When Karate was Military Drill

In 1872, the Japanese government introduced a new educational system which emphasized the “threefold objective of academic education, moral education, and physical education.” The latter of which–physical education–was based on Western physical education. A first move to look into Japanese bujutsu-based physical education as a useful contribution to mandatory school education was taken in 1883. It had been ordered by the Japanese Ministry of Education (monbushō) and the respective research was carried out by members of the Institute of Physical Education (Taisō Denshūjo). Members of the committee were German physicians Erwin Bälz (1849-1913) and Julius K. Scriba (1848-1905), Miyake Hi’izu 三宅秀 (1848-1938), Hisatomi Tetsutarō 久富鐵太郎,  Shibukawa Hangorō 渋川伴五郎 (1866-1924), and Tomita Masanao. On October 13th, 1884 the committee concluded that jūjutsu and gekken (fencing, precursor to kendō) where not suitable in their original form, but might constitute a useful contribution only when modified for school education (Crée 2012: 7-8).

In accordance with the new Meiji educational system, formal physical education had been introduced in the Shuri Middle School in 1887 and later became the basis for military-drill schedules (Kerr 1958: 413-14). Although Okinawa had been the only Japanese prefecture exempted from the otherwise nation-wide Conscription Ordinance (chōheirei) of 1872 (Smits 1999: 149), in December 1890 ten young Okinawans volunteered for training as noncommissioned officers at the Rikugun Kyōdōdan military academy of the Imperial Japanese Army (Kerr 1958: 418. OKKJ 2008: 544). Among those were Hanashiro Chōmo, Kudeken Kenyū (1869–1940) and Yabu Kentsū (1866–1937), with twenty-four year old Yabu obviously a member of the Shuri Middle School staff at the time (OKKJ 2008: 544). During the medical service examination, due to their excellent physique these three gained a very good rating from the army doctors, which is said they had gained through Karate training (Shinzato 1996: 264. OKKJ 2008: 494, 544). For this reason, both military authorities as well as the prefectural government are said to have become interested in Karate.

Soldiers of the Kumamoto Garrison with bayonet rifles (jūken) in front of the Kankaimon front gate of Shuri Castle. Following the Ryūkyū Shobun. The Kumamoto Garrison had been sent by the Meiji government and was lodged inside Shuri Castle.
Soldiers of the Kumamoto Garrison with bayonet rifles (jūken) in front of the Kankaimon front gate of Shuri Castle. Following the Ryūkyū Shobun. The Kumamoto Garrison had been sent by the Meiji government and lodged inside Shuri Castle.

In 1893, Yabu Kentsū was promoted to Army sergeant first class and assigned to the Kumamoto detachment stationed at Shuri castle. Simultaneously he was commissioned to teach military drill (heishiki kyōren) both at the Normal School (Shihan Gakkō) and 1st Prefectural Middle School, in Shuri. Following the declaration of the 1st Sino-Japanese War in August 1894, Yabu served his deed of arms in the campaign. For his war merits he earned the Sino-Japanese War Medal of Honor (Jugunkisho) and the 8th Class White Paulownia Leaves Medal (Hakusho kutōyoshō) (OKKJ 2008: 544).

Although Yabu was the most famous among the early military volunteers, he was not the only one. In 1891 seventeen Okinawan volunteers followed suite (Kerr 1958: 418) and in 1892 a man called Yagi

“left his home and entered the Rikugun Kyōdōdan military academy, from which he graduated as a sergeant in 1894. In the 1st Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) he served under Major General Ōshima Yoshimasa and fiercely fought in all places. Having achieved meritorious war service, he was promoted to Master Sergeant.”

Yagi Sōchō no Kangeikai (The Welcome Party for Master Sergeant Yagi). In: Ryūkyū Shinpō, October 21, 1899.「屋宜曹長の歓迎会」。琉球新報、明治 32 年10 月21 日。Translation by A. Quast, 2013.

In Okinawa at the time, the opposing political parties took a stand. Personnel and pupils of both the Shuri Normal School and the Shuri Middle School established patriotic societies (Giyudan) and primary school students changed their hairdo to crew cut fashion. In addition, regular gymnastics (futsū-taisō) as well as Western-style military drill (heishiki-taisō) were designed as physical education to be carried out within the middle school curriculum since around 1894 (Ryūkyū Shinpō, April 1, 1894. Cf. Lu 2011: 57-58). The term Taisō was originally introduced by Amane Nishi, concurrent member in the Ministry of Education AND Ministry of the Army, for the latter of which he authored the “Soldier’s Moral Laws.” The term Taisō was closely associated to military drill from the beginning and “linked to the issue of how to build a modern army structure nation wide.” At the time of the outbreak of the Japanese-Russian War, Japanese schools were not only places where education was provided. They rather also functioned to mold future conscripts“ into a form desired by the nation while skillfully hiding the original purpose.” The command Kiotsuke (Body at the Position of Attention!) –present in all Karate dōjō worldwide to this day–was created within the development of military Taisō (CF. Shimizu Satoshi: The Concept of Taisō. Transformation of the Meaning of the Body – Plurality of the Body in Japanese Cultural Contexts. Centre for the Study of Body Culture. No year. Cf. www.taiiku.tsukuba.ac.jp).

Furthermore, 1894 saw the establishment of the Okinawa Branch of the Women’s Association of Patriotism (Aikoku Fujinkai Okinawa Shibu)(Uechi 1977: 389). Undoubtedly, such institutions had been well-directed educational centers of the pro-nationalistic faction from the very start.

Ceremonies were staged praying for the victory of the Japanese troops and on Yaeyama and Ishigaki an athletic meet was held in celebration of Japan. Needless to say, the 1st Sino-Japanese War was accompanied by a mood of victory among the pro-nationalistic Okinawans (Shinzato 1996: 264). At this point in time it became visible that

“as for the dichotomy between China and Japan in the Meiji era, it was the Okinawans themselves who, on their own initiative, turned toward the latter.”

Steve Rabson: Meiji Assimilation Policy in Okinawa: Promotion, Resistance, and “Reconstruction”. In: Hardacre/Kern 1997: 646

Following the Chinese defeat in 1895, war triumph celebrations took place all over Okinawa prefecture. The Japanese victory brought to an end–after more than twenty years–the “Ryūkyū Question,” and also “China’s ancient claim to military and political greatness” in Asia (Kerr 1958: 392, 422). The Treaty of Shimonoseki, signed on April 17, 1895, brought Taiwan under Japanese control. After a short military expedition against local forces Taiwan remained occupied until 1945, with Okinawans serving within the Taiwan occupation forces (Ryūkyū Shinpō, October 21, 1899. See also Kadekaru 2012: 177). Consequently, Okinawa ceased to be a direct frontier area of the Japanese Empire (Kerr 1958: 423. The treaty is considered to have laid the foundations for the Japanese aggressions throughout the following decades until the 1930s, including the stepwise control over Korea (1910), the Manchuria crisis (1931), the outbreak of the 2nd Sino-Japanese War (1937), and finally the ensuing 2nd World War in East Asia).

Those Ryūkyūans who had still hold for China prior to the war now “saw that Japan with her new methods could conquer China” (Schwartz 1910: 87) and began to favor the Japanese (Leavenworth 1905: 59, according to an eyewitness account). As a result, the pro-Chinese party in Ryūkyū and abroad began to cease dramatically. On the other hand, with all hopes for the restoration of the Ryūkyū kingdom buried, and the combined education and military policy getting a grip, a rapid Japanization was achieved. At this moment the three crucial factors for the success of Okinawa’s assimilation into the Japanese Empire were in gear (adapted from Akita 2008: 86-87):

  1. The successful implementation of a combined education and military policy, or “conscription-agers education.”
  2. The reinforcement of the pro-nationalistic faction (kaikatō) .
  3. The victory in the 1st Sino-Japanese War.

With these prerequisites, the Japanese government in earnest began the institutional integration of Okinawa and “Yamato.” Imperial Decree No. 142 of October 4, 1895 stated the partial enforcement of the conscription ordinance in Okinawa Prefecture (Okinawa-ken ni Chōheirei no Ichibu Sekō no Kudari 沖縄県ニ徴兵令ノ一部施行ノ件). It established a system of a six-week active duty as soldiers, compulsory for all primary school teachers who graduated from Shuri Normal School. Compared to three years of the regular draft this was rather short. However, rather than aiming at producing real soldiers, the Meiji government, the Ministry of Education, and the War Department intended this measure as to “inject national spirit” (Kokumin seishin o chūnyū 国民精神ヲ注入). It was performed as “one measure to develop the ethos of the imperial subjects” (Jinmin shisō no hattatsu o hakaru isshudan 人民志操ノ発達ヲ計ル一手段. Kondō 1994: 9-10).

In 1896 the Kumamoto detachment (Kumamoto bunkentai) –stationed at Shuri Castle since 1875-76–was abolished. With Imperial Decree No. 258 of July 1, 1897, the general conscription ordinance was enforced for Okinawa Prefecture (Okinawa-ken oyo Tōkyō-fu Kanka Ogasawarajima ni Chōheirei o shikōsuru no Kudari 沖縄県及東京府管下小笠原島ニ徴兵令ヲ施行スルノ件).

In accordance to it, conscription was valid in Okinawa as of January 1, 1898 (Kondō 1994: 10. Smits 1999: 149. Uechi 1977: 389).

On March 5, 1898, Imperial Decree No. 36 promulgated the Ordinance of the Okinawa Garrison Headquarter (Okinawa Keibitai-ku Shireibu Jōrei). The headquarter functioned solely as a conscription office: no soldiers were deployed on Okinawa itself: Okinawan conscripts as of 1898/12/1 were assigned to the Army 6th Division 13th Regiment (Kumamoto), Army 23rd Regiment (Kumamoto), Army 45th Regiment (Kagoshima), Army 46th Regiment (Ōmura), Army 12th Division 14th Regiment (Kokura), Army 24th Regiment (Fukuoka), 47th Regiment (Kokura), 48th Regiment (Kurume), and the Sasebo Navy Base.

On April 12 five officials assumed office under Commandant Shimoe Takashi and the conscription office was launched on April 15. Here we find Yabu Kentsū again, who was transferred from the Army’s 6th Division 13th Infantry Regiment in Kumamoto to the Okinawa Garrison Headquarter, where he was responsible during the 1st to the 3rd conscription examinations (OKKJ 2008: 544).

Yabu Kentsu around 1936 (OKKJ 2008: 586). Following his military career, Yabu was appointed instructor of physical education and military drill at the Okinawa Normal School in Shuri.

The Ryūkyū Shinpō (1898/4/25) posted the article “Regulations for Conscription-agers” (Chōhei tekirei-sha no kokoroe 徴兵適齢者の心得. Kondō 1994: 13), giving the details of what was expected of conscripts, including standard language, hygiene regulations, hairdo, punishments etc. The crew cut fashionable in schools and elsewhere at that time was a result of the conscription regulations (Kondō 1994: 10-14. Uechi 1977: 389).

Newspapers and educators in Okinawa all welcomed the conscription ordinance. School teachers, officials of the Prefectural Department of Educational Affairs and others had established the Okinawa Private Education Association (Okinawa-ken Shiritsu Kyōikukai) –of which Governor Narahara Shigeru became the director–and welcomed the implementation of the six-week active soldier duty system compulsory for all primary school teachers. According to one theory they saw it as an opportunity for Okinawa to gain social status among the other prefectures by actively facilitating military education already in primary school, thus providing future conscripts to be ready and able at the time of call of duty (Kondō 1994: 10).

Military policy and education policy at the time were inseparable and aggressively implemented within the institutional organization of the prefecture (This was first pointed out by Taminato Tomoaki 田港朝昭, in Okinawa Kenshi, Vol. 4, 1966, and later by Kondō 1994). It took entry at what was considered the “profitable education” of primary school pupils. The combined policy focused on the immediate enforcement of the conscription ordinance by means of the education system. Logically, this was intrinsically tied to the education of primary and middle school teachers as key factors for Okinawans “becoming loyal subjects” (Chūryo naru shinmin 忠良なる臣民). In this way, Okinawan school education became a “conscription-agers education” (Sōteikyōiku) (Kondō 1994: 11).

Since August 1898 the Ryūkyū Shinpō published various articles about what was euphemistically termed “education of conscription-winners” (Chōhei Tōsensha Kyōiku 徴兵当籤者教育). For this sort of education, the military assigned school teachers to prepare future conscripts.

For instance, in 1898 at the Shuri Primary school, the director Morita Shōan and the four licensed teachers Kudaka Yūtaku, Yogi Seichū, Nagamine Chōtei, Shimabukuro Seishō were assigned to perform “conscription education.” Every day from 12 to 2 o’clock necessary training for future conscripts was carried out. It included various regulations and rules for enlisted soldiers, the Japanese syllabary, geography etc. (Cf. Preparation of Conscription-winners from Shuri District for Entering the Military (Shuri-ku Chōhei Tōsensha Nyūei Junbi 首里区徴兵当籤者入営準備), in: Ryūkyū Shinpō 1898/9/9). This special “education of conscription-winners” was implemented throughout Okinawa prefecture and lasted 2–3 months just prior of entering the barracks (Kondō 1994: 18-19).

Western-style military drill (heishiki-taisō), which was tightly incorporated into Okinawan education, was later merged with karate for the same purpose. It is little known that since around the time of the Japanese-Russian War (1904–05) Funakoshi Gichin, Hanashiro Chōmo and other like-minded people toured various places within Okinawa Prefecture to showcase karate at festivals and the like (OKKJ 2008: 170) to raise warlike spirit among citizens.

There are also interesting expressions found in Hanashiro’s “Karate Kumite” (1905), a book considered to have been written for karate instruction of school children at the 1st Prefectural Middle School in Shuri. One expression is bōfutsu/fusebarai 防拂à防払 or “defensive sweep.” During Hanashiro’s era, this phrase was typically found in manuals for military drill (heishiki taisō), of which there are numerous examples. These military drill manuals included didactically prepared descriptions of the individual equipment that was used, the commandos, formations, the methods of moving forward and backward, individual and partner exercises, etc. The structure and general fashion of such manuals match with that of Hanashiro’s “Karate Kumite.” Actually, the two opponents of the karate kumite where referred to by Hanashiro as the “selected soldiers” (選兵).

© 2019, Andreas Quast. All rights reserved.

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