Sunday, February 12, 2017

Shorin-Ryu Karate & Kobudo

It is apparent that the United States public remains poorly educated in martial arts. For instance, I often have people remark they have never heard of Shorin-Ryu Karate. Some even ask what kind of MMA is Shorin-Ryu? MMA doesn’t fit the definition of martial art, and Shorin-Ryu karate traces its roots back to the origins of karate on Okinawa.

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.

When introduced to Japan, all kata were modified and renamed. For instance, Pinan kata were renamed Heian, Naihanchi (Naifanchi) kata were renamed Tekki, and so forth. Only the ‘omote' techniques (those visible & understandable) were apparently taught to the Japanese, while many secrets (kuden) remained in Okinawan hands such as techniques identified as 'irate' (not obvious), 'miegakure' (intentially 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 gung-fu (kung fu). A document known as the Bubishi reportedly accompanied these families, which is a primitive text of white crane gung-fu.

After the art had been created, there was more than one path of evolution. Okinawa royalty and body guards learned gung fu (and later karate). There is evidence peasants also learned gung 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.



After the proclamation, some Okinawa fishermen, merchants, and farmers began training with tools of trade as

weapons for self-defense and the art of kobudo was created.

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 gung-fu on Okinawa. Some suggest that tegumi (Okinawan traditional wrestling) was enhanced with

kicking, striking and blocking techniques of gung-fu to produce karate .



The weapons ban imposed on Okinawa

encouraged refinement of te & kobudo .

Tode (te ) took different paths in the

villages of Shuri , Naha & Tomari . Each

was a center for a different sect of

society: kings and nobles, merchants,

farmers and fishermen, respectively.

Thus, different styles of te (karate )

e v o l v e d i n e a c h v i l l a g e and

subsequently became known as Shurite ,

Naha-te and Tomari-te . Collectively

these were called Okinawa-te (Ryukyute)

and tode .

The Chinese character used to write

tode can be pronounced 'kara ' thus te

was replaced with kara te or 'Chinese

hand art'. The modification to kara-te-do

was done to adopt an alternate

meaning for the Chinese character of

kara meaning '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 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; and 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.

So, all other styles of karate evolved from Shorin-Ryu and Goju-Ryu .

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.

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 ).

Traditional karate employs philosophy and provides affirmations that include the following dojo kun :

(Makoto no michi o mamoru koto ) Have devotion in seeking a true way.

(Reigi o omonjiru koto ) Always act with good manners.

(Doryoku no seishin o yashinau koto ) Cultivate a spirit of effort and perseverance.

(Kekki no yu o imashimeru koto ) Refrain from violent and uncontrolled behavior.

(Jinkaku kansei ni tsutomeru koto ) Work to perfect your character

(Kara te ni sente nashi ) There is no first attack in karate.

(Kara te do wa rei ni hajimari rei ni owaru koto a wasaru na ) Karate-do begins and ends with bowing.



(Dojo no mino kara te to omou na ) Karate extends beyond the dojo.







Many of us know Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957) is considered to be the Father of Modern

Karate. Funakoshi was a master of Shorin-Ryu Karate, although his students renamed his

Shorin-Ryu martial art as Shotokan to honor the great master instructor. But do you know

who is the Grandfather of Modern Karate? That honor is given to another master of

Shorin-Ryu by the name of Anko Itosu (see photo on following page).



Next time you are in the Arizona

hombu dojo, check the Juko Kai

Shihan (master instructor)

lineage chart on the wall. You will

find Itosu on the chart, but not

F u n a k o s h i e v e n t h o u g h

Funakoshi influenced Seiyo Kai

Shorin-Ryu Karate. This is

because Funakoshi had little

influence on Juko-Ryu karate

and Seidokan Shorin-Ryu.

However, he will appear on our

lineage chart with Itosu I’m

preparing for the Seiyo Kai

Shorin-Ryu lineage due of my

past training in Kyokushin Kai, Wado-Ryu and Shotokan karate: all three styles influenced

by Funakoshi. Thus, I have two lineages: one as Shihan of Juko-Kai and the other as Soke

of Seiyo-Kai. !

When we begin to search information on Itosu (and other Okinawan martial artists) we are

sometimes confronted with a variety of names for one individual. This is because many

Okinawan names were complicated by social status and some maintained names for

different occasions, while others changed names. As a result, many Okinawan martial artists

had more than one name. This was true of Itosu.



Anko (Yasutsune) Itosu (1831-1915) was one of the most influential 20th century karate

pioneers. Itosu initiated the instruction of karate in the Okinawan public schools at the end of

the 19th century. Prior to that, karate was hidden from outsiders. In addition to Itosu, his

student Gichin Funakoshi also 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) that

were extracted and modified from the long and complex Kusanku kata (known as Kanku in

Japanese). He is also thought to have taken a complex Naihanchi kata (Tekki in Japanese)

and split it into the three we practice today (Naihanchi shodan, nidan and sandan). Some

also believe he created the Kusanku Sho and Passai Sho katas. !

Itosu was born near Gibo station (26°13’28"N; 127°43’8”E - see Google Earth) in the village

of Shuri, Okinawa in 1831. Shuri is now a district of Naha City, but was formerly a separate

village. Shuri village is where the art referred to as Shuri-te was developed that was later

renamed Shorin-Ryu karate in 1933 to honor its 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

tall, Itosu was nearly average height on Okinawa and many described him as stocky, barrelchested,

and very strong with considerable discipline. But as a child, Itosu was shy and

introverted - karate is attributed to have given him confidence. !

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, he trained in all three-principal styles of Okinawa Karate we refer to as Shuri-Te,

Naha-Te and Tomari-Te. Because of his training, Seiyo Kai has kata from each primary

system of Okinawa karate.

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 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

we practice shitai kori or body hardening and also practice focused blocks). !

Part of Itosu's karate training included makiwara practice. 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. This is similar to

Sensei Patrick Scofield’s father, who also studied Shorin-Ryu. Patrick described his father as

knocking down a cider block wall with a back kick. !

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



that are still in practice today.










Hombu (also pronounced honbu) dojo translates as ‘headquarters’. In martial arts this is the designated headquarters of a martial art ryu (style, system, martial arts family, school) and/or kai (association). Dojo refers to a traditional place for training. In the West, dojo implies martial arts school. In the East it refers to a ‘place of the Way’. Initially, dojos were attached to temples in Japan. The adjacent photo is courtesy of Heather From on her recent sojourn to Japan.

A Hombu dojo is the also the dojo of a soke. For






instance, the Seiyo No Shorin-Ryu Karate Kobudo Kai hombu was initially established at the University of Wyoming in 1999. The hombu remained at the University until we moved to Arizona. I was hoping to locate the hombu at Arizona State University because of the educational value of traditional martial arts, but it is not always possible to educate university administrations – so hombu dojo (Arizona School of Traditional Karate) was relocated to the border of Gilbert and Mesa in 2008. In the back of my mind, I still hope to establish a hombu at a university in the valley.

Dojo is often interpreted as a gym or training center or a facility similar to a zendo. The prefix ‘do’ in ‘dojo’ or suffix ‘do’ in aikido, judo, kendo, budo, zendo and even karatedo, suggests there is ‘a path to follow’. Martial combat systems focus on technical aspects and apply the suffix ‘jutsu’ as opposed to ‘do’ such as bujutsu, aikijutsu, jujutsu, kenjutsu and even karatejutsu. Jutsu systems are martial combat systems that provide little redeeming human value.

Do is an esoteric concept that defines differences in karate-do and karate-jutsu. Even though ‘do’ is typically not added to Shorin-Ryu Karate, it is implied: we are a karatedo system.

Years ago, I trained in kempojutsu, a Japanese karate combat system with no kata and when I was at the University of Wyoming, we offered certifications in both Shorin-Ryu and kempojutsu prior to 1999. So what are the differences between do and jutsu? Typically, jutsu combat systems have no kata and focus on combat, where as ‘do’ systems also include combat, but they also include kata. Thus, it is kata that apparently provides the redeeming and ‘creative’ value in martial ‘arts’. Kata incorporates traditions, respect, breathing, meditation, mushin (empty mind), muscle memory, body hardening, blocks, kicks, strikes, pressure point recognition, throws, strangulations, joint locks, etc. The more you practice kata, the more you understand karate. Kata is like camouflage art – the more you look at it, the more you see.

Buddha (boddhidarma) in Japan (photo courtesy of Heather From).

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. If kata is practiced like tai chi (tai ki), you will hurt your technique and your ability to defend yourself.




Japanese lanterns (photo courtesy of Heather From).

According to legend, an Indian monk introduced martial arts to the Shaolin Temple in China about 525 AD by teaching the monks meditation and Zen philosophy. When he discovered many monks snoring during meditation, he introduced a combat system ‘shi po lo han sho’ known as the 18 hands of LoHan to improve their focus and physical fitness to help them stay awake during long periods of meditation. It was this combination of philosophy with combat that resulted in martial art practiced by the monks of the shaolin. This art was passed on to visiting Okinawans and was modified into karate. The kanji used to write Shorin-Ryu translates as Shaolin. Scott Pritchett recently introduced me to a 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.

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”.

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. Since Okinawans had no cameras, they needed a way to remember bunkai (applications) in karate and to develop muscle memory. They did this through kata – a living encyclopedia of karate techniques and applications. 

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