Friday, January 6, 2012

Rememberances of Okinawa: Chinkuchi

When Charles Murray was training me before his return to the Air Force, for his career, he spent some time explaining his training in Agena in 1972-73 and what he learned from those studies. Among them was an explanation of ‘Chinkuchi’ training.

Charles is a student of Tom Lewis and was awarded his sho-dan just before he was stationed on Okinawa for a tour of duty. When there he trained at Shimabuku Tatsuo’s Agena Dojo as much as possible. The Agena dojo was the location Mr. Lewis had trained a decade earlier and the only change was a roof had been added over the original walls. At the time he trained there it was mostly an Okinawan Dojo with several American students. The US Marines then had their own dojo on their base.

Among his studies he received training in Isshinryu ‘Chinkuchi’ from the founder’s son Shinso. Training he kept part of his studies thereafter. Returning to the states he did not find ‘Chinkuchi’ training being done by others. He wrote a brief paper about his training to document it for himself.

In January of 1979 I was tested and received my Sho-dan by Mr. Lewis and his IKC. Immediately thereafter Charles focused on teaching me the remaining kobudo kata of the Isshinryu system and then in April of that year he returned to the USAF for a career. There was not time to focus on Chinkuchi and then on my own I did not feel it appropriate to try and teach it to myself. I believe the correct manner is to be trained by someone who was in turn correctly trained.

Fate has not been kind to Charles and I, over the years we have been able to spend very few hours together and in the brief time allowed to us he was always interested in following and supporting my own studies. But the wheel finally turns and last month during a visit he reviewed his ‘Chinkuchi’ training with me (and it was exactly as I was originally shown). This was further bolstered by his discovery of old Super8 movies he had taken, among which are him performing SunNuSu (Sunsu) Kata as part of ‘Chinkuchi’ training in the Agena dojo, and Seisan Kata also as part of ‘Chinkuchi’ training outside at his base.

When I joined the internet age in the late 90’s as a response to a discussion on the Original Isshinryu List I shared Charles article on ‘Chinkuchi’, with his permission. I made several changes to spelling, Chinkotz to Chinkuchi and Ciso to Shinso, as when it had been written he had no access to the name standardization that would occur and was using a phonetic spelling as he heard the names on Okinawa. But the remainder is all Charles.

Further more I’m attaching his sho-dan performance of SunNuSu (Sunsu) kata done in Agena as a ‘Chinkuchi’ drill, a different pace, etc. than his normal performance. I believe it makes his story more meaningful.

Charles makes no claims at being an expert, this is just what he studied. I am not going further into how to practice ‘Chinkuchi’ as I don’t practice it myself, I do not believe I have the words to do it justice and of course I maintain you need to be trained directly by a knowledgeable instructor such as Charles had in Agena.

Rememberances of Okinawa: Chinkuchi

By now Retired Col. Charles Murray (USAF)

One night after a rather exhaustive workout at Master Shimabuku's dojo, I and several other students were drinking tea that the Master's wife had brought us. In the course of the conversation that accompanied the tea drinking, the instructor, Master Shimabuku's second son, Shinsho (Ciso), was telling me of how he had once threatened to kill an attacker with one punch. As he began to tell me this, I smiled. When he asked me why I was smiling, I told him that I didn't think that anyone could kill another with just one blow.

As I spoke, I guess that I was thinking that if there was one thing that American karate had taught me was that you could not kill with one strike. I mean, who is strong enough to do that, who could generate that kind of power? Did not kickboxing show us that that was impossible, that the "one-strike kill" was just a myth?

Almost in reply to my thoughts, Master Shinsho struck me twice. With his first blow, a nukite (spear-hand thrust), he temporarily paralyzed my arm; with the second blow, my leg. At that moment, I realized that there are some people who can kill with one strike! I asked Shinsho, who was now standing and laughing, how he did that. He replied that his power cam from chinkuchi and that he would show me more the next day.

That was my introduction to what the Okinawans call chinkuchi, and I could not not wait to learn it! The next day I found out that only three Americans before me had ever been taught chinkuchi and out of the three, only one at that time had mastered it. The man who had mastered chinkuchi was from Florida named Bob Bremer. Master Tatsuo Shimabuku swore by this man's abilities, and acclaimed him as the best Isshinryu fighter in the world. He said, "Bremer Number One, Nagle Number 2." It was funny, but not long after hearing of this man, I saw in a karate magazine where he had beaten Parker Sheldon for the championship of a big tournament in the South. The article mentioned that Bremer's movements looked slow until they suddenly locked in place with devastating power. This came from chinkuchi training.

Well, what is this chinkuchi? I should first say that the word is unique to Okinawan karate and has never been officially defined by even the Okinawans. It truthfully has no meaning and many meanings. Chinkuchi is both a way of training and what is achieved when one is able to achieve the main physical goal of karate which is to be able to block and counter simultaneously with killing power. It is the way the Okinawans achieve power through karate-do.

This "power" (chinkuchi) is developed by striking with:

(1) Proper tensing

(2) Proper breathing

(3) Accompanying each movement with what I call "mind control."

Tensing: In karate when we punch and kick, we initiate a movement by swiveling our hips. This swiveling creates a shock wave which finds expression through our striking joint (as we lock our arm or leg into place). It is then transferred to what we strike; through our striking surface (e.g. first two knuckles, ball of foot, etc.). Let me illustrate. When we punch we "swivel" our hips. This creates a shock wave which travels from our hips up to our shoulder and as our arm locks into place goes out from our first
two knuckles.

This power flow that I have just described, in order to be effective, must be accompanied by such things as:

(1) Being loose until the moment of contact (30% tension)

(2) Proper breathing

(3) Mind control or allowing your ki to flow through the movement.

This method of proper body tensing is an ingredient that must be mastered for a person to have chinkuchi in a movement.

Proper Breathing: Every Isshinryu student knows that a kiai is among other things a shout of spirit. It is used because:

(1) The body's striking movement is always stronger when one exhales properly.

(2) It has the capability of momentarily stunning an opponent.

(3) It tightens the abdominal muscles as one strikes, thus aiding in preventing one from experiencing pain from a counter blow.

What few students know is that something like a kiai should accompany every strike in karate (either a silent or audible one). In other words, with every strike one should exhale from the diaphragm. This is a brief description of what I call "proper breathing." A further description of proper breathing would be an article in itself.

Mind Control: The third aspect of chinkuchi and the most important (and least understood) is what I call "mind control." This is known in other martial arts as qi, ki, inner power, the spiritual aspect of karate-do, etc.

This aspect of Okinawan power training (chinkuchi) is virtually unknown, I feel, by our Isshinryu sensei today. Last year in speaking with an Isshinryu hachidan (8th Dan), I asked if he had ever heard of chinkuchi. He said that he had heard of it from Mr. Bremer (mentioned previously), but our conversation revealed that about all he knew of it was the name. You might ask why this is. The answer is simple. Master Shimabuku could not speak English very well so it was impossible to communicate it to the Americans who studied exclusively with him. All of the Americans, that I know of, who were taught chinkuchi studied with Shimabuku's second son, Shinsho, the only one who could speak English well.

Well, let me get back to "mind control." This mind control, coupled with proper tension and breathing, give the karate-ka was masters chinkuchi, additional power.

Perhaps the best article that I have ever read on what this mind control is was in an article in Official Karate magazine several years ago by Howard Taque from New York. In the article, he defined qi, ki, etc. as a form of "self-hypnosis." For more information on this, see the aforementioned article.

But now the question is: how do the Americans train? The answer in a nutshell is all differently. Some Americans achieve power in their techniques by using strength and weight in their movements much like a boxer. Some try to incorporate tensing and breathing in that they have a vague notion of how they should breathe and tense. But, truthfully, only a few American Isshinryu sensei that I have seen know how to achieve power in any way, right or wrong, American or Okinawan. They act like whatever will be, will be. If their students gain any degree of power from training then that's good; if not, well, it's the student's fault. The student must not be training hard enough, or something.

The real difference, however, in American power trianing lies with mind control. It seems that no one know anything about it. I have never seen anyone really train to master it. Well, this is dragging on. Suffice it to say that there is an organized, proven way of developing power that the Okinawans call chinkuchi. This chinkuchi is taught to the beginning Okinawan student, but because of communication problems has never been taught to most Americans.

The last question that I will address is: why was chinkuchi important to the Okinawans?

It was important because Te was developed in Okinawa as the Okinawans were fighting a guerilla war against the Japanese. I assume that there were times the Okinawans only had one punch or kick to give their oppressors. If this strike did not kill or disable they were in danger of being either killed or disabled themselves. It not only was important, it was all-important.

Well, allow me to end this article with the following story that I recently read in Black Belt magazine. It illustrates graphically what can be achieved through chinkuchi.

One day, an old man walked into a dojo in Hawaii and saw the students hitting the makiwara. He watched as they continued to strike the makiwara (the "American" way), and he began to smile. The old man's smiling annoyed the students and they asked him if he would like to try his luck at striking the makiwara. The old man said "okay," took his stance, and threw his punch. It broke the makiwara completely in half. It seems that this old man had been one of Gichin Funakoshi's first students. Master Funakoshi, an Okinawan, had obviously taught him chinkuchi.

Charles Murray practicing SunNuSu (Sunsu) Kata with Chinkuchi Training

Location Agena Dojo, Okinawa 1972


chester said...

absolutely beautiful

Victor Smith said...

I hope that you are doing well and thank you for the excellent post. This is an interesting read as it points out that not too many people were taught this "in between" movement. According to my teacher, this was not only left out to outsiders but also to many insiders as well. One of the things my teacher always mentioned was "thinking" through the movements and to use my head when I was doing something. Some examples of this are from doing the proper timing of some
tensions/releases in the feet, legs, abdomen, back, shoulders, etc.

These tensions are something that is very hard to describe or even show in video. I find that when I write about these tensions it is often misinterpreted by the reader. I believe that this is something that requires the "oral" tradition of karate. Some people may not agree and think that things such as ti-, muchimi, chinkuchi, Fwindi, mi-tundi, and other Uchina-guchi words that can
be used to describe movement in karate can not be learned from watching videos, reading articles, or personal contemplation. These things require transmission from a teacher and this transmission is not just by the teacher telling the student what to do but there is also physical correction.

This is something that can not be learned in a seminar, training session, or in a few hours a week class. There is a proficiency level of kata/movement that must be met in order to move to integration of these things. One example, is the tension and release of the feet (Toes and heels) applied in time with each movement in Kata. This is far from the "grip" that is commonly explained as many people will tend to grip then execute. Imagine what must take place mentally in order to integrate the other alignments and tensions of other parts of the body. In order to apply this tension the movement and placement of the feet must be perfect. If it is not perfect then the tension/release can not be properly executed. These things are the root of Okinawan Karate and if these things are no longer practiced or taught then the true Okinawan karate will die.

I think that this type of training is not for everyone and people that do not understand this things will often pull out the "real world" or "MMA"argument. This type of training has no place in the fast learning environment since it can not be learned in just a few days, months, or years time. There are no "oyo" explanations for these movements. I tell my students that this path is the "long path to understanding" as there are no shortcuts, no stepping stones, and nothing I can tell them to speed up the process. To many people this may very boring and it is definitely a test on one's will to practice this minute of detail. Again, this will have no immediate translation to the "real" or "MMA" worlds or even have any meaning to the many "oyo" out there.

As I learn more Uchina-guchi sentence structure and the difference between written and verbal communication it makes a little more sense of what my teacher has spoken about in the past. This also makes it very easy to determine if something was translated to Uchina-guchi from Yamato-guchi in reading some things written by others that contain uchina-guchi phrases or sayings. These things seem to be very small details but I find that the small details make the
difference in what I have been taught by my teacher.

Respectfully, Robert Orozco

Charles James said...

Hi, I cannot agree with the article on chinkuchi. I believe the boat was leaky and sinking with no bucket to bail the water.

My studies tell me there is so much more than what is posted on the subject.

In addition, AJA and my Sensei W.D. Henry certainty know/knew what chinkuchi is and practiced it.

Bob Bremer is in good company but suffers from the inability to properly convey it yet his documentation and intent are most admirable.

I can say the posting I have done on this issue over the years fills far more than this short and terse rendition.

In addition, can you convey how it connects to the kenpo gokui?

Whether I am correct, you are or Col. Murray this and other articles must be researched and studied far beyond this post or mine for that matter.


Victor Smith said...


I do not disagree with you. These were Charles Murray's notes when he returned from Okinawa in 1973. They were his efforts to understand what he had been shown, and my presentation is just the preservation of his experiences.

His effort was not meant to be the last word on the subject. While he has continued his practice on a personal level, his career in the USAF did not allow him the time to pursue further study.

As to what you have learned good for you. Personally beyond basic discussion I believe such subjects are best studied with a qualified instructor.

Thank you for your comments.

Charles James said...

Victor, thank you for your clarification. After all, communications are exchanges until clarity and understanding are achieved.

Good communicating with you.

ron carrera said...

To whom it may concern, I studied with Bob Bremmer for thirty five years. I both understand and can perform, teach chinkutz. This article is completely incorrect. Chinkutz has nothing to do with anything mentioned here and can never be learned by following any of these methods. I am currently training in Miami Fl. and be reached at 305-667-5050. Ron

Victor Smith said...


Thank you for your experiences. I will try to have Charles call you. Unfortunately with my current disability speech is most difficult for me and I am very hard to understand on the phone.

My blog is primarily for my students, but I freely share it with the world if any find it of interest.

This contribution was not meant to be a ‘Chinkuchi’ training guide. It is the personal rememberance of Charles Murray that he made after returning from his time on Okinawa training with Shimabuku Tatsuo and his son Shinso. At that time he received his training with Shinso.

He always talked about Bremmer Sensei with the highest regard, and was unhappy they never met, for he heard nothing but good things about him while on Okinawa. I am sure he will have many questions for you.

For myself, though I have been aware of his training for a long time, when he chose to return to the USAF I did not have the time to train in this with him. I never tried to do this on my own and pretend to be an expert. My own experiences took different paths. Now I admit this is beyond my own training.

Over the past few years, I have been fortunate that he has been able to visit on a regular basis and our training time was able to resume after so many decades. I have been fortunate that he has been able to share with my students. Often he and I discuss his experiences.

Thank you for sharing. I expect you have been very fortunate to train with Bremmer Sensei.