Motobu Chōki: “My Art and Skill of Karate” (1932)

The book “My Art and Skill of Karate” presents the technical knowledge and original accounts imparted by famed Okinawa karate master Motobu Chōki (1870-1944). This translation was created in close cooperation with the author’s grandson, Motobu Naoki sensei. It also includes a congratulatory address by the author’s son, Motobu Chōsei sensei, the current head of the school. Moreover, this year marks the 150th anniversary of Motobu Chōki’s birth. In other words, three generations of the Motobu family were involved in this new translation, connecting the history and tradition of karate from the 19th to 21th century.

Print edition:  US | UK | DE | FR | ES | IT | JP | CA

Kindle edition:  US | UK | DE | FR | ES | IT | NL | JP | BR | CA | MX | AU | IN

(Note: The Kindle version does not include the glossary index and only a rudimentary TOC, so navigation is less reader-friendly than in the print version)

In addition to accounts about old-time karate masters in Okinawa, the work features thirty-four photos of Motobu performing Naihanchi Shodan, including written descriptions. Moreover, it includes twenty kumite with pictures and descriptions as well as five pictures of how to use the makiwara.

What makes it even more unique is that the existence of the book was unknown until the 1980s, when the wife of a deceased student sent the book to Motobu Chōki’s son, Chōsei. Until today this edition remains the only known original edition in existence, and it provided the basis for this original translation. This work has to be considered one of the most important sources to assess and interpret karate.

Motobu Chōki: “My Art and Skill of Karate” (2020)

My Art and Skill of Karate (Ryukyu Bugei Book 3), by Choki Motobu (Author), Andreas Quast (Tr./Ed.), Motobu Naoki (Tr.)

  • 5″ x 8″ (12.7 x 20.32 cm)
  • Black & White on white paper
  • 232 pages
  • First Printing: 2020
  • ISBN: 979-8601364751

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Okinawan Samurai — The Instructions of a Royal Official to his Only Son

BookCoverPreviewsmTroubled about the future of his only son and heir, a royal government official of the Ryukyu Kingdom wrote down his ‘Instructions’ as a code of practice for all affairs. Written in flowing, elegant Japanese, he refers to a wide spectrum of artistic accomplishments that the royal government officials were ought to study in those days, such as court etiquette, literature and poetry, music, calligraphy, the tea ceremony and so on.

The author, who achieved a remarkable skill level in wielding both the pen and the sword, also informs us about various martial arts practiced in those days. Translated from Japanese for the first time, from centuries-long puzzling seclusion the state of affairs surrounding an 18th century Okinawan samurai vividly resurrects in what is considered ‘Okinawa’s most distinguished literature.’

Print edition: US | CA | UK | DE | FR | ES | IT | JP

Kindle edition: US | UKDE | FR | ES | IT | NL | JP | BR | CA | MX | AU | IN

Table of Contents

Okinawan Samurai — The Instructions of a Royal Official to his Only Son. By Aka/Ōta Pēchin Chokushiki (auth.), Andreas Quast (ed./transl.), Motobu Naoki (transl.).

  • 5″ x 8″ (12.7 x 20.32 cm)
  • Black & White on Cream paper
  • 218 pages
  • First Printing: 2018
  • ISBN-13: 978-1985331037
  • ISBN-10: 1985331039

Translated from Japanese for the first time!

“I think it is epoch-making that Quast sensei decided to translate the ‘Testament of Aka Pēchin Chokushiki,’ and not one of the famous historical or literary works such as the Chūzan Seikan or the Omoro Sōshi. … I believe this translation has significant implications for the future study of karate history and Ryūkyū history abroad. (Motobu Naoki, Shihan of the Motobu-ryū)

“It is one of THE most important primary sources for truly understanding the unabridged history of our arts first hand by a member of the very class of people who spawned Karate in the first place!” (Joe Swift, Karateologist, Tokyo-based)

“I highly recommend this new work by Andi Quast … as a MUST BUY book …” ( Patrick McCarthy, foremost western authority of Okinawan martial arts, modern and antique, anywhere he roams)

“I’m sure I’m going to learn and enjoy this book.” (Itzik Cohen, karate and kobudo man from Israel)

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Oni Oshiro

BookCoverPreviewIn the era of Old Ryukyu, a legendary warrior of Okinawan martial arts appeared on the center stage of the historical theatre. Due to his unique appearance and powerful physique—reminiscent of a wolf or a tiger—the people of that time called him Oni Ōshiro, or «Ōshiro the Demon.»

Also known as Uni Ufugushiku in the Okinawan pronunciation of his name, he had been variously described as the originator of the original Okinawan martial art «Ti» as well as the actual ancestor of a number of famous Okinawan karate masters, such as Mabuni Kenwa and others.

This is his narrative. Gleaned from the few primary sources available, which for the first time are presented here in the English language, the original heroic flavor of the source texts was kept intact.

«I invoke the Gods, To quake heaven and earth, To let the firmament resound, And to rescue the divine woman—Momoto Fumiagari.»

Get your copy now: US ►CA ►UK ►DE ►FR ►ES ►IT

5″ x 8″ (12.7 x 20.32 cm)
Black & White on Cream paper
94 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1533486219 (CreateSpace-Assigned)
ISBN-10: 1533486212
BISAC: Sports & Recreation / Martial Arts & Self-Defense

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Matsumura Sokon: The Seven Virtues of Martial Arts

by Andreas Quast

This is the true story of the seven virtues of martial arts as described by Matsumura Sokon. Considered the primary source-text of old-style Okinawan martial arts, the “Seven Virtues” are admired for their straightforward advice. Handwritten in the late 19th century by Matsumura, the most celebrated ancestor of karate, they are considered the ethical fountain and technical key to understand what can’t be seen.

This work includes the rare photograph of the original handwritten scroll, approved by the Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum as well as the owner of the scroll. It also shows the family crest of the Matsumura family, sporting the character of “Bu.”

Get your copy now: USUKDEFRESITJPCA

Matsumura himself pointed out that the “Seven Virtues of Martial Arts” were praised by a wise man in an ancient manuscript, a manuscript that has remained obscure ever since. Now the ultimate source of this wondrous composition has been discovered and verified. Presented and explained here for the first time, it is not only the source of Matsumura’s “Seven Virtues of Martial Arts”… In fact, it is the original meaning of martial arts per se.

  • 5″ x 8″ (12.7 x 20.32 cm)
  • Black & White on Cream paper
  • 80 pages
  • ISBN-13: 979-8605143611
  • BISAC: Sports & Recreation / Martial Arts & Self-Defense

Matsumura Sokon: The Seven Virtues of Martial Arts. By Andreas Quast, 2020.

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A Stroll Along Ryukyu Martial Arts History

A Stroll Along Ryukyu Martial Arts History Paperback – May 15, 2015

by Andreas Quast (Author)

Paperback edition: available at Amazon US ($14.99), Amazon UK (£9.79), Amazon Germany (EUR 14.97), CreateSpace eStore ($14.99), and at online and offline bookstores and retailers, as well as via public libraries and libraries at other academic institutions.

Kindle edition also availableUSUKDEFRESITNLJPBRCAMXAUIN

Based on his acclaimed previous studies, the author here presents a synopsis of the development of Ryukyu martial arts. The events described herein are all real, that is, they are all historical. Strolling along the chronology of martial arts of Ryukyu provenance, a large number of verified events are not only detailed, but also decorated with dozens of precious illustrations. As such “A Stroll Along Ryukyu Martial Arts History” is for martial arts practitioners as much as it is for aficionados of history and Asia. It simply provides a pristine ground to stand on for the practitioner who wishes to understand the primordial origins of Ryukyu martial arts.

  • For those who read “Karate 1.0”: this new book here is a synopsis of Karate 1.0 plus the “chronology (Part VII)” without significant changes. It is an easier read without all the reasoning and footnotes, but instead with nearly 80 illustrations to make it more suitable for the general public, and not only academic people.

Among the unique information that cannot be found anywhere else are also some of the illustrations. For instance, there is only one picture scroll that shows the Chinese investiture envoys (sapposhi) and their military retinue. Here, for the first time you might see how famous Kusanku actually might have looked like.

Product Details (Paperback edition)

  • Paperback: 180 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (May 15, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1512229423
  • ISBN-13: 978-1512229424
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 0.4 x 9.7 inches

Cover

Cover

Available at Amazon US ($19.99), Amazon UK (£12.79), Amazon Germany (EUR 19,25 ), CreateSpace eStore ($19.99)

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Karate 1.0: Parameter of an Ancient Martial Art

OUT OF PRINT!

The most comprehensive study on the parameters of primordial Karate, this work intrigues readers with rich detail and insights into these ancient combat traditions, the pride of Okinawa.

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

cover (4)

Karate 1.0 front cover

  • Pages: xxvii, 502 pp.
  • Language: English.
  • Hardcover binding in green linen material with gold foil stamping, size 8.25″ x 10.75″ (20.95cm x 27.31cm).
  • Full-color dust jacket in matte finish.
  • Inside: black and white printing on cream archival paper (60# weight). White exterior paper (80# weight).
  • Forewords by Patrick McCarthy, Miguel Da Luz, Cezar Borkowski, Jesse Enkamp, Dr. Julian Braun, Soke Leif Hermansson, and Dr. phil. Heiko Bittmann.
  • All copies ship from the United States.
  • Price: $75.00.

Only the highest quality both in content and production: get it now from Lulu.com!

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Kickstarter Campaign — Okinawa Martial Art Dances – The Video Tutorial Archive

Exciting news: I have started a Kickstarter Campaign. It will run 30 days, so don’t hesitate.

I have been documenting martial arts dances for more than 25 years now. Some of the things I came across are published here on my blog, other in my published works, and I am involved in social media communication, such as in my Karate group with 7.5 k members, and growing. 

Now I am planning to create a video tutorial archive of the many martial arts dances with ancient tools I have studied for more than 25 years. I have trained in Japan for the first time in 1999 and have spent more than two years in total training in Okinawa. Learning these things is extremely time consuming and expensive, and most people do not have the ressources in time and finance to do so themselves. The finished content will be made available from my webshop (almost ready to launch).

Go to Kickstarter Campaign

Since I’ve been recording and documenting everything in great detail for such a long time, and since I receive request for teaching from all over the world, and since I am a communicator by profession, it is a logical step to bring it all together in one amazing project. I have all the practical expertise as well as full documentation in writing. While I published amateur videos for fun on Facebook, TicToc, or my YouTube channel, I am also good with professional video software.  

Go to Kickstarter Campaign

Therefore, my plan is to provide a video tutorial archive with everything I have learned and documented so far, with all the details and in a refreshing and fun way for every person interested to follow and replicate on their own pace, in their own place, at any time. 

My timeline starts with a design thinking session on the video format, intros, subtitles, colors and forms etc. The syllabus is ready, although I will have to look for a good studio-esque setting with good lights and audio and all that. Once all is decided upon, I will prepare, create, and fill in the content one after the other, from beginners to intermediate to expert level.  

Go to Kickstarter Campaign

Right now my equipment is just a good Sony camera and I use Adobe CC with Premiere Pro, Illustrator, Photoshop etc., but I need a new tripod and there will be the need for new equipment, microphone, clothes, lightning, audio and a bunch of little things, but also a dedicated server. Therefore, I am looking for a 5-digit funding. 

I am 100% passionate about these martial arts dances and fully committed and excited to make this happen and to publish the tutorial archive of Okinawa martial arts dances with ancient tools. To achive this, I’d appreciate your support.

Sincerely, Andreas

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Higa Seitoku (1921-2006) – Ultimate Skill – Lifelong Pursuit

(The following is a translation of the following article: Okinawa Times, 29 August 2021: “Weekly Okinawa Karate No. 230 – Okinawa Kobudō Biographies Series 2 – Ultimate Skill – Lifelong Pursuit – Higa Seitoku (1921-2006) – Bō “Shūshi no Kon” – Efforts to expand Karate and Kobudō)

It is said that Okinawan bōjutsu was established in Ryūkyū by trading with China during the Ryūkyū Kingdom era, and that it was introduced along with Chinese martial arts by the 36 Families of Kume, who introduced Chinese culture. Staffs used in Chinese bōjutsu are thin, long and elastic, but Okinawan are thicker than Chinese and have a standard length of 6 shaku (~182 cm). Along with the kata that came from China, Okinawa has also created its own original kata of bōjutsu, and many kata of traditional ancient martial arts of Okinawa have been inherited.

Born in Shuri Sueyoshi in Naha City, Higa Seitoku (1921-2006) performed kata of karate in a self-taught manner from an early age, but when he was in the first year of the junior high school of the old school system, he began to receive full-fledged personal instruction in karate and kobudō from the warrior (bujin) Kishimoto Sokō. In 1938, he entered Chūō University and refined his karate skills while studying. While attending school, he performed a martial arts demonstration together with Tōyama Kanken in Tsurumi Ward, Yokohama City. In an interview during his lifetime, Higa mentioned that he was inspired by a novel about Miyamoto Musashi to travel about to gain skill (musha shugyō) on a nationwide pilgrimage. Looking back he recalled,

“I slept outdoors, and when it rained I spent the night at a temple, and stood under a waterfall to train my spirit. The practice at that time was a great plus for my daily life.”

After the outbreak of the Pacific War, he began his military service in 1942 and continued his training in between military services, such as performing karate on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. After returning to Japan in 1947, he opened the Nichigetsukan Karate Dōjō in Kumamoto, striving to popularize karate and kobudō. Two years later, he returned to Okinawa and gathered young people in Shuri Akahira to teach karate and kobudō.

In 1957, he studied under Chinen Masami of Yamane-ryū, which is a prestigious school of bōjutsu. He learned the handling techniques and was given the instructor (shihan) license Number 1 [in Yamane-ryū by Chinen Masami]. He also studied under Uehara Seikichi, the successor of Motobu Udundī, which Higa described as a “profound and infinite skill,” and was awarded the 10th dan hanshi, using one’s bare hands to take away the enemies’ various weapons, and then use the skills of tuiti (toritejutsu) to control them.

Regarding the relationship between karate and kobudō, Higa said,

“It cannot be denied that both the arts of using one’s bare hands and the use of ancient weapons are techniques within the range of the ancient martial arts (kobudō) that have been handed down since ancient times. I learned in practice that the ultimate skill of any martial art is that the sword, karate, spearmanship (sōjutsu), and jūjutsu are based on a general principle of technique.”

In the 1960s he established the Okinawa Kobudō Kyōkai. To further develop the Okinawa Kobudō Kyōkai, he dissolved it and established a new organization, the “Zen Okinawa Karate Kobudō Rengōkai,” and served as its president and continued to make efforts for the development of Okinawan karate and kobudō. In 1995 he founded the Shindō-ryū.

Higa’s photos show his performance of Shūshi no Kon. It is considered to be the basic kata of Yamane-ryū bōjutsu, and it has transformations of technique (henka) such as pretending to strike (uchi) when in fact you thrust (tsuki) or chop (tatakikiru).

Higa Kiyohiko (77), the eldest son of Higa Seitoku and chairman of the Bugei no Kai (martial arts association) who inherited the teaching of karate and kobudō, explained regarding the bōjutsu of Yamane-ryū, “In deflecting (uke) and thrusting (tsuki) with the , there is a motion as if expanding and contracting (or, a elastic; flexibile motion). It has a feature that makes it difficult for the other party to control the fighting distance.” Regarding Higa Seitoku during his lifetime, he reflects,

“It’s vile to say that you won or lost. He (Higa Seitoku) set up the Bugei no Kai, saying that it is a “life road” (seidō) to bring to life yourself, and to bring to life others. He eventually came up with his own Shindō-ryū style of using ki to control an opponent.”

Those teachings were inherited by his disciples, and many martial arts artists from all over the world are still visiting the dōjō of Chairman Higa.

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Kunshi

To be a hero, you only need to be a hero once. But to be a gentleman, you have to be a gentleman for life. In Okinawa still today there is a designation of high-level regard for a karate person who is also a virtuous person, and that is the word kunshi 君子, a person of virtue. When was this designation first used in the context of karate? I don’t know, but I have here for you the first written mention of it.

When in 1914 the Ryukyu Shimpo published an article about Arakaki-gwa und Higaonna, it reported about riots that broke out between the participants at the tug-of-war 40 years prior, i.e., around 1874. The banners at that time were carried by Arakaki Pechin Seisho and by Higaonna Kanyu (the father Higaonna Kanbun).

At the time of the tug-of-war in Kume Village, Higaonna became famous. When the riot broke out, he stood in the main gate with a tinbe in hand and – according to the report – took on over thousands of enemies on his own. At that time, Higaonna was just 17 years old but already a powerful samurai with a weight of around 78 kg. Tinbe refers to a shield but it is usually accompanied by a short halberd (rochin) in the other hand.

At the time of the riot at the tug-of-war in Naha Wakasa, Arakaki was the general of the Eastern Army. With his six-foot staff he took on the strikes and thrusts of yari, naginata, and six-foot staffs that rained down on him, using his weapon in all directions without limits and at will. The traces of the battle were seen in the dents and notches on his staff, which was stored in the tokonoma (traditional Japanese room niche).

They article says that while both were ferocious and frightening warriors, they wre in fact reticent persons of virtue (kunshi 君子).

The concept of kunshi in karate circles became famous many decades later, when Kenwa Mabuni, who emphasized mental education, advocated “The virtuous person’s martial arts” (kunshi no ken 君子の拳) by which he warned against violence and aimed to guide karate students towards becoming an amicable personality.

It is interesting to note here that this first written note on kunshi in Okinawan martial arts is found in relation to kobudo. Moreover, this specific case of kobudo during the 1870s – with the use of six-foot staffs, yari, naginata, and tinbe – used weapons that were part of a folk festival equipment, and not real weapons. Also, the riot took place between different factions of Okinawan, not against exterior enemies, such as samurai, or Western intruders.

How did the term and concept of kunshi enter Ryukyu? Already in the 12th century, Zhu Xi (1130–1200) defined a kunshi (Chin.: junzi) as follows (Junzi – Wikipedia):

Junzi has many characteristics. A junzi can live with poverty; a junzi does more and speaks less. A junzi is loyal, obedient and knowledgeable. A junzi disciplines himself. Among these, ren is at the core of a junzi.

Ren 仁 here denotes “the good quality of a virtuous human when being altruistic.”

Moreover, the teachings of this Zhu Xi reached Ryukyu and Japan in the 17th century.

Actually, as I wrote in my Karate 1.0 (2013, out of print), in 1632, the Confucian scholar Jōchiku (1570-1656) went from Satsuma to Ryūkyū. He was a follower of the Zen priests Keian and Bunshi, both famous for their study of the philosophy of above-mentioned Zhu Xi. During his three-year stay, Jōchiku acted as tutor of crown prince Shō Ken and was instru-mental in spreading Neo-Confucianism in the country.

Also as noted in my my Karate 1.0, the group of Ryukyuan government-sponsored overseas-students to China of the year 1760 are known to have been taught at the Imperial Academy in Beijing by Pan Xiang, the author of the “Recorded Information on Ryūkyū Students” (1764). Pan Xiang was a scholar of Neo-Confucianism and based his education of the Ryukyan overseas-students on the teaching method of the above-mentioned Zhu Xi.

In other words, kunshi (Chin.: junzi) is an almost ancient concept brought from China to Ryukyu and Japan during the 17th century and onwards. It was then applied to martial arts, as can be seen in the 1914 Ryukyu Shimpo article about Arakaki and Higaonna and was later expanded to become a philosophical guidline of karate under Mabuni Kenwa, with the basically same idea attributed to it as eight centuries earlier by Zhu Xi.

Kunshi and in extension kunshi no ken today has become one of the important aphorisms of karate. At the same time, it is yet another example of how karate deliberately attends to other fields of expertise to cumulatively elevate its own cultural level. Other examples are the “Seven Virtues of Bu” attributed to Matsumura Sokon, which in fact are much older and from elsewhere, or the saying of “A demon’s hand, a saint’s heart,” which had nothing to do with karate but stems from the field of medicine, or more precisely, surgery.

And just like that, and as can be seen in the trends of the last 120 years or so, karate simply becomes what people want it to be.

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Photo of Tomari People in 1888

It has been five years since I discovered and presented the 1888 photo of people in front of the Sōgen-ji Temple in Tomari.

In the meantime we located more items of the 1888 journey and managed to get access. Therefore, I’ll be going on a road trip to Vienna tomorrow to research the photos of the 1888 journey of HMS “Fasana” of the Imperial and Royal War Navy of Austria-Hungary.

In that year, under command of captain Emil Edler von Wohlghemuth and with Archduke Leopold on board, the Fasana traveled to East Asia to train the crew and to collect zoological, anthropological, ethnographic, and botanical objects.

The SMS Fasana was a screw frigate built in Trieste (in northeast Italy), Stabilimento Navale Adriatico, Shipyard San Marco. She was commissioned on July 5, 1871. With a water displacement of 1,970 t (2,461 t fully equipped), she was 67.93 m long, 11.70 m wide, with 5.40 m depth and a draught of 6.20 m. She reached a speed of 12 knots at 75 revolutions, and 9 knots at half power. Her coal supply was 304 t.

In 1871 she carried two 21 cm Krupp guns (or 180 pounds) and four 8 pound guns. In 1880 she changed to four 15 cm Krupp guns and three 7 cm Uchatius guns.

The normal crew number was 255 men (1870), 261 men (1875), and 262 men (since 1877).While the Fasana surely has an interesting cv, here only 1888 is of interest. In that year she reached the ports of Suez, Aden, Karachi, Bombay, Colombo, Madras, Calcutta, Rangoon, Penang, Singapore, Batavia, Hong Kong and, later, Japan. On the return trip, the ship made stops in Manila for the Philippines, Saigon and Bangkok. In Bangkok, part of the staff made a courtesy visit to the King of Siam. On the return trip to Pola (Croatia), she provided assistance to the steamer “Euterpe” of the Austrian Lloyd at Corfu, which was damaged.

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Shōrin and Shōrei – Lost in Translation

I would like to turn attention towards the terms pronounced in Japanese as Shōrin and Shōrei. In short: The whole story of Shōrin and Shōrei as the original schools of karate were possibly just a communication error.

To get started, you first should know that the Higa Seikō manuscript of the Bubishi is the oldest handwritten edition still extant. Within the twenty-nine articles verified for this edition, each of the two terms Shōrin-ji and Shōrei-ji appears only once.

Shōrin-ji 邵林寺 appears only in the “Four Incurable Diseases” (Article 18). The passage in question says:

“This practice and medical implications were handed down from the Shōrin-ji to this day. Kenpō and medical implications must be constantly studied and reviewed and proficiency in both must become skillful.”

Shōrei-ji 邵霊寺 appears only in “Shaolin Herbal Medicine and Injuries Diagram” (Article 25). The part in question translated to:

“This person carries remedies for the other person to heal. This tradition of Shōrei-ji ended (=does not exist anymore).”

In both these descriptions appears a Chinese character which could be read in Japanese as “ryū,” i.e., in sense of a martial art style in the form of so-and-so-ryū. However, there is no way to explain the semantics of these two expressions in this way. In the above given connection, Shōrin-ji and Shōrei-ji refer to temples or other institutions that taught medicine. It is said that the place called Shōrin also taught Kenpō (empty-handed martial arts), but no such thing was mentioned for the place called Shōrei-ji, which instead is said to have ended, meaning, at that time it already didn’t exist anmore.

However, martial artists naturally assumed that Shōrin and Shōrei must refer to the Northern and the Southern Shaolin temple. But the characters used in the Bubishi’s notation of Shōrin and Shōrei are very specific, are found nowhere else, and simply do not match the notation of “Shaolin.” In other words, the entries Shōrin and Shōrei neither referred to a martial art style in sense of a so-and-so-ryū, nor do they match with the notation of Shaolin. Also, the place called “Shōrei” simply never existed in China.

Next, in Itosu Ankō’s “10 Maxims of Karate” of 1908, he clearly stated that

“A long time ago the two schools called Shōrin-ryū and Shōrei-ryū were imported from China.”

The characters Itosu uses here are the same as in the above mentioned Bubishi, with the exception of the respective first characters. These still match 67% in writing and 100% in Japanese pronunciation. This discrepancy had been the reason for much cogitation ever since and in fact has never been solved. I want to circumvent another discussion about the characters used by Itosu and instead follow a working hypothesis pointed out by Matsuda Masashi:

“It seems they [Shōrin and Shōrei] have been confused since they sound very similar. Such misrepresentations are found in many other cases and are not uncommon.”

The important point here is a different one. Namely that Itosu unambiguously referred to both Shōrin and Shōrei as a ryū (a style, a school) in sense of martial arts styles.

It is more than questionable to believe that Itosu simply used his characters for Shōrin to phonetically resemble Shaolin, and Shōrei for some other place. The whereabouts of the original Itosu manuscript are unknown. Mabuni in 1934 only printed eleven articles from his Itosu copy. In addition, notwithstanding the existence of the Konishi Yasuhiro (A) mansucript, so far, no proof could be established that more than these eleven articles of Itosu were handed down. Mabuni 1934 uses Shōrin and Shorei in three articles (18, 20, and and 32), two of which are not part of the twenty-nine articles of the Miyagi lineage Bubishi (20 and 32). The Miyagi lineage Bubishi on the other hand uses Shōrin and Shorei in only two articles (18 and 25), one of which could hitherto not be verified for the Itosu Bubishi (25). Therefore, the only matching article of the Bubishi is the “Four Incurable Diseases” (Article 18). It might be no surprise that Mabuni uses the same notation as Itosu in 1908, i.e., Shōrin-ryū 昭林寺 and that Miyagi uses the slightly different notation as Shōrin-ryū 邵林寺. According to this sole evidence for comparison it must be assumed that Itosu referred to the same Shōrin-ryū – and therefore also the same Shōrei-ryū – as have been handed down with the Bubishi.

In other words, the characters for Shōrin and Shōrei as used by Itosu in 1908 originated in the Bubishi, while at the same time Itosu was the only one who explicitly used them both to refer to a style of martial arts. But this is contrary to the wording as found in the Bubishi, which stated that Shōrei already ended (does not exist anymore). Quite on the contrary, it seems to have been a misinterpretation of the classical Chinese text.

Although Itosu didn’t further elaborate on the meaning of Shōrin-ryū and Shōrei-ryū, Funakoshi Gichin mentioned Shōrei-ryū and Shōrin-ryū already in 1913, stating:

“As far as this is concerned, since ancient times it [karate] has been divided into two branches called Shōrei-ryū and Shōrin-ryū. The first is a school that places emphasis on the body [tai], and the latter one is that emphasizes the method [jutsu]. Waishinsan belongs to the former and Iwā belongs to the last. Waishinsan is a wild, fat-bodied warrior, and Iwā is a quick-witted, lively and accomplished man with a slim body. Naha draws from the Shōrei-ryū, and Shuri enters the Shōrin-ryū.”

But one year later, in 1914, Funakoshi states that

“The styles of karate are the two kinds of Shōrei-ryū and Shōrin-ryū. As regards the first […], the military officer Ason belonged to this genre. As regards the latter […], the military officer Waishinzan belonged to this genre.”

You see, in 1913, Funakoshi stated that Waishinzan was of Shōrei-ryū, and Iwā belongs to Shōrin-ryū. One year later, Funakoshi stated that Ason belonged to Shōrei-ryū, while Waishinzan belonged to Shōrin-ryū. In other words, already in his first notes on the matter he confused the “styles” with the related persons.

While it might be considered reasonable that Qing military officers had some knowledge of Shaolin martial arts, you should note that it was Itosu himself who clearly stated that “Karate did not develop from Buddhism or Confucianism.” The Northern and the Southern Shaolin temples were Buddhist temples. According to this, Itosu’s use of Shōrei-ryū and Shōrin-ryū would not have referred to the Shaolin. It is simply inconsistent.

On top of that, Funakoshi in this article used another previously variant of notation for the prefix shō, namely 照.

In his publications of 1922, 1925, and 1935, Funakoshi assigned a total of 15 kata to both the styles of Shōrei-ryū and Shōrin-ryū. Namely, in 1922 he assigned eight kata to Shōrei-ryū, and seven kata to Shōrin-ryū. 1925 two changes of assignment were made (Chintō and Jitte), and in 1935 two more changes (Wanshū and again Jitte). Funakoshi implemented this division of kata although he himself already in 1914 has pointed out that Chintō and Jitte were neither taught by Ason nor Waishinzan, but by a Vietnamese from Fuzhou who was washed ashore in Tomari.” Furthermore, he even assigned the five Pinan to Shōrin-ryū, and Naihanchi Nidan and Sandan to Shōrei-ryū, although these have been created only recently by Itosu Ankō, and not had been “handed down from China a long time ago.” The number of contradictions here is astonishing.

In 1934, Mabuni Kenwa attached the explanation “Shōrei-ji-ryū” to his chapter “Hand and Foot, Muscle and Bone Training Postures” As I have pointed out elsewhere, the persons depicted in this article very likely were either a Taoist priest and disciples, or even a Ryūkyūan teacher with disciples. As Mabuni copied this document from Itosu, and as Funakoshi noted that “the military officer Ason belonged to this genre” of Shōrei-ryū, and as further the twenty-nine verified articles of the Higa Seikō manuscript do not contain this specific article, it would mean that the theory of both Shōrei-ryū and Shōrin-ryū as martial arts styles were limited to the Itosu lineage.

According to the above, while the origin of the specific combination and characteristics of the terms Shōrin and Shōrei have been verified only in the Bubishi and in Itosu’s 1908 letter, and while only the Itosu lineage manuscripts of Mabuni Kenwa use these designations in sense of a style, no such interpretation can be derived from the comparative analysis of the Miyagi lineage Bubishi. The only thing that could be verified from the Itosu lineage Bubishi is the article marked as Shōrei-ryū, namely “Hand and Foot, Muscle and Bone Training Postures.” Again, this means that the theory of both Shōrei-ryū and Shōrin-ryū as martial arts styles were limited to the Itosu lineage and were probably related to exactly this article.

In any case, Shōrin and Shōrei became designations in the first attempt to classify various kinds of karate into styles as understood by the Japanese. The names Shōrin and Shōrei are found in the text of the Bubishi as well as in Itosu’s 1908 letter. It might even be that Itosu’s students subsequently added the specific meaning of Shōrei-ryū and Shōrin-ryū to it, by attributing it to Chinese military officers Ason and Waishinzan in Funakoshi’s case, and by adding these two designations to the articles of the Bubishi in Mabuni’s case. Again, no such relation can be found in any of the other lineages of the Bubishi editions.

That is, these are historical allusions, or even allusions to records that originated in the teachings of the two military officers Ason and Waishinzan which might have entered the specific Bubishi lineage of the Itosu collection. One such fragment might have been the article “Hand and Foot, Muscle and Bone Training Postures,” which was specified as Shōrei-ji-ryū by Itosu’s student Mabuni.

The otherwise nonexistent original notations of Shōrin as found in the Bubishi as well as in Itosu’s writings were maintained by Funakoshi until 1922. Since his 1925 publication he changed it to Shōrin-ryū (sukunai hayashi-ryū /shōbayashi-ryū), thus changing it to the correct Japanese rendition of “Shaolin style.” A few years later, with one brush stroke less and probably a similar reference in mind, Chibana Chōshin named his style Shōrin-ryū (kobayashi-ryū).

Besides this nomenclatural glitch as described above, all would be good. Except…

An eight-part article series from March 1915 was called “The Heroic Tales of Itosu – Master of Shōrei-ryū.” It therefore makes little sense to refer to a school coming largely from Itosu’s or similar traditions as Shōrin-ryū. But this might simply be due to Funakoshi, who hypothesized Shōrei-ryū as being more the style prevalent in Naha, and Shōrin-ryū to be more prevalent in Shuri:

“When we look at what pupils and the like of the middle schools do today in our Okinawa, then they often train in Shōrei-ryū in Naha and in Shuri they often train Shōrin-ryū.”

From the above quote we see that Funakoshi talks about middle school pupils doing karate. From this and the date of the article we can clearly see that he talks about the timeframe from about 1905 to 1914, that is the early time of what I refer to as “conscription-agers karate.” While it seems that Funakoshi fumbled to provide a somewhat logical explanation, and while he associated Shōrin-ryū with Shuri and Shōrei-ryū with Naha during the early days of school karate, his failed attempt of a categorization later led to the equation of Shōrin-ryū with Shuri-te, and of Shōrei-ryū with Naha-te.

In the Bubishi as both a creation and a creator of modern karate we find these ideas picked up and perpetuated in Mabuni’s 1934 publication. In fact, this fallacy was never cleared up and continued to this day. As an example, Mabuni Ken’ei (1918–), oldest son of Mabuni Kenwa and the 2nd Sōke of Shitō-ryū, published “Karate-dō Kyōhan” in 1968. In its appendix were published two articles from the Bubishi. These were referred to by Mabuni Ken’ei as:

  • 1. Shōrei-ji-ryū Kenpō no Kamae (The Postures of Shōrei-ji-ryū Kenpō),
  • 2. Shōrei-ji-ryū Kenpō no Kumite (The Fighting Applications of Shōrei-ji-ryū Kenpō).

Above number 1 are the consecutive numbers 1 through 26 from the article “Shaolin Hand and Foot, Muscle and Bone Training Postures (of the Shōrei-ji-ryū)” as found in his father’s 1934 book.

Above number 2 are the consecutive numbers 3 through 28 from the Self-Defense Diagrams of his father’s 1934 book. So Mabuni Ken’ei here added one more previously unassigned portion of the Bubishi to the category of Shōrei-ji-ryū, namely the two-person self-defense diagrams.

Isn’t it also interesting that Itosu within his newly created framework of karate ignored the myriad of other martial arts lineages and “styles” on the island? There are no Naha-te kata in his curriculum, no Ryū’ei-ryū, no Sai-, Tei-, or Mō-family martial arts and no kobudō. While borrowing and modifying fragments of regional empty-handed martial arts from Shuri, he created something completely new, most probably even the terms of Shōrin-ryū and Shōrei-ryū in the meaning of martial arts styles, claiming that “karate” is based on exactly these two, which ever since have remained phantoms, inventions, and euphemisms which at the same time refer to and blur their own historical allusion. Furthermore, by his selection and creation he explicitly established the idea of karate as a historically empty-handed martial art, which has been considered face value ever since and which has become the core understanding of karate. Already Funakoshi used a different kata framework than Itosu, deliberately changing orders and even names of kata, while at the same time still referring to Shōrin-ryū and Shōrei-ryū in Itosu’s sense as the source of karate.

At this point, a sketch of the lasting confusion resulting from the era of modern karate’s labor pains and their recoil on its technical interpretation become recognizable.

BIBLIO

Kinjō 2011: 44.

Uechi 1977: 225. The original source referred to here is: Matsuda 1972.

Shōtō (Funakoshi Gichin): Karate wa Bugei no Kotsuzui nari (Karate is the Bone Marrow of Martial Arts). Ryūkyū Shinpō, January 9, 1913.

Shōtō (Funakoshi Gichin): Okinawa no Bugi (Part II). January 18, 1914. He repeated this in 1922 and 1925, saying “there are only the two schools of Shōrei-ryū and Shōrin-ryū,” see Funakoshi 1922/25: 5-6.

Shōtō (=Funakoshi Gichin): Okinawa no Bugi (Part II). January 18, 1914.

McCarthy, Article 32. “Shaolin Hand and Foot, Muscle and Bone Training Postures.”

Funakoshi 1922/25: 4. Funakoshi 1935: 10.

Nakayoshi Shinkō: Itosu Buyū-den – Shōrei-ryū no Meijin. Ryūkyū Shinpō, March 15–28,  1915. 仲吉真光:糸洲武勇傳 昭霊流の名人、(1)~(8)。琉球新報 1915。

Shōtō (=Funakoshi Gichin): Okinawa no Bugi (Part II). January 18, 1914.

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The Karate and Kobujutsu demonstrations for Kano Jigoro in 1927

Yesterday, Motobu Naoki Sensei presented new research about Kanō Jigorō’s visit to Okinawa in 1927, and the karate demonstrations presented to him. In it appears a part of an article originally written by Ishikawa Seitoku of Shōrin-ryū in 1999:

“Director Ishikawa: (omission) Kanō Jigorō Sensei had already seen Funakoshi Sensei’s karate in Tōkyō, but since he was coming to Okinawa, Motobu Sensei and Gusukuma Sensei decided they had to show him the karate of Okinawa. Therefore, they summoned Shimabukuro Tarō, a fourth-year student at the Commercial High School (in Naha), and with permission of the school, they had him demonstrate (the kata) Chintō.”

In the meantime, another source could be assigned to this event.

When I lived at the Kōdōkan dōjō of Matsubayashi-ryū, Nagamine Takayoshi Sensei allowed me to study the books and notes in his father’s study. Among the many works was a handwritten notebook by Nagamine Shōshin. In it, there is a short entry on Kanō Jigorō’s visit in 1927:

“Around Taishō 14 (1925), the Karate and Kobujutsu of Okinawan were introduced to Kanō Jigorō Sensei of Jūdō. The people who performed for him at that time were Motobu Chōki, Gusukuma Shinpan, Chibana Chōshin, Shimabukuro Tarō, and Ōshiro Chōjo.”

The date 1925 is not correct, but this entry can only refer to the same events of 1927. It is the same story as that of Ishikawa Seitoku presented above.

The entry in the Nagamine handbook.

Both sources name the same four people to have performed in front of Kanō Jigorō, namely Motobu Chōki, Gusukuma Shinpan, Shimabukuro Tarō, and Ōshiro Chōjo.

Besides these, Nagamine also mentioned Chibana Chōshin. However, if Chibana Sensei really performed in front of Kanō Jigorō, then Kobayashi-ryū circles would have made this known. Therefore, the mention of Chibana in this connection might have been an error. Maybe more information will come to light in the future.

BTW, Ishikawa Seitoku was designated “Intangible Cultural Property in the Field of Karate and Kobudo” by Okinawa Prefecture in 2013 and he was in very good terms with Nagamine Shōshin. In fact, Nagamine was the first ever person to have received this same honor in 1997. In 1996, Ishikawa appointed Nagamine as a consultant of his Okinawa Shōrin-ryū Karatedō Ryūbukan Headquarter dōjō. Moreover, not only was Nagamine close to Shimabukuro Tarō, but Ishikawa was also a student of Shimabukuro.

In January 1927, Nagamine was still at the Naha Commercial School, as was Shimabukuro Tarō, and they trained together. There was probably a lot of talk about Shimabukuro’s demonstration and the school, proud that one of their students demonstrated Karate for the great educator Kanō, probably announced it publicly.

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Nagamine Shōshin and Shimabukuro Tarō

There is some confusion as to when Nagamine Shōshin began training in karate under his various sensei. Let’s check the timeline.

It is believed that Nagamine Shōshin entered Tomari Elementary School in April 1914. This is for the following reasons. Nagamine himself wrote,

“When I was in the third grade of Tomari Elementary School, the Naha Ward Elementary Schools Joint Athletic Meet was held at Onoyama Park. At that time, [Funakoshi] Gichin Sensei was teaching at Tomari Elementary School and we schoolboys of 3rd grade and up were taught Naihanchi and Pinan and had a martial arts group performance with more than 200 people. I remember it as if it was yesterday.”

This Athletic Meet took place on November 13, 1916, as reported in the Ryūkyū Shinpō. At that time, Nagamine would have been in his 3rd grade (April 1916 – March 1917). This is confirmed by a photo I was able to take at the Kōdōkan Nagamine Dōjō on May 12, 2009. It is a photo named the “1920 Tomari Elementary School Graduation Alumni Association.” Therefore, there can be no doubt that Nagamine entered Tomari Elementary School in April 1914, and graduated six years later in 1920.

The education system at that time was complicated and there were various routes of education (Shillony 1986: 769-787; MEXT, data for 1908 and 1919). As shown above, Nagamine completed the compulsory 6-year elementary school in March 1920. This was obviously followed by a 2-year preparatory course for commercial school (compare MEXT, data for 1919), which would have lasted from April 1920 to March 1922.

However, in his second year at (the Preparatory Course for) Naha Commercial School (i.e. 1921-22), he became sick:

“When I was in my second year of [the Preparatory Course for] Naha Commercial School, I suffered from gastrointestinal disorder and was confined to sickbed for more than a year. My complexion was also pale and my weakness was so severe that my school friend misunderstood it as me having pulmonary tuberculosis and were wary of approaching me. At that time, tuberculosis was an incurable disease. I was silently treated by a physician, but it didn’t seem to be effective, so I decided to give up my medicine and concentrate on my diet.”

His “second year of [the Preparatory Course for] Naha Commercial School” would refer to either April–December 1921 or January–March 1922 when he became sick. Or did he just need an excuse to train karate? Anyhow, Nagamine mentioned the year 1923:

“Besides that, as a more non-serious matter, I began to receive instruction in the basics of karate. Elder Kuba Chōjin, who was doing karate in the neighborhood, taught me in the garden of his house. This was in the summer of my 17th year, in the 12th year of the Taishō era (1923).”

Nagamine was in his “17th year,” i.e., he was 16 years old at that time, that is, between July 1923 and July 1924.

In other words, he “lost” at least one school year due to illness – or, you could say he won at least one karate year. That means, it seems that he graduated from preparatory school in 1924. Afterwards he would have attended the regular 3-year-course of Commercial School, from April 1924 to March 1927.

At that time, famous karate expert Shimabukuro Tarō from Shuri was also at Naha Commercial School. Nagamine remembered,  

“When I asked him if he could teach me karate, he kindly agreed. Since then, when school was over, I would travel the about four kilometers one way to Shuri on a daily basis.”

Accordingly, Nagamine began his study with Shimabukuro around 1924, with some tolerance towards 1925.

So far, so good. In an article by Motobu Naoki Sensei, the following is said about Shimabukuro Tarō:

“Motobu Sensei and Gusukuma Sensei decided they had to show him [Kanō Jigorō] the karate of Okinawa. Therefore, they summoned Shimabukuro Tarō, a fourth-year student at the Commercial School (in Naha), and with permission of the school, they had him demonstrate (the kata) Chintō.”

This took place in January 1927. Since Shimabukuro is said to have been in his fourth year, he must have entered Naha Commercial School in April 1923, i.e, one year prior to Nagamine. One remaining issue here is that the MEXT data for 1919 shows that 3 years were stipulated for commercial schools. Was Okinawan Commercial School a four year term?

Nagamine was drafted at the age of 20 and successfully passed the physical examination as a grade-one-conscript. That means, he must have been drafted between July 1927 and July 1928. According to Yanagihara (2020), Nagamine is considered to have joined the 47th Infantry Regiment in Oita in the winter of 1927 “when he was still in Naha Commercial High School.” This in turn would mean that either Nagamine entered commercial a year later than previously thought, i.e. he entered in 1924, or, what seems also likely, there was in fact a fourth year at commercial school in Naha.

The point here is that Nagamine Shōshin studied karate with Shimabukuro Tarō since either 1924 or 1925. Summoned by Motobu Chōki and Gusukuma Shinpan, Shimabukuro performed Chintō in front of Kanō Jigorō in January 1927. It has therefore to be considered one of the oldest proven traditions of Chintō in Okinawa.

Just to clarify the magnitute of this tradition, the teaching of this Chintō is at least as follows:

  • Kyan Chōtoku taught Arakaki Ankichi
  • Arakaki Ankichi taught Shimabukuro Tarō
  • Kyan Chōtoku taught Shimabukuro Tarō
  • Shimabukuro Tarō taught Nagamine Shōshin
  • Arakaki Ankichi taught Nagamine Shōshin
  • Kyan Chōtoku taught Nagamine Shōshin
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The Tsuki-fication of Bojutsu

Old-style Shūshi no Kon

The earliest description of a bōjutsu kata in text and illustration is that of Shūshi no Kon. It was learned on Okinawa by Miki Jisaburō and published in 1930. In this description, there are no tsuki done following the shōmen-uchi in descriptions No. 7, 13, 16, and 19. Instead, following the front strike, the description continues by saying “Now the bō is being screwed, and the opponent’s weapon thus placed aside.” The movement is described in Japanese as nejiru ねじる, i.e. 捩じる, to screw; to twist. It is a defensive movement and a terminological forerunner of today’s chūdan-uke (or uchi-uke, soto-uke, depending on the school). This is an example of the development of kobudō terminology, but I digress.

The same kata has been presented as Shūshi no Kon (Koshiki) in Volume 3 of Ryūkyū Kobudō by Inoue Motokatsu (1974). There are also no tsuki at the corresponding positions.

Contrary to the above, the same kata in the Shimbukan school of Akamine Hiroshi sensei has tsuki at each of these positions. Since there are different versions of this kata, this version is explicitly called Koryū Shūshi no Kun, i.e. old-style.

In short, the use of tsuki is one striking difference between the above mentioned versions.

Shūshi no Kon Shō

There is an old video of Taira Shinken doing Shūshi no Kon Shō. The video was published by Devorah Dometrich. In this video, at three points in the kata following a shōmen-uchi, Taira does not perform a tsuki, but instead immediately performs uchi-uke. Looking up Shūshi no Kon Shō in Volume 1 of Ryūkyū Kobudō by Inoue Motokatsu (1972), there are also no tsuki, but immediately uchi-uke. You can also easily google the kata and see for yourself.

In the Taira-Akamine lineage, on the other hand, there are tsuki done at each of these three positions.

So, is there a pattern?

Shūshi no Kon Dai

In 1964, Taira Shinken described Shūshi no Kon Dai with text and photos in a book. There is also an old video of him doing the kata published by Devorah Dometrich and it has the same details as his 1964 description. We see the same kata details in the version of the Taira-Inoue-lineage in writing and photo (1972) and in various videos online, as well as in the version of the Taira-Hayashi-lineage, and the version of the Taira-Sakagami-lineage.

All of these direct students of Taira Shinken do not perform a tsuki following the shōmen-uchi in most cases.

In the Taira-Akamine-lineage, on the other hand, there are many tsuki done following the shōmen-uchi. In fact, in Taira-Akamine-lineage, the kata has six more tsuki than all the others, including the one by Taira himself.

As a side note, the two thrusts in the kata by Taira are sliding thrusts (nuki-zuki), while Taira-Akamine-lineage here does a standard (non-sliding) thrust.

So, obviously, there is a pattern.

Sakugawa no Kon Shō and Dai

Looking further, while the above is true to a lesser degree in case of Sakugawa no Kon Shō, it becomes cristal-clear in Sakugawa no Kon Dai: The kata performed by Taira and many of his direct students has almost no tsuki after shōmen-uchi. But Taira-Akamine-lineage does tsuki after each shōmen-uchi.

Conclusion

To make my point, I have here used the examples of the first kata to be learned in Taira lineage Kobudō. There are more examples but this is sufficient to show the pattern. From that, obviously a “tsuki-fication” of Taira lineage bōjutsu in Okinawa took place during the 2nd half of the 20th century. Someone at some point in time added a lot of tsuki to the Taira kata on Okinawa and today this has become the accepted standard.

As with most small knowledge gains and insights, you never really know where you get with it, if anywhere. With the point being made, however, as a next step it would be interesting to hear some expert opinions and finally find out more details such as the when and why.

In the video below I show some examples from Shushi and Sakugawa for you to see. It is always : 1. Non tsuki version. 2. Tsuki version.

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10 Basic Techniques of Bojutsu performed by Yonamine Kosuke in 1982

In this video, Yonamine Kosuke performs 10 basic techniques of the bo. As can be seen, these 10 bo basics were already a part of the syllabus at that time within that kobudo association (Ryukyu Kobudo Hozon Shinkokai) in 1982. I don’t know exactly when they were created but guess it was around that time. They are still practiced today in the Ryukyu Kobudo Hozon Shinkokai (led by Kuniyoshi Sensei), the Shimbukan (Akamine Hiroshi Sensei), the Tesshinkan (Tamayose Hidemi) and probably others and possibly with slight variations. They are used to convey the principles of bojutsu as a foundation for the kata and so they are important for beginners to get the “style sheet” of the specific school.

The techniques are found in the bo kata of Taira lineage. However, on a closer look, many of the techniques and combinations are just variations of what is found in kata. For this reason, you cannot teach kata moves by just saying “Oh, just do it as in Kihon No. 10.” I don’t know the reason for this. The Jodan-ura-uchi preceding every Shomen-uchi in kata is such an example. I wrote about it here. Yonamine still does it in a very pronounced way, but it has since been watered down and is has been treated as a mere kamae in the bo kihon (except in No 8). This obviously reflected back into kata, and so the change of the basic technique lead to the change of the kata. All kata. This is an actual example of how and why kata actually change…. And it is an example of the “style sheet” issue that I wrote about here.

Notwithstanding these little issues, this is a good set of bo basics.

Note 1: All techniques start from Chudan-kamae

  • 1. Shomen-uchi in Shiko-dachi
  • 2. Chudan-zuki in Shiko-dachi
  • 3. a) Shomen-uchi in Shiko-dachi – b) Chudan-zuki in Shiko-dachi
  • 4. a) Gedan-uke in Kokutsu-dachi – b) Gedan-nuki in Kokutsu-dachi – c) Gedan-barai in Shiko-dachi – d) Shomen-uchi in Shiko-dachi
  • 5. a) Jodan-nuki in Zenkutsu-dachi – b) Chudan-zuki in Shiko-dachi
  • 6. a) Chudan-ura-uchi in Shiko-dachi – b) Chudan-yoko-uchi in Shiko-dachi
  • 7. a) r. Chudan-gyaku-yoko-uchi in Zenkutsu-dachi – b) l. Chudan-gyaku-yoko-uchi in Zenkutsu-dachi
  • 8. Shiko (four attackes): a) Age-uchi in Zenkutsu-dachi – b) Kaeshi-uchi in Kokutsu-dachi – c) Jodan-ura-uchi in Neko-ashi-dachi – d) Shomen-uchi in Shiko-dachi
  • 9. Reverse grip: a) Chudan-uchi in Shiko-dachi – b) Chudan-zuki in Shiko-dachi – c) Kaeri-gyaku-mochi in Shiko-dachi – d) Chudan-tate-uke in Shiko-dachi – e) Mawashi-baraiin Shiko-dachi – f) Chudan-zuki in Shiko-dachi
  • 10 a) Jodan-ura-uke in Shiko-dachi – b) Jodan-nuki in Zenkutsu-dachi – c) Jodan-mawashi-uke in Zenkutsu-dachi d) Kaeshi-uchi in Kokutsu-dachi

As regards combinations found in kata, Nos 1, 2, and 3 are fragments found all over the kata. No 4 is eminent in Shūshi no Kun Dai and as a variety in Sakugawa no Kon Dai and Yonegawa no Kon. No 5 is not found in this combination, and also it has a Jodan-nuki, while most kata have Chudan-nuki. Moreover, the Chudan-nuki is done in six-foot-grip, not in regular grip as in kihon. No 6 is found in Shūshi no Kun Shō & Dai, Sakugawa no Kun Dai, and in Soeishi no Kun. The first two techniques of No 8 are found in Tsuken Sunakake, but there the following two techniques are completely different. No 8 is also found in Chinen Shikiynaka no Kon, but there the first technique is a Jōdan-barai, not an Age-uchi as in No 8, so here too the combination is a different one. No 9 is found in Urasoe no Kon, however, in the kata, it is done without the first tsuki. While the first two techniques of No 10 are found in Shirotaru no Kon, and the last two techniques are found in Chinen Shikiyanaka no Kon, the whole of No 10 is found nowhere in kata.

You see, complex combinations such as Nos 8, 9, and 10, you cannot be used to teach kata by just saying “Oh, just do it as in Kihon No. so-and-so.” The only kihon with more than just two techniques that is congruent with kata is kihon No. 4. Oh, wait, that is not entirely correct: Kihon No 4 ends by assuming chudan-kamae. But in kata, in which there are four instances of Kihon No 4 in Shushi no Kon Dai total, it is followed by a chudan-zuki and kamae in three instances, and by chudan-zuki and chudan-uke in one instance. No 4 is also found in Sakugawa no Kon Sho, but with a 180° turn, and in Sakugawa no Kon Dai, but as part of a longer combination, and also in Yonegawa no Kon, however – alas – in the different order of 3 – 4 – 1 – 2 and also including a 180° turn as well as once as regular Kihon No 4, followed by a chudan-zuki and kamae. Oh, and depending on the so-and-so-kan (insert name of dojo/association), some changed the kihon a little, but adaptions and improvements in Japan as well as Okinawa are veeeeery slow, that is, it takes decades to correct obvious things. Also, if kihon is not enough, usually more kihon is considered the solution.

And there you have it: These traditional 10 Bo Kihon do not coincide with kata! In this way, kihon has become an almost an separate and for sure an additional entity. It is like practicing gamuts that are not part of any song you want to learn to play. BTW, various schools continuously try to adapt and change the kihon to be more fitting, and by doing so add to the confusion.

Of course you practice techniques, you can apply them, you train the “style sheet” of the school and you do something for your fitness. BUT: How did kihon become more important then Kata? Kihon should be techniques and combinations from kata, to be able to train and optimize them separately. Or Kihon should refer to application, but alas, the 10 Bo Kihon do not only not coincide with kata, they also do not coincide with bo kumite.

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Style sheet

In my last post I mentioned how the execution and entire appearance of kata are influenced and in fact defined by the characteristics of the kihon (basics). I did so on example of the bo kihon set of Ryukyu Kobudo but this applies to karate as well. I made the point that, when changing technical characteristics emphasized in kihon, the technical characteristics of the whole kata change, too.

To illustrate the matter, I used the term “style sheet.” In other words, kihon provides a “style sheet” for a specific school or a specific sensei. Accordingly, kata change according to the habits and contents (=style) emphasized by any given chief sensei.

What I mean by the term “style sheet” is the separation of content and presentation so that any “content can be reused in many contexts and presented in various ways” and that such a style sheet can be “attached to the logical structure to produce different presentations.”

The contents emphasized in the basics are subject to many different influences. Usually, if you want to be acccepted in a school, or you want to do a grading, or you want to win a competition, you have to follow the basics defined by that school.

For example, if you take Tomari no Passai of Matsubayashi-ryu, it has a very specific style that includes footwork, body shifting, rythm, starting and end position of movements, the direction each body part travels from a to b, and so on.

Tomari no Passai of Matsubayashi-ryu

If you compare this with Tomari no Passai of Inoue-ha Shito-ryu, it is clear that it is the same kata, but simply with a different style sheet attached to it.

Tomari no Passai of Inoue-ha Shito-ryu

Of course, Tomari no Passai of Shito-ryu was borrowed from Matsubayashi-ryu long ago. In this example you can realize how style sheets work, how important they are, and that you should consider them when studying (=practicing) karate.

The next example of how to use a style sheet in basics to the kata is from Kobudo. This kata here is “Urasoe no Kon” and it is one of the highest kata taught in Okinawa Taira lineage kobudo (There is an Isshin-ryu variation of this kata, too, but I am talking about Taira – Akamine lineage!). Since it is a 7th or 8th dan kata, and kata teaching has long been neglected for the benefit of basics, most people don’t even know it. Therefore, here is a video of how it has been handed down in Taira – Akamine lineage in Okinawa:

Urasoe no Kon of Taira – Akamine lineage, old Shimbukan style sheet applied to it

The following video shows the same Urasoe no Kon of Taira – Akamine lineage. However, they applied a different style sheet of basics to it. Watch it:

Urasoe no Kon of Taira – Akamine lineage, new Yamanni style sheet applied to it

You see, it is the same kata (negligible differences). They simply applied a different style sheet.

The first video uses the old style sheet of Ryukyu Kobudo Shimbukan. The second video uses the style sheet of modern Yamanni-ryu (I say modern because there is also an old Yamanni style sheet. In other words, yes, Yamanni-ryu is actually just a style sheet itself). Which one do you like better, which one do you think is better for fighting, which one looks more “awesome”?

Now, this kata is “Urasoe no Kon” of Taira – Akamine lineage and it never historically existed in Yamanni-ryu. And actually almost bo and ueku kata the dojo in the second video (Fukuoka Shidokan) does are Taira lineage bojutsu kata. However, the basics (= style sheet) of modern Yamanni-ryu have been applied to them all. It is really that “simple.”

Now, what to do with all that? Well, I hope this little article provides you with a different perspective on kata, how it is performed the way it is, and why, and that you might look into your own style sheet and optimize your basics to your own advantage, and to what you believe it actually means, and so finally that you come up with your own style sheet that then shows itself in the kata.

In the end, and as I showed in the above examples, you can simply change the basics, and the result becomes something almost entirely different. In any case, you should learn the kata and its applications. Otherwise you might simply learn a format, but not the content.

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