Chia fa is a topic near and dear to me.
The form was not part of what I studied from Charles Murray. It was not a part of the Tom Lewis tradition when he studied with Sense, as it was not taught on Okinawa in his days. Nor did Charles study it on Okinawa when he studied there as a black belt.
It was 1978, Charles had returned from a visit to his parents and had trained in Salisbury, Md. And in Dover Delaware. He had been working on acquiring Urashie and Shi Shi bo. Mr. Lewis had leant Charles his movie of Shimabuku Sensei to help him remember the katas.
In those days that was unique. There was no internet. No YouTube nor many other resources. Most karate was as your instructor(s) shared it with you.
It was 1978, and I was a brown belt. One day Charles came to me with the movie and a movie editor (hand turned). He told me to teach myself the tonfa from the movie and that he then expected me to share it with him.
This was both a curse and a blessing. My training was what my instructor shared with me. In that I was content. I knew there were variety of Kata versions with the IKC, but not that I was interested in knowing other ways. Those I practiced were enough. Charles and I noted what was varied from my own studies. But he insisted I should keep doing those kata I had, the was I was shown them and do those kata to come, the way he taught them. I was not into comparitative kata study, ever, so I listed to him.
Of course the first thing I did was watch the entire Armstrong video. There were many differences in the kata I knew. I just accepted that there were differences, and didn’t make to change how I was taught. As I didn’t associate with others in Isshinryu (Mostly they were out of the range I could travel, more than any other reason) I did not know what others were doing. I just accepted there was variety.
Then I got down to the task at hand. Trying to learn the tonfa kata as shown by Shimabuku Sensei. Over and over I watched that tape. Over and over I tried to do those moves. I did get something. I am not sure what, To this day I cannot view that video. Saw it too many times.
Charles was content with what I showed. And I taught him what I knew. Before long he was doing it better than I. So I kept at it.
When Mr. Mitchum was giving clinics the day of my Black Belt testing, Charles had me demonstrate it for everybody. I remember Mitchum Sensei telling us it was not taught in his days on Okinawa.
Later I taught what I knew to other of my Seniors.
Then I practiced. Never had further instruction on the tonfa. Though Karl Hovey once saw me warming up for a tournament and made some suggestions. Practiced for decades. Gained some skill and realized that it had value. For one thing the use of the tonfa conditioned the fist to close on it to stop its spins, tightening the hand for the fist.
Finally the internet arrived. And around 1990 I discovered that the term Chia Fa was used to deride individuals who didn’t know better.
Now I am a simple man. It was called Chia Fa on the movie. It was all I ever called it. Decades of work. If it is not the form, if it is not the correct form. If it was less than perfect. I could care less.
It served a function in my development. It brought its own skills in execution. I had followed what my instructor wished. I was not looking for other’s approval, or what they did.
I did start watching what others were doing. It was all over the place. There was much variety, and I had no way to know who to believe. I didn’t belong to any approved group, to follow their way.
I just do Isshinryu. My Isshinryu is what was shared with me. Plain and simple.
If what I do with Tonfa doesn’t please some, I am not doing it to share with anyone but my own students. And in the end, they will likewise make their own choices about what they have been shown.