The Martial Art of Okinawa

The following speech was written in Japanese by a student of Akamine Eisuke and presented to the Zen Okinawa Karatedo Renmei in 1982. Akamine is a Ryukyu Kobudo Hanshi and a senior practitioner under Shinken Taira. Although the author is not identified, a copy was given to me in 1985.

What is martial art kata? I would like to pass on my understanding of this subject which is based on my own experience and that which was passed on to me by my great teacher.

I teach Ryukyu kobudo and instruct students in Funakoshi-style shorin ryu Karatedo. Because these are old (ancient) styles, I teach only the orthodox kata of these systems. Kata is then a series of self-defense techniques that can be both defensive or offensive. It is patterned in a logical order and it begins and ends with courtesy.

Kata is then a vehicle which the ancient masters used in order to pass on their knowledge through the centuries. The Chinese influence can still be seen in these ancient forms and the patterns themselves have remained unaltered and unchanged since their creation. The cause for difference in kata is only due to the masters' emphasis.

Within these orthodox kata are techniques called " hiden " or secret ideas/methods. These secret techniques are not really secret because they are evident if one has received the right kind of training and knows the "keys" of their system. These techniques are practiced and taught in the bunkai (application) and in the oyo bunkai (practical application). With a good teacher a student will see the logic to the patterns and learn to appreciate the thought that went into developing the orthodox forms.

In Western ideas, orthodox kata is the "bible" and are devised by gifted martial artists to serve not only as a history of technique but as a guide to fighting ideas and theories. Once again, I would like to emphasize that these guides were to be used in self-defense training and not in aggressive actions against the weak or poor individuals. It should also be said that the techniques taught are still very workable today but not in the sense that they are done in the set pattern that it is taught in!

There are those that say that kata tells you exactly what to do in every situation. That is partially correct. However, there is no average fighting situation and attacks can change in an instant! Knowing how to react from various kata enables one to defend himself. This is why the student must learn only the orthodox kata and must train continuously under the guidance of a Shihan in order to insure a complete understanding.

Keep in mind that there are over 50 kata in Okinawan Karatedo. Each kata begins and ends with a defensive technique, indicating that karate is a defensive martial art and not offensive in nature. In the confines of orthodox kata, ancient masters spent decades of their lives analyzing and researching the eight possible ways of attack, along with the appropriate defensive techniques and methods of counter-attacks. With this dedication they eventually developed the orthodox forms that are presently taught today.

Nowadays some students and teachers say that kata techniques do not work. These individuals do not really understand kata and are not very good at it themselves. They have a surface knowledge and have never matured in their martial arts training. Kata has depth and must be examined not only from the surface but also from within. Here, once again, you need the guidance of a Shihan who has this in-depth knowledge that is so vital to the real martial arts.

One then asks, "How can this surface knowledge be passed on in Okinawa?" This way of thought (that is, passing on surface knowledge) is taught by an individual who has learned a little about this and that and has then felt that they know the essence of everything.

This is a person who is vain and does not respect his seniors! This is a person who then claims that all knowledge has been passed on to him and now he is the fountainhead of that knowledge. He then takes credit for the methods and bases it on his own, personal, so-called "enlightenment." This individual is alive and well in Okinawa and in all places that the martial arts are taught!

Good karate and kobudo is still evident today. A good block or thrust is effective just as a poor one is not. Today there is a tendency to mix sport and budo or to try to turn budo into sport. This cannot be! Sport karate must be taught as sport and budo karate can only be budo karate. One can teach sport and then budo but the student must understand that budo cannot be mixed with sport. Sport and budo are different not only in goals but also in theory.

To summarize this article I will once again state that kata is the foundation of Ryukyu Karatedo and kobudo. One must have a Shihan to guide the student through the maze that is good kata. The knowledge must have depth and the Shihan must be willing to share this knowledge.

As one grows old it is easy to distinguish the different value of sport and budo. I believe that there is a limit on how one can grow through sport but there is no limit on how one grows through budo. Ryukyu kata is the tool for that growth.

As one grows old in age while still studying Ryukyu budo this individual can still use kata for self training and in seeking self perfection. One's methods changes due to age but kata provides the link to future and further growth and to a mutually shared ancient past.