Tode, Karate in the Tafaku 1867

Yesterday I wrote about the written notation of tōde 唐手 as found in the play Nizan Waboku (The Reconciliation of Nanzan and Hokuzan) in 1867 and 1891. While it used the same original notation as karate / tōde, it turned out that it did not refer to an empty-handed martial art, but to an everyday-object used in martial arts, such as found in kobudō or martial arts with tools.

If this is true, then what about the written notation of tōde 唐手 as found in what is popularly known as the “10 Items of Bugei”? These 10 Items of Bugei refer to a performances of Kume villagers that took place on March 24, 1867, at the royal tea-villa (uchaya udun) in Shuri Sakiyama in celebration of the investiture of King Shō Tai. This martial arts program is detailed in the historical document called Tāfākū as described in the Shimabukuro Zenpatsu Collection of 1956.

Shimabukuro Zenpatsu (1888–1953) studied at the law school at Kyōto Imperial University and after his return home he joined the Okinawa Mainichi Shinbun newspaper. Following Majikina Ankō, he then became the third director of the Okinawa Prefectural Library. He published criticism about varicolored topics such as philosophy, history, literature, and current affairs. He was dismissed as the director of the library because he criticized the prefectural governor’s office’s prevailing policy at the time over the eradication of the Ryukyu dialect.

During his time as the director of the Okinawa Prefectural Library, Shimabukuro had also collected historical material from Kume Village, among which was the said Tāfākū including the 10 Items of Bugei. While the Tāfākū itself turned to ashes during the Battle of Okinawa (April 1 – June 22, 1945), after Shimabukuro had died, what was left in previously published works was published together with his dissertation and along with barely remaining historical materials under the title of Shimabukuro Zenpatsu Collection in 1956.

In the preface, Higaonna Kanjun said,

“The document Tāfākū was sent directly to me and is an important document. Tāfākū is, in today’s words, a dramatic language play by a government official of the Chinese encampment (Kume village), which was so popular that, according to the elderly people, it has been screened until the time of the Nakamō Shibai (the first permanent playhouse in Okinawa). But as the times flowed, cultural exchange with China became incompatible in the minds of the young people, and was consciously and unconsciously alienated, and even memories gradually faded. In addition, the historical materials related to the Chinese encampment (Kume village) are extremely scarce, and rare documents such as the Kumemura Nikki (Journal of Kume Village) and the Oyamise Nikki (Journal of the Naha Government Office) burned down together with the Okinawa Prefectural Library, and even in this matter (of the performances of the Chinese encampment (Kume village)), there is nothing else but this one [Tāfākū], meticulously written by Zenpatsu.”

In Shimabukuro’s Tāfākū it is said that from among the residents of the four villages of Naha, those who distinguished themselves went to the Satsuma domain to acquire the skills necessary to be able to compete with Japanese people, such as drama and kabuki pieces, while the young people of Kume Village went to China to learn Chinese music and dance, a some were successful and estalished a school from it.

As regards Kume Village, besides “Chinese music and dance,”

“Of course, things to learn in that country [of China] were not only martial arts such as kenpō, spearmanship (sōjutsu), shield (tinbē), and iron ruler (tesshaku; saijutsu), but also the Tāfākū […], which is one of the performing arts of Chinese drama and is an umbrella term for the entirety of Chinese theatrical play.”

BTW, Tāfākū means Playing the Flower Drum, which is a double drum. You can watch a short example of Tāfākū here.

Well then, on March 24, 1867, Kume villagers performed Tāfākū and other arts at the royal tea-villa (uchaya udun) in Shuri Sakiyama in celebration of the investiture of King Shō Tai. Among the various martial arts – today popularly referred to as The 10 Items of Bugei – was also the written notation of tōde 唐手. Namely, the entry is “ vs tōdē” which was performed by Maezato Chiku Pēchin and Arakaki Tsūji Pēchin.

There are no details in historical sources as to how any of these techniques were performed. Naturally, karate people interpret tōde 唐手 as a historical form of Okinawa karate. However, as shown in the case of tōde 唐手 as used in the Nizan Waboku of the same year of 1867 as well as in 1891, this might not be the case.

In short, the meaning of tōde 唐手 in the 1867 performances by Kume villagers at the royal tea-villa in Shuri Sakiyama might as well not have referred to an empty-handed martial art and precursor of karate, but to something else, such as an everyday-object used in martial arts.

It cannot be said with certainty that tōde 唐手 in the 10 Items of Bugei does not refer to unarmed karate. However, there are overwhelming indications, especially when closely considering the martial arts program items, that tōde 唐手 in the 10 Items of Bugei was not a historical form of unarmed karate, but a martial art with an everyday object, analogous to the case of tōde 唐手 in the Nizan Waboku.

The above considerations are a hard blow for traditional Okinawa Karate and point to a a collective confirmation bias. After all, the above means no less than that the earliest verification of the written notation of the term karate / tōde in sense of an unarmed martial art of Okinawa did not take place in 1867 during the time of the Ryūkyū Kingdom, but around 30 years later at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century.

I would like to emphasize again that the theme of this article is solely about the term karate / tōde, and not whether martial arts of various kinds existed in Okinawa, because there is no doubt about it. This can be seen through the centuries or right here in the 10 Items of Bugei, among other things, where names of practice routines such as Sēsan and Sūpārinpē are already found, as well as various objects used as weapons.

After all, a detailled consideration of the historical sources is important. In the Nizan Waboku of 1867, tōde 唐手 unequivocally refers to an everyday object used as a weapon. In case of the 10 Items of Bugei, it is not yet 100% proven, but here as well tōde 唐手 can refer to an everday object used as a weapon, and, to be honest, I heavily lean towards this interpretation.

Most importantly, the above insights gleaned from the Nizan Waboku and the 10 Items of Bugei require a re-evaluation of the techno-historical chronology of Okinawa karate in the second half of the 19th century. This has far-reaching implications. For instance, you can easily imagine what this means for the narrative surrounding the person nicknamed Tōde Sakugawa, and I might cover this as a topic in the future.

BTW, when traveling home after completion of all 10 Items of Bugei in 1867, at the request of the king, the Kume villagers performed their martial arts program items again on the road in front of the gate of the royal castle. Traditional Chinese martial arts were important traditions of the Kume Village samurē class (shizoku), some of whom went directly to China to learn kenpō, spearmanship, tinbē (shield), and saijutsu. Unfortunately, due to political circumstances at the time, the significance of Kume Village in martial arts have been obscured and falsified in Okinawan historiography, and their Chinese-style martial arts have instead been attributed to Shuri, Tomari, and Naha. However, it is a fact that in the same year of 1867, the martial arts Shuri, Tomari, and Naha also performed martial arts, but these were of Japanese origin.

© 2022, Andreas Quast. All rights reserved.

This entry was posted in Comparative Analyses, kobudo, Misc, New Developments, Prewar Okinawa Karate, Terminology, Theories of Historical Karate in Comparative Perspective, Unknown Ryukyu and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.