Sound Effects in Karate Kobudo – Theatralical or Functional?

Sound effects in karate and kobudo are an underestimated part of the art of performance. The best known example of it is slapping the uniform (dogi) with the pull back hand (hiki-te) while executing a technique with the other hand. The typical suspects of dogi-slapping are karate practitioners in the field of competitive karate, particularly those specializing in kata. Dogi-slapping really wouldn’t make sense in kumite either. And it’s true, sometimes techniques performed in the air during kata don’t feel powerful, nor are they perceived as such by the spectators and judges. The sound effect produced by slapping the dogi is therefore a popular dramatic element of many kata performances, and there are true masters of this art.

Watch an example of excessive stomping on example of Yara-gwa no Tonfa here.

But this alone is not the full story. There are also plosives produced by the chest and mouth, which are synchronized in time with the dogi-slapping. And in Okinawa karate there is also the boiler breathing of Goju-ryu and the hissing of Uechi-ryu. The sychronisation becomes more difficult then.

Another underestimated effect is the rustling and clicking of the dogi, which is caused by the cut of the uniform, by a certain execution of the movement and its trajectory, a certain material composition, by washing and drying and adding or omitting fabric softeners, etc.

Some schools preach the gliding of the feet, while others prefer stomping sounds as an expression of a certain dynamic, and there are hybrids that use both variants skilfully to create a certain acoustic drama synchronized with the movement.

Cleverly employed stomping sounds are difficult to detect, especially when the movements are short and small and the performer’s demeanor draws attention to the upper extremities and the face. This method is also found on the makiwara, where synchronization of makiwara strikes with stomping sounds give the impression of considerable dynamism and destructive power.

On the one hand, one could say that the targeted use of such acoustic elements mainly serves to give the impression of dynamics and to impress an audience or judges. Why else are none of these tricks found in kumite, such as Kuyokushin? In this case, stomping sounds would be one of several theatrical sound effects to be synchronized with each other and with the movement to create a maximum dynamic impression without each being overly noticeable individually.

But there is also the completely opposite argument, namely that all these sound effects are simply the result of a correct, powerful technique. In this case, stomping would be one of several sound effects generated as an accompaniment to a functionally correct execution of technique, and which are synchronous with each other and with the technique because they are a function of the technique.

So the whole thing is a “chicken-egg causality dilemma,” which is notoriously difficult to solve.

Some schools use the heel stomp as a functional support of their technique execution.

Such sound effects are mainly used in the area of kata demonstrations, but also on the makiwara, in kihon, shime testing and other practices. They are not only used by certain groups among karate athletes, but are also found as fundamental components in so-called “traditional karate” and Okinawa karate. All groups also have their own sets of theatrical sound effects, which are synchronized both with each other and with the movement to create an overall impression. In many cases, you can tell which group is involved based solely on the properties of the artificially generated sounds. This alone is reason enough to pay attention to this phenomenon.

A significant factor in stomping is the ground surface. Therefore, people who train or perform on mats will emphasize different stomping parameters than those who train or perform on wooden floors, which greatly amplifies the stomping sound effect. Sprung floor will even provide you a tiny acceleration while at the same time it reduces the stress on the joints. On the other hand, people who train or perform on natural surfaces such as grass, sand, or stone will employ completely different types of foot movement, since there is no sound effect whatsoever. So the question arises whether the different stomping sound effects are not simply a result of the development of different training sites. Just imagine stomping on pointed pebble, or a sharp-edged coral stone.

It should be borne in mind that in Okinawa, by and large, dojos with wooden floors were built only in the modern era after 1945. From this perspective, pushing the feet with the toes over the ground should also be a rather new method, which at least requires straight and flat grounds such as mats or a sports ground, and is difficult to carry out on natural, uneven surfaces, where it would simply make little sense. Thus, it may be assumed that the stomping sound effect as a theatrical element in Okinawan dojos is a post-war development and may have had little to no functional significance in original karate and kobudo, except maybe in the mansions of the aristocratic udun and tunchi classes.

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Arakaki Ankichi’s Hanging Scroll of a Thunder God

In 1928, at the request of Dr. Iha Magobei, who owned a hospital in Chatan’s Yara Village, Ankichi painted a hanging scroll depicting a god of thunder and composed a poem for it while at a party near Murochi. This hanging scroll is a unique specimen of Ryūkyūan martial arts. Ankichi’s brother, Angi, presented the painting to Nagamine Shōshin in January 1984 as a memory of his venerated teacher. It remained in family possession of his son Nagamine Takayoshi.

I first saw it displayed at the Matsubayashi-ryu Kōdōkan Dōjō of my late sensei Nagamine Takayoshi in 2008. The picture scroll bears a verse on top: Kuken karate hatsukaminari mo nigiri o osafu, to be read from top to bottom and from right to left. It is difficult to interpret, but it is something like:

“The bare hands of karate, seizing the first bolt of lightning.”

Yes, something like that. And now it is getting really interesting. Because during my assessment and evaluation I came to the following conclusion, shedding some light on this alcove-forgotten figure.

Among the poem is the depiction of a god of thunder (raijin) with two short horns, governing lightning, thunder, and storms. One might suppose an allusion to the young horned dragon found in Ryūkyū myths. On a cloud scattering lightning he rides along through the sky. In his right hand is a drum, which bears three right-rotating commas. With his left hand he wields a drumstick and with his drumbeats unleashes thunder and lightning. His otherwise naked body is covered with a loincloth made of tiger skin. Around his neck he wears a type of scarf, which in fact is the bag of winds of the wind god (fūjin): our figure is a combination of two old Shintō deities, the God of Thunder (raijin) and the God of Wind (fūjin)!

On the left side the picture scroll is signed:

“An immortal mountain wizard from the shores of the pond of time.”

As regards gods of thunder and winds mythology, there are many legends across all cultures. Buddha commissioned the gods of thunder with the protection of the cosmic law and order, or dharma. In Japanese shintō mythology, gods of thunder were created by the divine pair Izanami and Izanagi after they created Japan. An example is Takemikazuchi, often revered as a god of thunder and considered the deity of jūdōka and kēndōka, as well as a protective deity of war. In the end, the three right-turning commas are also a symbol for the Hachiman Daibosatsu. For those who wonder: the royal symbol of the Ryūkyū kingdom always had three left-turning (clockwise) commas, as I described here and also here.

In this way, Arakaki’s magnificent example of the artistic culture of the Ryūkyūs compares karate with the fearsome force of nature and merges mythology with poetry and music. At least if you ask me, it carries a message:

Just like the god of thunder and wind in all cultures controls the enormous power of thunder, lightning, and storms, a master controls the enormous power karate. Just like thunder, lightning, and storms are terrifying and destructive and thus need to be controlled by the gods, so does karate need to be controlled by man and women.

Alhough frightening in their power and warlike in their implications, the thunder and wind gods originally were and still are protective deities. Again, the same relationship is valid for karate men and women.

In this way, and independent from its literal translation and screaming linguists, the ultimate meaning of this picture scroll becomes a piece of art bearing witness of the deep humanity and artistic and philosophical ideals of the person Arakaki Ankichi.

Watch and listen to Sanyama-bushi or Scattered mountain tune performed by the Nomura-ryū.

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Welche Kampfsportarten eignen sich am besten zum Abnehmen?

Kampfsportarten werden schon lange für ihren ganzheitlichen Ansatz in Bezug auf körperliche Fitness und seelisches Wohlbefinden geschätzt. Sie helfen dabei, den Geist zu fokussieren, die Sinne zu schärfen und eine Art Einheit mit der Umgebung in dein Leben zu bringen. Sie können auch ein effektives Werkzeug zum Abnehmen sein.

Wenn es um das Abnehmen geht, sticht eine Reihe von Kampfsportarten aufgrund ihrer Kombination aus Herz-Kreislauf-Intensität, Muskelbeanspruchung und allgemeiner Körperkonditionierung besonders heraus. Natürlich kann man nicht allein durch Bewegung abnehmen, und wie bei den Kampfsportarten sollte deine Reise eine Kombination von Disziplinen sein, die sich zu einem größeren Ziel vereinen. In den Kampfsportarten vereinen sich Timing, Stärke, Geduld und Training, um dich zu verbessern, und beim Abnehmen gelten dieselben Prinzipien.

Um einen erfolgreichen Abnehmplan umzusetzen, benötigst du mehr als nur Bewegung. Ein großer Schwerpunkt deiner Bemühungen liegt in der Küche, wo du ein solides Regime benötigst, das auf deine spezifischen Bedürfnisse zugeschnitten ist. Ein guter Ernährungsplan zum Abnehmen wird Lebensmittel kombinieren, die dir schmecken, mit denen, die dein Körper benötigt, und er wird Maßhalten und Disziplin fördern, ganz ähnlich wie in den Kampfsportarten. Denke daran, wenn du hart trainierst, könnte eine herkömmliche Diät kontraproduktiv sein, da du Energie und Stärke brauchst. Das Betreten eines Kampfsportstudios ist wahrscheinlich anspruchsvoller als eine Stunde auf dem Laufband zu laufen.
Sobald du die Ernährung richtig angepasst hast, ist es Zeit, eine Kampfsportart zu wählen, die du erkunden möchtest. In diesem Artikel werden wir uns mit drei der besten Kampfsportarten für das Abnehmen befassen, die jeweils unterschiedliche Vorteile bieten, die zum Verlieren von überschüssigen Pfunden und zu einem gesünderen Lebensstil beitragen.


Kickboxen, eine energiegeladene Kampfsportart, die Elemente des Boxens und traditionelle Kampfsporttritte kombiniert, ist bekannt für ihr außergewöhnliches Herz-Kreislauf-Training. Die ständige Bewegung, schnelle Schläge und dynamische Tritte beanspruchen große Muskelgruppen und erhöhen die Herzfrequenz, was zu einem erheblichen Kalorienverbrauch führt.

Es fördert auch die Stabilität des Körperkerns und verbessert die Koordination, während die Praktizierenden verschiedene Kombinationen von Schlägen, Tritten und Abwehrmanövern ausführen. Die schnelle Natur dieser Sportart fördert nicht nur den Fettabbau, sondern verbessert auch Ausdauer und Durchhaltevermögen, was sie zu einer idealen Wahl für Abnehmbegeisterte macht.

Muay Thai

Muay Thai, aus Thailand stammend, zeichnet sich durch seinen Schwerpunkt auf Klinch-Techniken sowie die Verwendung von Ellenbogen und Knien für Schläge aus. Diese Kampfsportart erfordert eine umfassende Körperbeteiligung und bietet ein intensives Training, das den Kalorienverbrauch beschleunigt.

Die explosiven Bewegungen in Muay Thai-Übungen helfen dabei, schlanke Muskeln zu formen und den Stoffwechsel zu erhöhen, was zusätzlich beim Abnehmen hilft. Es erfordert auch ein rigoroses Trainingsprogramm, das die Flexibilität und Agilität steigert und gleichzeitig die mentale Disziplin stärkt – du wirst dich vor einer Muay Thai-Einheit angemessen in der Küche stärken müssen.

Brasilianisches Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)

Obwohl das brasilianische Jiu-Jitsu nicht die gleiche sofortige Herz-Kreislauf-Intensität wie Kickboxen oder Muay Thai aufweisen mag, liegt sein einzigartiger Ansatz zum Abnehmen in seiner Betonung von Bodenkampf- und bodenbasierten Techniken. BJJ legt den Schwerpunkt auf das Hebeln des Körpergewichts und die Technik, anstatt sich allein auf rohe Stärke zu verlassen.

Diese Kampfsportart eignet sich hervorragend zum Abnehmen, da sie eine anhaltende Beanspruchung der Muskulatur während bodenbasierter Übungen erfordert, was zur Muskelstraffung und Entwicklung der Ausdauer beiträgt. Darüber hinaus fördert BJJ geistige Schärfe, Problemlösungsfähigkeiten und Widerstandsfähigkeit, alles Fähigkeiten, die auf deiner Abnehmreise nützlich sein können.


Es ist wichtig zu beachten, dass erfolgreicher Gewichtsverlust von einem vielschichtigen Ansatz abhängt, der Ernährung, Lebensstiländerungen und regelmäßige Bewegung umfasst. Obwohl diese Kampfsportarten außergewöhnliche Werkzeuge zum Abnehmen sind, funktionieren sie am besten, wenn sie mit einer ausgewogenen Ernährung und anderen Formen körperlicher Aktivität kombiniert werden.

Konsultiere immer einen medizinischen Fachmann, bevor du dich auf ein neues Fitnessregime begibst. Letztendlich hängt die beste Kampfsportart zum Abnehmen von dir, deinen persönlichen Vorlieben, Zielen und individuellen körperlichen Bedingungen ab.

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Chatan Yara no Kon w/paddle

As I wrote in 2015, Chatan Yara no Kon can be performed with an Uēku (paddle) without any adaption to the gripping and hand changing methods. I wonder whether there was a unilateral or a mutual influence with Tsuken Sunakake no Uēku, with which it also shares other very specific techniques.

You can learn Chatan Yara no Kon in Japan as well as in Okinawa.

Watch about how it looks here.

Besides, Maarten van Blois of Ryukyu Kobujutsu in the Netherlands also performed it with a paddle.

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Kobudo, entertainment art, or both?

It is sometimes hard to distinguish if an old photo or a demonstration on film is actually a martial art or something else. Like this, there was a question in social media about a number of sketches from the 19th century, showing some weaponry that is also used in martial arts traditions of kobudo. However, after studying it a bit, it turned out to be an folk entertainment. There are several folk entertainments in Okinawa as well as in the rest of Japan that show varying degrees of martial art influence, and sometimes it is both. In fact, sometimes kobudo is more of a folk entertainment than a martial art, but that’s another story. So here is my assessment of the sketches, which were provided unedited by my good colleague Thomas Feldmann, and edited by me.

The first sketch shows a folk performing art with “ancient warriors” in the role of shitaku during what is called “gae” (standoff). It includes martial postures and various weapons, including kama, naginata and spears (here kama are used). The three persons on top (A, B, and C) can be individual performers of martial postures, but these could also be sketches of various postures of the shitaku (1), which is the main character posing in fighting moves while wearing an ancient costume and helmet. The shitaku stands on a platform (2) carried by various villagers. usually, two villages go against each other so there would be another shitaku and they as well as other members of the group would stage a mock fight and postures. There are several torches among the persons surrounding the shitaku platform. There is what appears to be a group of dancers (3) and musicians (4) right behind the districts flag pole (5) (hatagashira), which bears the characters “Ishigaki.” There is a pole with a half-moon form on top (6) used to help raise and lower the hatagashira. As usual, there are also staff bearers (8). Finally, there might also be a firecracker gun (7).

The next sketch is also part of a folk performance, which usually takes place on fixed dates to repel insects or evils spirits, or as a prayer for good harvest during harvest festivals. There is a shishimai or lion dance (1) for entertainment, musicians (2), staff bearers (3), short staff bearers (4-foot-staffs are often used as mock swords or mock naginata), and there is a theatrical fight between 6-foot-staff and a double sickle (5) as well as glaive versus shield and short halberd (6). These are usually done in form of what we know as yakusoku kumite; these are prearranged exchanges of blows.

As regards such prearranged mock battles, please see this and read the description:

The following sketches, again, show a typical festival procession, such as held during tug-of-war and the like. Flag bearers (1), staff bearers of some sort (2), musicians (3), and a hatagashira village pole in form of an overdimensioned ancient spear (4), more drummers (5), a hatagashira village pole in form of an overdimensioned naginata (6), and again what seems to be a support staff to raise and lower the hatagashira.

And this is roughly what these 19th century sketches show.

Posted in Comparative Analyses, kobudo, kumibo, Theories of Historical Karate in Comparative Perspective | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Kobudo, entertainment art, or both?

Chōun no Kon, or Shōun no Bo?

There was a discussion on social media about the spelling of a kata. In the Taira lineage, the kata is generally known as Chōun no Kon. However, in a bilangual work of 1987, there is the description of “Chōun no Bō” in Japanese characters, transcribed as “Shōun.”

For this reason, people have come to believe that the correct name of the kata is “Shōun no Bō.” This is a mistake probably made by the editor. To to time pressure and other contraints, when writing and publishing books, it is rarely the case that no typo is found in it.

There’s nothing to blame and short article is justs for those who wondered about it. First, the character Chō in question cannot be read as Shō, as can be seen in the dictionary entry below. It can be read only as Chō, , or Kyō.

Second, why is it read as Chō, and not as , or Kyō. This is because Chōun is a Japanese reading of a Chinese person’s name, namely that of Zhao Yun, a military general who lived in the late 2nd to early 3rd century of our time. In Japanese, his name is pronounced Chō Un, from which the kata name Chōun derives. Of course, Zhao Yun was a master of the spear.

Third, in the book above, the Japanese characters say “Chōun no Bō,” but this is a mistake as well, as can be seen in volume 3 of the compendium by the same author, which clearly says “Chōun no Kon,” and this is also the way it is written in all other schools that use this kata.

As described above, the correct name of the kata is Chōun no Kon.

By the way, this historical reference to Zhao Yun is interesting in that it uses the name of a person who lived in antiquity. It is impossible that this person handed down techniques over generations which reached Okinawa in form of this kata. Rather, using his name for the kata was obviously a historical reference by the creator in Okinawa. That is, the kata was created and named in reference to a military man of the past, whose Chinese name is Zhao Yun, which is read Chōun in Japanese, and without any actual personal transmission of techniques from that person.

This is the first example of kata in which it is clearly impossible to claim a personal tradition. Since it is a rare and high level kata only known by a few people, and since most people do not study very deeply, it seems that nobody ever noticed this fact. But with this being the case, it is easily imaginable and that other kata also were simple references to a historical or semi-legendary person.

How about kata such as Kūsankū? Is Kūsankū really a kata taught by a military officer by the same name who came to Okinawa in the middle of the 18th century? It is difficult to believe, and impossible to either proof or disprove.

How about Sakugawa no Kon? That Sakugawa was the “hidden warrior” of an early 20th century theater play, so again, what was first, the chicken or the egg?

In short, kata names might be historical references without an actual personal transmission of technique. Also, kata might have been created by some experts of martial choreography, just as you write a song, or develop a dance, or a theater play.

In today’s interpretations of Okinawa karate and kobudō, there is no place for such a theory. For non-Okinawans and non-Japanese, it has to be a highly effective and brutal form of self-preservation. For Okinawans, it has to be a link to their own past, a beacon in their search of identity and pride.

However this may really be, it is also true that the dōjō itself is a stage.

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The 9-foot-staff and spearmanship in Ryūkyū

Recently I wrote about the 9-foot-staff as used in Okinawan bōjutsu. While sources are scarce and fragmentary, there are a number of traditions using a 9-foot-staff. In written sources it appears first in the 1960s. However, when looking at the curricula and weapons used in extant schools, there are a few individual traditions who study the techniques of the 9-foot-staff, so it might be assumed that it has been used in the earlier 20th century. If this is the case, there might have been older traditions. The reasoning for the use of this kind of long staff is seen in the bajōbō, i.e., a fencing pole the length of a horse, or otherwise a staff of a length of ca. 3 m (OKKJ 2008: 317) and tradition has it that it was used on horseback in “the old days” (Akamine 1997).

“Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

― Mark Twain

So, how about actual spearmanship in Ryūkyū?

We find a clue in the written instructions by Aka Chokushiki (1721–1784), a royal official in the rank of a Pēchin in 18th century Okinawa. Aka himself has studied Jigen-ryū for many years under his teacher Kuba Pēchin Chiji. Moreover, Aka’s paternal great-grandfather Chokukō also has practiced Jigen-ryū swordmanship as well a sōjutsu (spear techniques) and naginatajutsu (halberd techniques) of the Ten-ryū, scrolls of secret traditions (densho) of which were handed down as a family heirloom.

Assuming a cautious estimate of one generation spanning approximately twenty to twenty-five years, then Aka’s great-grandfather Chokukō must have been born somewhere between 1646 and 1661. In other words, even after the Satsuma invasion of 1609, such Japanese martial arts were intermittently handed down to Ryūkyū. According to this, Japanese-style swordmanship, spear and naginata were practiced in Okinawa already during the second half of the 17th century, and handed down among certain government officials.

Still in the middle of the 18th century, minister Sai On (1682–1761) noted as follows:

“It is desirable to get all samurai instructed in the methods of the spear (yari), the glaive (naginata), and the bow and arrow.”

Naturally, the instructors for such kinds of weapons and martial arts would have been from Satsuma or otherwise would have been trained there. This matter is closely related to the Satsuma Resident Commissioner in Naha and therefore to the various liaison officials from Naha, known under names such as Omono Gusuku, Yamato Yokome, Oyōgu Atari, Okariya Mamori, etc. The methods of training used were logically and undoubtedly heavily influenced by Satsuma martial arts.

Read all about it in “Okinawan Samurai.”

As a member of a senior samurē family, Motobu Chōki had a rare insight into warrior traditions of Okinawa. In his 1932 work, Motobu mentions the spear as a martial art in Ryūkyū.

Nishinda Uēkata […] was the ancestor of today’s Nishinda in Shuri Gibo. It is said that, in addition to karate, he was also skilled with the spear.

‘Guan Yu’ Sadoyama, as his name implies, was the owner of a beautiful beard. He was said to have resembled Guan Yu of old China, who indeed looked like Sadoyama. He is said to have been skilled in karate and in addition to having been a master of the spear.

As an early modern era martial artist of the same generation as the venerable elder Itosu, Tomigusuku Uēkata was a master of the Koi-ryū. At present, his favorite disciple Izena Chōboku is still alive. Tomigusuku also distinguished himself in spearmanship and it is said that people valued his horsemanship over his karate. Particularly, with his specialty being spearmenship on horseback, when Tomigusuku mounted his marvelous 182 cm tall chestnut-colored horse and seized his spear, any enemy – how formidable he might have been – flinched.

Like this, there was spearmanship on foot, and spearmanship on horseback. It is important to note tough that in Japan as well as in Okinawa, only senior samurē family members could ride a horse. A commoner could not ride a horse.

The above should be sufficient here to establish the historicity of spearmanship in Okinawa. While various Japanese schools of spear and naginata might have been instructed in Okinawa between the 17th and 19th centuries, and while there might even have been indigenous Ryūkyūan methods, the only concrete hint is the mention of spear and naginata of the Ten-ryū.

What kind of martial art was the Ten-ryū?

As described earlier, the spearmanship (sōjutsu) and halberd/glaive (naginatajutsu) of the Ten-ryū was trained in Okinawa already in the 17th century. The Ten-ryū is the school of Saitō Denkibō (1550–1587). He is said to have been a student of Tsukahara Bokuden (1489–1571), famous for using the lid of a pot for fighting, which is a similar idea as in the tinbē of Okinawa, isn’t it?

Although the Ten-ryū included various martial arts such as sword (kenjutsu), spear (sōjutsu), halberd (naginatajutsu), chained sickle (kusarigamajutsu), staff (bōjutsu), throwing blades (shurikenjutsu), and the jūjutsu-varieties of torite and kogusoku, the contents differ according to lineage. The founder Saitō Denkibō was born in Ite in the Makabe district of Hitachi province (today’s Sakuragawa City in Ibaraki prefecture). According to legend, he first studied Shintō-ryū under Tsukahara Bokuden (1489–1571). In 1581, while Saitō Denkibō retired for prayer to the Tsurugaoka Hachiman Shrine in Kamakura, he was awarded a “scroll from heaven bearing the exquisite skills of the sword written on it,” and called his style Ten-ryū, or “School from Heaven.”

However, there are a number of different legends about this school’s establishment and its spread. Saitō’s disciple Ijichi Shigeaki handed down Ten-ryū in Ōsumi, which bordered on Satsuma and Hyuga provinces. This lineage was called Muyama Ten-ryū. It was handed down generation after generation by the Ijichi family as vassals of the Tarumizu Shimazu House, one of the four top-ranking Shimazu retainers. The Ryūkyūan embassy in Kagoshima was located close to the mansion of this Tarumizu Shimazu House. Most importantly, when looking at Ryūkyūan history, there is a large amount of persons by the name of Ijichi who were sent to Ryūkyū as officials by the Shimazu House.

The Tarumizu region was also famous for its poetry circles. These Tarumizu poetry circles were of the Asukai-ryū. Suekawa Shūzan compiled the Nami no Shitakusa, an anthology of poetry from the Tarumizu region around 1786, while living a secluded life in Tarumizu Nishiyama. Others who lived during this era was Nikaidō Yoemon Takayuki, one of the students of Hino Sukeki, as well as disciples of Karasumaru Mitsumoto and others.

Besides the Satsuma domain, during the Edo period (1603–1868) Ten-ryū was handed down to several other regions, such as the Tanba Kameyama domain, Tendai domain, Akita domain, Aizu domain, Mito domain, Hikone domain, Akō domain, and the Nakatsu domain. Schools that branched off of the Ten-ryū are Shinten-ryū, Shimazaki Shinten-ryū, Shinten-ryū, and Kako-ryū, among others.

However, from among the schools that descended from the Ten-ryū, today only the Tendō-ryū is still extant. While the instruction in Tendō-ryū is often centered on the glaive (naginatajutsu), it uses various weapons, namely swordsmanship (kenjutsu), glaive (naginata), chained sickle (kusarigama), staff (jōjutsu), short sword (kodachi), two short swords (nitō), and knife (tantō).

In short, it is impossible to know how the spear and naginata techniques of the Ten-ryū looked during the 16th to 19th century on Okinawa, and whether or not it has any resemblence to today’s 9-foot-staff as used in Okinawan bōjutsu.

To get an idea of the use of the spear in Japan during that era, you may turn to the Hōzōin-ryū sōjutsu, which was established in the 16th century. Other than the 9-foot-staff of Okinawa, the Hōzōin-ryū uses a cross-shaped spearhead (jumonji-yari) which offers a larger technical variety in application. This is expressed by the description, “a spear when thrust, a glaive when cut, and a sickle when pulled.”

As shown above, Japanese spear techniques (sōjutsu) were practiced in Okinawa in the 17th through to the 19th centuries. It may be assumed that they still existed among certain royal government officials or samurē families in the 19th century and might even have been handed down to the 20th century in individual cases. However, details of a continuation from the latter 19th to the early 20th century remain unclear.

These spear techniques were used on foot. Contrary to this, some Okinawan traditions established a connection with the spear used on horseback. While there was no real cavalry in early-modern Ryūkyū, spearmanship on horseback existed among the aristoracy, as described by Motobu Chōki. Besides, in Japan as well as in Okinawa, only senior samurē family members could ride a horse. Commoners could not ride a horse so mounted spearmanship was an exclusive and rare thing. In fact, Motobu’s note is the only one I ever came across about mounted spearmanship in Okinawa.

Another important detail is that the Okinawan 9-foot-staff is used with the right hand in front, just as in case of the 6-foot-staff. Spear techniques anywhere else in the world, as well as in ancient schools of Japanese spearmanship, are performed with the left hand forward. By researching the bilateral asymmetries in the strength of the upper limbs, anthropologists even established that Neandertals used spears with the left hand forward to thrust during hunting.

This indicates that there was probably no personal transmission and continuation from the old spear techniques to the modern 9-foot-staff.

So, how traditional is Okinawan 9-foot-staff? As is often the case in Okinawan martial arts, in theory it is possible that there was an actual personal tradition of spear techniques that became today’s 9-foot-staff. However, it is also possible that the 9-foot-staff is a retrospective historical construction, a tradition that is backdated when in fact it was re-created in the postwar era.

This certainly needs more study.

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Online exhibition: Shihan certificates in Okinawa

Recently, there was a social media discussion about the difference between sensei and shihan.

Both sensei and shihan mean teacher, but while sensei is used extensively in general, shihan is an older term used particularly in the world of budō and other traditional arts such as calligraphy, flower arranging, etc. As I understand it, it is an official permission to teach a school’s content and it is a typical Japanese thing.

When did the shihan license enter the Okinawan budō scene?

On Okinawa, some schools use it, others don’t. For instance, in the Kyūdōkan, I was told that the titles of renshi, kyōshi, and hanshi are awarded, but no shihan licenses.

On the other hand, and as described previously, the Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Ryukyu Kobudo (Ryūkyū Kobudō Hozon Shinkōkai) awarded shihan licenses.

These shihan licenses began when Yabiku Mōden awarded a shihan license to Taira Shinken, dated August 15, 1933.

This was continued in 1965, when Taira Shinken awarded shihan license to Akamine Eisuke (1925 – January 13, 1999).

More than 30 years later, it was continued with another shihan license, this time for Akamine Hiroshi sensei, son of Eisuke and current director of the Shimbukan.

The certificate is number 28, so several shihan licenses were given out in the name of the association over the years.

The issuing date is January 14, 1999, signed by Akamine Eisuke in the role as the president of the Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Ryukyu Kobudo (Ryūkyū Kobudō Hozon Shinkōkai).

According to the official association regulations mentioned earlier, shihan license was given to those who have passed the 5th dan examination, so this must have been the accompanying rank.

It therefore seems that shihan licenses in Okinawan traditions started first Yabiku Mōden to Taira Shinken in 1933, while both were in Japan. After the war, Taira introduced it to Okinawa.

I hope this was insightful for those interested in Okinawna martial arts associations.

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The 9-foot-staff in Okinawa bōjutsu

I have written about the 9-foot-staff before. In the bōjutsu tradition of Taira Shinken, it is called the kushaku-bō. This staff is about ca. 273 cm long. I want to recapitulate on what I have established before and extend it a little bit.

In written sources, the 9-foot-staff first appears in 1964, when Taira Shinken mentioned it as one of the kata that still existed in Okinawa at that time. Moreover, on an unnumbered leaf of Taira’s book is a photo entitled “Various old weapons,” on the bottom of which the 9-foot-staff (photo 1: Upper row: Sai, Nunchaku, Suruchin, Kusarigama. Lower row: Dai-nunchaku, Rokushaku-bō, Kushaku-bō) (Taira 1964: unnumbered leaf 9). I believe this particular photo was taken in the dōjō of Inoue Motokatsu.

Finally, in chapter 4, Taira wrote that “The staff can be roughly classified into three kinds: 3-foot-staff, 6-foot-staff, and 9-foot-staff.” (Taira 1964: 42)

More than 30 years later, in a posthumously published bequest of Taira, the “9-foot-staff (thrusting staff)” is specified as a one of the “Types of Practices in the Ryūkyū Kobudō Hozon Shinkōkai” (Taira 1997: 195-98).

Note that “thrusting staff” (tsuki-bō) was added to it. Therefore, the representative technique of the 9-foot-staff appears to be the thrust (tsuki), which makes sense for a weapon of this length. It may be comparable to the European pike, the Japanese yari, and the Wing Tsun long-pole. Indeed, later it became generally accepted that the “9-foot-staff (thrusting staff)” belonged to the kata that derived their name from their most characteristic technical feature (see OKKBH 1994: 41; Nakamoto Masahiro and Tsuha Kiyoshi, in OKKJ 2008: 302).

Inoue Motokatsu mentioned the 9-foot-staff, providing us with another contextual perspective, saying that it belongs to the category of long weapons (Inoue 1972: 1-2), as opposed to short weapons (such as kama and sai) and flexible weapons (such as nunchaku and suruchin).

Nakamoto Masahiro of Bunbukan also mentioned it in his list of “Kata of Bōjutsu Preserved in Today’s Okinawa” (Nakamoto 2007: 92), and there are more and more works that adopt it.

The Okinawa Karate Kobudō Encyclopedia adds another definition: “9-foot-staff: also called bajōbō, i.e. a fencing pole the length of a horse, or otherwise a staff of a length of ca. 3 m (= 1 = 10 shaku)” (OKKJ 2008: 317).

Besides printed matter, the term “9-foot-staff” also appears otherwise, such as in this kata list once written by Akamine Eisuke (see pic 3). Actually, in the new Shimbukan dōjō of Akamine Hiroshi sensei, a 9-foot-staff wrapped in a soft case leaned on the dōjō’s front side between at least 2010 and 2012 (see pic 4, featuring Akamine sensei). I never saw the 9-foot-staff being used, though and it is unclear to me whether its techniques have been handed down in personal instruction or not.

Finally, according to some sources, the 9-foot-staff is only found in kobudō bōjutsu, but not in any of the traditional village bōjutsu (mura-bō) (OKKBH 1994: 78. Hokama 1999: 182-83).

As described above, since Taira Shinken’s description in 1964, the “9-foot-staff” appeared in various literary sources.

Then, how did the 9-foot-staff become a type of kobudō? In an interview in 1997, Akamine Eisuke was asked about training as a young man in his home village of Kakazu, where he started training in kobudō when he was 16 years old, that is, in 1941 or 1942. He probably trained there until being drafted into the Imperial Japanese Army. While I have no reliable data, the internet says he was sent to Taiwan in 1944. Only three regiments of the IJA served in Taiwan at the time.

  • 46th Infantry Regiment of the 6th Imperial Army Division (HQ in Ōmura)
    • 1944/11: Moved to Taiwan and guarded Kaohsiung.
    • 1945: Transferred to Okayama area.
    • August – End of the war
  • 24th Infantry Regiment of the 12th Imperial Army Division (HQ in Fukuoka)
    • 1944/12: The main force of the regiment is transferred to Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
    • 1945/08: End of war
  • 48th Infantry Regiment of the 12th Imperial Army Division (HQ in Kurume)
    • 1944/11: Moved to Taiwan
    • 1945/08 – End of the war

Since the allied forces bypassed Taiwan and instead landed on the island of Okinawa, all the above regiments reached the end of the war without combat during that time.

In relation to the Kakazu hamlet, Akamine Eisuke said the following in the above-mentioned interview.

“There was a tug-of-war. At the time of the tug-of-war, the hamlet was divided into East and West, and everybody did the battle of the . [It was what is] kumite now, and was called uchāshibō. It was an exchange of blows in real earnest. If you were negligent, you were injured. All the young men (seinen) of the hamlet participated. The was a 6-foot-staff. […] There was the 3-foot-staff. There is no kata for the 9-foot staff. At the time of tug-of-war, there was also Okinawa sumō wrestling. I also participated in shima (Okinawa sumō).”

He describes a typical village bōjutsu tradition typically related to annual festivals such as tug-of-war, and which included kumi-bō, for which the 6-foot-staff was used and some of which might have served as a model for the vs promised kumite still in use in Okinawan Taira lineage. Besides, there were also 3-foot-staffs, and the 9-foot-staff existed as well, however, no kata existed for the latter.

It remains unclear whether Akamine in his description refers to the time when he started training in 1941 or 1942, or to the time after he returned to Okinawa sometime after 1945 and resumed bōjutsu in Kakazu village. Anyway, asked about whether there is a kata for the 9-foot staff, Akamine answered,

“The 9-foot staff is said to have been used while riding on horseback in the old days. Originally it was mainly a thrusting technique (tsuki-waza, nuki-waza). I never used it with kata in the same way as with the 6-foot staff.”

In short, Akamine Eisuke did not use kata for the 9-foot staff, but trained it mainly by thrusting it.

Anyway, in a recent short video entitled “Introduction of Rare Kata”, Nakamoto Mamoru sensei of the Okinawa Dentō Kobudō Hozonkai Bunbukan introduced a short extract of “Yabiku no Naga-bō” (The long m staff of Yabiku”), with reference to Yabiku Mōden, teacher of Taira Shinken.

In this connection, as shared by fellow kobudō practitioner Walt Young, the 9-foot-staff is also found in the Ufuchiku-Den Kobujutsu of Isa Kaishu, where it is one of the last weapons to learn. Walt’s understanding is that it is mainly for thrusting as well and also adds in preparing you for yield the follow on double-sided nuntesubō (6-foot-staff with nuntesu (nunti) on each end) which is over 8 feet in length as well. According to Walt, Ufuchiku Sensei was the caregiver of the Royal horses when the last king Shō Tai moved to Tokyo. Oral and written history also has it that Yabiku Mōden trained with Ufuchiku as well, as can be seen in the personal relations described in Taira lineage Ryūkyū Kobudō. So there might have very well been techniques or even a kata of the 9-foot-staff by the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which have spread across different lineages.

Moreover, as mentioned above, Taira Shinken’s disciple Inoue Motokatsu also recorded a kata of the 9-foot-staff in word and picture (Inoue 1974: 353-364).

Finally, in 1987, Akamine Eisuke performed 9-foot staff at the 1st Okinawa Karate Kobudo Enbu Taikai held at Ryukyu Shinpo Hall. Some documentation or footage of it might remain somewhere.

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How Miyake Sango was identified

Here I would like to shortly explain how Miyake Sango was identified as the person in the alleged Itosu photo. It began on January 10, 2018, when my good fellow researcher Thomas Feldmann (herinafter abbreviated to TF) sent me a link to a photo from the collection of the Digital Archives of the Naha City History Museum.

The photo was dated “around 1940.”

TF: Hanashiro?

AQ: If this picture is from around 1940, then the [alleged] Itosu photo is probably not Itosu…

TF: I will leave the analysis to others.

AQ: I would say this is the same person as in the two Itosu photos. Has this already been discussed somewhere? Or did you discover that?

TF: I don’t think he looks like the person in the three Itosu photos (the two new ones plus the one discovered in 2006). Time-wise, Hanashiro, who lived until 1945, would fit. …I discovered it earlier. So far no known discussion. You can use it, but also can mention that I found it. I leave it to you.

In short, TF believed it was Hanashiro Chōmo.

AQ: Yes, Hanashiro would fit in terms of timing, but not otherwise. You have to have studied “Karate-do Taikan,” which has numerous photos of Hanashiro, and that doesn’t add up.

AQ: I am right now trying to figure out the era of the uniforms…

TF: Yeah, go ahead. I will read about it in the group then.

In short, I figured that the date of 1940 was wrong and tried to verify it by looking at the police uniforms. Later, after I researched police uniforms of the different times, the chat continued.

AQ: By the way, I was able to verify that they are police uniforms. The photo is one of Kadena Police Station. I also found photos of other police stations. But I could only verify the same kind of uniform for the year 1922, see here:

AQ: The uniforms have changed over time. So it could be that the date [of 1940] in the “Itosu” photo is wrong.

TF: The uniform theme might be too vague.

AQ: You think so? There must have been clear rules…

In short, TF didn’t believe that police uniforms were an important clue.

More than one year later…

May 05, 2019

AQ: Do you remember the “Itosu” photo with the police uniforms?

TF: Of course I can remember the photo. I found it.

AQ: I sent that photo to Miguel [da Luz]. He took the photo to the prefectural police. But they couldn’t establish the era of use of the uniforms. However, they found other photos of people, including the man with the beard (= alleged “Itosu”). These photos were then dated to 1921. So it can’t be Itosu.

AQ: With this new information, Miguel then went to the OPG Karate Promotion Division and Nakamura Akira did the rest and found out who the person in the Itosu photo actually is. Miguel told me that the day before yesterday.

That said, the research into the police uniforms has led to the identification of the actual person in the photo, namely Miyake Sango. As regards supporting data, in 1907, the Okinawa District Committee of the Dai Nippon Butokukai dispatched sword instructor of the Okinawa police, Miyake Sango, to the martial arts demonstration held by the Dai Nippon Butokukai in Kyoto (Ryukyu Shinpo, June 4, 1907). So here is found the full name.

Since 2006, Miyake Sango has been confused as Itosu Anko. Then, in 2019, Nakamura Akira, a researcher for Okinawa Prefecture Karate Division, presented his discovery of these two pages below, which clearly identify the person as Miyake Sensei and were part of the full investigation. In May 2019, at the prefectural office in Naha, Okinawa, he presented me with a xerox of the first proof of Miyake’s identity. It is taken from the Okinawa Prefectural Normal School alumni magazine and shows the teachers and graduates of the year 1910. The person in the red circle is identified as “Miyake Sensei” (teacher Miyake). Afterwards I not only shared these information with TF, but also Nakamura’s business card so he could make direct contact himself, wich TF did successfully.

And this is the story of how Miyake Sango was identified.

P.S: In April 30, 2021, TF published his work ANKŌ ITOSU. THE MAN. THE MASTER. THE MYTH, which can be called the definite work on Itosu so far.

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