Recently reading again through Mario McKenna’s translation of Nakasone’s “Karate Do Taikan” I reread Itosu Anko’s “The Ten Lessons of Toudi” a letter originally written in 1908. It strikes me how his thoughts shaped so much of today’s karate.
Nagamine Shoshin in “Tales of Okinawa’s Great Masters” that Itosu held a government position as the Secretary to Okinawa’s last king and also was one of Bushi Matsumura’s students. When the Japanese prefectural system replaced Okinawa’s rule in 1879, he retired from public office and devoted the rest of his life to sharing karate. Though a tremendously powerful karate-ka, he is known never to have been in a fight in his life.
Believing in the value of karate in youth development in 1901 he began teaching Toudi at the Shuri Jinjo elementary school, and then in 1905 at the First Junior Prefectural High School and at the Teachers College. He was the first trying to open instruction of karate to larger groups and discovered the way he had been teaching did not provide the best introduction to his students. In turn he developed the Pinan kata to become a better beginning study.
Then in 1908 he wrote a letter containing ‘the Ten Lessons of Toudi’.There in he wrote his ‘The Ten Lessons of Tuidi’. While one of the first written explanations of Toudi/Karate this short letter contains at the first read many ideas on Karate training that can relate to our current studies.
Re-reading this recently, however, I see an entirely different way of viewing Itosu’s letter. Rather than an individual set of statements about toudi/karate I believe you can make a fair analysis showing his vision of what karate could become.
To do this I simply reorganized some of the statements and a different message from Itosu became evident, especially when viewed in light of the impact this idea had on the future development of karate by his students and others on Okinawa too.
To examine this I am going to restate what I see Itosu ‘s letter.
1. History of Toudi:
Itosu begins with the briefest of Toudi History lessons.” Toudi did not arise from Chinese religion of philosophical needs”, but the two types of Toudi (Shorin and Shuri) did have Chinese origins.
2. The Plan:
Itosu then builds a case for the use of Toudi to prepare youth for National Service.
This is a different premise from what most people consider the use of karate, that being to destroy an attack. I believe this is what makes Itosu’s vision unique.
He explains the primary purpose of Toudi is not for “developing a strong and healthy body”. Instead “Toudi training provides the courage to give one’s life in defense of one’s parents or teachers.” I believe he is really speaking about using training in Toudi to defend one’s country. He then continues that the purpose of Toudi is not for fighting a single attacker, where one should just deflect such an attack and move away. He suggested the training would also be of benefit for their military personnel.
This is consistent with his own experience that Toudi was not for fighting. As the military of the world developed by the early 1900’s hand to hand skills were not their real focus. The lessons of the American Civil War dictated the forward leap in military science. But disciplining Okinawan youth to be prepared for military draft and training, especially in groups as well as giving them strong basic self defense skills would promote his primary suggestion of the Toudi training value. By extension preparing youth also for civil service, such as he and been a part of, would find the discipline of Toudi training of worth.
His comments build on the value of starting in the Elementary schools to build the proper foundation, which is concluding paragraph also expanded, that to start with the Teacher’s college would then develop the school instructors for such a plans full value. His vision was to expand this throughout
He reinforces this plan by describing how” Toudi cannot be learned in a short time”. In turn he describes a period of 3 to 4 years training in order to understand Toudi’s value. This is not different from today’s 3 or 4 years to reach Sho-Dan in many arts. Not creating expert level but being able to enter serious training.
He explains that when practicing Toudi, you should “train as if you are on the battlefield”, with details, so you are prepared for any encounter.
He also explains the subsidiary benefits to health and long life resulting from Toudi training too.
3. The Training:
“Toudi will strengthen the body” till “the hands and feet can be used as spears”.
Furthermore, the hands and feet must be thoroughly trained on the makiwara.
He mentions the role of correct posture, stances and specific use of the lower body in training.
He expressed the value of visualizing an opponent while practicing, and while training hard not to overexert yourself. The latter probably a comment to remind you if you’re so exhausted at training conclusion if you were attacked you might not be able to respond effectively.
In my opinion, his explanation of what overall karate training consisted of in 1908 remains a valuable commentary to compare our current training practices.
4. The use of Toudi
This is the most telling portion of Itosu’s letter which I believe explains in part the direction of his student Funakoshi Ginchin’s later art.
Itosu first defines the techniques of Toudi as “entering, deflecting, releasing and seizing”, and that they were passed down through oral tradition. It is only through repeated practice the context of their use can be properly developed.
But “in Toudi, YOU must determine whether a technique is for cultivating the body or has martial application”.
We’ve already seen Itosu felt Toudi should not be used for defense if possible. Yet with his entire discourse on Toudi he made no mention to the practice of kata, the core training tool of the Okinawan art. I think that is because this was so fundamental to Toudi training he covered the important parts of kata when he discussed use of the body, posture, stance, etc.
The purpose though of karate was it’s use. How you enter an attack, how you deflect an attack, how you release a grabbing attack, and how you seize and attacker, the core Toudi useage tools only came from oral tradition. Kata may have been a primary study tool, but not the way each technique use was taught.
We don’t have to rent our garment or tear our hair because those answer were not shared, Itosu’s student Shimpa Shiroma described this oral tradition in Nakasone Genwa’s 1938 publication of “Karate-do Taikan” (translated by Mario McKenna). Personally I find it most interesting how the use is more than the kata practice shows. File under side block useage is intended to destroy the attacker.
Certainly interesting and valuable, but the concluding comment in this section, “YOU must determine whether a technique is for cultivating the body or has martial application.” This is of great importance.
I do not believe the ‘YOU’ Itosu was concerned about is you the reader. Rather it is ‘YOU” the Instructor. The instructor passes the oral tradition and that makes it the instructors choice how the arts use is shaped.
Itosu does not suggest that ‘YOU’ must share everything you’ve studied, but that ‘YOU’ must determine what your art is use for.
Sadly we only have the barest of information describing how Karate was incorporate into the schools of
But if the long term goal was to use karate to develop its students for military service, to give them the basic ability to defend themselves, but not to push the art back to total self defense potential, this goes a long way to understanding how Itosu’s student Funakoshi Ginchin shared his art.
So we see the first level of Itosu’s comments in Funakosh Ginchin and Mabuni Kenwa in they’re taking Karate into the University systems. Both of them also came from backgrounds as civil servants, Funakoshi as a teacher, Mabuni as a police officer. They’re doing so moved karate into those moving into civil service positions (including teaching) and into the Japanese military officer corps. Exactly were you would try to place karate instruction to move into the larger scope of Japanese life.
Funakoshi did not hide the oral tradition behind karate use existed, he included examples in his books, but focused his students towards it’s percussive uses. All of which with the right training practices still fit Itosu’s use definitions, but evidence suggests many of those use potentials were downplayed in these discussions.
In part most of the students would train 4 years an then movie into life. In their positions the ability to strike swiftly might be useful, but the larger ability to destroy any attack was less necessary. The military office was not trained to fight, but to direct others to do so.
Of course this goes far beyond Itosu and his students efforts. In time many other Okinawan karate instructors taught in the Okinawan schools. The onset of WWII interrupted all of that for survival, but after the war, Okinawan teachers with Karate training developed a new Okinawan school karate physical education curriculum.
Each instructor who realized they could train a larger group and expand their instruction beyond a few direct students also were walking in Itosu’s wake, including myself today.
Itosu had a vision, tried it, learned from trying, adjusted his vision and shared it with his students so well today many of use are still moving towards where his finger points.
He clearly saw karate for a larger goal than personal self defense. He did not suggest others had to change their goal, showing the actual choice always resides with the instructor.
Karate has never been fixed. Change is it’s true history, and each instructor remains a crucial part of that responsibility.
I think however, even if those changes are not in the vision of Karate that we possess, it is worth our time to recognize there is a true structure behind other answers, a structure that is logical, and deserves consideration.
Itosu Anko and a related
1901 - Itosu Anko begins teaching karate at the
1904 – Itosu Anko created the Pinan kata and revised the classical kata of Shuri-te. He also modified the old-style Nafanchi kata.
Itosu Anko begins teaching at the
1905 – From this year, thanks to Itosu Anko’s efforts, karate began to be officially taught as part of the physical education program at the Teacher’s College and the
The old Toudi was now pronounced Karate.
A karate club was formed at the
1908 – Itosu Anko submitted his Ten Article of Karate to the Okinawan Prefecture Board of Education.
--- some of the echos of Itosu’s efforts on
1929 – Karate became an official part of the curriculum at the
1984 – The Okinawa Board of Education updated its manual for teaching Karate-do in schools. The manual was compiled by Iraha Choketsu, Tamanahu Seiken, Shiroma Seihan, Hokama Tetsuhiro, Sekiguchi Yoshiharu, Nakamatsu Ken, Tanka Kojun, Kadekaru Kiro and Nakandakari Yoshiro. They mand Karate an official part of the curriculum in elementary and junior high schools in Okinawa, and the new Kozai-gata was implemented.
1985 – The President of the Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education set up Karate seminars for Junior High School and High School students. Hokama Tetsuhiro led the firs seminar at
Extracted from “Timeline of Karate History” by Hikama Tetsuhiro – translated by Charles (Joe) Swift
Source and Translation Notes:
There are many discrepancies in the various histories of Itosu Anko as well as many inconsistencies between the different translations of the ”10 lessons of Toudi” by Itosu Anko. It is easy to assume any one text is the complete answer, but the actual histories are vague, sources inconsistent and translation always has an element of the translator’s understanding. Not being gifted with the ability to distinguish ‘truth’ I simply assume all are telling the truth as they’ve found it, and all are translating the 10 Lessons as their understanding allows.
As all of these sources are from the efforts of individuals I admire, respect and sometimes even know, I cannot simply distinguish between them. My main premise is supported in general by all of them but I’ve selected the history of Itosu as Nagamine reports it and the translation of the 10 lessons of Toudy by Itosu Anko from Mario McKenna’s translation in the Nakasone “Karate-do Taikan”.
For more information about Itosu Anko please read:
“Tales of Okinawa’s Great Masters” by Nagamine Shoshin – translated by Patrick McCarthy – Tuttle Publishing 2002
“An Overview of Karate-Do” – the translation by Mario McKenna of Nakasone Genwa’s “Karate-Do Taikan” originally published 1938 – Lulu Press 2009
“Karate-Do My Way of Life” by Funakoshi Ginchin – Kodansha International Ltd 1975
“Tanpenshu” by Funakoshi Ginchin – translated by Patrick & Yuriko McCarthy – IRKRS 2005
“Ancient Okinawan Martial Arts – Koryu Uchinadi” translated by Patrick & Yuriko McCarthy - Tuttle Publishing 1999
“Shotokan Karate – A Precise History” 1st edition – Harry Cook 2001
“Unante – the Secrets of Karate – 2nd edition” John Sells – Hawley 2000“Timeline of Karate History” by Hikama Tetsuhiro – translated by Charles (Joe) Swift