Ryu Kyu Karate and Kobudo

The following article was written in Japanese by Katsumi Murakami. Murakami[1] is a Japanese martial arts scholar and historian of some repute. He holds the rank of Kyoshi 7-Dan in Chibana-style Shorin-ryu from Shugoro Nakazato, Hanshi 10-Dan. He also holds a Shihan (Master Instructor) certificate in Okinawa Toon-ryu Karatedo from the late Jyuhatsu Kyoda. This article was given to me by our mutual teacher, Shugoro Nakazato, Chibana-style Shorin-ryu Hanshi 10-Dan -- What we now call the art of karate originated on the island of Okinawa. The first fistic methods of fighting was introduced from China to Okinawa over 1400 years ago and was called Kenpo (the Law of the Fist). About 500 years ago the king of Okinawa was Sho Ishio. It was at this time that the Satsuma Clan of Kagoshima, Japan, invaded the Ryukyu chain and subjugated the Okinawan people with force of arms.

The Satsuma Samurai confiscated all weapons and metal objects that could be used as weapons so as to prevent the Okinawans from defending themselves or their property. It was during this period in time that the Okinawans turned to the fistic methods of Chinese Kenpo for their self-protection. As the years went by, the Chinese Kenpo methods merged with the native Okinawan methods and thus a unique form of fighting was devised - "te."

To better learn the Chinese martial arts, the Okinawan king sent, in secret, a man called Sakugawa of Shuri to Mainland China. Sakugawa studied diligently and learned the art of Chinese Kenpo plus the weapon arts of Bo, Sai, San-Setsu Kun, Tembei, Kama and Tuifa-jutsu.

After mastering these various art forms, he returned to Okinawa and began teaching the Okinawan Bushi (warriors). It should be noted that Sakugawa became so adept at the Chinese fistic and weapon techniques that he was called Tode Sakugawa (Sakugawa of the Chinese Hands). In order to build strength and power in their hand and weapon techniques, the Okinawans would train using the makiwara (striking post). The makiwara is now considered unique to Okinawan karate and it is still a very important training tool for all Okinawan styles. The striking post not only builds from the outside (hardening of the fist, knuckles and the wrist) but also builds from the inside (focus, confidence and tolerance of pain). The present day expert teachers like Chojun Miyagi, Choshin Chibana, Jyuhatsu Kyoda and Kenwa Mabuni all wrote of the benefits of makiwara training and all of them recommended its use as a training aide.

Taro Shimabukuro states that in learning to do self-protection techniques that the most important part of training is mastering the makiwara. Shimabukuro further stated that the arms (fist, wrist, elbows, etc.) and the feet (the toes, ball of the foot, heel, in-step and shin) must be hardened through continuous and daily training with the striking post. This constant effort helps develop awesome power and penetration. (Shimabukuro was known to have kicked a glass window with his toe-tipped kick and had left a small hole resembling that made by a pistol bullet!) Around l922, Gichin Funakoshi (also from Shuri, Okinawa) formally introduced karate-jutsu to mainland Japan. Shortly there after, Funakoshi recommended the change from writing karate-jutsu (the empty hand art) to Karatedo (the empty hand way). I now would like to introduce to the reader the Naha-te expert, Kanryo Higaonna. Higaonna was born in Naha City, Okinawa, in l845 and studied the Chinese fistic methods in Fukien province, Mainland China, for over l7 years. He came back to Okinawa a true expert in the art of self-protection. Higaonna stated that the fistic methods must only be used in self-protection situations and never as a method of aggression. He further stated that kata is of great importance in learning discipline of the mind and body and in self-protection but that the analysis (bunkai) of technique must also be stressed in order to understand kata.

It is known that Higaonna would not just take any new student. He would first investigate to see if they were of good character and if they were respected in their own communities. If after a thorough investigation the student appeared acceptable, he would then be accepted as a temporary apprentice and tested both physically and mentally to see if he showed any bad habits or manners. If the student passed this final test (lasting from one to three years), he would then be accepted as a formal student. Higaonna died in the year 1915 at the age of 70.

Higaonna often trained with his friend, Ankoh Itosu, of the Shuri-te style. Itosu (1830-1915) began his training, as did Higaonna, under the Bushi, Sokon Matsumura. Itosu is probably the most famous of the Okinawan experts because of his education and literary ability. Itosu stated that "the Okinawan fistic methods (written as karate but spoken as "tode") are difficult to learn because, as a martial art, it has great depth." He further stated that "physical techniques are very important but that correct mental attitude is just as, if not more, important."

Choshin Chibana went to Itosu in the year 1900 and asked to be taught te. Although only 15 years old at the time and a school dropout, Chibana had the correct mental attitude and was accepted as a formal student. Chibana trained under the guidance of Itosu for 15 years. In the year 1920, Chibana began to teach the art he called Shuri-te (the hand of Shuri). In 1929 Chibana began offering instruction at the Nakajin (People's) Castle. So as to introduce his art to the people, Chibana put up a sign that read Karate Kenkyujo (Karate Research Center). At the turn of the century the Okinawan fighting arts were called Shuri-te, Naha-te and Tomari-te (all the various "te's" were named after their city of origin). It was at this period of time that Itosu named his method Shorin-ryu and Higaonna named his method Shorei-ryu. The Tomari-te method, due to its proximity to the other "te" methods, saw no need to adopt another name and remained Tomari-te.

In 1933 Choshin Chibana and Chojun Miyagi wrote karate to mean empty hand as opposed to the other karate men of Okinawa who wrote karate to mean China Hand. That same year Chibana changed the characters of Shorin-ryu to mean the Small Forest Style and Miyagi changed from using the term Shorei-ryu[2] to Goju-ryu (meaning the Hard Soft Style).

By 1936 the style of Tomari-te (a mixture of Shuri-te and Naha-te) did not have a teacher who instructed publicly. Hence the style has almost been lost to the modern-day karate world. An interesting note is that at the turn of the century the Okinawan people would often say that "the Bushi of Tomari have only one leg" (this is to say that the style of Tomari-te existed but that it did not have a teacher who instructed the general public).

The old karate of yesterday was real Budo but today there is too much emphasis on sport. So, with this new sport karate (Choshin Chibana looked at sport karate as a necessary evil because it was meant to be used as a vehicle to spread karate throughout the world), it is recommended that the student does not overdo it - it is just like exercising - too much is bad for you. [1] Katsumi Murakami is a student of Shugoro Nakazato and the late Jyuhatsu Kyoda. He has received the Shihan ranking (Master Instructor) from Choshin Chibana, Jyuhatsu Kyoda, Shugoro Nakazato and Motokatsu Inoue! [2] Kanryo Higaonna often referred to his method of Chinese boxing by the Okinawan term of Shorei-ryu meaning "Enlightened Spirit Style." The Okinawan people, on the other hand, simply referred to the Higaonna style as Naha-te.

RyuKyu Kenpo Karatedo Enkaku Gaiyo

By Chojun Miyagi

Remarks: The title in Japanese is "Ryukyu Kenpo Karatedo Enkaku Gaiyo". This essay appeared as a supplementary article in two books, "Okinawa no Karatedo " by Shoshin Nagamine (1975, Shinjinbutsu Oraisha) and "Okinawaden Gojuryu Karatedo " by Eiichi Miyazato (1979, Jitsugyono Sekaisha). Some parts are omitted in this translation.

Original Remarks: This essay was written and prepared by Master Chojun Miyagi especially for the club members when he gave us the lecture "About Karatedo " and its demonstration at the lecture hall on the 4th floor of Meiji Shoten at Sakaisuji, Osaka on 28th January 1936.

1. Preface
What is karate? It is the art we exercise mind and body for health promotion in daily life, but in case of emergency it is the art of self-defense without any weapon. In most cases we fight with our bodies - hands, feet, elbows etc - to defeat opponents. However, in some cases, in accordance with circumstances, we may also use weapons (such as Bo, Sai, Nunchaku, Tonfa, Weeku, Kama etc).

People often misunderstand karate. When they see someone breaking five wooden board or a few pieces of roof tile by his or her fist, they think it is a main part of karate. Of course, it is not a main part of Karatedo but a trivial part of karate. Like other fighting arts, the truth of Karatedo or Tao of Karatedo can be understood and mastered at the ultimate goal which is beyond teachings and impossible to describe by words.

2. How the martial arts was introduced to Ryukyu (Okinawa)?
The name "karate" is a special term in Ryukyu. Karatedo originated from Chinese Gung-fu. We have few books on origin of Chinese Gung-fu, so we cannot conclude immediately, but according to a theory, the martial arts originated in central Asia and the area around Turkey when the ancient civilization was developed. And then it was introduced to China gradually. However, we still another theory. It says that about 5,000 years ago Chinese Gung-fu originated at the age of Yellow Emperor (Emperor Huang)
who built the brilliant culture at the Yellow River basin. Anyway, it is not difficult to imagine that the prototype of martial arts was born by fighting spirit for struggle which human being possess by nature. For example, most styles of Chinese Gung-fu were created by mimicking fights of animals or birds. You can see it from the styles' names such as Tiger Style, Lion Style, Monkey Style, Dog Style, Crane Style and so on. In the age a little later, Chinese Gung-fu split into Southern school and Northern school. Moreover, each school split into Neijia and Waijia. The characteristic of Neijia is mainly softness, and it is a defensive fighting arts. Wudang Gung-fu (Taichi for example) is typical of Neijia. The characteristic of Waijia is mainly hardness, and it is an aggressive fighting arts. Shaolin Gung-fu is typical of Waijia, which was created at Shaolin Temple in Songshang Mountaion, Henan province. And later, in the ages of Tang dynasty and Song dynasty, we can find many Gung-fu warriors at the height of their success.

When we consider how Karatedo was introduced to Ryukyu (Okinawa), we have various opinions without any historical evidence. We have not yet come to a correct conclusion on this matter. There are three main opinions, namely "Thirty-six Chinese Immigrants", "Oshima Notes" and "Importation in Keicho Period". Simple explanation of each opinion are as follows.

Thirty-six Chinese Immigrants

In 1392 (Ming dynasty in China), thirty-six Chinese immigrants came to Ryukyu from Fujian province. At that time Karatedo was introduced to Ryukyu by Chinese immigrants from Fujian province. Oshima Notes In 1762, the merchant ship of the Ryukyu Kingdom was caught in a heavy storm on the way to Satsuma (Kagoshima prefecture now), and cast ashore on the coast of Oshima, Tosa (Kochi prefecture now). Shiohira Pechin, a high rank official of the ship, was an intelligent person. He was helped by Choki Tobe, an intellectual who lived in Oshima. Tobe wrote down Shiohira's interesting stories about the Ryukyu Kingdom. His notes was called "Oshima Notes". The 3rd volume of "Oshima Notes" says "Koshankun, a Gung-fu warrior, came from China to Ryukyu (Okinawa) bringing his disciples with him." According to the Notes, at that time people called the martial arts "Kumiaijutsu" instead of karate. This notes is the most reliable literature on karate.

Importation in Keicho Period
In 1609 (14th year of Keicho period), the Shimazu clan of Satsuma (Kagoshima prefecture now) invaded the Ryukyu Kingdom, and they prohibited possessing weapons by people of Ryukyu. Some believe that Karatedo was created spontaneously due to the cruel oppression by Satsuma. The others insist that Karatedo was not a domestic creation but what was imported from China. I think it is reasonable to consider that Karatedo was a fusion of martial arts from China and "Te" a native martial art that had already existed, so Karatedo was developed remarkably and even today it is still improved rationally and developed. We have a few different opinions on origin of karate, but they are popular misconceptions and not worth listening.

As mentioned above, so far we do not have any definite and convincing opinion yet. Anyway, Karatedo has been developed, modified and improved for so many years.

Karate circles in the past

We also do not know origin of the name "karate", but it is true that the name "karate" was made recently. In the old days it was called "Te". At that time people used to practice Karatedo secretly, and a masters taught a
few advanced Kata out of all the Kata only to his best disciple. If he had no suitable disciple, he never taught them to anyone, and eventually such Kata have completely died out. As a result, there are many Kata which were not handed down. In about middle of Meiji period (1868-1912), prominent Karatedo masters abolished the old way of secrecy. Karatedo was opened to the public, so it was soon recognized by society. It was dawn in the development of karate. In accordance with the rapidly progressing culture, Karatedo was also
recognized as physical education, and it was adopted as one of the teaching subjects at school. Therefore, at last Karatedo has won the social approval.

4. How we teach Karatedo at present.
According to oral history, in the old days, the teaching policy of Karatedo put emphasis on self-defense techniques. With just a motto of "no first attack in karate", teachers showed their students the moral aspects. However, I heard that in reality they tended to neglect such moral principles. So gradually the teaching policy was improved with the change of the times. Now we discontinued and abolished the wrong tradition of so-called "body first, and mind second", and we made our way toward Tao of fighting arts or the truth of karate. Eventually we have obtained the correct motto "mind first, and body second" which means Karatedo and Zen are the same. Those who are engaged in teaching Karatedo in Okinawa prefecture and
outside Okinawa prefecture at present are as follows. (in random order)

In Okinawa prefecture:
Kentsu Yabu, Chomo Hanashiro, Chotoku Kyan, Anbun Tokuda, Kyoda Juhatsu, Choshin Chibana, Jinsei Kamiya, Shinpan Shiroma, Seiko Higa, Kamado Nakasone, Jin-an Shinzato, Chojun Miyagi.

Outside Okinawa prefecture:
Gichin Funakoshi, Choki Motobu, Kenwa Mabuni, Masaru Sawayama, Sanyu Sakai, Moden Yabiku, Jizaburo Miki, Yasuhiro Konishi, Shinji Sato, Mizuine Mutsu, Kamesuke Higaonna, Shinjun Otsuka, Shin Taira, Koki Shiroma, Kanbun Uechi.

5. About Karatedo styles or Ryu
There are various opinions about Ryu or styles of Karatedo in Ryukyu (Okinawa), but they are just guessing without any definite research or evidence. With regard to this matter, we feel as if we are groping in the dark.

According to a popular opinion out of them, we can categorize Karatedo into two styles; Shorin-Ryu and Shorei-Ryu. They insist that the former is fit for a stout person, while the latter for a slim person. However, such an opinion proved to be false by many studies. In the mean time, there is the only opinion we can trust. It is as follows: In 1828 (Qing or Ching dynasty in China), our ancestors inherited a Gung-fu style of Fujian province in China. They continued their studies and formed Gojuryu karate. Even today, there still exists an orthodox group which inherited genuine and authentic Gojuryu karate.

6. The feature of karate
Some good points of Karatedo are as follows.

1. A large place or a spacious area is not required for practicing karate.

2. You can practice Karatedo by yourself. You can also do it together with
other Karatedo members by forming a group.

3. You don't have to spend many hours in practicing karate.

4. You can choose Kata suitable for your physical strength and practice it regardless of age and gender.

5. Without spending much money, you can practice Karatedo with simple equipment (such as Makiwara) or without it.

6. Karatedo is very effective as a means of health promotion. There are many Karatedo practitioner who are healthy and livelong.

7. As a result of training in mind and body, you can cultivate your character and acquire indomitable spirit.

8. The future of Karatedo
The days when karate was taught secretly was over, and has come the new age in which we practice and study Karatedo publicly and officially. Therefore, the future of Karatedo is bright. Taking this opportunity, we
should stop advertising Karatedo as if it was a mysterious and magical fighting arts in a small island called Ryukyu. We should open Karatedo to the public and receive criticism, opinions and studies from the other prominent fighting artists. In the future, we should invent complete protectors for a safety Karatedo tournament [Shiai] like other fighting arts, so that Karatedo become one of Japanese fighting arts. Nowadays Karatedo has become popular all over Japan, where many people study Karatedo very hard. Even outside Japan, Karatedo is popular. There is a man who graduated from university in Tokyo. He is now propagating and
studying Karatedo in Europe. In May 1934, I was invited to propagate and teach Karatedo in Hawaii, U.S.A. by Okinawans there and a newspaper company. Karatedo clubs have been established in Hawaii since then. As mentioned above, now Karatedo has become not only a Japanese martial arts but also an international martial arts.

9. The teaching method of karate
As each person has his or her distinctive character, the muscle development is different depending on his or her muscle use. Therefore, at first, we do Jumbi Undo (Preparatory Exercise) to develop our muscles so that we can practice Karatedo exercises easier, and then Kihon (Fundamental Kata), Hojo Undo (Supplementary Exercise) and Kaishu Kata and Kumite Training. We teach Karatedo in this way. Each outline is as follows.

1. Preparatory Exercise
We exercise each muscle of our body in order to enhance its flexibility, strength and endurance, and then we practice the fundamental Kata, namely Sanchin, Tensho and Naifanchi. We do again this preparatory exercise after practice of Kata to relax our muscles. And we take a breathing exercise and take a rest quietly.

2. Fundamental Kata
Sanchin, Tensho and Naifanchi are the fundamental Kata. Through practicing them, we can take a correct posture. We can inhale and exhale correctly. We can adjust increasing or decreasing our power harmoniously. We can develop a powerful physique and a strong will of warrior.

3. Supplementary Exercise
This exercise enable us to learn and perform Kaishu Kata well. We exercise each part of our body with a particular movement. We also practice with various equipments to enhance our outer whole strength and particular part strength.
4. Kaishu Kata (Kata except Fundamental Kata)
Nowadays we have about twenty or thirty kinds of Kata, and their names are various depending on their creators. Kata has techniques of defense and offense which are connected appropriately. It has various directions of the movements and it is something like gymnastics. We should perform Kata by using power of mind and body in accordance with its technical purpose so that we can learn the principle of untying and tying. Kumite Training We untie Kaishu Kata which we already learned, and we study techniques of defense and offense in Kaishu Kata. Understanding its technical purpose, we practice the techniques of attack and defense with fighting spirit like a real situation.

I summarize as follows. We induce the interaction of mind and body from the fundamental Kata, Sanchin, Tensho and Naifanchi. We develop the spirit of martial arts by acquiring fighting techniques through practicing Kaishu Kata and Kumite training correctly.


The Nagamine-sensei, Hanshi 9-Dan, and a senior student of Yuchoku Higa, Kyudokan Shorin-ryu Hanshi 10-Dan, gave the following information to me. It was written by Yuchoku Higa and is considered the ten basic philosophies of the Shorin-ryu Kyudokan School. It should be noted that Yuchoku Higa was the first person to be promoted to Hanshi 9-Dan (in 1965) by Choshin Chibana. Higa was initially a goju-ryu student under Jinan Shinzato and then Chojun Miyagi. When Miyagi-sensei died in 1953 Higa then became a formal student of his neighbor, Choshin Chibana.

Presently, Higa is Chairman of the Promotional Board for the All Okinawa Karatedo Association, President of the new All Okinawa Karate-Kobudo Association and Chief Instructor for the Kyudokan School of Okinawa Shorin-ryu. He is still an active karate and kobudo instructor and, at over 80 years of age (born in 1910), continues to teach on a regular basis. It should also be mentioned that he does not teach Americans!


Discipline yourself before you discipline others.
Being courteous costs you nothing.
Persevere in all that you do.
Do not contend with anyone in either word or body.
Be respectful not only to your seniors but also to your juniors.
If you criticize others, expect to be criticized yourself.
Humility, like courtesy, costs you nothing and shows true character.
In choosing a "WAY" look towards the middle road and avoid extremes.
Be true to yourself and others.
The "WAY" is difficult. But those that follow the above are on the right path.