Chiishi and Ishi-sashi — Traditional athletic culture (undo bunka) of Okinawa

At the beginning of the 20th century, while young men’s associations in all places worked to promote sports, the Young Men’s Associations of Shimajiri County carried out a survey about recreational pastimes:

“Right now, this county’s citizens compete in only a few recreational pastimes. Therefore, we submit a plan to the committee at the general assembly to advance the practice of recreational pastimes.”

In other words, they wished to promote and enhance the athletic activities among the general populace. Subsequently, additional amendments were made and covered in the newspaper (see Ryūkyu Shinpō, December 10, 1909). There, new (!!!) pastimes and sports to be adopted included karate, while older traditional athletic culture to be continued included Okinawan sumō, bōjutsu, and implements such as the bō-ishi (stick-stone) and the tsuchi-ishi (hammer-stone).

According to the (now defunct) Shuri Naha Dialect Dictionary of the University of the Ryukyus, the tsuchi-ishi (hammer-stone) was referred to as chīshī チーシー in Okinawa language. This chīshī is considered to consist of the characters chī 手 plus shī 石, that is “handle-stone.” Note that the character “hand” (te 手) here is pronounced chī 手 and in all probability refers to handle, not hand. In any case, if this is so, the syllable chī is a pronunciation for te 手 (hand, skill), such as I already mentioned here.

Of course, the chīshī — aka chīshi-gwā — is known as a training tool used for karate. You hold the handle and move it back and forth, left and right, and up and down to train your wrists and waist.

While such tools have been adopted into the practices of karate, tools such as the sashi-ishi and probably others already existed previously within the traditional athletic culture (undō bunka) of Okinawa. Accordingly, it can be said that the meaning and definition of karate also included weight training. Such traditional athletic culture was positioned not only as a recreational pastime or “pre-sport” among the general public, but was also performed during customary and even religious events.

Sashi-ishi refers to a stone with a wooden handle pierced through it, so that both ends of the handle stick out on each side of the stone so that it can be lifted and handled.

Paul Enfield Sensei of GKC Global demonstrates the use of the sashi-ishi.

It therefore seems that a number of implements of traditional athletic culture (undō bunka) of Okinawa were cumulatively integrated into karate practice during the earlier 20th century, thus showing a trend of cumulative development of practice contents.

Chiishi closeup, 2008 at Matsubayashi-ryu Nagamine dojo “Kodokan”

© 2021, Andreas Quast. All rights reserved.

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