Saturday, June 9, 2018

Unsubstantiated thoughts on Okinawa 1875 - 1905

So much of the past is simply not available to us. Either because it was not written down, or not available for us to see. I must start off I am sure I know too little about that which I write. However, providing you understand that, this might be an interesting exercise.


In particular I often thing about what the arts that became known as karate went through from the time between 1875 to 1905. There were vast changes occurring. This is not a historical record, just an accumulation of various facts I have picked up an one time or another.


Japan removed the king of Okinawa in 1872. Japan assumed control of Okinawa in 1872.


In 1879 In order to make the Ryukyus an integral part of Japan, although opposed by the hereditary lords of the Ryukyus, Meiji abolishes the Ryukyu Han and sets up Okinawa Prefecture.


Then in 1881 The Meiji government decides to preserve and utilize the old system of rule within Okinawa Prefecture.


Along the way the Japanese imposed Japanese as the language of the land.

The Japanese also took control of the education system


Now thinking about those days, a large part of the existence of the Pechin class was focused on defense of the king, and the government. That was certainly part of the reason the arts of that day arose.


That time the first part of the picture is the adepts of those arts (whatever name one chooses to use) was instantly made obsolete. There was no king to guard, and almost at the same time no government to correct.


Part of those arts was their secrecy. No one could say who they were from their dress, or their title. Now the ‘purpose’ behind their training evaporated.


Surely one can imagine at local festivals, which were always an Okinawan tradition, Senior instructors would have discussed these things occurring between themselves.


I can imagine a new purpose arising. To continue to offer training in those arts. Keeping their tradition of showing them to others within the Pechin, as a way to hold onto their tradition to bind themselves together.


As before those arts shared with students would be serviceable. And the older traditions would be retained. The art taught would be what was appropriate for the student. It might vary from person to person, but the idea of making them credible with the training would remain the core.


There was no reason to share beyond that. It would take a long time for credible ability to show itself. The training focus would always be that credible art.


The Seniors knew that over time individuals would explore their art in new ways that made sense to them. They also knew that beyond a core group, most would not go further, nor was there a need to do so. The purpose of providing a sizeable group who shared similar training would keep the Pechin together.


On a separate level, Instructors would have continued to explore their own understanding of their art. But that would rarely be shared, only someone who had proven their dedication to their art over the decades, and who also had continued to work out their art, might prove suitable for greater knowledge. And that would be or not be shared at the instructor’s discretion.


For the most part Okinawa was a walking population. Although the three main training centers (Shuri, Naha and Tomari) were quite close, their arts developed in individual manners.  Between friends who began training in different arts, sharing at times between themselves, or festival demonstrations revealing other arts techniques, some interaction took place.



In Okinawa the samurai class lost a major source of income in 1903, when massive peasant protest sparked land reforms and the abolition of peasant taxes that sustained the Okinawan Samurai class.


And the Pechin were not very prepared for that. Many were without incomes and had to resort to many things just to survive. I remember reading about a senior practitioner of karate reduced to pulling a rickshaw as a method to provide for his family.


The Okinawan society was undergoing many changes as a result of this. Funakoshi Ginchin wrote about some of them,


The use of karate to continue to bind the Pechin families together surely continued to be a major purpose.


So it is possible the when Itosu Sensei wrote to the Okinawan school board, he  was perhaps as concerned with using karate in a new way to protect the Pechin practice, as much as present an alternative of Okinawan training within the schools.


I do not believe he was proposing instructors should change how they were teaching their students. Just showing that a new type of karate instruction could prove valuable to Okinawa’s youth.


And in time, those changes became adopted by many others as logical tools.

Some did, some didn’t.


Another facet to consider was as time passed Okinawa was no longer a walking culture.


The first railroad with handcars was built in 1902.  In 1910, the railroad opened for the purpose of transporting sugar cane.  During the Taisho period (1912-1926), there was competition between private and prefectural government development of electric trolley and railroad systems.  By the end of this period, the prefecture completed a railway system that had three lines radiating from Naha: one to Kadena, one to Yonabaru, and one to Itoman. Okinawa Electric also extended its routes with a ‘state-of-the-art’ horse-drawn trolley linking Naha and Itoman.


Individuals now had a method to travel greater distances than before, one part of that was surely some surely used the railroad to travel to other places on the Island, to seek training.


I imagine the advent of better and public lighting had a place in those changes, too.


Change continued to take place, at it’s own pace.

1 comment:

Victor Smith said...

From The Secret Royal Martial Arts of the Ryukyu by Matsuo Kanenori Sakon
Translated by Joe Swift 2005

Aikata nu Mekata

Tada Omote Miruna
Waza ni Waza Suyuru
Ukudi Yariba

“So not make light of the dance of the Ryukyu Warriors, for technique compounds technique, and the deepest martial secrets lie hidden here.”

“In 1898 the physical exams for military service were given at the schools. Those students who were profiecent in Ti had exemplary physiques, causing the military men and the school physician to be startled. The school inspector, Ogawa Ginjiro, reported this to the
Ministry of Education and in April 1901,Ti began to be taught at the Prefectural Dai-Ichi Middle School and the Prefectural Men’s Normal School. This was after the Sino-Japanese War and it was decided that the common term for martial arts in those days “Toudi” (Chinese Hand) was not appropriate, and in 1905, Hanshiro Chomo, the martial arts instructor at the Dai-Ichi Middle School became the first to write the term Karate with the Sino-Japanese ideograms (kanji) for “empty hand”. His brother disciple Yabu Kentsu, was the martial arts instructor for the Men’s Normal School. Both of them worked as teachers at their respective schools while also working to spread karate. They are to be considered to be major contributors to the new era of Karate for physical education….”

“ The teacher of both Yabu and Hanashiro, Itosu Anko, was contracted by the Prefectural Middle School to teach martial arts, was responsible for creating Pinan Shodan to Godan kata for use in the school system. In 1908, he drafted a letter containing ten important points, and presented it to the Prefectural Board of Education. Urging them to accept Karate as a course subject. Itosu is considered the head of a campaign to formulate a new physical education karate.

** Back to me **

After reading that and considering only several years before the entire Pechin had lost their government financial support I makes me think that it possible that letter to the School Committee may have had another purpose.

As a group on Okinawa, the Pechin had lost more that a bit of their purpose. It could have been a way to establish that the Pechin had prestige left, in that their art could have a higher purpose for the society.

And when you think about it many instructors did their bit sharing their art within the Okinawan youth.

Not to replace their own schools, but to follow the lead Itosu suggested, showing their groups worth to themselves, to Okinawa (which had been aware of who they were) and also to Japan proper, or more exactly the Japanese Martial Establishment.

Enough to make me consider how many are misreading those times, continually decrying school boy karate. Not realizing there were many more things going on.