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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Enbusen 演武線

The following is a short text I have translated from the Encyclopedia of Okinawa Karate and Kobudo. It was written by senior Uechi-ryū practitioner Tōbaru Keichō. It gives a quite good overview abut the topic of enbusen.

With uke-waza (defenses), tsuki-waza (strikes), and keri-waza (kicks) at its externally visible nucleus, the kata of Karate also inherently include skills such as tsukame-waza (seizing), nage-waza (throwing), and kansetsu-waza (joint locking, grappling).

In addition, every kata has a so-called enbusen 演武線, or “trajectories of martial kata performances”. Assuming attacks from the front, back, left and right, and performing defenses, strikes, and kicks etc. against a visualized opponent, individual techniques (=dots) are being combined into a series of techniques (=a line). Kata is the representation of all dots and lines systematized as a whole. The course of the footwork used to perform these attacks and defenses are the enbusen.

Envisioning effective and appropriate techniques of offense and defense against opponents from all directions, and integrating it with footwork into a series of movements, the performance of the enbusen is one of the key elements for the acquisition of techniques in Karate.

As the basic forms of enbusen, there is the ‘I-shaped enbusen‘ (ijikei)  which assumes the enemy in the front and back, the ‘horizontal enbusen‘ (yokoichijikei) which assumes the enemy on the left and right, the ‘cross-shaped enbusen‘ (jūjikei) which assumes the enemy from four directions, the ‘all directions enbusen‘ (shihōhappō) which assumes the enemy in all directions, and the ‘enbusen in which the directions and footwork radiates to all directions’ (happō hōshakei). Additionally, depending on the type of kata, various other enbusen exist, such as the ‘T-shaped’ (teijikei), the ‘reversed-T-shaped’, and the ‘tree-kanji-shape’ (kijikei) enbusen.

In addition to the aesthetic or practical ideas of the inventor, from the perspective of larger and smaller training places as well as from the specific martial arts tradition, the starting point and the end point of the enbusen – referred to as matomari 纏まり in the Japanese language, meaning both consistency and conclusion – have to be consistent. That is, the start and end points are assumed to have been designed so as to return to the original starting spot when finishing the kata. However, due to differences in the physique, expressive power, stepping, footwork of the performer, the start and end point are not always exactly consistent. Especially in old kata of Kobudō, such a consistency in the start and end points is even harder to find. Therefore, this consistency might be a more modern necessity.

While there are various trajectories based on the inventor’s viewpoint and ideas of martial arts, none of the enbusen of kata shows large deviations from the standard. Every kata includes a martial performance flowing along the enbusen, and even if there is some deviation, the kata ends within the radius of about 1 meter from the starting point. As a part of traditional kata, together with functionality and combative characteristics, the matomari has become something for handing down information.

There are some things to consider when it comes to pre-1900 ‘Karate‘.

First of all, while the (almost) identical start and end point is certainly a classic feature of kata in Karate, the term matomari 纏まり doesn’t seem to be that old. Rather, it appears to be a loan word taken from general-language and adopted into the special language of Karate rather recently.

Secondly, there are variuos possible reasons for the (almost) identical start and end point. For example, one might argue that it is the result of boundaries, such as in indoor training or when training larger groups of people. This is valid for the era of the conscription agers’ Karate of Itosu et.al. but also for the cases of public performances of martial arts, such as in case of visits by Chinese investiture envoys (Sappōshi), where stages were used, just as in case of musical or theatrical performances inside Shuri castle.

Thirdly, when practice or performances took place on Uganju 御願所, there was more free space than on a stage. However, most of the time there was an audience who were positioned according to hierarchy. For example, the village elders at the Uganju, or guests of honor during performances for Sappōshi, the order of people during performances on stages set up inside Shuri castle, the gymnastics teachers at school Karate practice, etc.

BTW, while in Kobudō the same concept of enbusen is used, start and end point do not match as clearly as in Karate .

Enbusen of "Shūji no Kun". From: Miki Jisaburô, Takada Mizuho: Kenpô Gaisetsu, 1930, page 153.

Enbusen of “Shūji no Kun”. From: Miki Jisaburô, Takada Mizuho: Kenpô Gaisetsu, 1930, page 153.

There might also have simply been an aesthetic reason for it.

While it seems that in Kobudō the start and end point are not as clearly the same as in Karate, the question remains when exactly enbusen where begun to be choreographed around an almost identical start and end point, or if this is just a comparatively new fashion every martial arts from Okinawa had been subjected to since the early 20th century or so. It is true that modern Karate in Okinawa was a development that followed and ultimately replaced Western style military drill (heishiki taisō) in the Okinawan school system. Hence, the enbusen of Karate and Kobudō as seen today might simply have been built around Western gymnastics popular in Japanese education and military at the end of the 19th century. In this connection, and with a very few exceptions, the obsession with a clear-cut personal genealogi-technical tree might best be replaced by the concept of a genealogi-technical bush.


  • Okinawa Karate Kobudō Jiten 2008: 197–198.
  • Miki Jisaburō (1904-1952), Takada Mizuho (1910-1987) (gemeinsame Hrsg.): Kenpō Gaisetsu. Nachdruck. Ginowan, Yōyu Shorin 2002. 284 Ss, 8 S. illustriert, 22cm. Anm.: Erstausgabe Wissenschaftliche Arbeitsgemeinschaft des Karate (Tōde) an der Kaiserlichen Universität Tōkyō, 1930: 153.
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Educational Modernization, Standard Language, Karate, and Dialect Cards

One of the crucial pillars of the Okinawa assimilation policy was educational modernization. Students needed to be trained in the standard language of Japan. Implementation began as early as 1880 when two new schools were established to serve as the nucleus of an Okinawa education policy:

  • In June 1880 the Conversation Training Facility (Kaiwa Denshū-sho 会話伝習所) was established as the first education facility for teachers. It was located inside the official residence of the Satsuma Resident Commissioner in Naha. Shortly afterward it was renamed to Okinawa Normal School (Okinawa Shihan-gakkō 沖縄師範学校).[1] After several relocations and renamings, in January 1886 it was transferred to the new school building in Shuri Tōnokura.
  • In December 1880 the former National Academy (kokugaku) situated on the palace grounds was renamed and established as the 1st Middle School of Okinawa Prefecture.[2]

In both the above-mentioned schools, as well as in the affiliated primary school, the use of standard Japanese (hyōjungo 標準語) was thoroughly enforced.[3] At the same time, the use of the Okinawan language was prohibited. It was understood that language is the most critical prerequisite to national identity.

Soldiers of the Kumamoto Garrison with bayonet rifles (jūken) in front of the Kankaimon front gate of Shuri Castle. Following the Ryūkyū Shobun. The Kumamoto Garrison had been sent by the Meiji government and was lodged inside Shuri Castle.

Soldiers of the Kumamoto Garrison with bayonet rifles (jūken) in front of the Kankaimon front gate of Shuri Castle. Following the Ryūkyū Shobun. The Kumamoto Garrison had been sent by the Meiji government and was lodged inside Shuri Castle.

BTW, as you may know, the above-mentioned two schools were also the two schools were Karate was implemented for the first time in school education. While widespread and accepted, the terminus “school education” here is actually a euphemism. In fact, it was a “conscription-agers education” (sōtei kyōiku 壮丁教育). Analoguous to this, the Karate taught at the Shuri schools at that time was not “school Karate”, but “conscription-agers Karate” (sōtei karate 壮丁唐手). This can also clearly be seen in the “Ten Articles of Karate” (Karate Jūkajō 唐手十ヶ條) by Itosu Ankō, presented to the Prefectural Government in 1908.[4] The second of these ten articles, which is self-explanatory, is as follows:

If children were to begin training naturally in military prowess while in primary school, then they would be well suited for military service. Remember the words attributed to the Duke of Wellington after he defeated Napoleon, ‘Today’s battle was won on the playing fields of our schools.’[5]

Naturally, standard language was also a key skill for soldiers. It is no coincidence that ki o tsuke 気を付け still today is the command for “(stand to) attention!” in Karate.

BTW, graduates from the Okinawa Normal School – such as Funakoshi Gichin – would then go on and teach at one of the primary schools on the islands. As regards the quantity of such primary schools: By 1885 there were already fifty-seven primary schools established in Okinawa.[6]

As can also be seen in the Ryūkyū Shinpō (1898/4/25) newspaper, being the conformist state media of the time, published the article “Regulations for Conscription-agers,”[7] giving the details of what was expected from conscripts, including standard language, hygiene regulations, hairdo, punishments etc. The crew cut fashionable in schools and elsewhere at that time was a result of the conscription regulations.[8]

BTW, one of the tools to punish those who failed to fully assimilate in Okinawa was the Dialect card (hōgen fuda 方言札). This method was originally a European idea which was adopted in Japan and then implemented in Okinawa. It is said that the Dialect card was even initially voluntarily adopted by Okinawan students at the beginning of the 20th century, but became mandatory as assimilation policies increased following 1917. A student who spoke Okinawan would be forced to wear the card until another student also spoke in Okinawan, and then it would pass to the new transgressor, with the student wearing it at the end of the school day punished by the teachers.[9]

Of course, Dialect cards are a tool for oppression. They can also be likened to claims in Karate, as has been done in this blog entry of the Motobu-ryū from Japan.

BTW, when thinking about this, I began to wonder about all the Okinawan martial arts terms so popular these days. I mean, there is barely one found in any writing prior to the 1950s and now you can already fill complete dictionaries with them. How did that happen? Did they survive uninterruptedly in personal tradition, maybe in secret, until today? Or are they re-inventions, cautiously begun sometime after ’45 and increasing exponentially ever since?


Quast, Andreas: Karate 1.0. Düsseldorf 2013.


[1] Kadekaru 2012: 177.

[2] Kerr 1958: 413-14. Shuri Chūgakkō, variously renamed afterwards.

[3] Kadekaru 2012: 177.

[4] OKKJ 2008: 558. Kadekaru 2012: 178.

[5] Iain Abernethy: The 10 Precepts of Anko Itosu. Translated by a professional translation company. Retreived 2013/12/06, iainabernethy.co.uk/article/10-precepts-anko-itosu

[6] Public primary schools (shōgakkō 小学校) provided education for the masses of the people and were distributed throughout Okinawa Prefecture. The middle school in Shuri was the first public middle school (chūgakkō 中学校) in Okinawa, until 1910 a branch school was established in Naha, which thus became called the 2nd Middle School. The first vocational school was established in Shuri in 1904, followed by others in 1905 in Naha etc. Public high schools (kōtō-gakkō 高等学校) began between 1900 and 1910 and were the highest educational institutions in Okinawa until the Shōwa era. The Himeyuri nurses came from the higher girl’s school, which shows that girl’s education was also part of the “conscript-agers education.” The fact that no university had been established in Okinawa was without doubt part of a repressive Okinawa policy. In this way, intellectual breeding grounds for different ideas were prevented. In addition, the few Okinawan university students, who would form the future elite, had to study a few years at a university in “real” Japan. It was only the Americans who bestowed a university to Okinawa, deliberately called Ryūkyū Daigaku, not Okinawa Daigaku.

[7] Chōhei tekirei-sha no kokoroe 徴兵適齢者の心得. Kondō 1994: 13.

[8] Kondō 1994: 10-14. Uechi 1977: 389.

[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialect_card

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Kyūyō, Appendix Vol. III-154

“In the 13th year of King Shō Iku’s reign (1847), Satsuma conferred husked rice and edible seaweed.”

Since the year of the Dragon [1844], ships from both France and England repeatedly arrived in this country [Ryūkyū]. They made all kinds of disrespectful requests which harmed this country’s own affairs. Moreover, persons from both these countries came ashore and stayed for a long time, even more so since they were two countries [and not just one]. Last autumn, due to the issue of said French and English persons, a special envoy was dispatched to China. At a time when the entire country was hard-pressed and weary, and moreover met with the greatest expenses, on top of being weary there was additional weary, and to poorness came even more poorness. When Lord Shimazu heard about this, he granted [Ryūkyū] the huge favor of 300 koku of husked rice and ten thousand catty of edible seaweed as an emergency relief.

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A Reconstructed Ryūkyūan Tribute Journey to China

Only one country was allowed to travel to China once or twice a year–the Kingdom of Ryūkyū. Its tribute ships were built in Naha based on the construction of Fujian-style junks. The keel was made of solid pine and shaped like a rib cage. From the fourteenth to the sixteenth century these ships not only sailed to China but also to Japan and Southeast Asia.

Its hull was divided into small, separated partitions. Thus, in the event of water ingress, the affected partition could be shut off and isolated from the rest of the ship. The ships were enormous; more than 40 meters long, with a 30 meters high main mast, and they counted among the largest ships with a performance matched by no other vessel at the time. Ryūkyū is considered to have possessed about fifteen such vessels.

A Ryūkyūan tribute ship (Sekkōsen 接貢船) departs from Naha to Fujian (Beechey 1831).

A Ryūkyūan tribute ship (Sekkōsen 接貢船) departs from Naha to Fujian (Beechey 1831).

In spring, around March, or early autumn, when northeasterly winds prevailed, a fleet of usually two tribute ships are prepared to put to sea. Taking in the cargo the days prior to the leave and with several hundred men on board, the ships are finally towed out by an immense number of small boats and grounded off the entrance of the Naha harbor, the shores echoing with their deep-toned gongs. Soon afterward they are placed outside the reefs.

The vessels have three masts decorated with flags of all sorts and sizes. The front mast hoists the white flag of the Chinese emperor, the main mast a triangular flag, red and yellow, with a white ball in it, denoting Ryūkyū’s status as a tributary state. There were numerous others flags and along the stern were arranged ceremonial weapons sporting the flags of many “mandarins”. The prow of the hull sports a stylized lion, and on both sides, huge dragon eyes are painted, watching over a safe journey.

Finally, they set out from Naha onto their ten-day voyage across the East China Sea. Reaching Kume Island they wait for favorable winds, with which they reach Wuhumen Port in Fujian within seven to eight days. Wuhumen 五虎門, or Five Tigers Gate, was named after five rocks situated within the reefs. It was also the starting point for the maritime sea route of Chinese investiture missions (sappōshi) from Fujian to Naha harbor.

In Wuhumen they receive their official trading certificates (liuqiuguo jingong-chuan 琉球國進貢船) from the inspection authority for incoming vessels, and after about five miles upstream the river, they reach the Maritime Customs Office in Min’anzhen 閩安鎭. Chinese pilots embark and navigate the ships up to dock, where the large ships are left to remain until the departure for the return journey in the following year. On small boats, the tribute envoy, crew, cargo, and luggage continue to the Ryūkyūkan, the official trading consulate in Fuzhou and living quarter of the Ryūkyūans for the time of their stay. Here they unload and store their precious cargo.

In Chinese, this Ryūkyūkan is called Rouyuanyi 柔遠駅. It is the designated place of contact and stay for persons traveling from Ryūkyū to China within the tributary system and is regarded a sort of consulate. It is located to the south of the Jingong-chang 進貢廠, i.e. the official depot for temporarily storing tribute items in Fuzhou’s inner port city called Hekou 河口. A Ryūkyūan residence attaché (zonryū-tsūji 存留通事) is responsible for all kinds of official business. Normally, these residence attachés come in December or January and leave one and a half years later in summer.

On the black lacquered gate roof of the main entrance of the Rouyuanyi, a large inscribed board reads “No Waves Scatter on the Ocean” (haibu yangbo 海不揚波), expressing the wish for uneventful, peaceful and secure sea journeys. Another board on the main gate reads Rouyuanyi 柔遠駅, i.e. “Soothing Station for Those Coming from Afar”.

The facilities of the Rouyuanyi are guarded by Chinese military officers called Bamenguan 把門官. Both civil and military Chinese officials move around there, all in all about fifty-six persons, and the military officials wear swords and other weapons. Between the large front gate and the second gate are the official residences. At daytime the gates are open and the Ryūkyūans are free to walk about. At nighttime, the gates are closed and guarded.

The Ryūkyūan tribute envoy visits the local top officials and presents gifts. In late September or early October, he sets out on his way to Beijing, accompanied by an entourage of about twenty people under the protection of a Chinese military escort.

The others, several hundred Ryūkyūans, stay at the Rouyuanyi until the envoy’s return in the following year. During that time, the Rouyuanyi is opened for trade, which is called kaiguan maoyi 開舘貿易. In order to do so, the resident attaché first presents a trade application to the Fujian government. Once approved, the so-called Qiu merchants (Qiushang 球商) are allowed to enter the Rouyuanyi for trade. These Qiu-merchants had acted as official intermediary merchants for the China-Ryūkyū trade already since the early Ming dynasty. Their main task is selling the tribute commodities brought by the Ryūkyūan tribute ships, and in turn to purchase Chinese goods according to the Ryūkyūan wishes. This merchant guild consists of members of ten from among the thirty-six families that had emigrated to Ryūkyū since the late fourteenth century.

According to the “Book of Fujian” (Minshu 閩書), trade articles during the Ming and Qing dynasties included products of gold, silver, copper and tin as well as agate, ivory, spices, traditional Chinese medicinal materials, knife sharpeners, sulphur, swords, different kinds of dried seafood and articles for daily use. No doubt, these articles are not all from Ryūkyū. Most of them are from Siam, Java, Malacca, and Japan, with swords and spears from Japanese production. This indicates Ryūkyūs role as an intermediary trader. In other words, this kind of trade can also be described as a trade between China and other countries with Ryūkyū as an intermediary. As noted in the “Dynastic Record of the Ming Dynasty” (Ming-shilu 明實録), Ryūkyū earned great profits through buying and selling under the umbrella of being a tributary of China.

The Rouyuanyi in Fuzhou (Nishizato 2006).

The Rouyuanyi in Fuzhou (Nishizato 2006).

Besides selling imported Ryūkyūan commodities, the activities of the Qiu-merchants also include the purchase of Chinese articles according to Ryūkyūan instructions. Either they accomplish it themselves or they consign common merchants to go to other provinces to purchase products such as wood, silk floss, fine woven silk, iron wares, porcelain, satin, medicinal materials, tea, lacquer works, refined white sugar, tobacco, tin wares, ink sticks and so on. Large quantities of Chinese medicines and iron wares are what the Ryūkyūans usually desire. The case of a ship with twenty-five people found on the Ryūkyūs in 1701, having come from Fuzhou prefecture in Fujian with commodities acquired in Shandong and blown off course by a storm, is considered a possible example of such consignment trade under the order of the Qiushang merchants. The Ryūkyū trade is almost entirely in the hands of Fujian merchants and greatly promotes the local economy in Fujian.

In terms of the products purchased by the Ryūkyūans, most of them come from the south of Fujian. For instance, cotton yarn of Quanzhou is of excellent quality; velvet from Zhangzhou was already very popular during Ming times. In addition, grass cloth from Yongchun (!!!), porcelains of Dehua, and ramie of Hui’an are all famous trading articles. Furthermore, due to its mountainous areas, the south of Fujian is a good place for medicinal products and plants. All of the abundant natural resources make Fujian an active and interesting trading partner for Ryūkyū, and no doubt this provides the Qiushang merchants with great advantages for successful trade. And it also provides a logistical pathway for connections and items related to Fujian martial arts.

Meanwhile, the entourage to Beijing follows the land route through the provinces of Yanping, Jianning, Quzhou, Yanzhou, Kangzhou, Jiaxing, Suzhou, Zhenjiang, Yangzhou, Shandong etc. From Jianning to Quzhou they travel by land; from Yanzhou to Yangzhou by water. In Shandong, where the roads are flat and the wind is strong, they stretch out sails by which they drive their carts forward. Each time they reach a border town they beat gongs and fire firecrackers and the like to announce their arrival.

In November or December, they reach Beijing. During the audience at the Imperial Palace the chief envoy hands over documents as well as presents from the Ryūkyūan king, consisting of large amounts of sulfur, copper, tin, and other items. In return, the chief envoy receives silk, brocades, and the like. After about forty days in Beijing and with the audiences finished, they set out and return to the Rouyuanyi. Loading large amounts of purchased goods onto their junks, they commence on their way home, using the southerly winds in the summer from the “Five Tigers Gate” of Wuhumen towards Naha harbor.

These journeys took place uninterruptedly from 1372 until the final days of the Ryūkyū Kingdom.

Biblio (excerpt)

  • Akazaki Kaimon: Ryūkyaku Danki (Record of Conversations with Ryukyū Visitors) (赤崎海門: 琉客談記), 1797. In: Binkenstein 1941, Vol. 4 (1): 266-67.
  • Beechey  1831: 171-72.
  • Beillevaire, Patrick 2000, I: 3.
  • Guidebook to the Shurijo Castle Park. 2000: 73.
  • Nishizato 2006.
  • Okinawa Daihyakka Jiten, Vol. 1, 1983: 365.
  • Quast 2013.
  • Takara Kurayoshi 1996: 47-48.
  • Tsūko Ichiran-Ryūkyū-kuni 23, which collected data from Arai Hakuseki’s Ryūkyū-koku Jiryaku琉球国事略
  • Tsūko Ichiran-Ryūkyū-kuni Bu 1. Heikin Shimatsu.
  • Wang 2010: 162, 165, 170–173.
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Site of Uchaya-Udun

Note: Click links for the locations on Google Maps. 

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

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

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Ryū’ei-ryū 劉衛流 (self-narrative)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nakaima Kenchu (1856-1953)

Nakaima Kenchu (1856-1953)

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

The Technical Contents of Ryū’ei-ryū

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

Dan no mono (called “kata” today)


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

Heihō (the use of weapons)

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. Ryūkyūan exponents of Chinese Kenpō during early modern times

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

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

If someone was left out, please forward the information.

10. Age at Time of Death

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

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

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


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

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

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If it looks like a duck…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iha-gwā no Nushi here refers to Iha Kōtatsu.

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

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

Iha Kotatsu as identified in OKKJ 2008.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The quintessence of it all is this:

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

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

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

The Kata of Wankan

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

The Kata of Rōhai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wankan application by Murakami Katsumi (1976).

Wankan application by Murakami Katsumi (1976).


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