miyagi Chōjun was 4th generation Kenkō’s most revered, much older Senpai. Kenkō would personally listen to him with the utmost respect. (story told by Kenkō)

9. Ryūkyūan exponents of Chinese Kenpō during early modern times

  • Nakaima Kenri – Naha Kume Village, the same period
  • Sakiyama Kitoku – Naha Wakuta Village, the same period
  • Higaonna Kanryō – Naha Nishi Village
  • Sainokami Arakaki – Naha Kumoji Village
  • Shimabukuro West – Naha Nishi Village
  • Kinjō Matsu (alias Machā Buntoku) – Itoman Village in Kaneshiro District
  • Uechi Kanbun – Motobu Izumi, (roughly) the same period
  • Ahagon Motobu – Tōbaru, (roughly) the same period

The above are arranged in chronological order. They are the persons who have personally traveled to and learned in China after the Daoguang period (1821–1850).

If someone was left out, please forward the information.

10. Age at Time of Death

  • Nakaima Kenri: 77 years
  • Nakaima Kenchū: 98 years

11. As a matter of convenience, the titles of honor were omitted in the many personal names. I ask your understanding for this.

12. In the oldest character dictionary of Chinese writing, the “Shuowen Jiezi”, the character jutsu is defined as “a path within a village”. During the feudal era, the bujutsu or martial arts of Japan were referred to as jūjutsu, kenjutsu and the like. After the Meiji era these martial arts came to be referred to as jūdō, kendō etc. and were considered budō, or martial ways towards character formation. These martial arts were also implemented into school education in the form of budō, or martial ways. In today’s world of karate, there are still people who use the word kobujutsu. Isn’t this like going back through the eras?”


Gihō. Uechi-ryū Karate-do Kyōkai 1977, page 785–788.

Takamiyagi Shigeru, Nakamoto Masahiro, Shinzato Katsuhiko: Okinawa Karate Kobudō Jiten. Kashiwa Shobō, Tōkyō 2008, page 187, 442, 480, 550.

Posted in Unknown Ryukyu | Tagged , | Comments Off on Ryū’ei-ryū 劉衛流 (self-narrative)

If it looks like a duck…

Note: Motobu Naoki Sensei of the Motobu-ryū was so kind to share the articles by Murakami Katsumi and from “Gekkan Karatedo” used in here with me. He also was so kind to help with the translations. Thank you very much Motobu Naoki Sensei!

Recently, I published the translation of an article by Murakami Katsumi from 1991. In it, Murakami Sensei wrote about his teacher Shimabukuro Tarō, who learned Rōhai, Wansū and Wankan from Iha Kōtatsu from Tomari.

Already 15 years earlier, Murakami also wrote about Shimabukuro Tarō and his teacher Iha Kōtatsu as follows:

The Actual Combat Kata of Iha-gwā no Nushi from Tomari

Let me introduce Iha-gwā no Nushi from Tomari. Iha-gwā was the teacher of Shimabukuro Tarō AKA “Aburaya Sanjin” (nickname). Shimabukuro Sensei talked about Iha-gwā as follows.

Master Iha-gwā, as a descendant of Shizoku from the kingdom era, received the teachings of the great masters Matsumora and Oyadomari, both from Tomari. [omission]

From Iha-gwā no Nushi, Shimabukuro Sensei was taught and handed down the Kata Rōhai, Wankan, and Wansū. These Kata are introduced in this book. (Murakami 1976: 28)

Iha-gwā no Nushi here refers to Iha Kōtatsu.

As can be seen from the above, Murakami Katsumi learned the Kata Rōhai, Wankan, and Wansū from Shimabukuro Tarō and introduced them in his 1976 book. In fact, he introduced both the Enbusen of the Kata as well as its combat applications:

  • Wansū in Murakami 1976: 114–120
  • Wankan in Murakami 1976: 121–132
  • Rōhai in Murakami 1976: 133–142.
Iha Kotatsu as identified in OKKJ 2008.

Iha Kotatsu as identified in OKKJ 2008.

In other words: This is one very credible source for the Kata Rōhai, Wankan, and Wansū as having been handed down by Iha Kōtatsu and probably earlier masters of what is referred to today as Tomari-te.

BTW, Shimabukuro Tarō was one of the teachers of Nagamine Shōshin and taught him the three Kata in question. In addition, Nagamine also learned the same three Kata from Iha Kōtatsu directly:

“I, too, inherited… Wankan, Rōhai, and Wanshū of Tomari-te from this teacher [Iha Kōtatsu], and continue to preserve and research these Kata in my current Matsubayashi-ryū Karate-dō Kōdōkan Dōjō” (Nagamine 1986)

BTW, I personally studied these three Kata Wankan, Rōhai, and Wanshū at that same place called the Matsubayashi-ryū Karate-dō Kōdōkan Dōjō in Naha Kumoji. I also performed all of them during gradings at that same place and did not fail. So you can assume I know them a little.

Anyway, the transmission of these three Kata here look like this:

  • Iha Kōtatsu –> Shimabukuro Tarō
  • Iha Kōtatsu –>  Shimabukuro Tarō –>  Nagamine Shōshin
  • Iha Kōtatsu –>  Nagamine Shōshin
  • Iha Kōtatsu –>  Shimabukuro Tarō –>  Murakami Katsumi

That means, with Murakami Katsumi and Nagamine Shōshin, there are two independent sources of the same Kata from the same lineage, i.e. Iha Kōtatsu.

Since both Murakami Katsumi and Nagamine Shōshin published the movements of these three Kata in their books, they can easily be compared. For Nagamine Sensei’s description, see his book here:

  • Wansū in Nagamine 1975: 256–262
  • Wankan in Nagamine 1975: 240–247
  • Rōhai in Nagamine 1975: 248–255.

Plus, if you trust my judgment, I learned them personally from one of these lineages.

The quintessence of it all is this:

Wankan and Rōhai are perfectly identical in Enbusen and techniques. There are some very minor differences, like a few stances – for example, occasional Kōkutsu instead of Neko-ashi – but 95% perfectly fits. (Wanshū is easily identifiable, but it needs more study.)

Well, there is also an alternative lineage that claims the inheritance of Kata from Iha Kōtatsu.

If we take their Wankan and Rōhai as an example, their oral tradition is as the follows:

The Kata of Wankan

Wankan is a representative Kata of Tomari-te that has been handed down from Matsumora Kōsaku to Iha Kōtatsu. It is a Kata that has finally been inherited by Nakasone Seiyū. 

The Kata of Rōhai

Rōhai is a Kata that has been handed down from Matsumora Kōsaku to Iha Kōtatsu and that has finally been inherited by Nakasone Seiyū.

The problem is: This alternative lineage claims the direct inheritance of the three Kata in question from Iha Kōtatsu. At the same time, both their Wankan and Rōhai are just completely different Kata.

How can that be? Maybe they did not carefully read the books by Nagamine and Murakami. In the end that alternative club was established only 6 or 7 years respectively after the books with the Kata shown in pictures were published.

Anyway, Murakami Katsumi added some useful information to Wankan. For instance, he described it as

A representative Kata of Tomari-te, it is a brilliant Kata that is nimble, fast as lightning, profound and rich in variety. It is the type of Kata that you want to do many times. It is a Kata that is very useful for actual combat.

and its techniques as “unique to Tomari-te“, which I think is correct. He goes on with this interesting explanation:

When applying the movements 12/21, it is most important that the opponent is controlled by uke-sabaki [similar to irimi]. This part is a technique essentially seen in the defenses of the Chinese Kempō of Baguazhang and Taijiquan. In addition, it must be carried out similar to Irimi-nage of Jūjutsu and Aiki.

In Okinawa, there was a person named Motobu Chōyū (AKA Motobu Umē), who was the older brother of Motobu Chōki. My former teacher Kyoda Jūhatsu Sensei, Miyagi Chōjun Sensei, Mabuni Kenwa Sensei, Shiroma Kōki, and Go Kenki Sensei studied with him at the Karate Club in Wakasa Town, Naha. In addition to being the manager of this Karate Club, Motobu [Chōyū] Sensei very much liked playing the Sanshin and he seems to have been very good at it. Currently there is a Karate teacher called Uehara Seikichi, who was a disciple of this Motobu Umē [Chōyū]. The technique (Te) that this Uehara Seikichi uses, currently in Okinawa is called Koden Bujutsu Motobu-ryū Torite. This Torite means entering the opponent’s attack at the moment he comes in (and then control and throw him). It seems that what is the most basic of Torite’s entering techniques is substantially the same as Wankan’s technique 12/21. In case of being thrown by technique 12/21, the person thrown does not understand how he got thrown. It is a technique that you want to make a skill of the deepest level (gokui-waza).

I was told by an authoritative person that some of the applications used by Murakami Sensei are similar to Motobu Udundī, others are similar to Motobu Kenpō. The reason for this might be that Kyoda Jūhatsu and Shimabukuro Tarō were among Murakami Katsumi’s teachers: Kyoda trained Torite with Motobu Chōyū and Shimabukuro Tarō trained Kumite with Motobu Chōki. Therefore, both influences exist in Murakami Sensei’s application of the Kata.

Wankan application by Murakami Katsumi (1976).

Wankan application by Murakami Katsumi (1976).


  • Takamiyagi Shigeru Okinawa Karate Kobudō Jiten, 2008.
  • “Shuri-te, Naha-te toha kotonaru maboroshi no Karate – Tomari-te nazo ni semare!” (Extremely rare Karate different from Shuri-te and Naha-te – Approaching the Mystery of Tomari-te!) In: Gekkan Karatedō. February Issue 2003. Fukushōdō 2003.
  • Murakami Katsumi: Karatedō to Ryūkyū Kobudō. Seibidō Shuppan, Tōkyō 1976.
  • Murakami Katsumi: Kata no Kokoro to Waza. Shin Jinbutsu Ōraisha, Tōkyō 1991.
  • Nagamine Shōshin: Shijitsu to Kuden ni yoru Okinawa no Karate, Sumō Meijin-den. Tōkyō, Shin Jinbutsu Ōraisha 1986.
  • Nagamine Shōshin: Okinawa no Karate-dō – Rekishi to Densetsu o Mamoru. Tōkyō, Shin Jinbutsu Ōraisha 1975.
Posted in Unknown Ryukyu | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off on If it looks like a duck…

Shimabukuro Tarō and his Teachers

In 1991, Murakami Katsumi (Murakami 1991: 190-91) published an article about the teachers of his teacher Shimabukuro Tarō. Motobu Naoki Sensei of the Motobu-ryū was so kind to share it with me. Thank you very much Motobu Naoki Sensei!

The following is my translation of it.

Shimabukuro Tarō and his Teachers

I think a list of the teachers of the late master “Aburaya Sanjin” (nickname) Shimabukuro Tarō Sensei can be used as a source of information on the history of martial arts in Okinawa.

Shimabukuro Sensei was born in Shuri’s “Three Places” (name that combines the three towns of Tounjumui [usually pronounced Torikohori, today’s Torihori], Akata, and Sakiyama to one place). I do not clearly know his date of birth, whether it was 1905 or 1906.

Shimabukuro Taro, original photograph by the author, shot at Matsubayashi Kodokan Honbu Dojo in Naha, 2009.

Shimabukuro Taro, original photograph by the author, shot at Matsubayashi Kodokan Honbu Dojo in Naha, 2009.

Shimabukuro Sensei practiced Makiwara under the guidance of his father from the age of seven. This was the first time that he was introduced to Karate. After that, until his fourth year in elementary school, he practiced the Kata of Naihanchin from Tokuda Anbun Sensei. In his fifth year, Gusukuma Shinpan Sensei became his class teacher and by the time he entered the (old system) middle school, he learned Pinan, Kūsankū Dai and Shō, Chintō, and in Bōjutsu Shūshi no Kon. Since he was sixteen years old, he learned Kata of Shurite by Chibana Chōshin Sensei. Afterwards, he learned Dōhai [Rōhai], Wansū and Wankan from “Iha-gwā no Nushi” from Tomari, and Sēsan and Pīcchūrin from Shinzato Jin’an from Naha.

He learned Karate with Kyan Chōtoku Sensei from Shuri and from Arakaki Ankichi Sensei until both the teachers were dead. His [Shimabukuro’s] favorite Kata were Kyan Sensei’s Chintō and Arakaki Sensei’s Sēsan.

From Soeishi Umikana Sensei he learned Chōun no Kon.

From 1925 he went to Ōshiro Chōjo Sensei’s house the whole year around to learn until Ōshiro Sensei died in 1932 [Note: Other authors said Ōshiro lived until 1935]. In addition, he also went to the house of Chinen Usumē, the teacher of Ōshiro Sensei, for a couple of years, where he learned Sakugawa no Kon, Shirotaru no Kon, and Yonegawa no Kon.

From venerable elder Kiyuna, he learned Passai and Kūsankū and from a Karate person from Shuri’s “Three Places”, called “venerable elder Nakandakari Manga”, he learned to use Keikōken (Chicken-Beak-Fist, AKA Ippon-ken, and Kosa in old Okinawan dialect) and Kumite.

From Mīhagi Tōma Shizen Sensei he learned Kumite, from venerable elder Tamana(ha) Hamagū he learned Jūjutsu-/Jūdō-like Jissen (combat) Kata, from venerable elder Teruya he learned the old style Kata of Passai, from venerable elder Ishikawa-gwā nu Kekkerē he learned Sai, Nunchaku, Gojūshiho, and Kama nu , and from venerable elder Tawada nu Mēgantō he learned how to kick with the instep.

From venerable elder Maeshiro from Shuri’s “Three Places” he learned Kumite, from Yabiku Mōden Sensei he learned “Yabiku no Chōbō” (Yabiku’s long Bō) and Picchūrin, from Yabu Kentsū Sensei he learned Gojūshiho, from Go Kenki Sensei he learned HakuTsuru (White-Crane), from Miyagi Chōjun Sensei he learned Sanchin, from venerable elder Uechi (the founder of Uechi-ryū) from Nakijin he learned Sanchin, and from the venerable elder Ōshiro Myōjin from Tsuken Island he learned Chikin Bō (=Tsuken Bō).

From Motobu Chōki Sensei he learned Kumite, from venerable elder Tokumura from Shuri’s “Three Places” he learned the source-Kata (prototype) of Naihanchi, from venerable elder Asato he learned the source-Kata (prototype) of Passai, from Takamine nu Chān Sensei he learned how to fight using the geographical features (topography) in the field.

During his Karate life, Shimabukuro Sensei received the teachings of Karate and Kobudō from the above-mentioned 28 teachers.


Murakami Katsumi: Kata no Kokoro to Waza. Shin Jinbutsu Ōraisha, Tōkyō 1991.

Posted in Unknown Ryukyu | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Shimabukuro Tarō and his Teachers

“Tomari-te Kata” handed down in the Gōhakukai

The February 2003 issue of “Gekkan Karatedō” magazine features an article about the Gōhakukai. There it is stated (page 46):

“Nine Kata are handed down in Tomari-te!!!”

The following is my translation of the text.

So, what Kata are handed down in Tomari-te? Let’s introduce them while taking into account the history of their transmission.

  • The Kata of Naihanchi (Naifanchin)

Matsumora Kōsaku (1829–1898) received three years of instruction in Tomari no Naihanchi from Uku Karyū (1800-1850). [From Matsumora] It was handed down to Nakazato Bokuhitsu (1835–1902?). From Nakazato Bokuhitsu it was handed down to Nakasone Seiyū (1893–1983). Of Naihanchi there are the varieties of Shodan, Nidan, and Sandan, each of which has different characteristic techniques.

  • The Kata of Wansū (Dai)

This Kata has been handed down from Teruya Kisō (Kishin?)( 1804–1864) to Matsumora Kōsaku. From Matsumora Kōsaku it was handed down to Iha Kōtatsu (1873–1928) and Maeda Ginin (1840–1921). As a representative Kata of Tomari it has finally been inherited by Nakasone Seiyū.

  • The Kata of Wansū (Shō)

Handed down from Oyadomari Eirō (1878–1926) to Heianzan Ryōzen (1901–2000), it was finally inherited by the Gōhakukai.

  • The Kata of Wankan

Wankan is a representative Kata of Tomari-te that has been handed down from Matsumora Kōsaku to Iha Kōtatsu. It is a Kata that has finally been inherited by Nakasone Seiyū.

  • The Kata of Chintō

Chintō is a representative Kata of Tomari-te that has been handed down from Matsumora Kōsaku to Iha Kōtatsu and has finally been inherited by Nakasone Seiyū.

  • The Kata of Kūsankū

Tomari-te no Kūsankū is a Kata that has been handed down from Matsumora Kōsaku to Iha Kōtatsu and that has finally been inherited by Nakasone Seiyū.

  • The Kata of Rōhai

Rōhai is a Kata that has been handed down from Matsumora Kōsaku to Iha Kōtatsu and that has finally been inherited by Nakasone Seiyū.

  • The Kata of Passai

Passai is a Kata that has been handed down from Teruya Kishin to Matsumora Kōsaku and Oyadomari Kōkan (1827–1905), and [further] to Iha Kōtatsu and that has finally been inherited by Nakasone Seiyū. Particularly Oyadomari Passai is widely known and is a representative Kata of Tomari.

  • The Kata of Rinkan

Rinkan is a Kata that has been inherited from Nakasone Seiyū, but it is unknown who instructed Nakasone Seiyū in it.


Shuri-te, Naha-te toha kotonaru maboroshi no Karate – Tomari-te nazo ni semare!” (Extremely rare Karate different from Shuri-te and Naha-te – Approaching the Mystery of Tomari-te!) In: Gekkan Karatedō. February Issue 2003. Fukushōdō 2003.

Gekkan Karatedō. February Issue 2003.

Gekkan Karatedō. February Issue 2003.

Posted in Unknown Ryukyu | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off on “Tomari-te Kata” handed down in the Gōhakukai

Location of Higaonna Kanryō‘s House

Recently we had a discussion on Facebook about Higaonna Kanryō.

During that discussion I noticed that I miscalculated the location of Higaonna Kanryō’s house in my Karate 1.0 (2013). There I concluded that Higaonna’s shop must have been situated in today’s Omoromachi 3-chōme 4-8-505, right behind the Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum.

This was a mistake!

The reason for the miscalculation was that I confused a temple name.

But now I got it right.

Let me explain how I got to the approximate location.

Yoshimura Chōgi (1866-1945) left his “Autobiographic Martial Arts Records” (Jiden Budōki, 1941). Therein Yoshimura describes how he learned Karate from Higaonna Kanryō, starting in 1887 or 1888. According to Yoshimura,

“From my 22nd year, that is about 1888, I was a student of master Higaonna. About three times a month I went the distance from Shuri to him. Situated near the beach in Naha, in front of the Hongan-ji he ran a business selling firewood.” (transl. A. Quast)

Now, of course, today that place does not exist anymore like back then. First of all, the place was turned into a residential area by land reclamation starting around the 1880s. Furthermore, the air raid of October 10, 1944, alone destroyed 80 to 90% of Naha by fire, not counting in the Battle of Okinawa itself.

Now, back to the location.

The current Shinkyō-ji is what Hongan-ji in Yoshimura's text referred to.

The current Shinkyō-ji is what Hongan-ji in Yoshimura’s text referred to.

Yoshimura noted the temple called Hongan-ji. This temple was established in 1884 after Tahara Hūsui (1844 – 1927 ) began to propagate the Jōdo Shinshū sect in 1876 (Meiji 9).

The temple was first called Higashi Honganji Kōgijo (Lecture place of Higashi Hongan-ji). This is the Hongan-ji mentioned by Yoshimura. It was later renamed to Shinkyō-ji, which is still its current name.

It is located in Nishi town of Naha.

Moreover, according to Arume Kangaku, who was 72 years old at the time of the interview, Higaonna transported firewood from the Kerama Islands by boat and sold it in Nishi town of Naha. This was recorded in the late Nagamine Shōshin Sensei’s handwritten personal notebook (unpublished, copy in author’s collection).

So there are two independent records that describe the location of Higaonna’s shop quite closely.

Well, Yoshimura wrote that Higaonna’s house was “situated near the beach in Naha”, and Arume Kangaku noted that “Higaonna transported firewood … by boat “.

So, while looking for the location, I found the site called “Niishi nu Umi” or “Ocean at Nishi Town”. This site refers to the shores west of Nishi town in Naha. In the past, the coastline was U-shaped from Miegusuku (1) to current Sanmonji park (2) in Tsuji something like this:


Ok. So far so good.

I will now add the locations of the Shinkyō-ji temple (3) and the old coastline “Niishi nu Umi” (4):


So, Higaonna Kanryō’s house – and shop I assume – was located around points 3 and 4 on the map.


And if you want to know how it looked like, and even maybe see a boat of the Higaonna family, take a look at this 1877 drawing showing Nishi town with its houses and some people, the shoreline and the “Niishi no Umi”, as well as some cargo boats…




Posted in Unknown Ryukyu | Tagged | Comments Off on Location of Higaonna Kanryō‘s House

Higaonna Kanryō (quick overview)

Higaonna Kanryō (1853–1915), referred to as the “ancestor who rejuvenated Naha-te“, is one of the representative Okinawan masters of Karate of the Meiji era.

Personal history

Early life

Higaonna Kanryō was born on 1853-04-17 (Gregorian calendar) as the 4th son of firewood trader Higaonna Kanyō in Nishi village, Naha.  His Chinese-style name was Shin Zenki, his childhood name was Mōshi 真牛.

His father Kanyō transported firewood from Kerama in a small boat type called Yanbaru-sen and sold it in Naha as a business. At that time, the Higaonna family belonged to the class of commoners. According to a descendant of Kanryō, however, they were originally a samurai branch family of the Shin-clan, with father Kanyō being the 9th generation of this lineage.

As an additional information hitherto unpublished: On January 8, 1867 (moon calendar), Higaonna tied up his topknot, i.e. the male coming of age ceremony. His later wife was called Makatu. (Nagamine Shōshin: Handwritten Personal Notebook).

The Era of Practicing Naha-te

To support the family, Higaonna helped in the family business of selling firewood from around the age of 10 years. According to one hypothesis, in 1873, at the age of 20 (or 17 years old), he is said to have studied Karate under Aragaki Seishō (1840 – 1920) of Naha-te. This hypothesis was established by Nagamine Shōshin (Nagamine 1976: 96), but there is no source mentioned for it.

The reason why Arakaki would hand down Naha-te – a carefully protected art not given out of the house – to an outsider not belonging to the Kume Shizoku class remains unknown. In this connection, it is said that the Aragaki family were customers of the Higaonna family. Watching Higaonna entering and leaving the house to sell firewood, it is said that Arakaki felt the extraordinary qualities of Higaonna. So it happened that Higaonna studied Naha-te under Aragaki for about three years.

However, in a 1914 newspaper article about Arakaki Seishō, there is no mention that Higaonna was somehow related to him in terms of a teacher-student relationship (Shō Busei 1914).

Moreover, the Kata of the so-called Aragaki-school (Aragaki-ha, a name coined by Mabuni Kenwa in 1938 or so) were neither handed down in Gōjū-ryū nor in Tōon-ryū. In addition, there is no mention of Arakaki in the “Karate-do Gaisetsu” (1936) by Miyagi Chōjun. So it remains unknown whether the Arakaki-hypothesis is true or not.

There is also the theory that Higaonna practiced Okinawa-te since childhood, but that he – as an outsider – was declined access by an expert of Chinese Kenpō and could not train (hypothesis by Miyazato Ei’ichi, in Uechi 1977: 747).

There is also the hypothesis that, after studying under Arakaki, because Arakaki traveled to China as an interpreter, he left Higaonna into the custody of Kojō Taitei of Kojō-ryū, where he trained for a while (Fujiwara 1985: 178).

However, an anecdote contradictory to this hypothesis reports that Higaonna is said to have waged a heated debate with Kojō Taitei over Sanchin (the so-called Sanchin Trial).

The Era of Practicing Chinese Martial Arts

According to the hypothesis by Nagamine Shōshin, Higaonna crossed over to Qing-China in 1877 (Meiji 10), at around the age of 20 years. There are also hypotheses that say this was at 24 years of age (hypothesis by Eiichi Miyazato) etc. There are various hypotheses as regards the reason why Higaonna is supposed to have crossed over to China, such as that practice of Chinese Kenpo-hypothesis, the working away from home-hypothesis, or the hypothesis of acting as a messenger for Yoshimura Chōmei of the Yoshimura Udun on behalf of the Ryūkyū royalist movement etc.

For example, Kinjō Akio wrote that Higaonna crossed to China as a secret messenger of Yoshimura Chōmei. According to Kinjō (2006), in 1877, Higaonna carried a hidden petition written by Ryūkyūan royalists and addressed to the Qing authorities, asking for aid to rescue Ryūkyū from being “disposed” by the Japanese. But this was pure speculation on Kinjō’s side and no primary source has been presented.

In any case, immediately following his voyage, and although he locally sold firewood, Higaonna is said to also have sold medical drugs and eventually to have studied under Chinese martial arts expert Rūrūkō (also, Tūrūkō).

In addition, according to the talks of Asato Ankō, Higaonna Kanryō, referred to as “Nishi Higashionna-gwā”, was a Karate teacher at the Fishery School and at the Commercial School (Shōtō 1914, I). He was said to have been a disciple of Waishinzan, described as a Chinese military officer (bukan). However, it remains unclear from the text whether Higaonna traveled to China or whether he received instruction directly in Okinawa (Shōtō 1914, II).

At the beginning, due to the disability to speak the language, and also as a usual measure (old trick) in the martial art practice of that time, Higaonna was not able to receive a professional martial arts instruction. He is said to only practiced stepping and breathing for 4 or 5 hours, and besides only did chores for the teacher. However, it is said that Higaonna won the trust of Rūrūkō by saving his master’s family at the risk of losing his own life during a massive flood and that afterward he received full-fledged professional martial arts instruction from the master. Afterwards, as Higaonna became Rūrūkō’s assistant teacher (Shihan Dai), his skill was recognized.

Regarding the period of Higaonna’s stay in China, there are multiple hypotheses, but no conclusion. The 15-years hypothesis  (such as from Nagamine Shōshin and others), the 3-years hypothesis (such as from Miyagi Chōjun, Higa Yūchoku, Chibana Chōshin, and Higaonna Kanryō’s grandchild), Moreover, some researcher says that Higaonna actually stayed there for 1 year and 4 months, with the sailing time excluded from this (!) (hypothesis by Tokashiki Iken). Besides, there are also others, such as the 8-year-hypothesis, 10-year-hypothesis, 16-year-hypothesis, and the 30-year-hypothesis (Toguchi 1986: 103).

Entry on Higaonna Kanryo, from Okinawa Daihyakka Jiten 1983.

Entry on Higaonna Kanryo, from Okinawa Daihyakka Jiten 1983.

In addition, while there are various hypotheses of Higaonna’s travel, there is the contradicting fact that traveling to China was under severe official monitoring at that time and it was all but easy to become an “exile to Qing”. However, none of the various hypotheses drew a conclusion from this contradicting fact. Therefore, there are also various hypotheses as regards Higaonna Kanryō’s age at the time of his return from China, ranging from his 20s to his 40s.

Since his return home

After returning home from China, Higaonna is said to have opened a dōjō in Naha, but initially, he did not gather disciples. The first disciple that can be confirmed in the literature is Yoshimura Chōgi (1866-1945) of the Yoshimura Udun.


Yoshimura Chōgi (1866-1945) left his “Autobiographic Martial Arts Records” (Jiden Budōki, 1941. Joe Swift translated the whole text in one of his publications). Therein Yoshimura describes how he learned Karate from Higaonna Kanryō, starting in 1887 or 1888. According to Yoshimura, Higaonna lived near the beach in Naha at the time, in front of the Hongan-ji temple, where Higaonna ran business selling firewood (Note: Arume Kangaku, 72 years old at the time, confirmed that Higaonna transported firewood from the Kerama Islands by boat and sold it in Nishi village of Naha (Nagamine Shōshin: Handwritten Personal Notebook). The place was later turned into a residential area by land reclamation. It is situated around

  • Naha’s old coastline at today’s 1 Chome-16 Nishi, Naha-shi, Okinawa-ken 900-0036, Japan


  • the Shinkyō-ji temple at 2 Chome-5-21 Nishi, Naha-shi, Okinawa-ken 900-0036, Japan

There are some details described by Yoshimura, such as that he was taught Sanchin as the foundation, and also Pecchūrin (i.e. Sūpārinpē) by Higaonna.

However, no person is mentioned as a teacher of Higaonna, nor any travel to China whatsoever, nor anything of the nature that Yoshimura helped Higaonna travel to China and stay there, nor that Yoshimura wrote a letter of introduction for Higaonna for his stay in China or anything else.

Contact and traveling to Qing-China in those years would have been considered a political activity of the “Rūykyū Restoration Movement”. However, at the time of the publication of his autobiography, it would not have been a problem anymore to speak about his or Higaonna’s past: Yoshimura even repatriated his father’s bones in the early 1930s, his father having been a leader of the (anti-Japanese) “Rūykyū Restoration Movement”. Therefore, there would have been no reason for Yoshimura to hold back any such facts about Higaonna (for the above, see: Zuroku “Yoshimura Chōgi Ten”. Okinawa Kenritsu Hakubutsukan 1981).


After that, in 1902 (Meiji 35), Kyoda Jūhatsu and Miyagi Chōjun, who later became the leading disciples, started practicing with Higaonna. Other disciples of Higaonna include Mabuni Kenwa, Higa Seikō, and Tōyama Kanken.

Miyagi Chōjun (1888–1953) received direct transmission of skill from Higaonna from September 1902 (at the age of 15) until October 1915  (at the age of 28) (Nagamine Shōshin: Handwritten Personal Notebook).

Shiroma Kōki was also a personal disciple of Higaonna (Nagamine Shōshin: Handwritten Personal Notebook).

In 1915 (Taishō 4), Higaonna died from a worsening chronical bronchial asthma while his disciples watched over him.

The Issue of Transmission

In the past, the Kata of Gōjū-ryū – except for those created by Miyagi Chōjun – were thought to have all been acquired by Higaonna Kanryō in China and brought back to Okinawa. However, in recent years various questions have been raised.

  • The Investiture Celebration Program of “The Crown Ship of the Year of the Tiger”

In 1867, Shizoku class persons from Kume Village hosted a celebration to welcome the Chinese envoys who visited Ryūkyū for the investiture of King Shō Tai. The program describing the items of the celebration at that time was discovered after the war (Shimabukuro Zenpatsu Chōsakushu). Among the recorded items are found the performances of the Kata “Sūpārinpei”, “Shisōchin (original text is “Chishochin”), and “Seisan”. Therefore, this is proof that these Kata already existed in Okinawa before Higaonna passed away.

  • A name like Rūrūkō does not exist in China

The pronunciation of Rūrū (如如) is Mandarin Chinese, but people in Fujian, which Higaonna is said to have learned from, do not pronounce it like this. Ryūryū (量量) on the other hand points to Higaonna Kanryō himself. In the first place, it is impossible to find such names to refer to a male adult in China.

  • There is no source martial art in existence

After the recovery of diplomatic relations between Japan and China, research teams were dispatched dozens of times to China, but no specific school could be identified as the source of Gōjū-ryū.

  • No weapons art has been handed down together with it

Unlike in Okinawa Karate, in Chinese martial arts, it is common to jointly use weapons techniques. It is impossible to be promoted to an assistant teacher (Shihan Dai) without having practiced weapons techniques.

Because of the above doubts, and because of the lack of primary sources, the number of researchers who doubt that Higaonna Kanryō traveled to China in the first place increased in recent years. Furthermore, even if he crossed over to China, he is considered to have just practiced Chinese Kenpō rudimentary. And finally, most of his personal history that has been handed down lacks credibility.


  • Fujiwara Ryozō: Kindai Karate-dō Senkusha, Miki Jisaburo to ‘Kenpō Gaisetsu’. Contribution to: Tōkyō Daigaku Karate-bu Roku-jū Nenshi. Tōkyō Daigaku Karate-bu Roku-jū Nenshi Kinen-go Henshū Iinkai-hen, 1985.
  • Gekkan Karate-dō. Fukushōdō, September 2005 issue.
  • Iwai Tsukuo: Koden Ryūkyū Karate-jutsu. Airyūdō 1992.
  • Kinjō Akio: Karate Denshi Roku. Champ, Tokyō 2006.
  • Nagamine Shōshin: Handwritten Personal Notebook with interviews and data collections. Page 47: Entry for Higaonna Kanryō. Copy from the personal archive of Andreas Quast.
  • Nagamine Shōshin: Shijitsu to Kuden ni yoru Okinawa no Karate Sumō Meijin-den. Shin Jinbutsu Ōraisha, Tōkyō 1976.
  • Shō Busei: Okinawa no Bujutska – Arakaki-gwā to Higaonna. Ryūkyū Shimpō, January 24, 1914.
  • Shōtō (Funakoshi Gichin): Okinawa no Bugi (I). Karate ni tsuite Asato Ankō Uji Dan. Ryūkyū Shinpō, January 17, 1914.
  • Shōtō (Funakoshi Gichin): Okinawa no Bugi (II). Karate ni tsuite Asato Ankō Uji Dan. Ryūkyū Shinpō, January 18, 1914.
  • Toguchi Seikichi: Karate no Kokoro. Kadokawa Shoten, Tōkyō 1986.
  • Toguchi Yoshiaki: Karate no Rekishi, sono Shinpyōsei o kōsatsusuru. In:  JKFan, October, November, December Issue 2006; May, July Issue 2007.
  • Uechi Kan’ei Seisetsu Okinawa Karate-dō no Rekishi. Uechi-ryū Karate-dō Kyōkai 1977.
  • Zuroku “Yoshimura Chōgi Ten”. Okinawa Kenritsu Hakubutsukan 1981.
Posted in Unknown Ryukyu | Tagged | Comments Off on Higaonna Kanryō (quick overview)

Tokuda Antei’s Memorandum

As can be seen in newspaper accounts, karate spread and developed as a compulsory subject of physical education. On January 25, 1911 (Meiji 44), the sole daily newspaper within Okinawa prefecture at the time published the following article:

The Karate Convention of the Normal School

Yesterday from 2 p.m. in the school’s courtyard the karate convention of the pupils of the just mentioned school commenced. Yabu Kentsū was named the instructor. First, up to 80 sets of karate were performed by the pupils. Furthermore about 4 sets of kumite were also performed. Afterwards 5 sets of karate were demonstrated by middle school pupils as distinguished guests. Finally, [the following was demonstrated] by masters in this field of study kindly present on this day:

  • Sēsan by Funakoshi Gichin,
  • Passai by Mr. Kiyuna,
  • Gojūshiho (AKA Ūsēshi) by Yabu Kentsū,
  • Naihanchi by Mr. Itokazu,

and the like.

And with this the convention was concluded. These are all things of undeniable reputation within this prefecture’s karate circles, but are also things which could not be seen as easily as during this day’s demonstrations.

The kinds [=kata] of karate are the 15 types:

  • Nanhanchi [=Naifanchi]
  • Pinan
  • Chintō
  • Wansū
  • Passai
  • Ronsū [=Chinsū]
  • Kūsankū
  • Rōhai
  • Gojūshiho (AKA Ūsēshi)
  • Jitte
  • Nantei [=Chintē]
  • Jī [=Jiin]
  • Sēsan
  • Wandō [=Wandau]
  • Jūmu [=Jion]

Among the pupils who excelled in these fifteen types the following persons were presented an award of excellence. […]

Altogether sixty-eight pupils were presented the award of excellence. Among them was Tokuda Antei (1884–1979).

Tokuda entered the Prefectural Middle School in 1905 and graduated in 1910, in the 22nd graduation class. As can be seen in the chronological records of the Prefectural Middle School as well as in newspaper articles, karate had been introduced as a compulsory subject of physical education in the Prefectural Middle School in the year of Tokuda’s entrance, so he became acquainted with it for a period of five years. After graduation from the Prefectural Middle School he matriculated in the evening course of the Normal School (teacher college), which was a one year course to become a primary school teacher. There he was also a member of the Normal School karate club and also received instruction in karate until his graduation in 1911.

During the six years from 1905 to 1911, Tokuda received instruction from Itosu Ankō. He is therefore a contemporary witness of the invention of school karate by Itosu Ankō.

Well, the introduction and spread of karate to mainland Japan is usually dated to have begun with Funakoshi Gichin’s demonstration at the 1st Physical Education Exhibition sponsored by the Ministry of Education in 1922. However, according to a memorandum by above mentioned Tokuda Antei, karate had already been introduced in 1908 at the Kyōto Butokuden.

Tokuda Antei’s Memorandum

Miscellaneous thoughts on karate.

By Tokuda Antei

My memories are numerous, but I would like to mention mainly those about physical training. During my school years, karatejūdōsumō and the like were performed for the first time. Karate began with both Hanashiro and Yabu senseis and about twenty volunteer students. Practice took place inside the grounds of the Okinawa Ginko Bank, on the remains of the former National Academy (Kokugaku) of Ryūkyū in Shuri Tōnokura. Practice commenced with techniques such as the fundamental Naihanchi. Occasionally we went to the house of venerable old man Higaonna [Kanryō] in Naha, where we practiced Sanchin, and later we welcomed venerable old man Itosu at school and received instruction. Moreover, during times of physical exercises (taiso), karate was also adopted and in this way the so-called “physical exercise karate” (karate-taisō) was born. Later, team or individual kumite was demonstrated at athletic meets and the like. I also coached as an assistant instructor. During the summer lecture meetings at venerable old man Itosu’s home, with Hanashiro sensei as the initiator, and Yabu, Funakoshi and other warriors (bujin), all sorts of performances were seen performed. Staff members also increased more and more and I remember Kuniyoshi Seikun and Taira Kana, both from Naha, as well as others. At times me and Kanemoto Seijin visited Yamannī Usumē (i.e. venerable old man Chinen Sanrā) from Shuri Kinjō, venerable old man Kiyuna from Tamaudun as well as other warriors (bujin). As a result we received a lot of answers and corrections to our questions. Every time inspectors of the school and prefectural offices appeared, staff members performed and tried to introduce karate to them. If I remember correctly it was in my 5th year at middle school [i.e. in 1910] when famous rear admiral Yashiro [Rokurō, 1860–1930, admiral in the Imperial Japanese Navy and Navy Minister] visited our school and he was astonished by our amazingly developed physique and he said that at some point in the future he will try to have it [karate] adopted by the central government. When I participated as a jūdō athlete at the Butokuden [in 1908] I also performed school karate in front of Kanō Jigorō sensei and answered several of his questions. […] Venerable old man Itosu always said to me “Your remarkable progress in jūdō is due to your karate!” [the remainder was omitted]

The above memorandum was published in the magazine “Yōshū”, published in 1961 on occasion of the eightieth anniversary of the founding of the Shuri (Senior) High School.


Note: The above is an adaption of text and research written and published by Kinjo Hiroshi in “Karate1 kare Karate2 made”.

Posted in Unknown Ryukyu | Comments Off on Tokuda Antei’s Memorandum


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.

Posted in Unknown Ryukyu | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Like-a-Stick-of-Straw

3 – The Theory of Tī

The Lexical Meaning of Tī

The lexical meaning of the character for the word Tī, written in Japanese Kanji as 手, comprises of various meanings and uses. First of all, it denotes the human arm as well as the hand including the fingers. It also connotes a wide range of meanings related to methods from the fields of arts, crafts, and technology, like that of calligraphy, or playing musical instruments, including the style and method of their practice and presentation. As a further example, it also relates to a determined way of dancing in Japanese Nō play, Buyō (dance) and the like, and to fixed types of dance.[1]

Apart from the above, according to the Nihon Kokugo Daijiten, the comprehensive encyclopedia of Japanese language, the character for Tī further denotes various things related to[2]:

  1. the skills or techniques (waza 技) of martial arts like Jūdō, Sumō, etc., namely a) specific techniques, throws, grips and levers, or b) generally the skills, techniques, abilities, or artifices related to martial arts.
  2. performing methods, arts, crafts, techniques or skills (gijutsu 技術).
  3. an art, technique, means, method, way, procedure, sorcery or magic in general terms (jutsu 術).
  4. skills or techniques (waza 技) of a standardized, constant, or defined form.
  5. persons who possess an excellent skill in craftsmanship or art and the like, and the level of it. a) skill, skillful, mastery, expertise, dexterity. b) a person who is experienced, practiced, a specialist, or an expert. An excellently skilled practitioner of Sumō wrestling.

Additionally to the above, according to the Okinawa-go Jiten, the Dictionary of the Okinawan language, the character for Tī denotes[3]:

  1. Karate (Tōdī). The methods of Kenpō.

And apart from the above, according to the Shuri Naha Dialect Dictionary,[4] Tī denotes:

  1. another word for Karate (Tōdī).
  2. the methods and techniques (jutsu 術) of Kenpō.

Phrases used in connection with Ti include:

  • Tīmōi[5] → Hand dance, that is, Karate converted to a dance.
  • Tī-shicchōn[6] → to learn Karate.
  • Tī-jikun[7] → to strike with the fist.
  • Ti-shicchōn[8] → to know Tī.
  • Tī chikayun[9] → to use Karate, to make use of ~; to perform or demonstrate the techniques of ~.
  • Tī-narayun[10] → to take lessons in Tī.[11]

The Martial Meaning of Tī

Notwithstanding its many meanings, it is quite obvious that the character Tī as found in the Okinawan language is considered to be in specific relationship with the historical predecessors of Karate, namely Tī, Tōdī, and Chinese Kenpō. At the same time it is perceived to include specific and general techniques or skills (waza 技) of all sorts of martial arts. Furthermore, it implies standardized forms, the performance of technical or artistic skills in sense of gijutsu 技術, as well as the methods and procedures of these skills in sense of a sophisticated method or art (jutsu 術). And finally it relates to expert practitioners.

Tī designating a technique or a method

In accordance with the lexical meaning, there are a few historical examples of Tī used for designating a technique or a method. First of all, in Chinese Kenpō, individual techniques or combinations occasionally contain the suffix Shou 手, which is the same character as used for Tī. For example, there is Chaoyang-shou 朝陽手, the 26th technique of a style known as Long Boxing allegedly dating back to the time of Emperor Song Taizu (rg 960-976).[12] This specific designation is already found in the Chinese military classics Jixiao Xinshu (1560) and the Wubeizhi (1621).

Next, as described in the popular Encyclopedia of Japanese martial arts schools and factions, the Bugei Ryūha Daijiten, when Iso Mataemon Masanobu[13] (b. 1786) created the Japanese Jūjutsu style of Tenshin Shinyō-ryū he based his system on one hundred and twenty-four techniques, each of which was simply designated as Te 手.[14]

The third example refers to the long-time secret martial arts book referred to as the Okinawan Bubishi and its written descriptions for each of the forty-eight illustrated combat scenarios.[15] Each of these forty-eight illustrations depicts two persons, one in a gesture representative for the victorious technique, and one gesture representative for the losing technique. Most of the descriptive names given for victorious technique are followed by the expression Shousheng 手勝, that is, winning technique. The losing technique, on the other hand, is followed by the expression Shoubai 手敗. Here again we find the term Te 手 attached to describe a technique, or rather a more complex combination.

And fourth, in the Zhongshan Chuanxin-lu written by investiture envoy Xu Baoguang, we find the term Jiaoshou 交手 relating to a martial arts performance in 1719.[16] The same term was used in the martial arts performances for the investiture envoys in 1867.[17] Here we also and for the first time in historical sources find the term Tōdī 唐手, i.e. Chinese martial skill. Two Karate Kata are also listed, namely Shisan-bu 十三歩 or Thirteen Steps and Yibailingba-bu 壱百零八歩 or One Hundred and Eight Steps. Analog to the case of Tī, the suffix ~bu 歩 used in these names can also be interpreted in sense of certain stages or situations within a process, rather than simply referring to “steps” in sense of walking. These two Kata are known today in their corrupted pronunciations as Sēsan and Sūpārinpē.[18] Interestingly, in their written form the original suffix 歩 came to be replaced by the term Tī 手.[19]

Finally it is found in various combined words designating specific methods, such as Uēku-dī (techniques of the oar), Kama nu Dī (techniques of the sickle), and Bō no Tī (techniques of the cudgel).


Tī designating a style

In accordance with its lexical meaning, there are a few historical examples of Tī used for designating a method or style.

First of all, when considering Tī as an indigenous martial art of Ryūkyū, than it is implicit that it is considered not just some sort of brawling, but rather a more or less complex and sophisticated method. The same is even more true for the conception of Tōdī 唐手. While the character Tō literally refers to the Chinese Tang dynasty (618-907), it would be wrong to simply interpret literally as “Chinese Hand.” Corresponding to the huge scope of the lexical meanings of Tī, it would both be appropriate to interpret it as “Chinese martial arts methods.”

In Okinawa there were more such martial arts methods following the same principle of nomenclature as found in Tōdī, i.e. first the region of origin, and suffixed to it the designation as a martial art method, i.e. Tī. Hence, martial arts became variously known as Uchinādī, Nafadī, Suidī, and Tumaidī,[20] that is the fighting methods of Okinawa, Naha, Shuri, and Tomari, respectively. As a further example, there is the Motobu Udundī, with ~dī (=Tī) designating the martial art of the Motobu family itself.


Tī designating a superordinate martial art (Bugei)

  • As we have seen, Tī can be used designating either techniques, Kata or more complex methods, and even styles. Well, according to varying nomenclature, Chinese boxing styles were often marked by the suffix Quan 拳.[21] In mainland Japan, styles were designated as Ryū 流.[22] And in Ryūkyū, ostensibly, the indigenous naming convention for a martial arts style was so-and-so Tī.
  • However, in the terminology used within the martial conceptions of China as well as Japan, there were generic terms used to describe the entirety of the various martial arts styles in existence.
  • For instance, the Chinese term Bingfa 兵法 relates to the art of war, or military tactics. It is found in Chinese literature described as a sophisticated and holistic method since about 500 BC. In compound words the character Bing 兵 is used to refer to a multitude of things related to the military sphere. In Japanese the same characters as in Bingfa are pronounced Heihō, which has a otherwise very similar meaning.
  • Another specific character is Wu 武, in itself meaning martial or military. An early reference to the unity of civil and military sciences[23] is found in the biography of Confucius, where it is stated, “I have heard, that a man concerned with the literary arts also always makes military preparations; and if he deals with military affairs, he is also involved in literature,”[24] emphasizing the causal oneness of these two matters on a grand scale.
  • There are numerous compound words like Wuyi 武藝 meaning martial art, or Wushu 武術, which in former times related to military skill or technique. They are found in expressions like Wuyi Gaoqiang 武藝高強, that is, being highly skilled in martial arts. Pronounced Bu in Japanese, the same composite words are found as Bugei 武藝 and Bujutsu 武術. The term Bugei is found in such conceptions as “be experienced in all eighteen martial arts.”[25] According to the monolingual dictionary Kōjien,[26] the Bugei are defined as “skills related to bow and arrow, horse riding, swordsmanship, lances, and other Budō. Alternatively called Bugi or Bujutsu.”[27] The totality of what is included under Bugei is described with expressions like “all kinds of the art of war”[28] and “the eighteen kinds of the art of war (in old China).”[29]
  • Despite five-hundred years of Sino-Ryūkyū relations, as well as two hundred seventy years of Satsuma-Ryūkyū relations, it would not even be strange if these words did not exist in Ryūkyū. Although emulating the Ming and Qing as well as the Satsuma fief, or Japan, respectively, Ryūkyū kept a large part of its own characteristic terminology.
  • Yet, in official historical sources of the Ryūkyū kingdom we discover numerous related terms throughout history. The Kyūyō uses the term Bugei[30] for the year 1713. The investiture envoy of 1800, Li Dingyuan, explained the reason for the combination of high civil ranks and military garments awarded to the investiture envoys as “to demonstrate military power, and to reveal the civil as well as the military character of this matter.”[31] Furthermore, the Chūzan Seifu notes numerous “civil and military officials” for the year 1855.[32] The Rekidai Hōan has dozens of entries showing the existence of civil and military officials,[33] and the term Bugei also appeared.[34] Therefore, these generic conceptions were far from having been unknown in Ryūkyū.
  • In addition, Okinawan Karate man and scholar Shinzato Katsuhiko, explained that in local Okinawan dialect the terms Bugei and Bujutsu are pronounced as Buji[35] or Bū,[36] respectively, and that both are considered to comprise Tī, i.e. primordial Karate.[37]
  • In Okinawa’s oral Karate tradition[38] there are also various concepts relating the practice of Tī among the “warrior class.” For example, a discreet but smart master is called a secret warrior,[39] a person who toughens and trains his or her fists well is called a warrior of the fist,[40] and an incompetent braggart is labeled a warrior of the mouth.[41]


The Historical Proof of Tī

  • In accordance to its martial meaning as described above, Tī is perceived as having been intrinsically related to concepts like techniques (Waza), standardized forms (Kata) or more complex methods, styles (Ryū), and finally a superordinate martial art (Bugei or Bujutsu). It might be said that all of the above given conceptions, while following a basic evolution from simple to more complex at variable times and in differing intensity, in one way or the other may have galvanized the primordial Tī.
  • While the above merely represents the possible technical content or scope, there are two specific theories that attempt to place Tī as a primordial indigenous martial art of inherently Ryūkyūan design, different from the techniques, methods, styles, and superordinate martial art conceptions of the Chinese Wuyi or Japanese Bugei, respectively. These two theories are constituted by 1) the Mēkata and 2) the term Tīshimi. They are described below.


The elementary school teacher, Karate man and author Funakoshi Gichin noted on rural dances called Mēkata 舞方, which he considered a not yet developed precursor of Karate.[42] Currently these Mēkata are again variously perceived as archetypes of an indigenous Tī or a primordial form of Karate, transformed into martial arts dances by a systematic culmination of several primitive martial arts, and handed down within the royal government and in rural “warrior class” villages (Yadori 屋取).[43]

In his essay on the origin of Karate, Iha Fuyū noted that the mutual dances of two or more persons he called Aimai, in which the opponents seek to overturn or to defeat each other, originated in the Mēkata. This sort of martial dances were still carried out in various rural areas in the time prior to the War in the Pacific, and were called Sāsā-dī サーサー手, common mostly in central and southern Okinawa.

These Mēkata were closely related to the so-called Ashibī アシビー, a form of entertainment originally performed in gratitude to the gods related to harvests and the like, which developed into various kinds of festivals. Ashibī generally refers to enjoying singing and dancing to music, or the skillful performance of songs, shamisen, and theater plays. There are many terms relating to this, including Mura-shibai 村芝居, i.e. village or amateur theater. The story of the senior Anji[44] Amawari of Katsuren castle was one such play which became popular and was performed in the form of village dances.[45] Furthermore, the Mēkata were part of so-called Mō-Ashibī モーアシビー, which refers to young men and women enjoying time in the fields during night time in rural areas.

According to this explanation, the Mēkata were of a characteristical Ryūkyūan provenience.


The second historical theory attempting to prove Tī in sense of a primordial unarmed Ryūkyūan martial art, relates to the term Tīshimi. Karate man Nagamine Shōshin cited two historical sources for this term, namely 1) a short poem composed by Nago Uēkata Chūbun[46] (1663-1734), and 2) a traditional island song written by Yakabi Chōki[47] (1716-1775) called Jūban Kuduchi.[48]

Nago’s poem contains a line interpreted as follows:[49]

As much as you may distinguish yourself in the arts of Tī and scholarship, nothing is more important than the heart as the seat of the mind as demonstrated in everyday behavior.

Yakabi’s verse goes:

The most important task of the Samurai is the study of both Tī and the sciences, to show filial piety towards their parents, and to be of use for the royal family.[50]

Both poems contain the expression pronounced as Tīshimi 手墨, considered to constitute the two individual expressions of Tī being the martial arts, and Shimi being the sciences.[51] In this way the expression Tīshimi is explained as representing a concept similar to that of Bunbu-ryōdō,[52] that is, the combined concept of classical literature and the arts of war.[53]

Critique of the Theory of Tī

  • Integrating the lexical and martial meaning of Tī with the above given historical sources, Tī is thus perceived as having been intrinsically related to concepts like techniques (Waza), standardized forms (Kata) or more complex methods, styles (Ryū), and finally a superordinate martial art (Bugei or Bujutsu) of Ryūkyūan design, in existence in a sophisticated form and on a par with the classical literature and sciences–i.e. as Tīshimi within the aristocratic circles by at least the mid-18th century–and as a characteristical theatrical art form of Ryūkyūan provenience–i.e. as Mēkata within the circles of commoners since immemorial times.
  • The above deduction tries to place the specific Tī as an indigenous primordial martial art of Ryūkyūan design into the framework of general martial arts. But there are some huge problems with this.
  • First, as regards the Mēkata, although performances by old experts are reported until the 1970s, these sorts of performances have died out afterwards and they are now considered a so-called “lost transmission of traditional arts & culture.”[54] More recently, contemporary Okinawan Karate authorities, acting on the suggestions made by Funakoshi and Iha in the early twentieth century as described earlier, explained that both Karate and Mēkata have a descriptive technical expression in common, called Tī chikayun.[55] This simply translates as “to use the hands,” which is an integral part of dancing, isn’t it? Using the simile of the character for hand in the meaning of the martial art called Tī, however, in martial arts circles it had been interpreted as “the skillful use of the martial arts called Tī.”[56] Based on this symptomatic premise the theory was created that the Mēkata were traditions of ancient martial techniques and an original form of a likewise ancient and bare handed martial art of Tī.[57] In this way, the Mēkata became considered martial arts dances,[58] habitually performed accompanied by the three-stringed Sanshin on such occasions as the Mō-asibi,[59] Eisā,[60] tug-of-war, bullfighting tournaments etc., in short, at all sorts of festivals and celebrations. It is said that dancers “competed in battle,” that it contained “actual combat,”[61] or that “challengers danced as fiercely as if clashing and blocking swords.”[62] It is said that occasionally excitement would involuntarily become emotional, and if not mediated, real fights would also occur. In this way this theory describes the Mēkata both as a historical form of actual fighting as well as an art form, which through the centuries coalesced into martial arts dances.
  • It should be noted that, as a peculiarity, the Mēkata did not have fixed forms but were basically improvised dances expressing individual skills and feelings. This is in contrast to the more recently developed dances called Bu no Mai 武の舞, a term only borrowed from actual history and which must not be confused with the Mēkata. The current Bu no Mai are choreographies created by teachers of the Ryūkyū dance or by martial artists, and performed on stage following fixed forms, often using the modern twentieth century Kata of Karate and Kobudō embedded in historical stage settings.[63] These Bu no Mai are therefore modern creations, motivated by the idea of merging the extinct Mēkata and other theatrical performances with the modern face of Karate and Kobudō.
  • Second, as regards Tīshimi, the Okinawa-specific use of Tī as given in the above examples are found in twentieth century sources only, with the two ambiguous historical references to Tīshimi being the sole exceptions to the rule. In other words, the two notes on Tīshimi constitute the sole historical argument upon which the whole theory of the existence of an indigenous primordial unarmed Ryūkyūan martial arts called Tī is based upon. Besides these two, at present there are no unambiguous pre-modern historical sources confirming the existence of the use of a generic term Tī in such a sense.[64]
  • And even the above given explanation of Tīshimi itself is dubious.[65] The interpretation of the first character Tī as a martial art, and the second character Shimi as representing the sciences, actually came and still comes from Karate circles only.[66] In its most simple interpretation, however, Tīshimi means “hand and ink” and refers to handwriting. In ancient works of China it was used as a compound word to describe hand-written documents.[67] And while in the ancient Japanese language the term Tīshimi did not exist as a compound word, in educated circles it had been likened to the expression Shuseki gakumon 手跡学問, i.e. the science of handwriting. This corresponding to the original Chinese interpretation.[68] So how did Tīshimi become interpreted as constituting a combined concept of “Tī (martial arts) and scholarship”?

As Shinzato had pointed out, “unfortunately it seems that the conventional theories of Karate do not support the idea of [Tīshimi as] a compound word.[69] In other words, in Karate circles the explanation as a compound term in sense of handwriting was rejected. Instead, the two characters for hand 手 and ink 墨 were considered two lexemes carrying individual conceptual meanings. In this way Karate people purposively interpretated Tī as a martial art. Therefore, the interpretation of Tī as a native martial art appears to be the result of an artificial and retrospective projection of extralinguistic significance.

In addition, the above points are particularly confirmed by the fact that there is no evidence for the existence of standardized Kata independent from imported Chinese Kenpō skills. Following this logic, the late Karate authority Kinjō Hiroshi affirmed that there actually was no such thing as a indigenous martial art of Tī which came to serve as the earliest primordial ooze of Karate.[70]

The above insinuates that the concept of Tī is the attempt of twentieth century Karate men to establish a theory of systematic transmission of indigenous, fragmentary, and unarmed fighting techniques without original context, and their systematization into a primordial unarmed and indigenous Ryūkyūan martial art, which existed already prior to the traceable import of unarmed Chinese martial arts since the late eighteenth century. And consequently, the theory of the existence of an early indigenous concept of Bunbu-ryōdō called Tīshimi must also be rejected. By the way, this approach is a comprehensible one. It is analogous to the concept of Confucian bias found in Ryūkyūan historiography, emphasizing the divinely ordained legitimacy of each new dynastic succession, thus justifying the predating of a current dynasty backwards until the time of the mythical creation of the country itself. In reality, however, there was no such legitimate succession.[71]

But, of course, this doesn’t mean that there were no martial techniques, complex methods, or even superordinate arts (Bugei) during the Ryūkyū kingdom era. As was shown earlier, the concept of Bugei as well as Bunbu-ryōdō were very well known in Ryūkyū. It also doesn’t mean that there was no martial art called Tī. That’s not the point. The point is that there is no historical proof for the existence of an indigenous primordial martial art called Tī prior to the import of Chinese martial arts.

The Bare-handed Approach

One further thing to note is the tendency of considering historical Karate as having been a bare-handed martial art. Chosing this determining factor any research or contemplation is automatically biased according to modern perception. Therefore, the concept of Tī as a working theory of historical martial arts of Ryūkyū is tenable only in sense of a “category of hand-to-hand combat including both unarmed and armed combat.”[72]

Notwithstanding, and unlike in the superordinate Chinese Wuyi and Japanese Bugei, in the theory of Tī hints to armed martial arts are usually blinded out or attributed being not crucial. Therefore, by reaching the level of Tī as a superordinate integrated martial art (Bugei), a major issue arises. Namely, the issue of primordial Tī perceived and portrayed as a bare handed martial art. The same notion is true for Tōdī, which is solely considered a unarmed Chinese Kenpō. In other words, the technical content of an assumed primordial Tī and the Chinese martial arts that influenced it are largely restricted to bare-handed “boxing” styles.

Therefore, in historical Karate research a unilateral perspective had been applied, with the question “Where is the unarmed historical Karate?” rather than “Where are the martial arts?” This was done by scholars and Karate authors ever since and is still widespread conception to this day. This observation is not only corroborated by the sources already mentioned, but also by numerous works either supporting or questioning this theory.[73]

To give a few examples, in 1922, historian Higaonna Kanjun designated Karate with the expression “empty-handed martial arts.”[74] In the same year the Tōkyō Nichinichi Shinbun published the article Ryūkyū no Karate, describing it as an exquisite bare-handed skill to defend against enemies.[75] In 1933, Iha Fuyū used the term Ryūkyū Kenpō to describe Karate,[76] and both Iha and Nakahara Zenchū perceived and presented Karate as a distinctive unarmed Ryūkyūan martial art independent from armed martial arts.[77] Iha at different points in his text clearly used the terms Chinese Kenpō and Karate in an interchangeable manner. For instance, from the Kenpō shown in the military treatise Wubeizhi (1621) “we can take a glimpse on Karate in his homeland.”[78] So for him Kenpō was Chinese Karate just as much as Karate was Ryūkyū Kenpō. Furthermore, noting the description of Kenpō in the Jixiao Xinshu (1560) as the fundament of all (military) martial arts, he predicted the international proliferation of Karate because “persons who study Kenjutsu, Sōjutsu, Kyūjutsu and all other sorts of martial arts in particular should first need to train their spirit and body through Karate.”[79] And in 1936, Hanashiro Chōmo explained that Tōdī meant “fighting with hands and fists.”[80] There are countless other examples. In short, in the perception of the first half of the 20th century Tī constituted an unarmed and indigenous martial art, as opposed to a ryūkyūanized Bugei of an integrated design under influence of imported martial arts.[81]

The above described theoretical premise of Karate as a historical bare-handed martial arts is based on the idea of the two specific military prohibition policies 禁武政策 in Ryūkyūan history. Namely 1) during the period of centralization under King Shō Shin’s (1465-1526) and 2) following the Ryūkyū invasion by Satsuma (1609). In the discussion on Karate’s historical development both these events have become axiomatic. This can be seen in Funakoshi Gichin’s general view as given in his Karate-dō Kyōhan:[82]

Because of these two military prohibition policies, Kenpō as an empty-handed martial art of self-defense, that is, Uchinādī 沖縄手, has undergone an unusual development and became the mysterious unique Ryūkyū martial arts of Karate seen today.”[83]


[1] Cf. Kadekaru 2012: 176.

[2] Cf. Kadekaru 2012: 176. From Nihon Kokugo Daijiten. 2nd Edition. Tōkyō, Shōgakkan 2000-2002. 日本国語大辞典。第二版。東京、小学館。

[3] Cf. Kadekaru 2012: 176. Okinawa-go Jiten. Kokuritsu Kokugo Kenkyūjo-hen I. Ōkurashō Insatsukyoku, Tōkyō 1975. 沖繩語辞典。國立國語研究所編I。大藏省印刷局、東京1975.

[4] Cf.

[5] 「手舞(ティーモーイ)」

[6] 「手知っちょん(ティーシッチョーン)」

[7] 「手突くん(ティージクン)」

[8] ティシッチョウン(手を知っている)

[9] 「手を使ゆん(ティーチカユン)」

[10] ティナラユン(手を習う)

[11] Cf. Kadekaru 2012: 176.

[12] Song Taizu Sanshi’er-shi Changquan 宋太祖三十二勢長拳. Cf. Qi 1988: 321. Ōtsuka 1998: 39.

[13] 磯又右衛門正足.

[14] Bugei Ryūha Daijiten 1978: 601-602.

[15] Cf. Ōtsuka 1998: 39. For western research on the Bubishi, see McCarthy 1995 (The Bible of Karate: Bubishi). Habersetzer 1997 (Bubishi. À la source des Karaté-Do). Habersetzer 2004 (Bubishi – An der Quelle des Karatedo).

[16] Xu Baoguang: Zhongshan Chuanxin-lu (Chūzan Denshin Roku). 6 Volumes. Meiji 3 (1870), reprint of the 1719 original edition. In: Okinawa no Rekishi Jōhō (Informations on the History of Okinawa). Vol. 8, Nr. 4. 徐葆光:中山伝信録。巻1~6。明治3年重刻。In: 沖縄の歴史情報、第8巻、(4)。

[17] Cf. Wittwer, Henning:  The 1867 “Program of the Three-Six-Nine and of All Arts”: A New Translation and Explanation of its Martial Arts Sections. Classical Fighting Arts 22 (2012), p. 43-47.

[18] Descriptions of these Kata can be found in Miyazato 1978, Nakamoto 2003.

[19] Cf. Nakamoto 2003. There are two more Kata in the modern Gōjū-ryū curriculum following the same principle, namely Sēpai 十八手 and Sansērū 三十六手.

[20] 沖縄手、那覇手、首里手、泊手.

[21] Cf. Qi 1988: 308.

[22] CF. Bugei Ryūha Daijiten, 1978.

[23] Wenwu/Bunbu 文武.

[24] In the “Records of the Grand Historian” (Shiji, Ch.47 §17) of Sima Qian (145-86 BC): 臣聞有文事者必有武備,有武事者必有文備. Cf.

[25] Bugei Jūhappan ni tsūjiro 武藝十八般に通じる.

[26] 広辞苑, one of the larger single-volume and monolingual dictionaries, published by Shinmura Izura at Iwanami Shoten.

[27] 「弓、馬、剣、槍などの武道に関する技芸。武技。武術。」

[28] Bugei Hyappan 武藝百般.

[29] Cf. Shinzato 1996: 244-45. The eighteen kinds of martial arts, or Bugei Jūhappan 武藝十八般, changed according to the eras. As an example, they were given as Kyūjutsu 弓術, Bajutsu 馬術, Sōjutsu 槍術, Kenjutsu 剣術, Eihō 泳法, Battōjutsu 抜刀術, Tantōjutsu 短刀術, Jūttejutsu 十手術, Shurikenjutsu 手裏剣術, Fukumibarijutsu 含針術, Naginata 薙刀, Hōjutsu 砲術, Taihojutsu 逮捕術, Jūjutsu 柔術, Bōjutsu 棒術, Kusarigama 鎖鎌, Mojiri もじり, Kakushijutsu 隠術.

According to Shinzato, the conception of the eighteen kinds of martial arts originated from the Chinese martial arts and seem to have been first used in the classical novel called Shuihuzhuan 水滸傳 (literally, The Water Shore Story, allegedly written by Shi Naian 施耐庵 (1296-1371). One of the four classical novels of Chinese literature. In Japanese known as Suikoden 水滸伝. In English as “Outlaws of the Marsh” and “The Water Margin.”

[30] 武藝善棒拳. Kyūyō, article 681. In: Okinawa no Rekishi Jōhō. Vol 7, Nr. 4.

[31] 鼎元曰:『册使既遣文臣而服麟蟒,何也』先生曰:『示武也;亦文武兼資之意也』。Cf. Li Dingyuan 1802.

[32] 文武百官. Cf. Sai Taku, Sai On: Chūzan Seifu. 1725. In: Okinawa no Rekishi Jōhō. Vol. 5.蔡鐸、蔡温:中山世谱。In: 沖縄の歴史情報、第5巻。

[33] Wenwu/Bunbu 文武. 歴代寳案, Volume 1-32 (1).

[34] 歴代寳案, Volume 16-11 (2).

[35] ブジィ, i.e. Bugei 武藝

[36] ブー, i.e. Bujutsu 武術.

[37] Cf. Shinzato 1996: 245.

[38] The three most common genres of which are legends, folk tales, and proverbs. Cf. Jim Silvan: Die Erzähltraditionen im Karate von Okinawa. In: Cultura Martialis, Heft 1, Oktober 2004, p.53-71.

[39] Kakure bushi カクレブシ(隠れ武士)

[40] Tîjukun bushi ティジュクンブシ(拳骨武士)

[41] Guchi bushi クチブシ(口武士). Cf. Shinzato 1996: 245.

[42] Cf. Shōtō (Funakoshi Gichin): Okinawa no Bugi (I). In: Ryūkyū Shinpō, January 17, 1914: 唐手の起原に就いては巷説紛々で自分も屡々質問を受けることなるが(、)想うにこれは沖縄固有の武藝にして田舎の舞方なるものが所謂唐手の未だ発達せざる時代のそのままであろう(。)

[43] Oki. Yādui ヤートゥイ. Cf. OKKJ 2008: 56. Tsuha Sei, in OKKJ 2008: 60.

[44] Chōja nu Ufushu 長者の大主, with Ufunushi being an alternative name for Anji. This play is still in existence.

[45] Taira 1997: 184

[46] 名護親方寵文, aka Tei Junsoku 程順則

[47] 屋嘉比朝寄.

[48] 十番口説. The “ ten oral teachings“ or “ten urgent entreaties.“

[49] Nagamine 1975. 50. Shinzato 1996: 250. OKKJ 2008: 664. 「手墨(テスミ)勝(スグ)れてん智のざ勝れてん肝(チム)ど肝さだめ世界(シキン)の習や」

[50] Niban samurē nu dē’ichi ya, Tīshimi gakumun yuku narati, Ufuya ni kōkō medei shushi

「二番士(サムレー)の第一や 手墨学問よく習て 親の孝行めでいすし」.

[51] Shinzato 1996: 250.

[52] 文武両道.

[53] Nagamine 1975. 50. OKKJ 2008: 664.

[54] Cf. Iha 1938: 314. OKKJ 2008: 56.

[55] ティーチカユン(手を使ゆん). Also given as Tekkayun てっかゆん, that is, 手使ゆん, and from there Te o tsukau 手を使う.

[56] Cf. OKKJ 2008: 56. In comparing various sources it gets apparent here that Tōdi as given by Funakoshi in 1914 was equated with Tī as used in the OKKJ (2008).

[57] Cf. Tsuha Sei, in OKKJ 2008: 60. Takamiyagi Shigeru, in OKKJ 2008: 87-90.

[58] Bugei-odori 武藝踊り, or in Okinawan dialect Bujīmōi ぶじーも.

[59] 毛遊び. Formerly conducted as a custom in Okinawa. Generally an outdoors meeting of young men and women during the middle of the night, enyoing eating, drinking, and song and dance.

[60] エイサー. Traditional entertainment danced at the time of the Bon festival (Buddhist remembrance of the dead) in Okinawa. After finishing the Ūkui ウークイ (escort of the spirit of a deceased person to the burial place), and after offering a dance in a circle of persons, they would go round from door to door.

[61] Jissen 実戦.

[62] Takamiyagi Shigeru, in Cf. OKKJ 2008: 87.

[63] Cf. Tsuha Sei, in OKKJ 2008: 60. Takamiyagi Shigeru, in OKKJ 2008: 87-90.

[64] Cf. Kinjō 2012: 18. Shinzato 1996: 250, 257. Kadekaru 2012: 176, 177. OKKJ 2008: 662.

[65] Cf. Shinzato 1996: 257.

[66] Shinzato 1996: 250.

[67] Shoumo (= Tīshimi) is found in the following works.

“Biography of Fan Ye” (範曄傳. In: “The History of Southern Song Dynasties” [Songshu 宋書]).

“Biography of Li Yan Fang” (李彦芳. In: “History of the Later Tang Dynasty“ (Xin Tangshu [新唐書], Vol. 93, Biographies 18).

Wang Duanlu: Chongzhong Lunwen Zhaibilu (王端履: 重論文齋筆録, Vol. 1).

[68] Cf. Shinzato 1996: 257.

[69] Cf. Shinzato 1996: 257.

[70] Kinjō 2012: 19.

[71] In Ryūkyūan historiography, each of the early dynastic successions was retrospectively legitimized as belonging to one and the same dynastic line. Tenson dynasty, the Shunten dynasty, the Eiso dynasty, the Chūzan dynasty under Satto, and the 1st and 2nd dynasty of the royal Shō dynasty. However, there was no such relation. Rather, it was retrospectively and artificially constructed as a result of a Confucian bias emphasizing the legitimacy of the present dynastic succession.

[72] Draeger 1974: 125.

[73] See for example, Funakoshi 1922: 15, et passim. Miki 1930: 141. Iha Fuyū 1933. Nakahara 1977. Shinzato 1996. Kinjō 2012: 15, et passim. OKKJ 2008: 102, 110, et passim. Kadekaru 2012: 177. While the first monography on Karate was written in 1922 by Funakoshi, the first monography on Ryūkyū Kobudō was written only in 1964. The field of Kobudō, which clearly constitutes a major part of the modern Okinawan martial traditions, remained the poor cousin of Karate ever since. Only a comparatively very few authors take Kobudō into account, for instance Hokama Tetsuhiro and Nakamoto Masahiro.

[74] Toshu Kūken no Bujutsu 徒手空拳の武術. Cf. Funakoshi 1922/1994: 15. 所謂徒手空拳の武術が沖縄に本来存在して居たか否かと云ふ事は今俄に速斷は出来ない。

[75] 琉球の「唐手」。だん生が憤欝神秘的な武術。空拳で敵を防ぐ妙技、講道館でも研究する。東京日日新聞。大正十六月三日。

[76] Iha 1933, as evinced in the “琉球に於ける武備の撤廃と拳法の発達.”

[77] Iha 1933, 1938, Nakahara 1977.

[78] Iha 1938: 315.

[79] Iha 1938: 315.

[80] Honsha Shusai Karate Zadankai (2). Ryūkyū Shinpō, 1936/10/28. 本社主催・空手座談会(二)。琉球新報、1936/10/28. See also OKKJ 2008: 7, 677-78.

[81] Cf. Shinzato 1996: 257.

[82] 船越義珍著、空手道教範日月社、1958. First published 1935.

[83] Takamiyagi Shigeru, in OKKJ 2008: 102.

Posted in Theories of Historical Karate in Comparative Perspective | Comments Off on 3 – The Theory of Tī