Maintaining the Unaltered Technique

In today’s Okinawa Times is an article on Mr. Nakazato Takeshi, 2nd generation Sōke of Shōrinji-ryū and Chairman of Zen Okinawa Shōrinji-ryū Karatedo Kyōkai.

I would like to shortly share some parts of it.

As for the context, the founder and 1st sōke of Shōrinji-ryū was Nakazato Jōen, a school teacher and former village headman of Chinen in Nanjo City in southern Okinawa main island. Nakazato Takeshi, who is from the same paternal line of the family entered Nakazato Jōen’s dōjō in 1973, when he was in the fifth grade of Chinen Elementary School. In 2006, Nakazato Jōen asked him if he would like take over the school as the second generation sōke, and Nakazato Takeshi accepted. This is interesting because it shows the regional character of Okinawa karate as well as family relation, the latter of which is gaining more importance again: At the beginning of the 20th century there was karate in school education as part of the conscription society, where personal relation didn’t matter. Then, youth clubs were established which were meetings of regional experts, followed by styles in the 1930s, which also didn’t emphasize family relation. Styles and associations were the centers of karate traditions for decades in the postwar era, while so-called “family styles” came into fashion. Today many of the Okinawan schools again emphasize the factor of the family lineage.

Nakazato Takeshi currently serves as the president of a subsidiary company of Okinawa Electric Power Co., Inc. After returning home from work, he spends 1-2 hours almost every day on the second floor of his home in Yonabaru to practice kata. Once a week on Saturdays he teaches four high-ranking students. This is interesting, because it is natural that people have a job besides karate. It should be a good paying job because running a dōjō is like running a company, with income and expenses, facility and operating costs, etc. Some people might wonder about the quantity of training, but considering that dōjō owners have a family and a job, there is not much time left to train. Full-time karate instructors have to be either well-to-do, retired, or rather both, because you need both money and time. It is the same as everywhere in the world. The most important question in this is the financing of it. I remember how a sensei (now 9th or 10th dan) told me how there were many more dōjō in his association, but most went bankrupt. The standard training hours were three times a week, for two hours, and that only got better once the person retires. Another related issue is that curricula are grown and changed continuously for the sole reason of generating teaching material. It seems this is because some people have too much time at hand and that is good for them, but for a regular person, this is impractical, so don’t let yourself get stressed out by what people with too much time at hand came up with on some boring, rainy afternoon, while you were working hard to make ends meet.

Remembering the beginning of his training, Nakazato Takashi says that beginners worked on the progress of their foot work, and after training for several months, they learned the basic techniques such as thrusting and kicking. Nakazato Takeshi also “strengthened himself” with kumite when he was young, but the training was centered on learning the kata. Like this, while Nakazato Jōen was watching, Nakazato Takeshi would perform the kata one by one. During those performances he wondered, “Did I do something wrong?,” however, he didn’t feel like he could ask questions during instruction, so he got into the habit of thinking about stuff for himself. I found this part most interesting because it probably shows the traditional way of teaching: just do it and get to grips by your own reflection and experimentation. I think it is extremely important to understand that, because some guys just cannot leave you alone and while this is unacceptable anyway, they probably just got the didactics wrong.

The Shōrinji-ryū headquarter is called the Kyūdōkan. Kyūdō is a word borrowed from Buddhism, meaning “to practice in search of perfection in one Way,” or more simple: “seeking after truth.” A framed writing in the dōjō says, “Yesterday’s first rank is not necessarily tomorrow’s first rank. You have to do it today,” which emphasizes the importance of daily practice. Another framed writing says, “ikki suisha ikki,” literally one vessel represents one vessel. It means to inherit the techniques and the spirit in its entirety, like transferring water from one vessel to another, without adding or substracting anything. In Shōrinji-ryū, it means to inherit the direct tradition of Kyan Chōtoku (1870–1945).

Nakazato Takeshi says that “You shouldn’t change any of the kata you learned from your predecessors. This is because kata is made up of a rational structure of how to use the body to perform techniques without strain, without waste, without irregularity, and in the shortest possible time.” So not changing anything is an important part of the Shōrinji-ryū ideal.

Nakazato Takeshi says that Kyan Chōtoku learned Ānankū from a master in Taiwan, and that this kata is handed down only in the Shōrinji-ryū. There is a poster with the lineage of the individual kata in the dōjō since the time of Nakazato Jōen, which tells that Ānankū was learned from a master in Taiwan. Obviously not only techniques, but also traditions and stories must remain unchanged.

There is also the kata of Kūsankū that teaches the idea of “karate ni sente nashi” (there is no first attack in karate): You first draw a circle with your hands to prevent four attacks, and then move on to offense and defense. In this school, Kūsankū is taught to those who have 5th dan or higher. Next, Tokumine no Kon has continuous deflections and attacks, as well as a quick-moving thrusting and striking techniques. After Nakazato Takeshi got his 6th dan, he learned this kata from Nakazato Jōen. It shows that there is the hierarchy of kata, which to a certain degree is surely necessary, but at the same time is an issue related to the ponderous, strict, and guild-like structure of the origanizations called dōjō. However, as Nakazato Takeshi emphasized, teaching is not to produce a large quantity of students, but quality is. Therefore, this strict technical hierarchy of inheritance is probably the dōjō‘s take on quality assurance.

And these were my thoughts about today’s article.


“Inheriting the Essence.” Faithfully Inheriting the Ancestor’s Kata. Nakazato Takeshi (60), 2nd Generation Sōke of Shōrinji-ryū, and Chairman of Zen Okinawa Shōrinji-ryū Karatedo Kyōkai. Inheriting the Techniques of Chanmī’s Anankū. Maintaining the “Unaltered” [Technique] without Futility in the Shortest [Time]. Monthly Okinawa Karate, No. 262, Okinawa Times, June 5, 2022.

© 2022, Andreas Quast. All rights reserved.

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