Before talking about Okinawan Karate Styles, I have been watching Cobra Kai lately and I am really enjoying the show.
But it got me thinking about my karate days. It’s funny when I think about it because even back when I was a child my martial art teachers preached mixed martial arts in one shape or another. And this was years before the ufc was even a thing.
Originally when my father interviewed more than a dozen schools before deciding what school to send me to.
He settled on a teacher who was Teaching Goju Ryu but was on his own martial art journey and was incorporating mixed martial arts into his own personal journey. So the second half of my training with him was focused more on kickboxing.
Anyhow I thought I’d share a interview my first teacher gave a few years ago. One of his teachers was Peter Urban, basically the guy who was responsible for spreading Goju to the states.
I have been blessed my whole life to be able to learn from and train with some of the most amazing martial artist on the planet including Sifu Phu.
There are many Okinawan karate styles, but this article will focus on one main one. It’s called Matsubayashi Ryu. It is named for Kosaku Matsumura. He traveled to Japan in 1921, where he knocked out a Russian boxer with one punch. Later, he changed his heart and studied with several Okinawan masters. One of his greatest contributions to Shorin Ryu curriculum was the development of yakusoku kumite.
Kanbun Uechi was a karate student in Okinawa
Despite his reputation as a master of the art, Kanbun Uechi kept to himself for a long time, even refusing to teach anyone who asked. His fear of being put in jail and his embarrassment about his disgrace in China kept him from sharing his martial art with others. However, a Gokenki friend of Kanbun’s made him believe that he knew karate. To prove this, he made up stories about fighting and told them to Uechi. Eventually, Uechi began teaching Tomoyose about staff techniques at festivals and village gatherings.
Kanbun Uechi returned to Okinawa after his studies. At the age of thirty-one, he married and had four children. After he retired from teaching karate, he returned to Okinawa and lived a quiet life. In 1911, he was approached by a former student, Mr. Gokenkein, who urged him to teach karate again. The next year, Kanbun was challenged by a Naha karate master, and soon, many men were requesting him to teach them.
Uechi’s ancestors were samurai forced to retire in the early seventeenth century. They settled in a village named Izumi in northern Okinawa. While there, they practiced karate. Art was an integral part of rural life. During his teenage years, Kanbun Uechi became very skilled with the bo (staff), and he often led demonstrations at local festivals. His skills made him a superior fighter to his peers.
Toguchi’s karate education
Toguchi began his karate education in Okinawan karate styles at an early age. His father taught him Okinawan Te, and he began studying the Goju Ryu at age 13. He subsequently went on to become a leading figure in the Goju Ryu, as well as a member of the Okinawan Karate-Do Federation.
Toguchi studied karate until the beginning of World War II, when he was stationed in Sumatra, Indonesia. He returned to Okinawa in 1946. During that time, he was married and had three children. He met another senior student, Chojun Miyagi, who was the founder of Goju-Ryu Karate. Miyagi Sensei was very traditional and hard, and Toguchi began his training with him.
In the early 1950s, Toguchi began to develop his own style of karate. He visited various schools, including Asato Dojo. His first dojo, the Shorei-kan Dojo, was located near the American military base and had a growing western population. He developed a teaching method that built on Miyagi’s vision and added kiso and bunkai kumite to the traditional Ryukyu style. He also introduced kata and supervised many early American pioneers of Okinawan karate.
Sakugawa’s karate education
Throughout his life, Sakugawa devoted himself to martial arts. He began his training in To-de in 1750. His first teacher was Takahara, a revered Ryukyu peichin (like Japanese Samurai). He taught Sakugawa a system that was both a philosophy and a practical martial art. He also taught him ethics, humility, and the proper use of force during combat.
Later, Sakugawa studied under Chinese ambassador Shifu Kwang Shang Fu. This master was a master of Ch’uan Fa and he had studied with a Shaolin monk in Fukien province. The training lasted until Sakugawa’s death in 1762.
Sakugawa’s training began when he was twelve years old. At this time, he had a reputation for disobedience. He was reportedly forced to train with Sakugawa only as a duty to his father. By the time he was eighteen, Matsumura was already an extremely violent and disobedient young man.
Chitose Sensei continued his training while in college. He assisted his former school teacher Gichin Funakoshi in teaching karate in his college classes. In 1932, he also taught Masatoshi Nakayama, who would become the head instructor of the Japan Karate Association (Shotokan). While he studied karate, Chitose also developed his own medical practice. He also served in the Army Medical Corps. While he was training, he also became a friend to local citizens in China.
The next step in Sakugawa’s karate training was to obtain his black belt. After completing his black belt, he moved on to become a senior black belt in the sport. In addition to becoming a senior black belt, Sakugawa mastered the art of kendo.
Kusanku’s influence on Okinawan karate styles
The influence of Kusanku on Okinawan karate styles was extensive. He first studied Ch’uan Fa from a Shaolin monk in China before coming to Okinawa as an ambassador of the Ming Dynasty. He was an influential figure in Okinawan martial arts, and is responsible for the creation of several katas in the Shorin-Ryu style.
The Okinawan karate system dates back to the sixth century. The earliest known style of karate was created by Bodhidharma, who was born in India. He later traveled to China, where he founded the Shao-lin Monastery. Later, ch-uan-fa was introduced to Okinawa, with the growth of trade between China and Okinawa. Although ch-uan-fa is not considered an Okinawan karate style, evidence suggests that te was originally indigenous to the islands. In addition to the ten precepts, Shorin-Ryu Kobayashi karate also descends from the Shuri-te system.
In addition to the katas he created, Kusanku also developed a unique way of training people. His students, including Sakugawa, began to study Chinese boxing. This combination of Chinese Kenpo and native Okinawan shuri-te became known as Okinawan karate.
Another major influence on Okinawan karate was from Chinese master Wai Xinxin (1889-1953). The Chinese master was known for his use of close-quarter combat. The influence of Kusanku on Okinawan karate styles is also extensive.
Itosu vs Higashionna karate styles
There is a long-standing dispute between the Higashionna and Itosu karate styles in Okinawa. Each style claims to have originated in the same place, but there are differences between the two schools. In the past, the Higashionna style had more popularity in Okinawa than the Itosu style.
The main difference between the Higashionna and Itosu karate styles is the kata used. The Naha-di system is comprised of nine kata and a philosophy. The Shuri-di style uses natural stances and promotes light, fast movements. In contrast, Naha-di uses a crescent moon stance that encourages a heavier, slower style of movement.
The Itosu style was founded in the early twentieth century, and its history is closely related to Okinawan history. The early karate masters studied in secret for three years and spent extensive time on the makiwara board. The practice of sparring was prohibited, but karateka would challenge each other to fights to prove their skills. In 1905, Anko Itosu brought karate out of secrecy by getting the local authorities to allow him to teach it in local schools.
The two styles were also influenced by the same master. Mabuni trained under Itosu for more than thirteen years. He died in 1915, and his disciples built a shrine near his grave. In the same year, Kenwa Mabuni began teaching the Shuri form of Okinawan karate, which is composed of fast linear techniques.
Funakoshi sensei’s karate methods
The karate master Gichin Funakoshi was born in Shuri, Okinawa, in 1868. While growing up in Okinawa, Funakoshi trained with two of the most important Okinawan martial arts masters, Yasutsune Azato and Naha Itosu. After learning from these masters, Funakoshi introduced karate to Japan. His popularity in Japan was such that he was invited to perform in special events and exhibitions.
Funakoshi’s karate training was based on the concept of “Bun-Ryo-Do” or “technique plus education”. The idea was to train one’s mind and body. Funakoshi’s critics were horrified by his insistence on hitting a target with a kata. The idea of educating an opponent through karate was also controversial.
After the Pacific War, Funakoshi sensei was invited to Japan by Jigoro Kano. After demonstrating karate before over 100 students, he decided to stay in Japan permanently. As a result, he was able to acquire many Japanese students at various universities. He was also able to gain enough interest to start his own dojo.
The transition of Okinawan karate to mainland Japan resulted in many changes. Some techniques were lost during the transition to Japanized karate, such as sweeps and throws. In addition, other techniques such as joint locks and nerve suppression were also removed from the Okinawan style. The resulting style was largely a mixture of martial arts, with an emphasis on non-violence.