Tuesday, March 29, 2016



Back when the ‘Secret Scrolls’ of Isshinryu were being discussed, it really wasn’t surprising that the idea existed. Not that they were secret, as they were the kumite techniques Shimabuku Tatsuo taught, but as many didn't have them the idea they were a set of Secret Scrolls took hold. When I joined the internet in the late 80's their existence was often discussed.

The transmission of Isshinryu was uneven, and there really wasn’t much of an attempt to disseminate information to the whole of Isshinryu karate-ka. For one thing the original study was controlled by the founder, and the time each student had to stay on Okinawa. Everything wasn’t equal.



That anything was transmitted was due to the brilliance of Shimabuku Tatsuo. The fact that the transmission was un-level, was at core the manner most Okinawan karate seems to have been transmitted,.


Before the internet, before youtube, before videos, before movies. Books and magazine articles, you but had what your instructor shared, and other instructors if you were so fortunate.


Okinawan karate was a secret, not that it existed, but as it was kept to a very small group, those outside the group really didn’t know the particulars. Then instructors shared at their own pace. Some material may have been kept from most of the group, the manner of transmission may have been restricted to that when skills manifested themselves at a specifically high level. So some material may have well been kept secret. At their core most of the arts seem to have similar essence. But in very different flavors.


When Shimabuku Tatsuo transmitted Isshinryu there is no record if it was to be shared in the same manner. So the assumption that there were secrets is not an implausible assumption.


Of course secrets is a relative concept. A secret is anything you don’t know. Nothing exactly secret at that. For one art what is a beginning concept study, can be the idea of a secret for another art. But at the same time it really doesn’t matter, for a real core secret is that you train so well in anything you walk through whatever comes in your direction. Not a secret at all, just skill acquisition.


Coming out of that time when transmission was whatever your instructor shared with you, I can well understand the idea of a secret set of scrolls could capture thinking.


Then again I have trained with many others, and share some of those ideas with my students. What is commonplace to them is secret from you. But secret does not imply better, just not revealed to you.


I also have many studies and forms I can not share, No one has enough time to get them. They are all worthy studies, so secrets, Ones that I will not pass along and will remain with me. Secret not because I am hiding them, there just isn’t enough time.


But secrets does not imply what they have been shown is less. What they have is enough for each of them.


Secrets lie at the heart of all Okinawan karate. As it moves through time that hasn’t changed. Consider Ueichi. Many of their practices would qualify as secrets, but the real secret is they believe in their practice to such an extent they go out of their way to demonstrate what they do most openly. Brutally effective, that is a secret too.


Qualifying levels of secrets, mostly worthless activity to my way of thinking. Better at working at advancing levels of skill acquisition at what you do have. Perhaps your instructor has different secrets that will be shared with you, perhaps not, as what you have is enough.

Perhaps also an Okinawan secret?


Charles James said...

‘Secret Scrolls’ of Isshinryu

First, today the 30th of March in the year 2016, the first time I have ever heard of the “Secret Scrolls of Isshinryu.” Second, are you kidding? Secret Scrolls? What the …? Hey, what is a secret anyway?

Secret: not known or seen or not meant to be known or seen by others; something that is kept or meant to be kept unknown or unseen by others; fond of or good at keeping things about oneself unknown; (of information or documents) given the security classification above confidential and below top secret; something that is not properly understood; a mystery; a valid but not commonly known or recognized method of achieving or maintaining something; kept from knowledge or view [hidden]; working with hidden aims or methods (undercover [a secret agent]; not acknowledged; revealed only to the initiated; designed to elude observation or detection.

I have italicized, bolded and underlined definitions that would support having a secret as it applies to karate and martial arts (i.e., K&MA).

Second, scrolls - really, that would be a supposition to instill in others that there actually existed some sort of written form, say parchment paper with a list of items, etc., that provide these “Secrets” that may or may not be passed on as would be indicated by the legends/stories told of ancient Japanese master’s who would authorize teaching certificates with those so called secrets in scrolls attached. Really, in Isshinryu, by Tatsuo-san? The only so-called presentations that were handed over to American’s during his years teaching Isshinryu he gave out a certificate of rank, the ken-po goku-i and the dojo kun. Secret, not actually because everyone got these or had them available so not so secret.

Third, secret indicates something special and unique that is only allowed to the chosen few according to whomever created this secret scrolls of Isshinryu legend in their own mind. I have been associated with Isshinryu since 1976 and I have been exposed to all three major American teachings of this system, i.e., the Nagle version, the Long and Wheeler version, the Mitchum version, the Armstrong version and finally the Advincula version and none of them during those years, 76 to now, ever once stated there were secret scrolls of Isshinryu. Granted, they may have kept that secret too except to those few close special associates in their dojo - similar to the so-called, “First Generation” students of Tatsuo-san often assigned some special significance to those who followed in their footsteps - maybe through the “secret scrolls of the first-gen students of Isshinryu” …

Charles James said...

Lets focus on the quote, “Okinawan karate was a secret, not that it existed, but as it was kept to a very small group, those outside the group really didn’t know the particulars.” True? Maybe, the fact that it was deliberately held back as Okinawan secrets may have just been the perception of Americans looking for some mystique to attach to the training and practice to make it more exceptional and exciting - a mind-set of Marines from where I sit, I are a Marine after all. Okinawan karate from what I can discern from those who have studied and researched its history has never been a secret or has ever been studied in secret, that is just one of those legends/stories created and cooked up by those who just didn’t fully understand, fully study or even try to find truth and facts but it makes for a great selling point doesn’t it?

In truth, the reasoning I find valid to why it was taught in small groups and the teachings held close, not secret, to those who trained and practiced is because each was held and practiced within a small group that was made up of close village connections and the differences were due to those cultural social connections stemming from nature’s survival instincts, traits and needs. Take a look around you even today, we humans all tend to gravitate toward smaller groups of like-minded individuals, we gather in groups at work with developers of code in one; systems admin groups in another; management and supervision group in another then finally separation of genders into sub-groups, etc. - all natural, all natures intent and all survival oriented groupings.

Add in letting others, outside the group, know about particulars, well in essence that is social conditioning because to let out the what, how and why a group does things exposes them to allowing other groups to achieve a superior state and status that can and would be used to dominate and control the group - not going to happen. You naturally held close what you use and how you use things that are about survival, i.e., security and safety and continued growth and prosperity of your group. It isn’t about secrets but rather about separation of groups for mutual benefit and survival.

As to the full teachings of Tatsuo-san, he did convey more to those who remained longer than the one year tour or to those who took the effort to return for further training. Remember that all karate and martial arts were changed and adjusted toward a more educational version implemented into the schools systems of Japan and Okinawa, i..e., more as a propaganda tool and health and fitness regiment to prepare the population for World War. Add in that to truly learn and become a student took more than one year of learning basics, kata, drills and kumite ergo why sho-dan is not a master of karate but simply an entry level educated student. Not secret but just the way things are and if those who created the so called secret scrolls idea had returned and studies longer would have learned without too much grasping for the so-called mysterious secrets of the masters of Okinawan karate - get real.

In closing, just because you don’t know something or you don’t know you don’t know something does not make it secret. In my experience when someone says that is a secret for only the chosen few they are simply hiding the fact that they don’t know and they don’t know they don’t know. It is an elitist ego driven meme to make someone and some group feel special and unique and separate to all those other “ordinary” people. This is natural to humans and seems to dominate when folks resort to saying, “Secret Scrolls, etc.”

Secrets DO NOT lie at the HEART of Okinawa karate, a total lack of documented history does lie at the heart of Okinawan karate except what has been recorded and transmitted in the early 1900’s to present times but that is not exactly historical - yet, time is passing quickly and soon a hundred years will have passed and “Whalla - history.”

Charles James said...

People, both Okinawan’s and all others around the world are working hard to fill in the missing gaps and spaces left behind by the educational implementations, the ramifications of WWII and the resurgence of karate after the war as a means of contractual economical viability from their association to the occupiers, the American Military machine. This effort to make karate in modern times effective in other models except competition and a philosophical self-help program are great and I am personally pleased with how well some have returned karate and martial arts back into what it once was as well as making it more than what it once was - historically speaking.

As to the question I asked myself, “Is their actually a set of secret scrolls for Isshinryu?” Nope, no such thing and shame on those who think this is true and teach toward that understanding. It is this type of straying from the proverbial path that actually denigrates and pollutes the true nature of karate and martial arts ending in the uninitiated thinking it is what it is not. Bummer!

No secrets, no scrolls and no hidden teachings be they secret or just ignorance from improper and inappropriate teachings. There is just, “Karate,” and how you train and practice - nothing more; nothing less.

Victor Smith said...

There really are two separate issues here.

First the idea that Isshinryu had ‘Secret Scrolls’. The idea of this certainly predated what I know. When I entered the internet of Isshinryu discussion in the later 1980s this was being discussed. It had even been mentioned in one book on Isshinryu by David Esteeve. That name apparently had been hung on some Isshinryu practice. It was discussed because the truth is Isshinryu was transmitted through variety of personal experiences from Okinawan training that were different.

At different times, people did learn Isshinryu differently, some had different training than others had, and there was not a even controlling mechanism to push information equally across the developing Isshinryu in the world. Apparently some had received training in a set of self defense techniques, and some didn’t.

So the idea came into existence of there being ‘Secret Scrolls’ of training.

We live in a far different world today, with access through the internet to many things that were formally not available. At that time I first heard of this, it was discussed, but there was nothing beyond those discussions.

Today, we can realize those were the self defense drills taught by Shimabuku Sensei. That information was not openly available at that time.

Those discussion did take place. I do not think much went beyond discussion, that I ever heard of .

Personally I don’t see that as better or worse, just a different paradigm. The use of Isshinryu kata technique to disrupt various attack. What the sequence does suggest is what Shimabuku Sensei felt were possible Isshinryu answers.

The other issue is the idea of secrecy being at the core of Okinawan karate.

When you go back about 100 years, karate was very different from what was to happen. It was training for a closed group of individuals. Not available for the public at large, They may have had their own traditions, but those were not that of karate.

The instructors did not commit their art to written records. The may of may not have shared with each other. On the other hand they could have had much the same base, and the variety may have come from the various instructors prerogatives as to how they expressed their art to their students. Much else is open to speculation. The transmission was through personal experience and oral history, apparently.

The existence that some were so trained was not secret, but the actual details I would argue were in the secret category. Those outside of the group could only speculate based on what they had occasion to observe. Things abruptly changed in the last century. Much more was shared openly. Though not necessarily everything.

Committing some knowledge of the training to writing, is not the same thing as spending years receiving the teachings. What can be expressed in a few short words, may not even begin to approach the reality of the full training. Then much thinking about what was written, takes its own level of abstraction. Which can very well be different from the original training.

I feel very much there are secrets, but whether you pay attention to them or not, you create the version of reality you permit yourself. Not necessarily the reality that exists.

Charles James said...

Nice response Victor, thanks for the additional views.

Charles James said...

p.s. what is that snapshot with the kanji characters, is that the secret scrolls or was it just a means of graphically expressing the idea?

Victor Smith said...

It was just meant to be a graphic.