The name of the kata is usually written in kana as 白樽の棍. In standard Japanese this is pronounced “Shirotaru no Kon.” In Okinawan dialect it is pronounced “Shiratarū nu Kun” シラタルーヌクン.
Otherwise the name is also sometimes written in kana as 白太郎の棍. In standard Japanese this is pronounced “Shirotarō no Kon.” In Okinawan dialect it is pronounced “Shiratarā nu Kun” シラタラーヌクン.
For convenience of the reader, I will simply continue to refer to it as “Shirotaru.”
It should be noted that Taru 樽 has been an Okinawan childhood name (warabina) for centuries. Tarō 太郎, on the other hand, is a mainland Japanese male name.
In any case, the kata varieties under both the names “Shirotaru no Kon” and “Shirotarō no Kon” without any doubt are of a similar lineage. The change in kanji from Taru 樽 to Tarō 太郎 must have taken place at some time during the transmission in different lineages. However, in the prewar era, there are only written sources that write Shirotaru 白樽. I suppose that the kanji Shirotarō 白太郎 are the more modern variant, probably chosen to distinguish the kata and/or its lineage for whatever reason.
Variants and Lineages
Well, the most difficult topic is that of variants and lineages of Shirotaru no Kon.
Kata Different from Miki
A version of Shirotaru no Kon was handed down by Kyan Shin’ei. Since there is an old film of him performing the kata which is available on Youtube, this version is relatively well-known. Since Kyan was among the most important teachers of the Matsubayashi-ryū, within which he also taught kobudō, this version of the kata is especially widespread among Matsubayashi-ryū dōjō and its spin-offs. Recently this version has been made available on Youtube within the efforts of the 2018 Okinawa Karate International Tournament. Here we can see Tamaki Tsuyoshi performing this same kata. The only difference to Kyan’s version are three additional techniques at the end. BTW, here the name is given as Shirotarō no Kon 白太郎の棍.
Well, Kyan had joined the karate club of the Okinawa Prefectural Teachers’ College (Okinawa-ken Shihan Gakkō) in April 1927. Kyan became a student of Ōshiro Chōjo at that time, so there is a chance that he could have learned Shirotaru from Ōshiro Chōjo. However, his version is different from that of Miki. While there might be multiple reasons for this, it is also said in oral tradition that Kyan’s version of Shirotaru no Kon came from Izumikawa Kantoku (1905–1977). Izumikawa served as an assistant instructor of Ōshiro Chōjo in both karate and kobudō (OKKJ 2008: 385–86, 407). Together with Kyan Shin’ei, Izumikawa was a also a student of Kina Shōsei (OKKJ 2008: 414).
Well, according to Ulf Karlsson, Kyan’s version is close to the version handed down in the Bugeikan. Higa Seitoku of the Bugeikan learned Yamane-ryū bōjutsu from Chinen Masami and was the only person who received a shihan license by Chinen Masami.
The Ryūkonkai was established in 1981 by Iha Kōtarō, who had learned kobudō from above-mentioned Izumikawa Kantoku (OKKJ 2008: 309, 629). Therefore, the Ryūkonkai version of Shirotaru no Kon should be the same as that of Kyan Shin’ei, however, it slightly differs. In fact, when studying it closely, it seems to be the same version from the same source, just abbreviated at various points: there are things missing when compared to Kyan’s version. Here are some observations:
- The intro is the same (sec. 05-012), but then Iha left out the right side combo seen at Kyan and instead steps forward with the left foot to perform the left hand combo.
- Iha also does not perform the gedan uke and gedan nuki-zuki seen at Kyan.
- During the last combination towards the front, Iha has some techniques less than Kyan.
- The last lane (towards the back direction) is basically the same.
Of course, and just as in case of Kyan Shin’ei, the Ryūkonkai version is also different from Miki. It is not only clearly visible in the intro section, but also in that throughout the kata neither Kyan nor Iha perform the ippon-dachi sunakake as well as the jōdan-nuki of Miki’s version.
As a resume, I would say that Iha’s version is the same as Kyan Shin’ei’s, it is just abbreviated at various points, and also leaves out the signature technique of gedan-uke and nuki-zuki. But it clearly is of the same origin as the version of Kyan Shinei, just hard to see for non-experts.
Today two versions of Shirotaru no Kon can be found and are practiced within the bōjutsu curriculum at the dōjō of Taira Yoshitaka, Hanshi. One is the above-mentioned version of Kyan Shin’ei, and the other is the version by Kishaba Chōgi (safety advice: turn volume down). This kata is said to have been handed down by Chinen Masami, but it is quite different from that of Higa Seitoku of the Bugeikan, who also learned from Chinen Masami and received a teaching license. For this reason, there is an oral tradition that “only Sensei Kishaba knows all kata of Yamane-ryū.”
Maybe this is true. However, I still can’t escape the feeling that – while being based on older versions – Kishaba’s Shirotaru is a creatively enhanced version. Maybe it is even a mix between something like a version close to Miki’s plus Kyan Shin’ei’s version plus X. This would not at all be astonishing, because Kishaba Chōgi was active among many persons of the Matsubayashi-ryū and even performed Matsubayashi-ryū kata (the video shows Fukyu-gata Ni, not Gekisai Dai Ichi).
One interesting point is that – while it is the version most different from Miki, mostly an simply due to it’s length – it has the abbreviated first left lane found in Miki’s written description. There are many other things to note but I just leave it like that.
Taira Shinken lineages on Okinawa
The Shirotaru no Kon of the Taira Shinken lineages of Okinawa was handed down by Yabiku Mōden (Cf. Ko Taira Shinken Senshi etc. 1976). This means the lineage of the kata is Chinen Sanrā – Yabiku Mōden – Taira Shinken.
This version is distinctly different to Miki’s version in various places, but has also many similarities. The combis are similar and here we finally find the ippon-dachi and sunakake combi as well as the jōdan-nuki of Miki’s version.
In this version, there is also the pronounced “Shirotaru no kamae” both at the beginning as well as at the end. This lacks in the other versions.
In any case, it remains a version different to that of Miki.
The Same Kata as by Miki
Shirotaro no Kun Dai as described and depicted by Inoue Motokatsu is the same kata as Miki’s version (Cf: Ryūkyū Kobudō Chūkan, 1974, pp. 274–309). This version probably came from what is called Kakazu-bō in Tomigusuku. There, four students of Chinen Sanrā handed down four Yamane-ryū kata which were found in the dōjō of Akamine Eisuke. It is possible that Miki’s version is the same version as had been handed down in Akamine Sensei’s Shimbukan school. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to learn this kata or see it performed, but I saw a photo series of the techniques. But I have learned the old-style version of Shūshi no Kon from this school and – while a few parts are missing – it is the same version as that of Miki. After all I do not know whether Shirotaru no Kon was actually practically handed down in Shimbukan and if so, if it is technically complete.
In any case, this would be an explanation for how the kata reached into Inoue Motokatsu’s curriculum.
Some branches of the Shōtōkai also practice Shirotaru no Kon. This version is also clearly of the same origin as Miki’s version. An interesting thing is that they pronounce the kanji not as Shirotaru, but in alternative spelling as Hakuson. Miki also called the kata Hakuson no Kon…
In the Shōtōkai it is said that their bōkata came from Funakoshi Gigō (1906–1945), who went to Okinawa upon his father’s suggestion one or two times each year to update and learn from Ōshiro Chōjo. This is a little difficult to prove.
BTW, Miki and his co-author Takada were at the Tōkyō Imperial University. Funakoshi Gichin was a teacher there. However, when the students began to ask questions Funakoshi could not answer, and they started to experiment kumite with protectors etc. it is said that Funakoshi didn’t like it at all and because of that finally left his karate teaching job at the Tōkyō Imperial University due to conflict with Miki and his co-author Takada (Mutsu) Mizuho. So this is an extremely difficult topic for students of Shōtōkan.
In this connection, Shōtōkai’s version of Shūshi no Kon is also exactly the same as described by Miki. At second 0:28 they even make a step described and shown by Miki, which however I think is simply a mistake. No other version of Shūshi no Kon does this, only that of Miki and the Shōtōkai.
Because of the above, there are actually a number of possibilities.
- Ōshiro Chōjo actually taught the same version to both Miki and Funakoshi Gigō.
- Miki made a mistake and all who learned from him or the book did the same mistake.
- Someone on the mainland learned the kata from Miki.
- Someone learned the kata from a student of Miki.
- Someone learned kata from Miki’s book, but couldn’t tell, because Miki was a renegade. So a legend was invented.
It should also be noted that these bō kata are NOT found in Shōtōkan as a whole, but only in certain branches of the Shōtōkai…
To be fair, I’ve been told that the book “Karatedō Nyūmon” says that 5 bō kata were practiced at Shōtōkan: Shūshi no Kon, Sueyoshi no Kon, Matsukaze no Kon (created by Gigō), Sakugawa no Kon, and Shirotaru no Kon.
Well, the “Karatedō Nyūmon” is a posthumous compilation of writings, personal notes and records from the bequest of Funakoshi Gichin. I therefore ordered the book to see what has been said exactly, and by whom. The reason is that – as far as I know – Funakoshi himself did not mention Shirotaru no Kon etc. in any of his own books.
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