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Haka -- Tombs in Okinawa

We often hear that Karate students would train late at night at the haka (family tomb) of their Sensei. In Okinawa, haka are stone or cement structures and can easily be much more expensive than the family home.

When I read about this, I always imagined the haka to be some far away place, perhaps in a large cemetery. I thought that the students were going to the haka to preserve the "secret" art they were learning.

But during my two visits to Okinawa (2002 and 2007), I noticed that there were haka on just about every hill I could see. There were even haka in residential areas. I imagine that there were literally haka everywhere!

Some of the haka are carved into the hillside. It did not seem that there would be much room to practice there. Others did have a smooth cement or granite open area in the front. Training could take place there. You have to remember that only one or two or a few students would practice. The haka did not have to accommodate a large group. Dojo in Okinawa tend to be pretty small. A 500 square foot dojo is pretty big!

It is important to remember that Karate students might have practiced at the haka, not in the haka. The larger haka are locked and contain urns with the bones and ashes of the deceased. Smaller haka only appear to have room for storage. A person could not stand up inside.

On my last visit to Okinawa, I visted the tombs of Chomo Hanashiro, Sokon Matsumura, and Anko Itosu. These had recently been relocated because of construction work in their former area (I think a new road was being built). Now the tombs are in a flat area near a residential area. I seriously doubt that any Karate students practice there. But the flowers placed on the tombs showed that people had come to show their respect.


Charles C. Goodin