Minowa Katsuhiko was a karate and kobudo practitioner and one of Taira Shinken’s original students. Minowa began training with Taira around 1960. At that time, Taira had no dojo of his own and training was conducted out of one of the rooms in Taira’s home several times a week. Training essentially consisted of kata practice.
Unlike karate, there were no set of basic techniques (kihon) that students drilled in, and all practice was individualized to the student. Taira taught each student according to his ability or interest. If the student was weak in one part of a kata, he was corrected and told to repeat that part until the mistake had been eliminated.
There were a handful of senior students of Taira at the time, who learned the same kata, although they learned the kata in a different order. Also, Minowa explicitly states that Taira failed to teach some of the kata he knew to his Okinawan students before he passed away. For instance, Taira did not teach Tsuken Bo to any of his senior Okinawan students. However, Minowa was able to learn Tsuken Bo from Mie Junshin, a Shorin-ryu practitioner, and other students of Taira probably also collected “missing kata” elsewhere.
In short, there was no curriculum and set order under Taira Shinken, but these were only developed after Taira’s death in 1970.
Minowa explicitly stated that Taira did not teach all the kata he knew to his Okinawan senior students. Therefore, today’s kata lists of the Taira lineage are lists of the kata that Taira knew, but not necessary lists of kata that Taira personally taught to the list creator. This is also evident in the fact that some kata attributed to Taira and featured in kata lists of some Okinawan dojo or publication are not taught at all. An explanation by the dojo goes that there were too many kata, but obviously they might have simply never learned it, which might be considered an uncomfortable fact, however, it is just human. I have also heard that some kata are currently being “revived” and there must be sufficient videos material etc. to do so.
Next, there were several weapons in Taira’s home such as tecchu and sanbon nunchaku that none of his students ever practiced. Taira admitted that he himself never learned any techniques or kata for these weapons. Therefore, some people later began to create techniques and even kata on their own. In this way, various of Taira’s students made their own contributions by creating new kobudo kata.
The most striking characteristic of Taira’s kobudo – particularly when considered from today’s application hype – is that there weren’t any yakusoku kumite sets. There was a set of bo vs. sai and a two-man bunkai for Sakugawa no Kon Sho, however, these were created by Akamine Eisuke. There were a few individual techniques for certain weapons such as bo and tonfa, though, that were largely based upon kata techniques, but nothing close to an organized analysis, just a little this and that. In short, there was no prearranged weapons kumite practice under Taira Shinken, and certainly no free sparring or an organized, methodical analysis of applications. From that reason, and with the exception of bo vs. sai and Sakugawa no Kon Sho two man set, the yakusoku kumite of Taira’s senior students are all different. In short, no methodical study of kobudo applications were handed down to or by Taira, right?
Well, after receiving a teaching license in Uechi-ryu by Uechi Kanei in 1968, Minowa received a kobudo teaching license from Taira in 1970. In 1976, at Taira’s 7th death anniversary memorial training, Minowa served as the board chairman of the Ryukyu Kobudo Hozon Shinkokai, the association established by Taira. At that time, Minowa gave both the opening and the closing speech of the martial arts demonstration meeting, at which he performed the rare Chatan Yara no Kon as the only person among 58 performers. I wonder if it was Minowa who preserved and taught Chatan Yara no Kon to others?
In 1977, Minowa passed on his dojo in Matsukawa, Naha, to one of his students and returned to Amami Oshima, where he taught Uechi-ryu and Ryukyu Kobudo until he retired in 1987.
From the above you can see that Minowa was highly competent.
One more thing: While there are several classical kata taught by Taira, there are also his own choreographies (kata). Most importantly, none of Taira’s senior students was able to convincingly present an explanation as to how Taira got each of his kata, whether they are classical, or whether he just – by and large – created them from fragments gathered here and there.
What I take away from the above thoughts is that – just as in case of Okinawa karate – the postwar era in Okinawa since about the 1960s was a great era of kobudō inventors and inventions in Okinawa. The above also shows that the designation as “kobudo” (ancient martial art) in Okinawa is misleading, since there are all sorts of new inventions and creations and while based on folklore and fragments, much of it has simply been invented in the postwar era.
- McKenna, Mario: Re-examining Ryukyu Kobudo. An Interview with Minowa Katsuhiko. In: JOURNAL OF ASIAN MARTIAL ARTS, Vol. 8, Nr. 1, 1999, pp. 74-91. Via Media. ISSN 1057-8385.
- Ko Taira Shinken Senshi Nana Shūki Tsuitō. Karate Dō, Kobudō Enbu Taikai. Taira Shinken Den. Shusei: Ryūkyū Kobudō Hozon Shinkōkai. Kōen: Zen Okinawa Karate Dō Renmei, Ryûkyû Shinpôsha. Date and time: 11 Oktober 1976, 14.00 o’lock. Place : Naha City Hall.
- Various dojo kata lists from Okinawan dojo or publications.
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