Ryukyu Kobudo — 10 Bo Kihon

These are the 10 basic techniques of the bo (bo kihon) of Shimbukan and other schools coming from Akamine Eisuke. There are three more techniques, but these are very simple and not shown here. I do these rather casual here without sweating it and without strict count.

BTW, this gym is that of my second elementary school and it is also were I trained when I first entered an athletic club, i.e. around 1974.

These 10 basic techniques of the bo define the kata performance. This is because they were part of every training at Ryukyu Kobudo Shimbukan. They were done 10 times left and 10 times right so everyone did like 100 techniques (combos) on both sides, which took quite some time an energy. They were counted, not freely done, so everyone would count 10. Usually, after bo kihon, there was a water break. I think they thought about using like only 5 techniques on each side due to the time factor – it is really time consuming.

Because there is so much time spent on kihon, there is little time for kata. Actually, each kata was done only 1 or 2 times so you can imagine the learning effect of kihon was muuuuch bigger than that of kata. In addition, the kata gets to look like the kihon. This is both good and bad at the same time.

There’s another important point: When changing the habits/style of the kihon, it then also changes the style of the kata, ain’t that right? So kihon provides the “style sheet” for the specific school or the specific sensei. Accordingly, the performance habits of these kihon techniques might change at any given time and with any given sensei. For example, you could do them in Yamanni style, and then all your kata would gradually adapt to it. In this connection, there is actually a new Yamanni-ryu that uses Taira Shinken kata but with Yamanni basics. It is an example of this effect.

It is the style sheet effect.

Here is a list of the 10 bo kihon:

 TechnikPositur
1.Shōmen-uchiShikō-dachi
2.Chūdan-zukiShikō-dachi
3.Shōmen-uchiShikō-dachi
 Chūdan-zukiShikō-dachi
4.Gedan-ukeKōkutsu-dachi
 Gedan-nukiKōkutsu-dachi
 Gedan-baraiShikō-dachi
 Shōmen-uchiShikō-dachi
5.Jōdan-nukiZenkutsu-dachi
 Chūdan-zukiShikō-dachi
6.Chūdan-ura-uchiShikō-dachi
 Chūdan-yoko-uchiShikō-dachi
7.r. Chūdan-gyaku-yoko-uchiZenkutsu-dachi
 l. Chūdan-gyaku-yoko-uchiZenkutsu-dachi
8.Shiko (vier Angriffe) 
 Age-uchiZenkutsu-dachi
 Kaeshi-uchiKōkutsu-dachi
 Jōdan-ura-uchiNeko-ashi-dachi
 Shōmen-uchiShikō-dachi
9.(Gyaku-mochi) Chūdan-uchiShikō-dachi
 Chūdan-zukiShikō-dachi
 Kaeri-gyaku-mochiShikō-dachi
 Chūdan-tate-ukeShikō-dachi
 Mawashi-baraiShikō-dachi
 Chūdan-zukiShikō-dachi
10Jōdan-ura-ukeShikō-dachi
 Jōdan-nukiZenkutsu-dachi
 Jōdan-mawashi-ukeZenkutsu-dachi
 Kaeshi-uchiKōkutsu-dachi
Filmed Saturday, ‎20 ‎Februar ‎2010. Heinz Tessner and Frank came to visit and asked a lot of questions, including showing them the basic techniques of the bo (bo kihon).

By the way, there is only one Jodan-ura-uchi in all these 10 bo basics, that is, in number 8. In the complete set of kata however, the techniques is done in 141 instances.

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Tomari-te — Early mentions and historical snapshot

The category of Tomari-te is famous in karate circles. For example, there is Tomari Passai in the JKF/WKF syllabus of kata, there is Tomari no Chinto and others in Matsubayashi, there is Tomari no Shirotaru in Yamanni-ryu bojutsu and so on. However, the designations of Shuri-te, Naha-te, and Tomari-te for Okinawa karate are usually quoted without providing a reference. Therefore, today I would like to look into early mentions of Tomari as a place of specific karate technique.

First of all, Funakoshi Gichin mentioned it already in 1913 as follows [Note 1].

▲ The styles of karate

Every now and then people call it Shuri-te, Naha-te, and Tomari-te, as if they existed separately. While there are these people, this fallacy will unravel itself when the real reason of the styles’ origin is clarified. As regards this, since ancient times it [karate] has been divided into two branches called Shōrei-ryū and Shōrin-ryū. The first is a school that places emphasis on the body, and the latter one emphasizes the method [jutsu]. Waishinzan belongs to the former, and Iwā belongs to the latter. Waishinzan is a wild, fat-bodied warrior, and Iwā is a quick-witted, lively, and accomplished man with a slim body. Naha draws from the Shōrei-ryū, and Shuri enters the Shōrin-ryū. Tomari has combined these two things. By becoming the so-called “middle hand”, Tomari-te was made into an individual school.

It is clear from the above text that at that time Funakoshi considered Tomari-te as a mix between Shōrei-ryū and Shōrin-ryū. This is pretty straightforward in that it is proof that the term Tomari-te was known and used by various persons already in 1913. If I would have to take a guess I would say that the suffix te here explicitly referred to kata, but in fact there is no clear proof for that.

Let’s look further back in time. The Conscription Ordinance in Japan was officially proclaimed in 1873. While it was implemented in Okinawa only in 1898, long after the other Japanese prefectures, several Okinawans volunteered to join the Japanese Imperial Army, including persons such as Yabu Kentsū and Hanashiro Chōmo, who later basically constituted the first generation karate teachers in Okinawa.

Another such volunteer was a certain Yagi who originated from Tomari. Yagi was recruited as a volunteer soldier at the Rikugun Kyōdōdan military academy for the training of non-commissioned officers of the Imperial Japanese Army. Under the headline “The Welcome Party for Master Sergeant Yagi,” the local newspaper reported about the circumstances of a welcome party for occupation forced stationed at the Taiwan Garrison — Taiwan belonged to Japan since the end of the 1st Sino-Japanese War in 1895. The soldiers at that time where returning home on their way to re-assignment to the 21st regiment of Hiroshima. I have presented this article previsouly in my out-of-print “Karate 1.0” (2013), but for the convenience of the reader present it here again (Note 2):

On October 15, 1899, Infantry Master Sergeant Yagi returned home from service with the Taiwan occupation forces. On the afternoon of the 18th from three o’clock like-minded persons prepared a welcome party and grand banquet for Master Sergeant Yagi at the Tomari primary school. Setting out from Master Sergeant Yagi’s house, the Tomari primary school staff members and pupils reached the assembly hall in the primary school. The district headman, more than thirty middle school pupils from the section of village, policemen, active service soldiers from Master Sergeant’s older brother’s section of village, and other like-minded persons added up to more than about four hundred persons. The meeting was opened, and everyone saluted the guest of honor on that day, Master Sergeant Yagi. Yagi, participant in the 1st Sino-Japanese War, himself gave a speech and the whole audience was deeply moved. Then the members held speeches, and when they were finished, everybody turned to drinking and the banquet. Then, as an entertainment, the middle school students presented performances such as fencing (gekken) and sword dance (kenbu), and Tomari’s strong point of tōdī (karate). Following the entertainment, Master Sergeant Yagi got up himself and loudly sang a war song of a great victory.

There is a lot you can derive from this. Karate was the strong point or specialty (tokui) of Tomari already in 1899. It was presented at a welcome party for a Master Sergeant Yagi who was native to Tomari. Yagi volunteered to join the Imperial Japanese Army and was a member of the Japanese occupation forces stationed on Taiwan, conquered in the 1st Sino-Japanese War in 1895, in which Yagi has participated. There were thirty middle school pupils from the section of Tomari, policemen, and soldiers in active service. The middle school pupils were pupils at the Middle School in Shuri, which was the only middle school at the time. And they presented fencing (gekken = precursor of kendō), sword dance (kenbu), and karate as a specialty of Tomari.

So what you see here is the context of military, education, and karate already in 1899. Also, it is an example of Okinawan soldiers as members of occupation forces in Asia since the 1890s and no doubt this was the case until 1945, that is, for half a century. This is an important point to keep in mind when it comes to postwar narratives and karate in Okinawa.

Note 1: Shōtō (Funakoshi Gichin): Karate wa Bugei no Kotsuzui nari (Karate is the Bone Marrow of Martial Arts). Ryūkyū Shinpō, January 9, 1913.

Note 2: Yagi Sōchō no Kangeikai (The Welcome Party for Master Sergeant Yagi). In: Ryūkyū Shinpō, Friday, October 21, 1899.

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A transformation of Jōdan-ura-uchi

Most people are not aware that Akamine Eisuke created handwritten descriptions of every kata (1982/83, personal archive of this author). There was a collection that was given to dojo directors, which included all kata up to 5th dan, but the higher kata were also described meticulously.

In the descriptions of the bo kata, the term “Jodan-ura-uchi” appears in 141 (!) instances, each time followed by Shomen-uchi. It looks like this:

The person in the video is Yoza Masao Sensei in 1991. At that time, he was a 7th Dan under Akamine Eisuke. Actually, already 45 years ago – in 1976 – Yoza served as the instructor of the Shimbukan as the General Headquarter of the Ryukyu Kobudo Hozon Shinkokai, as is officially stated in the 1976 brochure of the Ryukyu Kobudo Hozon Shinkokai. I received a little instruction from Yoza at the old Shimbukan honbu btw. Last time I saw him was after a directors’ meeting in 2011.

Now, as regards this technique, I have often heard that “this is just a kamae!” but this is historically inaccurate. As I already mentioned, the Jodan-ura-uchi followed by Shomen-uchi is found in 141 instances in the bo kata descriptions of Akamine Eisuke, that is, basically every single time before the Shomen-uchi. Obviously, as exemplified in the video above, the technique was actually performed like that.

Here is a list of the 141 instances of Jodan-ura-uchi followed by Shomen-uchi, broken down to each kata:

Shushi no Kon Sho7
Sakugawa no Kon Sho8
Shushi no Kon Dai9
Sakugawa no Kon Dai11
Yonegawa no Kon13
Shirotaro no Kon9
Chinen Shikiyanaka no Kon20
Choun no Kon17
Chatan Yara no Kon9
Soeishi no Kon24
Urasoe no Kon14

Well, in the original descriptions, on the pages for Shushi no Kon Sho, at the point of the Jōdan-ura-uchi there was a handwritten note added: “this is the meaning of the bunkai.” That is, the Jōdan-ura-uchi is the application of the technique. However, in the copy of the kata descriptions, at some later date, a handwritten note was added, saying that this (Jōdan-ura-uchi) was “only a kamae.” Like many others, I was told this explanation too at the Shimbukan. However, no such note was ever added to other entries.

In any case, today this technique is done a little bit more slanted downwards, and a new term was used by a friend (7th dan Shimbukan), namely “gyaku-shomen-uchi,” or reverse front strike. This term gyaku-shomen-uchi is nowhere to be found in Akamine Eisuke’s descriptions so it is probably a new invention to give a name to the transformed technique.

It should be added that neither Miki in 1930 nor Taira Shinken in 1937 and 1964 described the Jodan-ura-uchi, but they referred to it as a preparation for the Shomen-uchi. Accordingly, the Jodan-ura-uchi interpretation was probably made by Akamine Eisuke himself.

You may think, it is not a big thing, but 141 instances of a an applied technique changed to a mere kamae (preparatory posture) is a massive change!

In any case, I think it is an interesting small case study since it not only shows a transformation of the Jōdan-ura-uchi, but also a transformation in terminology, excecution, and combative meaning.

See some more examples below:

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Karate taught in Germany ~ 1931 – 1934

According to data published by Nakamura Akira of the Karate Section of the Okinawa Tourism Bureau, a certain HIRAYAMA Kazuo from Tokyo Imperial University taught karate in Germany 1931 – 1933.

HIRAYAMA Kazuo (1908–1990) is listed at the “Deutsche Institut für Ausländer an der Universität Berlin“ (DIA; German Institute for Foreigners at Berlin University) as follws (Hartmann 2003:39; translation: Quast):

HIRAYAMA Kazuo 平山一雄 (1908–1990): DIA, entry date of June 11, 1931 / Political science / Apostel-Paulus-Str. 4, at Mrs. Aminski; VS, Summer semester 1932 to winter semester 1933/34, Nr. 4845 / Political Science / W 30, Schwäbische Str. 24 / Jurist, civil lawyer; Professor at Fukuoka University, author of Minpō kōgi (Lectures on Civil Law).

According to it, HIRAYAMA studied political science in Berlin between from summersemester 1932 to wintersemster 1933/34. He became a jurst and civil lawyer and later served as Professor of Law at Fukuoka University. According to the name directory of the 70 Year History of the Karate Club of Tokyo Imperial University, Hirayama Kazuo graduated there in 1931. So he might have left for Germany in 1931 at earliest, started summersemster of 1932, and finished his studies in Berlin at the end of the wintersemster in 1934.  

What kind of karate was that at the time?

Funakoshi Gichin was a teacher at the Karate Club of Tokyo Imperial University. However, there was problem. Members of the club were interested in free kumite since at least 1926 and also visited Okinawa in the summer of 1929 for kata and kobudo research and it is also said that they tested karate in the streets and red light districts. On May 10, 1930, the Karate Club of Tokyo Imperial University held a spring karate demonstration which inlcuded kumite matches with protective gear (see article by Motobu Naoki Sensei here).

Bō Hideo (who joined the karate club in 1927) also stated the following in his “Memorandum of My Introduction to Karate-dō” (see article by Motobi Naoki Sensei here)

I remember that Shihan Funakoshi’s instruction consisted of various kata, starting with “Pinan” Shodan, kumite (today’s yakusoku kumite), makiwara thrusts, and other basic movements. It was strictly forbidden to engage in any kind of randori practice (today’s jiyū kumite).

Funakoshi opposed most of these developments and withdrew from his teacher position a Tokyo Imperial University.

So what was the style of karate taught by HIRAYAMA in Germany? According to the above, it was a style of karate developed in the Karate Club of Tokyo Imperial University since the mid 1920s. And while it had elements such as kata that were taught by Funakoshi, it also had elements which were simply ideas about what karate is or should be that were contrary to Funakoshi’s ideas. So one could say that it was a form of karate that was appropriated, a karate that was adapted to and mixed with the needs, ideas, and experiences of the younger people involved. This might or might not be a definition of “Shotokan karate.”

Biblio:

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Jigen no Sai

I would like to let you guys know about Jesse’s latest project, the Kobudo tutorial website at www.kobudomastery.com​ Since I am a passionate Kobudo practitioner myself, I was thrilled when I learned from a friend that Jesse has started this project. Although I traveled quite a bit for study, there are still some kata I couldn’t get my hands on so far. For this reason, I was more than excited to find some of those “missing links” among Jesse’s kata tutorials. I don’t easily buy, but I was so intrigued that I immediately chose one of the katas I yearned for and was positively surprised about the presentation.

In the tutorial I chose, the performance of the kata is presented in front view at normal speed and in slow motion as well as in the side and back views. Now, in the days of talking karate heads everywhere, this might be considered unusual. Still, silence during practice is something I always enjoyed most during Karate and Kobudo: not much talking, but a clear and serious presentation of what is expected from you. With Jesse’s tutorial, I was able to acquire the techniques, combinations, and performance directions in just a few rounds. Right now, I have incorporated the kata into my regular practice routine.

The whole program is built didactically so you may start where you are right now. That is, for beginners, you might want to choose the starter package, for intermediate you just hop in right there, and even advanced Kobudo practitioners will find plenty of things to learn.

It was enormous fun and worked for me 100%. As a bonus, the prices are simply great, too! Least I forget: You can watch it as often as you like. There is no artificial secrecy and no recurring payments or regular compulsory participation in courses! That means you are free to study whenever and how often you like without having to marry Jesse! Finally, again, there are no talking karate heads, which makes it a pleasant learning experience.

Since there are also combative applications, you will be prepared substantially and can practice with a partner. If you have any questions, I am sure you will get adequate, on point feedback. I recommend Jesse’s new Kobudo tutorial website to anyone interested in the ancient martial arts of the Ryukyu Islands, or Okinawa, that is, bo, sai, tonfa, etc.

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Tsuken Sunakake no Kon

One of the famous kata with the paddle (uēku) is Tsuken Sunakake no Kon (oki.: Chikin Sunakachi nu Kun). As it is generally demonstrated using the uēku (paddle) it is also referred to as Chikin Sunakachi nu Uēku-dī (Tsuken’s skills of the oar and flipping sand).

Characteristic features are the butt-end floating defense (nagashi-uke, 0:23​) in the very beginning, followed by a reverse cut (gyaku-giri, 0:25​) while leaning the body to the left and followed by flipping sand (sunakake, 0:26​) and front strike (shōmen-uchi, 0:27​). In addition, jōdan nagashi-uke and gyaku-uchi are followed by drawing a circle with the tip of the uēku (mawashi-uke) and finishing with another gyaku-uchi (1:09​).

There are also many yoko-uchi while turning the body. It contains the technique of flipping sand into the face of the opponent, which is referred to as sunakake, and this is a technique of blinding the opponent known as metsubushi in Japanese.

One of the most important things in the techniques of the paddle are the hand changes and to strike as if cutting with the blade part of the paddle.

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Kyan Chōtoku book on public display at the Karate Kaikan for the first time

A panel exhibition sponsored by Okinawa Prefecture that introduces the history of Okinawa karate during the early Shōwa period (started 1926) began on April 8 in the lobby of the Okinawa Karate Kaikan Exhibition Room in Tomigusuku City. The kumite publication “Illustrated Basic Okinawa Kenpō Karate-dō” (Okinawa Kenpō Karate-dō Kihon Zukai) is publicly exhibited for the first time. The book details the fighting techniques (kumite) of the late Kyan Chōtoku, who was a master of Okinawa karate and who was called the “Saint of Boxing” (kensei). “This prewar manuscript of Kyan is a very valuable material,” says the person in charge from Okinawa Prefecture.

The exhibition runs until March 31, 2022. The entrance is free.

It is a folding book made from a long strip of paper that is folded back and forth in a zigzag. It consists of 26 pages including the front page with a length of 15.5 cm and a width of 9 cm. It comprises an introduction of karate on the first 10 pages, and pictures with explanations of kumite postures and stances in the latter 15 pages. Kyan Chōtoku is photographed doing kumite, explaining an outline and the postures of the techniques. Okinawa Prefecture copied the original of the book from the persons in possession of the original. A part of it is exhibited on a panel.

At the end of the book is written “Shōwa 7,” i.e., 1932. It was published as a book by a disciple of Kyan at that time. So far it has not been made public who this disciple was. It is also said that there was also a “kata edition” that was a sister book of the kumite edition. This would probably clarify many things, most importantly about kata such as Ananku, Seisan, and others. Unfortunately, the “kata edition” has not been found so far.

Moreover, for the first time, a ryūka (Okinawan poetry in classical Ryūkyūan language) has been found which was created by Kyan Chōtoku. Kyan dedicated it to the Okinawa Shrine. In the poem Kyan cites a famous ryūka once written by the poet Unna Nabī. Unna Nabī who was not an upperclass person but a female farmer of the 18th century. Her monument is erected in Onna village. The poem reads, “When you pray at the shrine and at ceremonies, even the wind stops, for the five late kings, I must say my prayer and be thankful for my fortune.” (Jinja umachiriya, kajinu kwin tumari, guhashiranu ukami, miunchi ugama).

In addition, twelve articles, including newspaper articles are also on display. They are from the time when the late Fujita Tsuguharu (1886-1968), one of Japan’s world-class painters, talked about his impression of Okinawa karate when he visited Okinawa in 1938.

The panel exhibition will be held at the Okinawa Karate Kaikan Reference Room. The Karate Kaikan collected 2385 items such as newspaper articles and materials related to Okinawa Karate so far. A part of 325 materials including newspapers from 1938 to 1940, such as newspaper articles on prewar karate, are put together on 12 panels and displayed in the lobby of the exhibition facility in the library. Sonohara Ken, chief of the Okinawa Prefectural Karate Promotion Division, said, “I want many citizens of the prefecture to come into contact with the history of Okinawa karate and use it for academic promotion.”

For inquiries, call 098 (866) 2232 at the Okinawa Prefectural Karate Promotion Division.

Sources:

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Itsuki – sitting duck

In the latest series of “Sensei: Masters of Okinawan Karate,” Oshiro Toshihiro Sensei talks about his journey, experience and development in karate and bojutsu. In one episode Oshiro Sensei remembers when he went for Shodan test at the age of 17.

“While I was doing the kata during the test, I did kime (tensing / focus) after techniques, but after kime, I couldn’t move on smoothly. This was a shocking revelation to me, and I thought ‘How can I fix this?’ The examiner said, ‘You’re waiting too long between movements.’ However, in reality, I wasn’t waiting. I couldn’t move (into the next technique). In budo this is known as itsuki meaning to be stuck in one place. I thought I must be doing something wrong here. I practiced endlessly but I could not find a solution.

At the Nagamine dojo I learned the intricacies of technique from Nagamine Shoshin Sensei, and also from Nakamura Seigi Sensei and Kushi Jokei Sensei, but the answer of why I couldn’t move was a still a mystery to me. It was only after extensive practice of (the bo) Yamanni-ryu with Kishaba Chogi Sensei that I realized how to use the body to avoid being stuck in one place.

For me personally, Yamanni-ryu has aided my study of karate tremendously. There’s an old saying in Okinawa, that karateka should also study bojutsu. In Okinawa, only bojutsu and karate had been practiced extensively since ancient times. Others such as saijutsu, tonfa and nunchaku, in my opinion, do not have as long a history. The connection between karate and bojutsu is very deep. It was said if an aspect of karate did not make sense, look back to bojutsu for the answer. So bo and karate have this connection.”

What is the meaning of itsuki? It means sitting, a residence, or to be (i) and to be attached or to take root (tsuki). Japanese it is written 居付き or 居着き and has the following dictionary meanings:

  • 1 sedentariness; settledness; sedentary; settlement.
  • 2 in fishery: a stationary fish; resident fish; sedentary fish (as opposed to migratory fish).
  • 3 in rogue jargon: burglars and robbers who work near where they live.

The term has been used in Japanese bujutsu generally and was also addressed by Arakaki Kiyoshi of Musokai under the title of “Eliminating the bad habit of itsuki.”

Obviously, in terms of karate and kobudo it refers to being tied to a certain position, even if it is just for a short amount of time. You might draw a comparison to “sitting duck.”

Sources Chris Willson Photography: “Sensei: Masters of Okinawan Karate #11 Toshihiro Oshiro.” Published Apr 2, 2021 on YouTube.

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The first posture of “Tsuken Sunakake no Ueku”

Among the 1935 Okinawan photos presented by the Ashi Shinbun Digital website are a few that show the use of the Ueku (paddle) as a means of transport fish and utensils. The posture is almost the same as the first posture of “Tsuken Sunakake no Ueku.”

This first photo shows Uehara Kame using an Ueku as a means of transport ropes and nets. Uehara was known as a master shark catcher. According to Ueda Fujio (74), an emeritus professor at the University of Okinawa, shark fins were used as ingredients and shark oil was used for lamps. According to Nakamoto Masahiro Sensei of Bunbukan, shark oil was also used to impregnate bō.

The next photo shows a fishing boy with an Uēku in the Itoman area. Many fishing boys 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 it was considered superior to other systems of selling oneself (into bondage, esp. for prostitutes).”

Below are two more photos showing the same use of the Ueku.

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Traditional Ryūkyū kumi-odori, karate … 165 prewar Okinawan photographs discovered (3)

Traditional “Kumi-odori” of the kingdom era presented to the younger brother of Shōwa Emperor (Hirohito)

Among the Okinawa-related photographs found this time in the Asahi Shimbun Osaka Headquarters, there was a photograph of the traditional Kabuki drama “Kumi-odori” of the Ryūkyū Kingdom. The location is believed to be the house frontage of the Nakagusuku Udun, where the royal family had moved after they had been chased from Shuri Castle during the “Disposal of Ryūkyū” (1879) by the Meiji government. There is “Tairan” (inspection by the empress or the crown prince) written on the back and therefore the photograph seems to have been taken when the Kumi-odori was presented to Chichibu-no-miya, the younger brother of the Shōwa Emperor (Hirohito), who visited Okinawa in May 1925.

The performance is Kumi-odori’s masterpiece “Nidō Tekiuchi,” and it is Tamagusuku Seijū (1868-1945) on the right end of the photo who plays Amawari, the enemy of the two boys in the play. Nidō Tekiuchi is a story of two brothers who vow to avenge of their father’s death. They go after Amawari, the murder of their father. One day, the brothers disguise themselves as girls and approach Amawari in a nearby field. The boys serve him plenty of alcohol and dance until he gets intoxicated and gives them his sword, and then they take his life.

Kumi-odori is a Kabuki drama to welcome the envoys of the Chinese emperor, and Tamagusuku Seijū was directly instructed by the official in charge of the “Ukanshin-odori” (Crownship Dances) when Ryūkyū welcomed the final envoys in 1866.

Shimabuku Kōyū (1893-1987), a dancer representative of postwar Okinawa, recalls in his book “Sekisen Memoirs” (Okinawa Times) that all the performances in 1925 were presented by “the best members of the local theater world.”

Tamagusuku Seijū studied the dances of the Ryūkyū royal government and nurtured the younger generation. In Tokyo he was introduced as the “Danjūrō of Ryūkyū” [in reference to the famous Kabuki stage name Ichikawa Danjūrō, which is bestowed upon actors since the 17th century]. Nakagusuku Udun, which was the setting for the photo, burned down during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. The style reconstructed by Tamagusuku Seijū’s disciples after the war is the cornerstone of the current Ryūkyū classical theatre.

In the performance “Uchigumi Amakawa,” the costume was provided by the Shō family, a descendant of the last king, Shō Tai. Suzuki Kōta, an associate professor at the Okinawa Prefectural University of Arts Research Institute, paid attention to the sake tools at Tamagusuku Seijū’s feet. They look like metal and match the specifications ordered by the royal government for the crown ship dance. “If the costume is from the Shō Dynasty, the stage props may have been used in the actual crown ship dance. The stage props do not exist anymore and so the photo is valuable for learning about Kumi-odori during the Kingdom era,” he said.

According to Dan Antonsen Sensei, whose wife Masako is a student of a student of Tamagusuku Seijū,

“he disappeared during the battle of Okinawa in 1945. Nobody knows what happened to him or where his remains are. Kind of a mystery for the Ryūkyū dance society. His picture hung in Masako’s dojo all her life. This is the story as I understand it.”

Source: Ryūkyū traditional kumi-odori, karate … 165 prewar Okinawan photographs discovered (Ryūkyū dentō no kumiodori, karate… Senzen no Okinawa utsushi shita 165-mai o hakken). Asahi Shimbun, in collaboration with the Okinawa Times: Shiroma Tamotsu, Mano Keita, Shimazaki Mawaru, March 29, 2021.

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