It is generally believed that the art of Karate-Do
can be traced back to sixth century China. There, in the Mt. Sung
Hennan Province, Dharma, and the founder of Zen, a sect of Buddhism
composed a sutra or collection of precepts to promote the physical
development of the monks and missionaries to help protect them
from bandits and criminals.
The sutra developed by Dharma was called "Ekkin-Kyo,"
and it is believed that it evolved into Shaolin Temple Kenpo,
" the way of Fists". Unfortunately, not much is known
about this period in the history of Karate-Do and the relationship
between Karate-Do and Shaolin Kenpo remains an ambiguous one.
In the ancient times there was no law prohibiting
people from arming themselves. Weapons were standard in fighting,
and most cultures have their own sword fighting system. Japan
is renowned for its Samurai culture in the caste feudal system.
The code of the Samurai was developed in the 18th century. The
effective use of a sword was essential for a warrior. Samurai
practiced with them and carried them in daily life as the symbol
of their class.
In the later part of the 14th century however, the
influence of the Chinese techniques on the development of Karate-Do
becomes much more apparent. Under the ruler King Hassi of Chuzan
of Okinawa, a policy was enacted prohibiting the people of Okinawa
from arming themselves. In the 16th century, Japan's most southern
clan, the powerful Satsuma clan, invaded Okinawa. They colonized
Okinawa for use as a trading post with China. They also levied
taxes on their goods. These events forced the people of Okinawa
to secretly develop the so-called " Te". In addition
to the weaponless fighting methods, Okinawans were using their
farm tools for defense and developing fighting systems. These
systems were referred to as "Te", meaning hands, techniques,
and methods. In combination with the influence of Chinese techniques
it was often called "Kara", referring to the Tang Dynasty
of China, that there was a sense of more preciousness as today's
foreign goods, and "Te", techniques.
1868, the Meiji restoration ended the Japanese feudal system.
Japan opened free trade with western countries. Western culture,
its industrial methods and educational system flourished in Japan
in the late 1800's and early 1900's. This Meiji restoration brought
the influence of western laws and values to Japan. The major reform
was the abolition of the Samurai feudal system and the establishment
of a centralized governing system. In short time, the new laws
and customs were used to abolish the traditional carrying of the
samurai sword. Hairstyles were also changed to a westernized cut.
The Japanese no longer wore Samurai knots in their hair, and they
were encouraged to wear western suit and dress.
In this era, in Karate, there were no specific styles,
names, ranks or belts that are known today. Lacking formal names,
people generally referred to various labels by putting the names
of masters and Katas (as instructional methods) together, creating
a label for the particular school. Similarly, distinctions of
Karate were also named according to their distinct districts.
The three prominent centers of Karate in Okinawa
were Shuri, Naha, and Tomari. You must understand that the teaching
methods at the time were not like today's systematic rational
methods. There were only a few Katas in each location, which were
taught and developed. Only a small number of people took the private
lessons. Later, Karate came to Tokyo, the capital of Japan, which
recorded an exhibition in 1922 of Gichin Funakoshi. Funakoshi's
Karate-Do later became the modern Shotokan system.
In this era many prominent Karate masters came to
Japan, even though Okinawa was a part of Japan, Okinawa's history
and its remote location resulted in the people of Okinawa being
considered as colonized peasants and mistreated by most common
Japanese. The most prominent Karate Masters came to Japan, among
them were; Kenwa Mabuni, founder of Shito Ryu, and Chojun Miyagi,
founder of Goju Ryu.
After the Karate Masters came to Japan in the 1920's,
the present day style of karate developed; they have descended
from the primitive Okinawan forms. It was not until the 1930's
that a label was claimed and developed as a style, forced by the
other established Japanese martial arts societies. Chojun Miyagi,
a senior disciple of Kanryo Higaonna, first claimed a label to
his style as Goju-Ryu (Hard Soft Style). Kenwa Mabuni named his
style as Shito-Ryu. These two were very close friends and developed
most of the technical bases of today's Karate.
The form of Kumite as practiced in today's Karate,
was also influenced by other Japanese martial arts such as Jujitsu,
Judo and Kendo masters. Until the late 1930's, Karate-Do practice
emphasized only the Kata and its applications.
The term Karate-Do also was influenced by the Japanese
Zen Buddhist sect and became "Kara" (empty) "Te"
(techniques) and "Do" (The way of.). Dr. Jigoro Kano,
the founder of Judo, established the current belt system during
this era. Judo was a synthesis of Daito-Ryu and other Ju Jitsu.
Dr. Kano established and created Ju (Soft) Do (The way of) from
Jujitsu; these were methods for the development of ideology not
just the development of technical skills.
Gichin Funakoshi aimed to teach only university
students who were candidates for the governing leadership group.
Funakoshi did not like his students to participate in tournaments.
That young Japanese group developed today's sparring
methods and later developed the basis of today's tournament systems,
not those of Okinawan residents' Karate instructors. Okinawan
masters never even dreamed of competing with each other under
established rules. They thought Karate techniques were so deadly
that it would be impossible to hold any tournament. The first
appearance of the modern version of a Karate tournament was held
in the late 1950's in Japan. All Japan Collegiate Karate tournaments
were the first tournaments ever held in Japan including Okinawa.
It went on to develop Karate-Do worldwide.
The mysterious Koshokun of a Chinese envoy settled
in Okinawa for some time. His most famous student was Satunuku
"Tode" Sakugawa (1733-1815). It is believed Sakugawa
became a student of Koshokun in 1756. Sakugawa was a student of
Takahara Peichin (1683-1760) (Peichin is a title of status) until
the arrival of Koshokun in Okinawa. At that time Sakugawa was
granted permission from Takahara Peichin to train under Koshokun.
Sakagawa traveled to China with Koshokun to study
Kempo. He returned to Okinawa in 1762 to introduce this fighting
method. Before long Sakugawa was considered an expert in the Chinese
hand fighting method. It is said that Sakugawa was awarded the
title of Satonushi for his services to the Okinawa King.
Sakugawa soon started to teach the Chinese hand
in Okinawa. Combining what both his teachers had taught him, he
structured a training system. This made him the first Okinawan
teacher of Tode. Many of his students rose to greatness. Among
them were Chokun Satunku Makabe, Satunuku Ukuda, Ch. Matsumoto,
Kojo, Yamaguchi ("Bushi" Sakumoto), Unsume, and Sokon
'Bushi' Matsumura (1797-1889)
Contrary to some claims, Bushi Matsumura was born
in 1797, and died in 1889. Supposedly, some have found new evidence
that would seem to indicate that Bushi Matsumura was born in 1809.
But this is not the case, because we know he died when he was
92. According to some sources, Bushi's family name was Kiyo. Matsumura
grew up in Yamagawa village of the city of Shuri, Okinawa. He
was partly Chinese. Sakugawa trained Bushi at Akata when he was
14, in 1810. According to tradition, it was at Bushi's father's
request that Sakugawa teach him. Some say that to train Bushi
to block, Sakugawa tied to him to a tree so he could not move.
Then he threw punches at him. Kise's page says, "He was recruited
into the service of the Sho family and was given the title Satunuki,
later rising to Chikutoshi..." This is probably the reason
he had the title of Chikudon. Upon his recruitment, the Sho Ko,
the king of Okinawa at the time, desired to have him change his
last name, as was the custom, and suggested the name Muramatsu,
or "village pine." Sokon requested of the king to let
him change the name to Matsumura, or "pine village."
So the king granted this to him. Sakugawa trained him until his
death, and then Sokon was probably on his own for a while. According
to oral history, he studied Tode Sakugawa for 4 years.
Matsumura married a woman by the name of Yonamine
Chiru, who came from a family known for their martial arts skills.
According to tradition, this was when he was 19 years old, which
would make it 1815. Yonamine said she would never marry a man
that could not beat her. The story goes that he faught her and
won, and that is the reason she married him (of course she must
have loved him too). There are many funny stories that have circulated
about these two.
The karate of Shuri was further developed by Bushi
Matsumura . Today there are many different styles descended from
the original Matsumura style of Shorin-Ryu. The Orthodox style
of Hohan Soken was the only style taught to the public that has
stayed the most like the original Matsumura Shorin-Ryu, contrary
to some claims.
Stories about Matsumura
There are two very popular and
often-told stories that demonstrate Matsumura's strategy of defeating
the enemy before you even fight him by intimidation and demoralization.
The first story is when Matsumura fought a bull. Sho Tai had gotten
this bull from the Emperor of Japan. The king decided to put Matsumura
against the bull. Matsumura wasted no time, and went to see the
bull-keeper. He asked to see the bull. So the keeper took him
to it. He was dressed in his armor. He tormented the bull day
after day until it feared him and knew well who he was. Finally
the day came for Matsumura to fight the bull. They let the bull
out into the arena, and then Matsumura went out to fight it. The
bull was terrified and ran away. The story goes that because of
this, the king give him the title of Bushi.
And then there is the old story
about the eyes of Matsumura. A pipe craftsman and martial artist
challenged Matsumura to a fight. This man told Matsumura to meet
him at a certain spot at a certain hour early in the morning.
He decided that he would show up very early to examine the terrain
and come up with a strategy to gain an advantage. To his surprise,
Matsumura was already there waiting. Matsumura had already out-thought
his opponent. So when they got ready to fight, he caught sight
of Matsumura's eyes, which had the "look of death" in
them. The man was immediately struck with fear, and his courage
was destroyed. He just fell to the ground and began to cry. Matsumura
told him that his only thought was to win, and that had defeated
him. Matsumura's attitude was that of the Samurai. It was the
"resolute acceptance of death" as spoken of by Musashi.
Another person Matsumura had an
interchange of martial knowledge with was a man named Chinto,
a pirate from Southern China (according to some, he was not a
pirate at all, but a trader, and he did not plunder). He drifted
ashore to Okinawa. Something must have happened to his ship. When
he got there, he began to loot and plunder because of hunger.
The king received word of this, and sent Bushi to hunt him down
and stop him. So when Bushi found him, they fought each other
but were matched. Some say that it was because Chinto was very
expert at change-body just like Matsumura. When all attempts to
apprehend the pirate failed, strangely enough, Bushi befriended
him and exchanged martial knowledge with him. Thus we have the
kata named Chinto with the techniques in it that Bushi got from
him. It is a mystery as to what Chinese system these techniques
Bushi Matsumura studied under a
Chinese master for a time by the name of Channan (Chiag Nan) who
was a diplomat sent to Shuri from China. Bushi created two kata
from what he had learned that were known as Channan Sho and Dai.
Later, the names were changed to Pinan (Ping An) Shodan and Nidan.
In the Matsumura system, these two are considered the basic, or
It is said by some that a Chinese
master by the name of Ason taught a Chinese kata by the name of
Naifanchin in the area of Naha. Some say that the kata was taught
in Naha-te for a while (but is no longer had in Naha-te styles.)
Matsumura studied from Ason for a time. Later, Matsumura took
this kata and broke it up into two parts: Naifanchin Shodan and
Nidan. The origin of Naihanchi Sandan is more obscure. It is not
a Matsumura kata at all, but it may have its origin in Ason's
Born in Shuri, Okinawa, Itosu trained under karate
greats Sokon BushiMatsumura and Kosaku Matsumora.
His good friend Yasutsune Azato recommended him to the position
of secretary to the king of the Ryukyu Islands. He was famous
for the superior strength of his arms, legs and hands. Itosu was
said to have even walked in the horse stance (from which he received
his nickname, Anko). Itosu supposedly was easily able to defeat
Azato in arm wrestling. Itosu had very strong hands and could
crush a thick stalk of bamboo with his vice-like grip. It is said
that he walked past the imperial tombs everyday and would practice
his punches against the stone walls that lined the road. Itosu
believed that the body should be trained to withstand the hardest
of blows. In the tradition of Itosu, Pinewood Karateka train intensely
to develop a powerful body and spirit.
Describing the art in his own words: "Karate
means not only to develop one's physical strength but to learn
how to defend oneself. Be helpful to all people and never fight
against one person. Never try to strike if possible. even when
taken unawares, as perhaps meeting a robber or a deranged person.
Never face others with fists and feet. As you practice karate,
try to open your eyes brightly and keep your shoulders down, stiffen
your body as if you are on the battleground. Imagine that you
are facing the enemy when you practice the punching or blocking
techniques. Soon you will find your own striking performance.
Always concentrate attention around you. A man of character will
avoid any quarrels and loves peace. Thus the more a karateka practices
the more modest he should be with others. This is the true karateka."
Below is a letter written by Itosu Sensei in October
of 1908. This letter preceded the introduction of karate to Okinawan
schools and eventually to the Japanese mainland.
Tode did not develop from the way of Buddhism or
Confucianism. In the recent past Shorin-ryu and Shorei-ryu were
brought over from China. They both have similar strong points,
so, before there are too many changes, I should like to write
1. Tode is
primarily for the benefit of health. In order to protect one's
parents or one's master, it is proper to attack a foe regardless
of one's own life. Never attack a lone adversary. If one meets
a villain or a ruffian one should not use tode but simply parry
and step aside.
2. The purpose
of tode is to make the body hard like stones and iron; hands and
feet should be used like the points of arrows, hearts should be
strong and brave. If children were to practice tode from their
elementary-school days, they would be well prepared for military
service. When Wellington and Napoleon met they discussed the point
that tomorrow's victory will come from today's playground'.
3. Tode cannot
be learned quickly. Like a slow moving bull, that eventually walks
a thousand miles, if one studies seriously every day, in three
or four years one will understand what tode is about. The very
shape of one's bones will change.
Those who study as follows will discover the essence
4. In tode
the hands and feet are important so they should be trained thoroughly
on the makiwara. In so doing drop your shoulders, open your lungs,
take hold of your strength, grip the floor with your feet and
sink your intrinsic energy to your lower abdomen. Practice with
each arm one or two hundred times.
5. When practicing
tode stances make sure your back is straight, drop your shoulders,
take your strength and put it in your legs, stand firmly and put
the intrinsic energy in your lower abdomen, the top and bottom
of which must be held together tightly.
6. The external
techniques of tode should be practiced, one by one, many times.
Because these techniques are passed on by word of mouth, take
the trouble to learn the explanations and decide when and in what
context it would be possible to use them. Go in, counter, release;
is the rule of torite.
7. You must
decide whether tode is for cultivating a healthy body or for enhancing
8. During practice
you should imagine you are on the battle field. When blocking
and striking make the eyes glare, drop the shoulders and harden
the body. Now block the enemy's punch and strike! Always practice
with this spirit so that, when on the real battlefield, you will
naturally be prepared.
9. Do not overexert
yourself during practice because the intrinsic energy will rise
up, your face and eyes will turn red and your body will be harmed.
10. In the
past many of those who have mastered tode have lived to an old
age. This is because tode aids the development of the bones and
sinews, it helps the digestive organs and is good for the circulation
of the blood. Therefore, from now on, tode should become the foundation
of all sports lessons from elementary schools onward. If this
is put into practice there will, I think, be many men who can
win against ten aggressors.
The reason for stating all this is that it is my
opinion that all students at the Okinawa Prefectural Teachers'
Training College should practice tode, so that when they graduate
from here they can teach the children in the schools exactly as
I have taught them. Within ten years tode will spread all over
Okinawa and to the Japanese mainland. This will be a great asset
to our militaristic society. I hope you will carefully study the
words I have written here.
According to late Dr. Shiro Hattori, a Japanese
linguist Okinawans and Japanese share the same linguistic family
lineage. They, however, apparently separated at least two thousand
years ago, so the two do not sound like the same language. Both
linguistic cultures adapted Chinese characters for writing both
family and given name. And yet, the Okinawan pronunciation of
their family names is not neccessarily same as the Japanese pronounciation.
For example, the surname can be pronounced "Higashionna"
by the Japanese, thus those who have that surname in the current
island now pronounce their name "Higashionna." The prominent
historian, Dr. Kanjun Higahionna, claimed his family name should
be pronounced "Higashionna." The historian, in fact,
is related to Kanryo Higaonna. Ever since the Japanese government
enforced Okinawa to be part of its prefecture in 1872, all the
islanders had to speak standardized Japanese as the official language.
There was a time in Okinawa when the same surname
was pronounced "Higanuma." During my childhood, I was
more accustomed to calling the Naha Master, Kanryo Higanuma. Neverthless,
Higaonna" was the commonly accepted pronunciation for
that surname after his death in 1915. During his time everyone
called him "Higanuma."
Kanryo Higaonna was born March 3, 1853 during the
time when Okinawa Island was occupied by the Satsuma Clan of Japan.
According to the recent study of Iken Tokashiki, President of
Okinawa Goju Ryu Tomarite Karate-Do Kyokai, Kanryo Higaonna was
born at Nishimura of Naha City as the fourth son of Kanryo Higaonna,
the 10th generation of Higaonna family in Haru, lineage.
Kanryo Higaonna visited Fuchou, China, around 1877
for three years. There is an another account in regards to his
visit to the city. It is said that he visited the port city in
1873 for fifteen years. Some Martial Arts historians explain his
motives of visiting the city was to study the Chinese Martial
Arts. Higaonna did, in fact, study a Southern Shaolin Chun style,
during his stay in that city. However, his initial reason for
visiting China was explained by other historians that it was the
result of his political involvements.
In 1868, Japan experienced a major reformation in
its history when the Shogun, Tokugawa was over turned by the liberal
clans of Emperor Meiji. During the Tokugawa Shogunate era, Okinawa
was part of the Satsuma Clan, the south end clan of Japan while
the island also maintained their administrative connection with
the Chinese government.
The Meiji Reformation brought Japan nationalism.
The Meiji government wanted Okinawa as its sole affiliation and
wanted the island to discontinue its trade with China. Okinawa,
at this time, was divided into two political factions one was
pro-Japan and the other was pro-China.
One close associate of Kanryo Higaonna was Lord
Yoshimura, who had an enterprising trade of tea between the city
Fuchou and Okinawa. He was a prominent pro-China activist who
tried to block the Japanese settlement in Okinawa. According to
historians, Higaonna carried a letter of referral for Lord Yoshimura
for his trip. Higaonna never explained to anyone about the letter
and stowed away with a few companions for China. In the city of
Fuchou, there was a consulate of Okinawa called Ryukyu Kan. Apparently,
the Ryukyu Kan represented an Okinawan petition then to the Chinese
Government requesting its international pressure against the Japanese
occupation of Okinawa. One possibility was that Higaonna was a
chosen messenger by the pro-China Okinawa for updating others
of the situation on the island.
In 1879, two years after Higaonnas departure,
Okinawa was officially ordered by the Japanese government to become
its prefecture with presence of an army of Japanese police and
officials. It was an extremely intense period of time for Okinawans
so that earlier assumptions that Higaonna left for China for the
purpose of inquiring study of Karate was unlikely.
It was said that Higaonna stayed in China for three
years. During his stay, he supported himself by making and selling
bamboo wares. Also, he had an opportunity to study some of the
Chinese Martial Arts in the city. According to Reikichi Ohya,
Higaonna was one of those who studied from a Chinese named Wei
Shinzan. Wei was the student of Leu Luko who also taught Higaona
so-called Fukien Crane Chang. Fukien Crane was a combined school
with White Crane of South Shaolin Chang and Four Ancestor Chang.
In China, there were two counter parted arts of
Chang, or fist. One is categorized as hard style, or External
style. The other is Soft style or Internal style. Hard and External
style represent Zen Buddhist initiated school such as various
branches of Shao-lin Chun, and Soft and Internal style represent
Yee Chuen, Pai Kua Chang, and Tai Chi Chuen.
The Chinese system of fist that Kanryo Higaonna
studied from Wei Shinzan and Leu Luko was also known by its name
Pan Gainoon, which literally means, "one half is hard and
other half is soft". Those kata practiced in the current
Goju-Ryu school like Sanchin, Sanseiru, and Pecchurin all originated
from that style.
Prior to visiting China, Higaonna studied Naha-te
from Seiso Aragaki, (1840-1920) of Kume. Aragaki was well known
among Okinawans with his favorite Kata called Seisan. Unlike Shuri-te,
Naha-te represents newly inported Chinese forms from Fukien Province
of China. After his return from China, Higaonna systemized the
Naha-te with contemporary Chinese art, thus it was called To-te
(Tode), or Chinese Hand.
He was born in the village of Kume Mura. He became
a translator for the Chinese and translated the Okinawan language.
He became know as the Cat or Maya and was known for his jumps
that were soft as a cat.
Aragaki had several nicknames, including Aragaki
Maya (Aragaki the cat), which is his most common name in Okinawa,
even today. He was also known by the name Aragaki Kamadeunchu
("kama-de" means "sickle hands" and "unchu"
was the name of a kata he was famous for, sometimes called Unsu
or Unshu today).
Aragaki held the title of "Chikudon Peichin",
a title conferred upon commoners who were officials of the royal
court in Okinawa, similar to a Samurai rank in Japan. He was fluent
in Chinese and acted as an interpreter for the court. He was even
petitioned to travel to China for his interpretive duties; there
is a record of him being petitioned to go to Beijing in September
of 1870. This interrupted his instruction of a young Higaonna
Kanryo, himself becoming very famous for Tote instruction some
It is well known that Aragaki was highly sought
after for Tote instruction near the end of his life, and was definitely
one of the primary Tote instructors of the 19th century. Some
of his other students included Master Higaonna Kanryo (mentioned
above and teacher to Master Miyagi Chojun, the Goju-Ryu founder),
Master Funakoshi Gichin (Shotokan founder), Master Mabuni Kenwa
(Shito-Ryu founder) and Master Uechi Kanbum (Uechi-Ryu founder).
These renowned karateka sought Aragaki for training, though none
of them regarded him as their primary teacher.
Aragaki's Tote was developed from teachings of Chinese
martial arts masters. It's unknown exactly what school of gungfu
he trained in, but historians generally say that he probably trained
and taught Monk Fist gungfu (Arhat Boxing). The only Chinese master
mentioned in association with Aragaki is someone by the name of
Wai Xinxian (or Wai Shinzan), a famous gungfu master in Fuzhou,
a city in Fukien province, China, although there were probably
Not only was he a renowned Tote expert, but Aragaki
was also a superb weapons master, leaving behind several Bo and
sai kata including Aragaki-no-kun, Aragaki-no-sai and Sesoku-no-kun,
which has about 200 techniques, used against the sword. Aragaki's
weapons katas are thought to be long and beautiful.
Aragaki has many family members still practicing
karate in Okinawa today, but his descendants are primarily associated
with Goju-Ryu, a style with roots similar to Aragaki's Tote. Despite
his fame as a Tote master, and his many descendants, Aragaki left
no style behind. All that remains of this famous master's legacy
are techniques and kata scattered throughout a number of modern
karate and kobujutsu styles.
Very little documentation about Tote has been preserved
from the 19th century, but there is one written record (a program
schedule) of Aragaki Seisho performing weapons and Tote demonstrations
for a Chinese ambassador to Okinawa in Shuri City (Okinawan Capital)
on March 24th, 1867. Aragaki demonstrated weapons, pre-arranged
sparring and the kata Seisan. This says a lot for Aragaki's stature
as a Tote master, as this was an age of Tote giants. Itosu Anko,
Azato Anko and the most famous Tote master of all time, "Bushi"
Matsumura were all active and very well known, yet, for whatever
reasons, it was Aragaki Seisho performing a Tote demonstration
for an important foreign guest.