Fourth Installation on Ufutun Bō

The following info is found in literature:

Ufutun no Bō (aka Mēkata no Bō)

In today’s Yaese Town Ufutun (the former Gushichan Ufutun).

When and where performed: During Abushibarē in the 4th month of the old lunar calendar.

This bōjutsu is performed together with the music of the Kagiyade-fū.

History and overview of this village bōjutsu: Was there an influence by the Yadori?

It is called Mēkata no Bō and Ufutun no Bō.

Ufutun became an administrative district in 1931.

This bōjutsu was taught by the late Yagi Zenjo to Yagi Zenryō. In addition, there is Koshima Mizusei as a successor.

(See: Okinawa Prefecture Board of Education: Basic Research Report on Karatedō and Kobudō, 1994. Hokama Tetsuhiro: Okinawa Karate Kobudō no Shinzui, 1999.)

There is a lot of information in the short entry above.

First of all, this bōjutsu is called Ufutun no Bō and also Mēkata no Bō. Today Ufutun is located in Yaese Town, but in the past it belonged to Gushichan.

Next, what is Abushibarē? Abushibarē is an event that takes place on a lucky day in the 4th month of the old lunar calendar, mostly around the 14th and 15th day of the month. It is a ritual of exterminating harmful insects with the Noro priestesses at its center. In the past, harm by rats or insect pests were a threat for the agricultural communities, and magic considered the best means to chase them out of the village. Offerings to capture the insects were placed on a boat and pushed off the coast by the Noro priestess.

Next, it says that this bōjutsu is performed together with the music of the Kagiyade-fū. This Kagiyade-fū is one of the most famous Ryūkyūan music pieces and a famous song among karate people. Originally this song was only performed in front of the King.

Then, the entry raises the question whether the bōjutsu was influenced by Yadori, that is, by a rural “warrior class” villages. According to the website of Yaese Town, Ufutun (Ōton) has currently a population of only 275 persons in 111 households. The small village originated in Ufutunbara Yadori, which was created by former samurē (shizoku) persons who migrated from the urban district of Shuri to the territory of the current village. Like this, Yadori were rural “warrior class” villages and they often maintained parts of their previous urban culture, including martial arts. There are various reasons for the emergence of Yadori villages, one being that more and more people became aristocrats in Okinawa and by the 18th century there were not enough government posts left for all of them, so they were send to the rural areas where they established their own communities, the Yadori.

In 1931, Ufutun became established as a village section (aza, an administrative unit) separately from Hanagusuku village section, but the registered domicile and address remained Hanagusuku. In 1989, the area of Gushikami and Hanagusuku were changed, and Ufutun (Ōton) became a larger village section (administrative unit).

Well, the title of below video is “Bōjutsu ‘Mēkata’ Joint Dance Performance.” It was performed at the “All Island Bōjutsu Festival” held in Yaese in 2017. Obviously here members of various bōjutsu troupes from all over the island perform together.

First of all, this took place in Yaese District, and Ufutun (Ōton) is a village of this district. Second, the performance is referred to as bōjutsu mēkata. Third, it is performed to the music of Kagiyade-fū.

One man wears a jacket with the district name of “Hanagusuku” on it. Hanagusuku and Ufutun (Ōton) are close, only about 1.8 km apart, and they are also historically close, with Ufutun (Ōton) having been a part of Hanagusuku. It is therefore quite possible that the bōjutsu shown by the person with the name “Hanagusuku” on his jacket is similar in appearance to Ufutun Bō. It should be noted that no village bōjutsu is mentioned for Hanagusuku so it might have been handed down or adopted from elsewhere, including from Ufutun (Ōton) village.

I hope in the future we will be able to see the actual Ufutun Bō from Ufutun (Ōton) village, and see if there is any resemblance to either the 1961 perfomance of Shiroma Taisei (known to a few people from an unpublished video) or to the completely different Ufutun Bō that was adopted into Matayoshi kobudō circles.

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Third installation on Ufutun Bō

After a first and a second article, and a bunch of feedback by experts of the style, lets get back to basics. To do so, let me shortly recapitulate some infos gathered so far:

In 1961, Shiroma Taisai performed Ufutun Bō, which was reported about in a newspaper article. As regards the name Ufutun: There is a district called Ōton in Okinawa, pronounced Ufutun in Okinawan slang. Located in Yaese Town, Shimajiri District, Okinawa Prefecture, it even has a bus stop called Ōton/Ufutun 大屯. And Shiroma Taisei was born in 1885 in Ōshiro in Ōzato Village, which is just a short distance from Ufutun (Oton).

Now, there’s the following short information about bōjutsu from this area.

Ufutun no Bō (Mēkata no Bō), in the former Gushikami Village Ufutun section”

(See, “Basic Research Report on Karatedō and Kobudō,” Okinawa Prefecture Board of Education 1994)

What is called “the former Gushikami Village Ufutun section” here is the current Ufutun in Yaese Town, Shimajiri District, Okinawa Prefecture.

In short, Ufutun Bō of Shiroma Taisai might have been a “village bōjutsu” (mura bō) of Ufutun in today’s Yaese Town.

At this point in time it is unknown to me whether this village bōjutsu is still practiced, and if so, if it is the same as Shiroma’s Ufutun Bō.

But there’s an important thing to note though: The description adds in brackets that Ufutun Bō is a Mēkata no Bō. To make a long story short, mēkata usually means that it is a free and often ad hoc performance to music, as opposed to a “fixed kata.” This needs to be carefully considered, because any personal or ad hoc staff dance might have been referred to as Ufutun Bō by any person.

Well, Shiroma Taisai’s version of Ufutun Bō is considered a lost practice. Now, understanding the mēkata factor, it becomes even unclear if his Ufutun Bō was a fixed kata, or if it was an ad hoc variation performed to music. In the end, in his description in the 1961 newspaper article, at no point did he clarify whether it was a fixed kata or a free performance, even though the (unpublished) video of his Ufutun Bō looks like a typical kata performance.

The question remains, what is the origin of the modern Matayoshi-fied Ufutun Bō?

Shimabukuro Tsuneo performing Ufutun Bō as an official kata of the 2018 Okinawa Karate Kobudō Cup

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Follow-up on Ufutun Bō

Previously I wrote about Ufutun Bō. As is often the case, there were no tangible answers or new informations shared by even the most authorative persons. In Okinawan martial arts, there are official narratives and these are strictly to be observed and repeated by students and teachers alike.

However, after some time had passed, a colleague send me a 1979 Matayoshi program, which included the following page:

In short, it shows that Maeshiro Shusei performed Ufutun Bō in 1979. Here Ufutun Bō uses the same characters as used in the 1961 newspaper article, that is 大屯棒. Therefore, it seems that the use of the designation Ufutun no Kon 大殿の棍 in the 1999 Matayoshi program was a mistake.

Overall, it is like this:

Ufutun Bō大屯棒1961
Ufutun Bō大屯棒1979
Ufutun no Kon大殿の棍1999

I also wonder whether the 1999 story of origin of the kata also added some confusion. To wrap it up,

  • There was a village bōjutsu from Ufutun in Ōzato Village called Ufutun Bō which was handed down since at least around 1900. This Ufutun Bō was presented in 1961 by a certain Shiroma.
  • Eighteen years later, in 1979, Maeshiro Shusei performed a bōjutsu also named Ufutun Bō.
  • Then, another twenty years later, in 1999, an official Matayoshi program describes Ufutun no Kon as an age-old bōjutsu from the Shuri lineage which was also called “Tunchi Bō” (Tunchi was an aristocratic class of Shuri), and further by the abbot of the Shikina Shrine, and further by others, and finally to Maeshiro Shusei.

Post Scrictum

A Canadian colleague and student of Yogi just now replied on Facebook, saying that Yogi and four other kobudō persons went to a village and still teach something they learned there. Unfortunately, while that Canadian colleague is a student of Yogi’s, he doesn’t speak a word of Japanese, so it is unclear where this story comes from. However, another Matayoshi experts then joined in and also said that Yogi Sensei told him the same story of the five guys going to the village elders larning the kata….

Then, I went on to search for the origin of the story. And I found it. It says the following in an article from 2007:

Yogi Jyosei relates that he and a number of other seniors went at Matayoshi’s direction to a member of his Uechi dojo to learn the kata Ufutun bo, which they later modified to fit the characteristic of the Matayoshi style.

Frederick W. Lohse III.: Matayoshi Kobudo. A Brief History and Overview. In: Meibukan Magazine No. 9, July 2007.

So what it says is that Yogi Sensei and his colleagues went to the Uechi dojo (of Maeshiro Shusei), and not to the village elders.

This is also verified by a colleague of mine earlier this year, who also inquired with Yogi Sensei specifically about Ufutun Bō. This is because Yogi Sensei is one of the few persons who teaches Ufutun Bō. What Yogi Sensei clearly said during two occasions was that Maeshiro Shusei learned Ufutun Bō from a certain master, and that Yogi afterwards learned Ufutun Bō from Maeshiro. Upon inquiring about the name of the person who taught Ufutun Bō to Maeshiro, Yogi Sensei clearly replied that he doesn’t know it.

It was further made clear that Ishiki Hidetada and Yamashiro Kenichi did not learn Ufutun Bō from Maeshiro (while Yogi was still his student), but probably later. In any case, Ishiki became Okinawa world champion in August 2022, during which he also used Ufutun Bō and it has become a standard competition winning kata in Okinawa.

While there are many people in Okinawa, and communication is easy these days for interested parties and those who have access to the kobudō circles on Okinawa, I am unaware of any person who inquired directly with Maeshiro Shusei to clear up the question surrounding the origin of Ufutun Bō as raised in the previous and this current articles.

That is, it seems that nobody has an interest in clarifying it.

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The girls sold as prostitutes, and the boys as Buddhist priests…

Typically, most members of the karate community oppose or even forbid discussion of certain topics. For instance, the topic of the involvement of Okinawan karate people in Japanese imperialism, colonialism, and militarism until the surrender in 1945 is carefully and cautiously circumnavigated. The reason is simple: It does not fit into the modern narrative of the peaceful kingdom. Also, why would Okinawans demonstrate against US bases if they had been so much “emotionally invested in the project of Japanese nationalism and militarism,” at least when they were young and until 1945? The same topic also diametrically opposes karate’s spiritually and philosophically draped self-portrayal.

In connection with Okinawa, a certain group compulsion towards positivism (a form of extremism) can also be seen as such, which is already strongly reminiscent of ideology, but it would probably be going too far to try to recognize people with a penchant for ideologies in all Okinawa fans.

For instance, it is common to praise Okinawa soba (noodle soup) and other foods in the highest tones, even if it is just a noodle soup. Another good example is Awamori, the indigenous spirit: Once used to clean corpses of flesh residue etc. after seven years in a bone urn, it is now extremely popular as a lifestyle party drink.

It is not exactly known where all these ideas-turned-ideologies came from but there have been varied reactions to a recent short post of mine on social media. It was a short quote from an article by Sayaka Chatani of the National University of Singapore. Chatani has clarified in a groundbreaking study “how and why young men in rural areas of Japan … became emotionally invested in the project of Japanese nationalism and militarism,” and this is very true for Okinawa as well for the time from about 1895 to 1945, that is, half a century.

In one of her texts, Chatani stated as follows:

“The imperial government invested more resources in ruling and establishing large-scale industries in Taiwan and Korea. Whereas spectacles of urban modernity in Taipei and Seoul impressed visitors, Okinawa’s capital, Naha, suffered the notoriety of having massive red-light districts, a manifestation of ‘barbaric’ old customs from the viewpoint of social reformers.” (Ōta 1995:279–289; Cf. Chatani 2018)

Let’s take a look at a rather unknown side of such “barbaric old customs.” To do so, we look at the genealogy of the Chō-clan. One of the houses of this clan was newly established in Naha as a non-hereditary house, but in the 3rd generation they achieved hereditary status as a house of Naha samurē. In this family lineage the first character of the personal name of the sons (nanori-gashira) was henceforth Sei 盛. Typical family names among the extended family circle (monchū) are Takemura and Nakamura.

One episode of the extended family relates to the family members from Itoman. After the rural village had been ruined by natural disaster, the boys and girls of the farm village were sold into peonage one after another. This is referred to by the saying “With the girls sold as prostitutes and the boys sold as Buddhist priests, Itoman itself was de facto sold out.” The children became indentured servants: The girls in the red-light district of Tsuji, and the boys as child monks in temples, or as fishermen in Itoman.

There were three red-light districts in Naha during the Ryūkyū Kingdom era, namely Tsuji, Nakashima, and Watanji. Tsuji was located in the western part of Naha and bordered to Kume village. Tsuji Village as a whole was a special village called a licensed red-light district (yūkaku). Nakashima was located in the southeastern part of Naha and belonged to Izumizaki Village. Originally located on a sandbank, it used to be connected to Izumizaki by a bridge. Watanji was a small island located in the southeastern part of Naha, facing Naha Harbor to the south, east and west. It belonged to Higashi Village and was connected to it by the Shian Bridge.

Naha was a port town for hundreds of years, so it is thought that prostitutes have lived there since ancient times. Then, in 1672, all prostitutes were gathered and placed under the control of the Ryūkyū royal government, and the red-light districts of Tsuji and Nakashima were established. It is unknown when Watanji red-light districts was established, but in 1908, the Nakashima and Watanji red-light districts were abolished and integrated into the Tsuji red-light district by Okinawa prefectural ordinance.

Recently a number of photographs were discovered. Among others, a photo shows a fishing boy with an uēku (paddle) in the Itoman area. Many fishing boys at the time were in indentured servitude as a “hired child” who lived and provided labor to a shipowner for about 10 years after the age of 10. These were not only boys, but also girls. Ueda Fujio (74), emeritus professor at Okinawa University who is familiar with this issue, said, “In modern times, this is a violation of human rights, but at that time (1935) it was considered superior to other systems of selling oneself (into bondage, esp. for prostitutes).”

In short, from the Ryūkyū kingdom era up until the early 1940s, children in Okinawa were sold into prostitution, indentured servitude, peonage, child labour, etc. for centuries. The girls were mainly sold to the massive red-light districts of Tsuji etc., and the boys were mainly sold as child monks to temples, or as fishermen to Itoman. Such were the “old customs” that were considered barbaric from the viewpoint of social reformers.

The Tsuji red-light district only disappeared with the end of World War II.

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Sai Taitei’s Chinese Poetry and Red Light Districts in Ryūkyū

Sai Taitei was born in 1823 and he was from Kume Village. Later in life he succeeded his father’s post to become Ikei Pechin (an assistant estate-steward of Ikei Village belonging to Yonashiro District). It is presumed that he traveled to China five times and finally died in Beijing. The year of his death is unknown, but it is believed to have been after 1884. He was a cultured person who lived through the turbulent times from the end of the Ryukyu Kingdom to the Disposition of Ryukyu (1872-1879).

Among the Ryukyuans involved with Chinese poetry, Sai Taitei is the one with the largest confirmed poetry collection of the Ryukyu Kingdom era. His known poetrycollections were four works owned by the Okinawa Prefectural Library (the former Higashionna Kanjun Collection), but recently, five more items have been discovered. These five are collections of poems and texts written in Ryukyu itself.

Among all of Sai Taitei’s poetry, sixty-two poems deal with prostitutes and red light districts in Naha.

Red light districts in Naha

During the Ryukyu Kingdom era, there were three red-light districts in Okinawa. These are Tsuji, Nakashima, and Watanji.

Tsuji was located in the western part of Naha and bordered to Kume village. Tsuji village as a whole was a special village called a licensed red light district (yūkaku).

Nakashima is located in the southeastern part of Naha and belongs to Izumizaki village. Originally located on a sandbank, it used to be connected to Izumizaki Village by a bridge.

Watanji is a small island located in the southeastern part of Naha, facing Naha Harbor to the south, east and west. It belonged to Higashi Village, and was connected to Higashi Village by Shian Bridge.

Naha is a port town and it is thought that prostitutes have existed since ancient times. In 1672, the prostitutes were gathered and placed under the control of the Ryukyu royal government, and the red-light districts of Tsuji and Nakashima were established.

It is unknown when Watanji was established. In 1908, the Nakashima and Watanji red-light districts were abolished and integrated into the Tsuji red-light district by Okinawa prefectural ordinance. During World War II, the Tsuji red-light district also disappeared.


Takatsu Takashi: Sai Taitei no kanshi-bun to Ryūkyū no yūri (Sai Taitei’s Chinese Poetry and Red Light Districts in Ryūkyū).

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Kuwae no Kon (continued)

Previously on this blog, I have written about a rare kata called Kuwae no Kon, otherwise also known as Torisashi Umē no Kon. Since my blog is widely read internationally, and since I have come to know many people from different schools of Okinawan martial arts, I also get a lot of feedback. This time, I have received various additional information from the USA and from Okinawa, which I use for this article here.

First of all, the kata in question is found described in the book Okinawa Karate Kobudō, written by Ebihara Isamu in 1983. Ebihara himself was a student of Kina Masanobu, who taught Kuwae no Kon. In the book, there is an introduction of both Kina Masanobu and Ebihara Isamu as follows:

Introduction of Kina Masanobu Sensei

Born in 1925 in a family that has inherited Okinawa karate and kobudō from generation to generation, he learned Okinawa karate and kobudō from his grandfather and father. In addition, he studied under teachers such as Kina Shōsei, Kyan Chōtoku, and Miyagi Chōjun.

Introduction of Ebihara Isamu

Born in Yoshikawa Town, Saitama Prefecture in 1941. He graduated from Chiba University and became a public high school teacher in Chiba Prefecture in 1964.

While working at his first school, Chōshi Municipal High School, he met Chitose Tadashi Sensei, who was Toyama Kanken’s senior disciple, and started karate.

In 1969, he went to Okinawa, which was still under the rule of the United States, and began training under Kina Masanobu. In 1975, he was certified as a Shihan of Okinawa Karate Kobudō.

In my previous article I have introduced a video of the kata as performed by Kina Masanobu himself. I also provided a short description of the techniques and enbusen as I was able to observe it from the video. However, the book by Ebihara contained a full description of the kata, including a number of photos. I have translated the description below. It is a typical and actually very good example of an how-to instruction using the method of text plus photo. In this way, a person who had learned the kata can forever remember the kata. I hope you enjoy it and maybe give it a try.

The description is almost the same as the techniques shown in the kata video. By the use of terminology and by additional information, details of the techniques become much more clear. For instance, there is a clear distinction between a horizontal torso strike and a more vertical head strike, which does not immediately become clear from watching the video. Moreover, targets of attacks are described here and there, as are body parts to be defended, which adds a lot of spice to the performance of the techniques.

There are two very important points to the description. The first is that one part of the kata is done at a 45° degree angle, which is not seen in the video. The second point is that there is a sunakake move and strike under the opponent’s chin at the end of the kata, which is not seen in the video.

I hope you enjoyed the description. That is all for now.

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“Torisashi no Kon” und die Handlungsanweisung in der Form “Text plus Bild”

Wie in meinem kürzlichen Artikel beschrieben, entstammt Torisashi Ume no Kon der okinawanischen Tradition eines gewissen Kina Masanobu.

Zu dem Zeitpunkt, als ich den Artikel schrieb, lagen mir nur sehr wenige Informationen vor. Zuerst hatte ich über eine weitere Person eine knappe Information aus Okinawa erhalten, die lediglich aus dem Namen der kata sowie einer Genealogie der Überlieferung stammte. Mit dieser Information gelangte ich dann zu einer zugehörigen Bildquelle aus einem japanischen Buch, von dem ich allerdings nicht wusste, woher genau dieser stammte. Es zeigte lediglich den Text ohne Seitenzahl, Name des Autors, Name des Buches, des Verlags, oder des Jahres der Veröffentlichung.

Ferner lokalisierte ich zwei Videos der kata. Das erste Video zeigte Kina Masanobu selber beim Vorführen der kata, das zweite Video zeiget Robert Teller aus den USA, der die kata in den 1970ern auf Okinawa von Kina Masanobu gelernt hatte.

Und dann habe ich natürlich so, wie man das so macht, geguckt, wo kommt das Buch her, was ist der Titel, und habe international Freunde und Bekannte dazu kontaktiert. Schlussendlich erhielt ich dann tatsächlich die entsprechenden Seiten dieses Buches von einem Kollegen aus den USA, der in Besitz dieses Buches ist, als einziger, den ich kenne, und der auch als einer der wenigen in den etwas unbekannteren Schulen des kobudō unterwegs ist, also sich in den weniger standardisierten und verbreiteten Schulen auskennt. Damit hatte ich dann also eine Beschreibung, wie die kata überliefert worden ist, den Charakteristika der kata und einer detaillierten Beschreibung der Techniken der kata in der Form Text plus Bild.

Text plus Bild heißt, jede einzelne Bewegung ist im Text beschrieben, Punkt 1 bis x, und weil halt in den Büchern in den 70er und 80er Jahren nicht so viel Platz war, und weil zu jener Zeit das Veröffentlichen von Büchern etwas schwieriger war als heutzutage, auch wegen der Bearbeitung von Grafiken usw., sind dort vielleicht so 15 Fotos mit dabei, die dann jeweils einer der Textbeschreibungen zugeordnet sind. Manchmal sind die Fotos auch unterteilt in a, b und c, um den Ablauf einer einzelnen Bewegungssequenz besser zu veranschaulichen.  

Aus didaktischer Sicht kann man sagen, dass die Instruktionsform „Text plus Bild“ natürlich bereits seit langer Zeit internationaler Standard ist. Dies gilt vor allem auch für den militärischen Bereich, wo sich Text-plus-Bild-Anleitungen seit Jahrhunderten finden, aber auch andere technische Bereiche bedienen sich seit langem dieser Methode.

Weltweit sieht man natürlich die Entwicklung der Handlungsanweisung in Form von „Text plus Bild“ bereits früh, so auch in Europa, und hier ganz speziell in dem Corpus der sogenannten Fechtbücher, die sich als Monografien ausschließlich mit dem Kampf beschäftigten. Dies Form der Handlungsanweisung entstand etwa um 1300 und entwickelte sich bis zum 17. Jahrhundert immer weiter zu eigenständigen Kunstwerken, mit teils erheblichem künstlerischem Aufwand und Ausdruck in Kalligraphie und Malerei. Dabei handelte es sich um aufwändige Publikationen, denn man brauchte jemanden der kämpfen kann, jemanden der schreiben kann, und jemanden der zeichnen oder malen kann, und so finden sich häufig Widmungen an die Förderer solcher Veröffentlichungen in den Vorblättern. Es war darüber hinaus notwendig, dass die Zielgruppe lesen konnte, und die Bebilderung erleichterte das Verstehen; eine Erkenntnis, die noch heute im Bereich der technischen Handlungsanweisungen vollumfänglich gültig ist, aber auch und vor allem in allgemeinen technischen Produkte; denken Sie nur an IKEA, ihre Waschmaschine, die Fernbedienung, oder einen Kaffeeautomaten: ohne Bilder geht gar nix. Ohne Text meist aber auch nicht.

Als Eckpunkte in der Entstehung kann man hier das Süddeutsche „Ms. I.33“ nennen (um 1300), Codex Wallerstein (späteres 15. Jahrhundert), die Sammlung des Paulus Hector Mair (16. Jahrhundert), sowie die im 16. Und 17. Jahrhundert folgenden französischen und italienischen Fechtschulen.

Vor allem seit der Meiji-Zeit finden sich japanische Anleitungen zum Schwert, Bajonett, usw., aber auch des jūjutsu vor allem im Zusammenhang mit Übungen des Militärs oder der Polizei. Eine frühe, bildliche Darstellungen des kendō und dessen der Ausrüstung, des sōjutsu, ninjutsu, Bogenschießen und einiger Techniken des torite findet sich in Band 6 von Hokusai Katsushikas Manga-Serie aus dem frühen 19. Jahrhundert, aber dies ist keine reine Instruktion, sondern lediglich eine Sammlung von Szenen. Zu den bekannteren Werken, die komplexere Handlungsanleitungen der Form „Text plus Bild“ enthalten gelten sicherlich die chinesischen Werke Jixiao Xinshu (späteres 16. Jahrhundert) und das Wubeizhi (früheres 17. Jahrhundert), sowie verschiedene, daran angelehnte Formate aus Japan.  

Wenn man jetzt also zum Beispiel im Bereich des Okinawa Karate nachschaut, dann findet man „Karate Kumite“ von Hanashiro Chōmo aus dem Jahr 1905. Dabei handelte es sich um eine Handschrift ohne Abbildungen, also um reinen Text. Text und Bild im Zusammenhang mit Karate findet sich nach derzeitigem Kenntnisstand erstmals in Funakoshis Buch von 1922, wobei diese Ausgabe noch Text plus Zeichnungen verwendete, die drauffolgenden Ausgaben ab 1925 dann aber Text plus Fotos enthielten. Kurz darauf kamen dann Bücher mit Text und Fotos von Motobu 1926 und 1933, Miki Nisaburō 1930, Mabuni in den 1930ern, Itoman Masanobu, Karate-dō Taikan von Nakasone 1938 und andere, die alle Text plus Foto und teilweise Zeichnungen verwendeten. 1940 entstand Ryūkyū no Fūbutsu (Scenes and Customs of Ryūkyū), der nach derzeitigem Kenntnisstand erste Film, der Szenen des Karatetrainings in Okinawa zeigte. Dabei handelte es sich allerdings nicht um einen Lehrfilm, also nicht um eine Handlungsanweisung.

Während die Handlungsanweisung mittels Text plus Bild in Form von Büchern bis heute weitergeführt wird, kam es entlang der technologischen Weiterentwicklung im Bereich Film und Video vermehrt zu Videos, die zuerst oft privat erstellt, aber etwa ab den 1980ern in größerem Umfang auch kommerziell verfügbar gemacht wurden, als CDs und DVDs, dazu kam das Internet, dann kamen Streaming-Plattformen, und heute ist es halt Standard, dass man eigentlich bewegte Bilder hat und irgendjemand dann dazu eine Erklärung abgibt. Das heißt, wir haben hier die Form gesprochenes Wort plus bewegte Bilder. Dazu kommen weitere technologische Entwicklungen, die für die Allgemeinheit nur in begrenztem Maße zugänglich sind, aber in Zukunft eine größere Role spielen werden, wie Augmented Reality und Virtual Reality. Zu nennen ist hier „Ryukyu Robots,“ ein Projekt von Dr. Hagen Walter, der verschiedene Karate– und Kobudō-Bewegungen oder ganze kata und sogar Zweikampf mit einer Robotersimulation durchführt.

Das heißt aus didaktischer Sicht, aus der Perspektive der medialen Informationsübermittlung, sehen wir hier die Entwicklung von persönlicher Unterweisung, wie es sie zweifelsohne seit Menschengedenken für verschiedene Lebensbereiche gab, hin zu Text, Text plus Bild, Text plus Fotos, und schließlich hin zu dem gesprochenen Wort plus bewegten Bilder sowie interaktiven Medien.

Um zu der Beschreibung von Torisashi no Kon zurückzukehren: Nachdem ich also die Seiten aus dem Buch erhalten, den Text abgeschrieben und wegen der teilweise ungewöhnlichen Terminologie teilweise mit Unterstützung von Muttersprachlern übersetzt und die Fotos optimiert habe, und zwischenzeitlich eine Ausgabe des Buches lokalisiert und in Japan bestellt habe, habe ich nun damit begonnen, die detaillierte Beschreibung mit den vorliegenden zwei Videos abzugleichen. Daraus lassen sich wiederum einige neue Details entnehmen und genauere Informationen zur Ausführung und Bewegungsbedeutung ableiten.

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Inheriting the essence

  • The following is from an article published in the Okinawa Times: “Inheriting the essence. Faithfully inheriting the ancestor’s kata. Nakazato Takeshi (60), 2nd generation Sōke of Shōrinji-ryū and Chairman of Zen Okinawa Shōrinji-ryū Karatedo Kyōkai. Inheriting the techniques of Chanmī’s Anankū. Maintaining the shortest “unaltered” [technique] without futility. Monthly Okinawa Karate, No. 262, Okinawa Times, June 5, 2022.

“You shouldn’t change any of the kata you learned from your predecessors. This is because it is logical to use the body to perform the techniques in the shortest time without overdoing, waste, or unevenness.” With the teachings of his teacher in mind, Nakazato Takeshi (60), the 2nd generation Sōke of Shōrinji-ryū and Chairman of Zen Okinawa Shōrinji-ryū Karatedo Kyōkai, sticks to the “principle of unaltering.” He received his education from Mr. Nakazato Jōen (1922-2010), who is the first Sōke and also the same paternal line of family and teaches his disciples the kata he learned in daily training. (Matayoshi Kenji, Southern News Department)

Mr. Nakazato Jōen, a school teacher and former village headman of Chinen, was a strict and straightforward person. Looking back, when he was in the fifth grade of Chinen Elementary School, Nakazato Takeshi entered the Nakazato Dōjō in 1973, where his four years older brother and people from the area were learning.

First of all, the beginners worked hard on the progress of foot work. It is said that if you do not move correctly, the power of the technique will not be transmitted, and after training for several months, Nakazato Takeshi learned the basic techniques such as thrusting and kicking.

The training was centered on learning the kata, and while Mr. [Nakazato] Jōen was watching, he [Takeshi] would show off [the kata moves] one by one. During the performance, he [Takeshi] speculated, “What was wrong?” but he said, “I didn’t feel like I could ask questions” during the instruction, so he got into the habit of thinking about things for himself.

Mr. Nakazato Takeshi was absorbed in the growth of his skills through training and the feeling that he was “strengthening himself” with the kumite he was doing when he was young. In 2006, after being praised for his attitude toward karate, Mr. Nakazato Jōen asked him, “Would you like to take on as the second generation?” He felt as if he was prepared and accepted, “If you are ok with me?!”

He serves as the president of a subsidiary company of Okinawa Electric Power Co., Inc. On Saturdays he tries not to work and teaches four high-ranking students once a week. After returning home, he spends 1-2 hours almost every day on the second floor of his home in Yonabaru to practice kata.

It’s not difficult to remember the sequential order of the kata. However, he emphasized, “Don’t practice the kata indiscriminately. It is necessary to practice it while considering the meaning of the thread of techniques.” In teaching, I also make every effort to understand the technique.

Mr. Nakazato Takeshi says, “My role is to pass on the inherited kata to the next generation without adding anything or subtracting anything.” “I think it’s the Sōke‘s job to aim for quality rather than quantitative expansion,” he said.

The Kyūdōkan has a framed writing saying “Ikki Suisha Ikki” – one vessel represents one vessel. It means to inherit the technique and the spirit in its entirety, like transferring water from one vessel to another. In the Shōrinji-ryū, it means to inherit the direct tradition of Mr. Kyan Chōtoku  (1870–1945), a leading figure in the Okinawan karate world known as Chanmī.

The Ānankū that Mr. Kyan Chōtoku learned from a master in Taiwan is transmitted only in the Shōrinji-ryū. There are techniques such as shutō-uke, morote-uke, and continuous thrusts, and it is a kata in which you can learn the basics.

Kūsankū teaches the idea of “karate ni sente nashi” (There is no first attack in karate). You draw a circle with your hands to prevent four attacks, and then move on to offense and defense. It is taught to those who have 5th Dan or higher.

Tokumine no Kon has continuous deflections and attacks using a of 6-foot length, as well as a quick-moving thrusting and striking techniques. After Mr. Nakazato Takeshi received his 6th dan, he learned this kata from Mr. Nakazato Jōen.

Takeshi says, “I have an emotional attachment for all the kata. I’m still in the middle of the way, so I’d like to continue to pursue them.”

There is a framed writing in the Kyūdōkan that says, “Yesterday’s first rank (shodan) is not necessarily tomorrow’s first rank (shodan). You have to do it today.” Like this, he stresses the importance of daily practice and also preaches this to his students.

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Shitsuden and Shinden

The term shitsuden 失伝 means disruption; interruption; non-continuation; to fall into desuetude; the loss of a tradition, a practice, a custom, etc. It can mean the loss of a full tradition, such as a complete school or style (ryūha), or only a part of it (such as a kata), or only a fragment of it (such as a technique of a kata, or its application). That is, shitsuden can take place in several dimensions, from the micro level to the macro level.

Let’s look at some leads in regards to lost tradition of Okinawan martial arts.

First of all, during the Ryūkyū Kingdom era, all sorts of martial arts existed, but most of them where not handed down to early-modern Okinawa. Instead, the practices of “karate” and “kobudō” appeared.

In karate and kobudō, different groups sometimes use different terms for the same techniques. It is important to remember that almost all systematic terminologies of Okinawa kobudō were created only in the postwar era, mostly between the 1970s and 1980s, and based on and emulating terms used in the Japanese budō and mainland karate. The important point is that these terms differ according to schools, that is, according to a personal tradition of the persons involved.

Taking one technique of Shirotaru no Kon as an example, one school might call it “hane-age” for jumping up the to the opponent’s family jewels (kinteki). Another school might call this “sunakake,” or flipping sand etc.

So, for one, from terminology we can see that the understanding of the same movement developed differently in different schools, simply because someone understood the kata techniques differently, and they assigned corresponding names to the techniques.

Taira Shinken taught a handful of basic applications here and there, but he didn’t teach comprehensive applications for the kata, nor combat principles. Therefore, it is obvious that he didn’t know the applications for all kata and weapons, because he gave shihan licenses to his students, which means that he authorized them to teach, so he would have taught them the applications, or not? This refers to the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s. This in turn means that Taira didn’t learn kata applications from Yabiku Moden in the 1920s and early 1930s. Since Yabiku gave Taira a teaching license, meaning that he taught everything to Taira, Yabiku also did not know and teach the applications of the kata and the weapons. Therefore, when Yabiku learned around 1900 or so, kobudō was probably already a kata-based practice, and not a combat practice. As a further example, there was no kumibō in Yamane-ryū in the 1920s or afterwards.

Therefore, obviously bōjutsu was a kata-based practice at least between 1900 and the 1960s.

Therefore, while the outer form (kata) survived, the applications or intent got lost long ago. Usually, it is said that first there was the applied techniques and combat experiences, which were then made into kata. However, when was that? Assuming that actual combat arts were trained during the Ryūkyū Kingdom era, it probably ended in the 1870s, and by around 1900, it was probably largely a lost tradition. At that point, karate and kobudō by and large might have already been empty outer forms (kata) without much of a content.

The above shows a loss of tradition (shitsuden). Specifically, here it refers to the loss of the original intent of the movements of the kata.

I have provided the two examples of Taira Shinken and Yamani-ryū. I want to emphasize here that in accordance with most data, Okinawa kobudō persons successively created new applications in the postwar era. This process continues to this day. These creations or “invention of martial arts” come from their own understanding, as well as from outside pressure.

For instance, Taira did not teach or know much of kobudō application, but his students Inoue Motokatsu developed a comprehensive system of applications for all weapons structured from the basic techniques to partner techniques of all kata and all weapons up to consecutive kumibō. This was during the 50s and 60s and presented in his 3-volume book 1972-1974. At that time, application was almost unheard of in Okinawa. I am afraid that interest in application in Taira lineage came only after Inoue had created several levels of all sorts of applications for all weapons. At that time, Okinawan practitioners only had a handful of applications I am afraid, but nothing even close to an methodical approach. As regards other traditions, surely there were those who provided competition format, such as in Isshin-ryū, or Okinawa kenpō, but these should be considered separately for various reasons.

In short, in Okinawa, by and large kobudō was a kata-based practice since at least from 1900 to 1960s. Actually, in a dōjō directory by Okinawa prefecture from the 2000s, most of the 400+ dōjō stated the main content of their practice as “kata training.”

In other words: the applications of Okinawa kobudō techniques were already lost traditions, while the form (kata) remained. Then, following and emulating top-level Japanese budōka such as Inoue and others, Okinawans began to create applications for the moves in the kata. They began to develop terminologies, which in turn defined that “applications” according to their own understanding. Following half a century of shitsuden, this reinvention might be termed shinden, or “new tradition.” Things get lost, other things are newly invented. When following along the progress over the eras, this is the reason why karate kobudō seems to transform and cumulate its content all the time.

It is not always the case that a tradition is fully lost, but sometimes only parts are lost, such as some or all applications. Sometimes movements are lost or change over time. And when new applications are created, it might be called shinden 新伝, or new tradition, which I just use here as a working hypothesis. Since the 1950s, countless new traditions (shinden) were created and grafted onto the existing stem of kobudō over the past 70 or so years. The problem with these countless new traditions (shinden) is that most of the time they are neither marked as such, nor are the dates of changes recorded anywhere. Quite on the contrary, most new creations are tacitly placed under the roof of “ancient martial arts.” Oftentimes ancient tales are added to purport an ancient, regional origin.  

Again, these terminologies and applications and assumed intents are largely developments of the 2nd half of the 20th century. They are not ancient techniques, but modern interpretations of what was already kata-based practice after the 1870s.

From the above derives the possibility that Okinawans didn’t knew any original intent (application) worth mentioning, and that much of it was simply created in the postwar era. The creation of applications from air-moves (kata techniques) has become a major pastime among traditional practitioners. The application corpus of karate created in this way is enormous and is growing daily. It should be noted that this is an international movement, and it cannot be called Japanese, or Okinawan at all.

Except for the kata.

Posted in Comparative Analyses, kobudo, kumibo, Matayoshi Kobudo, New Developments, Postwar Okinawa Karate, Prewar Okinawa Karate, Terminology | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Shitsuden and Shinden

The karate of the “Pechin Class”

A colleague just argued that “karate” came from the Pēchin class of Okinawa. I think this is a oversimplification, and it is also one of those stories based on guesswork and premature conclusions.

According to censuses of 1873 and 1880 there were 296 households of Pēchin class at that time, and 20,759 households of Satonushi Pēchin and Chikudun Pēchin class. That’s a total of 21,055 households at one time around the mid-1870s which you could count among a “Pēchin class.”

How many “Pēchin-ranked” persons do you know who taught karate?

How many percent of the total of 21,055 households is that?

Do these numbers provide you with a statistically meaningful value that supports the conclusion that “karate was handed down by the Pēchin class”?

Of course not. Rather, the existing data of the “martial arts Pēchin” are obviously outliers on the extreme boundaries of a Gaussian curve.

As a side note, one characteristic of the royal administration of Ryukyū kingdom was to promote as many people as possible to rank. This at least is something that is traditionally found in modern karate as well. However the claim that karate came from the Pēchin class is difficult to prove.

So how many Pechin taught martial art? Let’s calculate! And while doing so, let’s add the primary sources and their year of publication to the data set.

Next, it should be noted that from among nine ranks, the Pechin class occupied minor rank 7 through to major rank 3, which is a huge field. If someone did martial arts was more related to the actual duty they held, and probably to personal preferences.

Well, there are various martial arts techniques that are decidedly NOT from the Pechin class. For instance, in Matayoshi Kobudo, there is Jitodee-mochi. This refers to a s-called Jitodai, a rural official who was not among those who held any court rank, Pechin or else.

Chinen Sanra (Yamanni)? Nope. He is also known as Chinen Usume already in the 1910s, with Usume referring to an older person from the class commoners.

Kinjo Ufuchiku? Nope, commoner.

Sakugawa Kanga? Well, even if this legendary warrior of an early 20th century theater play actually existed, Sakugawa no Kon and Shirotaru no Kon was handed down among commoners (Tawada 1973). They were probably folk heros.

How about Itosu? Well, yes, he held a court rank, but the “karate” handed down by him was newly created around the beginning of the 20th century, transformed as a physical education meant to drill young men in preparation for conscription and probably had little in common with the rural dances that Funakoshi referred to as “not-yet developed karate,” which argumentum e contrario means that karate – at least partially – is “rural dances further developed.” And rural people were not of Pechin rank.

I did an Ngram search, which shows when phrases have occurred in a corpus of books. The term Pechin in karate context apeared only with the popular books of Mark B. and Patrick M., so rather recently and in the larger context of retrospective karate invention, and from there radiated outward to other publications and websites.

In the Okinawan karate circles similar examples are found, such as can be seen in Taira Shinken’s phantastic story of Hama Higa Pechin, which is another example of the old tradition of mixing martial art references into actual historical events, of which there are numerous examples, mostly from the 1950s and onward. One of the most representative is the postwar story of Sakugawa and Matsumura, in which a ordinary meridian chart was sold as an atemi chart handed down from legendary Sakugawa to half-legendary Matsumura.

Posted in Okinawa Peace Theory, Prewar Okinawa Karate, Theories of Historical Karate in Comparative Perspective | Comments Off on The karate of the “Pechin Class”