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Revisionist Okinawan Karate History

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    Revisionist Okinawan Karate History

    Okay time to start. Because of business obligations I won't be able to do a full write up until this weekend, so I'm going to put up two issues for people to discuss and perhaps this will get the ball rolling. The following passages are from Mark Bishop's book "Okinawan Karate: Teachers, Styles and Secret Techniques" (A & C Black Publishers, London, 1989, 1995 ed).

    "The first recorded advent of karate, or tode as it was then known, is generally agreed to have been in the latter part of the 18th or early 19th century, when a Chinese going by the name of Kusanku (also Ku Shanku or Koso Kun) displayed his Chinese boxing and grappling skills on Okinawa to a delighted audience. Tode (also to-te or tuti, lit. Chinese hand) can be taken to mean Chinese boxing although it was antedated for several hundred years by a martial art known simply as ti (later this term was Japanised to 'te', meaning hands) which is still in existance and haas affected the technical and fighting forms of some modern karate styles. Generally speaking the introduction of tode (i.e. karate) to Okinawa was effected by either Okinawans who studied Chinese boxing in China or Chinese, like Kusanku, who taught it on Okinawa. Tode began to be called karate in the first half of the the 20th century and although its introduction since its debut has been a continuous process, most of the karate which is taught today is, contrary to popular belief, based on the Chinese boxing (mostly from the Fuchou area) [SB Note: the part of the People's Republic opposite of Taiwan] that was introduced to Okinawa between the years 1850-1950, reaching the peak of introduction towards the end of the 19th century.

    It is necessary to point out here that prior to 1879 martial arts on Okinawa had been reserved solely for the upper class families and even after that date few ordinary folk were able, if willing, to practise them. [SB Note: I think this sentance should be scrutinized] I have found not the slightest scrap of historical evidence to even suggest, as is often put forward that weaponless Okinawan peasants developed fighting systems as a means to overthrow their Satsuma overlords. On the contrary, as will be seen, all evidence demonstrates that after 1609 ti was practised for self-defense and as a personal means of self development by the nobility. Tode followed suit, developing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries among the shizoku class and their descendants."

    "Part of the blame for the promulgation of such romantic myths must be put on the Okinawans themselves who, during the pre-war militaristic Japanese administration years, foresaw the role karate could play in the military machine and, with typical propriety, disguised its Chinese roots. This, plus confusion with the the Chinese Boxer Rebellion of 1900 and the ever present vagueness concerning dates (the term 'mukashi' - lit. once upon a time, or a long time ago - is still annoyingly used to date any time from between 10 and 10,000 years ago), gave just the right ingredients. Other factors have been the cultural tendencies stemming from Confucianism which dictate that nothing derogatory should be voiced about social seniors or the deceased; plus the annoying habit of (when not wanting to offend the interviewer) convincingly guessing incorrectly when a simple 'I'm sorry I don't know' would more than suffice."

    Note; Bishop describes himself as follows. He: "holds a 3rd Dan in Goju-rye, a 4th Dan in Shorin-ryu karate and kobudo, and a 6th Dan in Okinawan te. He also haas black belt gradings in judo and aikido. For fifteen years he has lived and trained on Okinawa."

    These paragraphs are found on pages 10 and 11 of Bishop's Book.

    Secondly, long ago in one of Ed Parker's infinite insights into kempo books I remember him telling a story about how one could go to Japan and see some of their armor had been dented with people's knuckle marks. i.e. the Okinawan peasants were fighting samuri with their bare hands and left evidence of doing so. I don't believe this story but if someone out there has Parker's books it would be helpful if they could reproduce this paragraph and citation for further comment on this thread.


      go to the history section


        It was the upper class that originally trained to fight, but to be more specific it was passed down from father to oldest son for quite a while before it became widely available.


          Many of the old Karate "founding fathers" were well known to use The Bubishi, a supposed Chinese White Crane Kung Fu manual, as a basis for much of their training.


            Good resource on Okinawan karate:

            Okinawa: Island Of Karate by George Alexander (1991)


              "Secondly, long ago in one of Ed Parker's infinite insights into kempo books I remember him telling a story about how one could go to Japan and see some of their armor had been dented with people's knuckle marks. i.e. the Okinawan peasants were fighting samuri with their bare hands and left evidence of doing so. I don't believe this story but if someone out there has Parker's books it would be helpful if they could reproduce this paragraph and citation for further comment on this thread."

              I own all of the Parker, Infinite Insights into Kenpo books, and have read them recently and I do not recall any passage such as the one you mention. I did a quick check and as far I can tell the only time he mentions Okinawa repeatedly is in the history section of Book # 1.

              It should be noted that the history section is full of gross inaccuracies, including mistranslations of many Asian words. I don't trust anything in there for a minute. It seems to be as much legend as true history.

              I also looked in sections of the books covering hand strikes and development of power. If Parker ever did mention dented samurai armor from Okinawan fists, I couldn't find it. If you can remember more about what type of section the passage was in I might be able to look more.

              As a primer on overall martial arts history, I suggest "The Ultimate Martial Arts Q&A Book" by Corcoran and Graden. It covers almost all aspects of martial arts including martial sport, martial arts in the movies, and how to choose a martial arts schools including spearate chapters on the Martial Arts of Japan and Okinawa, China, America, Korea, and Brazil.

              Published in 2001, I found it a unbaised account of what's what and who's who in martial arts and a good read. Does a good job of cutting through the hype.

              <marquee>Dragon , Snake , Tiger , Leopard , Crane. R.M.F.A.F.T.A.T.! </marquee>


                Thanks Punisher,

                Then I am misattributing that information. Glad you caught me now rather than later. I know I read that someplace in some shlocky MA book but must not be Parker :) We could always have a section on this site devoted to just his howlers. He was supposedly a great teacher and martial artist and a poor historian and writer. (I was not impressed with his book "The Zen of Kempo")

                Edited by - Samuel browning on June 12 2003 20:15:41

                Edited by - Samuel browning on June 12 2003 20:17:15


                  "He was supposedly a great teacher and martial artist and a poor historian and writer. (I was not impressed with his book "The Zen of Kempo")"

                  That book was so not "Zen" it was Zen, if you catch my drift. All the books I have by him are horrible, although the one called something like Secerts of Chinese Karate is supposed to be ok.

                  I have all the Infinite Insights because the were required reading at my school when I was a child, and I recently bought the whole set for the sake of nostaliga.

                  I spent over half my life practicing American Kenpo, and honestly I don't think Parker was that great of a martial artsit or teacher. American Kenpo is full of psuedo-scientific babble, contradictory concepts, and bad applications of flawed fighting strategy.

                  I have seen Ed Parker in person and I have him performing on tape, he is was not impressive. I have no doubt he could kick some major ass, but that was primarly because he was a big ass hawaiian with a bad attitude.

                  He was responisble big time for bringing an establishing martial arts in America, and if he didn't do that, my instructor would have never been taught and he would have never taught me.

                  So I owe Parker a great amount of repsect and gratitude. Still students at my school that have been around long enough often laugh and cringe at the same time when remembering the American Kenpo days of our school.

                  It's really a moot point, but Parker's preferred spelling of his art is kenpo, not kempo. I don't really care which spelling is technically correct in translation and all that, but kenpo is the spelling used in all of his books.

                  I like said, it doesn't really matter, but if you are looking for the "Zen of KEMPO" you'll never find it, at least not authored by Parker.

                  <marquee>Dragon , Snake , Tiger , Leopard , Crane. R.M.F.A.F.T.A.T.! </marquee>


                    Samual you might want to check out "Weaponless Warrior{S}" by Richard Kim, it acknowledges the connection between Chinese and Okinawan martial arts. The general idea was that Te existed independantly on Okinawa and was practiced by the nobility{when could a farmer find time to train anyway?}. The transmition was usually from father to oldest son, wit the other male children having to fend for themselves as far as any form of education or training went. The most talented fighters might gain apprenticeship with a more senior and renowned instructor for a good number of years and then be sent to China to study for a time. The time in China was for refinement and expansion of technique. This connection was recognized readily by the older masters, and the kanji used for "karate" originally translated as "China Hand" and not "empty hand." The descision to change the kanji came about during the late 1920s, or early 30s when a group of senior karate instructors gathered to formalize and organize the fighting arts on the island. There was some dispute over the change from "China" to "empty" hand, but "empty" won out in the end. My personal interpretation of what went on was that with Funikoshi teaching in the main land by the 20s, the preasure was on to export more karate to Japan. The Japanese were not about to take readily to anything that was attributed to the Chinese so heavily as Tode/karate, and if the senior instructors were to have any real influence over what was going to be passed on, they had to take steps to ensure that they could make it appeal to the Japanese. That and I think Funikoshi may have already been making some of these changes, and in order to present a united front and look like they were dictating the sylibus, they agreed to the changes.

                    Another source to support the Chinese connection.
                    "As to the origins of Karate, there are many theories, however I am inclined to believe that this art was taught by Chinese men since there were many contacts made between Ryu Kyu and China from ancient days.", Choki Motobu, "Okinawan Kempo", pg.25, para-5.

                    And, though it may account for very little, similarities in movements between the Nahanchi katas and the White Crane Kung Fu system are very strong, with almost identical sets of hand sequences in several places. This learned after a compairison between myself and a kung fu practicioner when we traded a few techniques.

                    Don't know if that was the sort of reference you were looking for, but its what I've got on hand at this hour.


                      If Karate was only practiced by nobles then why do many Karate weapons resemble farming tools? I for one am very confused at the idea of a noble using a rice flail or a harpoon head as a weapon.

                      Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
                      I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
                      To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
                      Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
                      "The longer I live the more I see that I am never wrong about anything, and that all the pains that I have so humbly taken to verify my notions have only wasted my time."

                      -- George Bernard Shaw


                        Strictly speaking, Karate doesn't include weapons training. That is (or was) known as Kobudo.
                        The word Karate is a Japanese pronunciation of two Chinese characters which say "Kung Shou" or "Empty Hand" which denote training in sparring; strikes, punches, kicks, etc. Weapons training is seen as separate. Lots of Karate aficionados do train Kobudo as well, which is where it can get confusing for an outsider.

                        Grim, hard, cold words, heartless and miserable. The night was railing against the morning of which it was bereaved, and the cold was cursing the warmth for which it hungered.

                        Edited by - Mr. Nice Guy on June 15 2003 20:04:45


                          Karate practiced only by nobles?? Since when?

                          I always thought that Ju Jutsu was the art that was practiced by the nobility and the samurai.

                          It was always my understanding that Karate was developed by the Okinawan farmers as a means of defense from the invading Japanese. They implemented farming tools because the Japanese had outlawed the posession of edged and bladed weapons.

                          But then, I could be wrong.

                          Hatred is the coward's revenge for being intimidated. - Geroge Bernard Shaw
                          "Onward we stagger, and if the tanks come, may God help the tanks." - Col. William O. Darby


                            It STARTED being based down by the nobles...but then filtered down..keep in mind the chinese "professors" who were giving the okinawans an education were also teaching them how to fight. The poor were not the ones recieving these tutors at first.


                              passed down*



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