Sunday, February 12, 2017

Shorin-Ryu Karate & Kobudo

Copyright icon of Seiyo Kai Shorin-Ryu Karate shows kanji layered on top
of the Shorin-Ryu karate three-bladed icon. The 3rd and 4th kanji from the
top refer to the Shaolin-si monastery where kung fu originated in China.
It is apparent the North American public remains poorly educated in martial arts. For instance,  most people remark they have never heard of Shorin-Ryu Karate. Some even ask what kind of MMA is Shorin-Ryu? MMA doesn’t even fit the definition of martial art; whereas, Shorin-Ryu karate traces its roots to the origin of karate on Okinawa centuries in the past.

Shorin-Ryu and Karate are essentially the same. Shorin-Ryu was created on Okinawa and can trace its origin to the Shaolin temple in China. In fact, the kanji used to write Shorin-Ryu translates as Shaolin-style and refers to the Shaolin-si monastery.

Most think karate is Japanese, but karate is Okinawan and created when the Okinawa Prefecture was a sovereign nation ruled by monarchs. It became Japanese only because Okinawa was conquered by the Satsuma Samurai of the Shimazu clan from Japan in 1609 AD. Even so, Okinawa remained a separate nation until 1879; and karate was not introduced to mainland Japan until 1917, but it was not accepted by the Japanese until 1922 and the karate that was introduced was modified from that taught on Okinawa.

Satsuma Samurai of Japan conquered Okinawa in 1609
When introduced to Japankata were modified and renamed. For instance, Pinan kata were renamed Heian, Naihanchi (Naifanchi) kata were renamed Tekki, and so forth. Only ‘omote' techniques (those visible & understandable) were taught to the Japanese, while secrets (kuden) remained in Okinawan hands such as techniques identified as 'irate' (not obvious), 'miegakure' (intentionally hidden), 'okras goroshi’ (delayed killing strikes), ‘tine hsueh’ (vital point strikes), and ‘hitotsuki hitogeri’ (one strike knockouts).

Most historical facts related to karate’s development were lost over time and nothing was written about the art as it was kept secret among Okinawan practitioners. Some suggest karate developed in the late 14th century when 36 artisan families from Fujian China relocated on Okinawa and introduced kung fu. A document known as the Bubishi reportedly accompanied these families, which is a primitive text of white crane kung-fu.

After the art had been created, there was more than one path of evolution. Okinawa royalty and body guards learned kung fu (and later karate). There is evidence peasants also learned kung fu. In 1480 AD, King Sho Shin of Okinawa issued an edict banning the use of bladed weapons - likely because he was fearful of civil war.

Kanji used to describe karate are translated as 'kara' and 'te'. Pencil sketch
by Soke Hausel.
After the proclamation, many Okinawa fishermen, merchants, and farmers began training with tools of trade as weapons for self-defense and the art of kobudo was created, and now practiced world wide as well as Mesa, Arizona. Utah, and Wyoming.

To describe karate, the Okinawan word tode was used in the early 18th century. Tode refers to Chinese hand (i.e., karate). Tode was also used in reference to a Chinese visitor named Kushanku (also Kusanku ) who taught kung-fu on Okinawa. Some suggest that tegumi (Okinawan traditional wrestling) was enhanced about this time by adding kicks, strikes and blocks of kung-fu to the wrestling and creating karate.

The weapons ban on Okinawa encouraged refinement of karate & kobudoTode (te) took different paths in the villages of Shuri (26°13'1"N; 127°43'9"E), Naha & Tomari. Each became a center for a different sect of society: kings and nobles, merchants, farmers and fishermen, respectively. Thus, different styles of te (karate ) evolved in each village and subsequently became known as Shurite, Naha-te and Tomari-te. Collectively these were called Okinawa-te (Ryukyute) and tode. In other words, several different terms were used to describe karate.

A path in martial arts can lead to many places in one's life. Be sure to
pick the right path.
The Chinese character used to write tode can be pronounced 'kara' thus tode was replaced with kara-te or 'Chinese hand art'. The modification of karate to kara-te-do was done to adopt an alternate meaning for the Chinese character of kara which implies 'empty'. Thus, the term karate came to mean 'empty hand'. The ‘do’ use in karate-do implied 'way' or 'path' to emphasize a moral and spiritual philosophy, something not seen in any Mixed Martial Arts school (MMA). At some point in the 19th century, the Okinawa masters decided to call their art karate.

Soon different ryu (styles) were named. For example, Shuri-te was renamed Shorin-ryu to emphasize its roots at the Shaolin temple. Naha-te was renamed Goju-ryu (hard-soft syle) to emphasize the mechanics of the karate style. Much of Tomari-te was lost over time, but some tomari-te kata (forms) remain incorporated into various shorin-ryu schools.

The first martial art is thought to have originated at the Shaolin Temple of the Henan Province. Legend suggests a Buddhist monk by the name of Bodhidharma traveled from India to the monastery in China where he taught Zen philosophy at the temple at around 525 AD. When Bodhidharma began teaching meditation at Shaolin-si (small forest temple), he found most monks were unfit & lazy and many fell asleep during meditation. Realizing the monks needed physical conditioning to improve their minds, he began teaching a set of physical exercises along with meditation known as 'Shi Po Lohan Sho' (18 hands of Lohan) reputed to have been a fighting form or system. The blending of Lohan with Zen led to the first martial art. In order to be an art, there must be some esoteric value for the spirit, body and soul. Without philosophy, it cannot be an art. This art was passed on to Okinawans and was modified into karate. We recommend reading a wonderful historical novel about this legend entitled Sudden Dawn by Goran Powell that is a fictional story based on Da Mo (Boddhidarma) and his introduction of combat arts to the Shaolin.

Today, we recognize Shorin-Ryu karate and its branches that include Shobayashi Shorin-Ryu (small forest style), Koybayashi Shorin-Ryu (young forest style), Matsubayashi Shorin-Ryu (pine forest style), Matsumura Seito Shorin-Ryu (orthodox style), Sukunaihayashi (Seibukan), Ryukyu Hon Kenpo (Okinawan Kempo), Kodokai Shorin-ryu, Seidokan, Kobayashi Shorin-Ryu (Shidokan, Shorinkan, Kyudokan), Chubu Shorin-Ryu, Ryukyu Shorin-Ryu and Seiyo Shorin-Ryu (Western Shorin-Ryu).

All traditional martial artists know Anko Itosu (1831-1915) and Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957). Itosu is the 'Grandfather' of modern karate and Funakoshi is considered to be the 'Father' of Modern Karate. Funakoshi was a practitioner of Shorin-Ryu Karate, although his Japanese students renamed his art as Shotokan to honor the great master instructor. But Shotokan became a sport form of karate unlike Shorin-Ryu. Weapons were stripped from Shotokan, and the style of training was for sport competition rather than for actual combat like Shorin-Ryu.

Itosu (and other Okinawan martial artists) often had more than one name. This is because many Okinawan names were complicated by social status and some maintained names for different occasions, while others changed their names. Many Okinawan martial artists had more than one name, which was also the case of Itosu.

Anko (Yasutsune) Itosu (1831-1915) was one of the most influential 20th century karate pioneers, maybe even more so that Funakoshi. Itosu initiated the instruction of traditional karate (there was no such thing as sport karate, McDojos or MMAkarate was simply a weapon of self-defense and a way to improve a person's mind, self-respect and respect for others) in the Okinawan public schools at the end of the 19th century. Something North America would greatly benefit from to stem degradation of morals, values and poor physical conditioning. Prior to that, karate was hidden from outsiders. At the same time in Japan, most martial arts were Combat arts developed around samurai and Okinawan pechin.

Training in karate kata bunkai (pragmatic applications) at the Arizona
Hombu dojo in Mesa. Bunkai technique from Naihanchi Shodan kata.
Photo @Soke Hausel
In addition to Itosu, his student Gichin Funakoshi worked to introduce karate to the Japanese in the early part of the 20th century. Itosu is credited with creating the five Pinan kata (referred to as Heian in Japanese) extracted and modified from the long and complex Kusanku kata (known as Kanku in Japanese). He is also attributed to breaking down the complex Naihanchi kata (Tekki in Japanese) into three kata (Naihanchi shodan, nidan and sandan). Some believe he created the Kusanku Sho and Passai Sho

Itosu was born in 1831 near Gibo station (26°13’28"N; 127°43’8”E  see Google Earth) in the village of Shuri, Okinawa. Shuri is now a district of Naha City, but was formerly a separate village. Shuri village is where Shuri-te evolved and was renamed Shorin-Ryu karate in 1933 to honor its Chinese roots. The kanji that describe Shorin-Ryu translates as “Pine Forest Style” in Japanese, and translates as “Shaolin Style” in Chinese indicating ties to Kung Fu practiced by the Monks of the Shaolin!

Itosu’s first name was Anko (the kanji can be alternately read as Yasutsune, and his last name Shishu can be read as Itosu), but is commonly known as Anko Itosu. Itosu was born to a prominent family on Okinawa and educated in Chinese literature. At approximately 5-feet, Itosu was nearly average height on Okinawa and many described him as stocky, barrel-chested, and very strong with considerable discipline. But as a child, Itosu was shy and introverted - karate gave him confidence!

"Master Cho" @ pencil sketch by Soke Hausel
Itosu trained under the great karate practitioner Sokon ‘Bushi’ Matsumura who in turn was a student of Tode Sakagawa (1733-1815). Tode Sakawgawa in turned studied under Kusanku (for whom the famous Kusanku-Dai kata derived its namesake). Itosu also trained under other martial artists including Sensei Nagahama. Nagahama was known to be very diligent and stressed building the body. It is likely this influenced karate which was considered a method to develop physical and mental strength and as well as self-defense. Anko Itosu began training under Matsumura of Shuri, later trained with Nagahama of Naha City, and upon Nagahama's death, he became a disciple of Gusukuma of Tomari village.

Thus, Itosu trained in all three-principal systems of Okinawa Karate. Several Shorin-Ryu styles now follow with this same concept, such as Seiyo Kai Shorin-Ryu, which draws kata from each primary system.

Another interesting perspective of Itosu and his influence was identified in a book "Okinawan Karate: Teachers, Styles And Secret Techniques," by Mark Bishop. Bishop contrasted the karate of Azato which had Matsumura heritage mixed with a swordsmanship perspective, and that of Itosu." While Azato believed the hands and feet should be like bladed weapons and one should avoid all contact of an opponent's strike, Itosu held the idea that the body did not have to be so mobile and should be able to take the hardest of blows” (one of the reasons the practice of shitai kori or body hardening is practiced by some shorin-ryu schools).

Part of Itosu's karate training included makiwara. He once tied a leather sandal to a stone wall in effort to build a better makiwara. After several strikes, stones fell from the wall. After relocating the sandal several times, Itosu had destroyed the wall.

In 1901, Itosu began teaching karate at the Shuri Jinjo Primary school and taught at the Dai Ichi middle school and the Okinawa prefectural Men's Normal School in 1905 (Bishop, 1999). In 1905, Itosu was a part-time teacher of karate at Okinawa's First Junior Prefectural High School. It was here that he developed the systematic method of teaching karate techniques still practiced today.

Buddha (boddhidarma) in Japan (photo courtesy - Heather From). Although
there is a Buddhist & Shinto influence on traditional karate, we also see a
Christian influence - to treat others with respect and to love our neighbors
(uke). Our headquarters dojo in Arizona (Arizona hombu) includes many
Christian, LDS, Catholic, a few Buddhist, Hindu and one or two agnostic
students. As long as people treat each other with respect, they are welcome
 to train in traditional karate at the Arizona Hombu dojo no matter what
their belief or philosophy. 
The late Soke of Matsubayashi Shorin-Ryu Karate - Shoshin Nagamine (1907-1997), stated "Kata is the origin of karate. If there is no kata, there is no karate! Without kata, there is no martial art - instead it becomes nothing but primitive street fighting!” When used properly, kata will enrich and improve training. But if used improperly, it will do the opposite – so kata provides in-yo (opposite) paths much like of everything in life. Kata should never be relaxed. It needs to be practiced with focus and power. When practiced like tai chi, it not only destroys technique but also makes it difficult for any meaningful self-defense. In traditional karate, students must train to develop a one-punch or kick knock out unlike sport karate, MMA or Boxing, where the sportsman trains to last one or more rounds.

Mr. Miyagi: “Karate come from China, 16th century, called te, "hand." Hundred year later, Miyagi ancestor bring to Okinawa, call kara-te, "empty hand."

Daniel San: “I thought it came from Buddhist temples and stuff like that”. Mr. Miyagi: “You too much TV”.

"Gichin Funakoshi" @ pencil sketch by Soke
Hausel
Traditional karate was never a competitive sport on Okinawa. Karate was initially developed to train body guards of royalty and later introduced to peasants. It was a weapon of self-defense kept secret from all outsiders until introduced to mainland Japan in 1922. Prior to that time, it was never practiced as sport. Shoshin Nagamine said "Karate may be considered as the conflict within oneself or as a life-long marathon which can be won only through self-discipline, hard training and one's own creative efforts." The father of modern karate, Gichin Funakoshi stated, "There are no contests in karate.” Sport karate was created after the second world war by mainland Japanese martial artists who trained under Funakoshi against his wishes.

Daniel San: “All right, so what are the rules here?” Miyagi: “Don't know. First time you, first time me”. Daniel San: “Well, I figured you knew about this stuff. I figured you went to these before. Oh great, I'm dead. I am dead. You told me you fought a lot”. Miyagi: “For life, not for points”.

Kata has likely been part of karate since it was created. Okinawans had no cameras, and they needed a way to remember the bunkai (self-defense applications) in Karate. They did this through kata – a living encyclopedia of karate techniques and self-defense applications. If you are in Arizona, Utah, or Wyoming, you can train in this traditional art of Shorin-Ryu Karate.

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