On Ko Chi Shin
Studying the Old to Better Understand the New
by Patrick McCarthy
More than twenty years ago I traveled to Okinawa with two colleagues of mine where we spent the entire summer. Armed with an insatiable desire to establish formal relations at the source of origin, learn the deeper teachings of karate, and discover lost knowledge, we were determined and excited if not also a little naïve. Seemingly the correct mindset as a combination of opportunity, good fortune and persistence opened many doors to the island’s most senior karate masters of that generation. We enjoyed many memorable training opportunities and shared unforgettable experiences. The trip had such an impact on me and challenged so many of my existing beliefs that I went on to migrate to Japan, marry, have a family and spend nearly a decade of my life there.
During the many years I resided in Japan I continued on studying the history of karate in an effort to better understand its historical and technical ambiguities. Conscientiously seeking out lost knowledge my effort resulted in the publication of several modest works, including Matsumura’s 1882 "Seven Precepts of Bu,” and his 1885 “Zaiyunomei;" Itosu Ankoh’s 1908 "Ten Lessons;" Miyagi Chojun’s 1934 "Outline of Karatedo;" the minutes of the famous 1936 "Meeting of the Okinawan Masters;" Motobu Choki's "Watashi no Karate-jutsu;" Taira Shinken’s 1964 "Encyclopedia of Kobudo;" Nagamine Shoshin’s "Biographies of Karate & Tegumi Masters;" “Tanpenshu,” and “The Bubishi," the best known of these publications.
As a young competitive athlete I clearly remember being heckled by other competitors about my preoccupation with studying the history of our tradition. Typically interested only in the sporting aspect of karate it became obvious that few athletes saw much practical value in embracing such pursuits. Furthermore, getting someone from one style to study or appreciate something from another style proved time and time again to be a fool's errand. Yet, in order to make any sense of this wonderfully diverse tradition I found it virtually impossible without cross training and closely examining its historical evolution. By the time I learned about the eclectic origins of this tradition and the great emphasis its founding pioneers placed upon the value of Bun Bu Ryo Do [the twin paths of the sword and the pen] I finally understood how profoundly individual this pursuit is and was no longer provoked by uninformed opinion. The importance of studying the old in order to better understand the new is summed up in an old Japanese saying goes, “On Ko Chi Shin.”
By studying the history of this great tradition it not only resolves many of the historical and technical ambiguities that shroud its depth and breadth, it also reveals a symbiosis we establish with the art indicating that our lives become as much a product of the art as the art becomes a product of our lives. Beyond its obvious defensive application, karate is meant to condition the body, cultivate the mind and nurture the spirit, which, in turn, forges a healthy body, focused mind and enlightened spirit. By embracing its important rituals we not only honor the heritage passed down by founding pioneers, we also forge a link with the past which helps keep alive its culture and spirit. What could possibly improve a learner’s overall understanding of this tradition more than walking in the footsteps of those most responsible for pioneering it? History should never be forgotten, if only to remind us of the potential latent in ourselves. Doesn’t the fact that there is no definitive source explaining all that which there is to know about this art invite us all to look into such wonderful pursuits if only to balance mere physical training? I guarantee the rewards are sure to outweigh the effort.
The following article is one of several pieces that appear in a modest anthology of Funakoshi Gichin’s early writings [1914 thru 1935], entitled, “Tanpenshu.” It originally appeared in the July 1935 Japanese magazine called Kaizo, Vol #17 pp56-72. Kaizo was a typical magazine, which featured everyday articles during the Taisho and early Showa periods up to post war Japan. Kaizo was first published in 1919 and by the end of WW1 found remarkable popularity in Japan’s reformist atmosphere. However, because of the 1942 controls on freedom of the press following the Yokohama incident, the magazine was ordered to cease publication. After WW2 it surfaced again but was discontinued in 1955. I hope you enjoy
Speaking about Karate
by Funakoshi Gichin
English translation by Patrick & Yuriko McCarthy
It is said that karate began with the Indian Buddhist monk, Bodhidarma, who traversed huge mountains, deep valleys and great rivers en route to Liang. Following his lecture at the court of Emperor Wu, Bodhidarma withdrew to the Shaolin monastery at Henan Province where he spent the next nine years facing a wall on Mt. Songshan in meditative seclusion. That was more than 1400 years ago, during the Zheng Guang era in Xiao, during the Ming Emperor of Northern Wei. It is believed that after his passing Bodhidarma was buried at the foot of the Mt. Xiong Er. Many years later, as monks were erecting a wall around his burial place, an iron box was found in which two scrolls were discovered, the Senzuikyo and Ekkinkyo. Senzui means to wash away one’s inner baggage and let the true spiritual light cleanse the soul. Comprise of two separate ideograms, meaning change and cultivate strength, the term Ekkin refers to the transformation of one’s muscular strength through physical training.
There are two main streams of karate, Shorin-ryu and Shorei-ryu. Shorin-ryu is an abbreviation of Shorinji-ryu1, and, I believe that Shorei-ryu has something to do with the harmony between the body and mind. Both of these have unique features; i.e. Shorei-ryu, emphasizes physical training in conjunction with the Ekkinkyo, which means developing outer-hardness balanced by inner-softness. In contrast to this, Shorin-ryu lays special emphasis on spiritual development and focuses on developing outward pliability balanced with a powerful inner strength.
Bodhidharma was disappointed lecturing to the Shaolin Arhats because their physical conditioning was poor, and inner spirit weak. In order to help resolve this issue he designed a program using the Senzui and Ekkin to train them physically, mentally and spiritually. However, it is believed that one of Bodhidharma’s senior disciples, placing more value on Shorei Kenpo, returned to India with one of the ancient scrolls leaving the Shaolin monks to focus on Senzui.
Asato Sensei recounted this story many times so I believe that Bodhidarma was, in deed, the founder of karate2 and the corresponding philosophy, “Zen Ken Ichi” (trans. note; “Zen and one’s fists are one”) as well. The artist, Kosugi Hoan, told me that when he visited China, the Shaolin temple monks discussed “Nei Gong3 and Wai Gong4. This corresponded to the same principles that Asato sensei described, “outward pliability balanced with a powerful inner strength.” This principle also coincides with what Dr. Koda Rohan5 wrote, that Shaolin was the origin source of kenpo/quanfa. Chan (Zen) was also cradled at the Shaolin temple, before the development of and dissemination of kenpo. After Ming Period (1166-1644) there were many novelists who put pen to paper describing the remarkable quanfa of the illustrious Shaolin. Such things as how even a single touch of the finger could kill a person instantly, or the omnipotence of quanfa punching power, were commonly written about. Author, She Zai Hang, even went on to say that Shaolin quanfa was unrivalled anywhere and an accomplished monk could easily defeat twenty opponents by himself.
It is said that Karate was unavoidably introduced to Ryukyu Kingdom sometime after the 1609 Satsuma subjugation and edict prohibiting local inhabitants from owning weapons. Some records also disclose that a Chinese named Kusanku6 came to the Ryukyu Kingdom with many of his students encouraging the practice of quanfa. Other evidence shows that some went to China during Okinawa’s old Ryukyu Kingdom Period to master it. At any rate, according to these accounts, about 200 years have passed since karate7 [quanfa] found its way to Okinawa. In spite of these accounts, I’m of the opinion that the presence of quanfa must predate this as, according to Chinese records, the Kingdom enjoyed a long history of commerce with China that extends back 1100 years. Therefore, I cannot see why karate8 [quanfa] wouldn’t have been known in the old Ryukyu Kingdom, as it was so popular in Chinese culture. Be that as it may, it’s just been these last 200 years or so that such practices have become more popular and produced many great masters. When I was a child in Okinawa there were local martial artists here and there who’d studied quanfa in China. Even though most of them trained hard physically, they were inferior when compared to local trained martial artists.
Let’s shift our attention now and contrast the features between Shorei and Shorin ryu, from a functional point of view. Placing great value on Seishin9, Shorei-ryu is also a very rational method with graceful technique, and emphasizes rapid movement and closing the distance, which makes overcoming any opponent possible, even if they are powerful. Based on power, Shorin-ryu makes it easy to gain control of an opponent by seizing him. It is especially useful against a very powerful person who knows nothing about martial arts. Knowing this, it makes some sense then to study the principles of both these styles. If one maintains their practice, without ever giving up, it is possible to develop an almost supernatural-like power, which could one-day serve well during a crisis.
I will forgo discussing historical details at this point and simply say that during modern times Okinawa cradled two elaborate styles, which exist in complete harmony with each other. Historically, the tribes10 of the Ryukyu’s were brave people with a fighting spirit. After the local carrying of weapons was prohibited, physical games and combative-like activities, such as tsunahiki11 and sumo12 became popular pastimes, as they continued to nurture this innate fighting spirit. In both Shuri and Naha karate ultimately became the object of the boys’ adoration. Following the Sengoku Period13 a more peaceful Tokugawa epoch brought popularity to the art of swordsmanship on the mainland in the same way Ryukyu Kingdom cultivated its interest in karate. That was a time when many great masters were born.
Karate training develops many skills including techniques similar to acrobatics. The awesome skills of some experts forged unique reputations that remain even to this day. One such expert was Makabe Choken, a master of “Tobigeri”14. One day he brushed black Chinese ink on the tips of both toes before jumping up to kick the ceiling from his seated position. Before a crowd of people he leaped 8-shaku15 and left an imprint of his foot on the ceiling, which, to this day, remains. This type of skill would certainly make someone like Makabe a force to be reckoned with under any circumstances.
In Shuri, there was a Bushi named Tada who, at only seventeen, could carry 4 bales of 4-to of rice16 in his geta17. By the time he was 20 he was so skilful he could virtually jump the equivalent of his own height and skirt along a stone wall as if he was riding a motorbike.
Another expert was Hokama, a master of horsemanship who could hold open a door against even the fiercest windstorm because of his remarkable centre of gravity. He’d actually trained with a door on his rooftop amidst typhoons blowing at more than 50km.
Renown for his grip strength, my own teacher, Itosu Okina18, once broke a 15cm length of bamboo into 3 or 4 pieces as requested.
A master of nukite [spear-hand]Asato Sensei was well known for his strength and powerful fingers. Once, as an adolescent, he went to the local slaughterhouse and drove his fingers into the lifeless body of a pig using this technique.
In my childhood I read a heroic war tale recounting the contest between Miyamoto Musashi and Sekiguchi Yataro, on Hakone Mountain. Musashi swept Sekiguchi’s feet out from under him with a force that should have sent him tumbling to the ground but instead he vanished into thin air! Dumbfounded, Musashi looked up to hear Sekiguchi’s voice from atop of the Torii gate19. Surely this story has to be an exaggeration but then again there are illusionists who are capable of making it seem as someone has disappeared right in front of one’s eyes.
There are those who can break teacups or Togetppo20 with little more than their own grip strength. Some people can even walk 15 paces back and forth carrying 30-Kin [18kg] kame [ceramic jars] in their grip under certain conditions. Even though, however, a bujin is capable of performing many kinds of special techniques, such feats are not required as we each have our own special talents and skills. This, of course, also includes the breaking of roof tiles and boards. Entertaining as they are, such techniques are not so different from tameshigiri21 used in swordsmanship. However, these kinds of performances must not be considered martial arts. Let me provide a good example below.
One of the most noted masters of modern karate was Matsumura-Okina, who trained many students from Shuri and Naha in the art at the King’s villa. One day a few skilful students asked the master if they could perform a demonstration for him at the villa. Curious to see what they could do, sensei agreed. The first student started to run, and the next student jumped up on the first runner’s shoulders as he passed him. The third student joined in and ran up and jumped up and climbed up on the second one’s shoulders. By the time it was finished, five students were running as a single unit. Expecting the master to be impressed, Matsumura sensei was not, nor did he bother to praise them either. Taking nothing away from how skilful they were, acrobatics is not the principal essence of the martial arts, it’s for entertainment and nothing one should be afraid of. The master’s wife, Tsuru, was also present on that occasion and witnessed the performance. A well-noted martial artist in her own right, she wasted little time cautioning one of the students after observing his ill mannered behaviour. Wedded through Karate their remarkable feats are still talked about to this day. Let me take this opportunity to describe one.
Tsuru’s maiden surname name was Yonemine, and, from about the age of 16 or 17, her reputation as a beautiful young woman became known throughout the Kingdom and as far away as Naha. One evening as Tsuru was walking near the edge of town she encountered a thug who tried to attack her. Fortunately she managed to escape without being harmed but decided, after that near mishap, to ask her parents if she could learn the martial arts. Accepted as an understudy to a famous teacher, Tsuru trained diligently and ultimately progressed to a level superior to almost any man. In fact, her teacher maintained that the only boy in the Kingdom that she could not defeat was the son of Matsumura. In those days, Dokyo-dameshi/ Ude-dameshi22 was a popular trend amongst young martial artists wanting to test themselves, and Tsuru had no reason to believe that she couldn’t partake in such challenges. The best location, however, for no holds barred-style shiai23 was the red-light district of Naha. Young men from Shuri used to commute there every night just for the purpose of having fun and testing themselves. With few houses between the two towns young men from Shuri easily made the journey downhill to Naha. Laying in wait, between Shuri and Naha, Yonamine Tsuru often challenged any responsive young martial artist who would accept the invitation and never lost a single bout. Her reputation spread quickly, frightening cowards and provoking challenges from both confident young men and fools alike. Defeating them all, no one could win against Tsuru. Hearing about her, young Matsumura sensei couldn’t believe that a female could be stronger than a male and decided to issue a challenge. With his own reputation at stake he quickly discovered that she was more than just a handful. Having great difficulty trying to hold onto her, he was nearly thrown himself. If that wasn’t enough of a surprise, the final shock must have been when she clutched his hand and cheerfully proposed marriage to him. As strong as young Matsumura sensei was, he stood speechless in front of his opponent finding her beauty and spirit irresistible.
I met the rightful grandson of the Matsumura family, who, by the way, is still alive and about the same age as I, and we discussed his grandmother’s ability. In his recollection he said, “In those days our house was a brewery and whenever extra rice bags could not be stored in the warehouse I often saw her lift straw rice bags 5-to24 with only one hand as she swept the Engawa25 with a broom in the other hand!” Judging from this story, it would appear as if Tsuru had never stopped training.
Both of my instructors, Asato and Itosu, were senior disciples of Matsumura-Okina. I not only admired how they remained fellow brothers all their lives but also that they were genuinely respected by their community, too. Through a chance meeting I became friends with a boy three years my senior. He was the son of Asato sensei, and it was through him that I was introduced to karate. Following tradition, Asato Sensei observed a common policy of not teaching his own son, but rather to send him to another teacher. Therefore, his son was sent to the home of Itosu to learn karate. Although I did not go with him at first, it wasn’t long before I was finally invited to accompany him. Because we were still attending school in the daytime our regular training with Itosu sensei was confined to evenings through midnight, often not returning home until dawn.
Even though Itosu and Asato had been brother students they did have unique differences. One example was their attitude towards fighting. Itosu sensei said that fighting for no reason was a worthless activity and should be avoided. Moreover, if someone who was actually not really a threat attacked you, there was no need to injure the person but rather only to teach him a lesson before sending him on his way. On the contrary, however, Asato sensei was much more serious about such things. If someone tries to attack you and you cannot respond immediately it will be too late. Itosu sensei advocated self-assurance and tolerance from training. Asato sensei preached persistent awareness.
The skills of these two gifted men differed. One day the both of them found themselves surrounded by a group of young thugs looking for trouble. Without the chance of escape my teachers were left with no other alternative but to defend themselves. Itosu quickly dispatched half of the attackers with a serious but not excessive beating. Asato, on the other hand, left the other half of the thugs sprawled out on the ground groaning in pain.
During in the old Ryukyu Kingdom Period, Asato Sensei held the same official position as that of a minor Daimyo26 on the mainland. He also served as one of the last Ministers27 to the administration, and was on friendly terms with Ito Hirofumi [1st Meiji Period Prime Minister]. His literary works, in both Japanese and Chinese classics, were written under the pseudonym, Rinkakusai, and well regarded. Asato studied Horsemanship under Mekata sensei, a tutor to the Meiji Emperor; swordsmanship under Ishuin Yashichiro, of Jigen-ryu, and archery with Sekiguchi sensei. Asato sensei never ceased from study and introduced the essence of his studies into his karate. I really respected his efforts and such an attitude. There is an old saying that goes, “If a person is exceptional in one art he can triumph over those who practice many arts”28. This expression sums up Asato Sensei as he was such a person.
There was a man, named Kanna-no-kata-nikai29, who was widely respected as the top swordsman in the Ryukyus. Kanna san was also highly regarded in the Kingdom for his Japanese and Chinese classics and the martial arts, too. Having a set of shoulders like a two-story house, it’s not surprising how he received his nickname. However, even with his incredible size and strength, and his many attempts, he was never able to outclass sensei, much to his regret. When I questioned sensei about this issue, he said, “Kanna’s technique was not inferior to mine, but when observing people from a martial arts point of view, three considerations should be noted; 1. Man30, 2. Sun31, and 3. Etsu32. Kanna’s character certainly fit the first one. This kind of character tends to look down on other people. It would be impossible to defeat an opponent whose character is strengthened by Sun or Etsu.
An ill-prepared person is no match for someone with strong Man characteristics. By pretending to be unprepared an overconfident opponent is liable to attack recklessly. This is no different than baiting a hungry fish; it sees the food and takes it immediately! This is like Kanna, his attack is useless even if he came at me with a bokuto or karate.”
Always eager to ask Sensei a plethora of questions, I received many valuable lessons from him, with the understanding that I would pass his words onto his own son at a suitable time in the future. I remember Sensei telling me that it was only after having become a father that he could finally understand the Confucian concept of having others teach your own children33. As I grew older his lessons become more and more meaningful.
There is a saying in swordsmanship, “One sword/blade can kill a person,” which is echoed in other traditions such as shooting (“One bullet can kill a person”) archery, and spearman-ship, too. This is also true of karate, “One fist can kill a person.” I believe the saying denotes respect for the tradition, but I don’t think it is truly appreciated. Only when one has developed the skill of taking a human life in combat can the way of martial arts truly be understood. When one uses their fists there’s rarely any blood because external injuries don’t always leave a bruise. There’s little reason to argue over which will kill a person faster, a sword or a fist, as it is obvious, however, a minor sword-related injury can heal quickly. On the other hand, there have been victims of karate blows who failed to take their injuries seriously and died a couple of years later.
I am often asked about the effectiveness of karate against both lethal and ordinary weapons. History is witness to many daring accounts of brave karate experts but let us not forget that weapons are merely borrowed instruments. Any proficient martial artist would be capable of taking command of such situations. Let me provide a good example by sharing the story of the Yoshioka brothers, two excellent swordsmen.
One of Yoshioka brothers gave up his martial arts studies to take up commerce in the merchant class. Years passed without incident and then one night he was attacked by a Tsujigiri34. Even after not having practiced for years Yoshida was able to quickly avoid the sword attack. Again, the Tsujigiri attacked him, but Yoshida seized the initiative and threw his attacker to the ground. Breathing calmly and looking down at the fallen Tsujigiri, the would-be victim said, “I am Yoshioka…what is your grudge against me?” Completely beside himself, the Tsujigiri apologized profusely. This is a perfect example of misjudging a person simply because they carried no “ weapon.” It is not wise to judge the ability of someone because they carry weapons. The real issue is always skill.
It was the summer of 1928, after the “Teppan-Jiken”35 occurred in Osaka, that rumours of how dreadful karate was started to spread throughout Kansai. A bizarre incident surrounding a man from 5-6-ri36 away from Naha using karate was reported in the Osaka newspaper. Even though he was just an amateur the newspaper report described how difficult he was to arrest and that it took nearly 3 hours and 30 policemen to finally subdue him. A complicated issue, I have recently heard that it is being argued in the appellate court of Nagasaki, whether karate is actually a lethal weapon or not. One thing that is certain, this is a good example how powerful karate is.
I used to teach karate at a girl’s school 6 or 7 years ago. One day 3 or 4 self-defence techniques were taught to girls. The following day one of the girls told me that she been seized from behind in a full nelson that evening and responded using the exact technique she’d had learned from me. She succeeded in throwing the big man on his back.
Let me describe yet another incident. A female black belt from the main training centre was returning home to the suburbs after practice late one dark evening. A stranger approached her to strike up a conversation about how late it was for a young woman to be out walking alone so late at night. Ignoring him, she kept on walking but the stranger persisted and finally came right up to her. Abruptly she stopped, slowly turned around, approached the stranger and positioned herself into a karate stance, and bellowed out, “What do you want?” Visibly shaken by her kiai, the man did an about face and scuttled away as quickly as he’d first appeared.
The victor of a contest tends to brag about his prowess. Win or lose, there’s no need to brag about such things. Often, hot-blooded young men are quick to fight at the drop of a hat and win because of their sheer strength. However, boasting about such things only makes them overconfident, hence, vulnerable. Once, during the days I still lived in my hometown, a muscular young man visited me. Not having done much since finishing his secondary school, he boasted that he could defeat five people at one time. I guess a visit from someone like him would have frightened a normal person but I remained calm. Judging by his size I was sure that this kind of person could probably beat ten or twenty weaklings, but against even one good fighter he wouldn’t last ten seconds. Not wanting to disappoint the young man, I invited him to attack me using all his power, promising that I would not retaliate. Without more encouragement, he came in swinging wildly, but to no avail. When I saw him the next day, both his wrists were wrapped in bandages. Of course, I asked him if he’d had a rough night, but he denied it with an embarrassed look on his face. They are swollen, he said, because of you blocking my punches yesterday! Following that encounter, the man decided to listen to me, change his ways, and became my student. There was another incident similar to this where that man also became my student, too, and changed his ways.
Personally, I don’t have any great stories about myself defeating anyone, and I am pleased to say that I have never injured anyone in all the years of studying karate. In fact, winning without fighting is the greatest victory. Let me explain one of my late teacher’s lessons. Asato sensei used to say, “Victory in fighting doesn’t warrant enlightenment; it is winning without fighting that personifies the true spirit of the warrior.”37 This is the same tactical strategy employed by the military of any wise nation. Here the difference exists between an unsupported bluff and the dignified attitude of real force. The great swordsman, Yamaoka Tesshu, always cautioned men never to draw their sword and kill. True to his own words, this warrior never took a life. To fight in vain is like a stalk of rice that does not bear food; it is worthless38. This is the same as the saying, “Empty vessels make the most noise.”
Let me introduce an important lesson that I always share with young and impressionable martial arts students. “Strive to be like an adult who can accept a child’s egotism.” Here, I want the student to train hard and become proficient enough to understand that an opponent is less powerful than they are. Being careful not to underestimate anyone, this mindset concludes that fighting, and physical violence, are a waste of time, unless it is truly in the pursuit of self-defense. This is like an adult accepting the ego of an adolescent. Is the behaviour of children sometimes irresponsible? Yes. Is this reason to beat the child senseless? No. The essence of Karate lies in its progression from technique [jutsu] to the path [Michi], from Karate-jutsu to Karate-do39. As Karate-do has now been established, the term Karate-jutsu is no longer used in Okinawa.
For me, “Karate ni Sente Nashi”40 is the principle essence of karate-do. This observation determines that action necessitates response, and that if there is no attack, there’s no need for a defense. If victory is to be certain, then both stillness and movement, like the infinity of yin and yang, must be sensed as if you had eyes in the back of your head. A sword cutting the air may be dull like lead, but the iron fists forged in the furnace of karate hold unbelievable killing power. Those who act without thinking, and fight without cause are themselves inviting death.
A Chinese poem goes something like, “An eagle spreads wings and flies away just the moment before it can be shot.” Without experience and insight, a foolish person is incapable of perceiving the reactions of a master. Only a person on the right path, and who’s mastered basic technique, is capable of functional spontaneity, the ability to move at will.
Karate has about twenty kata, which are like textbooks for students or tactical manoeuvres for soldiers. This practice is balanced by the principles of honesty, fair play and modesty, as well as being both rational and logical. In the old days, masters used to test a potential student’s character and behaviour before ever accepting them into their confidence. Masters would never accept bad natured people to become their student; even it was their own son. On the contrary, however, it is said that Karate can make even the most ferocious men gentle. Teachers at the school where I teach often inform me, that my karate students are gradually getting gentler. Such comments are a pleasure to hear and make me proud.
In the summer of 1922, the Ministry of Education held its first National Exhibition of Athletics in Tokyo. Invited to present the little-known art of karate I took scrolls of information with me. After finishing the exhibition, I visited the private residence of Kano Jigoro Sensei and offered to demonstrate Karate for him. Sensei was pleased that I came but suggested that my visit warranted more of an audience than just himself, so he invited me to come back in two days. Upon my return I was surprised to find that so many high-ranking Judoka, along with about 80 students from [his dojo at] Tomizaka shimo, had been invited. Kano sensei tried Karate himself and asked me various questions. He also encouraged other high-ranking Judoka to ask me any questions. During my demonstration I was explaining about punching, and, for the purpose of making my point, I held my fist out in an extended position. A 9th dan, by the name of Mr. Yamashita, asked me why I did that, and why didn’t I draw it back? Although the question seemed simple enough, I knew that only a seasoned expert would understand the implications of this. I replied without hesitation that as soon as the punch is thrown it is followed up by another technique.
Actually, this point reminds me of a similar issue. After visiting Kano Sensei, I met Yagyu Shihan, and the late General Yashiro, at the Hekikyo-kan Dojo in Ushigome Wakamatsu-cho, Tokyo. The dojo belonged to Yagyu Tajimanokami41. I took a karate student42 from my hometown with me to assist with my demonstration. One of the techniques I performed was a block against a kick after which I responded by executing a punch to the face of my opponent, and explained the importance of, “being able to set your mind free.” A master swordsman, Yagyu-Shihan seemed understand my demonstration immediately. Then he made the remark that the spirit of all martial arts is the same as a motto handed down within their tradition, “Waza should not be limited.”
Master Asato always advocated the laws of Ying and Yang encouraging us to perceive it through an old expression; “Ki/qi is the battle existing in the universe, if we are incapable of utilizing this energy victory will not be within our reach.” In regards to karate, it does not make any difference concerning this martial art’s principle; Offence and defense are interchangeable in the same way that the laws of Yin & Yang influence each other.
Even though karate has been getting popular in both the Tokyo and Osaka districts there are still many young people who have never heard about it. There are students studying individually and others who are participating in group lessons at the dormitory of a local department store. I myself am teaching at nine different high schools and universities, which is also helping to make the practice more widespread.
When I first arrived in Tokyo43 few had ever heard anything about karate and certainly no one had yet envisioned the popularity we’re now achieving. My original plan was simply to introduce karate, make as many connections as possible, demonstrate the art wherever I could, and finally return to Okinawa. At that time I met a well-known artist, named Kosugi Hoan, who invited me to give a seminar at the Tokyo Poplar Club44 . Of course, I accepted the offer with great pleasure and especially remember meeting Mr. Harishige45 from the tennis association and another artist named Ishi Tsuruzo, who were among the participants.
Speaking about the artist Kosugi Hoan, I had previously heard about him because he’d once visited my hometown. Later, I also found out that Mr. Kosugi was a closet exercise buff and had actually been studying Karate seriously for more than ten years. Nowadays, whenever he’s speaking publicly, and has the chance to talk about karate, I am so flattered that he proudly mentions he was my first student in the Tokyo area.
Following a very pleasant weeklong karate seminar at the Poplar Club a farewell dinner was held in my honour on the last day. During the dinner, Mr. Kosugi suggested that I write something about Karate because he would not have anyone to ask after I returned to Okinawa. After dinner I returned to my lodging at the Prefectural student dormitory, where, even though I had quite bit to drink, I started thinking about what to write. By the next morning I had outlined an entire book and within a few days it was completed. This is the publication about my karate-jutsu which is now in its 10th printing. As soon as I finished writing the book, I visited Mr. Kosugi to show it to him and he was amazed and impressed with how quickly I completed the task. I also discovered, however, that I had misunderstood what Mr. Kosugi said to me. He’d actually only asked me to write an article for a magazine but I had convinced myself that it was a book he wanted me to write. From time to time he still jokes about this issue and remembers that the speed of my karate was equalled only by the swiftness of my writing.
Destiny certainly is a strange thing as it was only a little encouragement from someone like Mr. Kosugi, along with my confusion, which resulted in me residing in Tokyo for more than ten years, rather than the few days that I had originally planned to stay. Without question, had I not misunderstood Mr. Kosugi’s request, I would have most certainly returned to my hometown a few days after writing the short article only to look for another opportunity to return to Tokyo. I was pretty much ready to return to my hometown until the Popular Club seminar presented me with an opportunity. Here’s an example of sometime good coming from misunderstanding. Of course, I fully intend to stay in Tokyo indefinitely.
I am 66 years old now and began karate when I was 12 or 13 years old. I have never stopped training since that time. Even though I have been training for 54 or 55 years I am certainly not the exception, as there are many karate enthusiasts like me. In fact, my teachers and other modern masters of this tradition have lived very long lives because of karate. Asato Sensei died at the age of 80. Itosu Sensei rode his horse to the Shihan-Gakko46 everyday until he passed away at age 85. Matsumura Okina, the teacher of Itosu and Asato, died at 93. I believe these masters were in poor health from birth and were introduced to the practice to improve their constitution. For example, Asato sensei was a weakling in childhood and began studying Karate because of his weak constitution. I myself had suffered from poor digestion until I started Karate. In fact, I used to go to a doctor to get my daily bottle of medicine bottle. Their family had been the physicians to the Royal Family for 7 generations. Since I started Karate, I never needed to go back to the doctor nor had I ever been sick again. Even though it sounds a little odd, perhaps even boarder lining something the founder of a religious sect might put in a book, it would appear as if sickness is an enemy of Karate. Be that as it may, I never missed a single day of work in the 23 years I was employed as a primary school teacher.
Recently I was on the train coming back from teaching karate at the university. It was at high noon when the train was not so crowded. There was a man who was intoxicated and in high spirits. Restlessly, he looked around until he found me and staggered over. Sticking his nose right up to my mouth he began sniffing like a dog, and wanted confirmation that I had not been drinking. After I confirmed it for him he stepped back, starred at me and, in a very formal manner, slurred out a compliment, saying that my complexion was bright, and quite admirable. All the other passengers watched me and then started laughing merrily.
There’s another story I’d like to share about my complexion. It happened while I was still residing in my hometown [Okinawa]. One day, a wealthy person who always ate like a king noticed my good complexion and asked me if I would share the secret of my diet. I told him that I merely lived on a simple diet and never thought about nutrition. This was something he could not easily understand.
I have a belief about a person’s complexion, which is shared by many; Proper exercise naturally makes us healthy and enhances blood circulation, which improves one’s complexion. This is perfectly ordinary and simple logic. One doctor told me that nearly a third of our blood is congested in people with weak digestions, which can result in a pale complexion. It would be a miracle for anyone to have a good complexion with poor circulation.
In addition to one’s complexion, let me also mention something about the body, too. A few years ago when I turned sixty I received a compliment that warrants mention. Tokyo Imperial University is a place where both my third son and I teach karate. One day after watching me teach a class a professor mentioned how young I looked to my son, and wondered if I was still in my forties. Even villagers, whom I have known for a long time, admire my youthful appearance and maintain that there is an imbalance between my age and my body. Even if this comment is flattering, it is true, I do look young. Personally, I would not be inconvenienced with a much younger looking body and wish I had one. Even as a person ages, the body does not have to rush following senility to the grave.
I think the issue of age and body is important and have another interesting story to share with you. During the years I lived in my hometown, I was selected almost every year to be a judge at the sumo [tegumi] rituals at Naminouegu shrine. I had studied the competitor’s ages from the various districts in Okinawa Prefecture, and determined that athletes tend to peak in power at around 26 years old even though some believe that it is 25. There was one exception among my study, a well-known sumo wrestler who lived about 15 kilometres from the Prefectural Capitol of Naha city. Even though he was 40 years old, he continued to compete for the district. At his age if he lost it would be a good excuse to retire. If he won, we would take the credit for his victory. In spite of his age, I’d rated him in the top of the San-yaku47 rankings. His opponent was, of course, acknowledged to be the strongest in the prefecture. Okinawan sumo is a little bit different from general one [different from Japanese sumo], in that competitors seize each other’s belt with both hands from the onset, and are permitted to use their hands and knees on the ground if thrown. Landing on one’s back signifies defeat and contest victories are determined from best out of three matches. Injuries from pushing and shoving one another are, of course, rare. At any rate, in this particular contest the 40-year-old man hurled the much bigger and younger opponent to the ground in succession until the victory was his.
Scholars and doctors say that athletes reach their peak between the ages of 15 and 40, but most people tend to discontinue athletics at 30 years old. Actually, physical condition does not declined at 30 but rather improve, with exercise. It was a 40-year-old man from Hokkaido who won the All Japan long distance race between Tokyo and Osaka 4 or 5 years ago. The first Nichi Newspaper sponsored sumo champion was an ex-Tochigiyam 40 year-old, who’s now retired. There are some people over 60 years old who continue to train every day for a long distance competition and are not less powerful than young people. In my opinion, people do not loose their fitness even at 60 or 70. In fact, as long as we maintain a positive mental attitude, keep training continuously and have faith in our body condition we stay young. Needless to say, however, it depends on exercise/athletics.
In Okinawa, aged men are called “Tanmei” [elder] but using the term is considered impolite. An aged karateka is called “Bushi Tanmei,” [elder martial artist] because having proved his strength the older he gets the more he is respected.
In Okinawa, the term Bushi does not denote a member of the samurai class [as it does on the mainland] but rather a martial artist. It is not just a preconception, modern Ryukyu karate masters do possess immeasurable Buchikara [martial art power]. Such people had never been defeated even by very experienced students who may have trained 40~50 years under a master. Even if the master was attacked by younger and more powerful students when he was dreadfully sick I doubt he’d be defeated. It is no miracle that martial artists from various traditions, both in old Japan and here the present, get stronger year by year.
In Okinawa the Bushi Tanmei are regarded as Kohijin. In short, the term Kohijin means someone who is not only strong, but also sexually active. Keeping a young mind, in addition to continuous physical training, promotes a healthy mind-set and improves ones strength throughout their entire lives. There can be no question that the Bushi Tanmei is not the same as a shaky elderly person. Many business people and politicians are healthy and hearty in their old age, too. Even tough they have not trained physically they keep their spirit lively and young.
A few young people took me on an outing the other day to Shiobara [Tochigi Prefecture]. I wore a pair of comfortable and simple-made low geta [clogs] used daily in dry weather conditions to walk around the mountainside. One of my companions asked how I was able walk around in such footwear without tumbling over. Even though I have moved to suburbs I still travel into Tokyo everyday wearing these simple-made geta to teach [karate] at a couple of universities and have never fallen down nor been short of breath. I am confident that I will keep my body in good shape all my life.
The origins of karate are linked to preventing physical decline and spiritual atrophy. Of what value is my effort, if after 50 years dedicated training, I should fall down? In our youth we are sometimes confused by delusion, however, the older we get the less bewildered we become. It is at this stage of improving the weight and flexibility of our body that one can clearly see an opponent’s movement, and this is the way we should improve our skill.
I will briefly mention the characteristics of karate towards the conclusion of this presentation, however, it should be understood that karate begins and ends with kata. If one moves to the left, one should also move to the right. If one steps forward, one will also step backwards. If one uses their left hand, one will also use their right one, too. If one kicks with their left foot, so too will one kick with their right. In short, the entire body is used with each part of the body working in equal harmony and unity. Each movement also has a [defensive] meaning against an imaginary opponent, which naturally makes practice more interesting. Additionally, one doesn’t have to depend on others, as [karate] practice can be performed alone, anytime and anywhere, and even just for a few minutes. Training times and practice intensity can be determined by oneself. Irrespective of age, gender or condition, anyone can practice karate. It is also an excellent adjunct to PE [Physical Education] and has been recognized by the Monbusho [Ministry of Education] as a formal curriculum in the middle schools of Okinawa Prefecture.
It’s difficult to describe what Karate is without giving a practical demonstration; even then, however, it is not transmitted easily. Nor can the [true] characteristics of karate be found in commercialised entertainment or competitions. The fact that protective gear and competitive matches are unable to be formulated for karate, tells us something of the true essence of the art.
In March of 1921 Crown Prince Higashinomiya-Denka [Hirohito, became Emperor in 1926] visited Okinawa Prefecture en route to Europe and 600,000 Okinawan people welcomed him. Six different kinds of demonstrations were presented to his attendants for consideration and Karate was the only one officially accepted. I had the privilege and honour of being appointed the leader of the demonstrators. I think it was because the Crown Prince is known as a wise man who appreciates Bunburyodo [lit. sword and the pen), but later I did humbly, and privately, asked why he picked Karate.
Karate was developed to condition the body, cultivate the mind and nurture the spirit. From this comes Ki-ryoku48, which provides able men to support the country and who will serve as a Katusjinken [comparing a person to a living sword, Elite Guard of 1st Order] against lawless, recalcitrant or reckless people. Like a blossom Karate from the Ryukyu’s has been budding in our land yielding fruit to contribute to the Yamato [Japanese] race and ultimately to the world.
#1. Shaolin temple style.
#2. Funakoshi writes the modern term for karate but is actually referring to quanfa/kenpo.
#5. Born 1867, died 1947; Admired as one of Japan’s greatest novelists during the Meiji Era
#6. Also known as Kosokun.
#7. Reference to the 1762 publication, “Oshima Hikki,” and testimony made by Shiohira Pechin as compiled by Confucian scholar Tobe Ryoen.
#8. Here Master Funakoshi uses the ideogram for quanfa.
#9. Spiritual aspect of training; i.e. forging the spirit (character perfection) through relentless physical and mental training, and moral study.
#10. Okinawan people as a race, Uchinanchu.
#12. The kind of sumo that Funakoshi is describing would be tegumi-style grappling, later called Okinawan sumo, but not to be confused with Japanese-style sumo wrestling.
#13. In a narrow sense, it corresponds to the period, which spans between the Onin war in 1467 and the entry of Oda Nobunaga into Kyoto in 1568, but in a broader sense, it could also include up to the establishment of Tokugawa Shogunate in 1603.
#14. Jumping kicks.
#15. 2.4 meters.
#17. Wooden clogs
#18. Okina is an old local Okinawan honorific for an older gentleman.
#19. The gateway to a Shinto shrine.
#20. Bamboo tobacco pipe
#21. Cutting practice with a Japanese sword.
#22. Lit. to test one’s courage & skill
#24. About 90 litres
#25. A narrow wooden passageway along the edge of old-style Okinawan homes facing the garden
#26. The Japanese have interpreted anji/aji as daimyo. “Okinawan Customs, Yesterday & Today”, (The Takanoya Account) Douglas Haring P43
#27. Sanshikan Oyakata
#28. Perhaps this is the opposite of the western expression, “A jack of all trades, and master of none.”
#29. Kanna is a surname, and, kata, in the case means shoulders. Nikai means two stories, as in a two-story house, and, “no” is the grammatical particle. In this context the term means; Two-story shoulders Kanna.
#30. This means fill, full and satisfy.
#31. This means a bit.
#32. This means cross, go beyond come apart, superior.
#33. A typical observation of that era was for martial arts teachers to have someone else (i.e. a senior student, or colleague) teach their own children.
#34. A highwayman-criminal.
#35. The Iron Plate Incident
#36. A distance of 19.5km to 23.4km
#37. From a Chinese poem
#38. The opposite proverb goes, “The riper the rice grain, the lower it hangs/the more rice on the stalk the deeper it bows down;” meaning the greater a warrior becomes the more calm, dignified and humble he is.”
#39. Funakoshi is laying emphasis on the transition one’s character undergoes through the physical vehicle of practice.
#40. A saying that means, “There is no first attack in karate.”
#41. The 11th generation head master of Yagyu Shinkage Ryu.
#42. Gima Shinken
#43. April of 1922
#44. The Tabata area has been called the Tabata Writers and Artists Village since the Japanese writers and artists once lived in the area during Meiji-period. Back then Tabata was a quiet country village with fields interspersed by groves of trees. When the Tokyo School of Fine Arts (now the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music) opened in Ueno in 1889, a number of young artists moved to Tabata. Kosugi Hoan first moved there in 1900, followed by Itaya Hazan in 1903, then by Yoshida Saburo (sculptor), Katori Hotsuma (metalworker) and Yamamoto Kanae (Western-style painter). These artists formed the Tabata Poplar Club and transformed Tabata into an Artists' Village. Later, in 1928, the famous writer Akutagawa Ryunosuke moved to Tabata. He was joined by Murou Saisei in 1930. As their writings became widely known, they attracted other aspiring writers: Hagiwara Sakutaro, Hori Tatsuo, Kikuchi Hiroshi, and Nakano Shigeharu. The years between the Taisho and Showa eras thus witnessed the formation of a Tabata writers' village. The Tabata Bunshimura Shiryokan (Tabata Memorial Museum of Writers and Artists) was built to commemorate the works of these writers and artists. Exhibits include the works of Akutagawa Ryunosuke and other writers and artists. The museum also sponsors a variety of lectures and special exhibitions.
#45. Not 100% sure of the pronunciation of this person’s name.
#46. The old Teacher’s college.
#47. One of sumo wrestling's three highest ranks.
#48. Willpower & vigour
Special thanks to Japan-based IRKRS member, Mark Tankosich, who provided a copy of the original Japanese magazine article for this translation.