Saturday, January 27, 2018

Some speculation of Okinawan karate history

Too often I hear that the Okinawan’s dumb-ed down their karate to share with the world. IMO more history revision than reality, often by those who have other agenda in mind.

 Now I have an entirely different take on the whole transmission topic to consider.

 I am going to take an arbitrary point in time, say 1900, it probably was earlier, may have been later, but remember Okinawa was getting crowded. For one thing it was and is a truly small place. Then tradition was the  eldest son inherited everything..and you have probably seen enough soap operas to guess where that can lead.

 So a desporia began, to many places, many times. If you pay attention to the fringes of conversations you will at times get a glimmer of what was happening.

 1. There were Okinawan’s leaving Okinawa for work, land or other reasons, who then formed communities in those new lands, because of their background. Perhaps in SE Asia, in Japan itself, in Hawaii, in South America. Many places… and some of those who moved there had karate knowledge that they took with them, probably for their own children, and perhaps friends in those communities. You might hear of this from the whispers. Little has been documented for the most part.

 2. Then there was the major disporia by intent to Japan. That we know about. More a very specialized karate, focused on sharing it to University students, who had 4 years before they moved on. That was a very, very new shape to karate, a very different audience. And that karate also worked to move into the wider Japanese martial community to show they had a place at the table.

In turn they worked to export their new Japanese standards back to Okinawa to become more like the community in which they found themselves.

 3. Now at that time both concepts were also occurring at the same time. Far less is known what was really transmitted back to Okinawa about what really was occurring. Suggested changes aside (such as those proposed in that 1936 conference) what the real thoughts on Okinawa of those events from the two Diaspora does not seem to be discussed.

 Karate knowledge on Okinawa was becoming wider disseminated, from those first attempts to teach in the Okinawan schools. But the complete realization of those events has not been much discussed. Just realization this was all occurring.

--- pause from WWII should be noted. ---

 Result of the War, well we won, other things were occurring.

Consider in South America, for the most part they did not have the war to contend with. Karate from Okinawan and Japanese sources did happen to a greater extent within that Okinawan community. Little about that is discussed.

 3. The Desporia of the Modern Era, began with American Servicemen being stationed in Japan and on Okinawa, Now, different versions of karate.

 Further think about it, Even with the changes karate on Okinawa most frequently was a product of years of study with your instructor. No one there had expectations that shorter periods of study would result in karate transmission. Perhaps that karate in Japan, focused on university education, had a different focus allowing a different idea about transmission. In any cans they were separate issues IMO


Things after the war on Okinawa were bleak, there was a terrible depression excluding the devastation from the war. Finding a way, any way to feed your family was more important than anything else.

4. I don’t know if Shimabuku Tatsuo was the first to share with Americans on Okinawa, but certainly among the first, and it brought him some wealth at a  time that was not likely. He just taught the karate as he saw it. Who would have thought his very short course would last in those students. His students did not have years, so he changed, dropped material as well as creating new material along ideas he was having, He lost some Okinawan students (who can blame them, after America’s participation in the devistaion to their families) but made up for that with the increasing American volume.

 And at that same time others on Okinawa were also changing karate. Among those changes, association were being formed, change perhaps from realization that they would eventually be returned to Japan, and began shifting things toward the Japanese karate standard. Of course they certainly notices Shimabuku Tatsuo was also prospering teaching those Americas, others began to do the same.

 Who would have expected those foreign soldiers would take a year of two of instruction and keep working at that on their own for a lifetime. That one fact was totally outside of the Okinawan reality.

 Shimabuku Tatsuo, IMO, did not hide anything. He just shared what he saw was his karate, aside: his thinking on that also kept evolving, not one constant. For one thing the Vietnam War was causing shorter and shorter stays on Okinawa for his students, so he made adjustments.

 5. Now that was a age where the idea of an internet and instantaneous communication was not an idea in anyone’s head. Ever the idea of associations that would last, was but a new idea. There was no effective way to control the flow of what the karate should be, after all who expected it to really take hold.

Making assumptions that what was shared was purposely shaved from the original would not have been a concern. Teach of don’t teach was just an instructors choice.. .. Would anyone without year and years retain anything? Not even a thought IMO.

--- the number of steps that followed are to many too contemplate, they are much of modern karate history ---

6. Total Immersion Reality – so karate has made a journey from what a very private study of several hundred individuals to what 90,000,000 today?

The reality is that the Okinawan’s were likely as surprised as anyone that would ever happen.

They certainly noticed that they were no longer in charge. So they finally grouped together to protect their brand, developed their own documentation on their art.

 The idea they they were withholding the real karate, a concept but likely far from the truth. Just based on the fact they really did not see what was coming, they had no idea, probably did not really look at what was happening in Japan in the 1930s and 1940s and realze what the future would bring.

 So today everyone has an opinion about what is the real karate, or what the real karate is or is not. I just suggest reality is likely stranger than anyone wants to admit.







1 comment:

Victor Smith said...

Dojo TokyoMushinkan Great post, sir!

The Karate wasn't "dumbed down," it just became unnecessary. Itosu didn't teach his students a martial art passed down for generations, he taught them his own, new paradigm.

Even his senior student Mabuni Kenwa, wrote: “Itosu Anko Sensei learned the Kata of Karate mainly from Matsumura Sensei of Shuri, Matsumora Sensei and Gusukuma Sensei of Naha Tomari, and from Nagahama Sensei. However, the Kata we learned were neither those of Matsumura Sensei nor those of Matsumora Sensei, but rather a brand new innovation.”

Indeed there was no need to dumb it down because (1) it wasn't a martial art anymore, and (2) the practice became open to one and all, no longer the providence of a de facto "warrior" class who was raised on cultural standards that already made them ready for martial training, so the majority of new practitioners could not discern the difference between actual Karate biomechanics, western sport movement and the newer versions of Chinese martial arts introduced by the likes of Higaonna Kanryo. The same still holds true today...