The Mice Athletic Meet – Reality Check on Okinawa Karate Anecdotes

This is about a story from Kinjo Sensei’s last book. It is a rich book with lots of great insights, theories, technical descriptions, thoughts, attempts at classification, personal experiences and so forth. I particularly liked a story from Kinjo’s youth seemingly unrelated to karate. It is the story of the Mice Athletic Meet.

In Okinawa, even when it comes to our age, there were awfully many mice. At night-time, mice were running around in the gap of the intermediate ceiling and in the kitchen as if they owned the place.

In my childhood years, during night-time, when the mice ran around in the gap of the intermediate ceiling, we would say ‘And once more the Mice Athletic Meet began,’ and start laughing together. In such a living environment, what would happen if you left one straw bag of rice in the corner of the kitchen for so long that dust piles up? It would be devoured by the mice.

So how was rice stored? Rice that was used every day was stored in a lacquered, round barrel-shaped rice bin about 45 centimeters high and 30 centimeters in diameter. Rice that was stored a little longer was stored in a large wooden box covered with a lid to prevent it from being harmed by mice. When I was a child, I remember well that our home had a lacquered rice bin that had been passed down from my great-grandfather’s generation.

The history and characters of Okinawa karate are often accompanied by hero stories. You start wondering how many of them are true and how many are mere barbershop gossip. It seems that the less is actually known about a person, the more stories there are. Such anecdotes tend to be exaggerated more and more, as in Chinese whispers. On the contrary, “important truths are sometimes not handed down,” Kinjo writes, saying that he has a “feeling that many of these stories are similar to fiction,” such as the following anecdote surrounding Matsumura Sōkon.

It was said that night after night a mysterious boxer appeared, who challenged young men who took pride in their skills, and easily defeated them all. Finally, it was Sōkon’s turn. The first bout ended in a draw, but in the next bout Sōkon was victorious.

But wait, what? His opponent was a woman named Tsuru! So, Sōkon fell in love with her, and they got married.

Not only that. There’s a sequel to it. The story is that his wife was such an incredibly strong person that, when doing the cleaning, she lifted a bag of rice with one hand while sweeping the dust from under the bag with the other hand. This is also a cock-and-bull story, isn’t it?

In short, Kinjo questions the veracity of the story and gives it a reality check. It means that it is unlikely that anyone would place a bag of rice on the ground in Okinawa at the time.

© 2023, Andreas Quast. All rights reserved.

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