Friday, August 10, 2018

Some speculation on martial training on Okinawa in the past

When we look backwards before what we know of as karate, things get very murky. There is just not a lot of documentation around.


You can find the names of several kata.

You can find the names of instructors.

There are a few examples of individuals describing training from that earlier time.


Which does not amount to a great deal.


Then I remember reading Joe Swift translation.

And  that work makes claims about those days. Within the book further details are revealed.
“For example, the Shuri bushi, who worked under the scribes, and treasurers, and justice officers, also worked as castle guards, tax collectors, finance officers, or agricultural and forestry officers and studied a martial art which was characterized by the horse riding stance, and light, fast techniques. This area was called Shuri-di.

The Tomari bushi, who worked in domestic law enforcement. Public welfare, construction as well as guarding the Chinese Sappushi, Satusuma envoys and Satusuma Admistrative office in Ryukyu, studied an art that stressed the ability to stand on the boats that traveled the two rivers (Asato River and Kumochi River) that spanned between Shuri Castle, Naha Port and Tomari Port. This art was called Tomari-di.”

… The guards on the ships traveling to China….”These guards were the Naha bushi and in order to deliver an effective technique on a rocking boat, their training stressed such methods as Sanchin stance and heavy movements. Their art was known as Naha-di.”
…….“Expecially Naha-di was influenced by the Chinese Arts, and more specifically
Fuijan boxing styles, and was just called Toudi (Chinese Hand).”

At another point in the book it defined these martial arts groups thus:

“ The martial artists (bushi) of the Ryukyu can be divided into five distinct groups.

First of all, the Shuri bushi, who were in charge of protecting Shuri Castle.
Next, the Tomari bushi, who were in charge of domestic law enforcement.
Third ,the Naha bushi, who were in chages of protecting the Chineese envoys (Suppushi) as well as the tribute ships sent from Ryukyu to China.
Next were the Udun bushi, who were involved in the politics of the Ryukyu Kingdom.
Finally, the bushi of Naha’s Kume Village, who were in the service of Chinese imibrants.”
Of course the art(s) they practiced were different from what became karate.
One minor example there were no pynan kata as they had not yet been invented.
To make things clear none of us would have been allowed to receive that training.
They were members (bushi) whose place in Okinawan society was pre-defined in any case.
And having some small understanding of Okinawan society, I bet that responsibility fell on the first son to grow into the family bushi role and in time become the family head too.
So designated to receive the training and that would only be one aspect of how he would be trained. For he was being prepared for a role he would live. Duties to be trained, and martial training would just be one of those roles. In all likelihood not the most important function.
The instructor being one of the bushi himself  would recognize that and most likely reinforce that martial training was just part of the bushi’s responsibility, and he had to live up to all those rolls.
I would surmise the martial training, had a definite goal, one so the one being trained could fulfill his assigned duties. And when the individual was trained he would be prepared to perform the martial aspects of his duties.
Then there may have been a martial continual training program, to allow the bushi adept to retain the abilities they would use. I can also imagine fathers working out with sons for that very reason.
If the individual survived and family duties would permit, perhaps they would one day become an instructor.
Having such a defined societal role as those bushi is not one easily imagined these days. That was a very different world.
And exactly what those traditions were in actuality and how much or little they resembled what karate would become, is open for speculation.

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