“Bo” and “Ken” 1866

01as another snippet of Ryūkyūan martial arts history during kingdom times, the scene of this short post are the laws in Ryūkyū. I guess most people are unaware that there were actual laws that regulated physical violence, the use of weapons etc. in old Okinawa. As is generally known, since the invasion by the House of Shimazu in 1609, Ryūkyū was under a double-dependency under both China and Japan. In 1775 the Ryūkyū Karitsu was enacted to serve as the penal code for the Ryūkyū Kingdom. In the preface of this text it is stated that,

”Even though governing the country is based on moral education, the enactment of criminal, administrative and civil codes are absolutely necessary.”

Furthermore, as a suzerainty under China and a feudatory to the Satsuma domain under the Japanese shōgunate,

“… the judicial texts of China and Japan were considered the precedent for this country (Ryūkyū) and used as reference.”

market_smThe history of laws in Ryūkyū is important for understanding “Koryū Karate.” So why is the study of judiciary texts neglected by basically all authors? I don’t know. But as regards criminal cases, the terms bō (cudgel) and ken (fist) appeared in a paragraph on page 14 of a legal text called Gohōjō. The Gohōjō, or “Royal Penal Code”, was first produced in 1860. It summarised parts of older Ryūkyūan law codes, namely the Ryūkyū Karitsu and the Ryūkyū Shinshū Karitsu.

The part in question deals with criminal cases of completed or attempted premeditated murder, the role of bystanders, level of injuries, etc. The punishments ranged from execution by decapitation to lifetime in exile.

It is important to note that here in this official document the term ken (fist) was used for karate-like martial arts in 1860.

Excerpt from Gohojo, showing the entry on bo and ken.

Excerpt from Gohōjō (1866), showing the entry on bo and ken. From: Matsumoshi Tōshin: Gohōjō. Transliteration 1866 (original 1860).


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