Though Chelmiah pressed the action through much of the bout, Mardhi seemed to land the cleaner blows getting the better of many exchanges with quick punching combinations. He used intelligent movement and a stiff sidekick to keep Chelmiah off him early on, though Chelmiah did have his moments scoring a couple of flash knockdowns when Mardhi found himself off balance from missed kicks. While Mardhi's strikes seemed sharper overall and he limited the damage Chelmiah did on the inside clinching whenever the action got close, he slowed a bit in the final round and it was enough for Chelmiah to even it up. It goes down as a TKO victory for the Irishman due to Mardhi's failing to come out in the extra round.
In matters of karate kata, there are all sorts of purported explanations for what's really going on. What appears to be a simple step sideways, we're confidentially told, is actually a clever foot sweep. Or an entry into a grappling position.
After we become trusted students, our teachers demonstrate that what looks like the mere clenching of a fist is actually an ingenious way of grabbing an opponent's wrist and applying a devastating lock that will have him writhing on the ground.
The explanations invariably imply that the "outer" movements of a kata are only the superficial crust of the karate pie. The layer of apples, peaches or cherries below the observable crust — the "inner" stuff of the pie — is the real taste of karate, we're told.
There's a rich vocabulary to describe these secret meanings. Kakushite is one of them. Literally, it means "hidden hand." Oyo waza is another one. Waza, of course, is "technique." The o means "to answer" or "to respond," and yo is "to apply." Thus, oyo waza refers to the application of a deeper or more personal answer than might be found in the obvious meaning of the kata movements.
And we have ura waza, the "underneath" or "reverse" technique, as well as oku-den, or "inner teachings."
With all these terms, it seems there's at least a common notion that what one sees in the kata is not entirely what one gets — or is capable of getting if one has the right instruction.
The idea of special techniques secreted within the movements of a kata is not as simple as it seems, however. Some insist that the whole thing is just a relatively modern fabrication. This theory holds that many of the supposed secrets of kata are not indigenous in Okinawan karate. The art, while it may lead to extraordinary abilities, does not have special initiations or esoteric teachings. It is, goes the theory, just a matter of learning what's there, what is plainly and clearly taught.
There are, for example, no secret techniques in the art of juggling. Want to be able to juggle a dozen balls? Instruction is available and actually easy to find. You don't have to be initiated. You just have to be given that instruction — and practice until your arms fall off. It's merely a matter of dedicated, concentrated effort on your part. So it is with the kata, according to this theory. Learn to effectively move your body, to coordinate your responses and to maximize your power. There are no secrets. Just practice and build your experience.
Further, according to this school of thought, the whole notion of secrets tucked into the kata came about as a result of the Okinawans being exposed to the traditional martial arts of Japan, the koryu. These arts have a rich tradition of concealing the "real" objectives of the techniques within the kata. What seems like a block is actually an attack. What is apparently the target is just misdirection so outsiders who might be watching won't know what's really going on. The Okinawans became aware of these conventions and saw them as a sophisticated approach to a fighting art, so they contrived a narrative of hidden meanings within their karate kata in an attempt to make their arts seem as profound as those of the Japanese.
This is an interesting theory with much to recommend it. The Okinawans, we know, were both intimidated by and impressed with the grand martial arts of the samurai. They might have copied some of the conventions of the classical Japanese ryu.
On the other hand, the theory ignores the deep history of the Okinawan fighting arts, which not only developed but also thrived independently of Japan. It also fails to take into account a realistic view of Okinawan culture. In many ways, Okinawa's culture is layered in secrecy and complexity. Much of Okinawan religion is esoteric. Because villages were separated geographically and were sometimes in competition for limited resources, secrets of all kinds were jealously guarded. Secret or hidden meanings within a kata would not have been just a facet of Okinawan karate; they would have been a fundamental part of its practice.
Which theory is more accurate is a matter for historians to investigate. But even if you have no interest in the history of your style of karate, you must understand that this idea will have ramifications in your practice. If your teacher says, in essence, "Stick around and eventually I'll show you the good stuff," you have to decide if this is legitimate or if it's just a scam to keep you as a member of the dojo. If you're told that the outer, obvious meanings of a kata are just the top layer and that vast, important concepts lie beneath, your practice will reflect that.
If, on the other hand, the teacher says, "This is it; this is all there is," you might fail to look at what's not immediately obvious. You might conclude that karate is not nearly as profound as it truly is.
You'll get no answers from me on this one. I'm still thinking about it. I can say my karate teachers, both of whom were Okinawan, never much used any of the terms mentioned above.
They did, however, use the Okinawan word dju sometimes. It's a weird word, one that means "to re-energize" or "to bring to fruition." My teachers said that for a kata to really become useful, the practitioner has to infuse it with dju. They explained that this results from the proper application of power and mechanics, along with the effective contraction and expansion of the body. Learn dju, they said, and the kata's value is grasped.
I wonder if that is a secret.
Dave Lowry has written Karate Way since 1986. For more information about his articles and books, visit blackbeltmag.com and type his name into the search box.
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A Personal Journey to Prove It's Not and to Reignite the Warrior Spirit
Back in 2018, when Cobra Kai was just a hit on YouTube Red and not yet a megahit on Netflix, I met Sean Kanan at the Dragonfest martial arts expo in Burbank, California. My main reason for approaching him, of course, was to ask if he would be reprising his role as Mike Barnes, the "bad boy" of The Karate Kid Part III, in the sequel series. He said that he'd love to but that nothing had been decided. Afterward, we struck up a conversation, during which I learned that Kanan is much more than an actor who played a martial artist; he has a long history in the arts and still trains. We stayed in touch over the years, and when he called to let me know he was about to take the trip that's chronicled here, I jumped at the chance to get the report for Black Belt.— Robert W. Young, Editor-in-Chief
As I kissed my beautiful wife Michele goodbye, two things occurred to me. First, this was going to be the longest time we've been separated in our eight-year marriage — I barely needed both hands to count the times we'd slept apart. Second, I was about to fly to a remote area in Northern California to stay at the home of a martial arts teacher I'd never met.
How did I arrive at this moment? On the internet, of course. To be exact, it was on social media, the source of all life's great decisions.
It was a few short weeks earlier when Adam McKinley began sending me videos of himself executing the most dynamic kicks ever. His technique was jaw-dropping. I'd never seen anything like it, not even in the movies — and I work in movies!
Adam and I began corresponding on Instagram, which led to texting and ultimately culminated in a phone call. He invited me to train with him sometime. Almost involuntarily, words escaped my mouth: "Let's do it!"I hung up the phone, looked at my wife and said, "I think I'm going on a trip."
At 54 years old, I was fairly certain that I wasn't going through a midlife crisis and — let's be honest — how many people live to be 108? Besides, I never envisioned myself fighting off middle age by purchasing a yellow Corvette convertible.
Michele studied me for a few moments and in her infinite wisdom saw something inside me that said I needed this. I needed something to inspire me, challenge me and reignite my warrior spirit. Whether she knew it or not — and she probably did — she bestowed a beautiful gift on me: the freedom to embark on a solo adventure, follow a passion and head into the unknown. Her generosity is one of the many reasons I love her.
The martial arts have always had a special place in my soul. I was never a particularly gifted athlete. To say that I struggled with being bullied as a child would be an understatement. My awkward period seemed interminable. When I was 14, I timidly stepped into a shotokan karate dojo, and my life changed in ways I never could have anticipated.
My sensei, the late William "Billy" Stoner, had a profound impact on my life. It wasn't easy being his student because he was demanding and frequently harsh. Yet that was exactly what I needed as an undisciplined teenager who was desperately struggling to gain self-confidence and find his path as a young man. Many of the lessons I learned from sensei Stoner I still carry with me. His training epitomized a famous Bruce Lee quote: "I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times."
In sensei Stoner's class, we didn't practice complicated or flashy techniques. Instead, he drilled us in basic blocks and kicks — again and again and again. The result: To this day, my foundation in Japanese karate remains solid.
Our shotokan school eventually joined the Japan Karate Federation under Black Belt Hall of Fame member Fumio Demura. At this point, I began to learn the basics of shito-ryu genbu-kai karate. Sensei Demura had worked as Pat Morita's stunt double in the Karate Kid movies and has appeared in numerous Hollywood films. He was a tremendous help to me when we filmed The Karate Kid Part III back in 1989. I'm in his debt as he, too, has had a major impact on my life. (I look forward to seeing sensei Demura in June when I return to my hometown of New Castle, Pennsylvania, for a tournament and banquet honoring sensei Stoner.)Over the years, I went on to study a smattering of styles, including American kickboxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and krav maga. I currently train in Filipino stick and knife fighting with another alumnus of the Karate Kid universe: Darryl Vidal. However, it's been a while since I've seriously trained in punching and kicking, and that was certainly not at the level of the kicks shown in Adam McKinley's TikTok videos.
It's been more than three decades since I donned the iconic sleeveless black gi of the Cobra Kai school to portray "karate's bad boy." Over the ensuing years, I've branded a line from The Karate Kid Part III that was venomously spoken by my evil doppelganger Mike Barnes: "Your karate's a joke!"
Now at 54, with many of the garden-variety aches and pains that come from years of training, injuries and just plain life, I faced the stark realization that I was about to learn if my karate had become a joke. Rusty? Definitely. Humorous? Possibly. But a joke? God, I hoped not!
I kissed Michele goodbye one last time. After two flights that were unremarkable — apart from the mandatory COVID-19 mask — I arrived in Sacramento, California. From there, I drove a rental car 70 miles to the small mountain town of Pollock Pines. It reminded me of the TV show Twin Peaks. Surrounded by majestic pine trees, the snow-covered town of Pollock Pines exudes a rustic and breathtaking beauty. I eventually arrived at Adam's log-cabin home situated 4,000 feet above sea level in the Sierra Nevada. It evoked images of Rocky Balboa training in Siberia for his fight against Ivan Drago. I smiled for a moment, accepting the fact that I would at some point scream "Drago!" into the mountains, much the same way I yelled, "Are you not entertained?" during my first visit to the Coliseum in Rome.
Adam met me outside, and we exchanged greetings before walking inside to meet his wife Ilona Koti, who, I would learn, is a gourmet chef certainly deserving of a Michelin star or two. So far, I was really digging this dojo!
We enjoyed a fantastic dinner while getting to know each other. At this point, I was almost completely sure that despite the remote location, Adam was most likely not going to wear my face as a hat despite the fact that we'd met online just weeks before. He began to recount his martial arts history and the philosophy that led him to create his own style called mitsubachi ryu‚ which in Japanese means "honeybee method."
Adam began studying at Master Castillo's School of Tae Kwon Do in Reno, Nevada. At 12, he received his first black belt. Then came training in traditional shotokan and kuk sool under Dennis Martin, who eventually awarded him his fifth degree. He went on to train at Tiger Kung Fu Academy in Reno, where he practiced wing chun and choy li fut.
I was intrigued by his decision to study and then combine Japanese, Korean and Chinese systems. I've always believed that while each technique offers significant strengths, each style is not without its weaknesses. I couldn't help but think of Bruce Lee's concept of "formless form" and his general disdain for styles that are set in stone.
Curious about what exactly I was going to be learning this week, I asked Adam to explain his philosophy and the system he created. He paused for a second, then said, "I can sum up my martial arts philosophy like so: Imagine the taekwondo system with the power and snap of kyokushinkai. Mitsubachi ryu mixes traditional and nontraditional concepts, taking from both only that which is effective and essential."
I was becoming more and more drawn in. I've always admired the traditions of the martial arts in which I've trained. However — and I know I'm not alone in believing this — some techniques do favor tradition over efficacy. The concept of integrating different styles and using only that which works best sounded appealing and practical.
Adam explained the difference between martial sciences and martial arts: "A martial science is derived from actual physical combat, whereas a martial art can sometimes literally be an art form and/or a means of exercise, unfortunately lacking [in attention to] what will or will not work."
That concept certainly wasn't going to win him any popularity awards from traditional martial artists. Then again, another pretty famous martial artist by the name of Lee ran into some of the very same problems. Adam continued: "My philosophy is simple. Treat martial arts like a buffet. In a buffet line, we typically take what looks appealing first and leave the rest. Try to embrace everything at least once to give it a chance so as not to miss something that could be incorporated."
Realizing that I'd had a very long day, he then suggested that I turn in for the night, informing me that we'd start early in the morning. As he left me in the guest room, he smiled and said that some of our training would be "a little outside the box." I couldn't wait to get started.
The next morning, we hiked to a massive water pipeline that seemed to stretch on forever. It had been constructed in the 1920s as part of an irrigation system. The pipe wasn't super high off the ground, but for a guy who doesn't particularly like heights, it was high enough.
Adam explained that our training would increase my stamina while improving my balance. We walked on it for a long time. I was in front, tentatively negotiating the occasional patches of ice and the numerous obstacles that popped up with alarming regularity. Maintaining balance required more concentration than I would've thought. I looked down and couldn't help but notice some rather large animal tracks. Adam confirmed that some had come from a bear and some from a mountain lion. That instantly cured my trepidation about falling and breaking my bones, replacing it with the new possibility of being eaten by at least two predators. Out of the box, all right!
Eventually, the pipeline came to an end, and we walked a little farther on the ground to the edge of a giant canyon. Down below churned the American River. Across the canyon and over the horizon lay Carson City and Virginia City, Nevada, the same towns depicted on the Ponderosa map seen in the opening credits for the 1960s TV series Bonanza. The natural beauty was majestic and humbling. My mind and my spirit were calm and present, two essential qualities in the martial arts.
Later that day after a stretching session that was only moderately medieval, Adam introduced me to BOB, Century Martial Arts' iconic training dummy, also known as the Body Opponent Bag. After some warm-ups, he said we'd start working on his signature move, a jump back-spinning 360-degree hook kick aka the "McKinley 360."What?! This wasn't exactly remedial, especially for a guy who hadn't worked on his kicks in quite a while. But I had asked him to teach me this specific kick before I set foot on the plane. Ask and ye shall receive!
He instructed me to jump and turn 180 degrees so I could begin building my core and developing my balance. Seemed simple enough. After I'd jumped and turned to the point of dizziness, he had me position myself directly in front of BOB. Apparently foreplay was over, and it was time to, well, you get the picture.
I tried to clear my mind, put all the elements of the kick together and let go. The initial results were less than stellar. Adam is an excellent teacher — patient and thoughtful — so he continued to encourage me. I made incremental progress with each subsequent attempt. He explained that normally he would never have a new student begin with this kick for a number of reasons ranging from complexity to safety. I suddenly understood that I was being presented with yet another lesson. Almost by rote, I said, "Crawl before walk, walk before run, run before fly."
Adam suggested I take a breather, then went to town on BOB. Every time he connected, he knocked the dummy completely horizontal. When filled with water or sand, the Century BOB XL that he trains with weighs about 290 pounds, the regular BOB about 270 pounds. And here's the kicker, no pun intended: Sometimes it seemed like he was barely touching BOB. I decided that one way or another, before I left, I was going to lay BOB out!
As our training progressed over the next several days, I noticed some improvement. I had all but given up on the jump back-spinning 360-degree hook kick and instead settled on improving my standard spinning back kick. I was making contact consistently, but my target positioning needed work. My biggest obstacle was my flexibility. We were stretching every day and I was improving, but it was tough.
That's when it dawned on me that this adventure was as much a mental challenge as it was physical. I've always had a low threshold for frustration, and I determined that if I was going to achieve success during this trip, I had to give myself a break. I had to face the fact that while I was no longer 25 years old, I also wasn't 75. Most likely, I could do everything I did when I was 25; I just had to work a little smarter and accept that it would take a little longer. It seems that's the pattern for lots of things as we get older.
The days passed, and my bond with Adam grew. I realized what a great decision I'd made in coming to study with him. He continued to present me with his out-of-the-box lessons. We revisited the pipeline two more times. By the final trek, I was able to walk at a pretty fast clip on top of it, and no longer was I thinking about keeping my balance because I was balanced from within.
The following day, a truck arrived carrying at least a cord of chopped wood. A Zen saying immediately came to mind: "Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water." While I was fairly sure I wasn't going to achieve Buddha status during this adventure, I began to grab the wood and stack it against a wall. I couldn't help but wonder if "paint the fence" was coming next.
Being the evolved cat that I like to think I am, I realized that, just like Adam's other lessons, this one had a physical component (building my strength and improving my cardio), as well as a spiritual component (putting me in touch with my humility, which is a central tenet of the martial arts). I thought, Damn, this guy's good!
As we know, all compelling stories have a twist. OK, maybe this one didn't have a twist, but it definitely had a curveball. Just before the week drew to a close, I received a call from Chad Assid, who had taken over sensei Stoner's dojo in my hometown. He asked if I'd teach a youth seminar when I returned home for the event in June.
Now, I must confess that as much as I would've liked to say, "Absolutely, Sensei! I'd be honored," I did not. I said I'd get back to him, intending to evaluate my progress at the end of this trip. Here I am promoting my book Way of the Cobra, espousing my strategies and philosophies for success, and there I was, second-guessing myself about teaching a seminar to a bunch of elementary school kids! I quickly called back and said, "Absolutely, Sensei! I'd be honored."
Just goes to show you that second-guessing and that damn internal critic can sneak up on the best of us.
Now with only a day left before my departure, it was time to pull it all together. Standing in front of BOB, I cleared my mind and visualized the technique — then let it go. Spinning around, I made solid contact with BOB's midsection and knocked him to the ground. It felt great. Was it silly to allow my validation to hinge on knocking down some inanimate object? Of course it was, but it still felt good!
I had embarked on this little odyssey to find out if my karate is a joke. In the final analysis, I learned that my karate is not a joke. Not because I can fly through the air like a hawk — or like Adam, for that matter. Because I can't. At least, not yet. Not because I can spin like a Texas twister. Because I can't. At least, not yet.
My karate is not a joke because at 54, I still did OK!
There was, however, an even greater lesson: In finding a new teacher and making a new friend, I had reignited my love, respect and passion for that special thing that lives within our hearts, that spirit that exists in all who love and live the martial arts.
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A Critical Look at Chojun Miyagi's Landmark 1936 Lecture on the Origins of Karate
We know that karate was developed in the Ryukyu Islands, an archipelago located southwest of Japan. The largest of the Ryukyu is, of course, Okinawa.
The people of the Ryukyu shared a common ancestry with the people of Japan and spoke a language, called Uchinaguchi, that had a common origin with the language of Japan. This is why many of the words we use in karate are actually Uchinaguchi words. Before 1429, there were three warring factions on Okinawa: Hokuzan (literally, "northern mountain"), Chuzan ("middle mountain") and Nanzan ("southern mountain"). In 1429 Chuzan emerged victorious, and all the Ryukyu Islands became unified under its first king, Sho Hashi.But precisely when on this timeline did karate develop? The origins of the art are obscure — and have been made even more so by the passage of time and the spread of myths and misconceptions. Gichin Funakoshi, the father of modern karate, addressed this subject:"
Inasmuch as there is no written material on the early history of karate, we do not know who invented and developed it, nor even, for that matter, where it originated and evolved. Its earliest history may only be inferred from ancient legends that have been handed down to us by word of mouth, and they, like most legends, tend to be imaginative and probably inaccurate." In 1936 Chojun Miyagi, the founder of goju karate, gave a lecture in Osaka, Japan, titled "Karate-do Gairyaku," or "General Explanation of Karate-do." In one section that dealt with the history of karate, Miyagi stated that it has its roots in the Chinese martial arts:"
The name karate is a special term in Okinawa, and if we look for its origin, we find it can be traced to Chinese boxing." Later in the lecture, Miyagi discussed the major theories concerning the introduction of the Chinese martial arts:"
How was Chinese boxing introduced to the Ryukyu Islands? There is no definitive historical evidence, but there are many theories. The three main theories are:
• The 36-Men Theory. This theory asserts that in 1392, 36 Chinese men came to the Ryukyu Islands and introduced Chinese boxing to the Ryukyu people.
• The Oshima-Note Theory. In 1762 a Ryukyu ship bound for mainland Japan was forced ashore by a storm at Oshima in Tosa, a province of Shikoku Island. Among the crew was an intellectual named Shiohira Pechin Seisei, who talked about the Ryukyu Islands and their people to a native scholar of Tosa Province, Choki Tobe. The latter recorded the conversation in a notebook, which was titled Oshima Hikki (Oshima Note). In the third volume of the Oshima Note, a section of gossip entitled 'Skillful Boxer' relates that a Chinese boxer by the name of Kusanku traveled to the Ryukyu Islands with his students and practiced what, at that time, was called kumiai-jutsu (combat techniques). This book, then, contains some of the most reliable literature about the origins of karate in the Ryukyu Islands.
• The After-Keicho Theory. In the year Keicho 14 (1609), the Satsuma clan conquered the Ryukyu Islands and established a regime based on brutal repression. Official policy prohibited ownership or use of weapons. One theory has it that for lack of better means of protection, the art of karate developed naturally among the defenseless Okinawans. Another theory asserts that it was during this time of crisis that karate was actually introduced."4Let us consider each of these possible explanations.
The 36-Men Theory
Starting around the year 1372, Ryukyu established a formal relationship with China. As was typical of many smaller countries in Asia, Ryukyu took on the role of a vassal state.
In exchange for acknowledging China's supremacy, the government of China sent envoys to Ryukyu to provide culture and technology. In 13935 the Ming emperor sent the so-called "36 men" (also known as the "36 families") to Ryukyu. Their purpose was to educate the people of Ryukyu in various Chinese ways. Some taught navigation and the Chinese written language, while others brought crafts such as shipbuilding and papermaking.
However, there appears to be no direct evidence of the 36 men having brought martial arts to Ryukyu.
The Oshima-Note Theory
The pertinent section of this document states that one year earlier — presumably in 1761 — a man named Kusanku traveled to Ryukyu with several disciples and taught his kumiai-jitsu, or combat techniques. While we don't know exactly who Kusanku was or why he visited Ryukyu, he might have been part of a diplomatic mission from China because such missions were common during this period. But as we shall see in the discussion of the final theory, the knowledge gained from Kusanku may have been just part of the total martial arts knowledge acquired and subsequently developed by the people of Ryukyu.
Theory No. 1: In Japan, the Shimazu family became the lords of Satsuma domain on the island of Kyushu around the year 1030. Around 1196, the shogun Minamoto no Yoritomo conferred the title "Lord of the Southern Islands" — that is, the Ryukyu — on the leader of Satsuma, and the title was passed down through the family. While the Shimazu may have claimed the right to control the islands, there's no evidence that they ever attempted to do so before the late 16th century.
Beginning in the late 16th century, a Satsuma lord named Shimazu Iehisa began a quest to invade Korea. To support this, he made frequent demands of the king of Ryukyu (Sho Nei), such as resupplying Iehisa's troops. While Sho Nei agreed to some demands, he chose to ignore others. As a result, in 1609 some 3,000 troops from Satsuma invaded the Ryukyu Islands as punishment.
Despite having considerable forces (estimated between 1,000 to 3,000 soldiers) and weapons (including swords and Chinese-style firearms), the warriors of Ryukyu were defeated by the battle-hardened Shimazu — thanks in no small part to his effective use of European-style matchlock arquebuses. Sho Nei was taken prisoner and held captive in Japan for three years. He was allowed to return to Ryukyu only after swearing an oath of allegiance to Shimazu. From that point forward, while the king was allowed to remain the nominal ruler of Ryukyu, ultimate authority rested with the lord of Satsuma.
In his discussion of the After-Keicho Theory, Miyagi actually outlines two theories. One proposes that the Shimazu governed Ryukyu with "brutal repression," thus forcing the people of Ryukyu to develop karate-do "naturally." This tends to support the belief by many students of karate-do that the art was created by the peasant class to defend against the military forces.
There are two problems with this theory, however. First, there is a well-established history of martial arts residing in the domain of the pechin (warriors) rather than the peasants. The pechin were part of the gentry of Ryukyu, and many served as royal guards — for example, Sokon Matsumura, one of the most famous of the pechin, was the personal bodyguard of the last three kings of Ryukyu. Second, the historical evidence indicates that while the Shimazu did establish certain rules of law within Ryukyu (with strict punishments for failure to abide by them) and demanded what essentially amounted to taxes, day-to-day governance of Ryukyu still rested with the king's government. There is little, if any, evidence of repression. In fact, Shimazu went to great lengths to make life seem normal to allow Ryukyu to maintain a profitable trade relationship with China.
Theory No. 2: The other theory is that karate resulted "during this time of crisis." While Miyagi did not explain what he meant by this, it's reasonable to assume he meant that the pechin, defeated by the Shimazu and disheartened at the capture of their king, may have pledged themselves to prepare for the next battle — a battle that could have ended the Ryukyu kingdom entirely.
Miyagi stated that "official policy prohibited ownership or use of weapons" after the 1609 invasion. The belief that Satsuma rule prohibited weapons is incorrect. What it prohibited was the export of any new arms to Ryukyu because of an embargo put in place by the Tokugawa shogunate in 1634. Ryukyu was free to retain its existing arms.
It also must be noted that Miyagi may have been referring to a supposed weapons ban instituted earlier in Okinawa during the reign of King Sho Shin. The belief that weapons were banned by the kingdom can be traced to an erroneous translation made by noted Okinawan historian Ifa Fuyu.
The reign of Sho Shin (1465-1527) lasted half a century and was noted for the development of a centralized government, the establishment of a social class system, the organization of religion and an increase in prosperity via trade. In 1509 a monument known as the Momourasoe Balustrade was erected in the king's honor. It listed 11 "distinctions" marking the greatness of the country under the king's leadership. In 1932, just four years before Miyagi's lecture, Ifa, a historian born in Naha and known as the father of Okinawan studies, translated the fourth distinction as "this country used the armor for utensils" and suggested that karate was a direct result of the loss of weapons.
George H. Kerr, author of the highly regarded Okinawa: History of an Island People, used Ifa's work to conclude that "private ownership and use of arms were done away with," that "swords were no longer to be worn as personal equipment" and that "the petty lords were ordered to bring all weapons to Shuri, to be stored in a warehouse under supervision of one of the king's officers."
However, in 1955 Okinawan researcher Nakahara Zenchu discovered a flaw in Ifa's translation. He found that the fourth distinction actually states, "Brocade and embroidered silk are used for garments, and gold and silver are used for utensils. Swords, bows and arrows are exclusively accumulated as weapons in protection of the country. In matters of finance and armament, this country excels other countries."
Rethinking Karate History
As a result of the 1609 invasion and subsequent imprisonment of the king, it's reasonable to assume that the pechin would prepare, albeit secretly, for another invasion by Satsuma, one that might bring about the end of the kingdom. Such preparations likely would have included the development of improved hand-to-hand fighting techniques (karate-do), as well as new types of weapons (Okinawan kobudo) fashioned from common implements. Such weapons included the eku (oar), kama (sickle) and kuwa (hoe).In conclusion, I believe there's a strong argument to be made for the following: Karate was developed by the pechin of Ryukyu as a result of the Shimazu invasion of 1609. Its purpose was to defend the kingdom in the event of another invasion by the Shimazu. The pechin sought knowledge and training from their martial arts friends in China, and they weaponized common tools to conceal their purpose from the Shimazu.
Why is this important to martial artists today? Because karate is not just a martial art; it was developed as a strictly defensive art, never intended to be used in anger or avarice. Understanding the history of this art gives us a greater perspective on that old maxim Karate ni sente nashi. There is no first attack in karate.
Gary J. Garrahan has a third-degree black belt in karate-do from the Shoryuin Muso Chishin Ryu Heiho school. Based in Bakersfield, California, he's a member of the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai.
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