The 2nd Okinawa Karate Academy — An unknown group of early modern Karate persons (3) — Yonamine Isshun

On Monday, November 25, from 2-4 pm, the “2nd Okinawa Karate Academy” was held at the Auditorium on the 4th floor of the Okinawa Prefectural Office. The topic was new findings regarding “An unknown group of early modern Karate persons.”

Good friend Ulf Karlsson from Sweden and Morikazu Kyan from Okinawa attended, and Ulf shared the minutes of the lecture.

The speaker was Nakamura Akira of the Okinawa Prefectural Karate Promotion Division.


The achievements of experts such as Itosu Ankō (1831-1915), Hanashiro Chōmo (1869-1945), and Yabu Kentsū (1866-1937) are well known. However, there are karate persons from the initial stages of karate’s spread in educational settings who were forgotten and buried in history. In the current lecture, Nakamura Akira introduced three unknown karate persons and the “secret story of karate’s introduction” to school education.

The last installment is about kobujutsu or “ancient martial arts using weaponry.” Usually, there is a lack of information about kobujutsu at that time of early karate developments. Usually kobujutsu is spared from being accused of having gone through the process of technical sanitation that is typically believed to have been the case for karate in school education. As a result, kobujutsu is also believed to have been less charged with nationalistic and militaristic ideology all the way to 1945. However, the following research results necessitate to reconsider the notion that modern Okinawan kobujutsu was an original warrior martial arts from the kingdom times. Instead, modern Okinawan kobujutsu was probably spawned by the same momenta as karate. Continue reading to find out.

3. Yonamine Isshun (1877 – death dates unknown) — The First Teacher of Kobujutsu (in modern educational setting)

Short curriculum vitae

  • 1877: Born in Nakagusuku district.
  • 1898: Becomes a licensed elementary school teacher at Noguni Elementary School (at that time in Chatan district).
  • 1899: Held a speech at the ceremony of new recruits at Chatan district. There he used the phrase “Okinawa-style iron fist.”
  • Around January 1900: the term Tinbē appears in his memoirs of those days.
  • 1904: Composed “A Young Soldier’s Poem”, “Army War Songs”, and “Various Songs for the Russo-Japanese War”
  • 1907: Started education for children with visual or hearing disabilities at the Tokeji elementary school (he served as the principal).
  • 1909: He translated the Imperial Rescript on Education (1890) to Okinawan language and distributed mimeograph-made copies of it to schools and government offices in Nakagami district (published as the “Complete Textbook on the Imperial Rescript Written Down in Local Color,” 1934).
  • 1910: Prefectural Middle School students perform karate at the Mitō Elementary School, where he was being in office.
  • 1936: Published a proposal for the enforcement and popularization of “Physical exercises with the Bō” in “Okinawa Education” (No.233).

Looking at educators of modern Okinawa, Yonamine Isshun can be mentioned as a person who has demonstrated versatility. For example, he pioneered an Okinawan translation of the Imperial Rescript on Education (1890), composed music, and in addition was a pioneer of so-called special support education in Okinawa. For special support education, a monument of “School of Origin of Okinawa Handicapped Children Education” was erected in 1981 at Togeiji Elementary School in Yomitan Village, where Yonamine was active as a teacher. His achievement is honored in an inscription.

Among his activities was also the instruction of kobujutsu in school education.

Yonamine was born in 1877 in Nakagusuku district. He went to the Prefectural Normal School in Shuri and in 1898 became an elementary school teacher. It is unknown who he studied with, but before graduating from Normal School, he seemed to have been fond of Okinawa Karate. This is confirmed in his usage of the words “Okinawa-style iron fist” (phrase from a speech for new recruits) and “Tinbē” (in his memoirs for the time of around 1901-1902).

Above all, it was bōjutsu that Yonamine placed a lot of energy and focus on. It seems that he was teaching “bō taisō” (physical education or gymnastics with the bō) in the field of school education, and in 1936 he formulated his passion for bōjutsu in the announcement “Advocating the popularization of physical education using the bō” (“Okinawa Education,” No. 233).

Bōjutsu in Kakazu village, Tomigusuku, early Shōwa period (1926-).
From: Hokama Tetsuhiro: Okinawa Karate Kobudō no Shinzui, 1999, page 244.

Yonamine proved his preference in saying, “In Okinawa, karate-jutsu and bōjutsu are handed down as martial arts (bugei),” and that “In recent years especially karate-jutsu reached Tokyo, the Kansai region (south-western half of Japan, including Osaka), Hokkaido, and other regions.” However, with regard to bōjutsu he described the then current status as: “I feel that there are few people who focus on its research, and also the kinds of kata are quite strange when compared to karate, and they only amount to 10 kinds (of kata).” At that time, Yonamine was sixty years old, and was becoming increasingly distant from the educational field. This sentence may have been meant to petition future teachers to inherit and hand down kobujutsu.

Lastly, Yonamine Isshun’s activities can be confirmed by his attendance of a roundtable called “The Enjoyment of Being an Educator” held in 1939. It is not well known how he lived throughout his later years, or what kata of bōjutsu he handed down.

© 2019, Andreas Quast. All rights reserved.

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