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Okinawan Army Service

It is well known that the physiques of some of Anko Itosu's students was one of the reasons that Karate was allowed to be taught in the Okinawan school system. Students such as Kentsu Yabu and Chomo Hanashiro, had distinguished themselves in the Japanese Army. The Japanese administrators of the Okinawan School system were convinced (by Itosu and Kanryo Higashionna, apparently) that Karate training would improve the conditioning of the students -- and just maybe make them better potential soldiers.

Here is the irony. Many of the young men who came to Hawaii from Okinawa, did so to avoid military service. When you speak to the elders here, many readily admit that this was the reason.

You have to understand that Okinawans were second class citizens in Japan in the early part of the 1900s. The Ryukyu Kingdom had been abolished in 1879. A prolonged period of forced assimilation followed. Okinawan conscripts to the Japanese military likely faced prejudice and the least desireable, most dangerous assignments.

Thus it was that many Okinawan young men sought their fortunes in places like Hawaii (as well as the mainland United States and South America). Some of those who came to Hawaii also brought Karate with them. In 1927, several were reunited with Yabu Sensei, who was on the way back to Okinawa from California, where he had stayed for eight years. He stayed here for about eight months, and taught Karate on Oahu and Kauai.

Yabu was also known as Yabu Gunso ("Sergeant"), Yabu Chusa ("Lieutenant"), and Yabu No Tanme ("elder"). Admiral Kenwa Kanna was also in Hawaii during Yabu's visit. I wonder if any of Yabu's students had come to Hawaii to avoid military service? Perhaps we'll never know.


Charles C. Goodin