The Issue of Varying Combinations in Taira-lineage Saijutsu

In the Saijutsu kata of Taira-lineage are often found longer combinations which are almost the same, but which almost always slightly vary. This is a real issue for practitioners, particularly during the first years. I have been asked how to memorize those differences in Chatan Yara and Hama Higa. I am sure everyone who has some exposition to Taira-lineage saijutsu knows of this issue. There is no logical explanation for it. I have heard even kodansha talk about it in an almost depressed tone.

The intros and the outros to these varying combinations are also remarkably similar. Because people condition themselves with lots of repetitions and kime and all, the performances almost become autopilot, and that’s why it gets complicated. That is, once you mastered the first kata, the second will confuse you, the third even more, the fourth again, the fifth all the more, the sixths will throw you in despair, and while you probably see some light at the end of the tunnel during number seven, and after like 20 years or so, the eighth will finish you off. Or as it almost once ripped out of an unnamed saijutsu student:

“Are you kidding me?”

It is not that dramatic, but it is an important issue that even seasoned kobudoka struggle with.

Therefore, today I would like to explain the topic shortly. I will do so by looking at the kata’s broader choreography or, more specifically, at the morphology of the combinations in question within its enbusen. In this way it is possible to address this topic. This is difficult for most people because as you are wading through the beginner and intermediate kata upwards to the final ones, you simply do not see the forest for the trees.

Note that at the end of this article I have added a short movie showing the techniques.

Also note that the terminology used for techniques might differ from school to school.

So lets get started.

First of all, in Tsuken Shitahaku no Sai there is a combination of ten consecutive techniques. These appear twice in the kata: 1. r. Jōdan-barai, 2. r. Jōdan-kaeshi-uchi, 3. r. Gedan-uke, 4. l. Chūdan-zuki, 5. r. Chūdan-zuki, 6. bdh. Chūdan-kamae, 7. bdh. Gedan-uke, 8. bdh. Jōdan-zuki, 9. Jōdan Kōsa-uke, 10. bdh. Jōdan-uchi.

Chatan Yara no Sai has the same combination as Tsuken Shitahaku no Sai, but with one additional technique (r. Jōdan-mawashi-uchi) so there are a total of eleven consecutive techniques. These appear twice in the kata: 1. r. Jōdan-barai, 2. r. Jōdan-kaeshi-uchi, 3. r. Jōdan-mawashi-uchi, 4. r. Gedan-uke, 5. l. Chūdan-zuki, 6. r. Chūdan-zuki, 7. bdh. Chūdan-kamae, 8. bdh. Gedan-uke, 9. bdh. Jōdan-zuki, 10. Jōdan Kōsa-uke, 11. bdh. Jōdan-uchi

Hama Higa no Sai in turn has the same combination as in Chatan Yara but without the last two techniques so there are a total of nine consecutive techniques: 1. r. Jōdan-barai, 2. r. Jōdan-kaeshi-uchi, 3. r. Jōdan-mawashi-uchi, 4. r. Gedan-uke, 5. l. Chūdan-zuki, 6. r. Chūdan-zuki, 7. bdh. Chūdan-kamae, 8. bdh. Gedan-uke, 9. bdh. Jōdan-zuki.

Kojō no Sai has the same 11-technique-combination as in Chatan Yara no Sai. These appear trice in the kata.

Tawada no Sai has a 9-technique-combination that is a shortened variation of the 11-technique-combination of Chatan Yara and Kojō no Sai, namely, the same combo simply without techniques number 2. (r. Jōdan-kaeshi-uchi) and 3. r. Jōdan-mawashi-uchi. This 9-techniques-combination appears four times in the kata: 1. r. Jōdan-barai, 2. r. Gedan-uke, 3. l. Chūdan-zuki, 4. r. Chūdan-zuki, 5. bdh. Chūdan-kamae, 6. bdh. Gedan-uke, 7. bdh. Jōdan-zuki, 8. Jōdan-kōsa-uke, 9. bdh. Jōdan-uchi.

Yakā no Sai has an 8-technique-combination twice that can be considered either a variation of the 10-techniques-combination of Tsuken Shitahaku no Sai (variation in the first two techniques, minus the Jōdan-mawashi-uchi), or of the 9-techniques-combination of Hama Higa no Sai (variation in the first two techniques, minus the last two techniques ), but with a slight variation: 1. r. Chūdan-barai, 2. r. Chūdan-renzoku-barai, 3. r. Gedan-uke, 4. l. Chūdan-zuki, 5. Chūdan-zuki, 6. bdh. Chūdan-kamae, 7. bdh. Gedan-uke, 8. bdh. Jōdan-zuki

Next, Jigen (Manji) no Sai has another unique 8-technique-combination that can be considered a shortened veariation of the 11-technique-combination of Chatan Yara and Kojō no Sai, skipping the three techniques number 7, 8, and 9. This combination is performed twice in the kata: 1. r. Jōdan-barai, 2. r. Jōdan-kaeshi-uchi, 3. r. Jōdan-mawashi-uchi, 4. r. Gedan-uke, 5. l. Chūdan-zuki, 6. r. Chūdan-zuki, 7. Jōdan-kōsa-uke, 8. bdh. Jōdan-uchi.

Finally, Hanta-gwā no Sai has a variation of the 9-techniques-combination of Hama Higa no Sai, however there is a whole new combi embedded it in.

And that’s all that need be said about this.

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Kyan Chōtoku and Chan-no-Bōjutsu

(By Kyuna Chōkō 喜友名朝孝, in “Okinawa Karate Kobudo Jiten,” 2008, translation Andreas Quast)

When I was a child, I used to go to the house of Kyan Chōtoku (Chan nu Tanmē, meaning senior-citizen Kyan from the samure class) together with my father when he returned from police duty. At that time, my older brother was about the same age as Chan nu Tanmē’s grandson, and both were taught the basics of karate by Tanmē.

My father studied karate under Chanmī-gwā (Kyan Chōtoku) at the Kadena Police Station together with Nagamine Shōshin, who later became the founder of the Matsubayashi-ryū.

Kyan Chōtoku said that even when he was at the advanced age of 70 years, his karate and bōjutsu skills didn’t make him feel old and it is said that it surprised the karate practitioners at that time. In particular, his kata of Chintō and his bōjutsu were splendid and it was said that even the authorities of the karate world could not imitate it. He was a master who embodied all seven major elements of karate, that is muchimi, atifa, chinkuchi, fēsa, michichī, kukuru, and churasa.

Chanmī-gwā, who was small-built and slender, was as light as a flying bird, and it is said that his keen and nimble technique and unique martial performance have reached the level of kensei (fist saint) and that his technique appeared to be “divinely skilled.”

Eventually, the name of Chan was prefixed to his Chintō and bōjutsu and it came to be called under the nicknames of “Chan nu Chintō” and “Chan nu Shichi Kun.”

Chan nu Chintō  (1) 空手の日奉納演武 喜友名朝孝 Choukou Kiyuna – YouTube

Chan nu Shichi Kun holds the six-foot bō in three equal parts, then strikes twice overhead with the tip and the base of the bō, strikes the groin once from the lower-level upward, then strikes three times with the tip and the base of the bō, and then one tsuki-nuki as the finishing blow. It is a tremendous technique of defeating the opponent with a total of seven consecutive attacks (as described above).

The seven consecutive attacks are performed three times, once to the left, once to the right, and once to the front, and long and rigorous training and training are required to perform it satisfactorily. Many different schools and factions perform this kata under the name of “Tokumine no Kon.”

When I was a boy, I was taught “Chan nu Shichi Kun,” which bears the name Chan nu Tanmē, by both the masters Koja Kōtoku and Kinjō Bokuhō from Kaneku Mizugama area [in Kadena].

In other words, Chan nu Shichi Kun is a bōjutsu characteristic for Kyan Chōtoku, the master in years gone by.

It is a symbol of the admiration of the warriors of former Chatan Yara and Kadena, and the villagers, for Chan nu Tanmē, and entrusts them with the feeling of valuing the pride of their hometown.

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On Sēpai (1986)

Not too long ago communication between Okinawa and the world as well as between sensei and students was slow. Things would sometimes take months if not years to reach anybody, if ever.

My colleague Filip Konjokrad just provided his translation of the recent interview with Sadayuki Taira published in the Okinawa Times. It is super-interesting for several reasons, most importantly for its note on the origin of Sēpai, a famous kata of the Gōjū-ryū school of karate. There it is said:

Seipai (18 hands) is a kata made by Chojun Miyagi sensei (1888-1953), the founder of Goju-ryu.

BTW, around twenty years ago I came across the same statement in a 1986 article from a karate mag. It was written by Kisaki Tomoharu, founder of Yuishinkan Gōjū-ryū karatedō. Most people know him indirectly because he was the initiator of the commemorative monument for Higashionna Kanryō and Miyagi Chōjun at Matsuyama Park in Naha. It is funny not even Okinawan sensei ever heard about that but Kisaki actually chose the stone for the monument in Fuzhou and had the front characters chiseled in by a Chinese master carver.

What also none of the persons knew that I talked to in Okinawa was that the names of those who participated in the erection of the monument are all written on the foundation stone. That stone memorial for Higashionna Kanryō and Miyagi Chōjun was solemnly unveiled on May 23, 1987, commemorating Miyagi Chōjun’s centenary birthday.

Here follows the part in question on Sēpai, plus a few more excerpts from the 1986 article. Back then we were all stunned and wondered if the translation was correct, but there was no doubt. I stopped talking about it many years ago. People were rather contemptuous towards the idea that Sēpai might not be a century-old kata from China handed down by Higashionna to Miyagi.

Sēpai is the Chinese pronunciation of the characters and it is one of the open-skill kata (kaishu-gata) created by Miyagi Chōjun himself, the founder of Gōjū-ryū. The movements always switch over from defense to attack, in which great speed and dynamism is required for the attacks.

[…]

When performing the kata you have to stick to the basic forms of the movements as much as possible. As part of and as a sign of progress in kata, however, the founder Miyagi Chōjun himself expressly supported and encouraged the process of varying these movements. That means, as in calligraphy, where different types of writing exist such as block letters, semi-italic letters and italics.

In the kata, shiko-dachi is used to thrust down with both hands. At that moment the face is facing forward. In the original kata, however, it was correct to look down in the direction of the thrust.

Nowadays, however, there are groups that even simplify and modify the Kata Sanchin, which is the basis of Gōjū-ryū, so that it is easier to learn and teach. This is a big mistake in kata practice. A foundation must remain a foundation. It seems to have been forgotten that karate in itself is the hard part of it all.

In summary: only those who continue practice (in Okinawa it is called “the suffering”) continuously and repeatedly can acquire the kata.

Kisaki Tomoharu.

I might add that Sēpai is very specific when it comes to techniques. It does not have the typical Gōjū-ryū opening of Sanchin and others and features a variety of locks and twists of various body parts rather than emphasizing classical uke, tsuki, and keri techniques. That is, it is full of torite-class techniques, or tuidi in Okinawan pronunciation.

Another important point is that – if it is true that Miyagi created it – there is a chance that Okinawan karate people created new kata during the early 20th century and gave them names that sounded as if they were taken from the Chinese language and corrupted to old-style Ryūkyūan language. This is a point to consider when it comes to the issue of the “invention of karate,” i.e. the chance that karate was not really that old but rather a 20th century invention, albeit based on traditional physical culture and fragmentary martial arts traditions of bygone eras. 

Source: Kisaki Tomoharu: Sēpai, Part 1. The True Essence of Karate Technique. Gōjū-ryū Kaishugata: Learned in Personal Instruction from Miyagi Chōjun. Kindai Karate, Juni 1986 (Issue Nr. 25). Tōkyō, Bēsubōru Magajin-sha 1986.

Note: The article in copy was given to me by Christian Winkler Sensei. A German translation was provided by Rina Obi Sensei shortly afterwards. The late Uli Schlee Sensei’s was also involved in the project.

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Inutabu Riot (Inutabu Sōdō 犬田布騒動)

The Inutabu Riot occurred on April 23, 1864 (old lunar calendar: March 18, Bunkyū 4) in Inutabu Village, Tokunoshima. From the peasant’s point of view it is also called Inutabu Crusade (Inutabu gisen 犬田布義戦), emphasizing the righfulness of the action.

Background: The Amami Islands, which produced sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum), were exploited by the strict sugar policy of the Satsuma Domain at that time and the islanders were prohibited from buying and selling sugar. The origin of the turmoil is said to be that one of the farmers, Niiyama Tamenari 新山為盛, was arrested and tortured on suspicion of diversion of sugar.

Over 150 Inutabu farmers rioted to rescue Tamenari, besieged the Satsuma magistrate’s office (kariya), chased the government officials, and stayed in the forest as their stronghold for seven days. Unable to to declare all villagers criminals, the magistrate’s office just exiled seven people to resolve the case without bloodshed. This turmoil became known throughout the Amami Islands and the subsequent sugar management was greatly eased.

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Yaka no Sai

As Nagamine Shōshin has pointed out, it is important to study the history of Ryūkyū to understand Okinawan martial arts. During Ryukyu kingdom times existed private tutors called “Yaka.” It was not an official government position and therefore there are hardly any records.Well, Motobu Naoki sensei wrote an article about Yakā in 2016.

Well, as some may have heard about, there is a kata called Yakā no Sai. It has been handed down in the Taira Shinken lineage of Ryūkyū Kobudō. There are a few videos of it online now, most importantly by Okinawa Prefecture, Nakamoto Mamoru of Bunbukan (see video below), Frank Pelny (Tesshinkan; this is Taira-Akamine-Tamayose lineage), and Maarten Van Bloois (Taira-Inoue lineage). I also uploaded an 1970s vid of it.

This kata is usually outside the teaching curriculum, that is, it is above the grading to 5th Dan in Okinawan dōjō belonging to the Taira lineage of Kobudō. It might also have been lost in one or another branch of this lineage. Otherwise, while finding it simply listed among the sai kata on various websites, I doubt that many people ever actually trained it. Mario McKenna pinned down what was known about the kata but the page is offline.

Yaka is the name of a small village north of Uruma. So it seem likely that “Yaka no Sai” refers to this place, especially since many kata names are place names or personal names. That is, it is the first thing that comes to mind if you only call it “Yaka no Sai.” But then, discovered by thorough research, the kata’s full name is given as “Hama Udun Yakā no Sai” (浜御殿屋嘉阿の釵) (BRD 1978 and elsewhere). This name implies that it is “The Sai Kata of Yakā of the Beach Residence.” This “Hama Udun” or “Beach Residence” was located in the central Yonabaru region, not up in the north where the village of Yaka is.

What are these residences called Udun? The Japanese term Goten 御殿 denotes the residential house of a noble person, a magnificent residence, a palace, or a castle. In the Ryūkyūan language the same term is pronounced Udun and had a twofold meaning. As for one, it was the honorific name used for the mansions of the Anji Estate stewards (Anji-jitō) living in Shuri. And two, it was a honorific designation for the family of this Anji. Additionally, it was also used to refer to the families of the king’s heir and the other princes.

Because the Udun families administered the various districts (magiri 間切) of the kingdom, they often bore the district‘s name as their family name. At the time of the abolition of the feudal fiefs (1872/79) there were the following twenty-eight Udun families in Ryūkyū: Kunigami, Ōgimi, Gushi, Haneji, Nakijin, Motobu, Nago, Ie, Kin, Urasoe, Ginowan, Misato, Yuntanza, Goeku, Yonagusuku, Gushikawa, Oroku, Tamagusuku, Gushikami, Tamagusuku, Mabuni, Takamine, Makabe, Kyan, Tamagawa (Kaneshiro district), Ōmura (Chatan district), Matsuyama (without an actual district), and Nakagusuku. Among the above, Nakagusuku Udun was the mansion of the heir of the king, while Ginowan and Matsuyama Udun were the mansions of the other princes.

The villas of the king were also referred to as Udun: Shikina Udun and Ochaya Udun. Shikina Udun is well known as the place were Matsumura Sōkon served as a royal guard (Cf. Yoshimura 1941). It is also well known that martial arts performances took place at the Ochaya Udun in 1867 (Cf. Shimabuku 1956).

Another place related to royalty is the Hama Udun. It was not a residence but one of the age-old places of worship called Uganjū, which were often affiliated to large open spaces used for all sorts of communal meetings during Ryūkyu kingdom times. The place called Hama Udun was located close to the well (fountain) known as Yonabaru Ōgawa at the east coast of Yonabaru (see attached map, in relation to Shuri castle). It was one of the places of worship closely related to the royals and visited on occasion of pilgrimages to pray for various things. In order to break the influence of indigenous religion, the king was prohibited by Satsuma to perform these pilgrimages himself, and thus send his vassals instead. These pilgrimages were called Agarimawari, i.e. pilgrimage to the places of worship.

It should be noted that the Hama Udun was probably only a provisional residence at the place of worship or Uganjū. That means the Hama Udun was temporary built for certain occasions only, for example at the time of the inauguration ceremony (oarao 御新下り) of the Kikoe Ōgimi, i.e. the high-priestess of the Rykyū kingdom who was a close relative of the king. At this Hama Udun, a ceremony for the purification of water from Yonabaru Arakawa was performed. These were all sacred rituals.

Itmight be that at this Hama Udun a guardian martial artist (Yakā) took care of security. Therefore the name Hama Udun Yakā no Sai.

I was able to verify the name Hama Udun as such a sacred royal place in one tenable source only. It might also be considered that this kata was somehow related to the place of worship (Uganjū). It should be noted that these Uganjū served multiple functions such as for judiciary court, festivities, and even sports.

Putting it all together, and with Motobu sensei’s article conclusively explaining the meaning of Yakā for the first time, this is what the name “Hama Udun Yakā no Sai” implies:

“The Sai techniques of the Yakā (guardian martial artist) of the sacred Royal Beach Residence.”

One last thing to note: The kata has largely the same enbusen as Hama Higa no Sai. It’s speciality is a unique combination called the Yakā swing (Yakā no furi), which is not found in other saijutsu of Taira lineage; however, it is a main part of the Ufuchiku lineage saijutsu. The kata has a variety of other techniques, such as kake-uke and kiri-oroshi in gyaku-te, and a double Tsuki with the tips of the sai.

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The Twilight of Lord Kogusuku

Traditional Okinawa kobudō uses a shield with one hand in combination with a weapon in the other. There are basically two variants. One is the shield known best from Matayoshi lineage kobudō, which uses loop and handle, and which is combined with a machete in the other hand. While often manufactured from metal probably for the sake of weight, durability, and easy production, this kind of shield in both name and design is clearly modeled on the historical Chinese tengpai widely used in the 19th century.

The other model is the shield of Taira lineage kobudō, which is grabbed at a central handle and in that uses the same method as the medieval buckler. It is usually designed as a turtle shell – quite histrionically screaming “Okinawan culture!”

Both designs are referred to as tinbē (shield) and rōchin (machete/short spear). The shield is held in the left hand and the machete/short spear in the right hand.

Naturally, shield and sword or pike were weapons used in most regions of the world during ancient conflicts. In Ryūkyū, too, long before Chinese weaponry became popular as a historical reference among Okinawan kobudō troupes, military technology was imported from Japan. This can be seen in the “Omoro (ballad) of Kume Island,” which uses Japanese names to describe iron helmet, iron armor, leather shield, and lacquered pike (Omori-sōshi, Vol. XXI, Chapter 53):

The twilight of Lord Kogusuku; famous master Kogusuku.

Surprised and surrounded by means of cunning, he snatched the offensive.

Praised he be therefor!

And through Ichio-grove he advanced; and through Ai-grove he advanced;

and an iron helmet he wore; and an iron armor he wore;

a beautiful leather shield in one hand; a lacquered pike in the other.

Like that, he stormed the wooden gate. Like that, he stormed the iron gate.

As regards techniques and tactics, there is nothing special to it in either design, however, as has been pointed out by Inoue Motokatsu (1972), the tinbē (shield) in Taira lineage is used to hide both intention to fight and the weapon in the other hand.

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The Ueku was the Sword of the Fisherman

Earlier today I wrote a piece about a current design of an ueku (oar), which you can read here. I would like to add a short note about the various designs of the ueku and what the design means for the techniques used with it.

This is the first time that I share these specifics about the ueku. At the former Matsubayashi-ryu Nagamine dojo “Kodokan” were stored a large number of ueku in the corner at the right front side. These were of the most intruiging designs – quite sturdy, some covered with old paint, these ueku had extremely long blades and proportionally short handles and were just much bigger than any other I have seen. The blades were actually at least half of the total length of the ueku.

While this sounds weird, in practice, it is possible to swing them even with one hand, which is due to the specific balance generated by the blade lenghts. They almost operate like a sword such as that you can cut and all without the rear end hindering your free movement of the implement. This kind of technique is almost impossible to achieve with other ueku designs.

However, this old design seems to have been completely neglected and almost forgotten. Below you see a collection of five of such ueku, with handles of somewhere between 30 and 40 mm in diameter and big blades half the total length of the ueku. It would appear that this would make the handling difficult when compared to smaller and lighter ueku, but the point I am about to make is a quite contrary.

The blades are at least half of the total length, and they are big.

You can actually swing these ueku with just one hand and cut with it like with a sword. This is possible almost only with this kind of ueku with an extremely long and big blade relatively to the handle. Since these ueku are quite old, and when comparing them to more new designs, it gets apparent that the over time the blades became shorter and shorter and the handles got longer and longer so that the blade today sometimes constitutes a mere 1/3 of the total length.

It may be that this design modification is the result of a simple misunderstanding of the technique of the ueku probably due to some bad ueku design. As a consequence, not only the design changed over time, but also the original techniques of the ueku were replaced by something different. In the following photos you can retrace what I mean by change in blade length over time.

Then, assuming this is one possible and valid explanation, the Okinawan saying that “The ueku was the sword of the fisherman” might have to be taken literally. Because those old ueku could actually be operated very similar to a sword; In the video below I swing the ueku with just one hand a number of times, look for it. This is possible almost only with this kind of long-bladed ueku because you can handle it with the hands close to one another and drive it, similar to how it is done with the sword handle. Of course it is not exactly the same, but you get the idea.

Swing the ueku with just one hand is easyy with the right design.

It should be noted that the big and long blade is exactly the trick which makes the ueku well balanced and in turn allows for this kind of technique. It may be time to reinvent it.

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Chiishi and Ishi-sashi — Traditional athletic culture (undo bunka) of Okinawa

At the beginning of the 20th century, while young men’s associations in all places worked to promote sports, the Young Men’s Associations of Shimajiri County carried out a survey about recreational pastimes:

“Right now, this county’s citizens compete in only a few recreational pastimes. Therefore, we submit a plan to the committee at the general assembly to advance the practice of recreational pastimes.”

In other words, they wished to promote and enhance the athletic activities among the general populace. Subsequently, additional amendments were made and covered in the newspaper (see Ryūkyu Shinpō, December 10, 1909). There, new (!!!) pastimes and sports to be adopted included karate, while older traditional athletic culture to be continued included Okinawan sumō, bōjutsu, and implements such as the bō-ishi (stick-stone) and the tsuchi-ishi (hammer-stone).

According to the (now defunct) Shuri Naha Dialect Dictionary of the University of the Ryukyus, the tsuchi-ishi (hammer-stone) was referred to as chīshī チーシー in Okinawa language. This chīshī is considered to consist of the characters chī 手 plus shī 石, that is “handle-stone.” Note that the character “hand” (te 手) here is pronounced chī 手 and in all probability refers to handle, not hand. In any case, if this is so, the syllable chī is a pronunciation for te 手 (hand, skill), such as I already mentioned here.

Of course, the chīshī — aka chīshi-gwā — is known as a training tool used for karate. You hold the handle and move it back and forth, left and right, and up and down to train your wrists and waist.

While such tools have been adopted into the practices of karate, tools such as the sashi-ishi and probably others already existed previously within the traditional athletic culture (undō bunka) of Okinawa. Accordingly, it can be said that the meaning and definition of karate also included weight training. Such traditional athletic culture was positioned not only as a recreational pastime or “pre-sport” among the general public, but was also performed during customary and even religious events.

Sashi-ishi refers to a stone with a wooden handle pierced through it, so that both ends of the handle stick out on each side of the stone so that it can be lifted and handled.

Paul Enfield Sensei of GKC Global demonstrates the use of the sashi-ishi.

It therefore seems that a number of implements of traditional athletic culture (undō bunka) of Okinawa were cumulatively integrated into karate practice during the earlier 20th century, thus showing a trend of cumulative development of practice contents.

Chiishi closeup, 2008 at Matsubayashi-ryu Nagamine dojo “Kodokan”

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Guide to Shimbukan-approved Ueku by Dreametal Kobudo

Starting kobudō is easy; grab a broomstick and get going. Swing, twirl, strike, and poke. Then, after some time you want and deserve good quality equipment, but most weaponry cannot be easily produced. Therefore, you look for a supplier to provide professional equipment for a good price in a safe and fast order process and there are a number of companies and individuals such as Don Shapland of Tesshinkan, whose tinbē and rōchin are second to none. Maybe it is time for a full list of kobudō equipment manufacturers and suppliers but today I would like to draw your attention to Dreametal Kobudo.

Mr. Christos Papapanos — a studied industrial designer and owner of an engineering company as well as Dreametal Kobudo — has been designing kobudō weapons for many years. Recently he launched a Shimbukan signature series, that is, bō, sai, uēku, and other weapons that are approved by Akamine Hiroshi Sensei of Shimbukan Ryūkyū Kobudō in Okinawa.

While all of Dreametal’s weapons are well designed and manufactured from high-quality materials, there is a characteristic feature in the Shimbukan uēku no other commercial supplier meets: they are comparatively small and light. For example, I own two others of Dreametal’s uēku, but these are quite bulky and most uēku by other suppliers are likewise large and heavy with big diameter shafts and are often unbalanced in their shaft/blade lenght and weight ratio. Heavy-duty uēku certainly have their advantages, most importantly in case of heavy contact during combative application or makiwara. However, for kata performance the “big guns” are almost unfeasible in the current Shimbukan performing style, are too difficult to control from their sheer inertia, and just look and feel tardy.

What makes the Dreametal uēku different is that it is customized to the current Shimbukan performing style; In recent years the Shimbukan has moved away from the heavy tools of old and began to favor lighter weapons. This uēku is an example of this. Actually, the uēku at the Shimbukan ten years ago were small, light, and of inferior wood quality, and were more like theatrical equipment. I remember being scolded by sensei for breaking one of them; the head broke off and flew all through the dōjō. This is not what you want from a weapon and it is also not safe. While maintaining the advantages of light weight, and while based on that previous design, Dreametal’s Shimbukan-approved uēku has now also solved the safety issue by using better wood and it also has a slightly longer handle which is necessary particularly for the many gyaku-uchi in the kata. Incidentally, I have been told that the design of the new uēku has been provided by Akamine Hiroshi sensei.

I must add one cautionary note: If you want to use an uēku for heavy contact — such as cutting down a banana tree, or chopping a melon in halves, or combat applications, or makiwara work –, I’d recommend using a sturdier one, analogous to the differentiation of “bō for kata” and “bō for contact.” There’s no need to destroy your gala weapons.

The total length is 151 cm of which 98 cm is the handle. The balance is excellent. That is, the weight distribution ratio of handle and blade as well as the resulting balance point is exactly where you want it to be in both static and dynamic operation, which is a rather rare feature. One more advantageous feature is the comparatively short overall length of 151 cm; It allows living room practice without taking fright at grandma’s porcelain.

Another thing to mention is that most kobudō practitioners themselves might be great masters but are unfit to design and produce weapons according to their personal preferences, or even just to find someone who can. Therefore, much of high quality kobudō weaponry comes from a few professional suppliers such as Shureidō. For example, I have yet to find an equivalent in quality to their 196cm length / 25mm diameter bō made of Japanese oak. There was also the custom weapons maker Kamiunten in Okinawa, whose Tonfa I reconstructed from an original model. They are the best Tonfa I ever used due to a few small and simple constructive features (trade secret): Hokama Sensei, knowing of Mr. Kamiunten’s quality production, told me these Tonfa are priceless. BTW I am looking for a manufacturer for these (I have created a technical drawing and 3D data) so if you’re a manufacturer let me know if you’re interested in a joint venture. Moreover, there are others who produce their own customized weapons, such as Maeda Kyomasa sensei, who makes excellent quality bō all customized to his style and the individual user. This is the way.

As regards service, Dreametal is a pleasure to work with. Mrs. Sundy Papapanos takes care of the email correspondence, about weapons specifications such as materials and sizes, the shipping confirmations with tracking numbers, etc. Note: Since it happened to me, you may need to validate money transfers to Greece with your bank first. A note to your bank and they will fix it immediately.

BTW, a reason for the shift in weapons weight might simply be due to the specific body dynamics – sharp, quick, and short kime combined with a timed rear-heel stomp – of Akamine sensei’s karate and the wish to transpose it on the kobudō weaponry, too. This particularly makes sense in case of all the short weapons, and it also works for this uēku. Previously bō were heavy and with bulky 3 cm diameter so they were difficult to make use of by an average person, looked and felt lame, and necessitated the workaround of the “double-hip,” which was not only impractical but also looked somehow like a mix between a drunken giraffe and a tube man. The sheer inertia of such as tool is such as of a Bidenhänder as compared to a rapier. This issue has also finally been fixed in recent years within above mentioned innovation process and Dreametal offers a Shimbukan-approved tapered 25mm diameter bō. While this development is most welcomed – especially when compared to the previous almost compulsive inistence on unwieldy and poorly designed tools by some keepers of tradition (and preventers of improvement) – I am not sure if these bō fulfil the requirements set out for tournaments on Okinawa, which are usually at least 900 grams for male and 800 grams for female (Article 10.1 of 1st Okinawa Karate Kobudo International Tiournament Rules). On the other hand, the very advantageous point of this is that 25 mm light weight allows for more people to use the tool, which will greatly help smaller and frailer people such as kids appreciate kobudō more. Also, everybody just looks cooler.

Finally, if you’re a Shimbukan practitioner going at it for godan and want to score high points from the examiners, you want to use exactly this uēku, since the stipulated motion specifics and “kime” are difficult to achieve with any of the heavy-duty versions.

To wrap it up: Technical expression and style largely depends on equipment! If you’re looking for an uēku that’s light enough for a sharp kata performance, heavy enough for the right feel, and robust enough to take a full swing, then look no further than Dreametal’s Shimbukan-approved uēku.

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Soeishi no Kon

A number of recent articles about Soeishi-ryū bōjutsu raised a lot of interest in bōjutsu circles. One of the schools which have a kata by the name of Soeishi is the Matayoshi Kobudō. The following is a written description of this school.

The kata of bōjutsu that are being handed down in this school [=Matayoshi Kobudō] include Shūshi no Kon, Sakugawa no Kon, Chōun no Kon, Tsuken no Kon, and Soeishi no Kon. … Soeishi no Kon was created by Soeishi Uēkata (martial arts instructor of the Ryukyu King), who was a feudal lord in Shuri about 300 years ago. Soeishi was a master of karate (tōde) and nicknamed “Shuri-te Soeishi.” (Matayoshi 1999:22-23)

In the same document, a person named Soeishi Ryōkō is positioned as a kobudō master in their lineage, while Soeishi Uēkata probably refers to Soeishi Ryōtoku as described in the research of Nakamoto Masahiro.

The first note on Soeishi in a bōjutsu context however is found thirtyfive years earlier, in Taira Shinken’s 1964 book. In fact, Taira places Soeishi at the first position of fourteen masters of kobudō:

Master Soeishi (lived more than 100 years ago): He was a feudal lord of Shuri and in particular studied various types of bōjutsu. He created the kata “Soeishi no Kon” and “Chōun no Kon.” (Taira 1964:14)

Taira planned to publish a description with photos of Soeishi no Kon at a later date, but this never actually took place.

Some time later, in 1972, Inoue Motokatsu also noted on Soeishi. Apparently, Inoue had researched the topic and was able to add some facts.

Name: Soeishi
Era: Kingdom (late period)
System of Kata: Soeishi no Kon, Chōun no Kon, Shūshi no Kon
Notes: Feudal lord in Shuri. He was a distinguished expert of bōjutsu.
“Chōun no Kon” and “Shūshi no Kon” are said to be products [made] from “Soeishi no Kon.” (Inoue 1972:4)

Inoue here states that the bōjutsu of the Soeishi school consists of Soeishi no Kon, Chōun no Kon, and Shūshi no Kon. Moreover, in Volume 1 (1972) and 2 (1974) of his comprehensive work “Ryūkyū Kobudō” he presents two versions of Soeishi no Kon.

Finally, there is Tawada Shinjun. He was a nephew of the head of the Soeishi family and his younger brother, Tawada Shinchin, has studied Soeishi-ryu bōjutsu. In 1973, Tawada described Soeishi-ryu bōjutsu as follows.

Soeishi no Kon (it consists of Chōshi no Kon and Shūshi no Kon) was handed down by the Soeishi family who held the post of the martial arts instructor of the king of Ryūkyū. It was a secret tradition that was treasured and never shown in public and only taught to the king and the eldest son of the Soeishi family. It is said to be a secret tradition left by an investiture envoy (sappōshi) to train the mind and body of successive kings. (Tawada 1973:153)

This is very telling. One important point is that the original name was Chōshi no Kon. It might have been later confused to Chōun no Kon. Moreover, Shūshi no Kon was also part of this tradition.

That is not all. As an eyewitness of the technique, Tawada also described the actual features of Soeishi-ryu bōjutsu. For example, each strike, whether shomen-uchi or yoko-uchi, ends horizontally and the is always tucked under the armpit. Another point is that all thrusts are done as a nuki-zuki, that is, by letting it slide through the front hand, as in the techniques of the spear.

From above features you can already see that the characteristics of Soeishi-ryu bōjutsu – that is, “royal bōjutsu” – do not correspond to the current bōjutsu as seen in Okinawan schools. Quite on the contrary, it seems that current bōjutsu on Okinawa corresponds more to simple folk bōjutsu as previously thought. Matayoshi Kobudō does not tuck the bō under the armpit, but outside the forarm. The thrusts are not sliding thrusts (nuki), and the bō is not horizontal in the end position. In Taira lineage, the bō is also not tucked under the armpit, but at placed at the hip. Most of the middle-level thrusts are standard and there are only few sliding thrusts (nuki).

While based on older traditions, most bōjutsu schools of today have forgotten just as much of the original technical features as they have newly created more recently. And so it seems there is no pure, original style in existence which can claim actual personal tradition in Soeishi-ryu bōjutsu. Well, current schools of bōjutsu have laid out their aims and understand themselves as martial arts schools, so their technique is indeed quite functional and comprehensive. But as regards an actual personal tradition, it might be “Soeishi” in name only.

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