Many historians trace Okinawan karate history and indeed the history of the martial arts in the Far East to Bodhidharma, the Indian Buddhist monk who travelled to China in around 527 CE.
He stayed at the Shaolin Temple where he is said to have taught the monks an ancient form of Indian martial arts known as Vajramushti, which dates back to around 1000 BCE.
From there it grew and developed into what we now know as kung fu and spread right throughout China. Over the centuries, it is believed that Chinese martial artists visited the island of Okinawa and passed on their knowledge, developing over time into an art that was unique to the island.
From 1609, Okinawa was run by the Satsuma samurai clan from Japan and under their rule, weapons and martial arts in general were banned. Though the use of some weapons was still practiced, their ban had a profound influence on the art as it led to the secret development of many empty handed techniques.
All those who chose to learn martial arts had to do so in secret or risk punishment from the authorities. As a result, very little information was written down about the martial arts in Okinawa before the 20th century and much of what was recorded unfortunately hasn’t survived, leaving the exact details of what was practiced and believed a mystery.
Much of what is generally accepted as karate history fact comes from an oral tradition and unreliable sources making it very difficult to know where the truth ends and myths & legends begin; even work written by masters may have relied on historically inaccurate sources.
The Okinawan karateka Motobu Chōki (本部 朝基, 1870-1944), younger brother of
karateka Motobu Chōyū, was born in Akahira Village in Shuri, Okinawa, then capital of the Ryūkyū Kingdom.
His father, Lord Motobu Chōshin (Motobu Aji Chōsin) was a descendant of the sixth son of the Okinawan King, Shō Shitsu (1629-1668), namely Shō Kōshin, also known as Prince Motobu Chōhei (1655-1687). Chōki was the third son of Motobu Udun (“Motobu Palace”), one of cadet branches of the royal Okinawan Shō family. As the last of three sons, Motobu Chōki was not entitled to an education in his family’s style of Te (an earlier name for karate). Despite this Motobu was very interested in the art, spending much of his youth training on his own, hitting the makiwara, and lifting heavy stones to increase his strength. He is reported to have been very agile, which gained him the nickname Motobu no Saru, or “Motobu the Monkey.” He began practicing karate under Ankō Itosu and continued under Matsumura Sōkon, Sakuma Pechin and Kōsaku Matsumora.
Chotoku Kyan (喜屋武 朝徳 Kyan Chōtoku, born December 1870 in Shuri, Okinawa – September 20, 1945 in Ishikawa, Okinawa) was an Okinawan karate master who was famous for both his karate skills, and his colorful personal life. Chotoku Kyan (also spelled Chotoku Kiyan) was a large influence in the styles of karate that would become Shorin-Ryu and its related styles.
Chotoku Kyan was born as the first son of Chofu Kyan who was a steward to the Ryukyuan King before the realm’s official assimilation into Japan as the Okinawan Prefecture. Kyan was noted for being small in stature, suffering from asthma and frequently bed-ridden. He also had poor eyesight, which may have led to his early nickname Chan Migwa (squinty-eyed Chan).
Kyan’s father is noted as possibly having a background in karate and even teaching Kyan tegumi in his early years. When Kyan was 20 years old, he began his karate training under Ankoh Itosu, Kosaku Matsumora and Kokan Oyadomori. While at 30 years of age, he was considered a master of the karate styles known as Shuri-te and Tomari-te. The most long time student of Kyan was Zenryō Shimabukuro, who studied with Kyan for over 10 years. Kyan is also noted for encouraging his students to visit brothels and to engage in alcohol consumption at various times.
Kyan was a participant in the 1936 meeting of Okinawan masters, where the term “karate” was standardized, and other far-reaching decisions were made regarding martial arts of the island at the time.
Ankichi Arakaki 1899-1927 The first of 11 children, Ankichi Arakaki was born in November 1899, in Akata Village, Shuri. His family were sake (rice wine) brewers and, as such, enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle and eventually moved to Tori-hori Village. Sensei Arakaki commenced his karate training at an early age, learning from Shinpan Gusukuma (his primary school teacher) and also Chomo Hanashiro (his junior high school teacher), before leaving school and intensifying his training under Chosin Chibana (founder of Kobayashi Shorin-ryu). Ankichi Arakaki 1899-1927 The first of 11 children, Ankichi Arakaki was born in November 1899, in Akata Village, Shuri. His family were sake (rice wine) brewers and, as such, enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle and eventually moved to Tori-hori Village.
Sensei Arakaki commenced his karate training at an early age, learning from Shinpan Gusukuma (his primary school teacher) and also Chomo Hanashiro (his junior high school teacher), before leaving school and intensifying his training under Chosin Chibana (founder of Kobayashi Shorin-ryu).It was because of the wealth that his family enjoyed that Arakaki was able to devote a great deal of time to his training, and soon became very proficient, earning the nickname of ‘Uwayaguwa Ankichi’ (Ankichi of Uwayaguwa). His specialty was the development of the toe kick or tsumasaki-geri.One story tells of the devastating effect of Arakaki’s toe kick: Once, when Sensei was around twenty years old, he and some friends were in a tea house in Tsuji drinking and having a good time. While getting up to go to the toilet, he accidentally bumped into a big man who insisted on picking a quarrel with him in the corridor on the second floor. Trying to ignore the man, Sensei was unable to get out of his way, which resulted in Sensei being shoved down the staircase. Being in such good physical condition, Arakaki was able to roll down the stairs avoiding injury. The enraged man leaped down the stairs and grabbed Arakaki by the arm, trying to yank him up in an effort to punch his face. Seizing the man’s arm with the other hand, Sensei drove his toes deeply into the armpit of his attacker, which resulted in the man dropping to the ground unconscious.
Needless to say, Sensei never returned to that tea house again. About six months later, while reading the newspaper one morning, Ankichi was shocked to see a story which described some big wrestler who had died as a result of injuries sustained by “some karate expert” at a tea house in Tsuji. The article went on to say that “survived by two daughters, both of whom were serious judoka, the family sought to revenge the death of their beloved father”. In spite of the man allegedly dying sometime after his encounter with Arakaki, the police were never called in, and a subsequent investigation was unable to provide the actual reason for his death
Around 1921, after discharge from his military service, he moved to the village of Kadena. Unfortunately, due to the fact that his father had died and the family business was profoundly affected by the recession which followed World War 1, Sensei Ankichi Arakaki contracted stomach ulcers and died on 28th December 1927. He was just 28 years old.
Shoshin Nagamine (長嶺 将真, Nagamine Shōshin, 1907-07-15–1997-11-02) was a Japanese author, soldier, police officer and karate master.Nagamine was born in Tomari, in Naha City, Okinawa. He was a small and sickly child, and he contracted a gastroenteric disorder in 1926, his second year of high school. He began a self-imposed diet and took up karate under the watchful eye of his next-door neighbour, Chojin Kuba. Nagamine soon became a picture of good health, crediting his recovery to “hard work both at school and training of Karate”. His health improved to such an extent that he became a leader of the school’s karate club, and his friends dubbed him Chaippaii Matsu, a nickname meaning “tenacious pine tree”.
After graduation in March 1928, he began to study martial arts full time, moving to Shuri and training under Taro Shimabuku and Ankichi Arakaki. Later that year, he was conscripted into the Japanese army in the 47th Infantry Division, and fought in China before receiving an honourable discharge in 1931.
Leaving the army, Nagamine sought an area in which his martial arts abilities would be useful, eventually settling on the police force. During his time as a police officer, Nagamine received further instruction in karate from Chotoku Kyan and Motobu Choki, and achieved the title of Renshi in 1940. By 1951, Nagamine was a Police Superintendent, of Motobu, and was training his own officers in karate.
Nagamine retired as a policeman in 1952, and in 1953 he returned to Naha City and set up his own dojo, which he named “Matsubayashi-Ryu Kododan Karate and Ancient Martial Arts Studies”. From the dojo he taught Matsubayashi-ryu, a karate school he had invented in 1947, and named in honour of Sokon Matsumura and Kosaku Matsumora. He continued to teach the discipline until his death in 1997.
Nagamine wrote two books in Japanese, The Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do and Tales of Okinawa’s Great Masters. The Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do, which has been reprinted many times, was first published in the English language in 1976. Tales of Okinawa’s Great Masters received its first English translation in 2000.
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