Soeishi no Kon – by Takamura Seiko, 1980

In June of 2020, Lara Chamberlain uploaded a bo-kata video from the archives of Fred Christian sensei. Neither the performer nor the kata were known or could be identified. However, from some of the signature techniques I thought right away “this is a version of Soeishi no Kon from the Taira Shinken lineage.” But people asked for proof other than my expertise. As is most often the case in research, there is no quick Facebook chat answer, but such tasks take time to be researched and clarified.

It took about six month. Over time each issue has been taken on one by one, until recently the last issue was solved. So here is the condensed answer without all the pulling out books from the board and the back-and-forth communication with Okinawa and Japan.

First of all, the date and place of the performance has been verified as April 5, 1980, at the Naha City Hall. Occasion was a martial demonstration meet to commemorate Nagamine Shoshin’s receiving the Okinawa Prefectural Merit Award as well as his 70th birthday.

We identified the performer to be Takamura Seiko. In 1977, he served as the director of Matsubayashi-ryu for the Kansai region and later served as a Vice President of the World Matsubayashi-ryu Karatedo Federation.

While this is impressive, by 1964, Takamura was also a managing director of the Ryukyu Kobudo Hozon Shinkokai of Taira Shinken. In other words, he was a kobudo student under Taira Shinken and his peers and an official of Taira’s association since at least the early 1960s.

Now, the kata Takamura performed in the 1980 video does not fully match any of the kata of Taira’s students. However, as I determined before from its signature techniques and combos, and with the fact verified that Takamura was a leading master under Taira Shinken, there can be no doubt that it is a version of Soeishi no Kon from the Taira lineage. For reassurance, I compared Takamura’s version technique by technique with Soeishi no Kon Dai (Inoue 1972), Soeishi no Kon (Akamine 1984), and Shishi no Kon no Dai (Shimabuku Tatsuo). While there are differences, the signature techniques and combos and specifics of the enbusen (lanes of martial performance), there can be no doubt left that Takamura performs a version of what today is known as Soeishi no Kon of the Taira lineage.

It should be kept in mind that it is not the one and only, but a version of Soeishi no Kon. There are three major reasons why it cannot be stated more precisely.

First, no-one really knows to what extent Taira continued to collect, create, and alter kata during the 50s and 60s. Also, no-one knows how much his students altered the kata.

Second, it is possible that Takamura adjusted the kata over time or for the specific performance. For example, there are two techniques in it that are not part of Taira-lineage Soeishi no Kon, but which (in combination) are found exclusively in Chinen Shikiyanaka no Kon. However, they might have been originally part of Soeishi no Kon and only shifted to Chinen Shikiyanaka no Kon at some point. Again, it is unclear to this day to what extent Taira collected, created, and altered the choreographies and combos of kata during the 50s and 60s, or whether he aligned them all somehow.

Finally, modern Taira-lineage Soeishi no Kon has left-and-right side-lanes which are performed twice. Takamura’s version, on the other hand, performs the left-and-right side lane only once.

The above are just points of interest. They don’t change the fact that it is a version of Soeishi no Kon. Actually, and while it can neither be proven nor disproven, it might even be a more old or original version of Taira’s Soeishi no Kon.

Here is the video in half speed.

When comparing kata, combinations, or techniques, it is always good to carry out a morphological analysis. This is usually done just practically, but this is limited. A written morphological analysis is more work at the beginning, and results take longer, but it almost always more accurate, even more so when facilitated by photos and movies. So here is the written description of the eighty-nine individual movements I traced. While creating the analysis it became clear that some of the techniques obviously did not make it in current versions of Soeishi no Kon.

Lane 1 – Direction front

1. Step forward with the right foot, strike to the front (shomen-uchi).

2. With the feet as they are, raise the bō with a scooping block (sukui-uke).

3. Inversed strike to the middle-level (chūdan-ura-uchi).

4. Defense posture (mamoru kamae, or harai-uke).

5. Strike to the front (shomen-uchi) and immediately assume kamae.

6. Step forward with the left foot, left reverse horizontal strike (gyaku yoko-uchi).

7. Ura-age-uchi preparation (as in Chinen Shikiyanaka).

8. Ura-age-uchi (as in Chinen Shikiyanaka).

9. Step forward with the right foot, right horizontal strike (yoko-uchi).

10. Age-uchi preparation (as in Chinen Shikiyanaka).

11. Age-uchi (as in Chinen Shikiyanaka).

12. Scooping block (sukui-uke).

13. Inversed strike to the middle-level (chūdan-ura-uchi).

14. Defense posture (mamoru kamae, or harai-uke).

15. Strike to the front (shomen-uchi).

16. Immediately continue with a double soto-uke.

Lane 2 – Direction left

17. Place the right foot back in direction right and rotate 90° counterclockwise to direction left, take the right hand to the front and from there perform left hiki-otoshi-uchi.

18. Step forward with the right foot and strike upward from the bottom to the top (gyaku-age-uchi), left hand on right shoulder.

19. Strike to the front (shomen-uchi).

20. Immediately continue with consecutive soto-uke and oase-uke.

21. Strike to the front (shomen-uchi).

22. Scooping block (sukui-uke).

23. Inversed strike to the middle-level (chūdan-ura-uchi).

24. Defense posture (mamoru kamae, or harai-uke).

25. Strike to the front (shomen-uchi).

26. Immediately continue with a double soto-uke.

Lane 3 – Direction right

27. Place the right foot a little over to the left [in direction rear] and rotate 180° counterclockwise [to direction right], take the right hand to the front and from there perform left hiki-otoshi-uchi.

28. Step forward with the right foot and strike upward from the bottom to the top (gyaku-age-uchi),left hand on right shoulder.

29. Strike to the front (shomen-uchi).

30. Immediately continue with consecutive soto-uke and oase-uke.

31. Strike to the front (shomen-uchi).

32. Scooping block (sukui-uke).

33. Inversed strike to the middle-level (chūdan-ura-uchi).

34. Defense posture (mamoru kamae, or harai-uke).

35. Strike to the front (shomen-uchi).

36. Immediately continue with a double Soto-uke.

Bridge – 90° to direction front

37. With the right foot as it is, place the left foot towards direction front, and rotate 90° counterclockwise, and in this way turn to the front (shōmen), and perform lower-level block (gedan-uke) directly from the previous position.

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

Lane 4 – Direction rear

39. Place the left foot a little over to the right (direction right) and rotate 180° clockwise towards direction rear. Take the right han down and the left hand up and perform the defense posture (mamoru kamae, or harai-uke) towards direction rear.

40. Strike to the front (shomen-uchi), immediately followed by kamae.

41. Step forward with the left foot, change hands of the bō (mochi-kaeri), and perform a left chūdan-yoko-uchi.

42. Step forward with the right foot, change hands of the bō (mochi-kaeri), and perform a right chūdan-yoko-uchi.

Lane 5 – Direction front

43. Place the right foot forward and rotate 180° counterclockwise toward direction front (shōmen), with the bō in hassō-no-kamae.

44. Prepare to strike by placing the left hand at the end of the bō; pull the right foot up to the left foot (in musubi or heisoku) and strike jōdanyoko-uchi; swing with the right hand and with the strike, bring right hand to left hand in rokushaku-mochi.

45. Rotate the bō downward and backward on your right side.
Continue to swing it upward and forward while taking a large step forward with the right foot. While pulling up the foot to the left foot (musubi or heisoku), strike down a jōdan-shomen-uchi (left hand in rokushaku-mochi,right hand in goshaku-mochi.

46. Step backward with the right foot. Pull back the right hand while you let go your left hand. Once the right has passed the left, grip the bō with the left from above (gyaku-te mochi).

47. Step forward with the right foot and change the right hand to honte-mochi. Perform a scooping block (sukui-uke) immediately followed by an inversed strike to the middle-level (chūdan-ura-uchi).

48. Defense posture (mamoru kamae, or harai-uke).

49. Strike to the front (shomen-uchi), kamae.

50. Step backward with the right foot, change hands on the bō (mochi-kaeri) and perform a left horizontal strike (yoko-uchi).

51. Step backward with the left foot, right horizontal strike (yoko-uchi).

52. Defense posture (mamoru kamae, or harai-uke) towards direction front.

53. Strike to the front (shomen-uchi), immediately followed by one round soto-uke/kamae.

54. Pull right foot back to left foot into (musubi or heisoku) with a short soto-uke/kamae. (Note: 53 and 54 are consecutive. They are just like the double soto-uke, with the first part of it in 53 and the second part in 54)

55. With the hands as they are, cross the left foot in front of the right foot.

56. Step forward with the right foot into shiko-dachi and sliding thrust (nuki-zuki). Immediately pull back the bō into kamae.

57. With the hands as they are, pull right foot back to left foot into (musubi or heisoku).

58. With the hands as they are, cross the left foot in front of the right foot.

59. Step forward with the right foot into shiko-dachi and sliding thrust (nuki-zuki). Immediately pull back the bō into kamae.

60. With the hands as they are, pull right foot back to left foot into (musubi or heisoku).

61. With the hands as they are, cross the left foot in front of the right foot.

62. Step forward with the right foot into shiko-dachi and sliding thrust (nuki-zuki). Immediately pull back the bō into kamae.

63. Pull the right foot back in front of the left (kōsa-dachi) with soto-uke.

64. Place the left foot back and immediately pull back the right foot to the left foot in musubi/heisoku, with a double soto-uke.

65. Place the right foot backwards and assume hassō-no-kame.

66. Step forward with the right foot and yoko-uchi, immediately continued into kamae. It is done with a slight feel of “combing up.”

67. Cross the left foot in front of the right foot (kōsa-dachi) with a sliding thrust (nuki-zuki).

68. In the previous position, pull back the bō and then step forward with the right foot and a thrust (tsuki).

69. Without pause, immediately place the right foot 45° to the right and strike an inversed strike to the middle-level (chūdan-ura-uchi) to direction front right 45°.

70. Place the right foot to the front again and assume the defense posture (mamoru kamae, or harai-uke) towards direction front.

71. Strike to the front (shomen-uchi). There is o soto-uke at this point.

72. Age-uchi preparation (as in Chinen Shikiyanaka).

73. Age-uchi (as in Chinen Shikiyanaka).

Bridge – 180° front to front

74. With the right foot as the axis, rotate 180° counterclockwise in neko-ashi, and raise your arms into jōdan-kamae.

75. Jump from the left foot, pull up the right knee and perform a 180 ° turn in the air. Land with the left knee on the ground in the back and the right knee up in front (right hanza or half-knee stance), towards the front. Perform yoko-uchi.

Lane 6 – Direction front

76. Still in right hanza, assume the defense posture (mamoru kamae, or harai-uke) towards direction front.

77. Stand up with a strike to the front (shomen-uchi), immediately followed by soto-uke/kamae (or, by jōdan-mawashi-uke followed by chūdan-osae-uke).

78. Pull back the right foot to the left foot in musubi-dachi; take the bō back into the starting position at the right side of the body.

79. Raise your right knee and strike upward from the bottom to the top (gyaku-age-uchi),left hand on right shoulder.

80. Set down the right foot to the front and strike to the front (shomen-uchi). There is no soto-uke at this point; immediately continue with following technique!

81. Without pause, and with the feet as they are, raise the bō with a scooping block (sukui-uke).

82. Without pause, inversed strike to the middle-level (chūdan-ura-uchi).

83. Without pause, swing around the left side of the body. This movement is an interims movement and performed without any stop.

84. Without pause, rotate the bō down and back at the right side of your body and continue up again into a jōdan-kamae. At the same time, pull the right foot back to the left foot into musubi-dachi.

85. Without pause, continue the previous movement: step forward with the right foot, immediately pull the left foot forward into musubu-dachi, and while doing so, strike jōdan-shōmen-uchi (right hand in yonshaku-mochi, left hand in goshaku-mochi).

86. With the bō as it is, raise the left foot (sunakake with the left foot) and place it backwards on the floor, in shiko-dachi. At the same time, pull back the bō with your right hand.

87. From the previous position, quick sliding thrust (nuki-zuki), immediately followed by a pronounced soto-uke/kamae.

End

88. Pull back the right foot to the left foot, into musubu-dachi. At the same time, take the bō back into the starting position at the body, right hand low, left hand up at the right shoulder.

89. Place your left hand on the outside of your left thigh. Bow. End.

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The inheritance of Kobudo is “destiny.” There is no end to research [Dojo Tour 3]

Translation of an article from Okinawa Times, April 17, 2017.

“Kobudō is my life. I have been pursuing it all my life, but research is endless.” Nakamoto Masahiro (79), who was selected as the only intangible cultural property holder in the field of Kobudo designated by the prefecture, wakes up at 3:00 every morning and devotes himself to researching and practicing the methods of using eight types of weapons such as bō and nunchaku. It has been 55 years since he decided to succeed Kobudo, which was in danger of decline, and knock at the gate of master Taira Shinken at 24. The skills and heart he has cultivated are taught at the “Bunbukan,” the headquarters of the Okinawa Traditional Kobudo Preservation Society in Shuri Torihori Town, Naha City.

He was raised in a single-mother household, and life was poor. While attending part-time senior high school, he got a job at the United States Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands (USCAR, 1950-1972). From the age of 20, he studied Karate under Chibana Choshin of Shorin-ryu, a friend of his father, but had nothing to do with Kobudo.

The turning point was when he was 24 years old. “Karate remains, but Kobudo will perish. Do not only Karate but also Kobudo,” said Shannon McKune, a civil affairs officer who was the boss of the workplace. He said he had worked in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) department for registering cultural heritage. At this time, “I realized my destiny.”

Taira refused him many times, but he begged in front of his house on one cold winter night, saying, “I won’t go home until I get started,” and was finally allowed to begin training. The world of Kobudo that he saw for the first time made him “immensely curious because it had a lot of weapons.”

Although he was worried about doing the same thing many times over, he spent every day entirely. “By doing Kobudo, you can understand the strengths and weaknesses of weapons, and you can add depth to karate.” He learned it parallel with Karate and qualified as a Kobudo shihan (master) in 1970. He was appointed as a branch of Taira’s dojo and became independent in 1982.

A long time ago, he had the opportunity to try and thrust a karate master’s chest with a bō and knocked him down easily. “I think it would have been dangerous if it was the solar plexus. After that, that master told his disciples, ‘Everyone should go to learn Kobudo.’ The Karate circles are sometimes jealous of Kobudo, but there were also such humble people.” Like this, he recalls the experience of mutual recognition.

Because you cannot actually injure your opponent, he says that he often aims at the legs with the bō. “That’s why I also train my legs.” I was surprised to see him hitting his shin with an iron hammer in front of an international student who came to the dojo.

When talking about the past, he often uses the word “luckily/fortunately.” He studied under Chibana and Taira, and many others. He visited the headwaters of Kobudo and studied abroad in China as a government-financed international student, and learned the ground fighting techniques that had declined in Okinawa from a Living National Treasure. Blessed with many teachers, he compiled the ancient martial arts of Okinawa. “The encounter with important persons when I was young changed my life,” he said.

“Both Taira Sensei and Chibana Sensei were gentle and kind,” says Nakamoto. He treats his disciples in the same way.

Currently, about 60 people are enrolled in the dojo. He had about 3,000 students over the course of 45 years, including international students. “Today, karate teachers also have become more aware of Kobudo.” Envisioning the ideal form of Karate and Kobudo, “I hope they can run smoothly as two wheels of a cart (=two halves of the whole).”

Profile: Nakamoto Masahiro was born on January 15, 1938, in Shuri, Naha City. From the age of 20, he studied under Shuri-te master Chibana Choshin. At the age of 24, he started Kobudo under Taira Shinken. In 1982, the Okinawa Traditional Kobudo Preservation Society was established. In 2013, he was certified as an “intangible cultural property holder in the field of Okinawa Karate / Kobujutsu” designated by Okinawa Prefecture.

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Photo of Karate Practitioners

Larry Kientz just posted a photo on Facebook of what looks like karate practitioners. The photo is from the digital archives of the Naha City Museum of History. It is simply titled “Men,” dated “pre-war days” and categorized under “Manners and folk customs.”

The description says:

Material by Kabira Chōshin / Photo storage box 189 (album number 002). The material was provided from Kanaseki Takeo to Kabira Chōshin.

According to the description, the photo was from the belongings of a person called Kanaseki Takeo.

Kanaseki Takeo (1897-1983) was a Japanese anatomist and anthropologist. Born in Enai Village, Nakatado District, Kagawa Prefecture (the current Kotohira Town). He graduated from the Kyoto Imperial University School of Medicine. He received his PhD in medicine from Kyoto Imperial University in 1930 for his treatise “Anthropological Studies of Ryukyu.”

In 1934, he became a professor at Taipei Medical College (in 1936 reorganized into Taipei Imperial University School of Medicine). In 1950, he was a professor at Kyushu University School of Medicine. After retiring in 1960, he was a professor at Tottori University and a professor at Tezukayama Gakuin University.

He discovered human bones of the Yayoi period and announced that the Japanese are a mixed race. In 1979, he received the Asahi Cultural Award for his achievements in “Development of Anthropological Research on the Southern Islands and Yayoi Human Bone Research.”

Kanaseki on Okinawa

Kanaseki visited Okinawa for the first time in 1916. In 1926 he visited northern Okinawa for a survey of human bones at the “Tomb of the 100 Aji.”

In 1928, Kaneseki toured the northern part of Okinawa under the guidance of the chief of the Okinawa prefectural school affairs division and collected human bones from the “Tomb of the 100 Aji.” He did so with the cooperation of Shimabukuro Genichirō (1885-1942), an educator and Okinawa researcher and the number one tourist to Okinawa in the pre-war days. Kaneseki also collected human bones from Senaga Island and Nakagusuku Castle.

During that 1928 visit, Kanesaki also visited Shuri where he collected the palm prints of students of the Girls’ Normal School and the Okinawa Prefectural 1st Middle School. On this occasion, he also investigated the students’ body odor.

Therefore, the karate people in the photo might be students of the Okinawa Prefectural 1st Middle School in Shuri in 1928. Since he studied the body odor of students, it would have been advantegous to him to collect sweat samples, which he probably could collect best in physical education class.

There is no proof for this, but it is possible. If so, the photo might be from 1928. Kanesaki visited Okinawa again from December 1929 to January 1930 for a second survey of human bones at the “Tomb of the 100 Aji,” so the photo might also have been made during this visit. In any case, the photo most likely is from 1928, and maybe from 1929/30.

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Tomari Elementary School

It is unclear when exactly Nagamine Shōshin entered Tomari Common Elementary School. He was born July 15, 1907, and the school year at that time started in April. The regular school enrollment for first graders was the age of 6 (MEXT, data for 1908 and 1919). Therefore, if all went according to regulations, Nagamine would have entered Tomari Common Elementary School in April 1914. According to Nagamine (1986:111), Funakoshi Gichin taught Naihanchi and Pinan at that time:

“When I was in the third grade of Tomari Elementary School, a Joint Athletic Meet of Naha Elementary Schools was held at Onoyama Park. At that time, Gichin Sensei was teaching at Tomari Elementary School, and we third and above graders were taught Naihanchi and Pinan and presented a group performance with about 200 people, which I remember as it was only yesterday.”

Nagamine’s third grade year would have been from April 1916. Moreover, according to the Ryūkyū Shinpō newspaper (November 14, 1916), when eight elementary schools held a joint athletic meet in Onoyama Park in Naha on November 13, karate was demonstrated by elementary school boys. (Maeshiro et al. 1992; Yanagihara 2020-08-06). The same joint athletic meet in Onoyama Park was also held a year before on 1915-12-14 and a year later 1917-11-10 (Maeshiro et al. 1992). Therefore, while Nagamine could have referred to any of these three joint athletic meets either 1915, 1916, or 1917, it was most probably 1916.

Let’s continue under the assumption that Nagamine entered Tomari Common Elementary School in April 1914. Education at that time had a number of possible routes (Shillony 1986: 769-787; MEXT, data for 1908 and 1919). If all went smooth, then, Nagamine would have completed the compulsory 6-year elementary school (jinjō shōgakkō) in March 1920. He would then proceed to the 2-years of higher elementary school (kōtō shōgakkō, or otherwise preparatory course), which he completed in 1922. In April that year, Nagamine entered the 3-year Naha Commercial School (shōgyō-gakkō), which he would have completed in March 1925. However, in his second year at Naha Commercial School (i.e. 1923), he became sick:

“When I was in my second year at Naha Commercial School, I suffered from gastrointestinal disorder and was confined to sickbed for more than a year. My complexion was also pale and my weakness was so severe that my school friends misunderstood it as me having pulmonary tuberculosis and were wary of approaching me. At that time, tuberculosis was an incurable disease. I was silently treated by a physician, but it didn’t seem to be effective, so I decided to give up my medicine and concentrate on my diet.” (Nagamine 1976:54)

“Besides that, as a more non-serious matter, I began to receive instruction in the basics of karate. Elder Kuba Chōjin, who was doing karate in the neighborhood, taught me in the garden of his house. This was in the summer of my 17th year, in the 12th year of the Taishō era (1923).”(Nagamine 1976:54)

In other words, he lost one school year due to illness. The 3-year Commercial School therefore took him four years, so that his final year started in April 1925 and he graduated in March 1926.

Nagamine wrote that he started karate 1923 when he was 17 under Kuba Chōjin. But at age 17, it should have been 1924. Except, he used the traditional age reckoning according to which a person was one year old when she was born.

This needs a little more study.

Here are the regular school years at the time. Add one for Nagamine.

The above is important to consider because there are a number of websites which uncritically adopted dates that seem to be wrong,. i.e. 1928 instead of 1923.

Biblio:

Gima Shinkin, Fujiwara Ryōzō: Taidan Kindai Karatedō no Rekishi o kataru (Dialogue – Talking about the History of Modern Karate). Bēsubōru Magajin-sha 1986.

Maeshiro Tsutomu, Taira Tsutomu, Kinjō Noboru, Kinjō Fumio: A Chronological History of Athletic Meets in Okinawa Prefecture before World War II. Bulletin of College of Education, University of the Ryukyus, Vol. 41, Part 1, Part 2, 1992. pp 299–306.

Nagamine Shōshin: Shijitsu to Dentō o mamoru Okinawa no Karatedō. Shinjinbutsu Ōraisha 1976.

Nagamine Shōshin: Shijitsu to Kuden ni yoru Okinawa no Karate Sumō Meijin-den (The Biographies of Okinawan Masters of Karate and Sumō by Historical Facts and Oral Traditions). Shinjinbutsu Ōraisha 1986.

Shillony, Ben-Ami: Universities and Students in Wartime Japan. The Journal of Asian Studies. Vol. 45, No. 4 (Aug., 1986), pp. 769-787

Yanagihara Shigeo: The Story of Nagamine Shoshin — The rise and fall of Okinawa Karate (2). The character of the place called Tomari. August 6, 2020.

Yanagihara Shigeo: The Story of Nagamine Shoshin — The rise and fall of Okinawa Karate (3). Started karate in the second year of Commercial School. August 14, 2020.

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Map of school distribution and diffusion of karate (outside the capital of Naha)

1900-10-25: At the inauguration ceremony of the Aguni Elementary School, residents performed “staff dance” (bō-odori) (Ryūkyū Shinpō, November 9, 1900).

1905-01-04: A victory celebration party for the surrender of Port Arthur was held at Heianza Higher Elementary School, and karate and bō demonstrations were performed. (Ryūkyū Shinpō, January 15, 1905)

1905-11: At the Yaeyama Congratulations Meeting held at Yaeyama Higher Elementary School, a “staff striking competition” (bō uchi no shiai) is held. (Ryūkyū Kyōiku, No. 114, January 20, 1906)

1906-12-26: Karate performances were held at the Nakagami District Teachers’ Athletic Meet held at Futenma Elementary School. (Ryūkyū Shinpō, December 28, 1906)

1907-02-14: Karate is practiced as one of the activities of the young men’s association (seinenkai) of Kume Island. (Ryūkyū Shinpō, January 14, 1907)

1907-03-26: At the ceremony for the start of telegraph use of the Yuntanza Post Office held at Furugen Elementary School in Yuntanza Village, residents of Chatan Village Nozato performed karate and bō. (Ryūkyū Shinpō, March 29, 1907)

1907-11-22: At the athletic meet (undōkai) of Nishihara Elementary School, children demonstrated karate and sai under the leadership of Maeshiro Chōryō.

1908-03-14: At the school arts festival (gakugeikai) of Motobu Higher Elementary School, children demonstrated karate and teachers gave lectures on karate. (Ryūkyū Shinpō, March 20, 1908)

1908-03-22: Children performed karate at the graduation ceremony of Ginowan Higher Elementary School. (Ryūkyū Shinpō, March 25, 1908)

1908-03-29: Karate demonstrations were performed by children at the Educational Affairs Promotion Meet in Nago Umusa. (Ryūkyū Shinpō, April 2, 1908)

1908-06-01: At the opening ceremony held at the Takae branch school of the Kawada Elementary School, karate and bō were performed by residents. (Ryūkyū Shinpō, June 15, 1908)

1908-06-13: At the foundation ceremony of the night school of Onna Nanfū Yadori village held at Onna Higher Elementary School, Maeshiro Chōryū performed karate. (Ryūkyū Shinpō, June 16, 1908)

1908-09-04: In addition to staff dances (bō-odori) with the three-foot staff (sanshakubō) and the six-foot staff (rokushakubō), Hentona youths performed karate in Hentona. (Ryūkyū Shinpō, September 21, 1908)

1908-10-30: Karate demonstrations performed at the Athletic Meet in Commemoration of the Bestowal of the Imperial Rescript on Education held at Kin Elementary School. (Ryūkyū Shinpō, November 08, 1908)

1929-03: By this time, karate was taken up as one of the practices promoted at Shimoji Higher Elementary School. (Okinawa Kyōiku, No. 174, March 30, 1929)

1929-03: Until this time, karate and bō were encouraged as one of the extracurricular activities at the Second Tomigusuku Elementary School. (Okinawa Kyōiku, No. 174, March 30, 1929)

1929-03: Until this time, karate was practiced within the physical education course (taisō-ka) at Haneji Higher Elementary School. (Okinawa Kyōiku, No. 174, March 30, 1929)

Around 1900-1901: Around this time, there is a record of a tinbē (shield) introduced during class at Yokatsu Higher Elementary School. (Okinawa Kyōiku, No. 281, January 10, 1940)

Open map here.

Biblio:

Okinawa, the birthplace of karate. The Okinawa Karate Exhibition. Okinawa Karate and Education, Part 1. To pass down, to spread karate! Karate teachers after the Meiji period. Okinawa Karate Kaikan, 2019-12-09 to 2020-03-24. Courtesy of Olli Ho.

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Karate-do Taikan – 2017 reissue by Gajumaru Shoten

The “Karate-do Taikan” was compiled by Nakasone Genwa and puplished in 1938.
It is a comprehensive book with numerous rare photos and drawings as well as text and many descriptions of kata, training equipment and much more. Among the rare records are the only surviving depiction of two sheets of Hanashiro Chomo’s “Karate Kumite” (1905), Itosu Anko’s “Ten Precepts of Karate” (1908), Funakoshi Gichin’s “20 Guiding Princples of Karate,” and a text by Matsumura Sokon showing that he was of Chikudun Pechin status at that time.

Among the techniques and kata shown are: Jion by Hanashiro Chomo, kata and applications by Gusukuma Shinpan, Sochin by Mabuni Kenwa, karate applications by Taira Shinken and Mabuni Kenwa, Passai by Chibana Choshin, Wado-ryu jujutsu by and with Otsuka Horonori.
The work is considered one of the most important documents of early karate.

In 1991, publishers Gajumaru Shoten of Ginowan reprinted and published the “Karate-do Taikan” and it was very well received by karate researchers and afficionados at that time. However, it has been out of stock for a long time so Gajumaru Shoten decided to republish it in a new format in order to revive it as a guideline for the new era.

For this reissue, the annotation was revised and – with the support of Okinawa Prefecture – digital videos were created and recorded on a DVD as an appendix. In it, the basic kata of karate, which were established by Nakasone Genwa as a key to the nationwide spread of karate, were performed and reproduced by active karateka.

Moreover, masters of traditional karate and kobudo generously present their kata, showing an enthusiasm for the spread of karate from a time when schools were not yet established.

Okinawa karate is on the way to return to the origin of karate while at the same time it opens up new perspectives. This book should be read and studied by anyone concerned with Okinawa karate.

The work has 452 pages in A5 size with a luxury binding covered with fine red cloth and it comes with case. The title is made in foil (hot) stamping. There is an appendix with one DVD attached. The DVD includes videos of the kata presented in the book in 1938, performed and reproduced by top karateka from Okinawa Prefecture, as well as Makiwara and other training methods. The performers are Miyagi Tokumasa, Tsuha Kiyoshi, Higaonna Morio, Nakamoto Masahiro, Oshiro Nobuko, Teruya Masahiro, and Matsumon Tadashi.

From an original 1938 edition (from the possession of Nagamine Shoshin. Recorded in 2008 by Andreas Quast, courtesy of Nagamine Takayoshi).
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Where dragons look

A photo of Shuri Castle main hall (seiden) taken in 1877 was confirmed. It is the oldest photo of Shuri Castle. The photo was taken by Jules Joseph Gabriel Revertégat (1850-1912), a French lieutenant of the Navy who was on board the French 2nd class Cruiser “Laclocheterie” under command of Admiral Henri Rieunier (1833-1918).

They left Cherbourg on July 25, 1875, for a 32-month circumnavigation in the Far East, mainly in China and Japan. Jules Révertégat spoke Japanese and served as an interpreter on behalf of the French diplomatic mission. They reached Naha Port in May 1877 and visited the last king Sho Tai in his palace in the royal capital of Shuri. At that time, Ryukyu and France signed a treaty. According to Associate Professor Gota Tadashi, in the 1870s, French, British, and German groups were allowed to enter Shuri Castle.

The “Laclocheterie” returned to Cherbourg on April 13, 1878. Upon return, Revertégat wrote a 7-page article entitled: “Une visite aux Îles Lou-Tchou” (A visit to the Ryukyu Islands) which appeared in the travel journal “Le Tour du Monde” in 1882.

At that time, Revertégat also published several prints, including of Shuri Castle and of the Zuisenmon Gate. Some of the prints had also been introduced in “Aoi me ga mita Dai Ryūkyū” (Nirai, 1987), but at that time their date of origin was unknown. Now the date of 1877 was confirmed from the photo of Shuri Castle, which served as the basis for one of the prints.

The photo was first introduced in a 2010 paper by a descendant of the cruiser captain, but had remained largely unknown previously. Therefore, the photo was not used for the 1992 restoration of Shuri Castle. This is significant because the orientation of the Great Dragon Pillars in front of the main hall (seiden) had remained controversial previously, but in the photo they are facing the front. Therefore, the photograph confirms for the first time that the Great Dragon Pillars were facing the front in 1877.

Numerous photographs are still extant in the private collection of Hervé Bernard.

Copyright Hervé Bernard.

Main sources:

Revertégat, M. J.: Une visite aux Îles Lou-Tchou. In: Le Tour du Monde. Nouveau Journal des Voyages. publié sous la direction de M. Édouard Charton et illustré par nos plus célèbres artistes. 1882, Deuxieme Semestre. Libraire Hachette Et Cie. Paris, Londres, 1882. pp. 250-256.

The large dragon pillars face front … The oldest photo of Shuri Castle? Taken in 1877 at the end of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Ryukyu Shinpo, November 14, 2020.

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The Significance of Wankan

Like most karate people, I have studied a number of kata directly from various secondary and tertiary sources (people) as well as from media (books, videos) but continued to seek out primary teachers. There are many qualified teachers out there and I am not saying one must seek out THE primary source, but it happens. For example, I have personally studied WankanRōhai, and Wanshū in depths under the late Nagamine Takayoshi sensei at the Matsubayashi-ryū Karate-dō Kōdōkan Dōjō in Okinawa. Nagamine sensei was probably the strictest and most relentless karate teacher I have ever had. I also performed all of these kata during gradings at that same place and did not fail and also performed Wankan on official occasions for the honbu dōjō. So you can assume I know a little about what I am talking about. I learned many other kata but mention these three here since they are related in lineage and technique.

About Wankan, Nagamine Shōshin (1978: 240) said:

This kata is said to be the creation of a master in ancient times, but the creator is unknown. Wankan belongs to the old kata. It was handed down by the warriors from the Tomari area and has been handed down to the present day. Its characteristics are many passages in which defense and offense are performed in one single action, that actions are formidable, and that it is a kata of medium length.

According to that, Wankan is an old kata that was handed down in Tomari and its creator is unknown. “Old kata” might refer to a kata that has existed in the 19th century and that has not been altered to suit physical education at school in the 20th century.

What else is there to know about Wankan?

In 1969, Kushi Jōkei performed Wankan on occasion of the National Special Invitational Kata Demonstration presented at the Nippon Budōkan in Tōkyō (Nagamine Shōshin performed Chatan Yara no Kūsankū on the same occasion). Kushi was born in Tomari in 1908. An expert in Okinawa sumō and direct disciple of Nagamine Shōshin, Kushi served as the vice-instructor of Matsubayashi-ryū Nagamine Dōjō since the 1950s. In the article addressing the demonstration, Wankan is described as “Tī of the Tomari system” and that while its creator is unknown, it has a long history.

Accordingly, already in 1969 Wankan was considered an important kata in Matsubayashi-ryū. Considering this, I remember that Wankan had been the typical group performance kata of the Matsubayashi-ryū honbu dōjō and Nagamine Shōshin himself performed it on various public occasions. Even his last public performance, shortly before his demise, he performed Wankan at the 1997 Okinawa Karate and Kobudō World Tournament Master Demonstrations:

I was thinking, therefore, that Wankan might have a special significance. Let’s dig a little further.

In 1959, in an article published in the Okinawa Times, Nagamine sensei first wrote about the history and technique of Wankan as follows.

Wankan – In the pre-war days [the practice of] this kata was aborted, but by gathering and compiling the recollections of a couple of Tomari elders, the kata finally revived. The kata is as short as Rōhai, but profound. Speaking of its special features, there are many kicking techniques, and changing the kicking leg is a highlight, and it is also a decisive skill.

In other words, Wankan was discontinued and not practiced anymore. As can be seen from the article, a number of elders from Tomari who remembered parts of the kata were consulted, and the kata was reconstructed. It is implicit that Nagamine sensei reconstructed it, but he does not explicitly refer to himself in this article.

When did that take place? In the 1997 Nagamine Obituary News, the narrator says,

The kata performed is Wankan. When Mr. Nagamine was 25 years old, he carried out a fact-finding survey based on interviews and revived this traditional kata.

In other words, Wankan had been almost lost but was revived by Nagamine sensei in 1932.

What about the technical characteristics of Wankan? In the 1969 Okinawa Times article, it is said that:

The technique of makite (Oki.: machidī) is described as one characteristic of Wankan. In it, the performer catches the opponent’s attacking arm and – without letting the arm escape – strikes a finishing blow.

Makite translates to “winding hand.” The technique is found in Wankan, Rōhai, Wanshū, and Passai, which in case of Nagamine sensei are all kata of Tomari-te provenance. It is therefore proper that it was referred to as a “Tī of the Tomari system.”

Makite is described in Nagamine (1975: 146) as follows:

When standing in [left] neko-ashi-dachi, and when deflecting your opponent’s [right] attack to your middle level, you swiftly shift your body (tenshin) [to the left], and as in sequence 1 and 2 [in the photos] above, when profoundly deflecting with your right hand sword (shutō), simultaneously wrap the opponent’s arm and trap it under your armpit. Without hesitation, attack the side of his torso with your left fist. Then, the left hand instinctively protects the thoracoabdominal vital points and prepares for the next attack [by trapping the attacker’s right arm].

It is done like this:

What is the special significance of Wankan? Why did Nagamine sensei perform it even on occasion of his last public performance?

The following is based on the fact that Wankan had been aborted but recreated by Nagamine sensei in 1932 by consulting a number of Tomari elders. I also believe, and this is conjecture, that he pieced thekata together: Otherwise any of the elders could have just taught it. Based on this, I believe the significance of Wankan is as follows: Wankan is a prime example of how various schools in the post-war period appropriated the names and techniques of classical kata while at the same time they “forgot” where they took got it from, and while altering the kata more or less. Naturally, in the 1950s onward, nobody thought it would ever be possible to retrace a kata visually and by sources. We know it better today.

To underpin my point, in the following I will provide a short overview of Wankan as I believe was appropriated by other schools.

Nagamine Shoshin and Kushi Jokei, Okinawa Times, 1959.

Kata called Wankan that are something else

Shōtōkan

Shōtōkan has a Wankan, too. Except the three kick-punch combos towards the end it is a completely different kata. It begins with something similar to the kaki-wake found in Gojūshiho and has some tsuki, geri, and kansetsu-waza. Even among Shōtōkan practitioners it seems largely unclear where this kata came from and when it was added.

Therefore, Shōtōkan’s Wankan is “something else” (and should actually be dropped).

Gōhakukai

Gōhakukai has a Wankan. This school says that their Wankan has been handed down from Matsumora Kōsaku to Iha Kōtatsu and further to Nakasone Seiyū and Tokashiki Iken. They claim to have inherited the original Tomari-te.

I have carried out an analysis of the techniques of Wankan in the Gōhakukai school. Wankan of Gōhakukai is composed of various techniques from Gōjū-ryū kata. The techniques were taken and choreographed in bits and pieces along a new enbusen. Watch my Wankan overview here, whole video here.

Between the 1950s and 1970s or so it was probably cool to create kata, do some name dropping, and claim some lineage, because no one will ever find out.

In short, this Wankan is “something else,” and certainly not “original Tomari-te.”

Wankan that miraculously entered other styles

Shitō-ryū

Shitō-ryū has Wankan (most often called “Matsukaze”). It clearly has the same base in both enbusen and techniques as Wankan in Matsubayashi-ryū. The difference is that Shitō-ryū performs it by using modern competition-style movements. Also, at the end, a there is one additional move, which can also be found in either Kūsankū Dai or Passai Shō. It was probably simply added at the end of the kata to make it special.

Well, for those who still haven’t heard the news: Nearly all Matsubayashi-ryū including Tomari Passai, Chatanyara Kūsankū, Rōhai and Wankan were learned by Shitō practitioners from Matsubayashi practitioners since the 1950s. These kata have never actually been “Shitō-ryū kata.” However, they were smuggled into “Shitō-ryū” at the time when the JKF only allowed kata from the four big styles (Shōtō, Wadō, Gōjū, Shitō). This case is actually a shame for the Japanese karate world. It is at least a case for consumer protection, the consumers being the karate world population of more than 100 Million people. It was unethical and does not qualify as sportsmanship. It includes at least false labeling, false advertising, and technical manipulation of kata in Japan only to have an advantage in competitions. It is therefore just and reasonable that Karate was not allowed as an event at the 2024 Olympics in France.

In short: Wankan of Shitō-ryū came from Matsubayashi-ryū.

Gensei-ryū

Gensei-ryū has a Wankan. It has the exact same enbusen and techniques as in Matsubayashi-ryū. Actually, I asked an expert in that school and he told me that Gensei-ryū has several kata coming from Matsubayashi-ryū.

In short: Wankan of Gensei-ryū came from Matsubayashi-ryū.

Shōrinji-ryū Kenkōkan

The Shōrinji-ryū Kenkōkan also has a Wankan which has clearly the same base as in Matsubayashi-ryū. However, you need to look closely since there are a lot of additional moves, including the final move already mentioned in the “Shitō-ryū Wankan.”

I am actually too lazy to look into this in detail.

In short: Wankan of Shōrinji-ryū Kenkōkan came from Matsubayashi-ryū until someone proves otherwise.

Wankan with the same origin as Matsubayashi-ryū

Shōrin-ryū Shūbukan (Uema dōjō) also has Wankan. This kata has clearly the same base in both enbusen and techniques as Wankan in Matsubayashi-ryū. This is no wonder since Shimabukuro Tarō was a teacher of Uema Jōki. And Shimabukuro Tarō learned Wankan from Iha Kōtatsu from Tomari.

In short: Wankan of Shōrin-ryū Shūbukan has a very similar lineage as Wankan of Matsubayashi-ryū.

Murakami Katsumi (1976: 121–132) also wrote about Wankan, which he also studied from Shimabukuro Tarō:

A representative kata of Tomari-te, it is a brilliant kata that is nimble, fast as lightning, profound and rich in variety. It is the type of kata that you want to do many times. It is a kata that is very useful for actual combat.

The question remains

How did Nagamine revive Wankan? Did he reconstruct it together with Shimbukuro Tarō?

Shimabukuro Tarō’s Wankan has been published by Murakami Katsumi and it is 100% identical with Wankan of Nagamine. Wankan of Shimabukuro Tarō’s student Uema Jōki (Shūbukan) is also 100% identical with Wankan of Nagamine.

Right now, no more can be said about this.

There is one important thing to note: Nagamine sensei clearly said that the kata was reconstructed from the memories of “a number of elders from Tomari.” Therefore, all versions of Wankan that look related to the Matsubayashi-ryū version must be based on the reconstruction apparently finalized by Nagamine sensei (and possibly Shimabukuro Tarō).

Endnotes:

Takamiyagi Shigeru et.al.: Okinawa Karate Kobudō Jiten, 2008.

“Shuri-te, Naha-te toha kotonaru maboroshi no Karate – Tomari-te nazo ni semare!” (Extremely rare Karate different from Shuri-te and Naha-te – Approaching the Mystery of Tomari-te!) In: Gekkan Karatedō. February Issue 2003. Fukushōdō 2003.

Murakami Katsumi: Karatedō to Ryūkyū Kobudō. Seibidō Shuppan, Tōkyō 1976.

Murakami Katsumi: Kata no Kokoro to Waza. Shin Jinbutsu Ōraisha, Tōkyō 1991.

Nagamine Shōshin: Shijitsu to Kuden ni yoru Okinawa no Karate, Sumō Meijin-den. Tōkyō, Shin Jinbutsu Ōraisha 1986.

Nagamine Shōshin: Okinawa no Karate-dō – Rekishi to Densetsu o Mamoru. Tōkyō, Shin Jinbutsu Ōraisha 1975.

Okinawa Kōkai no Yūbe (A Public Evening in Okinawa). National Special Invitational Kata Demonstration. Okinawa Times, 1969-09-21.

Nagamine Shōshin: Karate Stories. Okinawa Times, 1959.

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Funakoshi and the Museum of Education in Tokyo

The following passage shows how sporting goods manufacturer’s and distributor’s associations in Japan sponsored various sporting events since the 1920s, including events in which karate was showcased (Nakamura et al. 2008: 1-2).

At the Peace Memorial Tokyo Expo held in Ueno from March 10th to July 31st, 1922, the Tokyo Sporting Goods Manufacturer’s and Distributor’s Association exhibited various sports equipment and accessories. In addition, from April 30th of the same year, over a period of one month it also co-sponsored the Sports and Physical Education Exhibition sponsored by the Ministry of Education at the Museum of Education, and exhibited a large number of sporting goods and related items. Starting with these two exhibition projects, the association has since sponsored many fairs and exhibitions.

While well-directed business interests of related industries are a point of interest, it is rarely discussed within karate circles. Today usually training suits (dogi), practice equipment such as makiwara, weapons (kobudō), media (books, mags, mooks, and videos) come to mind when thinking about karate-related businesses. In addition there are the large national and international associations and federations and – more recently – the tourism industry that are clearly business-related on various levels. It is also noteworthy that many karate schools started out as individual enterprises and became small to medium-sized enterprises. This might be a fruitful topic for future research.

Another lead in the above passage is the Museum of Education (Kyōiku Hakubutsukan), mentioned as the venue for the 1922 Sports and Physical Education Exhibition. If this is correct, it should have been the actual venue where Funakoshi Gichin presented karate (in form of scrolls) in 1922 at the Sports and Physical Education Exhibition. In the following I will present a short overview of this Museum of Education.

Early Timeline:

1871: the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture established the Department of Natural History.

1872: Establishment of the “Museum of the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture “

1875: renamed to Tokyo Museum (Tōkyō Hakubutsukan)

1877: re-established as the Museum of Education (Kyōiku Hakubutsukan) at a new building on the site of the current Tokyo University of Arts in Ueno Yamauchi.

1881: Renamed to Tokyo Museum of Education (Tōkyō Kyōiku Hakubutsukan)

1921: renamed to Tokyo Museum (Tōkyō Hakubutsukan) again, under direct control of the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture.

1923: All facilities and materials are lost due to the fire caused by the Great Kanto Earthquake.

The following photograph shows how it looked like in 1920, that is, shortly before Funakoshi’s karate performance in 1922, and also before the loss of the facility in 1923 due to the Great Kanto Earthquake.

The Museum of Education in 1920. (From: Tokyo Museum of Education Edition: Summary of the Tokyo Museum of Education, 1920. Digital Collection of the National Diet Library, Japan)

Currently, this place is the National Museum of Nature and Science.

Biblio: Nakamura Tetsuo, Shōji Setsuko, Ōkuma Hiroaki, Sanada Hisashi, Nakajima Ken, Hōgaku Atsuro, Kimura Kichiji: Wagakuni Sengo Fukkō-ki ni okeru Supōtsu Yōhin Oroshi-gyō Kumiai no Yakuwari to sono Katsudō (The Roles and Activities of the National Association of Sporting-goods Distributors in Postwar Japan). Japan Society of Sports Industry. Research on Sports Industry, Vol. 18, No. 1 (2008), pp. 1-2.

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Resolution on the Declaration of “Karate Day”

In the distant old times, about 700 years ago, karate was born in this region of Okinawa. Our ancestors created the world-class traditional culture called karate in symbiosis with Okinawa’s rich nature and geographical features. It was initially called “ti” (手).

On the other hand, as announced on the “Bridge to all Nations Bell,” our ancestors rushed about numerous countries throughout the world by ship, including China and Southeast Asia. They actively interacted with foreigners and brought the world’s culture and wealth to this land to build peace and prosperity.

Along with this cultural exchange, Chinese martial arts were imported from around 1400 to 1500. Karate, which until then had walked its own path, proactively adopted and integrated the strenghts of Chinese martial arts, whereby it flourished magnificently. That is the karate that has been handed down to the present day.

On October 25, 1936, several leading karate practitioners officially decided on the notation “karate” (空手, empty hand), which is now familiar to karate practitioners and many other people around the world. Therefore, it is meaningful to perpetuate it as a “special day” in history.

As is well known, the number of karate practitioners worldwide is estimated at around 50 million. Karate spread across national borders and languages, religions, constitutions and racial barriers to 150 countries around the world. Thanks to its immeasurable charm and splendor, karate spread to all corners of the world with unbridled power in less than half a century in the period after the Second World War.

Needless to say, no other culture in Okinawa is so widespread and influential and familiar to people all over the world.

In addition, karate is a “martial arts of peace” (heiwa no bu) based on the magnificent philosophical principle of “no first attack in karate” (karate ni sente nashi) and the foundational ideal of cherishing life as “life is the treasure” (nuchidu takara), which are needed more and more in today’s global community and we are confident that karate will expand its contribution to this cause.

With this in mind, and in the hope that the traditional Karate of Okinawa will develop more and more in the future and contribute to world peace and the well-being of all people, we, the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly, announce October 25th to be “Karate Day.”

Enacted as described above.

March 29, 2005

Okinawa Prefectural Assembly

Source: Okinawa Karate Kobudō Jiten, 2008, p. 7, translated by Andreas Quast.

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