Monday, June 09, 2008


The other day Dave Chesser wrote a couple of good articles on training with the best local instructor you can find regardless of the artform. Good advice. It reminded me of how the Okinawan martial arts developed and evolved. I bet Dan Paden could verify or clarify my history, but basically, on Okinawa folks trained with whatever experts they could get their hands on. According to Funakoshi's autobiography, folks would work out with whatever local bigshot they could get to within a few miles hike. As a result you had a proliferation of local styles all simply named after the place they sprung up, like naha-te, tomari-te, shuri-te, shorin-ryu, etc...
That would be like having a Tulsa-ryu and a Magnolia-ryu and a Houston-ryu,


  1. I'm flattered to be mentioned. Personally, I have heard so many stories and found so many loose ends in my historical reading that I would probably be prepared to listen to almost any ideas concerning the history of Okinawan karate. For instance, everyone knows Sakugawa taught Sokon Matsumura and at least a few others--probably more than a few others. But most of their names seem to have vanished into history. Yet they taught someone...

    For what it's worth, this is an interesting section from Seiyu Oyata's Ryu-Te no Michi:

    To understand how Shuri Te, Naha Te, and Tomari Te came about, I have to explain further. Among the warrior class, the eldest son inherited his father's position in the Ryukyu Kingdom, as well as his property. These first sons remained in the major city of Shuri where the King resided. All of the sons of a warrior class family studied the Martial Arts of Shuri Te, but the second, third or fourth sons were not obligated to serve the Ryukyu King, because of their positions in their family. These sons moved from Shuri and went to Naha or Tomari to start a business or find work to survive. This is how Shuri Te, Naha Te, and Tomari Te came about, but these are not separate styles, they call came from one original art of Shuri Te. The only difference is the name of the town used where a particular son moved to live. Also remember, at this time in history the farmer class was not allowed to study Martial Arts.

    Now times are changing and the Meiji period begins. Because Ryukyu Martial Arts was so powerful, a law was passed, so that if any practitioner in the art of Te, who made a fist, as a threatening motion during a disagreement, was breaking the law. They Ryukyu people didn't agree with this law, but they didn't have a choice. This is when the art of Te started to lose its original purity as a life protection art. At the same time the original ways were being put aside, the warrior class and farmer class were combined due to the unification of all of Japan. Since the warrior class understood this situation, the only choice to make, was to leave Shuri and go find somewhere else to settle down and live out the rest of their lives. There was a large village where the farmer class lived. The Okinawan Warriors started to migrate toward this large village, but, due to their previous service to the Okinawan Kingdom, and their pride, they didn't want to live with the farmer class. So they decided to make their own town close to this larger farming class village. These smaller villages made up of Bushi class only were called Ya Dui Gua, which means, to make a new smaller village. One of these new small villages was called Teruma.

    All of the above information about the Ryukyu Kingdom was told to me by my instructor's, Mr. Uhugushuku and Mr. Wakinaguri. They reconfirmed all of the information about the Zana family, that was told to me as a child growing up. My instructors also explained that during the Meiji Period some of the art of Te was lost. Then during the Taisho Period more information faded away. And finally during the Showa Period, when I met my instructors, even more of the art of Te disappeared. Also during the Meiji and Taisho Periods, the warrior class were still proud people and wouldn't teach the farmer class. When the Showa Period came along, respect for the warrior class diminished. This is when anyone wanting to study Martial Arts could do so.

  2. Pat,
    Thanks for the hat tip. in the arts I practice, far too many people go for the exotic rather than the practical. It's often an effort to avoid working hard. It also cuts you off from getting the best info possible.

  3. Houston-Ryu! I love it! I would be the grandmaster of In-My-Living-Room-Ryu!

    But in all seriousness, truer words were never spoken, my friend. I've been wondering if we're not seeing the greatest expansion of the martial arts right now, what with every American neighborhood so full of little kickers running around. Almost like a neighborhood ryu.

    As for me, the jury's still out on whether all this is a good thing or not. But it is certainly fun to watch.

  4. Ha. A buddy of mine used to refer to what he does as "Watashi-do," sometimes spelled in Japanese as "watakushi-do" the translation of which is basically "my way." so watakushido became an inside joke with us.


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