The invention of kobudo terminology

In Ryukyu Kobudo the technique of “hiding behind the bō” is found in most of the bōjutsu Kata, including Yonegawa, Tsuken-bō, Chōun, Chatan Yara, Sakugawa Chū Shō and Dai, Urasoe, Sesoko, Kongō and others.
In Ryukyu Kobudo of the Taira lineage, this technique is variously referred to as Gyaku-hikkake (reverse hanging hook), Gyaku-te Sukui-uke (reversed scooping), Mamori (defense), and in Okinawa it is called Tate-uke (vertical block) and such.
The following rolling move is called Osae-hazushi (uncoupling press), Hikkake (hanging hook), Hiki-sagari (pulling down), and in Okinawa Maki-osae (winding press), etc.pp.
The idea of the technique becomes more clear by these words, yet it still is “open construction.” Nothing is actually fixed.
Well, looking at the older literary works on Ryukyu Kobudo (1st half of 20th century) it gets clear that the establishment of a unified technical terminology took place – for the most part – in the 2nd half of the 20th century only, and with different result in different groups (dojo, associations, …).
There are hardly any “old” or even Okinawna language names for techniques and most of the original tactics were probably lost by then anyway, and the new names were inspired by fragmentary personal instruction, what some guy might have remembered, or borrowed from other Japanese martial arts. But it is clear that these terminologies were invented.

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The 1921 Martial Arts Performance for Crown Prince Hirohito at Shuri Castle, and Kakazu Bo

On March 6, 1921, during Crown Prince Hirohito’s visit to Europe, the escort battleships Katori, captained by Okinawa-born Captain Kanna Kenwa, temporarily anchored in Nakagusuku Bay, and Crown Prince Hirohito took a light railway to Yonabaru. From there, he took a rickshaw to Naha Station, stopped at the prefectural office, and then traveled to Shuri. There are various reports of martial arts demonstrated for the crown prince during this occasion. The most famous is a karate demonstration led by Funakoshi Gichin, of which Funakoshi himself provided a commemorative photo in his earlier publications. Looking at Funakoshi’s photo, there are also and sai in the photo, so it is usually assumed that Funakoshi knew and taught and sai as a senior.

I would like to ask a few questions here. First of all, are the people in the photo Funakoshi’s students? Second, where there other martial arts performances?

Place of Performance

Often it is said that Funakoshi “led a karate performance” at the main palace (seiden) of Shuri Castle. It sometimes sounds as if it took place inside the main palace, but if you have ever been inside, this is doubtful from space limitations and also for reasons of the sacrosanct nature of this place. Instead, and as several sources indicate, martial art demonstrations took place on the courtyard (unā), which is the center of Shuri Castle. Standing on this courtyard, the main hall (seiden) is in front, the Northern Hall is to the left (north side), and the Southern Hall is on the right (southern side).

Various ceremonies were held on this courtyard throughout the year, and it is covered with rows of tiles of different colors that form a pattern for officials to line up according to rank during ceremonies. The central path was called the “Floating Road” because it was a path traversed only by a very limited number of people, such as the king or the Chinese investiture envoys, meaning they would float through yet above the other ranks.

From this reason, any martial art demonstration would probably have taken place on the left or the right side of the courtyard, but never in the center. There might have even been a temporary stage set up at any side, left or right, but details are unknown.

Students of Funakoshi?

As seen in Funakoshi’s photo, there was also and sai, but who were these people? Even though it is possible, I have never seen any source that was able to identify any of them as one of Funakoshi’s karate students.

Now, there were also other martial arts demonstrations on that day. For instance, in the stories of Kakazu village it is said that a welcome banquet was held for Imperial Crown Prince Hirohito on the courtyard (ūna) in front of Shuri Castle’s Main Hall, and that young men from Kakazu subvillage of Tomigusuku performed bōjutsu for his majesty.

Let’s compare the old photos to get more leads.

On top, photo A is Funakoshi’s photo. Funakoshi is seated in the center, with arms crossed. All wear the same clothes, namely a white headband tied in the rear (1), a white undershirt (2), and a black hakama (3). The only difference between Funakoshi and everybody else is that instead of a white undershirt, Funakoshi wears a white jacket with wider sleeves. This as well as his central position in the photo and posture with arms crossed most likely formally showed his seniority.

Below it, photo B shows the bōjutsu performers from Kakazu at the time. Just like everyone except Funakoshi in photo A, the central person in photo B wears a white headband (1), a white undershirt (2), and a black hakama (3). And this person was obviously the squad leader of the two young men and possibly more young men, who performed bōjutsu. These two young men also wear a white headband but tied in the front (1′) such as done in male dances of Okinawa, a white undershirt (2′), but instead of a black hakama they wear a dark sash and white trousers (3′).

From the comparison of above two photos A and B it seems that the persons in Funakoshi photos A were not necessarily his students who performed karate and kobudō led by Funakoshi, but possibly they were squad leaders of their own individual performing groups. They might have come from Shuri, or maybe even from various schools from Okinawa who led their own regional martial art team, just like the central person in photo B. The clothes they were wearing in these two photos most likely were the formal clothes standardized for this important event. If so, the performers’ clothes should have been such as those worn by the two young men left and right in photo B.  

The two young men left and right in photo B are Akamine Yōhei (left, 1906–87) and Higa Nisaburō (right, 1900–81) from Kakazu. The squad leader in the center is unidentified, but it is the same person as in the center of photo C.  

Who were the squad leaders?

The squad leader in the center of photo B and C allows for another option. Since the two young men left and right in photo B and C are identified as young men (seinen), it is possible and actually likely that among the martial arts performers were not only students of various schools, but also those from the socio-demographic group called “young men” (seinen), which refers to the group of young men after graduation from elementary school at around 13 or 14 until conscription into the military at age 20. Such young men were gathered in so-called young men corps (seinendan) in their subvillages, where they would take part in various activities under leaders, often local reservists, or soldiers, and would play sports and athletics, martial arts including and bayonet fencing, participate in each village’s events and so on. Like this, while the person in the center of photos A and B might have been a schoolteacher in Kakazu, he also might have been a leader of Kakazu’s local young men corps (seinendan). And this can also be said about the persons in Funakoshi’s photo.

What became of the bōjutsu of Kakazu?

The following is the inheritance as recorded in the Kakazu village tradition.

The origin of Kakazu Bō is Sakugawa Kanga (1762–1843), a samurē and native of Akata in Shuri, who was famously known as “Karate Sakugawa,” “Bō Sakugawa,” and Sakugawa Pēchin. Chinen Sanrā (1840–1922), commonly known as “Old commoner Yamannī,” inherited the bōjutsu from Sakugawa. Chinen Sanrā in turn began teaching bōjutsu to the young men (seinen) of Kakazu around 1922. Chinen’s students included Higa Sei’ichirō (1890–1991), Higa Raisuke (1904–89), Akamine Yōhei (1906–87), and Higa Nisaburō (1900–81), who studied Sakugawa no Kon, Shūshi no Kon, Yonegawa no Kon, and Shirotaru no Kon, respectively. Although Chinen Sanrā was already eighty-two years old at the time, he was very strong. The instruction was held in the yard in front of the village’s place of worship (uganju). All the disciples took off their tops, placed their hands together in prayer, and then began practice. It is said that the training sessions were so rigorous and earnest, like fighting with real swords, that fresh bruises never ceased to occur. It is also said that if Chinen Sanrā found it worthwhile, he would sometimes stay overnight to teach the young men.

After having received this instruction, the four men in turn continued to teach bōjutsu to the group of young men of Kakazu. The bōjutsu taught by the four was also practiced intensely, and in case of partner practice (kumite), the more inexperienced people were, the harder they hit each other with the , making loud noises and the would also often break, so much that even though two full-time carpenters were producing every day, they were unable to produce them in time.

It is said that Yamannī-ryū practice is so intense that if you miss by 15 mm, you will die, and before anyone knew it, it was feared by people in nearby villages as “Kakazu Bō.”

Inheritance of Kakazu Bō

The number of successors to Kakazu Bō, which demanded too strict discipline, gradually decreased, but Akamine Eisuke (19261999), the second president of the Ryukyu Kobudo Preservation and Promotion Association, mastered each of the four kata handed down by Old Commoner Chinen under the guidance of their respective masters.

Afterwards, his son Hiroshi (third generation chairman of the Ryukyu Kobudo Preservation and Promotion Association) took over this work, and while teaching at the Shinbukan dōjō in Nesabu, Tomigusuku City, he taught the four kata to his students as the “Yamanni-ryū no bō.” Today, “Yamanni-ryū no bō” has become Okinawa’s representative bōjutsu.

Note that the above is from a history book prepared by a subvillage community center, and is less reliable than a city history or even a prefectural or national history. The advantage however is that such histories of such small places include many personal stories of villagers, such as can be seen in this case of Kakazu Bō. To complement the given data, it should be noted here that Kuniyoshi Yukio, who took over as chairman of the Ryukyu Kobudo Preservation and Promotion Association in 2013, learned all of the four kata directly from Akamine Eisuke and also teaches them.

Btw, I also mention Kakazu Bō in my latest book, including a link to Sakugawa no Kon of Kakazu Bō (Yamanni no Bō).

Posted in Bojutsu Kata Series, kobudo, kumibo, Postwar Okinawa Karate, Prewar Okinawa Karate, The Technique of Okinawa Karate and Kobudo | Tagged | Comments Off on The 1921 Martial Arts Performance for Crown Prince Hirohito at Shuri Castle, and Kakazu Bo

The first private dojo in Okinawa?

Some time ago, I wrote about the development of the Okinawan dojo, which is at the core of modern Okinawa karate. Without dojo, there would be no Okinawa karate. Of course, this blog post is pretty limited, but it is a big topic that should be considered carefully, from the military training area at Kume during the kingdom era to the open spaces called Uganju of each village, to Shikina-en guard house where Matsumura taught, to the Normal school and Middle school of the early 20th century, Motobu Choyu’s karate study group in the 1920s, to the Okinawa Butokuden in 1939. So there are several phases that need to be distinguished.

Originally, Okinawan dojo of the early 20th century were institutionalized places such as at schools or police, while private dojo were largely outdoor places. As a general rule, full-fledged private Okinawan indoor dojo developed in the postwar era, during the time of US government until 1972.

Recently, Emanuel Sensei of Shorin-ryu Torino, Italy, shared a photo of Chibana Choshin’s Karate Research Institute in 1929. I am not sure but I guess it was an outdoor dojo as well. I have inquired with Emanuel and he’s trying to find out more.

As regards the first confirmed full-fledged, dedicated Okinawan indoor dojo so far, it seems to have been opened by Nagamine Shoshin. Established in 1942, Nagamine built a new dojo of approximately 39.6m². At the opening ceremony, 71-year-old Kyan Chotoku gave a commemorative martial arts demonstration of Passai and bojutsu.

Around that time, a student of Keiō University Karate Club visited Okinawa, which is still remembered in the records of the Keio University Karate Club. At that time, the central persons of Okinawa Karate were Hanashiro Chomo and Miyagi Chojun, but it is said that only Nagamine Shōshin had a formal indoor karate dojo instead of using the yard as a training place.

So, what was the first private dojo in Okinawa? I and the global karate community would appreciate any additional information.

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Setting the Bar

Wooden poles have undoubtedly been used across all times, cultures, and geographical areas to overcome natural obstacles such as waterways, marshy places, or mountainous areas, and sometimes even man-made obstacles. It is easy to imagine how children used it during play, in games and pastime, or by adults as working aid.

Besides, there is also clear archaeological and literary evidence.

Early forms of pole vaulting were held by ancient Greeks, Cretans used long sticks to swing over bulls, and the Celts are known to have used poles for long jumps.

In youth education, pole vaulting has been known to German gymnasts (Turner) since around 1775 and was detailed in 1793 by Gutsmuths, the “grandfather of physical education.”

Following the Age of Reason, the earliest recorded pole vault competition where height was measured took place at the Ulverston Football and Cricket Club, Lancashire, north of the sands (now Cumbria) in 1843. A few years later, in 1849, Francis Temple reached 3.15 m and soon competitions also started in continental Europe. Pole vault became an Olympic discipline for men in 1896, with a record that year of about 3.2 meters. From there, records progressed to 4.02 m in 1912 (Marc Wright), 4.54 m in 1937 (Bill Sefton und Earle Meadows), 5.00 m in 1963 (Brian Sternberg), and 5.51 m in 1972 (Kjell Isaksson). Following the introduction of fiberglass poles in the early 1970s, the 6.00 m mark was first reached in 1985 (Serhij Bubka). Today, the average height reached in pole vault is around 4.50 meters for women and around 6 meters for men.

As regards Japan, during the Olympics, Japanese athletes reached 3.90m in 1928, 4.30m in 1932, 4.25m in 1936, 4.20m in 1952, 5.50m in 2005 and 2016, and 5.75m in 2013. Japan’s current top ten records are 5.60 to 5.83m for men (high schools 5.25 to 5.51m), and 4.20 to 4.48m for women (high schools 4.00 to 4.16m). Pole vault is also an Olympic discipline for women since 2000, and is also a decathlon discipline, while in Japan, female records are officially recognized as Japanese records since 1993.

On Okinawa, pole vault has been carried out at least since November 1903, when it was adopted for the athletic meet of the Middle school in Shuri (Ryūkyū Kyōiku). Within the political encouragement of physical education during the Taishō era (1912-1926), young men associations (seinendan) hosted athletic meets by pressuring other groups such as the improvement association (kōjōkai), women’s associations (fujinkai), virgin associations, elementary school children, and students into participation. In addition to holding athletic meets, the young men association of Miyagi in Haebaru Village abolished Eisā dance, and instead encouraged traditional athletic cultures such as Okinawan sumō, bōjutsu, and sashi-ishi (a stone through which a wooden bar is inserted), as well as activities promoting endurance, such as military exercises for pupils (kyōren), walking, horizontal bar, tug-of-war, and sword fencing (gekken), and they recommended track-and-field events such as pole vault, shot put, long jump, triple jump, and high jump.

In short, pole vault as an athletic discipline was carried out in Okinawa since the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Well, the history of pole vault as a sport as well as some of its folk variations are readily available on Wikipedia, obviously with an emphasis on competition sport. Beside of that, I have researched another lead that might be entertaining for some. That is, German youth educator Gutsmuths (1759–1839) described it in detail with a few plates and technical illustration already in 1793 in his “Gymnastics for the Youth.” In it, Gutsmuths notes a first historical trace on pole vault, stating,

“I have not found any trace of the [pole vault] exercise in any antiquarian works. However, the fact it was common among the Ancients can be seen from a passage by Ovid where Nestor, using his lance, swings himself onto the branches of an oak tree in order to escape the Calydonian boar.” (Gutsmuths 1793: 298)

This refers to the Calydonian Boar Hunt in Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” (“Transformations”).

Almost 200 years after Gutsmuths, the same story is mentioned as the “first recorded pole vault in literature,” saying,

“Nestor, for example, avoids the boar by a desperate move: he pole-vaults into the branches of a nearby tree.” […] “Nestor gets a spring from his spear which he has ‘bravely’ perverted into a pole for the first recorded ‘pole vault’ in literature” (Anderson 1972: 357, 366).  

The full passage is as follows:

“Perhaps the Pylian Prince, Nestor, would have perished even before the Trojan War, but he leaped by his spear-pole with all his strength into a tree which stood nearby, and from the safety of the branches he looked down upon the enemy he had escaped” (Anderson 1972: 91).

I have no idea how Gutsmuths and Anderson located this source prior to the rise of the internet, but miracles happen.

Gutsmuths understood the value of pole vault for physical education. He describes jumping as

“one of the most beautiful gymnastic exercises. Feet, legs, knees and thighs, the entire body is strengthened and made flexible, every muscle is tensed, courage invigorated, the sense of visual judgement is exceedingly sharpened, and a mastery of body balance is gradually achieved that protects us from dangerous falls” (Gutsmuths 1793: 276).

As a natural ratio and significance in education, Gutsmuths notes that

“In daily life as well, where streams, ditches and a thousand obstacles can often only be overcome by jumping, a physical jump is certainly just as useful in real life as an ideal one is beautiful in poetry. […] Determination thus achieved will be part of the boys’ characters as men in the future” (Gutsmuths 1793: 276).

Turning to the vertical pole vault in particular, he explains the advantages for youth education as thus.

“This type of vault jump requires far more courage, visual judgement, and body balance than the normal jump. At the same time, it exercises the muscles of the chest, shoulders, arms and hands, which are inactive in the normal jump” (Gutsmuths 1793: 297–298).

Next, he explains the procedure in reference to an illustration found at the end of his work. It is the description of the exercise as has been carried out in 1793. I will quote it in full.

“This exercise is done on the same spot as the jump without a pole and with the same procedure, but by using a 2.10 to 3 m long, not too heavy pole that is strong enough to support the body and to swing over the bar.

Exercise: – The body should be swung over a given height supported by a pole. To do so, the vaulter holds the staff in both hands, the left at the bottom, the right at the top, as shown in Fig. 2.

Both arms are separated quite far apart. The lower arm supports the body while jumping, the upper arm serves to pull the body upwards. The vaulter vigorously runs up, depending on the given height, with 10 to 15 steps, places the pointed end of the pole down, neither to the left nor the right, but straight in front of his feet, 30 to 60 cm in front of the bar, provides his body a violent momentum through the high-speed strength of his feet and the pull of his hands, thereby gaining a strong upswing in positions xx, and swings his feet in an arc-like route from xx via y to zz, or otherwise, if the staff is gripped at a longer position, via o or p to zz.

Fig. 3 indicates the matter with mere lines, in which ab represents the bar, and cd the pole. In position AA, the hands form a fixed point around which the vaulter’s body swings. Like this, the vaulter may reach through all the positions indicated by the lines AB until he finally reaches position AC, at which point he lowers his feet at C and so reaches the ground on the other side of the bar. […]

I have seen several boys and aspiring teens overleap their own body height by 76.2 to 96.52 cm, and jump over 254 cm with a body height of 157.48 cm.” (Gutsmuths 1793: 299–300)

The text together with the illustrations provides an amazingly accurate and logical instruction. First of all, it says that, other than today, they used a double-handed underhand. This was due to the stiffness of the pole on one hand, and the technique used with the lower arm supporting the body weight while jumping, and the upper arm serving to pull the body upwards. While this is from 1793, this kind of double-handed underhand grip obviously still in use a century later, as shown in the following photo of 1890 taken at the US Naval Academy.

As can geometrically inferred from the photo, the height of the vault may well be 3 meters or more. As Gutsmuths described, by 1793, among boys and male teens, some who were 157.48 cm tall would jump over a bar of 254 cm, which is amazing, isn’t it. Considering an adult trained in Gutsmuths’ method, it may well be assumed that a well-trained adult gymnast was able to overjump 3 meters at the end of the 18th century. Actually, when considering a person jumping through point p as shown in Gutsmuths’ illustration above, this will be a height of around 3 meters.

You may wonder why I write this on this blog, which is a martial arts blog. Well, there is an well known Okinawan karate master who was good at pole vault when younger. Here’s a translation from an interview published 2015. It is the following.

Eternal rivals who thrilled the crowd with their pole vault

■ Hiroshi Akamine (hereinafter referred to as Hiroshi): I started this in 1973. When I joined the young persons’ association at that time, I had to participate in one of the athletic competitions. I was a member of the track and field club at Okinawa University. Since I wasn’t as strong at long distances as my cousin [Higa] Akira-san, who was mentioned earlier, I competed during the [Kakazu’s] village’s track-and-field meet in pole vault, which I had tried in high school. Then I jumped 3.10 m and won the title.

Next, I advanced on to the Shimajiri Games, where those who placed second or higher would qualify for the Prefectural Games. Unfortunately, I had a state examination on the day of the Shimajiri Games, so I declined to participate. On the day of the competition, after the examination was over, I hurried to the sporting venue in Kochinda. Then, the pole vault competition reached its climax, and the victories were between a height of 3.20m and 3.30m. I was watching the sports game, thinking that with this, I could win next year.

■ Moderator: Were the poles used at that time made of bamboo? Or did you use glass fiber?

■ Hiroshi: Until the early 1970s, all athletes used bamboo. One year at the Shimajiri Games, I thought it would end at 3.30m, but Inoue, an athlete from Kochinda, who had been giving a pass all the time, started jumping from 3.50m. When I looked at it, I noticed that the flexibility of the pole was different. He was using a fiberglass pole. At that time, I realized that there was no way I could compete with a bamboo pole.

So, I asked my cousin Akira, “Does anyone I know use fiberglass?” He replied, “There is!” I was quickly introduced and started practicing using a fiberglass pole at Onoyama Track and Field Stadium.

■ Moderator: How much did your record improve by changing to fiberglass?

■ Hiroshi: With the bamboo pole it was 3m 10 cm, but when I replaced it with a fiberglass pole, it became 4.15m.

■ Moderator: Wow, that’s an amazing growth. In what year did you win against Inoue of Kochinda, who first used fiberglass at the Shimajiri Games?

■ Hiroshi: That was 1975. At that time, I won first place and Mr. Inoue won the second place. Also, since then I was a good rival with Mr. Inoue, sharing first and second places. After that, Mr. Inoue and I always represented Shimajiri district in the Prefectural Games. I left the world of pole vaulting in 1983.

Karate disciple breaks Shimajiri record

■ Moderator: Is Hiroshi’s height of 4.15m the record at the Shimajiri Games?

■ Hiroshi: That record is from when I won 3rd place at the Prefectural Games. Until now, it was also the record for the Shimajiri District, but recently a university student jumped 4.50m, so my record was broken. Actually, he is my favorite karate student. (laughs)

I was a pole vaulter for about 10 years, from the age of 19 (1973) to the age of 29 (1983). The reason (I stopped) was to become more devoted to karate.

■ Moderator: Thank you. Hiroshi is currently the director of a karate dojo.

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Performance of the bo accompanied by Kajadifū

Martial arts bōjutsu and traditional bō performing arts have a long history of co-existence and cross fertilization. Traditional bō performing arts entered martial arts dōjō, and martial arts kata enter traditional bō performing arts. The most visible differences are in the clothing, the occasion of performance, and in the music that provides the beat and pauses.

Iha Mitsutada of Ryukonkai performing bo to the Kajadifū.

One of the typical musical pieces used to accompany traditional bō performing arts is Kagiyadefū, which is Japanese pronunciation of the Okinawan Kajadifū. It is one of the representative musical pieces of Ryūkyū classical music that is always played at festivals in Okinawa. It is played by the three-stringed sanshin accompanied by singing, is also treated as a dance song, and is sometimes accompanied by the 13-stringed Japanese zither (koto), taiko drums, flute, and the 3- or 4-stringed bowed Japanese instrument called kokyū.

Find out all about traditional bō performing arts of Okinawa and Kajadifū in my latest book, “Bo.”

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Information on the Harcover Edition of “Bo”

Dear friends, followers, and supporters. I have published my new book “Bo.” The hardcover edition went live with a page count of 266 pages. However, I wanted to change the type area and as a result, the current edition has 300 pages. However, the content remained the same. There are simply less words on each page, making it a larger total page count.

If you have any further questions, please contact me via Facebook messenger.

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NEW RELEASE: Bo – Techniques, Forms, and Partner Practices of Ancient Okinawan Fighting Traditions. Volume 1: Bo-odori.

Softcover edition: US | UK | DE | FR | ES | IT | NL | JP | AU | BR | CA | MX | SE | IN | PL

  • Bo Techniques, Forms, and Partner Practices of Ancient Okinawan Fighting Traditions. Volume 1: Bo-odori.
  • US $ 32
  • 6″ x 9″ (15.24 x 22.86 cm)
  • Black & White on white paper
  • XXXIV, 266 pages
  • ISBN: 979-8873502721
  • First Printing: 2024
  • Independently published.

Hardcover available end of February, 2024 on all Amazon regional pages.

Hardcover edition: US | UK | SE | DE | FR | ES | IT | PL | NL | CA | MX

  • Bo Techniques, Forms, and Partner Practices of Ancient Okinawan Fighting Traditions. Volume 1: Bo-odori.
  • US $ 44
  • 6″ x 9″ (15.24 x 22.86 cm)
  • XXXIV, 266 pages
  • ISBN: 979-8880149520
  • First Printing: 2024
  • Independently published.

Get the Discount! Dojo owners, association officials, retailers: Get discounts on bulk orders. I will have it shipped to you directly from your regional Amazon hub.

QtyDiscount %
56 %
107 %
2010 %
5015 %
10016 %

Ancient bōjutsu, bō-odori, bō-furi, or village from Okinawa received much less attention than its famous sister discipline of kobudō. Ho­w­ever, to really understand Okinawan martial arts in general, these old traditions are a mirror of the past we must not ignore. Representing a captivating realm of Okinawan culture, the ancient art of the takes center stage in a dazzling array of performances. From the graceful finesse of bōjutsu to the rhythmic energy of lion dance , the island proudly boasts a rich tapestry of traditions. Within the fabric of these performances lies a hidden world—the realm of “The Last Secrets of Okinawan Martial Arts with Weaponry.”

BTW, I began the study of Okinawan Bo-odori thirteen years ago, with the first results published here. Good things take time.

Posted in Book Reviews, kobudo, kumibo, Performing Arts, Postwar Okinawa Karate, Prewar Okinawa Karate, Publications, Terminology, The Technique of Okinawa Karate and Kobudo, Theories of Historical Karate in Comparative Perspective, Tsuken | Comments Off on NEW RELEASE: Bo – Techniques, Forms, and Partner Practices of Ancient Okinawan Fighting Traditions. Volume 1: Bo-odori.

Okinawan Rugby uses a Bo!

The video shows Bō-taoshi held at the Naha City Mawashi Junior High School Sports Day, 1970s. Bō-taoshi is a combat sport performed at athletic meets. The object is to topple the opposing team’s pole (). In bō-taoshi, there is a group of defenders who hold up and protect a pole, and a group of attackers who aim to pull off the defenders one by one to knock down their pole.

Since it is fun but a bit rough, I am not sure if it is still done in schools today.

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Kongō no Kata (formerly known as Shūshi no Kon)

I wrote about Kongō no Kon recently, which was created by Taira Shinken based on elements taken from Sueyoshi no KonSesoko no Kon, and Soeishi no Kon. Then Mr. Y, one of the inquirers, asked about another kata called Kongō he had heard several years ago and which was published in the Karate-dō Taikan in 1938, and that it was a variation of Shūshi no Kon.

And that’s right. At that time, Taira reformed old-style Shūshi no Kon and renamed it Kongō no Kata. Actually, the exact title of the chapter in question reads “Kongō no Kata (formerly known as Shūshi no Kon.”

However, at some later point in time, Taira reversed this, created Shūshi no Kon Shō and Dai, and then at some point created Kongō no Kon as a completely different kata. This must be seen in context with Taira trying this and that since the 1930s through to the 1960s.

Anyway, Taira’s 1938 attempt of “Kongō no Kata (formerly known as Shūshi no Kon)” is still interesting. It is composed of illustrations and accompanying text. There are several things to note and some technical specifics that are quite intruiging. Therefore, I made a video explaning everything and showing the kata for consideration.

In addition, and since it was sitting on one of my drives anyway, I prepared an English translation of the kata. As a side note, I took the photos of the kata from the Karate-dō Taikan in 2009 in the study of the late Nagamine Shōshin sensei at the Kōdōkan, Matsubayashi-ryū Honbu Dōjō in Naha Kumoji, with the consent of Nagamine Takayoshi sensei. That was an original 1938 edition, but I used a cheap camera or phone (I don’t remember) so the quality is not good.

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A Revival of Kongo no Kon

It was just one or two weeks ago that Mr. X asked if I knew something about a certain bō-kata, or made a movie about it etc. I immediately knew what was going on and had a guess which dōjō he referred to, but Mr. X was reluctant to confirm it officially. So, I thought, it is still a bit secret. Then I received another request yesterday from Mr. Y, about the same bō-kata, inquiring if I knew anything about it, if there were videos out there etc. pp. This time, however, Mr. Y confirmed that it was Sensei Z from Okinawa who reintroduces the kata as what might best be referred to as an “extracurricular study kata.” Sensei Z trained since the 1970s and his technique is smooth so I am sure it will become a great kata. “Extracurricular study kata” are quite hip on Okinawa, such as can be seen in Matayoshi-lineage Kobudō as well as in Taira-lineage Kobudō. The most important points to it are the following (list not exhaustive). 1. From a practical perspective, it is an extension of technical content and therefore arguably of skill. 2. From an administrative perspective, it provides additional teaching content, that is, more seminars, more gradings, more of everything. 3. From the perspective of personal tradition, it reintroduces, cumulates, or expands the teachings of the original sensei of the lineage, which might have been fragmentary. 4. From a marketing perspective, it might simply be summarized under “customer retention.” 5. From a sport perspective, it allows for more gold medals and titles, which together with grades, are one of the spices of the Okinawan dōjō industry.

When looking at the teaching contents of Okinawan karate kobudō schools since the 1950s, it is easy to observe that teaching content expands further and further in almost every dōjō and association. At some point in the future, maybe in 50 or 100 years, the teaching content will be so vast there is little chance to learn it all in a lifetime. All of this is valuable and might be requested by various sensei and the students as well, who are dōjō owners themselves and need more and more stuff to teach and test students for. It might also simply be the love, joy and pride for kobudō.

To wrap it up: A bō-kata that was obviously never taught in Okinawa or fell in disuse half a century ago is being taught again in a specific school. Call it refurbished, recreated, reenacted, reinvented, or rediscovered etc. That kata is Kongō no Kon.

Now, Kongō no Kon appears on some old kata lists, and from that might arose the wish to reintroduce them both on Okinawa as well as in the branches abroad. It was always a stain for Okinawa that the students of Taira obviously did not learn his whole set of techniques or weren’t able to maintain it, particularly since Kongō no Kon exists in mainland in the Sakagami lineage and the Inoue lineage and probably elsewhere since the late 60s or early 70s. For reasons of simplicity, I will take up the Inoue lineage here for my analysis. Remember I have been asked about the matter so don’t blame me. Well then, lets gets started with Kongō no Kon.

Overdoing it for the sake of clariyfing the issue: This is a possible way of performing Kongo no Kon along the Okinawan Taira lineage design pattern. Btw, I did a similar adaption already with Sueyoshi no Kon more than 10 years ago.

Inoue already published Kongō no Kon in 1974 with photos and descriptive text for each move in great detail, and including the kata’s “application kumite,” or what some people would call “bunkai” or “oyo.” This publication is pretty rare and in Japanese, so most people will have neither opportunity nor skill to study it by themselves, but there are one or two videos of it online. Yet, it is all in mainland Inoue style, so Okinawans would need to “recalculate” the techniques to their own ways. This is because the Okinawan Taira lineage developed along all sorts of different and partly idiosyncratic methods since the 1970s. That is, existing content of Kongō no Kon in either film, text and photographs, or in the memories of the elders would need a lot of work to make it look like authentic Okinawan Taira lineage.

For instance, in Inoue lineage, the kata start with a step backward, but in Okinawa it begins with a step forward most of the time. The front strike of Inoue is performed in the order of jōdan-kamae, jōdan-uchi, and uke, while in Okinawan Taira lineage, there is first a jōdan-ura-uchi with the rear end of the , followed by the front strike that ends at the hip level, followed by a chūdan-zuki and then either a chūdan-kame or a chūdan-uke. Accordingly, the morphological order of techniques as well as their outward appearance are obviously quite different.

Taira didn’t perform thrusts (tsuki) often after front strikes and neither does Inoue, but in Okinawa, it is done all the time. It has actually been made a landmark, fixed in what is known as “Bō Kihon Nr. 3.” Inoue’s furiage-uchi is also quite different and would need to be adapted as well. And, as a general rule, while Inoue doesn’t perform a thrust (tsuki) after the front strike, he does a long sliding thrust (nuki-zuki) at almost every kata’s end. Okinawan Taira lineage on the other hand mostly does normal thrust at the end, except in the very high kata.

So, these are several issues of the “style sheet,” habits of ways of doing things that are specific and unique to certain factions. As a result, while all the kata themselves basically remain the same, they make a completely different outward impression, and have a very different practical reasoning as well. Therefore, to make rediscovered techniques look like authentic Okinawan Taira lineage, they need to be adapted to various specifics and characteristics. Or in other words, to revive Kongō no Kon as an authentic kata of Okinawan Taira lineage, one would first need to research and understand all the details of what Inoue does in all of his kata versions. Only then one is able to compare each kata of their own school to those of Inoue, and by this become able to “recalculate” it to Okinawan Taira lineage style, or one’s own dōjō style. That is, you decipher a “code x” to your own “code y”, or a “style sheet 1” to your own “style sheet 2.” It is literally a code since the terms used for the techniques are different as well: Furiage in one school might mean something different in another. And it is literally a style sheet because it defines the outward appearance, as described in a previous article. This all needs to be studied and understood first.

Next, it is important to know that Taira created Kongō no Kon by himself, just like he created or modified almost everything else. When considering Taira’s full corpus of kata, Kongō no Kon has little to nothing new to offer. It is basically a collection of combinations and enbusen from several other existing kata. However, since Okinawan Taira lineage forgot some kata long ago, most people cannot know the kata, techniques, and combinations from which Taira created Kongō no Kon.

This being said, and since I was asked to express my opinion, let me tell you that Kongō no Kon is based on elements taken from Sueyoshi no Kon, Sesoko no Kon, and Soeishi no Kon, that is, some of the highest and longest bō-kata of the Taira lineage. It should be noted that, as a general trend, these three kata were partly or completely lost long ago on Okinawa. However, as the revival of Kongō no Kon shows, they might probably be reinvented or reintroduced as well at some point, but naturally these are confidential activities so they will probably simply be presented one day as if they were handed down in personal tradition ever since.

Also note that since this is not a PhD thesis but only my personal assessment after being asked my opinion twice, I am not going into every detail as to what combinations of Sueyoshi no Kon, Sesoko no Kon, and Soeishi no Kon were used by Taira to create Kongō no Kon.

Instead, I will just provide a video of Kongō no Kon here, plus a translation of Inoue’s 1974 description of it below. As an important point, I have used and translated the original terminology so you can immediately see the difference in practical perception when compared to the terminologies used in Okinawa Taira lineage. Note that I am not a member of any association, so it might look a little different than it is done in the Inoue school.

Remember these are just quick examples I worked out this morning just for the fun of it.

Kongō no Kon (Inoue 1974)


Body at the position of attention (ki o tuske).

Bow (rei).

Get set (yōi).

Go (hajime).

Lane 1

1. Place your left foot backward, with a right outside deflection (soto-uke).

2. Right inside deflection (uchi-uke).

3. Place your left foot forward, with a left reverse horizontal strike (gyakute yoko-uchi).

4. Place your right foot forward, with a right horizontal strike (yoko-uchi).

5. Scooping deflection (sukui-uke).

6. Lower-level reverse strike (gedan ura-uchi).

7. Reverse upward swing strike (gyaku furi-age-uchi).

8. Sweeping deflection (harai-uke).

9. Upper-level strike (jō-uchi).

10. Outside deflection (soto-uke).

Side lane 1a

11. Move your right foot slightly to the right, and rotate 90° counterclockwise, towards absolute direction left, and assume the posture of the pull-down strike (hikiotoshi-uchi).

12. Place your right foot forward, with a combing-up strike (kakiage-uchi).

13. Upper-level strike (jō-uchi).

14. Place your left foot slightly to the left, with a scooping deflection (sukui-uke).

15. Raise your right foot, with a lower-level reverse strike (gedan ura-uchi).

16. Put your right foot down and forward, with a sweeping deflection (harai-uke).

17. Upper-level strike (jō-uchi).

18. Upward swing strike (furi-age-uchi).

19. Upper-level strike (jō-uchi).

20. Outside deflection (soto-uke).

Side lane 1b

21. Move your right foot slightly to the left, rotate 180° counterclockwise to your rear, towards absolute direction right, and assume the posture of the pull-down strike (hikiotoshi-uchi).

22. Place your right foot forward, with a combing-up strike (kakiage-uchi).

23. Upper-level strike (jō-uchi).

24. Place your left foot slightly to the left, with a scooping deflection (sukui-uke).

25. Raise your right foot, with a lower-level reverse strike (gedan ura-uchi).

26. Put your right foot down and forward, with a sweeping deflection (harai-uke).

27. Upper-level strike (jō-uchi).

28. Upward swing strike (furi-age-uchi).

29. Upper-level strike (jō-uchi).

30. Outside deflection (soto-uke).

Lane 1 – End combination

31. Rotate 90° counterclockwise toward your left and prepare for a lower-level deflection (gedan-uke) towards absolute direction front.

32. Lower-level deflection (gedan-uke).

33. Lower-level thrust (gedan-zuki).

Lane 2

34. Move your left foot slightly to the right, rotate 180° clockwise toward your rear, with a hooking block (hikkake) toward absolute direction rear.

35. Pull your right foot back a little, with a scooping deflection (sukui-uke).

36. Lower-level reverse strike (gedan ura-uchi).

37. Sweeping deflection (harai-uke).

38. Upper-level strike (jō-uchi).

39. Outside deflection (soto-uke).

40. Switch your right hand to the reverse grip (gyakute), place your left foot forward, and perform a knock-away strike (hataki-uchi).

41. Both-handed reverse-grip thrust (ryō gyakute-zuki).

42. Place your right foot forward, and perform a knock-away strike (hataki-uchi).

43. Both-handed reverse-grip thrust (ryō gyakute-zuki).

44. Switch your right hand to regular grip (honte), move your left foot slightly to the left, and perform a scooping deflection (sukui-uke).

45. Lower-level reverse strike (gedan ura-uchi).

46. Reverse upward swing strike (gyaku furi-age-uchi).

47. Sweeping deflection (harai-uke).

48. Upper-level strike (jō-uchi).

49. Outside deflection (soto-uke).

Lane 3 – Bridge right / left

50. With the right foot as the pivot, rotate 180° counterclockwise to your rear, place your left foot backward towards absolute direction rear, and turn towards absolute direction front, with a sweeping deflection (harai-uke).

51. Upper-level strike (jō-uchi).

52. Outside deflection (soto-uke).

53. Place your right foot to the side of your left foot, switch your right hand to reverse grip (gyakute), and assume the upper-level horizontal posture (jōdan yoko ichimonji kamae).

54. Lower-level horizontal posture (gedan yoko ichimonji kamae).

55. Turn 90° to the left, towards absolute direction left, with a both-handed reverse-grip scooping deflection (ryō gyakute sukui-uke).

56. Winding press block (maki-oase).

57. Thrust (tsuki).

58. Turn 180° to your rear, toward absolute direction right, with a both-handed reverse-grip scooping deflection (ryō gyakute sukui-uke).

59. Winding press block (maki-oase).

60. Thrust (tsuki).

Lane 3 – straight forward

61. With the left foot as the pivot, rotate 90° clockwise, place your right foot backward towards absolute direction rear, and perform a both-handed reverse-grip reverse hooking block (ryō gyakute gyaku hikkake).

62. Prepare for a winding press block (maki-oase).

63. Winding press block (maki-oase).

64. Place your right foot forward, with a both-handed reverse-grip rising strike (ryō gyakute age-uchi).

65. Switch your right hand to regular grip (honte), and perform a lower level reverse strike (gedan ura-uchi).

66. Lower-level sweep (gedan-barai).

67. Upper-level strike (jō-uchi).

68. Sliding thrust (nuki-zuki).

69. Outside deflection (soto-uke).


Restore the bō to its initial position (osame-bō)

Return to a posture of attention (ki o tsuke),

bow (rei).

Finally, here’s a fun question for all those Okinawa dialect otakus out there: How do you pronounce Kongō no Kon in Okinawan dialect?

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