Okinawan Samurai — The Instructions of a Royal Official to his Only Son

BookCoverPreviewsmBy Aka/Ōta Pēchin Chokushiki (auth.), Andreas Quast (ed./transl.), Motobu Naoki (transl.).

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!!!Translated from Japanese for the first time!!!

“I think it is epoch-making that Quast sensei decided to translate the ‘Testament of Aka Pēchin Chokushiki,’ and not one of the famous historical or literary works such as the Chūzan Seikan or the Omoro Sōshi. … I believe that this translation has significant implications for the future study of karate history and Ryūkyū history abroad. (Motobu Naoki, Shihan of the Motobu-ryū)

Troubled about the future of his only son and heir, a royal government official of the Ryukyu Kingdom wrote down his ‘Instructions’ as a code of practice for all affairs. Written in flowing, elegant Japanese, he refers to a wide spectrum of artistic accomplishments that the royal government officials were ought to study in those days, such as court etiquette, literature and poetry, music, calligraphy, the tea ceremony and so on.

“I highly recommend this new work by Andi Quast … as a MUST BUY book …”

( Patrick McCarthy, foremost western authority of Okinawan martial arts, modern and antique, anywhere he roams)

The author, who achieved a remarkable skill level in wielding both the pen and the sword, also informs us about various martial arts practiced in those days. Translated from Japanese for the first time, from centuries-long puzzling seclusion the state of affairs surrounding an 18th century Okinawan samurai vividly resurrects in what is considered ‘Okinawa’s most distinguished literature.’

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“It is one of THE most important primary sources for truly understanding the unabridgisteeologd history of our arts first hand by a member of the very class of people who spawned Karate in the first place!” (Joe Swift, Karateologist, Tokyo-based)

“I’m sure I’m going to learn and enjoy this book.” (Itzik Cohen, pure-as-can-be karate and kobudo man from Israel)

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5″ x 8″ (12.7 x 20.32 cm)
Black & White on Cream paper
218 pages

First Printing: 2018
ISBN-13: 978-1985331037
ISBN-10: 1985331039

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Martial Artists of Ryūkyū – A Legacy by Motobu Choki

motobu_chokiBy Motobu Chōki (auth.), translated with commentary by Andreas Quast

Choki was born into the Motobu Udun – descendants of a royal prince – and raised as a traditional Okinawan bushi. After a long warrior pilgrimage, in which he put practical martial arts to the test whenever and with whomever possible, Choki became both the most celebrated and the most notorious Okinawan fighter ever.

In this text Choki, in vivid details, reports what he has had been bequeathed by the elders about the martial artists and their special skills of the royal capital of Shuri and elsewhere. What was martial art back in Okinawa? The answer might be right in front of you.

This short work originally appeared as a chapter in the book Watakushi no Karatejutsu (My Art and Skill of Karate) by Motobu Choki, 1932.

«Blaming a method is the same as asking for a duel. And so, Haebaru put on full dress and the two met in the hall of Oroku Castle, to settle the matter.»

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5″ x 8″ (12.7 x 20.32 cm)
Black & White on Cream paper
54 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1542453462
ISBN-10: 1542453461
BISAC: Sports & Recreation / Martial Arts & Self-Defense

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Oni Oshiro

BookCoverPreviewIn the era of Old Ryukyu, a legendary warrior of Okinawan martial arts appeared on the center stage of the historical theatre. Due to his unique appearance and powerful physique—reminiscent of a wolf or a tiger—the people of that time called him Oni Ōshiro, or «Ōshiro the Demon.»

Also known as Uni Ufugushiku in the Okinawan pronunciation of his name, he had been variously described as the originator of the original Okinawan martial art «Ti» as well as the actual ancestor of a number of famous Okinawan karate masters, such as Mabuni Kenwa and others.

This is his narrative. Gleaned from the few primary sources available, which for the first time are presented here in the English language, the original heroic flavor of the source texts was kept intact.

«I invoke the Gods, To quake heaven and earth, To let the firmament resound, And to rescue the divine woman—Momoto Fumiagari.»

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5″ x 8″ (12.7 x 20.32 cm)
Black & White on Cream paper
94 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1533486219 (CreateSpace-Assigned)
ISBN-10: 1533486212
BISAC: Sports & Recreation / Martial Arts & Self-Defense

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King Wu Once Buckled On His Armor: The Seven Virtues of Martial Arts

by Andreas Quast

King_Wu_Once_Buckled_Cover_for_KindleTHIS is the true story of the seven virtues of martial arts as described by Matsumura Sokon. Considered the primary source-text of old-style Okinawan martial arts, the “Seven Virtues” are admired for their straightforward advice. Handwritten in the late 19th century by Matsumura Sokon, the most celebrated ancestor of karate, they are considered the ethical fountain and technical key to understand what can’t be seen.

This book includes the extremely rare photography of the original handwritten scroll, approved by the Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum as well as the owner of the scroll. It also shows the family crest of the Matsumura family, sporting the character of “Bu.”

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Matsumura himself pointed out that the “Seven Virtues of Martial Arts” were praised by a wise man in an ancient manuscript, a manuscript that has remained obscure ever since. Now the ultimate source of this wondrous composition has been discovered and verified. Presented and explained here for the first time, it is not only the source of Matsumura’s “Seven Virtues of Martial Arts”… In fact, it is the original meaning of martial arts per se.

5″ x 8″ (12.7 x 20.32 cm)
Black & White on Cream paper
80 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1523685981 (CreateSpace-Assigned)
ISBN-10: 1523685980
BISAC: Sports & Recreation / Martial Arts & Self-Defense

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A Stroll Along Ryukyu Martial Arts History

A Stroll Along Ryukyu Martial Arts History Paperback – May 15, 2015

by Andreas Quast (Author)

Paperback edition: available at Amazon US ($14.99), Amazon UK (£9.79), Amazon Germany (EUR 14.97), CreateSpace eStore ($14.99), and at online and offline bookstores and retailers, as well as via public libraries and libraries at other academic institutions.

Kindle edition also availableUSUKDEFRESITNLJPBRCAMXAUIN

Based on his acclaimed previous studies, the author here presents a synopsis of the development of Ryukyu martial arts. The events described herein are all real, that is, they are all historical. Strolling along the chronology of martial arts of Ryukyu provenance, a large number of verified events are not only detailed, but also decorated with dozens of precious illustrations. As such “A Stroll Along Ryukyu Martial Arts History” is for martial arts practitioners as much as it is for aficionados of history and Asia. It simply provides a pristine ground to stand on for the practitioner who wishes to understand the primordial origins of Ryukyu martial arts.

  • For those who read “Karate 1.0”: this new book here is a synopsis of Karate 1.0 plus the “chronology (Part VII)” without significant changes. It is an easier read without all the reasoning and footnotes, but instead with nearly 80 illustrations to make it more suitable for the general public, and not only academic people.

Among the unique information that cannot be found anywhere else are also some of the illustrations. For instance, there is only one picture scroll that shows the Chinese investiture envoys (sapposhi) and their military retinue. Here, for the first time you might see how famous Kusanku actually might have looked like.

Product Details (Paperback edition)

  • Paperback: 180 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (May 15, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1512229423
  • ISBN-13: 978-1512229424
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 0.4 x 9.7 inches
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Available at Amazon US ($19.99), Amazon UK (£12.79), Amazon Germany (EUR 19,25 ), CreateSpace eStore ($19.99)

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Karate 1.0: Parameter of an Ancient Martial Art

The most comprehensive study on the parameters of primordial Karate, this work intrigues readers with rich detail and insights into these ancient combat traditions, the pride of Okinawa.

KARATE 1.0: Parameter of an Ancient Martial Art. Düsseldorf 2013, by Andreas Quast.

cover (4)

Karate 1.0 front cover

  • Pages: xxvii, 502 pp.
  • Language: English.
  • Hardcover binding in green linen material with gold foil stamping, size 8.25″ x 10.75″ (20.95cm x 27.31cm).
  • Full-color dust jacket in matte finish.
  • Inside: black and white printing on cream archival paper (60# weight). White exterior paper (80# weight).
  • Forewords by Patrick McCarthy, Miguel Da Luz, Cezar Borkowski, Jesse Enkamp, Dr. Julian Braun, Soke Leif Hermansson, and Dr. phil. Heiko Bittmann.
  • All copies ship from the United States.
  • Price: $75.00.

Only the highest quality both in content and production: get it now from Lulu.com!

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Terminology

Introduction

The following has taken place: My teacher in Okinawa, a 10th Dan and representant of a world-famous school, scolded me. The reason: I used the terms oi-zuki and jun-zuki as I had learned elsewhere. In this particular school, however, these terms used to mean something different.

Many teachers teach like this:

“I do, and then you see.

And then you do.

And then I see.

Ok?”

I reckon that this is the way some were taught themselves in Japan or Okinawa, where they studied martial arts while understanding neither the common language nor the technical terminology, or perhaps only superficially and fragmentarily.

And in this way, as they have somehow learned all their stuff anyway directly from the master, they pass on what and how they learned to their students. And so teachers still pull and push on poor pupils’ arms and everything during what they call “correcting the students.” Well, of course, this does make some didactic sense, yet it is only half the story.

What I am trying to say here is: We need to talk about language.

About common language, which is defined as “valid throughout the language area, understandable to all members of the language community, for general – non-subject-related – exchange of ideas.”

About technical language, which is defined as the “subject-specific communication among professionals” and which uses a terminology that has a particular meaning within a specific branch of trade, profession, arts, sport or academic field and which is standardized and defined in, for example, a dictionary, a glossary etc.

And we need to talk about jargon, which is defined as a non-standard language variety, a special language or a non-standard vocabulary used in a professionally, socially, politically or culturally defined group of people, a particular social milieu or a subculture (“scene”).

Now, which of the three kinds of languages mentioned above do the words used in Okinawa karate and kobudō belong to? Maybe a jargon with an inclination towards a technical language?

On terminology

The beginning of modern karate is usually dated to its introduction into the Okinawan school system shortly after the turn of the twentieth century. There is a lot of hypothesizing and guesswork as regards the differences between antique and modern karate. Only rarely are primary sources used in a way that meets academic requirements. I have already pointed out elsewhere that one of the differences between ancient and modern karate kobudō is to be found in terminology. The loss of complex combative terminologies can be seen on the example of the Bubishi, whose technical terms – although they are supposed to be methods and information handed down personally in Okinawa – have been completely lost. One exception might be a term about which we were informed by Motobu Chōki and which can also be found in the Bubishi. One word only! And even this may just be a coincidence.

There are abundant hypotheses that claim secrecy of teaching as well as war losses as the main reasons for the non-existence of records in general and old terminologies in particular. While both are probably partly true, they are also ex-post arguments which need be considered from other perspectives, such as current self-adulation as well as modern marketing and tourism.

Indeed, new terminologies seem to have come into being together with the standardization of techniques and their teaching since the early twentieth century. At the same time, older terminologies that were neither considered up-to-date nor culturally desirable were probably lost. Even the terminology of Kata names, which are often written in katakana, still causes problems today. It is still often unclear what the names originally meant. As an example, take the name Passai, to whose original meaning there are numerous hypotheses and theories, but no reliable evidence. Thus, it can be surmised that since the early twentieth century, and together with the standardization of techniques as well as their practical applications, significant parts of previous terminologies have become disruptively replaced.

Most terminologies of today’s karate and kobudō are of modern origin, often developed only since the second half of the 20th century. The few ancient terms that we know of from written sources are nowhere to be found in them. Partly terms were simply reintroduced, without an actual personal tradition. In part, antique-sounding terms originating from the regional language were apparently simply invented, or new terms presented as being old.

In any case, the development and modification of terminologies since the early 20th century is well traceable. Begun with Hanashiro Chōmo’s “Karate Kumite” (1905), to the terms used in newspaper articles and finally in the first sparse publication in book form by Funakoshi Gichin, Motobu Chōki, Mabuni Kenwa, Nakasone Genwa and others, to the tide of publications since the second half of the 20th century: Properly utilized, these all allow for a clear view on the qualitative and quantitative development of modern terminology in the field of karate and kobudō.

By the way: Did you receive a complete written terminology as used in your school, possibly illustrated by drawings or photos?

“Pulling” an example

While on the whole there are many overlaps, terminologies often differ depending on the group and the individual. For example, Inoue Motokatsu was probably the first person to ever create a comprehensive terminology of Kobudō from Okinawa. One of the terms he used is hikkake 引っ掛け. On example of this term, the importance of a terminology as exact as possible can be clarified.

Hikkake as a noun can mean:

  • (1) hook; gab;
  • (2) snare; trap; trick (question);
  • (3) {sumo} arm-grabbing force out;

The verb form of hikkake can mean:

  • (1) to hang (something) on (something); to throw on (clothes);
  • (2) to hook; to catch; to trap; to ensnare;
  • (3) to cheat; to evade payment; to jump a bill;
  • (4) to drink (alcohol);

The same combination of characters, read as hikikake 引き掛け, means to hang, or to hang up.

As can be seen from the above multitude of possible meanings: There is a lot of ambiguity in it. In fact, it is impossible to know what hikkake stands for in a technical terminology, except you have been taught what it explicitly means.

Well, our terminologies often typify morphological or functional features of a technique, such as the trajectory, the origin, direction or target of a weapon, or even an allegory. So, after analyzing the technique of hikkake from its morphological, functional, and other content, I first thought the best explanation was probably to be found in the homonymous sumō technique.

In sumō, hikkake constitutes one of the eighty-two match winning techniques (kimarite). It is typically employed during the pushing and shoving phase of a bout. It works as follows:

As a prerequisite, the opponent pushes and shoves forward, either using only one or both his arms. This is what we wanna-be academics call the advantageous dynamic situation. It may naturally occur or it may be willfully created (=provoked).

If he so pushes forward, take hold of his arm with both your hands (kake掛け) and pull (hiki引き) him past yourself. Simultaneously, you skillfully sidestep and make way for him. In this way, the opponent stumbles and falls forward or is thrown outside the ring.

Hikkake is an impact technique rather than a joint lock. You deflect and pull down the opponent in the manner of pulling a rope, i.e. passing it from hand-to-hand alternating. This constitutes the difference to kote-nage (小手投げ; armlock/forearm throw) and tōttari (捕ったり; arm bar throw), in both of which the opponent‘s arm is locked to enforce the technique.

BTW, when talking about terminology, we need to talk about translations, too. Did you receive a translation of the special terminology of your specific school?

Well, in English, the sumō-variety of hikkake is translated as “arm-grabbing force out.” Of course, this is not a literal translation of the word, but the attempt to describe what is done in the technique, using as few words as possible. So it is basically an abbreviation for:

“When the opponent pushes forward, with one or with both of his arms, then grab his arm with both your hands and pull him forward as if you pull a rope, and pull him past yourself while you simultaneously sidestep, and so he is forced to fall onto his face or out of the ring.”

That’s more like martial prose, though.

Everybody will agree that simply saying hikkake is much easier.

See hikkake explained here.

Or here at the very end of the clip.

And here, too.

Anyway, the term hikkake as defined by Inoue Motokatsu for his school of Kobudō has very different features. It neither shares the same technical minutiae as the homonymous sumō-technique described above nor would “bō-grabbing force out” be a suitable analogous English translation.

So…

Let’s google.

“Gyaku hikkake uke … (=defense with the upper third of the Bô behind the left ear).”

Hmm…

Ok, let’s take photos as an aid:

Hikkake shown from all four directions, performed by Inoue Kisho.

Hikkake shown from all four directions, performed by Inoue Kisho (From: Inoue Motokatsu, Ryukyu Kobujutsu Vol. 3, 1982).

Well, by the time it took you to read until here, you would probably have figured out what hikkake means and how it is done by yourself. Its common English translation as “hook block” is good enough, too. Yet, let me remind you that hikkake is just one example from among hundreds of terms and early accuracy pays off later in huge projects. As for me, I want to have a definition of the techniques and concepts related to them.

That is why a terminology is necessary.

And therefore – and while I know some just metaphorically term every technique short and crisp: “kill!” –, below, and I am all too aware of the tragicomic nature of this endeavor, is the first glossar-ish result of my analysis, terminological and otherwise:

Hikkake 引っ掛け: “trap and hang-on.”

Much better than before!

Too long?

How about just “trap ’n’ hang”? As in Guns ’n’ Roses? Brilliant, but we’re already starting to obscure the etymology here, so let’s be more careful. Also, it sounds Texan, at least to German me.

Least I forget: As I noted in October 2003, Inoue Motokatsu defined hikkake not explicitly as a blocking technique – which is still THE popular English translation for uke-waza (terminology wink wink!)–, but as an interim technique (chūkan-waza 中間技), which besides hikkake itself also includes techniques such as gyaku hikkake (“reversed trap ’n’ hang”), tai-sabaki (“tactical positioning of body and weapon”), or harai-uke (“low-sweep parry”). These interims techniques are then continued to osae-hazushi (“press’n release”), maki-otoshi (“twist ’n’ plunk”), kake-hazushi (“unhook”), and so on.

Well, I remember a fencer who once taught me:

“There are a few important techniques in fencing, maybe five or six, which you must study diligently. Once you become proficient, you don’t think about what technique to use in which situation, but the techniques just appear as either opportunity or necessity arises. It is natural.”

It is just now that I notice he didn’t use any technical terminology in that sentence.

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“Kungfu in a Karate uniform”

Considering the transformation from old Karate 唐手 to the Karate 空手 of today, Kinjo Hiroshi in his last book wrote that:

“Karate 空手 has become something which only in appearance is reminiscent of (old) Karate 唐手. Strictly speaking, (today’s) Karate 空手 has become something like the forms of Chinese Kungfu.”

While there is probably a variety of noble and not-so-noble reasons for this, I have to agree that in many instances Karate has become a kind of ‘Kungfu in a Karate uniform,’ something user-defined, school-defined, association-defined, self-perception-defined, wishful-thinking-defined etc.pp. It’s ME (US) and MY (OUR) intents, aims and wishes – or nothing! Examples for this are found in world dominating organizations like WKF, or among the Okinawan schools, as well as among the Western Karate movements and in countless individuals, all of which have been inventing and reinventing various Karate cultures since the 1950s and 60s – including sportive, combative, philosophical, physiological, quasi-medical and other cultures as well as businesses and mixes of any parts thereof.

Therefore Kinjo Hiroshi concluded that “… In its current form, there is no way around it that Karate 空手 is being criticized and dismissed by the circles of scholarship and logic.”

Let’s agree for a second and assume that logic is not the strong part of Karate. Let’s assume instead that the strong part of Karate is that everyone can define their own set of premises as logical explanations to describe their activities. Also, let’s assume that an unknown number of these explanations probably constitute a so-called false premise, i.e. an “incorrect proposition that forms the basis of an argument or syllogism.”

As can be read at Wikipedia,

“However, the logical validity of an argument is a function of its internal consistency, not the truth value of its premises.”

For example, here’s syllogism 1 that involves a false premise:

  • If there was violence in Okinawan society, Karate was used as self-defense. (premise)
  • There was violence in Okinawan society. (premise)
  • Therefore Karate was used as self-defense. (conclusion)

Was Karate the only self-defense? Was Karate only a self-defense? Okinawans trained applied self-defense, not kata? Only Okinawans knew Karate? Karate always existed in Okinawan society?

Here’s syllogism 2 that also involves a false premise:

  • A self-defense against violence named Karate existed in Okinawan society, just as self-defense against violence existed anywhere else. (premise)
  • A self-defense named Karate existed in Okinawa. (premise)
  • Karate is the same as self-defense anywhere else, at any time. Kata doesn’t matter. (conclusion)

Would it also mean that if you only train WKF Kumite Karate, you know the original self-defense named Karate? It is both Karate, isn’t it?

Or here’s syllogism 3:

  • If it is Sport-Karate, it is not useful as a self-defense. (premise)
  • It is Sport-Karate. (premise)
  • Therefore Sport-Karate is not useful as a self-defense. (conclusion)

Would you agree?

Cosmic Booknews https://www.cosmicbooknews.com/karate-kid-returns-cobra-kai

A rather weird presentation of Karate in Western pop culture media. Image source: Cosmic Booknews

 

Here’s syllogism 4:

  • Okinawan self-defense techniques were taught in the form of Kata. The names of persons were affixed to the name of the Kata. (premise)
  • Self-defense techniques were taught in the form of Kata. (premise)
  • The person named in the Kata existed and taught these techniques 300 years ago. Since that time there was an uninterrupted personal tradition of these techniques until only recently the techniques have been adapted for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. (conclusion)

The problem is, such arguments are logically valid, but quite demonstrably wrong, because their first premise is false (or too narrow, or fractional) – Okinawans may also have used different self-defense such as Jujutsu, or Kenpo, or Tijikun, Karamuto. Also, a sports Karate woman can probably defend herself successfully in the streets.

However, as Wikipedia explains,

“A simple logical analysis will not reveal the error in this argument since that analysis must accept the truth of the argument’s premises. For this reason, an argument based on false premises can be much more difficult to refute, or even discuss, than one featuring a normal logical error, as the truth of its premises must be established to the satisfaction of all parties. Another feature of an argument based on false premises that can bedevil critics is that its conclusion can, in fact, be true.”

In the online discussions I have followed there were also cascading sets of right and false premises mixed together, which makes it even more disadvantageous to even start a discussion.

Since it appears to me that the above is the exact reason why we have so many discussions about Karate online, logic would urge us to NOT participate in them. Instead, we should continue to do Karate as we see it. That is, as our very own “Kungfu in a Karate uniform.”

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Here Commences the Fencing with the Staff

Within the fencing traditions of the staff, we find a written entry in the manuscript Cod.Hs.3227 of the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg, Germany. This manuscript dates from around 1390. It is the first work which documented the fencing theory of Johannes Liechtenauer. On fol. 78r is found the following self-explanatory text on “fencing with the staff.”

[78r] Here Commences the Fencing with the Staff

He who wants to learn fencing with the staff should first know and note that a proper staff should be twelve spans long [somewhere between 1.80m and 2.40m]. And the fencing with a staff is derived from the fencing with a sword. And just as one fences with the sword, so he should also fence with the  staff. And the principles that belong to the sword, such as audaciousness, quickness, stratagems, intelligence, etc, also belong to the staff.”

About 20 years later, Fiore dei Liberi published the Flos Duellatorum (1409 or 1410). Fiore had studied unter German fencing master Johannes Suvenus (Johane dicto suueno), whom Fiore himself described as his principal teacher from among all of the many German and Italian masters he had studied with during the late 14th century.

The places of Fiore’s activity– Udine, Padua, Pavia, and Ferrara – at that time belonged to the territory of the Holy Roman Empire, which can be said to have begun with Otto the Great (Italian: Ottone il Grande) – German king from 936, Italian king from 951, and Holy Roman Emperor from 962 – and lasted until 1806.

While Fiore himself might not be considered a significant master in the evolution of fencing in Central Europe, he did prepare one of the first illustrated fencing books which shows a potpourri of techniques derived from the eminent “German” and “Italian” fencing schools of that era. Besides the regular armed or unarmed fight on foot or horseback, Fiore also covered topics such as the bastoncello, or plays of a short stick, such as shown below and bearing the description:

With a short staff I bind your neck, And if I fail to bring you into the ground, you can consider yourself lucky.”

Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program. Translation by Colin Hatcher.

Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program. Translation by Colin Hatcher.

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Okinawan Samurai — The Painting of Guan Yu, God of the Martial Arts

While working on “Okinawan Samurai,” Motobu sensei and me discovered a painting with a specific significance to martial arts. The painting was originally in the possession of Aka/Ōta Pēchin and is described in his ‘Instructions’ to his only son and heir. Later it got into the possession of a Satsuma samurai, a descendant of whom presented it to Baron Ie Chōjo (1881–1957). From there, directly or indirectly, the painting reached the collection of Higaonna Kanjun, who in turn presented it to a museum in Okinawa.

With the help of Kubura Yoshiko, staff member of the Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum, we were able to track this piece of art and also received permission to use it in “Okinawan Samurai” – see the full two-page depiction on pages 26-27. In this way, we were extremely lucky to be able to reunite portions of Aka/Ōta Pēchin’s heirloom.

Well, the painting shows two persons: Guan Yu standing on the right with a sword, and a person sitting with a scroll in his left hand. It is unknown who the seated person is.

Guan Yu (–219) was a military commander of the State of Shu Han and blood-brother of Liu Bei in the historical novel ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms.’ Perceived as a fearsome warrior famous for virtue and loyalty and regarded as a god of war and martial arts, he is so popular even today that he can be found anywhere from souvenir shops to Chinese take aways to computer games. Most of the time he is depicted holding a long-handled sword known as a guandao.

Guan Yu, as shown in a Google picture search.

Guan Yu, as shown in a Google picture search.

The Tensonbyō shrine complex for the Heavenly Cannons and Statues in Kume village, Okinawa, is dedicated to the supreme deity of Chinese popular Taoism, which is said to have been introduced to Okinawa by the so-called 36 families of Kume. This supreme deity refers to Guan Yu. His alias, Kantei Ō 關帝王, literally ‘Monarch of the Frontier Post,’ points to his role as a protective patron who secured the country’s borders. On the name plaques still found today in the Tensonbyō shrine complex in Kume village he is revered as Tenson Kantei 天尊關帝, from which the shrine derived its name.

Guan Yu shrine in the Tensonbyo, Kume village, Okinawa. Photo by the author.

Guan Yu shrine in the Tensonbyo, Kume village, Okinawa. Photo by the author.

BTW, albeit a Chinese deity, Guan Yu was also worshiped as the guardian deity of the king of Ryūkyū. It may therefore be considered no coincidence that the Tensonbyō was situated right beside the Gokokuji 護国寺, the ‘Temple for the Protection of the Motherland’.

Finally, Guan Yu is also known as the ‘Saint of War’ (wu sheng 武聖), which is complementary to Confucius, who was known as the ‘Saint of Culture’ (wen sheng 文聖). At this point we can actually see that an original concept of bunbu 文武 (the civil and the military realms, civil and military affairs, scholarship and art of war) existed in Ryūkyū since olden times.

So, maybe the unidentified person in the painting is meant to represent Confucian scholarship, while Guan Yu represents the martial arts. If so, the painting shows an original concept of bunbu 文武. See the painting in “Okinawan Samurai” on pages 26-27.

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Shirotaru no Kon (5) – Name, Lineages, Variants

Name

The name of the kata is usually written in kana as 白樽の棍. In standard Japanese this is pronounced “Shirotaru no Kon.” In Okinawan dialect it is pronounced “Shiratarū nu Kun” シラタルーヌクン.

Otherwise the name is also sometimes written in kana as 白太郎の棍. In standard Japanese this is pronounced “Shirotarō no Kon.” In Okinawan dialect it is pronounced “Shiratarā nu Kun” シラタラーヌクン.

For convenience of the reader, I will simply continue to refer to it as “Shirotaru.”

It should be noted that Taru 樽 has been an Okinawan childhood name (warabina) for centuries. Tarō 太郎, on the other hand, is a mainland Japanese male name.

In any case, the kata varieties under both the names “Shirotaru no Kon” and “Shirotarō no Kon” without any doubt are of a similar lineage. The change in kanji from Taru 樽 to Tarō 太郎 must have taken place at some time during the transmission in different lineages. However, in the prewar era, there are only written sources that write Shirotaru 白樽. I suppose that the kanji Shirotarō 白太郎 are the more modern variant, probably chosen to distinguish the kata and/or its lineage for whatever reason.

Variants and Lineages

Well, the most difficult topic is that of variants and lineages of Shirotaru no Kon.

Kata Different from Miki

Kyan Shin’ei

A version of Shirotaru no Kon was handed down by Kyan Shin’ei. Since there is an old film of him performing the kata which is available on Youtube, this version is relatively well-known.  Since Kyan was among the most important teachers of the Matsubayashi-ryū, within which he also taught kobudō, this version of the kata is especially widespread among Matsubayashi-ryū dōjō and its spin-offs. Recently this version has been made available on Youtube within the efforts of the 2018 Okinawa Karate International Tournament. Here we can see Tamaki Tsuyoshi performing this same kata. The only difference to Kyan’s version are three additional techniques at the end. BTW, here the name is given as Shirotarō no Kon 白太郎の棍.

Izumikawa Kantoku, Shirotaru no Kon. Courtesy of Motobu Naoki Sensei of the Motobu-ryū.

Izumikawa Kantoku, Shirotaru no Kon. Courtesy of Motobu Naoki Sensei of the Motobu-ryū.

Well, Kyan had joined the karate club of the Okinawa Prefectural Teachers’ College (Okinawa-ken Shihan Gakkō) in April 1927. Kyan became a student of Ōshiro Chōjo at that time, so there is a chance that he could have learned Shirotaru from Ōshiro Chōjo. However, his version is different from that of Miki. While there might be multiple reasons for this, it is also said in oral tradition that Kyan’s version of Shirotaru no Kon came from Izumikawa Kantoku (1905–1977). Izumikawa served as an assistant instructor of Ōshiro Chōjo in both karate and kobudō (OKKJ 2008: 385–86, 407). Together with Kyan Shin’ei, Izumikawa was a also a student of Kina Shōsei (OKKJ 2008: 414).

Well, according to Ulf Karlsson, Kyan’s version is close to the version handed down in the Bugeikan. Higa Seitoku of the Bugeikan learned Yamane-ryū bōjutsu from Chinen Masami and was the only person who received a shihan license by Chinen Masami.

Ryūkonkai

The Ryūkonkai was established in 1981 by Iha Kōtarō, who had learned kobudō from above-mentioned Izumikawa Kantoku (OKKJ 2008: 309, 629). Therefore, the Ryūkonkai version of Shirotaru no Kon should be the same as that of Kyan Shin’ei, however, it slightly differs. In fact, when studying it closely, it seems to be the same version from the same source, just abbreviated at various points: there are things missing when compared to Kyan’s version. Here are some observations:

  • The intro is the same (sec. 05-012), but then Iha left out the right side combo seen at Kyan and instead steps forward with the left foot to perform the left hand combo.
  • Iha also does not perform the gedan uke and gedan nuki-zuki seen at Kyan.
  • During the last combination towards the front, Iha has some techniques less than Kyan.
  • The last lane (towards the back direction) is basically the same.

Of course, and just as in case of Kyan Shin’ei, the Ryūkonkai version is also different from Miki. It is not only clearly visible in the intro section, but also in that throughout the kata neither Kyan nor Iha perform the ippon-dachi sunakake as well as the jōdan-nuki of Miki’s version.

As a resume, I would say that Iha’s version is the same as Kyan Shin’ei’s, it is just abbreviated at various points, and also leaves out the signature technique of gedan-uke and nuki-zuki. But it clearly is of the same origin as the version of Kyan Shinei, just hard to see for non-experts.

Kishaba-ha Yamane-ryū

Today two versions of Shirotaru no Kon can be found and are practiced within the bōjutsu curriculum at the dōjō of Taira Yoshitaka, Hanshi. One is the above-mentioned version of Kyan Shin’ei, and the other is the version by Kishaba Chōgi (safety advice: turn volume down). This kata is said to have been handed down by Chinen Masami, but it is quite different from that of Higa Seitoku of the Bugeikan, who also learned from Chinen Masami and received a teaching license. For this reason, there is an oral tradition that “only Sensei Kishaba knows all kata of Yamane-ryū.”

Maybe this is true. However, I still can’t escape the feeling that – while being based on older versions – Kishaba’s Shirotaru is a creatively enhanced version. Maybe it is even a mix between something like a version close to Miki’s plus Kyan Shin’ei’s version plus X. This would not at all be astonishing, because Kishaba Chōgi was active among many persons of the Matsubayashi-ryū and even performed Matsubayashi-ryū kata (the video shows Fukyu-gata Ni, not Gekisai Dai Ichi).

One interesting point is that – while it is the version most different from Miki, mostly an simply due to it’s length – it has the abbreviated first left lane found in Miki’s written description. There are many other things to note but I just leave it like that.

Taira Shinken lineages on Okinawa

The Shirotaru no Kon of the Taira Shinken lineages of Okinawa was handed down by Yabiku Mōden (Cf. Ko Taira Shinken Senshi etc. 1976). This means the lineage of the kata is Chinen Sanrā – Yabiku Mōden – Taira Shinken.

This version is distinctly different to Miki’s version in various places, but has also many similarities. The combis are similar and here we finally find the ippon-dachi and sunakake combi as well as the jōdan-nuki of Miki’s version.

In this version, there is also the pronounced “Shirotaru no kamae” both at the beginning as well as at the end. This lacks in the other versions.

In any case, it remains a version different to that of Miki.

The Same Kata as by Miki

Inoue

Shirotaro no Kun Dai as described and depicted by Inoue Motokatsu is the same kata as Miki’s version (Cf: Ryūkyū Kobudō Chūkan, 1974, pp. 274–309). This version probably came from what is called Kakazu-bō in Tomigusuku. There, four students of Chinen Sanrā handed down four Yamane-ryū kata which were found in the dōjō of Akamine Eisuke. It is possible that Miki’s version is the same version as had been handed down in Akamine Sensei’s Shimbukan school. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to learn this kata or see it performed, but I saw a photo series of the techniques. But I have learned the old-style version of Shūshi no Kon from this school and – while a few parts are missing – it is the same version as that of Miki. After all I do not know whether Shirotaru no Kon was actually practically handed down in Shimbukan and if so, if it is technically complete.

In any case, this would be an explanation for how the kata reached into Inoue Motokatsu’s curriculum.

Shōtōkai

Some branches of the Shōtōkai also practice Shirotaru no Kon. This version is also clearly of the same origin as Miki’s version. An interesting thing is that they pronounce the kanji not as Shirotaru, but in alternative spelling as Hakuson. Miki also called the kata Hakuson no Kon…

In the Shōtōkai it is said that their bōkata came from Funakoshi Gigō (1906–1945), who went to Okinawa upon his father’s suggestion one or two times each year to update and learn from Ōshiro Chōjo. This is a little difficult to prove.

BTW, Miki and his co-author Takada were at the Tōkyō Imperial University. Funakoshi Gichin was a teacher there. However, when the students began to ask questions Funakoshi could not answer, and they started to experiment kumite with protectors etc. it is said that Funakoshi didn’t like it at all and because of that finally left his karate teaching job at the Tōkyō Imperial University due to conflict with Miki and his co-author Takada (Mutsu) Mizuho. So this is an extremely difficult topic for students of Shōtōkan.

ShushiIn this connection, Shōtōkai’s version of Shūshi no Kon is also exactly the same as described by Miki. At second 0:28 they even make a step described and shown by Miki, which however I think is simply a mistake. No other version of Shūshi no Kon does this, only that of Miki and the Shōtōkai.

Because of the above, there are actually a number of possibilities.

  • Ōshiro Chōjo actually taught the same version to both Miki and Funakoshi Gigō.
  • Miki made a mistake and all who learned from him or the book did the same mistake.
  • Someone on the mainland learned the kata from Miki.
  • Someone learned the kata from a student of Miki.
  • Someone learned kata from Miki’s book, but couldn’t tell, because Miki was a renegade. So a legend was invented.

It should also be noted that these bō kata are NOT found in Shōtōkan as a whole, but only in certain branches of the Shōtōkai

To be fair, I’ve been told that the book “Karatedō Nyūmon” says that 5 bō kata were practiced at Shōtōkan: Shūshi no Kon, Sueyoshi no Kon, Matsukaze no Kon (created by Gigō), Sakugawa no Kon, and Shirotaru no Kon.

Well, the “Karatedō Nyūmon” is a posthumous compilation of writings, personal notes and records from the bequest of Funakoshi Gichin. I therefore ordered the book to see what has been said exactly, and by whom. The reason is that – as far as I know – Funakoshi himself did not mention Shirotaru no Kon etc. in any of his own books.


Biblio (excerpt)

  • Nakamoto Masahiro (1938-): Okinawa Dentô Kobudô. Gairyaku to Shurite-Kei Karate Kobujutsu Tetsujin no Keifu. Yuishuppan 2007. 仲本政博:沖縄伝統古武道。概略と首里手系空手古武術達人の系譜。ゆい出版, 2007。
  • Matsuda Mitsugu: The Ryūkyūan Government Scholarship Students to China, 1392-1868: Based on a Short Essay by Nakahara Zenchū, 1962. In: Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 21, 1966, pp. 273–304.
  • Okinawa no Bunkazai (Cultural Properties of Okinawa). Ryūkyū Seifu Bunkazai Hogo Iinkai (Commission for Protection of Cultural Properties of the Government of the Ryūkyū Islands), 1964. 沖縄の文化財。琉球政府文化財保護委員会。1964。
  • Ko Taira Shinken Senshi Nana Shūki Tsuitō. Karate-dō, Kobudō Enbu Taikai. Taira Shinken Den. Shusei: Ryūkyū Kobudō Hozon Shinkōkai. Kōen: Zen Okinawa Karate Dō Renmei, Ryūkyū Shinpōsha. 11. October 1976, 2 pm, Naha City Hall. 故平信賢先師匕周忌追悼。空手道、古武道演武大会。平信賢伝。主催: 琉球古武道保存振興会。後援:全沖縄空手道連盟、琉球新報社。
  • Shimabukuro Gen’ichirō (1885–1942): Ryūkyū Hyakuwa. Okinawa Shoseki, Naha 1941. 嶋袋源一郎:琉球百話。沖縄書籍、那覇1941。
  • Nohara Kôei: Okinawa Dentô Karate „Te (Tî)“ no Henjô. „Te (Tî)“ wo Shirazu ni „Karate“ wo katarukare. Kyûjô Shuppan, Nishihara 2007. 510 Ss. 22cm. Erstausgabe. 野原耕栄:沖縄伝統空手「手」Tiyの変容。「手」Tiyを知らずに「空手」を語ることなかれ。西原:球陽出版2007。
  • Okinawa-ken Karate-dô Rengôkai (Pub.): Okinawa Karate Jinmeikan. Naha, Okinawa-ken Karate-dô Rengôkai 1993.
  • Takamiyagi Shigeru et. al.: Okinawa Karate Kobudō Jiten 2008.
  • Miki Jisaburô (1904-1952), Takada Mizuho (1910-1987) (gemeinsame Hrsg.): Kenpô Gaisetsu. Nachdruck. Ginowan, Yôyu Shorin 2002. 284 Ss,, 22cm. Anm.: Erstausgabe Wissenschaftliche Arbeitsgemeinschaft des Karate an der Kaiserlichen Universität Tôkyô, 1930. 三木二三郎、高田瑞穂(共編):拳法概説。復刻版。宜野湾:榕樹書林2002。284 Ss., 図版8 Ss., 22cm。注記:初版:東京帝國大學唐手研究會1930。ISBN:4947667710。
  • Inoue Motokatsu. Ryukyu Kobudo vol. 2, 1974.
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Shirotaru no Kon (4) – Techniques of Shirotaru Deciphered

As I noted before, Miki Jisaburō learned Shirotaru no Kon from Ōshiro Chōjo (1887–1935), who lived in Shuri Ōnaka 1-54 at the time. At that time Ōshiro served as a regular teacher as well as the head of the karate department at the industrial school (Kōgyō Gakkō), where he taught karate and bōjutsu to the youth in an “educational manner.” He also taught karate and kobudō at the Okinawa Prefectural Teachers’ College (Okinawa-ken Shihan Gakkō), where he was active together with Yabu Kentsū. Ōshiro not only taught at school but also invited the youth to his private home and taught them, about which they are said to have been “both were happy and proud.”

As Miki put it,

“Ōshiro was known as a leading man in bōjutsu of today’s Ryūkyū. And the famous bōjutsu master Yamane no Chinen sensei was his teacher.”

At this point it gets really interesting: There are so many lineages of bōjutsu from Okinawa who all swear that their kata came from Yamane no Chinen sensei, and/or Ōshiro Chōjo. But they are all different from the version recorded and perpetuated by Miki Jisaburō. I repeat:

DIFFERENT.

In order to show you what I mean: here is my practical reproduction of Shirotaru no Kon as learned from Ōshiro Chōjo in the late 1920s and described in text and illustrations in 1930.

Before watching, here are some notes to bear in mind.

At the time of Miki there was obviously no standardized terminology for techniques in use. For this reason there are many complicated descriptions. For this reason I have generated additional informations from the original description. By creating a matrix of the techniques and their numbers it became clear which techniques apparently belonged to certain combinations. Furthermore, I assigned modern names to the techniques described. For example, I abbreviated complex descriptions to technical names that are in standard use today – such as shōmen-uchi etc. From the data generated in this way, I then created a table of techniques and combinations and finally partitioned it according to the connected combinations and directions that portray the exact and complete structure and morphology of the original kata. By this the core combinations, interims techniques, bridges, and “runaway” – which are typical parts of the martial choreographies of kata – became recognizable and the otherwise confusing description of the entire choreography became clear and precise. That  means, as good as it was possible. It looks like this:

table

Finally, I have filmed the kata, which includes all my mistakes, personal inadequacies, and bad habits. Note that this is not a performance in the usual sense of “begging for points” during tournaments or graduation (or for Las Vegas 😀 ). Rather, it is simply supposed to show the enbusen and techniques of the kata as originally described by Miki.

Oh, btw, I do not have the nerves to lay down all my sources and experiences in front of everybody. You either trust me on that or not, and if the latter, I don’t care…

This all being said, here is my practical reproduction of Shirotaru no Kon as learned from Ōshiro Chōjo in the late 1920s and described in text and illustrations in 1930 by Miki Jisaburō.

Not nice, but hey: show some respect 😉 !!!

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Shirotaru no Kon (3) – The Pole Fencing Techniques of Shirotaru

Below follows my descriptive translation of Shirotaru no Kon as given by Miki in 1930.

Let me note a few things:

First of all, in the original text, some descriptions were shortened by making a reference to a technique from a different kata also described in the book. For example, the starting position of Shirotaru was described by a reference to the respective moves in Shūshi no Kon. In that case I have included the description that was referred to.

Secondly, when reading the original text I noticed that one part was obviously missing, namely a combination towards direction E. However, the rest of both lanes (towards directions E and F) in the kata are performed perfectly symmetrically. Therefore, it is logical that the gap is an error. For this reason I have added the numbers 33–2 to 33–4 in below descriptive translation. It was easy to reconstruct simply by using the description of the same combination mirrored towards direction F as numbers 42–44.

Additionally, while the original text had a numbering of techniques, it is not really in order according to connected combinations and directions. That is to say, connected combinations are ripped apart and were seemingly arbitrarily fragmented. This is important to understand.

Finally, there was obviously no standardized terminology for techniques in use at that time. For this reason there are many descriptions in the text, such as the following:

“With both hands from their previous position, strike down in a swinging motion from slanted upper left to the front below in direction B. The left hand is now on the right side of the body, the right hand is at the lower front.”

This of course is nothing but a gedan-gyaku-uchi.

When taking all of the above made points together, while in general Miki did an incredibly awesome job, his written description is not really user-oriented and does not favor a practical reproducibility of the kata. In other words, from the description alone it is extremely difficult to carry out a holistic structural and morphological motion analysis of the kata. This may be the exact reasons why Miki’s description of the kata has never been practically reproduced (at least as far as I know).


 

Shirotaru no Kon as described by Miki in 1930

Enbusen (route of the course of actions).

Enbusen (route of the course of actions).

  1. 02The left foot remains in its original position. Step forward with the right foot one step towards direction A and at the same time from its below right position comb (the ) upwards with your right hand, and thus strike [upwards] from the right side. The right hand is now slightly slanted upwards and to the front, the left hand is at the side of the body.
  2. The left foot remains in its original position. Step forward with the right foot one step towards direction A and at the same time from its below right position „comb (the ) upwards” with your right hand, and thus strike [upwards] from the right side. The right hand is now slightly slanted upwards and to the front, the left hand is at the side of the body.
  3. Both feet remain unchanged in zenkutsu-dachi towards direction A. Bring the right hand near the right pelvis at a distance of 55–58cm, and the left hand to the right temple at a distance of about 30cm, and in this way perform a defense in direction A.
  4. Both feet remain unchanged in zenkutsu-dachi towards direction A. Raise your right hand to your right shoulder near the head and immediatley strike from the right top down in direction of A, thereby pulling the the left hand to the left side of the body. Then rotate the  so as to strike the out of the opponent’s hand.
  5. Pull the front right foot back a little towards direction B and at once proceed with the left foot, so as to cross the right foot. Next, with the left foot remaining unchanged, step one step forward with the right foot in the direction A and simultaneously from the left side of the body thrust the to the front.
  6. Again perform the same action as in # 5 towards direction A.
  7. 03With the left foot as the pivot, turn backwards [clockwise] towards B and place your right foot forward towards direction B, one step in front of the left foot. Simultaneously, with both hands from their previous position, strike down in a swinging motion from slanted upper left to the front below towards direction B. The left hand is now on the right side of the body, the right hand is at the lower front.
  8. With the left foot unchanged, position your right hand near your right buttock and thereby raise your left hand to your the right breast and lift your right foot behind the left knee. Body and eyes are directed towards direction of B.
  9. Put down the right foot to the front in its previous position and at the same time shoot up the tip of the with your right hand starting from your right buttock towards direction B. This is similar to the movement number 2.
  10. Slide forward with both feet simultaneously, thrust towards direction B and then rotate the .
  11. With the left foot as the pivot turn around backwards towards direction A, step forward with the right foot in the direction A one step in front of the left foot and at the same time strike sideways from the right side of the body. The right hand is in front, the left hand is close to the left side of the body.
  12. Both feet remain in the previous position. By pulling back your right hand close to your left shoulder and left side of your head, strike [upwards] to the front with your left hand, and thus strike from below upwards with he lower [left] tip of the towards direction A. Next, bounce your right hand forward and pull back your left hand to your left side of the body, and thus strike downward and to the front with the front [right] end of the .
  13. Both feet remain in the previous position. Take the right hand close to the right shoulder and immediately strike diagonally downward to the front. At the same time pull back the left hand to the right side of your body.
  14. Perform the actions numbers 8 and 9.
  15. Perform action number 10 towards direction A.
  16. 04With the right foot remaining unchanged, step forward with the left foot towards direction A, placing it one step in front of the right foot. Take the right hand approx 30cm in front of your right breast and with the left hand push upwards over head and to the front. In this way you catch the opponent’s attack from below. Immediately take your left hand about 30cm in front of your left shoulder and thrust to the front. Quickly pull back the right hand into the overhead position.
  17. With the right foot unchanged, step back one step with the left foot behind the right foot towards direction B and at the same time raise the with both hands high above your head: Unlike the overhead position in Sakugawa no Kōn referred to as daijōdan the here transversely runs from left to right over head.
  18. Rotate the right end of the clockwise [on your right side backwards, and forward again on your left side] and perform a sweeping strike downwards towards direction A. Both feet remain in the previous position. The right hand is now in the front below, the left hand on the right side of the body. This is the same action as in number 7.
  19. Perform the actions of numbers 8, 9, and 10 towards direction A.
  20. The right foot remaining unchanged, step forward with the left foot one step in front of the right foot and simultaneously switch the grip of both hands and perform Yoko-uchi from the left side. The left hand is now in the front towards direction A, the right hand at the right side of the body.
  21. Both feet remain in the previous position. Perform the movements of action number 12, just with hands and feet reversed.
  22. Both feet remain in the previous position. Perform the movements of action number 13, just with hands and feet reversed.
  23. Perform the actions of numbers 14 and 15, just with hands and feet reversed.
  24. Perform the actions of number 16 towards direction of A, just with hands and feet reversed.
  25. Perform the actions of number 17 towards direction of A, just with hands and feet reversed.
  26. Perform the actions of number 18 towards direction of A, just with hands and feet reversed.
  27. Perform the actions numbers 8, 9, and 10 towards direction A, just with hands and feet reversed.
  28. The left foot remains unchanged in its position. Turn body and eyes towards  direction E and place the right foot foot one step behind the left foot [towards direction F] and at the same time defend towards direction E. The position of the left hand is about 58cm from the left pelvis, the right hand is about 30 cm from the left temple.
  29. Both feet remain unchanged in zenkutsu-dachi towards direction E. Take the left hand close to your left shoulder and immediately strike down diagonally towards direction E. The right hand is now at the right side of the body.
  30. Both feet remain unchanged, perform the actions of number 12, just with hands and feet reversed.
  31. Both feet remain unchanged, perform the actions of number 13, just with hands and feet reversed.
  32. Both feet remain unchanged, perform the actions of number 8, just with hands and feet reversed.
  33. Both feet remain unchanged, perform the actions of number 9 and 10, just with hands and feet reversed. 33-2. Perform the same actions as in numbers 16 and 17 towards direction E. 33-3. Perform the same actions as in number 18 towards direction E. 33-4. Perform the same actions as in numbers 8, 9, and 10 towards direction E.
  34. The left foot remaining unchanged, turn towards direction A by placing the right foot one step behind the left foot towards direction B. Take your left hand to your left shoulder and diagonally strike downwards from above towards direction A. The left hand now is in front, the right hand at the right side of the body.
  35. The right foot remains in its previous position. Pull back the left foot to the right foot, then place the right foot one step in front of the left foot, and exchange the grip of both hands. With your right hand from the right shoulder strike diagonally downward to the front, and thus attack towards direction A.
  36. The right foot remains in its previous position. Place your left foot one step backwards towards direction E  and turn around towards direction F, and at the same time defend towards direction F. This is the same action as in number 28, just with hands and feet reversed.
  37. Perform the same actions as in number 29 towards direction F, just with hands and feet reversed.
  38. Perform the same actions as in number 12 towards direction F.
  39. Perform the same actions as in number 13 towards direction F.
  40. Perform the same actions as in numbers 8 towards direction F.
  41. Perform the same actions as in numbers 9 and 10 towards direction F.
  42. Perform the same actions as in numbers 16 towards direction F.
  43. Perform the same actions as in numbers 17 and 18 towards direction F.
  44. Perform the same actions as in numbers 8, 9, and 10 towards direction F.
  45. The left foot remaining in the previous position, place the right foot one step towards direction A, body and view towards direction A, and in doing so strike sideways with your right hand from the right shoulder towards direction A. The right hand is now in front, the left hand at the left side of the body.
  46. Perform the same actions as in number 12 towards direction A.
  47. Perform the same actions as in number 13 towards direction A.
  48. Slide backwards with both feet towards direction B, and rotate the right end of the clockwise and perform a sweeping strike downwards towards direction A. The right hand is now in the front below, the left hand on the right side of the body.
  49. Perform the same actions as in numbers 8 towards direction A.
  50. Perform the same actions as in numbers 9 and 10 towards direction A.
  51. 51Both feets remain at their places. Turn your body and view towards direction B into neko-ashi-dachi and defend towards direction B. To do so, take the right hand about 30cm in front of the forehead, the left hand about 55–58cm in front of the left pelvis.
  52. With the left foot raised in neko-ashi, press down the left end of the in a circular motion, slide forward with both feet, and thrust forward and downward. The method of performing this tsuki equals the last gedan-zuki in Shūshi no Kon, number 8 [That is, “The fingers of the left hand form a loose ring (around the ). Now you glide forward with both feet (…) and simultaneously pierce/thrust forward, by letting the glide (through the loop made of your left hand’s fingers)”].
  53. With the left foot remaining in its place, place the right foot one step diagonally to the left in front of the left foot. Simultaneously strike from the side in a large scale from your lateral right to the front.
  54. With the right foot remaining in its place, place the left foot one step diagonally to the right in front of your right foot. Simultaneously change the grip and strike from the side in a large scale from your lateral left to the front. Numbers 53 and 54 use the same methods of striking.
  55. 55endWith the left foot remaining in its place, place the right foot one step diagonally to the left in front of the left foot and change the grip. With the right end of the scoop (pull up) from below upwards, and directly slide forward with both feet and thrust to the front towards direction B.
  56. With both feet remaining in their place, turn body and view towards direction A, thereby releasing the left hand from the ; let your left arm hang down naturally on the left side of the body, while placing the left end of the on the floor. Then return the into the initial position under the right armpit.

[End of description]


You see: It is complicated. Therefore, I will decrypt the meanings of the description in a forthcoming article.

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Shirotaru no Kon (2) – Kudaka Island and Native Beliefs

In the legend of Shirotaru, it is said that the fruitful harvest from Kudaka Island was dedicated to the people of Tamagusuku district, who began to brew sacred wine from the crop and offered it to the lord Tamagusuku Aji, and offered it to the gods. As suggested previously, the legend of Shirotaru has also been variously interpreted within the legend of origin of Ryūkyū itself. Let’s take a look at the article called “The Indigenous Culture and Martial Arts in Okinawa” (沖縄の土着文化と武術) by Miyagi Takao (OKKJ 2008: 25).

“Since ancient times, the people of Ryūkyū highly valued their religious beliefs. According to popular belief, in legendary times the ancestors came to Ryūkyū from distant land far off in the sea. They brought with them plenty of food, an original culture, good craftsmanship and so on. This distant land far off in the sea is called Nirai Kanai, the ‘paradise beyond the ocean.’ In hope of a blessed life, the people included gods and celestial beings from Nirai Kanai in their prayers.”

In  the legends of origin of Ryūkyū, from this distant land far off in the sea (Nirai Kanai) a pot with five kinds of grains drifted to Kudaka Island. But there were no grains of rice among them so the “legendary god, Amamikiyo, descended and summoned an eagle to Nirai Kanai to get these grains. The eagle traveled a long journey and returned with three grains of rice between its beak. Amamikiyo then planted these grains at a spring in Tamagusuku.” This is how the ancient religious beliefs of Okinawa came into being, reflected in the worship of nature, like Utaki. And the various analogies to the Shirotaru legend are obvious.

I still wonder: What has this supposedly to do with bōjutsu?

Well, according to above quoted article by Miyagi Takao,

“The marine culture established its own entity of existence. Divine assistance paired with the courage of the people shaped the basis for the ‘heart of Ryūkyū’ (Ryūkyū no kokoro).  In this way the people of Ryūkyū came into contact with Japan, China, and Southeast Asia, at which the gods of Nirai Kanai acted simultaneously as gods of safe sea voyages, gods of the fine arts, and gods of cultural creation.  In the same spirit, the fine arts, karate, and kobudō coalesce into a traditional culture. This is ‘kokoro’, or the spirit of mutual assistance, fellowship, and community.”

Alright. That is, in the 21st century self-perception of karate and kobudō everything is glued together: culture, religion, history, technique, etc. Well, it is a good, sustainable marketing idea. And actually it is quite typical for Japan, where “indigenousness” underpinned by academic or other sources is valued extremely high. The search for “indigenousness” might have been one decisive momentum in the development of karate anyway.

Btw, native beliefs in Ryukyu have been a topic for centuries. Already in 1611 the Satsuma domain ordered the termination of official emoluments for women in Ryūkyū. This aimed at eradicating the influence of the ancient institution of “holy women” in both society and government. While this measure was by no means fully implemented by the Ryūkyū royal government, it led to a gradual loss of influence of the “holy women” at the royal court.

Priestess at Kudaka Island. Poster by Nanjo City Tourist Association.

Priestess at Kudaka Island. Poster by Nanjo City Tourist Association.

Haneji Chōshū (1617–1675), prime minister of Ryūkyū from 1666 to 1673, realized that the native beliefs constituted “a conflict between ancient and medieval societies – the former dominated by women and the latter by male statesmen awakened to medieval consciousness” (Nakahara Zenshū, “Koyū Shinkō,” p. 154, cited in Matsuda 2001, p. 87). Haneji struggled against numerous native superstitious beliefs which extended to “illiterate peasant diviners” (called Tuchi), government officials, and holy women within the royal government, representing the dominant religious force of the country. The nation’s chief priestess known as Kikoe Ōgimi was begun to serve as an institution during the reign of King Shō En (1470–1476). At that time, the Kikoe Ōgimi usually was the queen or a daughter of the ruling king, which underscores their high level of official influence. The Kikoe Ōgimi stood on top of a vast network of religious administration and remained in the same official rank as the queen. Only in 1667 Haneji degraded her one rank below the queen. Haneji also criticized the traditional pilgrimages of the king and holy women to holy places in Chinen, Tamagusuku, and Kudaka Island.

Kudaka Island – as mentioned in the Shirotaru legend – is not just some arbitrary island. Quite on the contrary: During the Ryūkyū kingdom era it was an important place in connection with bilateral religious powers of the king and the holy women. In fact, since ancient times the king regularly visited Kudaka Island to worship, such as in 1550, when sacred wine was offered by a specifically designated official (see Kyūyō, article 211). Like this, sacred wine – as mentioned in the legend of Shirotaru – was a regular item of sacred offerings to the gods as well as to the royal family for centuries. To curb religious influence and divining and shaman practices as a whole, such pilgrimages were officially abolished in 1673 and henceforth performed by subordinates of the king. Like this, Yoshimura Aji Chōmei assumed the headship of the Yoshimura family in 1847 and moved into the hereditary family lodgings in Shuri and succeeded the hereditary fief of the Kochihira district, worth 300 koku. In the following twenty-five plus years he served the royal government in a large number of duties. And as a member of the Princely Shō-clan he was also dispatched to Kudaka Island to perform prayers for the nation’s health and security on behalf of the king (cf. Genealogy of the Princely Shō-clan, House Yoshimura). BTW, this person was the father of Yoshimura Chōgi, in turn the noted disciple of Higashionna Kanryō and (cf. Okinawa Karate Kobudō Jiten 2008: 597).

It is therefore interesting how those ancient beliefs survived. In this connection it was rather remarkable when a few years ago a young strong Okinawan martial artists, while openly flaunting his contemptibility, told me “You are Christians, ne?! … But we Okinawans are not religious!!!” The same persons would shiver when I whistled, because – as you know – this calls out the ghosts of the dead…

While I still wonder what this could possibly have to do with bōjutsu, for the time being I’d say: Sapere aude, boys and girls, sapere aude.

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Shirotaru no Kon (1) – Introduction and Legend of Origin

There is an interesting bōjutsu kata called Shirotaru no Kon. Today there are quite a number and variety of different versions of this kata in existence. Most of them have more in common than not and they all share specific “signature techniques” which unequivocally point to a common ancestor and make it clearly distinguishable from other bōjutsu kata.

There are different ways of writing the name in Japanese kanji and of pronouncing it. In addition, while there is very little tenable information about it, various authors consider it “the most ancient form of bōjutsu” (cf. OKKJ, 2008).

Since many points about this kata remained unexplained, it is a rather confusing topic for persons seeking tenable information, both technically as well as historically.

Well, Miki Nisaburō described Shirotaru no Kon in his work “Kenpō Gaisetsu” (1930, pp.171-181). Within my private studies, I translated the text already years ago and conducted various cross studies, once from literature, and once asking various experts when traveling to Okinawa. Literature was more fruitful.

Miki had learned the Kata from Ōshiro Chōjo (1887-1935), who lived in Shuri Ōnaka 1-54 at the time. At that time Ōshiro served as a regular teacher as well as the head of the karate department at the industrial school (Kōgyō Gakkō), where he taught karate and bōjutsu to the youth in an “educational manner.” He also taught karate and kobudō at the Okinawa Prefectural Teachers’ College (Okinawa-ken Shihan Gakkō), where he was active together with Yabu Kentsū.

As Miki put it,

“Ōshiro was known as a leading man in bōjutsu of today’s Ryūkyū. And the famous bōjutsu master Yamane no Chinen sensei was his teacher.”

Obviously Ōshiro also initiated Miki into heroic tales which, btw, accompany Okinawan martial arts throughout its existence:

“My bōjutsu is based on what I was taught by Ōshiro sensei, and the story (told by Ōshiro sensei) about ‘Chikin Akanchū’ – a person who was very good with the bō – was interesting.”

Ōshiro did not only teach at school but also invited the youth to his private home to teach them, about which they are said to have been “both were happy and proud.”

Well, regardless of today’s many versions, Miki’s classical version of this kata is proof of how Shirotaru no Kon was performed in the 1920s. Or let’s say, how at least one version of it was performed.

Let’s turn to the seemingly easy part first: history.

Nohara Kōei accredits Shirotaru no Kun to a certain Shirotaru Uēkata during the 14th century (Nohara 2007). Uēkata was a rank similar to that of a minister of state.

In the “Okinawa Karate Kobudō Encyclopedia” (2008) it is also said that:

Shirotaru no Kon is the most ancient form of bōjutsu and the name Shirotaru remained from 1314 (year Ōchō 4) as the name of a warrior who was active during that time.”

Nakamoto (2007: 109) also wrote about the matter:

“Remembered in the whole Shimajiri region as well as in outlying islands, this posture [Shirotaru no kamae] is probably a relic of [the person] Shirotaru [from the legend].”

Indeed, in the Okinawan folk tradition a person named Shirotaru is the main actor of an ancient legend. The legend is described in the Irōsetsuden [*1] and the Kudakajima Yuraiki [*2] 

The Legend of Shirotaru

A long time ago a young boy called Shirotaru lived in Hyakuna Village in Tamagusuku District. Due to his docile nature and pronounced filial piety, Shirotaru was deeply beloved by Tamagusuku Aji, the lord of the district. So the lord married Shirotaru to the daughter of his eldest son, Minton Aji, thus making Shirotaru his grandson-in-law.

One day, Shirotaru and his wife went out in the fields and saw a small island alternately appearing and disappearing in the eastern sea. At that time, local warlords rivalled for power and there was war without end. The couple imagined how much better it would be to avoid the war and instead to cross over to the island and live together enjoyably, and so they crossed over to the island in a small boat. They saw clear spring water gushing forth, fertile soil, and fields far and wide. It was a comfortable place to live. They built a hut and stayed on the island.

The two made their living by gathering conch shells. One day they discovered a white jar that came drifting in the sea. Shirotaru tried to catch it but every time it disappeared between the waves and could not be seen. His wife had a revelation and so they went to the Yaguru Well where they performed a ritual ablution for purification. Afterwards they returned to the shore and this time Shirotaru was able to get hold of the jar. When they opened the lid they found seeds of the five grains in it. At once they choose the right soil, sowed the seeds, and it produced fruitful harvest, which the couple dedicated to the people of Tamagusuku district. Everyone greatly rejoiced and immediately began to brew sacred wine from the crop and offered it to the lord Tamagusuku Aji, and offered it to the gods, and gave it to the retainers and commoners. Since that time, the descendants prospered and the island was named Kudaka 久高, referring to the abundant harvest of the five grains over many years from this island in the sea.

One boy and two girls were born to the couple. The second daughter Umitaru 思樽, since she was a rare beauty, was summoned by Tamagusuku Aji and entered the inner sanctum of the castle. She attracted the affection of the lord but also the jealousy of many of the other concubines. One day Umitaru farted in the presence of lord Tamagusuku Aji, thus breaking manners, and so she was expulsed back to her birth-place Kudaka Island.

At that time she was pregnant and gave birth to a boy during full moon and named him Kanematsu 金松. After Kanematsu had grown up, he did not stop to frequently ask about his father. Eventually his mother explained to him the situation.

One day, Kanematsu found a jar at the shore. In it he found golden gourd seeds. Overjoyed he immediately went to the castle and presented the seeds to lord Tamagusuku Aji. While presenting the seeds he said

“When a merciful rain rains down, have a woman who has never even farted once in presence of her husband sow these gourd seeds. Be that the case, it will bear fruits of gold!”

The lord Tamagusuku Aji smiled and replied

“There cannot be a woman in the world that never farted.”

So Kanematsu responded,

“Then, why did you expel my mother because she has farted?”

Thereupon Tamagusuku Aji regretted his past follies. Later, since he had no heir, he made Kanematsu his heir.

Above-mentioned Kanematsu was identified as King Sei’i (西威王, 1328?–1349; rg. 1336 or 1337 to 1349), the 5th generation descendant of King Eiso 英祖王 of the Eiso Dynasty (1229–1349). When he died in 1349, his 5-year-old heir was dethroned and went into seclusion to Kudaka Island.

In the land near the Shuri castle there lived a House Kudaka of the Kei-clan (恵姓久高氏) who were descendants of Kanematsu=King Sei’i and who served in the position of priests called the “Shuri root deity 首里大根神,” which must have been an important religious post. During the Jingtai years (1450–1456), 1st generation founder Kudaka Pēchin Yūken 久高親雲上友顕 was officially appointed estate steward (jitō) of Kudaka Island territory by the royal government in Shuri. In 1671, during the era of King Shō Tei (1646–1709; rg. 1669–1709), the 8th generation Kudaka Pēchin Yūjō 久高親雲上友常 became a clerk of the Omono Bugyō of the government of Naha. 10th generation Kudaka Pēchin Yūshi 久高親雲上友始 was granted the post of the estate steward (jitō) of Kudaka Island as a hereditary domain.

Assessment of the Shirotaru Legend

Well, in the legend, Shirotaru was not a warrior. Quite on the contrary: he was someone who left the war behind with his wife to live on a peaceful island. Moreover, the original legend never mentioned any kind of bōjutsu, let alone the “most ancient form of bōjutsu.”

What, then, could this have to do with pole fencing techniques?

So lets seek out the narrative coherence in the tradition of Shirotaru no Kon:

According to our written source from 1930, Miki learned his bōjutsu from Ōshiro, who in turn learned it from Yamane no Chinen. For those of you who are into lineages and know a little about the importance of a chronology of events, the earliest source I was able to detect which adopted this information in written form was Inoue Motokatsu who wrote in 1972 (page 6) that Shirotaru no Kon was created by Yamane no Chinen (1842–1925). Ōshiro also initiated Miki into the heroic tale of Chikin Akanchū (a person who lived on Tsuken Island). Now, in the tradition of Shirotaru no Kon, it was noted by Nakamoto Masahiro (2007: 109):

“Having remained on Kudaka Island as Shirotaru no Kon, the founder of Yamane-ryū, Chinen Chikudun Pēchin Masanrā, at the age of 18 years heard that there are masters of bōjutsu on Tsuken Island and on Kudaka Island. So he went to both these islands to learn the bōjutsu.”

Here, a late 19th / early 20th century oral tradition of Yamane no Chinen is further backdated to the 14th century. The connection is made by regions (Tsuken and Kudaka Islands) and by the existence of a “back guard” in this kata and — last but not least — by the name of a legendary person called Shirotaru. Well, it is possible. However, there are a number of other options which are at least as possible as the above. And the blending of existing historical facts and legends with martial arts stories is a typical narrative method of karate and kobudō circles.

Depiction of the scene from the life of Chikin Akanchu. From: Gima Hiroshi: Chikin Akanchu. Ryukyu Shinpo 2013.

Depiction of the scene from the life of Chikin Akanchu. From: Gima Hiroshi: Chikin Akanchu. Ryukyu Shinpo 2013.

Well, it is an interesting legend, a number of variations of which are found today on Okinawa. It should be noted that the “five grains” as mentioned in above legend is something that was already mentioned 600 years earlier, namely in Japan’s oldest historical record called Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters, 712 AD). The whole legend with its references to ritual ablution, divine assistance in providing food (the five grains), the role of the Yaguru Well [*3] which still today is used by Noro (Okinawan: Nuuru) priestesses of the ancient Ryūkyūan religion for ritual ablution: This is a strongly religious legend, combined with prayer for good harvest etc. In some versions Shirotaru and his wife are even presented as two deities and children of gods send down to earth.

Rather, it is also possible that, just as in other cases (Kūsankū etc.), that a documented historical event served as the godfather and namesake of a new cudgel fencing method, part of whose narrative design principles it was that it had to be rooted in indigenous history.

While all this is up to speculation, I will turn to the technical description of the kata in a latter part of this series.

Notes

[*1] Tei Heitetsu (1695–1760) compiled the Kyūyō 球陽 as well as the Irōsetsuden 遺老説伝, both written in Chinese. Kyūyō is a poetic name and refers to Ryūkyū itself. The book is a semi-official history of Ryūkyū. The Irōsetsuden is an adjunct volume to the Kyūyō and features ancient legends. See: Matsuda 1962.

[*2]  “Account of the Origin of Kudaka Island.”

[*3] Yagurugā ヤグルガー (屋久留川). ~gā ガー here means “well.” It is located in Kudaka, in the Chinen section of Nanjō City, Okinawa Prefecture.

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