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.
(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.
My Art and Skill of Karate (Ryukyu Bugei Book 3), by Choki Motobu (Author), Andreas Quast (Tr./Ed.), Motobu Naoki (Tr.)
Troubled 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.’
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
First Printing: 2018
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)
In 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.»
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.”
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
BISAC: Sports & Recreation / Martial Arts & Self-Defense
Matsumura Sokon: The Seven Virtues of Martial Arts. By Andreas Quast, 2020.
A Stroll Along Ryukyu Martial Arts HistoryPaperback– 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.
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.
Japanese calligraphy sometimes uses four-character idiomatic phrases (yojijukugo 四字熟語). These are compound phrases consisting of four kanji used for idiomatic expressions the meaning of which are usually not directly inferred from the individual characters used.
A few examples appropriated into postwar Okinawa karate are:
ichigo ichie 一期一会 (one life, one encounter). It means “Every encounter is a once-in-a-lifetime encounter.” ORIGIN: Japanese tea ceremony.
onko chishin 温故知新 (warm up old, know new). It means “developing new ideas based on study of the past.” ORIGIN: The Analects of Confucius.
Another is hossu ishabyō 法水瀉瓶 (method water, pour jar). It means to convey teachings correctly from master to disciple without leaking, just like transferring water from one jar to another jar without spilling a single drop. Hossu equates a pure method with water, and ishabyō is transferring water from one bottle to another. It shows that the method remains unchanged even if transmitted from one person to another, and that the water inside remains unchanged even if the container changes.
More figurativley, and from the perspective of the receiver, it can also be interpreted as “to receive another person’s heart as it is, like transferring water from one vessel to another,” or “Imitate the person you want to be,” or “If you get close to a good person, you will unconsciously become a good person as well.”
The same idea can be seen in the framed calligraphy of the Zen phrase Ikki sui sha ikki 一器水瀉一器 hanging in the dōjō of the late Nakazato Jōen of Shorinji-ryū. Nakazato seems to have adopted it for his school to mean “inheriting the kata unchanged, as they have been taught,” emphasizing the bequeather.
In short, it is another example of the appropriation of aphorisms, techniques, and ideas from other specialist fields into the dōjō culture, architecture, and the moral corpus of postwar Okinawa karate.
(Nach dem Bericht eines koreanischen Schiffbrüchigen in „Authentische Aufzeichnung der Schönheit der Yi-Dynastie“, übersetzt von Andreas Quast aus Iha Fuyu: Onarigami no Shima, S. 296)
Ich und die anderen sahen die Königin Mutter, wie sie zum Umzug erschien. Sie benutzte eine lackierte Sänfte, an derer allen Seiten Bambusjalousien herabhingen, und die von insgesamt zwanzig Sänftenträgern getragen wurde. Diese trugen alle weiße, aus Bastfaser gefertigte Kleidung, und auch ihre Köpfe waren mit Stoff umwickelt.
Die Krieger trugen Schwerter an der Hüfte sowie Pfeile und Bögen. Dem Anführer der Leibgarde folgten alles zusammen mehrere hundert Personen. Musik wurde gespielt und auf ein Zeichen hin hier und da Kanonen abgefeuert. Es folgten vier oder fünf hübsche Weiber, die in Wirklichkeit verkleidete, junge Männer waren, gekleidet in farbenfrohe Seidengewänder. Dann kamen in weiße, lange Hanfkleider gekleidete Schildträger.
Ich und die anderen traten hervor, um des Weges unseren Respekt zu zollen. Die Sänfte pausierte und es wurden zwei Zinnkrüge mit Reiswein serviert. Wegen des Reisweins wuschen ich und die anderen unsere Bärte in einem Holzgefäß. Der gute Geschmack des Reisweins bereitete Vergnügen, gleich dem Reiswein in unserem Vaterlande.
Die Königin hat einen jungen Sohn, der in den nächsten Zeilen beschrieben werden soll. Er war etwa zehn Jahre alt und von hübscher Erscheinung. Er trug eine Haartracht, hinten ohne Zopf. Seine Kleidung war von rotem Seidenstoff und mit einem Gürtel zusammengebunden. Er ritt auf einem gut genährten Pferd, welches von Pferdeführern begleitet wurde, die alle weiße Kleider trugen. Die anführende Reitergruppe bestand aus vier oder fünf Reitern. Zur Unterstützung befanden sich links und rechts auch noch eine Menge Leute.
Da waren über zwanzig Leibgardisten, die lange Schwerter trugen. Die Gruppe der Schirmträger war von der berittenen Gruppe etwas getrennt.
Ich und die anderen hatten auch eine Audienz mit dem jungen Prinzen. Vom Pferd abgestiegen wurden wieder zinnene Krüge mit Reiswein gereicht. Nachdem das Trinken beendet war, saß er wieder auf und ritt weiter. Sein Vater, der König, war gestorben, aber er als Nachfolger noch zu jung. Deshalb leitet die Königin vorläufig die Dynastie. Wenn der junge Prinz ein höheres Alter erreicht haben wird, wird er der König werden.
Es gab dort Pfeil und Bogen, Äxte, Großeisen, Hiebwaffen, Beile, Kriegssicheln und -hämmer, Rüstungen und Helme, für die sie Eisen wie auch Leder verwenden. Ihre Unterschenkel bedecken die Krieger mit Eisenbewehrungen und für den Schutz der Knie verwenden sie Leder.
Okinawa karate and kobudō is an amazing realm of sport, fitness, self-protection, and culture. It can be many different things for many different people. Embedded within the Okinawa karate kobudō landscape with its emblems, dōjō, photos, certificates, costumes, world championships and the like, there is little reason to question the authenticity and the veracity of it all. In fact, most people just want to be part of the narrative and to affirm it. There is also often the reference to official commendations and honors. I remember stumbling over a big hardcover book of recipients of imperial orders while researching in the late Nagamine Shōshin’s study. Nagamine was listed in there himself. And there was also the framed order with certificate hanging in the dōjō. The family of James Pankiewicz’s wife was a royal supplier, providing sweets for the court.
There are also many references to the Imperial family in Matayoshi Kobudō. For instance, there is an early description of how Matayoshi Shinkō returned to Okinawa temporarily:
“During that time, when [Matayoshi Shinkō] temporarily returned to Okinawa, there was a celebratory martial arts demonstration in Tōkyō in 1915 in commemoration of the [Taishō] Emperor’s accession to the throne, where karate was performed by Funakoshi Gichin, and the ancient martial arts of tounkuwā-jutsu and kama-jutsu were performed by venerable Matayoshi [Shinkō]. (Uechi 1977, information provided by Matayoshi Shinpō)
However, there is no actual record of Funakoshi Gichin performing on this occasion in 1915. There is also no documentation presented as a proof for Matayoshi Shinkō’s participation.
Furthermore, various other events are claimed, such as that Matayoshi Shinkō demonstrated martial arts together with Funakoshi Gichin in 1916 at the Butokuden in Kyōto. (OKKJ 2008:517) While Miyagi Tokumasa (1982) mentions Funakoshi Gichin performing martial arts at the Butokuden in Kyōto in 1916, Funakoshi himself never mentioned that. Moreover, again there is no documentation to prove Matayoshi Shinkō’s participation.
Another example is the following:
“In 1921, when the present emperor [Hirohito], who was the crown prince at the time, visited Okinawa, a martial arts demonstration of karate and kobujutsu was held as part of the celebratory event, in which Miyagi Chōjun performed Gōjū-ryū and venerable Matayoshi [Shinkō] performed kobudō.” (Uechi 1977, information provided by Matayoshi Shinpō)
Again, there is no record of Miyagi Sensei performing on this occasion in 1921, and again there is also no documentation of Matayoshi Shinkō’s participation.
Since then, numerous publications have used and expanded upon these claims. For instance, it is claimed that Matayoshi Shinkō performed tunkwā and kama at the Imperial Enthronement Ceremony of the Shōwa Emperor in Tōkyō in 1928 (OKKJ 2008:517), again together with Funakoshi Gichin, who performed karate (Matayoshi 1997).
In short, there are all sorts of hitherto undocumented claims.
It is for exactly this reason that the following fact is of utmost importance: Over the past half century, not a single publication mentioned the martial arts performance of Matayoshi Shinkō in 1939, presenting toifa and bōjutsu. This demonstration was the Commemorative Demonstration held during the Opening Ceremony of the Okinawa District Committee of the Dai Nippon Butokukai, which took place at the Butokuden in Naha. It was only in 2019 that the printed program of this demonstration became known (see here). It shows the place, date, participants, and martial arts presented at this performance. This means that neither Matayoshi Shinpō nor anyone else in the field of Matayoshi kobudō was even aware that Matayoshi Shinkō had taken part in it. Moreover, several persons related to the martial arts claimed by Matayoshi Kobudō participated in the demonstration, including Kyan Chōtoku, Go Kenki, and others. It might therefore be no surprise that information shared by Matayoshi Shinpō is a little ambiguous around that time, as seen in his self-provided martial record:
1930: Studied under Kyan Chōtoku (karate training) (8 years old)
1934: Studied under Matayoshi Shinkō (biological father) (kobudō training) (12 years old)
1935: Studied under Go Kenki (Chinese Shaolin Crane Boxing) (Age 13)
1945–1960: Instructed Okinawan kobudō in Kawasaki City, Kanagawa Prefecture.
There is a gap of 10 years, from 1935 to 1945. Usually, this is understood as a sign that Matayoshi Kobudō kept training for all these years. With the new source, however, it is possible that Matayoshi Shinpō had already left Okinawa by 1939 at the latest, which greatly reduces the time of his possible training under his father.
I interpret the above as follows: The 1939 demonstration was related to the Dai Nippon Butokukai, the Butokuden, and by that indirectly to Imperial Japan. Obviously, as is evident in the complete absence of any written reference, neither Matayoshi Shinpō nor anyone else had any knowledge about the 1939 demonstration. Maybe, after Matayoshi Shinpō’s return to Okinawa around 1960, he heard rumors, inaccurate or ambiguous oral fragments by seniors such as Higa Seikō or others. Maybe it was also a taboo topic, since the Dai Nippon Butokukai was directly linked to Imperial Japanese militarism and ideology, so Okinawans might have wanted to forget about this episode altogether. Maybe it was just bad communication. Whatever the real reason was, Matayoshi Shinpō and his followers creatively reinterpreted their fragmentary knowledge since around 1960, confusing the Naha Butokuden with the Kyōto Butokuden, confusing the Dai Nippon Butokukai with some Imperial Ceremony, then confusing the year 1939 with various other event years, and so finally and cumulatively came up with a whole new history during the prewar era in which Matayoshi Shinkō allegedly took part in.
This might also be one of the several reasons why the Karate Promotion Division of the Okinawa Prefectural Government around 2020 refused to accept the 1939 demonstration program when it was offered to them by the owner, Mr. Satō. It is simple: Because modern Okinawa karate and kobudō’s self-written histories are full of flaws and errors, the protection of old traditions and stories is a major concern. On the other hand, the 1939 demonstration program allows to rectify several fabulist testimonies and historical revisionism created during the postwar era. Fortunately, the owner was able to donate the program to the Okinawa Prefectural Museum, which evaluated the material as “precious items” and accepted to take them in and preserve them for later generations. In the end, Matayoshi Shinkō’s 1939 demonstration should be a matter of huge pride for Matayoshi Kobudō practitioners. However, because it raises doubts whether Matayoshi Shinpō actually has learned from him, and if so, what exactly, this poses a huge problem for this school’s historiography.
Another dimension are the unproven stories of Matayoshi Shinkō demonstrating together with two of the most important prewar karate persons, Funakoshi Gichin and Miyagi Chōjun, in front of an Imperial Prince or even the Emperor. These stories can be interpreted as retrospective attempts to place Matayoshi Shinkō on one level with, and equal to Funakoshi and Miyagi. In short, the stories serve the purpose of creating the myth of Matayoshi Shinkō as the best martial artist in pre-1945 Okinawa. It can also be considered Matayoshi Shinpō’s self-recommendation and appeal to the new, postwar Dai Nippon Butokukai by establishing a long family history of relations to the Dai Nippon Butokukai and the Imperial Family through his father Shinkō.
Within the same song of praise can be positioned the claim that Matayoshi Shinkō’s performing skills were amazing to the extent that he was invited (!!!) three times to demonstrate in front of the Japanese Imperial Family. This is said to have happened for the first time in 1917 (sic!), during “one of the most important events in the history of martial arts.” As the hero story goes, Matayoshi Shinkō was invited together with Funakoshi Gichin to demonstrate at the martial arts festival of the Dai Nippon Butokukai at the Butokuden in Kyōto. The adulation continues for another page and finishes by claiming that Matayoshi Shinkō received an “imperial medal” for his “incredible performance skills,” as a proof which is presented the photo of a medal, captioned “Shinko’s 1917 Demonstration medal.”
Now, after seeing a photo of the medal, me and number of colleagues were intrigued to find out more. It took us two minutes to identify and locate the medal. The following is its story.
The Commemorative Medal of the Imperial Enthronement Ceremony of 1915
In 1912, Emperor Taishō assumed the throne upon the death of his father, Emperor Meiji. The enthronement ceremonies were held only three year later, in 1915. August 1915 saw the publication of the Matters of Enactment of the Commemorative Medal of the Imperial Enthronement Ceremony (Imperial Edict No. 154 of August 12, 1915). This is the medal allegedly presented to Matayoshi Shinkō in 1917.
The imperial edict of the time is as follows:
Matters of Enactment of the Commemorative Medal of the Imperial Enthronement Ceremony (Imperial Edict No. 154 of August 12, 1915)
Article 1: Set up a commemorative medal to commemorate the Imperial Enthronement Ceremony.
Article 2: The commemorative medal as shown on the left.
Medal: Silver, circular form, with a diameter of 3.03 cm. Inside the contour line of the front side is the golden Imperial chrysanthemum emblem in the upper part. On both sides are images of [crossed] cherry tree and tachibana orange branches, overlapped by Banzai banners. On the back side are written the characters “Commemorative Medal of the Imperial Enthronement Ceremony, November 1914.”
Ring: Silver, bay form
Ribbon: The fabric is 3.6 cm in width (1 sun, 2 bun). The color scheme is red in the center, white on the left and right, and with red and white lines on both edges.
The commemorative medal is worn on the left chest with a ribbon.
Article 3: The commemorative medal will be awarded to those listed in the following.
Those who are summoned to the Ceremony of Accession to the Throne (senso 践祚).
Those who are invited to the Enthronement Ceremony (sokuirei 即位礼) and to the First Ceremonial Offering of Rice by Newly-enthroned Emperor (daijōsai 大嘗祭).
Those who were granted banquets at each location in the country.
Persons involved in affairs related to the Imperial Enthronement Ceremony (tairei 大礼) and other duties associated with the Imperial Enthronement Ceremony.
Article 4: The commemorative emblem may be worn only by the recipient himself/herself for the rest of his/her life but may be preserved by his or her descendants.
Article 5: If a recipient who has been awarded a commemorative medal dies before the award, the medal shall be delivered to and preserved by his or her heir, or the head of the household.
Illustration of the Commemorative Medal of the Imperial Enthronement Ceremony
Is it possible that Matayoshi Shinkō received this medal? It is, in theory, if he was a member of the groups defined in Article 3 Imperial of Edict No. 154.
First of all, the edict (or any related source) does not mention performers at the Butokuden in Kyōto.
Next, as Article 3-1, the “Imperial Enthronement Ceremony” of Emperor Taishō took place 10-15 November 1915 at the Hall for State Ceremonies (shishiden) of Kyōto Imperial Palace. I cannot imagine that Matayoshi Shinkō was invited to it. As regards Article 3-2, I can not imagine him to be invited to “the Enthronement Ceremony and to the First Ceremonial Offering of Rice by Newly-enthroned Emperor. As regards Article 3-4, I cannot imagine him having been involved in affairs related to the Imperial Enthronement Ceremony and other duties associated with the Imperial Enthronement Ceremony.”
As regards Article 3-3 and “Those who were granted official banquets at each place in the country,” I could imagine Matayoshi Shinkō perform at some local festival or maybe a shrine. These local banquets were held throughout Japan to celebrate Emperor Taishō’s enthronement, taking place at Shintō Shrines in sense of “presenting food to the gods,” or at the Prefectural Office. As an example, at the time of Emperor Shōwa’s enthronement, the list of people invited to these local banquets were high officials such as the prefectural governor, aristocrats, temple and shrine priests, local councilors, and city mayors etc., judges, police chiefs, school superintendents.
Frankly speaking, until documentation to the contrary is provided (which never happens in Okinawa), it is completely unlikely – in fact, completely implausible – that Matayoshi Shinkō received this medal for performing tounkuwā-jutsu and kama-jutsu at the Butokuden in Kyōto in 1917, or 1916, or in Tōkyō in 1915, or whatever someone wrote somewhere.
Rather, it should have become clear already that Okinawa karate and kobudō’s “postwar historiography” sometimes started from rumors and inaccurate or ambiguous oral fragments, and coupled with bad communication it confused various persons, events, places, and dates, and while protecting any and each of the old traditions and stories, it cumulatively applied “the art of creative reinterpretation” to establish the modern heroic narrative of past masters. While Matayoshi Kobudō is a great sport and martial art, the medal might serve as a reminder for this.
A typical recipient of such a medal would be Hamaguchi Osachi. Hamaguchi was a Japanese bureaucrat of the Ministry of Finance and politician. He was in the 2nd Major Rank, and Receiver of the Order of Merit 1st Class. He served as the 25th Minister of Finance, the 43rd Minister of Home Affairs, the 27th Prime Minister, and president of the Constitutional Democratic Party. He was called the “Lion Chancellor” because of his looks.
PS: Bibliographic information not approved for public release.
I recently spoke with an expert about the Japan-Okinawa relationship, and why Japanese budōka sometimes despise Okinawa. As a possible reason was quoted the generally lax character of the Okinawans, which is ridiculed as tēgē (テーゲー = lax character) or Uchinā time (= not being punctual).
I didn’t know there were words for it, but I certainly experienced it myself. I guess it is ok when you have a siesta such as in many other southern regions due to the heat. But it might become an issue when you waste other people’s time and resources. From my personal experience, once someone took my bicycle, but I found it 500 m down the road at a convenient store. Another time I didn’t find it at all. When it starts raining, sometimes they just take other people’s umbrellas and later hang them on some tree etc. I need to say that dōjō ethics are also quite tēgē in many cases, so you might be in for a big surprise when first visiting Okinawa. I remember a guy who habitually would come late to skip the warmup, then would slowly change, and then would just stand behind the heavy bag until “work” was over and then joined for the rather free practice.
Because of the above, I thought it would be a good idea to explain the matter briefly so everyone can know what they might be experiencing.
So, what is tēgē? Below is a translation of the corresponding Japanese Wikipedia article, which is a perfect start. I slightly edited it.
Tēgē is an Okinawan word and a concept that can be seen in Okinawa Prefecture, meaning to live moderately well without thinking too thoroughly about things. It is the Okinawan pronunciation of the Japanese taigai 大概, meaning to stay within one’s bounds; not to overdo something; not going too far; being moderate. It includes nuances such as: to some extent, by and large, passable, roughly, fair, and so-so.
An example of its usage is given in the Okinawa Encyclopedia (Okinawa Daihyakka Jiten) as follows:
“I can use karate to some extent as well!”
(Wan’nin karate e tēgē ya nain 「ワンニン空手ェテーゲーヤナイン」)
It means, knowing karate not 100%, but just 60-70%. In addition to this original meaning of doing things only 60-70%, there is also the term ‘tēgēism’, representing the particular ideology, philosophy, or belief system of life and the personality of the Okinawan people.
Examples from literature are
“It is too hot on the island to think about details,”
“Tēgē can only be described as tēgē.”
As a custom peculiar to Okinawa, it is often a target of criticism from both inside and outside of the prefecture, carrying a negative nuance such as not keeping a set time, not being able to abide by promises, not obeying rules, being irresponsible in words and deeds, and being messy and unreliable in business. Examples of tēgē mentioned in literature are sloppy route bus services, not carrying an umbrella because it is troublesome, or generally not keeping a meeting time.
By the way, in Okinawa, there are times when the bus will not stop at the bus stop unless you raise your hand to indicate your intention to board, just like when you call a taxi.
Tēgē also includes distrust to plane reservations on local lines, as well as drunk driving, which was common well into the 2000s, and the list goes on and on.
As regards drunk driving, although there has been a downward trend due to the strengthening of crackdowns and educational activities, even in 2009, 2.9% of 59,289 traffic violations were drunk driving. The number of arrests per 1,000 population is 3.8 times the national average (1.24 as opposed to 0.33). Drunk driving fatal accidents have been the worst in Japan for 20 consecutive years, and drunk driving fatalities for 15 consecutive years.
On the other hand, it is also a word often spoken to mean a good culture of Okinawa Prefecture, in the sense that small details or excesses are ignored, it is easy-going, it is not bound by rules, it is tolerant.
Tēgē is also found in the story of Ryūjin Mabuyā, in which “Tēgē Stone” is depicted as an important culture that Okinawans must not lose. The character of Ryūjin Mabuyā as a local hero was born from considerations by Okinawan tourist souvenir company Nansei Sangyō, which noticed there were many souvenirs for girls, but not many souvenirs for boys. They planned and created the character of the local hero Ryūjin Mabuyā, which was featured in a special effects television series by Ryukyu Broadcasting that ran from 2008 to 2010. A related series aired in 13 episodes from 2009 and 2010, and there was also a movie based on the series, “Ryūjin Mabuyā – The Movie,” released in 2012.
The story is as follows. Kanai is a young man who apprentices for a master clay-sculptor. In the beginning, he is somewhat careless and lazy. Like most young Okinawan’s he doesn’t know about the soul of the islands and why they have certain traditions. One day he feels very weak and consults his ‘Auntie” who tells him that he needs to recharge his soul, and helps him by chanting an incantation. This summons the spirit of Ryūjin Mabuyā into Kanai’s body, and allows him to transform and fight as the hero. Luckily this occurred just in time, because the Evilcorps (Majimun) had just arrived on Okinawa to steal all of the Mabui stones (soul of Okinawa stones) and cause bad things to happen.
BTW, Ryūjin Mabuyā’s armor is based on the look of a Shisa and his energy attack is summoned by whistling with his fingers.
Returning to the main topic, there is also the aspect that tēgē means “flexible”, such as when you get discounts on bus fares. One of the best examples of tēgē I personally experienced was when I was pushing my bike up a long hill in southern Okinawa in midday heat. A guy passed me by, stepped on his brakes, drove backward, let down the window, and handed me a bottle of water. That was btw the most Okinawan thing I ever experienced, and it might have been related to tegē.
There is also an argument that a “spirit of mutual forgiveness” is at the root of tēgē, which means they will forgive most things and will be not too strict and expect the same from you. Also, according to the “Okinawa Mini Encyclopedia” of 1975, Okinawa has a strong insular spirit (particularly in the countryside) and is conspicuously laid-back due to the tropical climate and the fact that modernization of the region was delayed. For some time, tēgē was perceived as having a bad meaning, but since around the 2000s, tēgē has been re-evaluated and attention focused on the “slow life” of Okinawa, and so tēgē has also become popular as a likeable trait and specific lifestyle of Okinawa.
In 1975, three years after returning to Japan, Sassa Atsuyuki, who was then chief of the Security Division of the Security Bureau of the National Police Agency, was dispatched to the Okinawa Prefectural Police. He noted the following experiences, and it can be seen that tēgē was also part of professional ethics at that time.
When a scheduled time comes, even if it is in the middle of a meeting, they will try to end the meeting and to go home.
When the Security Council is on its lunch break, they say “I will go home, have lunch, take a nap, and then we resume at 2:00 pm.”
The budget send from the National Police Agency to the Okinawa Police was misappropriated for other expenses.
In a dōjō environment as well, anything tēgē might happen, such as letting you pay an initiation fee twice.
A recent seminar announcement introduced a certain Tamaki Kazuo as an 8th Dan representant and teacher of Motobu Udundī. The reason is that Okinawan masters often know each other from school or elsewhere. Okinawa karate and kobudō is largely based on lobbyism and nepotism, and so they recommend each other, grade each other etc.pp. In this seminar case as well, Tamaki was invited because he was a classmate of another invited teacher.
Fortunately, and you might have followed it on social media, an agreement was reached by the parties involved and the name of Motobu Udundī will not be used in the advertisements of the seminars.
Anyway, who was Tamaki’s teacher in Motobu Udundī and why it is an unrightful claim?
The teacher’s name was Taira Ryōshū. Taira was a student of Uehara Seikichi, the person responsible for handing down Motobu Udundī. Taira received an 8th dan and a shihan license from Uehara. In fact, Taira was the only person in Okinawa who received a shihan license from Uehara. Taira was rich and provided significant assistance to Uehara. But then Taira became almost a murderer. This was reported in the newspaper on January 5, 1990, as follows.
Slashing at one after another with a sickle – Disco owner quarrels with customers wearing sandals
Okinawa City – On the afternoon of the 4th, the Okinawa Police Station arrested Taira Ryōshū (59), a restaurant manager at 3-1-4 Moromizato, Okinawa City, on suspicion of attempted murder.
According to the investigation, around 4:00 a.m. on the 4th, the suspect Taira was on the street in front of the disco “Hollywood” in Uechi, Okinawa City, which he runs. An employee received outrage by four customers who were refused entry because they were wearing traditional Japanese thonged sandals, resulting in a dispute with the customers.
The suspect Taira took out a kama (sickle) from his car parked nearby and slashed at them one after another.
In this fight, interior design worker A (20) had his nose cut off, canal worker B (20) had a laceration of about three inches on his left shoulder, and reinforcement worker C suffered a shallow laceration of about 10 centimeters on his neck.
The suspect Taira fled from the scene by car but was afterwards arrested by Okinawa police officers and accompanied to the police station.
Due to this incident, Uehara excommunicated Taira from Motobu Udundī.
After his release from prison, Taira began teaching under the name of Motobu Udundī, advertising himself as a 10th dan and holder of menkyo kaiden (certificate of complete transmission of the art). Of course, this is a self-proclaimed rank and title.
Among Taira’s students in Okinawa are Tamaki Kazuo and Takamiyagi Tetsuo, and he has students in the United States and possibly elsewhere.
About ten years after the first incident, Taira appears again in an attempted murder case. It was reported in the newspaper as follows.
3 years and 8 months in prison for man who stabbed his sister
Naha District Court, Okinawa City Branch
[Okinawa] Self-employed Taira Ryōshū (72) from 3-1-4 Moromizato, Okinawa City, was charged with attempted murder for stabbing his older sister, 69 years old at the time, in the abdomen and other parts of the body with a butcher knife in May of last year, at the office of a motorcar hotel in Hiyane, Okinawa City. The trial was held on the morning of the 27th at the Okinawa City Branch of the Naha District Court and presiding judge Sugiyama Shinji handed down a sentence of 3 years and 8 months of imprisonment (5 years of imprisonment requested).
In short, there are good reasons for excommunication, and it means that you cannot use the school name anymore. Also, you must not use the patch or other school symbols anymore. Because you were dishonorably discharged. Move on and chose whatever other name and patch you like instead.
NOTE BY THE AUTHOR: To avoid speculation: I have never trained in Motobu Udundi!
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When Nagamine was in third grade, eight elementary schools would jointly hold an autumn athletic meet at Onoyama Park on November 13, 1916. The state of the joint athletic meet was also reported in the Ryūkyū Shinpō newspaper the following day. The karate perfomers were boys from Tomari Elementary School, among them young Nagamine Shōshin, who reminisced:
“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.
About 40 years later, when the “Okinawa Exhibition” was held in Tokyo in August 1955, Nagamine and other Matsubayashi-ryū instructors went to Tokyo to perform karate every day. Funakoshi Gichin also showed up at the venue and Nagamine revived the old relationship. As a result of the above, the need for a unified Okinawa karate organization came to be advocated.
It can be said that the conceptualization of this unified organization originated in Nagamine’s school. In fact, the discussions for the launch were based in Nagamine dōjō, where the organization was officially formed on May 19th. Chibana Chōshin, the founder of theKobayashi-ryū, was appointed as the first chairman, and Nagamine supported him as vice-chairman.
The story surrounding this is that Miyagi Chōjun of Gōjū-ryū, who has been at the center of the Okinawan karate world since the early postwar period, died suddenly at the age of 65 due to a heart attack in October 1953. Therefore, he was replaced by Chibana Chōshin, who was a karateka of the same generation and central for the Okinawan karate world. This first karate organization that tied together the postwar Okinawa karate world was established at the Matsubayashi-ryū Nagamine dōjō.
Sometimes you hear the argument spread by some Okinawan guy, saying “I don’t like him. He was a politician.” I often wondered what that was supposed to mean. Obviously, it can be very simple black & white thinking. Here’s an example from 70 years ago.
Planning to concentrate on karate and work as a businessman, Nagamine Shōshin ended his police career in 1952. In fact, in the 1953 New Year’s edition of the Ryūkyū Shinpō, Nagamine is mentioned as the “Senior Managing Director” in an advertisement issued by the Okinawa 1st Warehouse.
In 1953, many local governments held extraordinary parliamentary elections due to the increase in population numbers. Naha City’s population also drastically increased and a temporary election was held in March to select a new member for the city council, in which Nagamine was elected. Furthermore, in 1954, when the formal four-year-term election was held, Nagamine was elected as well.
In the second election of 1954, Higa Yuchoku (1910-94) and Nakaima Genkai (1908-84), who were also karateka, also participated in the election and were also elected. Nakaima Genkai was the father of former Okinawa Governor Nakaima Hirokazu (served 2006 to 2014) and was known as a Gōjū-ryū practitioner who had studied under Miyagi Chōjun. At that time, out of the thirty members of the Naha City Council, three were famous karateka. Nagamine became vice-chairman of the city council.
When Nagamine opened his dōjō on January 24, 1954, Naha City mayor Tōma Jūgō attended as a guest and Higa Shūhei, the president of the Ryukyu government, delivered a ceremony address. It seems Nagamine was well established in politics.
In October 1956, when the “Okinawa Karate-dō Renmei” was established, Higa Shūhei, the president of the Ryukyu government, suddenly died of angina. At that time, the president was not yet elected by the public, but was still appointed by the US military. The question, of course, was: who to choose as his successor? As a result, the U.S. military singled out Naha City mayor Tōma Jūgō. By that move, the post of mayor of Naha became vacant, and a new mayoral election was held on December 25. There were two conservative candidates, but Senaga Kamejirō from Tomigusuku won the mayoral election. Senaga was the founder of the Okinawa People’s Party, which later joined the Japanese Communist Party. At that time, Senaga was just released from prison after serving a two-year sentence for sheltering Communists. At that time, the party made a strong political appeal to the residents of Okinawa, saying that it was an unfounded American oppression.
At that time, as a former police man and vice-chairman of the Naha City Council, Nagamine Shōshin inevitably opposed Senaga. Higa Yuchoku and Nakaima Genkai were undecided in the beginning, but eventually also chose the same “anti-Senaga” side. A motion of vote of no confidence was passed by the parliament in June 1957 and the city council elections for the dissolution were held in August. Nagamine lost the election by eight votes, and Nakaima Genkai also lost the election. Higa Yūchoku on the other hand managed to win with a marginal difference.
At that point, Nagamine cut off his ties to politics and never ran for office again. Instead, he returned to karate and business.
In connection with Okinawa karate and kobudō, questions often remain answered unsatisfactorily, or unanswered at all. This may have different reasons. For example, people have long since forgotten what exactly happened several years or decades ago, or they were not even informed at the time, and nobody made any notes about events. When seen as a whole, information from Okinawa is often contradictory, but questions often arise only decades later, such as in the case of the kata called Akamine no Nunchaku.
Mario: “When was Maezato no Nunchaku Dai renamed Akamine no Nunchaku in the Akamine lineage? Was this before or after [Akamine Eisuke’s] passing [in 1999]?”
Tim: “They are different kata with a similar enbusen. We use the Maezato no Nunchaku for 1stKyū Grading and Akamine no Nunchaku for 1stDan.”
Mario: “Hi Tim: I know that the two kata have essentially the same enbusen, but they did originally start out as Maezato no Nunchaku Shō and Maezato no Nunchaku Dai. So, as I asked previously, do you know when Maezato no Nunchaku Dai was renamed to Akamine no Nunchaku?”
Tim: “I am unaware of the second kata ever being called Maezato [no Nunchaku Dai]. As you probably know Maezato is Taira Shinken Sensei‘s birth name prior to his adoption. The kata was named after the composer and I was always told that Akamine Eisuke Sensei composed the second kata.”
Mario: “Hello Tim: I guess that we will have to agree to disagree as my instructor (Minowa Katsuhiko) had taught me that both kata were originally called Maezato.”
In short, Minowa Katsuhiko said that Akamine Eisuke taught two nunchaku kata which were originally called Maezato no Nunchaku (Shō) and Maezato no Nunchaku Dai. At some point in time however, the name Maezato no Nunchaku Dai was replaced by the name Akamine no Nunchaku in the Shimbukandōjō of Akamine Eisuke, now led by his son Akamine Hiroshi. Mario simply asked when this name change happened.
Tim on the other hand maintained that there never has been a kata named Maezato no Nunchaku Dai, but that it was always called Akamine no Nunchaku simply because it was composed by Akamine Eisuke.
Well, as a kobudō person who had studied that lineage and techniques, I know both the kata in question pretty well and for many years. Yesterday, an old colleague who is a well-known and successful German kobudō practitioner contacted me, asking if I knew anything about Maezato no Nunchaku Dai. This is because according to his Okinawan Sensei, the name Maezato no Nunchaku Dai was changed to Akamine no Nunchaku during the latter half of the 1980s in the Shimbukan. In short, some people in Okinawa that have been related to the Shimbukan during the lifetime of Akamine Eisuke indeed maintain that Maezato no Nunchaku Dai existed, and that it was changed to Akamine no Nunchaku.
In short, the name change seems to have taken place 1.) during Akamine Eisuke’s lifetime, and 2. In the latter half of the 1980s. This would answer Mario’s question.
But hold on for a second. Was the kata name really changed? Remember that Tim said that Akamine Eisuke was the creator of the kata, and that he already originally named it Akamine no Nunchaku after his own name.
Well, when I trained for Shimbukan, and with Akamine Hiroshi’s consent, I was able to make various notes, including records of Akamine Eisuke’s kata descriptions. Among them are two descriptions of the two nunchaku kata in question: one original, which must have been written around 1982/83, and one copy, which is newer, maybe from the 1990s or later. See for yourself.
In the original, Akamine Eisuke first wrote the kata name as Akamine no Nunchaku. At some later point in time however he crossed out the name Akamine and replaced it by Maezato, and there is also a Dai added in a circle at the end of the name. What does this mean?
It is likely that the kata was actually created by Akamine Eisuke, and obviously he gave it his own name as Akamine no Nunchaku. However, it is presumptuous and unusual to use one’s own name for a self-created kata. This might have been the reason that Akamine Eisuke changed it to Maezato at a later point in time and suffixed Dai to it, making it look as if Taira had created it. In addition to being more nice and less ego centered, the use of Maezato also implies a personal transmission of techniques from Taira to Akamine.
For the sake of completeness: Anyone who knows the two kata is well aware that the second one is based on the first one, and an extension of it. One may well imagine how Akamine Eisuke extended the existing kata a bit to create a second kata. Or in other words, the existing Maezato no Nunchaku served Akamine Eisuke as the template for the creation of Maezato no Nunchaku Dai, AKA Akamine no Nunchaku.
Since some new facts have been established here, let’s continue a bit more. As far as the origin of the older Maezato no Nunchaku (Shō) is concerned, it remains questionable whether Taira’s kata existed in fixed form and was actually passed on personally, or whether Maezatono Nunchaku (Shō) was created after Taira’s passing and simply chosen as a name by his students to indicate a personal tradition. In fact, there is a “nunchaku practice form” described by Taira Shinken himself with photos and all in 1964. This routine has a lot of similarities with Maezatono Nunchaku (Shō), as well as a kneeling technique similar to Maezatono Nunchaku (Dai) [AKA Akamine no Nunchaku], but also contains one entirely different technique not found in any of the others. In short, it seems that Taira worked on developing a nunchaku training routine during the 1950s and 1960s, and either he already created Maezatono Nunchaku (Shō), or his students did so later from whatever they collected and remembered from him.
On another level, we’re talking about developments during the second half of the 20th century. This in turn begs the question: How Ko (ancient) is Okinawa Kobudō (ancient Okinawa martial arts with weaponry) really?
And so, this short study case is a practical example of why questions in Okinawa karate and kobudō often remain unanswered, i.e., because people no longer know exactly what happened several years or decades earlier, and / or they were not even privy to what was happening, and / or because nobody has made any notes about it, and / or ultimately also to underpin and perpetuate the personal tradition from master to student, and / or even to position one’s own name in a genealogy or kata catalogue.
Again, it is unusual for a karate or kobudō person to name a kata with his own name, so why would Taira name a kata with his former family name of Maezato? In terms of budō ethics, this is pretty pretentious. Naming a kata by the name Akamine no Nunchaku, as can be seen in Akamine Eisuke’s original writing of 1982/83, is equally pretentious and the recognition of this ethical problem was probably what led him to correct it to Maezato no Nunchaku Dai.
In the unwritten rules of Okinawan karate historiography however, there is a mechanism that may best be referred to as the “protection of the tradition.” It means that everything has to be explained in an ethical logic. Therefore, as I was told recently, as of now the official story is that around the 2nd half of the 1980s, Akamine Eisuke’s students begged him to name the kata by the name Akamine no Nunchaku, and ultimately he complied with their request.
In Okinawa Karateology, there are many events similar to the above and the quantity of incoherencies and unanswered questions is growing while those who might be able to answer die out. Since it is a pretty boring and difficult matter, young masters prefer to write their own new narratives, create new techniques, draw new genealogies with the help of some seniors who once did the same, and to train their students in the gym and all over the world. And so, there is in fact nothing new under heaven.
“Form follows function,” an old concept borrowed from architecture is the congenial didactic behind karate kata, or so we were told.
It can be.
However, it can also be that – by and large – what teachers actually use as a design tool is “form follows fiction.”
That is, karate and its combative scenarios are ever being created and recreated as the product of stories and narratives, both real and imagined, of the people practicing it.
In short, it may well be that large parts of the functions assigned to today’s karate are not the results of personal traditions going back decades or even centuries, but the results of fiction.
Or, as they say, “Never Let The Truth Get In The Way Of A Good Story.”
In any case, “form follows fiction” should be recognized as a principal design tool of karate at least since about the 1950s, and increasingly over the 80s, 90s, 2000s until today, and therefore need be considered within the general modern karate discourse.
In mainland Taira lineage, there are two kinds of Soeishi no Kon, namely a Sho and a Dai version. Maybe Taira used different techniques at different times, so students decided they had to create two versions?
In Okinawan Taira lineage, there is only one Soeishi no Kon.
In addition, there is another Okinawan Taira-lineage version handed down to Shimabukuro Tatsuo of Isshin-ryu.
Then, there are several other versions by the same name, but with different techniques.
Soeishi-ryu bojutsu was a royal bojutsu handed down only to the king and the firstborn son of the Soeishi House. Therefore, it is famous name in Okinawan martial art. The way I understand it is that Soeishi-ryu bojutsu itself was lost around the 1940s and 50s. However, it seems that some researchers have seen the techniques, or even studied it a little.
It can therefore be assumed that Soeishi-ryu bojutsu in some way has inspired the technique of Okinawan postwar bojutsu. In what way exactly and by whom is almost completely unknown though.