The Invention of Karate

The last and probably most important book by Kinjō Hiroshi (2011) has the clear tenor of an “Invention of Karate”. Yes, I just said that. It is about as follows:

In 1904, Itosu Ankō (1831–1915), commissioned by and under the guidance and supervision of the Okinawa Prefecture Department of School Affairs and by its designated purpose as a school education, selected and modified a  number of kata from Suidī (Shuri-te), and in addition invented a number of kata of his own, and in this way determined a framework of kata for physical education. In 1904/1905, karate was taught for the first time as a compulsory subject of physical education at the Okinawa Prefectural Middle School. It should be borne in mind that this was not unaltered Suidī (Shuri-te) in its original state.

Techniques aiming at the vital points of the human body (kyūsho), such as the male crotch, thrusting into the adversary’s eyes, and other targets of attack that cause irreparable damage or fatal injuries – in short, techniques considered antisocial and anti-educational at the time [and still today!] – were replaced by other techniques and/or modified to provide a safe training environment.

This is expressed in Article I of Itosu’s Ten Maxims,

“The quintessence should be, by word of honor, to never injure human beings by means of one’s fists and feet.”

Well, there is some confusion as regards the descendant of Itosu Ankō and this is due to courtesy and respect for family affairs. According to Kinjō Hiroshi, Itosu Angō (1915–96) was Itosu Ankō’s adoptive heir. And according to the memories of this Itosu Angō, physical education karate looked somewhat like this:

“First of all, the movements of the physical exercises [of karate] were large and relaxed. Secondly, dangerous antisocial techniques were deleted or otherwise changed to other, safe techniques, so as to conform to the purpose of education.”

Since Angō was born in 1915 and Ankō died in 1915, there cannot have been a dialogue between the two, right? However, Angō is considered to have experienced what he described above when he enrolled in the Karate Club of the Okinawa Prefecture Normal School Young Man Division (around 1935), and more specifically, directly from Yabu Kentsū (1866–1937), who was the karate instructor at that karate club at the time, and Itosu Anko’s leading disciple. Besides this, Angō also had a variety of other anecdotes about Ankō.

Left: Itosu Angō (1915–96). Right: Itosu Angō and Kinjō Hiroshi at the monument of Itosu Ankō. Courtesy of Patrick McCarthy, Hanshi, International Ryukyu Karate Research Society, originally provided by Kinjō Hiroshi.

Left: Itosu Angō (1915–96). Right: Itosu Angō and Kinjō Hiroshi at the monument of Itosu Ankō. Courtesy of Patrick McCarthy, Hanshi, International Ryukyu Karate Research Society, originally provided by Kinjō Hiroshi.

Well, in this connection Kinjō Hiroshi gave the following outline about the name Chintō:

I think persons who teach Chintō to students and who understand the meaning of the word are certainly extremely small in number. For me myself it has been more than eighty years since I aspired karate, and even now I am not able to understand the meaning [of the word Chintō]. Looking back at the past I personally feel somewhat ashamed.

Understanding the meaning from the word Chintō [in katakana] is extremely difficult. No, it’s impossible! Since China and Japan are said to be of the same race and have the same script, if at least the – as I surmise – Chinese characters would have been left behind, hints to understand the meaning of the word might be obtained. While they also have not the slightest clue of the meaning of Chintō [in katakana], there were and are also factions that rewrote the word in Kanji as Chintō 鎮闘. In its meaning “to appease” or “to pacify” a battle, a fight, or a conflict, I think it is indeed an appropriate name for karate as a combat sport.

However, examining the contents of the individual techniques of Chintō [in katakana], isn’t it true that they create an impression of being unduly exaggerated in their technical representation? Since the “training of techniques that serve the purpose of defense and attack” is the quintessence of both combat sport and budō, it is good to include the fundamental physical fitness of combative sports [into budō]. However, isn’t it that the larger a technique becomes the more it moves away from being practical? The designation as Chintō 鎮闘 gives an impression that is quite incongruous to the characteristic features and content of the kata. Chintō with large techniques is not usefully applicable in a fight because such techniques are not in time for combat.

Since olden times it was said that Chintō and Gojūshiho are the highest kata of karate. These kata were not taught during the initial stage of training. After entering training, the teaching progressed from Pinan, to Naifanchi, to Passai, and finally to Chintō and Gojūshiho as the finishing touch. So that means that the difficulty to understand the exaggerated representations and precise meanings of many of the techniques in the highest kata of karate is the main reason for the nonexistence of books of secret traditions (densho).

Next, in the kata, as THE representation mode of the techniques of karate, over time beauty was sought, which also seems to demonstrate the fact that eventually a world of fiction was created. Kata is the representation mode of the techniques of karate. By replacing names and designations, the real techniques and the imaginary (false) techniques became entwined. The passages of the kata where the real and the imaginary (false) techniques were entwined are difficult to clearly understand and distinguish.

I think this is a great point: Real and imaginary (false) techniques entwined and difficult to clearly understand and distinguish. BTW, isn’t this the same as in karate history research, with primary sources being continuously ‘polluted’ by fictionary embellishments?

Well, Funakoshi (1922: 4) mentioned a certain “Gusukuma from Tomari” and wrote that “Itosu followed the system of Gusukuma”. The same “Gusukuma from Tomari”, apparently, was already mentioned by Funakoshi in 1914 (Okinawa no Bugi, January 1914). There it is said that “Gusukuma learned Chintō” from a castaway in Tomari. For this reason it is possible and even seems likely that Itosu learned Chintō from Gusukuma. In any case, as described earlier, the Chintō adopted by Itosu for inclusion into his physical education karate kata-framework was modified towards safety and conformity with the purpose of education, by deleting dangerous, antisocial techniques or otherwise modifying techniques.

"Itosu Anko said..."

“Itosu Anko said…”

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Shimazu Iehisa presented military weaponry to Ryukyuan leader

For more than a century a prohibition of firearms and cut and thrust weapons by the Shimazu House has been considered one major trigger for the development of empty handed martial arts in Okinawa. While this theory has been refuted for quite some time, the following is an interesting episode taking place shortly after the 1609 Shimazu invasion of Okinawa. This was originally published in my “Karate 1.0 – Parameters of an Ancient Martial Art” (2013).

To ensure the process of control over Ryūkyū, in 1612 for the first time several so-called national hostages went to Kagoshima in order to undergo training as civil servants. They lived in specially constructed official residences (kansha 官舎), which existed until Meiji.(*1) Kunigami Anji Seimi 國頭按司正彌 (1591–1635, Chinese-style name Ba Zuisai 馬瑞彩), 6th generation of the Ba-clan and Estate Steward (jitō 地頭) of Kunigami district, was the third of these national hostages dispatched to Kagoshima in 1614.(*2)

In the same year 1614 the siege of Ōsaka took place. Shimazu Iehisa (1576–1638, original name Tadatsune) received Shōgun Tokugawa Ieyasu’s command to send troops in aid of the campaign. In 1615 Kunigami Anji requested to follow the troops to serve in the Ōsaka summer campaign. Iehisa at once commanded Seimi to ‘correct his appearance’ to that of a Japanese, bestowed upon him the Japanese style name Kunigami Sama no Mamori 國頭左馬守 and provided him troops of Satsuma warriors. Moreover he bestowed upon him one helmet, one suit of armor, one long sword, one short sword, two firearms (teppō 鉄砲), one saddle, stirrups, and a bridle.

Shimazu Iehisa, from Wikipedia.

Shimazu Iehisa, from Wikipedia.

However, halfway en route, Ōsaka had already been pacified, the war was over and public peace established. Kunigami Anji returned to Kagoshima, and in the following year, 1616, returned to Ryūkyū. (*3) In 1632 he was sent to Satsuma again, this time as a New Year envoy.(*4) The sword bestowed on him by Iehisa was handed down as an heirloom within the Kunigami family until the early Shōwa era.(*5)

According to the above, Shimazu Iehisa himself clearly approved the possession of cut and thrust weapons in the possession of Ryūkyūan leaders.


*1: see Binkenstein, Vol. 4: 2, 1941: 301.

*2: Kerr 1958: 165. Digital-ban Nihon Jinmei Daijiten デジタル版 日本人名大辞典, accessed via, 08.01.2013.

*3: Kyūyō Fukan, article 16. Chūzan Seikan Fukan, Vol I. Sakihara, in Kerr 2000: 564.

*4: CZSFFK, Vol I.

*5: The whereabouts of the sword following the Battle of Okinawa seem to be unknown.

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On a Third Itosu Photo

Recently, I wrote about a first and a second photo showing a man considered to be Itosu Ankō (1831–1915), the father of modern Karate.

Some weeks ago my colleague Thomas Feldmann of Hoploblog dug out another photo which we believe shows the same man. The following description and photo are provided by the Digital Museum of the Naha City Museum of History:

Persons / Personnel of the Kadena Police Station?

Date of photography: During the war.

Reference: Photograph Collection of the Naha City Historical Materials Room / During the war / Back row, 4th person from the left: Inamine Seiryō (around 1940).

The man considered to be Itosu Ankō, the father of modern Karate.

The man considered to be Itosu Ankō, the father of modern Karate.

As can be seen in the “Reference”, the photo has been dated to “during the war” and “around 1940”. If this is correct, the man in the photo cannot be Itosu Ankō. However, as shown in study about the second photo, the dates given for photos may be incorrect.

There is another hint, that is the person Inamine Seiryō. However, this person is unknown and there is no possibility for a comparison of his life dates, his looks etc.

However, the one thing that we can investigate from the photo to properly establish a date are the uniforms. Since the photo shows personell of a police station (whether it is in fact Kadena or another station is irrelevant here), we checked other photos of police stations and compared the uniforms. We were able to verify a very similar type of uniforms for the year 1922, see here.

If this is correct, then the date for the 3rd Itosu photo (“around 1940”) would be incorrect, because the uniforms changed over time. Furthermore, it would allow the uniforms to be of an older type, which could have been worn already during Itosu’s lifetime (1831–1915).

In other words: The next best chance to figure out the date of this 3rd Itosu photograph is to study police uniforms of Okinawa prefecture over time. Unfortunately, I do not have the time right now. Therefore, any help in the study of the uniforms would  be appreciated, especially also by Karate men and women in Okinawa, since they have easier access to archives etc.

The person considered to be Itosu Anko.

The person considered to be Itosu Anko.

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The Youtube channel fo the OKINAWA KARATE INTERNATIONAL TOURNAMENT 2018 just added a large amount of kata. To be exact, there are

  • 86 kata of the “Shuri-te & Tomari-te Lineage”,
  • 40 kata of the “Naha-te Lineage”,
  • 28 kata of bōjutsu, and
  • 17 kata of saijutsu.

I don’t know whether these kata were filmed as a reference material for the judges to be able to know the kata, or for the participants of the tournament. Probably both. In any case, they can serve as a reference in on line discussions and for comparison and study.

I noted that some kata from the same lineage are listed twice. For example, in case of the saijutsu kata, there are two versions of each Tsuken Shitahaku no Sai, Chatan Yara no Sai, and Hama Higa no Sai. However, both respective versions are from Taira Shinken lineage. So why the differenciation? The habits of techniques diverged in two or more schools over the past decades, even if they came from the same source. For example, while two schools (so-and-so-kan) may trace the above mentioned kata just along the same lineage, slight differences developed in height, angles, stances, tempi etc. These differences then became trademarks of one specific school (so-and-so-kan). Of course, since judges coming from different so-and-so-kan, they will judge according to their own perspective of “correct technique”. Therefore each of the influential so-and-so-kan had to make sure their specifics are being recognized. In terms of the tournament, this is simply a prerequisite to get points and win in the competition. This is true for karate and kobudō. In a sense, Okinawan karate and kobudō circles here developed their own Shitei-gata (standardized kata).

BTW, not all acknowledged kata are presented in the below video links. For example, the kata of Uechi-ryū are not shown so far. The kata to be performed in each section shall be acknowledged by the Executive Committee. You can view the complete list here. Maybe they will be uploading more videos soon. I will then update this list here.

It should be noted that kata of the Ryūei-ryū seem not to be included.

I linked the kata with names in Rōmaji and in Kana below for reference.

Karate | Shuri-te & Tomari-te Lineage

Karate | Naha-te Lineage

Kobudō | Bō

Kobudō | Sai



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Kata Taught by Matsumura Sōkon (2)

“Karate no omoide” (My Memories of Karate) by Kyan Chōtoku was published on 1942-05-07 in the Okinawa Shinpō Newspaper.

“Karate no omoide” (Memories of Karate) [excerpt], by Kyan Chōtoku. Okinawa Shinpō, 1942-05-07.

“Karate no omoide” (Memories of Karate) [excerpt], by Kyan Chōtoku. Okinawa Shinpō, 1942-05-07.

“I never forgot when I went to Shikina-en together with my father in the spring of my 16th year. My father took me to Matsumura Sōkon Sensei, the restorer of Okinawa Karate of whom I had heard tales of. (In his way) I was able for the first time to meet with and to receive instruction from Matsumura Sōkon Sensei through my father. I remember Sensei was 80 years old at that time. The Kata of Karate that I was taught was Gojūshiho  and I still have not forgotten it.”

The year depends on the method of age calculation that Kyan used. In the traditional method called kazoe a person is counted as one year old at birth, and at the turn of the year he gets one year older. Therefore, if Kyan used the traditional kazoe method, his 16th year would have been 1885. Otherwise it would have been 1886.

Morever, Kyan states that:

“I received instruction from Matsumura Sōkon Sensei for two years.”

Or in other words, he received instruction from Matsumura Sōkon until 1887 or 1888.

There is another short info in the text:

“In the fifth year after I had come to Tōkyō, Matsumura Sōkon Sensei died at the advanced old age of 88 years.”

According to this, Matsumura Sōkon passed away 1893 or 1894. Furthermore, this would mean that Kyan went to Tōkyō in 1888 or 1889.

Next, it is said that:

“Thanks to that, my previously weak body became strong and I did not catch a cold for even one day during the 9 years that I lived in Tōkyō, and was able to spend a pleasant adolescence.”

Therefore, he must have stayed in Tōkyō until 1897 or 1898. However, it is also said in the article that

“Due to the circumstances of my family affairs, I returned home (to Okinawa) at the age of 26.”

So this would have been either 1895 or 1896, again, depending on the method of age counting. So there’s a little internal discreprancy within the provided dates. Anyway, this is not a big deal. When he wrote the text, or when he interviewed for the article, he was 72 years old, or 73 according to traditional kazoe. However that may have actually been: just as in the testimony of Yoshimura Chōgi, Kyan Chōtoku also testifies that he has learned Gojūshiho directly from Matsumura Sōkon.

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Kata Taught by Matsumura Sōkon (1)

yoshimuraSince I read about Matsumura Sōkon in social networks recently and about the kata he presumably taught, I thought it might be a good idea to remind Karate circles of an eyewitness account about the eminent master. In his 1941 autobiography, Yoshimura Chōgi remembered when he learned Ūsēshī (i.e. Gojūshiho) and Kūsankū from Matsumura Sōkon.

The following translation excerpt appeared in my Karate 1.0 (2013). Joe Swift also provided a complete translation of it in one of his works.

It is a source not to be ignored:

“At the age of seventeen, around 1883/84, I had reached the handsome age of manhood. It was around that time that I began to seriously pursue training with Bushi Matsumura. I remember the honorable Matsumura had already passed the age of seventy at that time. We served together as royal guards at the Southern Parks (=Shikina-en). […] I mainly trained Ūsēshī (i.e. Gojūshiho), as well as Kūsankū. Since about that time my eyes gradually opened up to the martial arts and an incentive began I undauntedly maintained throughout my life. With Bushi Matsumura’s personal instruction, I was to become an expert myself, and one day my conduct was to become a reflection of it. The years of my awkward age had passed, giving way to a time of life experience. By the way, from the honorable Matsumura I also learned the forms of fencing with the Bokutō, i.e. the saber made in one-piece from solid wood. Matsumura’s teacher had been the fencing master Ijūin from Kagoshima, a master of the Jigen-ryū.”

Yoshimura Chōgi around 1941, wearing the formal dress of an Aji.

Yoshimura Chōgi around 1941, wearing the formal dress of an Aji.

Well, progenitor of the Yoshimura family was Yoshimura Ōji Chōgi 義村王子朝宜 (aka Shō Shū 尚周), third son of King Shō Boku 尚穆王 (1739-1794; reigned 1752-1794) and in this a member of the royal family of Ryūkyū. This Yoshimura Ōji Chōgi was also called Yoshimura Udun no Umē. Umē is the Ryūkyū-reading of the Japanese gozen 御前, pointing to an elevated personality. It means as much as gozen sama 御前様, i.e. Your Highness!, or tono sama 殿様, i.e. feudal lord. Thus it constitutes a honorific term towards a lord or ruler in the rank of an Udun (Cf. Shuri Naha Dialect Dictionary).

Initially, he had been assigned the office of Aji-jitō of Katsuren, and–as it was common practice–took on the name of his fief as his family name: Katsuren. Later, since the use of the character Katsu 勝 within names came to be forbitten, the name was changed to Yoshimura. He was later appointed Aji-jitō of Kochinda district (modern-day Yaese-chō Kochinda), a fief the family administered for many generations afterwards, but kept the name Yoshimura. Rank and status of Yoshimura Chōgi are indicated by the fact that from 1798-1802 he acted as regent (sessei) for King Shō On, i.e. he acted as the highest authority of government on behalf of the actual king of Ryūkyū. Lacking a son and heir, he is said to have adopted children repeatedly.

Third generation was Yoshimura Aji Chōmei (aka Shō Shirei 向志禮, 1830-1898), who was the responsible Aji-jitō of Kochinda district in 1873. Chōmei had nine sons from various wives and mistresses. At age fourteen he tied up his topknot, i.e. the ceremony of reaching manhood, and at age fifteen he followed the emissary Yoshimura Ōji Chōshō–his older brother–to Kagoshima as an attendant. In 1847, he assumed the headship of the Yoshimura family, moved into the hereditary family lodgings in Shuri and succeeded the hereditary family fief as Estate-steward general of the Kochihira district, worth 300 Koku. In the following 25 plus years he served the royal government in a large number of duties. For example, he was appointed Magistrate of Temples and Shrines and Magistrate of Genealogies, as well as other magistrate posts. In Nishi no Hira, i.e. one of the three districts of Shuri, he served as Magistrate of the Police inspector-general, Ombudsman, and as Magistrate of the District School. And as a member of the princely Shō-clan, he was dispatched to performed prayers on behalf of the King for the nation’s health and security at Kudaka Island and in Chinen Tamagusuku. Then, late in 1896, together with a small group he set sail at the Kowan coast during night time and left for the ocean. Aboard the ship were his sons Oshiro Aji Meiryō (1863-1906) and Meitsū, and Urasoe Chōbin. The ship owner and captain was a member of the Higaonna family going by the official title of Ryōbō Chikudun. Two more persons, one Aharen and one Uehara, both came late and missed the ship, but took a later one the following day, were blown to Taiwan, and reached Fuzhou several days later.

After four days and nights Yoshimura’s group arrived at Wenzhou (between Ningbo and Fuzhou) in China and reported to the Qing government. Two soldiers were dispatched by the Fuzhou government as escort. Several days later they reached the Ryūkyūkan in Fuzhou. Some time later they visited the governor-general and the Chinese Provincial Administration (buzhengsi), and presented written petitions, most probably related to the Kōdōkai-undō (see note below) attempting to restore the Royal Shō-clan to a hereditary governor post in Okinawa prefecture. In 1898 Chōmei died and was buried in Fuzhou. In the same year his son Meiryō went to Beijing, and again presented a petition. Remaining in Fuzhou, he died young in 1906 and was buried in a tomb in Fuzhou Xiadu.

Note: In 1896, Shō In (1866-1905), King Shō Tai’s second son, established the Kōdōkai-undō. Its aim was to provide the post of consul of Okinawa Prefecture to the Shō family as a hereditary right to be responsible for local government under supervision of the Meiji government. This included strong local autonomy which was to be approved by the parliament. Furthermore, they proposed that Governor Narahara be dismissed. The Kōdōkai received much of its support from the non-stipended lower gentry which it wanted to restore to their former positions of authority. In 1897 Kōdōkai representatives went to Tōkyō with 72,767 collected signatures. Their petition was rejected.

Yoshimura Chōgi, aka Shō Meitoku (1866-1945) was the 4th generation of the Princly Shō clan, house Yoshimura. He was the second oldest son of Chōmei and Makamado-kane, the oldest daughter of Ie Ōji Chōken from the royal Shō-family. In 1876, as a young boy, Chōgi was appointed Ko-akukabe–or junior red-cap vassal–at the Office of Inner Palace Affairs in Shuri castle, and in 1877 he worked in the royal study on a daily basis. After his father and older brother went into exile to Fuzhou in 1897, he assumed the head of the family and received the hereditary stipend of more than 300 yen. In 1898, following his father’s demise, Chōgi traveled to the Fuzhou Ryūkyūkan for the funeral. In spring 1900, at a time when only a few royalists of the stubborn party were still active, Chōgi traveled to Fuzhou in order to fuse the remaining stubborn movement with the newer royalist movement of the Kōdōkai. Accompanied by Yomitan Chō’ei and two other persons, they met with Chōgi’s older brother Meiryō, Urasoe Chōbin and another person for consultation and the fusion accomplished. At the time Chōgi’s group left Fuzhou, the Boxer rebellion (Giwadan no Ran) in Beijing took place. In 1903 Chōgi travelled to Fuzhou again to deliver financial aid, either for his brother or the movement. And in 1906, following the demise of his older brother, he again traveled to Fuzhou for the funeral. Two and a half decades later, in 1933, Chōgi returned the remains of both his father Chōmei and his older brother from Fuzhou to Okinawa, where they were buried in a tomb in Shuri.

He is the person who mainly trained Ūsēshī (i.e. Gojūshiho) and Kūsankū under Matsumura Sōkon. He is shown in the photo above. As Chōgi left his autobiography which includes his martial arts career, an excerpt of which has been given earlier, a closer look at an aristocrat’s martial lifestyle and the persons involved during the late 19th century is possible.

It also allows to establish as a fact that Matsumura Sōkon taught Ūsēshī (i.e. Gojūshiho) and Kūsankū.

Biblio (excerpt):

Narahara Tomomitsu: Okinawa-ken Jinjiroku. Naha, Okinawa-ken Jinjiroku Hensansho 1916. 楢原翠邦 [友満] 編:沖繩縣人事録。那覇:沖繩縣人事録編纂所、1916。

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

Yoshimura Nisai: Jiden Budōki. In: Gekkan Bunka Okinawa. September issue, September 15, 1941. 義村仁斎: 自伝武道記. In: 月刊文化沖縄. Republished in: Yoshimura Chogi Ten (Shōsasshi). Okinawa Kenritsu Hakubutsukan 1981. 義村朝義展 (小冊子). 沖縄県立博物館.

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On the Persistence of Historical Distortions

Back in 2004 or so an old picture found its way onto the cover of a newly published Karate book. The seemingly irresistible narrative spun around it claimed that it showed Matsumura Sōkon and Itosu Ankō, as body guards of the king. We already had internet in those days and there was a lot of excitement in the discussion rooms. However, back then, it was just the same as today: People believe what they want to believe and there is nothing one can do about it, except simply staying away from the drama. Accordingly, the invented tradition surrounding that specific picture still lives on today in 2018.

The picture in question appeared in the “Narrative of the Expedition etc.” under the command of Commodore M. C. Perry, United States Navy. The picture is a lithography made from a daguerreotype from 1853 and made by Eliphalet M. Brown, Jr., daguerreotypist, lithographer and artist for the Perry Expedition to Japan. The picture is titled “Regent of Lew Chew”.

“Regent of Lew Chew”. From: Hawks 1857, vis-à-vis page 215.

“Regent of Lew Chew”. From: Hawks 1857, vis-à-vis page 215.

Well, it is said that Matsumura Sōkon served three kings in a row as a royal bodyguard. Therefore, since the picture showed the “Regent of Lew Chew”, and it was the year 1853, the person behind that regent was said to be Matsumura, and for whatever reason the other person was said to have been Itosu Ankō.

The narrative describes the first meeting:

About one o’clock, a very ordinary native barge, containing the Lew Chew dignitaries, came alongside. The [U.S.] marines were in uniform, and every preparation had been made on board to show them respect and produce impressive effect. One of the inferior [Ryūkyūan] officers came first up the gangway with the card of his superior, which Mr. Williams, the interpreter, received and read; the officer then returned, and the regent of the kingdom of Lew Chew [=Ryūkyū], a venerable old man, in a few minutes appeared, supported by two of his officers. Captains Buchanan and Adams received him at the gangway, and were saluted by the regent after the fashion of his country. His hands were joined upon his breast, while his body and knees were bent very profoundly, and his head was slightly turned away from the person he addressed. The prince, it was said, was a lad of eleven years old, and was represented to be ill. The old gentleman acted as regent for him. Six or eight other officers and some dozen subordinates followed the regent to the deck. A salute of three guns was then fired, which so startled some of the Lew Chew officers that they dropped upon their knees.

Hawks 1857: 155

From the text we can see that the regent was supported by two of his officers. This fits the picture, isn’t it? It also becomes clear that the regent was not the king or prince of Ryūkyū, but acted as regent for him.

As regards the regent, I admit it is a bit confusing:

“The Ryukyuan term sessei is written with the same characters [as the Japanese sessho], and in Okinawan would actually have been pronounced more like shisshi.“

Smits 1999: 9-10

This Okinawan term sessei 摂政 is in fact translated as “regent” and in fact served as the political regent for the king. But the term “regent” in the Perry narrative refers even to a different kind of officer, namely a sōrinkan 総理官 or prime minister. So the term regent in the Perry narrative neither refers to the king or prince nor to the actual sessei, but to an official called sōrinkan (prime minister).

Then, who was this person on the picture anyway?

According to the narrative (Hawks 1857: 159), this “regent of Lew Chew” was named Shang Ta-mu. This refers to Shō Taimo 尚大模 (Mabuni Aji 摩文仁按司). At that time, Perry had informed the Ryūkyū government of his wish for an amity treaty and to use Ryūkyū as a base to survey Japan. The task of Shō Taimo (Mabuni Aji) here was to keep Perry and his people in check, which failed miserably and Perry even invited himself to the royal castle in Shuri to see the King himself. Because Shō Taimo (Mabuni Aji) failed in his task he was replaced as a ‘regent’: After having signed the Japan-U.S. Peace Treaty in Japan, Perry returned to Ryūkyū:

“When the squadron returned to Napha [Naha], on the 23d of June, it was found that a new regent had been installed. The old occupant, who had so pertinaciously striven to prevent the Commodore’s visit to Shui [Shuri], and who had also so bountifully entertained our countrymen at his own habitation, had, it was said, been deposed.”

Hawks 1857: 215

The new regent, referred to as Shang Hung Hiun in the narrative, was in fact Shō Kōkun 尚宏勲 (Nakazato Aji Chōki 仲里按司朝紀).

According to the above, our picture in question either shows Shō Taimo (Mabuni Aji) or Shō Kōkun (Nakazato Aji Chōki). Because the picture in question appears 50+ pages after the part on Shō Taimo (Mabuni Aji), and because it appears right at the beginning of the chapter on the first page of which Shō Kōkun (Nakazato Aji Chōki) is introduced as the new regent, there can be little doubt that the picture shows Nakazato Aji Chōki.

The picture shows Shō Kōkun (Nakazato Aji Chōki) and two unknown attendants.

Later, on July 11, 1854 the Ryūkyū-U.S. Treaty was signed. On the Ryūkyū-side, above-mentioned Shō Kōkun (Nakazato Aji Chōki) was one of two officials who signed the treaty on behalf of the Royal Government of Ryūkyū. As a side note, Shō Kōkun (Nakazato Aji Chōki) became the seventh head of Yonagusuku Udun 与那城御殿, a branch family of the royal family of Ryūkyū. Later he was promoted to become Yonagusuku Ōji Chōki 与那城王子朝紀 and served as actual sessei (regent on behalf of the king) from 1861 to 1872.

A little earlier, at the time of the Makishi Onga Incident 牧志恩河事件, in 1859 Shō Kōkun (Nakazato Aji Chōki) was appointed one of the judges to interrogate Makishi Chōchō 牧志朝忠 (1818–62) and other culprits. Makishi originally went by the name of Itarashiki Chōchū 板良敷朝忠 and this person actually worked as a translator for both Shō Taimo (Mabuni Aji) and Shō Kōkun (Nakazato Aji Chōki), the above-mentioned ‘regents’.

The narrative describes him as a young native, named Ichirazichi (=Itarashiki=Makishi Chōchō), a genius, or, rather, roguish Mercury who had been educated at Beijing, where he remained three years and who could speak Chinese, the language of communication, as well as a little English (Hawks 1857: 192, 281). During one meeting with Perry, Itarashiki (Makishi Chōchō) stood right behind Shō Kōkun (Nakazato Aji Chōki) (Hawks 1857: 216). So, was Itarashiki (Makishi Chōchō) one of the two attendants standing behind Shō Kōkun (Nakazato Aji Chōki) in the picture?

Maybe, but rather not. This is because the picture is a lithography made from a daguerreotype from 1853. It should therefore resemble the face of the persons at least in part. And the same narrative also contains a lithography made from a daguerreotype of Itarashiki (Makishi Chōchō). So if Itarashiki (Makishi Chōchō) has not cut his beard, he is not one of the persons in our first photo.

However that may be, together with Asato Ankō, it is said that Itarashiki (Makishi Chōchō) was a student of Matsumura Sōkon (OKKJ 2008: 107; various 1, 2, etc.). I really don’t know whether this is backed up by primary sources or is just oral tradition. In any case, facts are no less strange than fiction.

Itarashiki (Makishi Chōchō). From: Hawks 1857, vis-à-vis page 192

Itarashiki (Makishi Chōchō). From: Hawks 1857, vis-à-vis page 192


  • Clayton, Bruce D.; Raymond Horwitz; Edward Pollard: Shotokan’s Secret: the hidden truth behind karate’s fighting origins. Black Belt Books, 2004.
  • Hawks, Francis L.: Narrative of the Expedition of an American Squadron to the China Seas and Japan, performed in the years 1852, 1853, and 1854, under the command of Commodore M. C. Perry, United States Navy, by Order of the Government of the United States.Compiled from the Original Notes and Journals of Commodore Perry and his Officers, at his Request and under his Supervision, By Francis L. Hawks, D. D. LL. D. With numerous Illustrations. D. Appleton and Company, New York; Trübner & Co. London 1857.
  • Makishi Chōchō on Wikipedia Japan
  • Makishi Chōchō 牧志朝忠 (1818–62)on Ryukyu Bugei
  • On the Ryūkyū-U.S. Treaty
  • Smits, Gregory: Visions of Ryukyu: Identity and Ideology in Early-Modern Thought and Politics. 1999.
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On the Second Itosu Photo

Yesterday, I wrote On the First Itosu Photo. Since the publication of that photo, a decade of further research passed and – not least due to corresponding activities by various stakeholders of Okinawan history and research on the internet – further material emerged from the archives. Literally.

Like this, just very recently and after considerable thought, leading international researcher and practitioner Patrick McCarthy, Hanshi, turned the public’s attention to a 2nd photo of a person he also considered to be Itosu Ankō. For good reason. It is the following photo provided in the Digital Museum of the Naha City Museum of History.

Photo A: 2nd photo pf Itosu Ankō: Patrick McCarthy, Hanshi, believes the elderly gentleman standing in the second row to the far right is Itosu Ankō. Source: Digital Museum of the Naha City Museum of History.

Photo A: 2nd photo of Itosu Ankō: Patrick McCarthy, Hanshi, believes the elderly gentleman standing in the second row to the far right is Itosu Ankō. Source: Digital Museum of the Naha City Museum of History.

I will refer to it s photo A. Photo A is entitled “Dai Ichi Ōsato Jinjō Kōtō Shōgakkō” and dated to the “Closing years of the Taishō Era”. As regards this kind of school, it was is a secondary school affiliated to an elementary school and meant for the graduates of that elementary school. The school was originally established in 1880 under the name of “Ōsato Shōgakkō” (大里小学校). After various renamings and transfer to its current site, in April 1907 the school was renamed and reorganized as the “Dai Ichi Ōsato Jinjō Kōtō Shōgakkō” (第一大里尋常高等小学校). That is the school name given I n the description of the photo. This name remained like this until 1941 (information provided by the educational department of Nanjō City).

As regards the era photo A has been dated to: the Taishō Era lasted from 1912–1926.

Therefore, so far there are no contradictions in the data. The narrative would be possible. But that is the exact problem in much of Karate research: possible is simply not good enough.

There is also an outline of further information for photo A. It states that it was taken in front of the principal’s office of that school and that the photo was originally published in the book “Dai Ryūkyū Shashin-chō” (1990).

Note: Anybody who has that book “Dai Ryūkyū Shashin-chō” (1990), please look for the corresponding page, scan it (300dpi or more), and send it to me, ok? Thanks.

Well, since photo A was dated to the “Closing years of the Taishō Era”, it would have been shot in the 1920s. This led some social networkers to the conclusion that the picture cannot possibly show Itosu Ankō. But even if the photo had been described and dated by the Naha City Museum of History, we always want to check the sources. Not from bad intention, just to get better. A scientific method is to asymptotically err towards a truth, isn’t it? And the strength of a scientific method is found not so much in its ability to detect a truth, but in its ability to detect error. Now, to do so, two questions need be answered:

  • Is this really the Dai Ichi Ōsato Jinjō Kōtō Shōgakkō?
  • Is photo A really from the “end of the Taishō Era”?

As Motobu Naoki Sensei of the Motobu-ryū has pointed out, the description of photo A is actually flawed. Because by cross comparison it becomes clear that it does not show an elementary school in Ōsato, but in fact the Okinawa-ken Shihan Gakkō 沖縄県師範学校, or Okinawa Prefecture Teacher College. This, of course, is the school were Itosu Ankō was responsible for Karate instruction since around 1906. This changes a lot as regards the authenticity of photo A, doesn’t it?  BTW, the school bore this name from 1898 to 1943.

In order to verify my claim, there is a commemoration photo of the track and field club championships of the Okinawa Prefecture Teacher College in Shuri. You can watch the photo here at the Digital Museum of the Naha City Museum of History. I will refer to this photo B.

In the background of both photos A and B we see the same building. Photo B is more recent which can be seen in the description as well as in the tree growing behind the flag. But, besides sliding doors in different position the building is the same.


Photos A and B: Excerpt of building.

Photos A and B: Excerpt of building.

In other words: Photo A appears to actually have been shot at the Okinawa Prefecture Teacher College in Shuri. Not in Ōsato.

As has been researched and pointed out by Larry Kientz, on another credible website called 琉文21, an excerpt of photo A has been dated to 1910 and placed at Okinawa Prefecture Teacher College in Shuri (referred to as photo C).

Photos A and C.

Photo C (below) and an adjusted excerpt of Photo A.

Photo C from the 琉文21 website provides the following description:

1910, commemoration of the graduation from Okinawa Prefecture Teacher College (in Shuri). Staff members of this school in the front row from right are: licensed teacher Mishima三島訓導, Sonoyama Minpei 園山民平, Yamaguchi Mizuame 山口瑞雨, Matsushita Nobumoto 松下之基、Koda Sensei 古田先生, Takahashi Seijirō 高橋清次郎. Behind the Koda is Shimabukuro Gen’ichirō.

Well, here the site of photo C (= excerpt of photo A) is also placed the Okinawa Prefecture Teacher College, were – as a reminder – Itosu Ankō was active. There can be little doubt left that this is the actual location of photo A, and not Ōsato.

Photo C is also dated to 1910, as opposed to the “Closing years of the Taishō Era” of photo A.

So I looked for another piece to solve the question of the date.

As has been described in photo C, this person is Sonoyama Minpei 園山民平 (1887–1955).

Photo C: Sonoyama Minpei 園山民平 (1887–1955).

Photo C: Sonoyama Minpei 園山民平 (1887–1955).

According to famous Japanese online dictionary “Kotobank”, Sonoyama graduated from Tōkyō Music School in 1910. Afterwards he served at the Okinawa Prefecture Teacher College and conducted research on Ryūkyū folk songs. And in 1913 he obviously has left Okinawa since he worked as a teacher at the Miyazaki Prefectural Higher Girls’ School.

In other words: Sonoyama was on Okinawa from 1910 and 1913.

Therefore, there is no contradiction with the date of 1910 as given for photo C on the 琉文21 website.


By carefully investigating and checking the given sources, and by cross reference, it was shown in this article that the circumstances of photo A are different than it first seemed. In fact, there can now be little doubt that the site of photo A is actually the Okinawa Prefecture Teacher College — which is where Itosu Ankō was active — and 1910  — which is when Itosu Ankō was active — was the year it was shot. These details support the theory – maybe fact – that has very recently been put forward by Patrick McCarthy, Hanshi, i.e. that this is the 2nd photo that can be considered to show Itosu Ankō.

Photo A: Excerpt showing the person considered to be Itosu Ankō.

Photo A: Excerpt showing the person considered to be Itosu Ankō.

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On the First Itosu Photo

Itosu Ankō no Shashin Hakken – Dentō Karate-ka hajimete Sugao (Discovery of a Photo of Itosu Ankō – The Unpainted Face of Traditional Karate Man for the First Time). Okinawa Times (evening paper), February 28, 2006. 糸洲安恒の写真発見 伝統の空手家 初めて素顔。沖縄タイムス(夕刊)、2006年2月28日。

Itosu Ankō no Shashin Hakken – Dentō Karate-ka hajimete Sugao (Discovery of a Photo of Itosu Ankō – The Unpainted Face of Traditional Karate Man for the First Time). Okinawa Times (evening paper), February 28, 2006. 糸洲安恒の写真発見 伝統の空手家 初めて素顔。沖縄タイムス(夕刊)、2006年2月28日。

In 2006 a photo was revealed to the public, showing a mysterious man with a mustache. This man is considered to be Itosu Ankō (1831–1915), the Okinawan father of modern Karate. The matter was publicly described for the first time in the Okinawa Times Newspaper on 28 February 2006. According to the article, the photo had been in the possession of Kinjō Hiroshi (1919–2013) for quite a long time. As the story goes, in 2006, Kinjō, 87 years of age at that time, donated about 3,000 documents and precious Karate-related books to Okinawa Prefecture to be used as materials to research historical facts and help make promote Karate worldwide from its Okinawan origin. Among the donated materials was the group photo in question. At that time, the person in the photo was verified as being Itosu Ankō by Kadekaru Tooru 嘉手苅徹, chief specialist from the Okinawa Prefectural Office of Historically Important Documents. Since that time, the person in the photo is quasi officially considered to show Itosu Ankō by the majority of Karate experts and laymen. Today, all the different language editions of Wikipedia use this photo.

The group photo is dated to 1909 or 1910. As regards this date, one might want to note middle school principal Ōkubo Shūhachi 大久保周八 at the the left side of Itosu. In May 1902, coming from the Tokushima Teacher College, Ōkubo Shūhachi assumed office as the principal of Okinawa Prefecture Middle School (Okinawa-ken Chūgakkō). In September 1903 he was reappointed and obviously remained in this office until June 1911, when he retired as principal (see timeline in: Gakkō Jōran 2015). BTW, in the same year, the school changed its name from Okinawa Prefecture Middle School (Okinawa-ken Chūgakkō) to Okinawa Prefectural 1st Middle School (Okinawa Kenritsu Dai Ichi Chūgakkō 沖縄県立第一中学校), which remained like this from 1911 to 1946.

According to the above, Ōkubo served as the principal of Okinawa Prefectural Shuri High School from 1902 until 1911, i.e. throughout the early years of implementation of Karate into the school system. Moreover, since Ōkubo retired in 1911 and left for another prefecture to a different job, the latest date for the photo is 1911. So there is no contradiction with the 1909 or 1910 date.

1. Person considered to be Itosu Ankō. 2. Ōkubo Shūhachi, principal of Okinawa Prefectural Shuri High School from 1902 to 1911.

1. Person considered to be Itosu Ankō. 2. Ōkubo Shūhachi, principal of Okinawa Prefectural Shuri High School from 1902 to 1911.

The group photo appears to be a commemorative photograph taken on occasion of a Jūdō and Kendō competition. Since Ōkubo Shūhachi is in the photo, the venue was most probably the Okinawa Prefecture Middle School in Shuri, of which Ōkubo was the principal. Two persons wear a haori decorated with the family crest. Itosu Ankō, on the other hand, appears in just an everyday cotton haori and hakama without a family crest.

Well, the majority of the world is happy with the photo of the person considered to be Itosu Ankō. I mean, in the end there is a face to the originator of modern Karate. But there are also the critics who claim the person in the photo is not Itosu. Granted, you can never be 100% sure. 70% of me say it is Itosu, 30% say it might be someone else. Sometimes it’s 80/20. So, let’s see how Kinjō Hiroshi himself described the process auf authentication of Itosu Ankō in the photo. Or in his own words, “As the person who donated the photograph to the Prefectural Library of Okinawa, I would like to write about its origin.” (Kinjō, in Okinawa Times: February 28, 2006).

In 1953, Miyagi Hisateru 宮城久輝 (1895–?) published his book “Karatedō”. In it he talks about his training under Yabu Kentsū and Itosu Ankō (see, Miyagi 1953). Miyagi graduated from the Okinawa Prefectural Teacher College in  March 1916, became an elementary school teacher afterwards and 1921 went on to Tōkyō in pursuit of becoming a novelist. Under the pen name Miyagi Satoshi 宮城聡/聰 he worked for the Kaizō Company and went on to win the Kaizō’s writer’s award with his 1934 publication entitled, “My hometown is the Globe” (Kokyō ha Chikyū 故郷は地球).

Front row from left: Albert Einstein, Kaizō Company president Yamamoto Sanehiko. Back row, right: Miyagi Hisateru (Satoshi). Photo source: Ryubun21

Front row from left: Albert Einstein, Kaizō Company president Yamamoto Sanehiko.
Back row, right: Miyagi Hisateru (Satoshi).
Photo source: Ryubun21

In 1956, aiming for providing a comprehensive magazine for the Karate circles, Kinjō Hiroshi launched his monthly magazine “Gekkan Karatedō 月刊空手道”. At that time he decided to ask Miyagi Hisateru to write an article about Itosu Ankō which was to be published in the first issue (Miyagi, in: Gekkan Karatedō, May 1, 1956, page 46). For this article, Kinjō tried everything to obtain a photograph of Itosu, but finally wasn’t successful. However, Kinjō vividly remembered one of Miyagi descriptions of Itosu: “Wearing a cotton Hakama, and with both legs opened, he appeared as if he walked in Kiba-dachi.” Later, when Kinjō found the group photo, this memory was one reason he believed that this photo showed Itosu Ankō: Because the person in the photo, and contrary to the other persons’ haori, had an everyday cotton haori without a family crest.

Around December 1980, Kinjō boarded a plane to participate in the ceremony commemorating the anniversary of the establishment of his old school, the Okinawa Prefectural 1st Middle School. Arasaki Seibin 新崎盛敏 (1912–1989), an emeritus professor of Tōkyō University and one of Kinjō’s middle school seniors handed him the group photo in question saying,

“Ichiji no Tanmē [venerable old gentleman Itosu] is in there.”

However, he did not indicate which person in the photo was Itosu Ankō. At that time Miyagi also said

“The photo is from the personal album of Tokuda Antei.”

Tokuda Antei 徳田安貞 (1884–1979) entered the Okinawa Prefecture Middle School in Shuri in 1905, the year Karate was introduced as a compulsory school subject of physical education. He graduated five years later, in 1910, in the 22nd graduation class of the middle school. After that, he entered the Okinawa Prefecture Teacher College in Shuri, where he continued to receive karate instruction as a member of the Teacher College Karate Club for a period of one year, until 1911. As can also be seen in “Tokuda’s Memorandum” (see Kinjō 2011: 367–68), he experienced the original Karate taught in the Okinawan school system by Itosu Ankō, Yabu Kentsū and Hanashiro Chōmo, as well as the Karate of venerable Kiyuna from Tamaudun and others, including Funakoshi Gichin, and also the Kobudō of Yamannī Usumē, i.e. venerable old man Chinen Sanrā. In other words: The photo came from the personal collection of an eyewitness and personal Karate disciple of Itosu.

Around 1985 Kinjō Hiroshi asked Itosu Ankō’s adopted heir, Itosu Angō 糸洲安剛, about his expert opinion as regards the group photo. However, Angō replied that he couldn’t remember if Itosu Ankō had a mustache or beard so he couldn’t determine who was Itosu in the photo. Kinjō wrote “At that time I suddenly remembered Arasaki Seibin’s words, that the photo is ‘from the personal album of Tokuda Antei’ and so I thought it would make the most sense to ask him directly.” Immediately after returning home he tried to call Tokuda at his home in Ikebukuro, Tōkyō, but was unable to reach him even after many more tries. Of course, today we know that Tokuda Antei already passed away in 1979.

While Kinjō still couldn’t identify the person in the photo as Itosu Ankō, he remained confident for several reason that Itosu was the figure in the group photo: The cotton hakama as mentioned by Itosu’s student Miyagi Hisateru, the memory of the white beard, or mustache, by Itosu’s adopted son Angō, and the presumed age of Itosu Ankō in 1909 or 1910 when the photo was taken. Moreover, the fact that Arasaki Seibin explicitly mentioned that Itosu is in the photo and that the photo is from the personal album of Tokuda Antei, a direct student of Itosu. However, since Kinjō thought this not enough solid evidence, he refrained from any public announcement of the existence of the group photo at the time.

It was only in 2006 that Kinjō donated the group photo to the Okinawa Prefectural Library. There, as a result of a detailed comparison and verification carried out by Kadekaru Tooru, chief specialist from the Okinawa Prefectural Office of Historically Important Documents, the mysterious person on the group photo was finally identified as being Itosu Ankō. In other words: Kinjō had good reason to believe it was Itosu all the time. He just waited for a nonbiased second expert opinion, which he found in 2006 in Kadekaru Tooru. As Kinjō stated himself,

“From Kadekaru Tooru I have received special cooperation in connection with identifying the photo of Itosu Ankō”

Kinjō 2011: 299

One of the reasons for Kadekaru Tooru’s assessment was that he digitized the photo and used computer enhancement to reveal more detail. When he closely inspected the hands of the mysterious person in the photo he found what he considers to be Makiwara calousses.


The Shuri middle school was called “Okinawa Prefecture Middle School” 沖縄県中学校 from 1899 to 1911, and “Okinawa Prefectural 1st Middle School” 沖縄県立第一中学校 from 1911  to 1946. Since 1972 it is called the “Okinawa Kenritsu Shuri Kotō-gakkō” 沖縄県立首里高等学校 or “Okinawa Prefectural Shuri High School”.


Gakkō Jōran. Heisei 27 Nendo. Okinawa Kenritsu Shuri Kotō-gakkō (School Handbook. Fiscal Year 2015. Okinawa Prefectural Shuri High School). 903-0816 Naha-shi Shuri Mawashi-chō 2 Chōme 43 Banchi. 学校要覧. 平成 27 年度. 沖縄県立首里高等学校. 〒903-0816 那覇市首里真和志町2丁目43番地.

Itosu Ankō no Shashin Hakken – Dentō Karate-ka hajimete Sugao (Discovery of a Photo of Itosu Ankō – The Unpainted Face of Traditional Karate Man for the First Time). Okinawa Times (evening paper),  February 28, 2006. 糸洲安恒の写真発見 伝統の空手家 初めて素顔。沖縄タイムス(夕刊)、2006年2月28日。

Itosu Photo Discovered ~ The First True Face of a Karate Legend. Tues 28 Feb 2006, Okinawa Times Evening Paper [2nd edition] p5 Society Section. English translation by Patrick & Yuriko McCarthy.

Kadekaru Tooru, Ikehara Hitomi, Shinzato Sayaka: Kinjō Hiroshi Uji Shozō Karate Budō nado Kankei Shiryō ni tsuite (About the historical materials related to Karate and Budō etc. from the possession of Mr. Kinjō Hiroshi). Okinawa-ken Kyōiku Iinkai Shiryō Henshū-shitsu Kyō (Bulletin of the Historiographical Institute of Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education) #30, 2005, pp. 175-190. 嘉手關徹・池原ひとみ・新里彩:金城裕氏所蔵空手・武道等関係史料について。 沖縄県教育委員会史料編集室紀要(30)、2005年:175-190。

Kinjo Hiroshi (Transl. Patrick & Yuriko McCarthy): Itosu Anko Okina. The Restorer of Karate. Okinawa Times (Morning Paper), March 20, 2006.

Kinjō Hiroshi: Karate Chūkō no So Itosu Ankō Okina Futatabi (Jō). Ichiji no Tanmē / Shashin no Jinbutsu tsuini Tokutei (Again, The Ancestor Who Rejuvenated Karate: Itosu Ankō Okina (Part 1). Ichiji no Tanmē / Person in the Photo Finally Identified). Okinawa Times (evening paper), February 28, 2006. 金城裕:空手中興の祖・糸洲安恒翁再び(上)。イチジのタンメー/写真の人物ついに特定。沖縄タイムス(朝刊)、2006年3月20日。

Kinjō Hiroshi: Tōde kara karate made (From tōdī to karate) . Nihon budōkan, Bēsubōru Magajin-sha, Tōkyō 2011. 439 pp. 20cm. ISBN: 9784583104294. 金城裕:唐手から空手へ。日本武道館・ベースボール・マガジン社, 東京2011。

Miyagi Hisateru: Itosu Sensei no Inshōki. Gekkan Karatedō Sōkango. May 1, 1956, page 46. 宮城久輝: 糸洲先生の印象記. 月刊空手道創刊号。昭和31年5月1日発行, 46頁.

Miyagi Hisateru: Karatedō. Nichigetsu-sha, 1953. 宮城久輝: 空手道.日月社1953

Quast, Andreas: How tradition really works.

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Karate and the Floating Foot (Ukiashi 浮き足)

Floating Foot is a literal translation of the Japanese word ukiashi 浮き足. It refers to an unsteady step, to standing on the tiptoes, to being ready to flee, and even – figuratively – to high volatility in a financial market. The reason is that one foot is not grounded in the placement. The term ukiashi is famous in Japanese martial arts because it was described by Miyamoto Musashi (1584–1645) as one of “the three footworks to avoid”:

“The method of footwork is to lift your toes a little and strongly step with your heel. Depending on the circumstances, footwork is sometimes large, sometimes small, sometimes slow, and sometimes fast. However: You always use your feet as if you are walking normally. The three things you shall avoid are 1) to step by jumping, 2) to step by letting the feet float (ukiashi 浮足), and 3) to step while your waist is dropped. An important thing taught in the art of war is what is called the ‘Yin and Yang Feet’. This is also very important in this style (Niten Ichi Ryū). The use of the ‘Yin and Yang Feet’ means that you shall not move only one foot. When you cut, or when you draw the sword, or even when you receive [block] a sword, you step right-left-right-left, such as if you are alternating between the two poles of Yin and Yang. Although it seems as if I am repeating myself many times over: Please do not step with only one foot in the center line! I want you to examine this well.” From: Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings – The Book of Water, Section 5: The Use of the Feet. (Translation by Andreas Quast).

In Karate, ukiashi has been likened to the so-called cat-foot-stance (nekoashi), which is widely seen in modern Karate. The issue gets apparent in the following words by Motobu Chōki:

“In my Karate, there are no stances such as the cat-foot-stance (nekoashi), the forward-bent-stance (zenkutsu), or the backward-bent-stance (kōkutsu). The so-called cat-foot stance (nekoashi) is an example of the floating foot (ukiashi), which is most disliked in the martial arts. This is because if your body receives a blow, you’re blown down immediately since you lose your balance. Zenkutsu and kōkutsu are also unnatural stances, hindering free work and free movement. The stance in my Karate, during both kata and kumite, with the knees lightly bent such as in Naifanchi, allows to move the feet freely. At the time of offense and defense the knees are tightened and the hips are dropped. No weight is placed on neither the front nor the back, but weight is always distributed evenly on both feet.” From: Nakata Mizuhiko, 1978

Motobu Chōki was a person who actually learned old style Karate from masters such as Matsumura Sōkon and Sakuma Pēchin of Shuri, and Matsumora Kōsaku of Tomari. It has therefore been called into question whether there have been as many cat-foot-stances (nekoashi) in old style Karate as there are today. Instead, it is believed that Itosu Ankō, as is evident in his Pinan series, introduced the frequent use of the cat-foot-stance (nekoashi) and the forward-bent-stance (zenkutsu) and by doing so he established a new mainstream of stances. At least this has to be seriously considered in the pre-Itosu <–> post-Itosu traditions.

We also get more of this idea by looking at the Okinawan Bubishi: Among the 96 paired techniques depicted in it – 48 fighting diagrams, two persons each – many qualify for calling the stance a cat-foot-stance (nekoashi). It is interesting to note that the majority of the techniques using the cat-foot-stance are those designated as “loosing techniques”. It therefore appears as if Chinese unarmed martial arts of the 18th and 19th century did not overly support cat-foot-stance (nekoashi) – or “sitting down in the hip” supported by only one leg for that matter.

Excerpts from the Higa Seiko edition of the Bubishi.

Excerpts from the Higa Seiko edition of the Bubishi.

I don’t know about Okinawa at that time but today we can create whatever hypothesis for a combative application of a cat-foot-stance (nekoashi). For example, it protects your groin. Or, it is actually an evasive maneuver. Or, it actually signifies a snapped front-toekick to the short-rib in a 60° angle. Or, it trains your pelvic floor. Or, it looks great. Or, because KARATE!, that’s why! However, none of these add anything to the question whether Itosu introduced the extensive use of (static) cat-foot-stance (nekoashi) or not, and moreover, how much of an impact this may actually had afterwards on traditions almost completely influenced by Itosu (e.g. Kobayashi-ryū), or those influenced in large parts by Itosu (e.g. Shitō-ryū under Mabuni Kenwa), and even traditions not directly influenced by Itosu (e.g. Gōjū-ryū, Uechi-ryū), and finally even traditions of Kobudō.

Note: I  have been asked about the source of the above quoted words by Motobu Chōki. As I noted above, these are from Nakata Mizuhiko, 1978. Nakata Mizuhiko  was a member of Konishi Yasuhiro’s dōjō, and after he met Motobu Chōki he became a kind of guest student at Motobu Chōki’s dōjō. For example, in 1935, Nakata demonstrated Karate together with Motobu Chōki and Konishi Yasuhiro at the Japanese Ministry of Railways. He wrote down things said by Motobu Chōki which Nakata listened to, or when Nakata inquired about something. So it was a classical “taking notes” thing. These sayings were written down in letters which finally were presented to the Motobu family and compiled in 1978. It was later published in print as “Nakata Mizuhiko: Motobu Chōki Sensei Goroku (Sayings by Motobu Chōki Sensei). 1978, in Konuma Tamotsu (compilation): Motobu Chōki Seiden – Ryūkyū Kenpō Karatejutsu Tatsujin, 1993, and republished under the same name in 2000 (page 79 – 98) (中田瑞彦: 本部朝基先生・語録. In: 小沼保: 本部朝基正伝 琉球拳法空手術達人 ).

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