Historical outline of Karate-Do, Martial Arts of RYUKYU

Chojun Miyagi

Remarks: The title in Japanese is “Ryukyu Kenpo Karatedo Enkaku Gaiyo”. This essay appeared as a supplementary article in two books, “Okinawano Karatedo” by Shoshin Nagamine (1975, Shinjinbutsu Oraisha) and “Okinawaden Gojuryu Karatedo” by Eiichi Miyazato (1979, Jitsugyono Sekaisha). Some parts are omitted in this translation.

Original Remarks: This essay was written and prepared by Master Chojun Miyagi especially for the club members when he gave us the lecture “About Karatedo” and its demonstration at the lecture hall on the 4th floor of Meiji Shoten at Sakaisuji, Osaka on 28th January 1936.

1. Preface

What is karate? It is the art we exercise mind and body for health promotion in daily life, but in case of emergency it is the art of self-defence without any weapon. In most cases we fight with our bodies – hands, feet, elbows etc – to defeat opponents. However, in some cases, in accordance with circumstances, we may also use weapons (such as Bo, Sai, Nunchaku, Tonfa, Weeku, Kama etc).

People often misunderstand karate. When they see someone breaking five wooden board or a few pieces of roof tile by his or her fist, they think it is a main part of karate. Of course, it is not a main part of karate but a trivial part of karate. Like other fighting arts, the truth of karate or Tao of karate can be understood and mastered at the ultimate goal which is beyond teachings and impossible to describe by words.

2. How the martial arts was introduced to Ryukyu (= Okinawa)?

The name “karate” is a special term in Ryukyu. Karate originated from Chinese kungfu. We have few books on origin of Chinese kungfu, so we cannot conclude immediately, but according to a theory, the martial arts originated in central Asia and the area around Turkey when the ancient civilization was developed. And then it was introduced to China gradually. However, we still another theory. It says that about 5,000 years ago Chinese kungfu originated at the age of Yellow Emperor (= Emperor Huang) who built the brilliant culture at the Yellow River basin. Anyway, it is not difficult to imagine that the prototype of martial arts was born by fighting spirit for struggle which human being possess by nature. For example, most styles of Chinese kungfu were created by mimicking fights of animals or birds. You can see it from the styles’ names such as Tiger Style, Lion Style, Monkey Style, Dog Style, Crane Style and so on. In the age a little later, Chinese kungfu split into Southern school and Northern school. Moreover, each school split into Neijia and Waijia. The characteristic of Neijia is mainly softness, and it is a defensive fighting arts. Wudang kungfu (= Taichi for example) is typical of Neijia. The characteristic of Waijia is mainly hardness, and it is an aggressive fighting arts. Shaolin kungfu is typical of Waijia, which was created at Shaolin Temple in Songshang Mountaion, Henan province.

And later, in the ages of Tang dynasty and Song dynasty, we can find many kungfu warriors at the height of their success.

When we consider how karate was introduced to Ryukyu (= Okinawa), we have various opinions without any historical evidence. We have not yet come to a correct conclusion on this matter. There are three main opinions, namely “Thirty-six Chinese Immigrants”, “Oshima Notes” and “Importation in Keicho Period”. Simple explanation of each opinion are as follows.

(1)              Thirty-six Chinese Immigrants

In 1392 (Ming dynasty in China), thirty-six Chinese immigrants came to Ryukyu from Fujian province. At that time karate was introduced to Ryukyu by Chinese immigrants from Fujian province.

(2)              Oshima Notes

In 1762, the merchant ship of the Ryukyu Kingdom was caught in a heavy storm on the way to Satsuma (= Kagoshima prefecture now), and cast ashore on the coast of Oshima, Tosa (= Kochi prefecture now). Shiohira Pechin, a high rank official of the ship, was an intelligent person. He was helped by Choki Tobe, an intellectual who lived in Oshima. Tobe wrote down Shiohira’s interesting stories about the Ryukyu Kingdom. His notes was called “Oshima Notes”. The 3rd volume of “Oshima Notes” says “Koshankun, a kungfu warrior, came from China to Ryukyu (= Okinawa) bringing his disciples with him.” According to the Notes, at that time people called the martial arts “Kumiaijutsu” instead of karate. This notes is the most reliable literature on karate.

(3)              Importation in Keicho Period

In 1609 (14th year of Keicho period), the Shimazu clan of Satsuma (= Kagoshima prefecture now) invaded the Ryukyu Kingdom, and they prohibited possessing weapons by people of Ryukyu. Some believe that karate was created spontaneously due to the cruel oppression by Satsuma. The others insist that karate was not a domestic creation but what was imported from China. I think it is reasonable to consider that karate was a fusion of a martial arts from China and “Te” a native martial arts which had already existed, so karate was developed remarkably and even today it is still improved rationally and developed. We have a few different opinions on origin of karate, but they are popular misconceptions and not worth listening. As mentioned above, so far we do not have any definite and convincing opinion yet. Anyway, karate has been developed, modified and improved for so many years.

3. Karate circles in the past

We also do not know origin of the name “karate”, but it is true that the name “karate” was made recently. In the old days it was called “Te”. At that time people used to practice karate secretly, and a masters taught a few advanced Kata out of all the Kata only to his best disciple. If he had no suitable disciple, he never taught them anyone, and eventually such Kata have completely died out. As a result, there are many Kata which were not handed down. In about middle of Meiji period (1868-1912), prominent karate masters abolished the old way of secrecy. Karate was opened to the public, so it was soon recognized by society. It was dawn in the development of karate. In accordance with the rapidly progressing culture, karate was also recognized as physical education, and it was adopted as one of the teaching subjects at school. Therefore, at last karate has won the social approval.

4. How we teach karate at present.

According to oral history, in the old days, the teaching policy of karate put emphasis on self-defence techniques. With just a motto of “no first attack in karate”, teachers showed their students the moral aspects. However, I heard that in reality they tended to neglect such moral principles. So gradually the teaching policy was improved with the change of the times. Now we discontinued and abolished the wrong tradition of so-called “body first, and mind second”, and we made our way toward Tao of fighting arts or the truth of karate. Eventually we have obtained the correct motto “mind first, and body second” which means karate and Zen are the same.

Those who are engaged in teaching karate in Okinawa prefecture and outside Okinawa prefecture at present are as follows. (in random order)

In Okinawa prefecture:

Kentsu Yabu, Chomo Hanashiro, Chotoku Kyan, Anbun Tokuda, Juhatsu Kyoda, Choshin Chibana, Jinsei Kamiya, Shinpan Shiroma, Seiko Higa, Kamado Nakasone, Jin-an Shinzato, Chojun Miyagi

Outside Okinawa prefecture:

Gichin Funakoshi, Choki Motobu, Kenwa Mabuni, Masaru Sawayama, Sanyu Sakai, Moden Yabiku, Jizaburo Miki, Yasuhiro Konishi, Shinji Sato, Mizuho Mutsu, Kamesuke Higaonna, Shinjun Otsuka, Shin Taira, Koki Shiroma, Kanbun Uechi

5. About karate styles or Ryu

There are various opinions about Ryu or styles of karate in Ryukyu (= Okinawa), but they are just guess without any definite research or evidence. With regard to this matter, we feel as if we are groping in the dark.

According to a popular opinion out of them, we can categorize karate into two styles; Shorin-Ryu and Shorei-Ryu. They insist that the former is fit for a stout person, while the latter for a slim person. However, such an opinion proved to be false by many studies. In the meantime, there is the only opinion we can trust. It is as follows: In 1828 (Qing or Ching dynasty in China), our ancestors inherited a kungfu style of Fujian province in China. They continued their studies and formed Goju-Ryu karate. Even today, there still exists an orthodox group which inherited genuine and authentic Goju-Ryu karate.

6. The feature of karate

Some good points of karate are as follows.

(1) A large place or a spacious area is not required for practicing karate.
(2) You can practice karate by yourself. You can also do it together with other karate members by forming a group.
(3) You don’t have to spend many hours in practicing karate.
(4) You can choose Kata suitable for your physical strength and practice it regardless of age and gender.
(5) Without spending much money, you can practice karate with simple equipment (such as Makiwara) or without it.
(6) Karate is very effective as a means of health promotion. There are many karateka who are healthy and live long.
(7) As a result of training in mind and body, you can cultivate your character and acquire indomitable spirit.

 7. The future of karate-do

The days when karate was taught secretly was over, and has come the new age in which we practice and study karate publicly and officially. Therefore, the future of karate-do is bright. Taking this opportunity, we should stop advertising karate as if it was a mysterious and magical fighting arts in a small island called Ryukyu. We should open karate to the public and receive criticism, opinions and studies from the other prominent fighting artists. In the future, we should invent complete protectors for a safety karate tournament like other fighting arts, so that karate become one of Japanese fighting arts.

Nowadays karate-do has become popular all over Japan, where many people study karate-do very hard. Even outside Japan, karate-do is popular. There is a man who graduated from university in Tokyo. He is now propagating and studying karate-do in Europe. In May 1934, I was invited to propagate and teach karate-do in Hawaii, U.S.A. by Okinawans there and a newspaper company. Karate clubs have been established in Hawaii since then.

As mentioned above, now karate-do has become not only a Japanese martial arts but also an international martial arts.

8. The teaching method of karate

As each person has his or her distinctive character, the muscle development is different depending on his or her muscle use. Therefore, at first, we do “Preparatory Exercise” to develop our muscles so that we can practice karate exercises easier, and then “Fundamental Kata”, “Supplementary Exercise”, “Kaishu Kata” and “Kumite Training”. We teach karate in this way. Each outline is as follows.

(1) Preparatory Exercise

We exercise each muscle of our body in order to enhance its flexibility, strength and endurance, and then we practice the fundamental Kata, namely Sanchin, Tensho and Naifanchi. We do again this preparatory exercise after practice of Kata to relax our muscles. And we take a breathing exercise and take a rest quietly.

(2) Fundamental Kata

Sanchin, Tensho and Naifanchi are the fundamental Kata. Through practicing them, we can take a correct posture. We can inhale and exhale correctly. We can adjust increasing or decreasing our power harmoniously. We can develop a powerful physique and a strong will of warrior.

(3) Supplementary Exercise

This exercise enable us to learn and perform Kaishu Kata well. We exercise each part of our body with a particular movement. We also practice with various equipments to enhance our outer whole strength and particular part strength.

(4)               Kaishu Kata (= Kata except Fundamental Kata)

Nowadays we have about twenty or thirty kinds of Kata, and their names are various depending on their creators. Kata has techniques of defense and offense which are connected appropriately. It has various directions of the movements and it is something like gymnastics. We should perform Kata by using power of mind and body in accordance with its technical purpose so that we can learn the principle of untying and tying.

(5) Kumite Training

We untie Kaishu Kata which we already learned, and we study techniques of defense and offense in Kaishu Kata. Understanding its technical purpose, we practice the techniques of attack and defense with fighting spirit like a real situation.

I summarize as follows. We induce the interaction of mind and body from the fundamental Kata, Sanchin, Tensho and Naifanchi. We develop the spirit of martial arts by acquiring fighting techniques through practicing Kaishu Kata and Kumite training correctly.

This translation is from the website of Sanzinsoo (sanzinsoo@hotmail.com) entitled Sanzinsoo’s Okinawan Gojuryu Karate and is reprinted here with his permission. Translation copyright © Sanzinsoo. All rights reserved.