Bukijutsu vs Kobudo

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Recently one of my students asked me about Kobudo and why I call my weaponry as bukijutsu instead of Okinawan kobudo.  So this is my response to this question, and hopefully it can shed some light on my way of thinking about this particular topic.

First off, Kobudo is a very deceptive word.  The kanji for kobudo reads 古武道, meaning “Old War Way”.  This implies that of all the Okinawan material; Kobudo would be the oldest thing on the island.  That would mean that it completely pre-dates karate in every way possible.  So if that is the case, then why were most of the kata (型/forms) created after karate styles were already established?  Even when you go back and look at some of the older forms they were being established at the same time as karate (or te).  So how could something be “older” when it was created at the same time or after?

When you are looking at what is old and what is new the Dai Nippon Butokukai had established categories for systems.  These are Koryu (古流) and Gendai (現代).  Koryu styles were martial art styles that were established (as a complete system) and being practiced before 1868.  Anything after 1868 is called Gendai, meaning a modern martial art.  When karate was first being registered with the Dai Nippon Butokukai every style was considered gendai and was in the category of shinbudo (新武道), which means “new budo”.  Even weaponry that was established fell into this same category.  There are some elements of karate that may have been practiced before 1868, but the honest truth of it is that the styles were not organized until much later.  So in my opinion karate is gendai with some koryu elements.

The second problem with using the word kobudo is that it’s a very regional term.  Depending where you are in Japan you will get different responses if you say the word “kobudo”.  Within the karate community it is accepted to mean weaponry.  However in other parts of Japan you could get anything from swords and spears (katana and yari), to bows and arrows (yumiya/弓矢), to someone else who might show up ready to wrestle.  And let’s not even talk about Ninjas. ;)

So some of the schools in Okinawa that teach weaponry use the term “bukijutsu”, I have also adopted this word because it is a lot more honest about the material.  Buki (武器) means weapon or weaponry, and jutsu (術) means art.  I personally like this term because it is a heck of a lot less ambiguous than kobudo, and it means exactly what it is intended to mean.

So for the weaponry I teach, not all of it is from Okinawa.  When I was in Yong Chun village I had picked up a very cool kocho soto (butterfly swords/蝴蝶雙刀) kata, in Hong Kong I got a nice sansetsukon (three section staff/三節棍) form, and others I have picked up over the years of traveling and training.  The base of my weaponry is from Ryueiryu, which is still the core, but the other kata are very nice additions that complement the original weaponry.  So it’s not really accurate if I say “Okinawan kobudo” since some of the material I teach is from China or even mainland Japan.  This is why I use the term bukijutsu (weapon art), this is a heck of a lot more honest about what it actually is.  It’s just a shame so many people only use kobudo, without even knowing what the word means or how it is technically historically inaccurate.

Food for thought.

Gambatte Kudasai,
Scot

Karate Day

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Today is a day that is important to every single person who practices karate, but yet many don’t seem to know about the importance of today.
 
On October 25, 1936 a group of martial art masters met on Okinawa to figure out what the Okinawan martial art was going to be called.  Up until this point the word karate had not really been widely used, and other things such as Toudi, Kempo, Toudi-do, and Te were used to describe karate.
 
The martial artists that were present for this decision included: Hanashiro Chomo, Kyan Chotoku, Motobu Choki, Miyagi Chojun, Kyoda Juhatsu, Chibana Choshin, Gusukuma Shinpan, Oroku Chotei, and Nakasone Genwa.
 
Due to the efforts of these gentlemen the name karate (empty hand) was decided on and the rest is history.
 
Gambatte Kudasai,
Scot
 
TRANSLATION OF MEETING NOTES
Time and Date: 4 PM, October 25, 1936
Showa Kaikan, Naha Okinawa
 
In attendance:  Hanashiro Chomo, Kyan Chotoku, Motobu Choki, Miyagi Chojun, Kyoda Juhatsu, Chibana Choshin, Gusukuma Shinpan, Oroku Chotei, Nakasone Genwa
 
Guests:  Sato Koichi, Shimabukuro Zenpatsu, Fukushima Kitsuma, Kita Eizo, Goeku Chosho, Furukawa Gizaburo, Ando Sei, Ota Choshiki, Matayoshi Kowa, Yamaguchi Zensoku, Mr. Tamashiro
 
Meeting Notes:
Genwa Nakasone: When karate was first introduced in Tokyo, the capital of Japan, "karate" was written in Kanji (唐手/China hand) as "唐手". This name sounded exotic, and gradually accepted among people in Tokyo. However, some people thought this Kanji "唐手" was not appropriate at schools. In order to avoid the use of this Kanji, some karate dojo wrote "karate" in Hiragana (からて) instead of Kanji (the kanji for Toudi 唐手). This is an example of temporary use of the word. In Tokyo, most karate dojo use the Kanji "空手道" for karate-do, although there are still a few dojo using the Kanji "唐手." In order to develop Japanese martial arts, I think Kanji for "karate" should be "空手" instead of "唐手" and "空手道" should be the standard name. What do you think?
 
Chomo Hanashiro: In the old days, we, Okinawan people, used to call it (唐手) "Toudi" or "Tode", not "Karate." We also called it just (手) "Tii" or "Te." It means fighting with hands and fists.
 
Ota: We, too, called it "Toudi" or "Tode."
 
Shimabukuro: Mr. Nakasone, I hear nowadays people call "Karate-Do" for karate. Does this mean people added the word "Do" to the name "Karate" for emphasizing the importance of spiritual training like Judo and Kendo?
 
Nakasone: They use the word "Karate-Do" in the meaning of cultivation of the mind.
 
Ota: Mr. Miyagi, do you use the word "唐手" for karate?
 
Chojun Miyagi: Yes, I use the Kanji "唐手" as most people do so. It has minor meaning. Those who want to learn karate from me come to my home and say "Please teach me Tii or Te." So I think people used to call "Tii" or "Te" for karate. I think "空手" is good in the meaning of the word. As Mr. Shimabukuro said, the name "Jujutsu" was changed to "Judo." In China, in the old days, people called Hakuda or Baida for Chinese kungfu, Kenpo or Quanfa. Like those examples, names changes according to times. I think the name "Karate-Do" is better than just "Karate." However, I will reserve decision on this matter, as I think we should hear other people's opinions. We had a controversy on this matter at the meeting of Okinawa Branch of Dai Nippon Butokukai. We shelved this controversial problem. In the mean time, we, members of Okinawa Branch, use the name "唐手道" written in Kanji as "The Way of Chinese Hand." Our Shinkokai will be formed soon, so we would like to have a good name.
 
Oroku: Mr. Miyagi, did you go all the way to China for studying karate?
 
Chojun Miyagi: At the beginning I had no plan to practice kungfu in China, but I found the kungfu excellent, so I learned it.
 
Oroku: Have there been our own "Te" here in our prefecture, Okinawa, for a long time?
 
Chojun Miyagi: There have been "Te" in Okinawa. It has been improved and developed like Judo, Kendo and boxing.
 
Kyoda Juhatsu: I agree to Mr. Nakasone's opinion. However, I am opposed to making a formal decision right now at this meeting. Most Okinawan people still use the word "唐手" for karate, so we should listen to karate practitioners and karate researchers in Okinawa, and also we should study it thoroughly at our study group before making a decision.
 
Chojun Miyagi: We do not make a decision immediately at this meeting.
 
Matayoshi: Please express your opinion honestly.
 
Chomo Hanashiro: In my old notebooks, I found using the kanji "唐手" for karate. Since August 1905, I have been using the kanji "空手" for karate, such as "Karate Kumite." (空手組手)
 
Goeku: I would like to make a comment, as I have a relation with Okinawa branch of Dai Nippon Butokukai. Karate was recognized as a fighting art by Okinawa branch of Dai Nippon Butokukai in 1933. At that time, Master Chojun Miyagi wrote karate as "唐手." We should change his writing "唐手" into "空手" at Okinawa branch if we change the Kanji into "空手." We would like to approve this change immediately and follow procedure, as we need to have approval of the headquarters of Dai Nippon Butokukai.
 
Ota: Mr. Chomo Hanashiro is the first person who used the kanji "空手" for karate in 1905. If something become popular in Tokyo, it will automatically become popular and common in other part of Japan. Maybe Okinawan people do not like changing the kanji (= Chinese character) of karate. But we would be marginalized if the word "唐手" is regarded as a local thing, while the word "空手" is regarded as a common name for karate as a Japanese fighting art. Therefore we had better use the word "空手" for karate.
 
Nakasone: So far the speakers are those who have been living in Okinawa for a long time. Now I would like to have a comment from Mr. Sato, the director of the School Affairs Office. He came to Okinawa recently.
 
Sato: I have almost no knowledge about karate, but I think the word "空手" is good, as the word "唐手" is groundless according to the researchers.
 
Furukawa: The kanji written as "空手" is attractive for us who came from outside Okinawa, and we regard it as an aggressive fighting art. I was disappointed when I saw the kanji "唐手" for karate.
 
Nakasone: This time, I would like to have a comment from Mr. Fukushima, the Lieutenant of the Regimental Headquarters.
 
Fukushima: The kanji "空手" for karate is appropriate. The kanji "唐手" for karate is difficult to understand for those who do not know karate.
 
Ota: There is no one who do not like the word "空手" for karate, but there are people who do not like the word "唐手" for karate.
 
Chojun Miyagi: Well, when I visited Hawaii, Chinese people there seemed to have friendly feeling toward the word "唐手" for karate.
 
Shimabukuro: Here in Okinawa, we used to call "Tii" or "Te" for karate. To differentiate from it, we called "Toudi" or "Tode" for karate that was brought from China.
 
Nakasone: I think we have almost made clear about the name of karate. Now we would like to discuss about the promotion of karate. It is regrettable that karate is not popular in Okinawa at present. We need to find a solution to promote karate in the fields of physical education and martial arts education.
 
Furukawa: There are a lot of Ryu or styles in karate now. I think we have to unify them at any cost. I hear there are small differences between Shuri style karate and Naha style karate. I think both styles should be unified and we should make Kata of Japanese Karate-do. In the old days, we had about 200 styles of Kendo, but now they have been unified and we have the standard Kata of Japanese Kendo. I think karate would become popular all over the country if we had the unified Kata. For example, we can newly establish ten Kata as Japanese Karate. The name of each Kata should be changed into Japanese, such as Junan-No-Kata (soft and stretch kata), Kogeki-No-Kata (offensive kata) and so on. In this way, we can conform the name of Kata to its content. And I also think we should make karate a competitive sport, so we should study how to hold a game of karate. We would like to make a uniform of karate and standardize contents and forms.
 
Chojun Miyagi: I agree to your opinion. With regard to Kata of karate, I ever submitted the opinion with explanation to the headquarters of Dai Nippon Butokukai, when its Okinawa branch was established. As to karate clothes, we also would like to make karate uniform soon as we often have problems. As for terminology of karate, I think we will have to control it in the future. I am also advocating it, and I have been making new technical words and promoting them. Regarding Kata, I think traditional Kata should be preserved as old or classic Kata For the nationwide promotion of karate, I think we had better create new Kata. We will create both offensive and defensive Kata which are suitable for students of primary schools, high schools, universities and youth schools. Mainly, we, the members of Shinkokai, will make new Kata and promote them throughout Japan. Now there are Physical Education Association and Okinawa Branch of Butokukai. We also have senior students of karate and those who are interested in karate. We, therefore, cooperate with them to study and promote karate. If such organizations and experts study karate thoroughly, we can make a decision about the karate name issue and karate uniform relatively soon. I think the old Kata should be preserved without any modification while new Kata should be invented, otherwise I am convinced that no one will be interested in karate any longer in the world in the future.
 
Ota: How many karate organizations are there in Okinawa at present?
 
Chojun Miyagi: There are Okinawa Branch of Dai Nippon Butokukai, Physical Education Association of Okinawa Prefecture and Physical Education Association of Shuri City.
 
Ota: Mr. Chibana, how many students do you have now at your karate dojo?
 
Choshin Chibana: I have about 40 students at my karate dojo.
 
Chojun Miyagi: There is an opinion insisting that there are two Ryu or styles in karate, namely, Shorin-Ryu and Shorei-Ryu. I think such an opinion is wrong or false, as there is no evidence at all. However, if we have two styles in karate, we can categorize them by their teaching methods. In one style, they do not even differentiate between Fundamental Kata (Kata such as Sanchin, Tensho and Naihanchi) and Kaishu Kata (Kata other than Sanchin, Tensho and Naihanchi). They teach karate unsystematically and unmethodically. In the other style, they differentiate between Fundamental Kata and Kaishu Kata clearly. They teach karate systematically and methodically. My teacher taught me karate in the way of the latter.
 
Ota: Karate masters we know did not go to China to study karate.
 
Chojun Miyagi: I have heard that Master Matsumura went to China and practiced karate there.
 
Choshin Chibana: Our teacher taught us Naifanchi as a Fundamental Kata.
 
Ota: Mr. Motobu, who taught you karate?
 
Choki Motobu: I learned karate from Master Itosu, Master Sakuma and Master Matsumora of Tomari village.
 
Ota: I thought you created your own karate on your own without learning from karate masters.
 
Choki Motobu: (laughing) No, I did not create my karate on my own.
 
Nakasone: Now we know every karate masters have agreed to the plan to establish a karate promotion association. As Mr. Furukawa told us the necessity of founding a karate promotion association, we think the other people also seem to agree to this plan. So we would like the members to start the preparation for establishing it.

Bushi Matsumura

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BUSHI MATSUMURA SOKON 松村宗棍
by Scot Mertz

Unyu, Bucho, Wu Chengda, Kayo Sokon, Kiyo Sokon, Bu Seitatsu Unyu
1809-1899 (Tomb Dates, confirmed by family Koseki)

Before we start on Matsumura himself, we need to take a look at his family.  According to documentation from the Bureau of Genealogies, Esu Anji Soso was the founder of the house of Bu (武).  The family name was Kayo (or Kiyo) spelled as 嘉陽, and this was the family name from around 1719 until around 1790, then many of the family members changed the name to Muramatsu (村松) and others changed it to Kiyo (井陽), later in 1861 the majority of the family reverted their name back to Kiyo.  Sokon being of the linear lineage kept the family name throughout.

Family lineage: (Name, Chinese Name, dates)
Ensu Anji Soso - Bu Genmin - 1472
Soju - Bu Sei'an - 1519
Zayasu Okite Pechin So'ei - Bu Sho'an - 1468-1560
Kobashikawa Okite Pechin Somo - Bu Eiso - 1519-1585
Noguni Pechin Sosho - Bu Juntoku - 1567-1648
Noguni Pechin Soho - Bu Kaishun - 1599-unk
Sobi - Bu Tokusei - 1649-1718
Sosa - Bu Eiho - 1675-1740
Soryu - Bu Chuyu - 1698-unk *exiled to Miyako 1729*
Soju - Bu Shisu - 1708-1752 - Had no legitimate sons
Sosho - Bu Yosho - 1714-1777 - Grandson of Sobi - Continued lineage
Shoshi - Bu Tokuon - 1742-1786
Sofuku - Bu Kosho - 1766-1828
Sokon - Bu Seitatsu - 1809-1899


On May 30, 1809 a young Kiyo Sokon (井陽宗棍) was born in Yamakawa Village to Kiyo Sofuku and Yoshie.  Kiyo Sokon was the 10th generation of the Bu clan (武) and the 7th generation of the Mo (莫) clan.  His father was Chinese (from the 36 families) and his mother was Ryukyuan.  Sokon was a fast study in Chinese and was called Wu Chengda by his Chinese friends (Bu Seitatsu in Japanese) and later in life when he traveled to China he used the name again.  The Bu and Mo families were always associated with great martial artists, and because of his ability to learn quickly and natural talent he also became a great martial artist.


Sokon trained with his father from 1821 to 1825 and learned Kake, Kumite, Shima, and bojutsu.  It was during this time that Sokon learned the value of Bun Bu Ryo Do (文武両道), which is the ability to balance physical training with mental training.


In 1826 Sokon entered into the service of the Ryukyu King Sho Ko.  At this point Sokon’s surname of Kiyo (井陽) was abandoned, as was the tradition for Royal guards.  When his name was changed to Matsumura (松村), Sokon was given the title of Chikudan Pechin.


Shortly after entering service Matsumura began training with the man who he was replacing.  This man was named Pechin Kojo Chinpe (also known as Umare Bushi of Kume, Nmari Bushi, Higa Kanematsu, Higa Machu, and Matsu Higa).


(**family legend**)  In 1828 King Sho Ko was conducting a plot to overthrow the Satsuma samurai that were on Okinawa.  Sho Ko sent Kojo and Matsumura to China as part of an envoy to try local training and possibly garner support for a military coup on Okinawa to oust the Satsuma.  This trip lasted for around 4 years.  Later in 1828 Sho Ko abdicated.


During his time in China Matsumura studied martial arts under several different instructors.  Some of them were also military attachés such as Iwa (Yáo Wéi Bó/瑶違伯) and Ason (Liú Lóng Gōng/劉龍公).  However he also looked at traditional martial arts and spent a lot of time at the Shaolin Temple (南少林) in Fujian province.  It was likely through this experience in China that Matsumura was first introduced to the idea of “kata”.


Matsumura returned to Okinawa in 1832.  He had just returned home when the new king, Sho Iku, told Matsumura that he needed a swordsman as a bodyguard.   In 1832 Matsumura traveled to Kagoshima, to train in Jigen Ryu from the legendary Ijuin Yashichiro.  Matsumura spent a total of 5 years learning Jigen Ryu.


Matsumura returned to Okinawa in 1837.  In 1838 he married a young woman named Yonamine Tsuru (與那嶺鶴).  At this time Matsumura was 30 years old, and his wife, Tsuru, was around 16.  Tsuru-sama was a bit of a tomboy growing up, and a lot of the locals in her village of Yonahara (area around Shuri Castle) use to call her "Yonamine no Bushi Tsuru".  Her family owned a business called the Yonahara Yonamine, they would sell items for the local farmers.  It was kind of like a farmer’s market.


Between 1838 and 1860 Matsumura Sokon became a highly trusted advisor of King Sho Iku, and the personal tutor of the young King Sho Tai.   He continued to train with local masters, such as Lord Yabiku, Lord Motobu, and various other famous karateka of the day.  Also during this time Matsumura produced quite a few writings and poetry, for his artist works he would sign his name as Unyu.


In 1860, Matsumura made a second trip to China as part of the Royal Emissary.  While there he made arrangements with the Ryukyukan in Fuzhou and ultimately came back from China in 1865 with Kojo Tatei, Kojo Isei, and Iwa (Yáo Wéi Bó/瑶違伯).


On March 11, 1879 King Sho Tai gave power of the Ryukyu Kingdom to Japan as part of the Haihan-Chiken (廃藩置県).  Chinese Viceroy Li Hongzhang (李鴻章) protested the annexation, and tried to enter discussions with former US President Ulysses S. Grant and other foreign dignitaries with no avail.


It should be noted that the Kiyo family name changed shortly after 1879.  There was an issue with families who had Chinese kanji in their names.  井陽 was considered too Chinese; the first character was changed back to 嘉陽 and pronounced as Kayo or Kaiyo.  This did not affect Matsumura himself, but all of his family had to adhere to the change.  To this day the family uses 嘉陽.


By the end of 1879 Matsumura became the guard at the Royal Gardens (御番, Uban), and was teaching karate to locals who were interested in the old ways of combat.  During this time there were several letters penned by Matsumura, most of them were signed as "Bucho".


Matsumura Sokon passed away on August 8, 1899.  Some of his students included Pechin Sakihara, Pechin Sakuma, Pechin Kiyuna, Ishimine Bishi, Kyan Chotoku, Motobu Choyu, Yabu Kentsu, Kuwaye Ryosei, Hanashiro Chomo, Chinen Sanda, Chikudun Pechin Tawada Shinboku, Itarashiki Chochu, Asato Anko, and Chibana Chosho.

Researchers Scot Mertz and Andy Sloane at the tomb of Bushi Matsumura in 2015

--- This research was compiled from various sources, the bulk of which was from interviews with family members of the Kayo family and direct descendants of Matsumura.  Family documentation was referenced for many of the dates.  Additionally the Bu Clan (house of Kayo) Genealogies from Shuri was referenced as was documentation from the Kojo (Koshiro) family for supporting references.  Some of this was also validated against research by Andreas Quast and his book Karate 1.0 and other conversations. ---

Effort and Opportunity

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Had a very unusual exchange a few nights ago with a parent of one of my students.  In so many words, I was conducting testing, but her child was not involved due to lack of time in grade.  Didn’t think anything of it, so the junior kids usually watch the tests so they can get familiar with how the testing is done and what is expected of them.  This particular testing was for junior kids age 5-8 and it was from white (9th kyu) to orange (8th kyu).
 
After the testing was completed and the remainder of class was done the mother came up to me and said that she felt that I was not giving her child an equal opportunity to test as the other children did and that it would only be fair if I awarded her child with an orange belt too, as her child participated by being present and watching the others.
 
Kind of bewildered by this, I explained that her child was not ready to test and that there was time in grade requirements.  All of my students receive books that cover the curriculum that they are required to know, and there are signature pages where everything is checked multiple times before the individual is allowed to test.  Her child did not have the book filled out, didn’t have the time in grade requirement, and didn’t know the material.  So she persisted that I should still give her child something anyway because of their participation.  So what I did next was probably not the right thing, but I called her child over and asked “can you perform Gekisai Dai ichi?”, the child responded “I don’t know that kata yet”, so I thanked the child and sent him on his merry way.  Looked at the mother and said “your kid doesn’t know the material; I can’t test him yet”.  With this she threw a bit of a hissy fit and took her child and left.
 
So what I would like to really cover is equal opportunity doesn’t mean equal outcome.  It seems like a lot of these younger parents (age 24 and younger) seem to not really understand that just because you are presented the opportunity to do something doesn’t mean that you are guaranteed the same outcome.  Meaning the real root of equal opportunity is being able to take a class, the outcome however is the result of how much time and work you put into it.  If taking a test for example and one person gets an “A” and another person gets a “F”, this doesn’t mean that it’s violating equal opportunity for the person who received the “F”, they were still granted the opportunity to take the test.  The outcome being the grade should not be altered because they participated in the test, but it is a result of the effort that went into it on that person’s part.  If the person comes back saying they felt that it was not fair that someone received an “A” and they received an “F” and they deserve an “A” because they took the same test and participated in class, this still goes back to outcome verses opportunity.  Equal opportunity is not equal outcome.  There are no participation trophies in life, and there shouldn’t be in karate either.  Effort = outcome.
 
Gambatte Kudasai,
Scot

Oshima Hikki (大島筆記)

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What follows is a quick translation and summary of the Oshima Hikki 大島筆記 followed by some important points that seem to have not been made public knowledge with this note.  Additionally if you would like to read this note for yourself and do your own translation you can find a scan one of one of the originals here at the University of the Ryukyus page.  All of my translation notes and footnotes will be in (* text *). If something is a different color try clicking on it!

Quick Translation and Highlights

On the 26th of April 1762 a Ryukyuan Tribute ship left the port of Naha and was headed to the Satsuma domain as it’s final destination.  (*The Satsuma domain 薩摩藩 is located on Kyushu, the southern island of Japan.  It was essentially the lower 3/4 of the island.*)  The first stop in the voyage was in Unten, which is in mid Okinawa, not far from Yayagi Island and Kouri Island.

The ship attempted to get underway from Unten several times, but bad storms and winds associated with 2 typhoons kept the ship in port.  The ship was finally able to get underway on 13 Jul 1762.  However three days later the ship met another typhoon in open ocean.  This time the mast and helm were damaged and the ship partially capsized.  The mast was ultimately cut off to allow the ship to return to a somewhat level pitch.  The ship floated with a north/northeast heading for three days like this.

On the third day land was spotted, the chief officer on board, Shionja Pechin, identified the land as being somewhere near Shikoku province Japan.

In the morning of 21 Jul 1762 the local authorities from identified the boat and asked them to drop anchor while the Satsuma authority was contacted.

On 22 Jul 1762 the boat was pulled by tugboat to Oshima, and the crew was put in a guesthouse ran by the local government.

The next section of the Oshima Hikki deals with the crew and inventory found on the ship.  Ryoen Tobe (*the man who wrote the Oshima Hikki*) recorded everything as close as possible to what was being said.

Ship’s Crew

There were four Ryukyuan Pechin onboard the boat.

Shionja Pechin (*Minister of Foreign Affairs*)
Gushi Satonushi Pechin (*Shionja Pechin's younger brother*)
Teruya Satonushi Pechin (*Shionja Pechin's cousin*)
Shionja Shi (*Shionja’s son*)


Ship’s Captain and Helmsman

Captain Takara
Helmsman Toma

Additional Crew

Two clerks, One Buddhist priest, Seven assistant clerks, Six extras, and 26 sailors.

After this section is an inventory of what was on the ship and interviews that were conducted either by Ryoen Tobe or by the Japanese authorities that Ryoen overheard and copied down into his report.

Concerning Kusanku

The mention of Kusanku comes from the ship’s captain.  He was recounting a random time in the past that he saw a small man performing a demonstration where he defeated several larger men.  He did this with very little effort.  The name Kusanku as it is written means “Government Official” or “Mr. Government Official”, which is an indication that the captain never learned the name of the individual giving the demonstration, only that he was employed by the Chinese government.  This event is discussed on page 42 on the Ryukyu University copy of the Oshima Hikki.  It is the last 3 lines on the far left of the page on the left.

Ending notes

The Oshima Hikki is a very cool document to read through, it is a bit of a tough read because it’s not in modern Japanese but well worth the effort.  The ship itself never went to China on that trip, but instead was going from Naha to the Kagoshima area.  I think this can’t be stressed enough that the story that has been put out with the Oshima Hikki wasn’t really transmitted well and not many people seem to have gone back and actually researched or translated it.  One last note is the kata that is presently known as Kusanku has really been named that for about 100 to 120 years, the original name for that kata was Ufukun (大君).

Gambatte Kudasai!!!
Scot

Karate Rank and Titles

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There seems to be a lot of confusion on the Internet regarding titles.  So I hope this blog will at least make the water somewhat less muddy.

The use of titles in martial arts stems from the Dai Nippon Butokukai (大日本武徳会).  A lot of the members from the pre-WW2 Butokukai were also members of the Japanese government and military, so when the DNBK would issue titles it would come from someone with that type of authority.  The three titles that were originally issued from the DNBK were: Renshi (錬士), Kyoshi (教士), and Hanshi (範士).

These titles have a somewhat militaristic meaning to them.  So to break these down.

Renshi -  (錬) Tempering/Refine/drill/polish (士) Warrior – These are your lower level teachers who are typically around a 6th dan (Rokudan Renshi), and are considered people who have the full curriculum (Menkyo Kaiden) but are still working on refining techniques.

Kyoshi – (教) Teach (士) Warrior – These are really individuals who should be focused on teaching.  They are considered a master teacher, they should know the full curriculum and be able to teach it with a high level of understanding.  This typically comes in at 7th dan.  Additionally in the education system teachers are called Kyoshi spelled like 教師.

Hanshi (範) Model/Example (士) Warrior – These are senior level teachers who have spent many years teaching and now may be the head of a group or organization.  They should fully understand the curriculum that they were taught and be able to transmit the style with a high level of accuracy.  In Japan and Okinawa a Hanshi can be an 8th dan and above.  In styles like Kendo an 8th dan is the highest obtainable rank.

In my opinion if there is any SHU/HA/RI, it should be between Renshi, Kyoshi, and Hanshi level individuals.  Prior to that students should be learning the curriculum, not trying to incorporate their own ideas into it as "training".  That is really something for someone who has already got the training and understands it well enough to incorporate things that are meaningful.

So those are the three titles that started this whole mess.  After WW2 the DNBK was dissolved on 9 November 1946 as part of the post war treaty with the US, many of the senior members even lost their government jobs, and they were not re-established until 1953.  However the newly established DNBK no longer had any government or military backing, and many of the senior members left for other groups and never returned.

Since 1953 many of the martial arts groups started incorporating new titles and licenses for their patrons.  Some of these new titles include:

Shihan (師範) – Essentially a chief instructor of a dojo.
Shidoin (指導員) – Intermediate level instructor (regardless of grade).
Saiko Shihan (最高師範) – Senior chief instructor, top instructor in an organization.

The most recent edition to martial art titles is Soke (宗家).  Soke is a whole different can of worms because it is actually a legal title for someone who is an inheritor.  This is typically done through a family’s koseki (戸籍), which is a family register.  This becomes enacted when someone passed away, the soke is the heir to the estate and they usually take care of things for the deceased person, such as funerals, any back property taxes, and things of that nature.  In the martial arts they use it as someone who has inherited a system from someone.  Which is misleading at best.

The Martial Art soke is someone who claims to be an inheritor of a style, but this does not work the way many people think that it does.  To say that it’s used loosely is an understatement.  So let’s look at a style such as Gojuryu.  The founder of Gojuryu, Miyagi Chojun, never left a clear inheritor of the system.  His family eventually said that Yagi Meitoku sensei was the heir only because he was there the longest, but Yagi sensei never once to my knowledge claimed the “soke” title, nor did any of his students or other student’s of Miyagi Chojun.  Yet after his death an individual from mainland Japan that had only attended a single seminar (at best) with Miyagi in Kyoto claimed to be the only true heir to Gojuryu.  How is this even possible?  The answer is, it is not.  There are several examples of this throughout the martial arts.  Lots of shady business when it comes to the use of soke, and the vast majority of people who claim this title have no business claiming it.

When it comes to ranking, as a 7th dan, I will not promote my own students to black belt.  Because as a 7th dan who am I to think I can award something like a shodan to someone?  These should all be awarded by the head of the organization from a panel type testing, and not from a single individual.  What I will do is evaluate them and give a recommendation to my teacher in Okinawa (who is a 10th dan).  But no testing is done or rank is awarded unless he sees them in person and is in agreement with my recommendation or retests them with several of his senior students present to give input.  I started doing this back in 2013 as a way to knock off any perception of impropriety within my dojo.  We really do try to do things on the up and up, and I don’t take the idea of giving someone rank lightly.

So when it comes to this stuff, ethics is key.  Someone claiming a title like Hanshi, Soke, Shihan, or even Grandmaster is likely NOT what they are claiming to be.  The real people out there know how they are suppose to act if they actually have a title, and forcing others to call them by a title is not the way to do it.  Always try to be ethical, do the right thing, train hard, and there are no secret made up titles that will actually give a person knowledge.

Onegaishimasu!
Scot

Karate Rituals

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In karate there are a lot of really strange practices, most of which have meaning behind them, but for one reason or another the meaning was not passed along or properly conveyed to foreign students. Seeing what some of these practices have become is absolutely insane and the Western reasons for doing them have completely distorted the original meaning.
 
Wooden airplane made by the Melanesian people.
 
Shomen (正面) is a good example of this. I would compare this practice in a lot of ways to how the people of Melanesia would build wooden planes after WW2 and make sacrifices to the planes in hopes that they would come back and drop food. First of all, a Shomen is an object that is at the front of a dojo, it’s not a blank wall or the front of the basketball court or racquetball court. A proper shomen usually takes up a large portion of the wall, it has shelves, pictures, and sometimes personal items from the people who have gone before. A lesser version of this is a kamidana (kamiza/神棚), which is a shelf that acts as a simplified version of the shomen. Sometimes even a shinden (神傳) is put up (looks like a miniature temple) which also serves as a substitute shomen. So the real point of the shomen is to show respect to those who have gone before, namely your sensei’s sensei and his teachers. They shouldn’t be generic by any means; they should be very specific to the lineage of that dojo.
 
Shomen from the Shinjikan Dojo in Okinawa (Toyama Zenshu Hanshi's dojo)
 
So what to do if the front wall is blank? There are two acceptable methods for handling a non-shomen situation. First is to skip the shomen ni rei (正面に礼) and just do a sensei ni rei (先生に礼) instead. This puts the sensei, who is at the front of the room as the “person who has gone before”…. odd that is what sensei actually translates to! The second one is to do a mutual bow throughout the group with otagai ni rei (お互いに礼). The whole point of the bowing in ritual is to show respect to the people who have gone before, the one who is currently teaching, and each other.
 
Never blindly do things in your karate practice. Everything has a purpose, always question this and find the correct answer.
 
Gambatte Kudasai!
Scot