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Karate In the Ryukyu Kingdom Lecture Follow-up

Photo by Sensei Angel Lemus


Last Thursday, Sensei Pat Nakata and I presented the lecture,

Karate in the Ryukyu Kingdom, Okinawa Prefecture, and Hawaii.
How is Okinawan Culture Spread through Karate?

at the Manoa Campus of the University of Hawaii. The lecture was sponsored by the Center for Okinawn Studies, which is headed by Dr. Joyce Chinen. My contact at the center for the lecture was Lynette Teruya, who was very supportive and helpful. Gay Satsuma of the Center for Japanese Studies attended, as did Dr. Alfred Yama Kina, who had given a lecture a few months ago about his experiences in Shuri. My Sensei in Hawaii, Sensei Rodney Shimabukuro, and his wife, Joyce also attended.

Here are links to the Flyer and Handout for the Lecture. I hope that you will review the Handout as it presents some of the materials we covered. It includes a Bibliography, a chart about the Ryukyu Caste System, and a list of ten Karate people with their Ryukyu Kingdom titles.

The lecture started at 3:00 p.m. and the room was filled with attendees, including three members of our Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai: Sensei Herbert Ishida, Sensei Hisae Ishii-Chang, and Sensei Sean Roberts. Sensei Angel Lemus who is also a member of the Kenkyukai attended and took video of the entire lecture. He is working on the footage for uploading to Youtube. Nakata Sensei and I are very grateful to Lemus Sensei for his expertise and hard work. I will post here when the video is uploaded.

I had prepared a Powerpoint presentation with about 90 slides. Lemus Sensei is incorporating the slides in the video. I'm sure that this is a big job for him.

I started the lecture with information about the Ryukyu Kingdom and its caste system. Karate experts and instructors were almost exclusively members of the Uekata and Peechin class, with most being in the Pechin class. Sometimes these classes are compared to "Lords" or "Daimyo" and "Samurai", but in my opinion, comparisons to Japanese classes are not very helpful. To me, the Uekata and Pechin classes (with the various subclasses), were Ryukyu Kingdom officials and the equivalent of civil servants with many privileges.

I contrasted the historical information we have about Karate experts in the Ryukyu Kingdom with the popular story about Karate being developed by Okinawan peasants and farmers to protect themselves against the invading Satsuma samurai (1609). In fact, I have found that most of the "popular" stories about Karate are simply myths. To understand the development of Karate, it is essential to study the Ryukyu Kingdom.

Nakata Sensei presented information about the Chinese origins of Karate, outlining some of the sources of Chinese contacts. He shared how his teacher, Chosin Chibana, said that known Karate began with Kanga Teruya, who became known as Tudi (or Tote) Sakugawa. You can see the handout for his birth and death dates and social rank.

I was given a lot of help with the Caste System chart by my Sensei in Okinawa, Sensei Katsuhiko Shnzato, and Dr. Alfred Yama Kina. Dr. Kina also studies Okinawan dance here in Hawaii with Sensei Kikue Kaneshiro. My Hawaii Sensei's wife, Joyce Shimabukuro, also studied with Kaneshiro Sensei. I learned a lot about the Kingdom period by reading Dr. Kina's thesis, which is listed in the Bibliography.

I mentioned that in the Ryukyu Kingdom, rank in Karate either did not exist or was pretty irrelevant -- what mattered was your position in Ryukyu society and the level of your service to the King. Karate instructors might have taught students who were of higher social classes, and I'm sure that each was acutely aware of this.

Lemus Sensei and I both study styles of Karate that trace to Chotoku Kyan. Kyan Sensei's father, Chofu Kyan, is listed in the handout, and was a member of the Ryukyu Kingdom's last Sanshikan (Council of Three). The Sanshikan was one of the highest bodies in the Ryukyu government. Chofu Kyan was a student of Sokon "Bushi" Matsumura, who is also listed in the handout. Chofu Kyan also became King Sho Tai's Chamberlain and oversaw all of this assets. He is another example of a Karate expert who was a member of the Ryukyu Kingdom's "official" classes.

Shinzato Sensei had actually prepared a much longer list of Karate experts for me. I reduced this to 10 for the handout. During the Ryukyu Kingdom period, all were of the Shizoku, or privileged classes. Okinawan elders I have spoken to all said that life for "commoners" was very difficult in Okinawa, and working people worked extremely hard all day. Natural resources were very limited. Only the privileged classes had time for Karate -- and access to instructors.

After the Ryukyu Kingdom was abolished and King Sho Tai was forced into exile in Tokyo, Karate had to adapt to the policies of the Japanese Empire. It is very interesting that Karate experts where of the same social classes as Ryukyu dance and music experts. All of these "professionals", deprived of their stipends, lands (if applicable), and titles, had to find a way to make a living. Many moved away from Shuri and began to teach their respective arts to the pubic -- rather than just to members of their own social classes. To me, this probably brought about the greatest change in Karate. Teaching Karate to the public resulted in two Karates -- the old and the new. The new was ultimately taught in the Okinawan school system and this form of Karate, generally, is what spread to mainland Japan and other countries.

But the old was also preserved, particularly with people such as Chosin Chibana, Nakata Sensei's teacher in Okinawa (his original teacher in Hawaii was Sensei Walter Nishioka, who is also a member of our Hawaii Karate Kenkukai -- in fact, I saw him today at our training). Chibana Sensei learned from Anko Itosu (who learned from Sokon Matsumura, who learned from Tote Sakugawa, who learned from Kusanku (a Chinese envoy)). I asked Nakata Sensei to share Chibana Sensei's Karate-Do No Kokoroe, which is printed in the Handout. I will let you watch the video to hear Nakata Sensei's words. One story that moved me involved a challenge match that Nakata Sensei was forced to accept when he studied in Okinawa. In the end, Chibana Sensei intervened to restrain Nakata Sensei from finishing off his challenger, saying that we must also have compassion for our enemies.

Karate was taught in the Okinawan school system around 1903 or so. The first Okinawan immigrants to Hawaii left Okinawa in December of 1899 and arrived on January 6, 1900. At least three Karate practitioners were among them. Kisaburo Kawakami had actually arrived four years earlier. His son, Kitaro Kawakami, was a student of Kentsu Yabu, which makes me suspect that his father had learned from Sokon Matsumura. Succeeding waves of Okinawan immigrants continued to bring Karate to Hawaii. The early students had learned the "old" style, not the public school version.

One question we asked was "How is Okinawan Culture Spread Through Karate?" I summarized some of the exhibits, demonstrations, lectures, and events that our Hawaii Karate Museum and my friends in the Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai had participated in over the years. I also described our museum's donation to the University of Hawaii of the Hawaii Karate Museum Collection, a permanent collection at the Okinawan Collection of the Hamilton Library at the Manoa Campus. Please check the Digital Archives for some excellent books and materials that are online.

We have worked to help establish Karate as a subject worthy of study, individually and at the University level. But the way that Karate is taught is from Sensei to student, and the way that Karate is learned is through training. If Okinawan and Ryukyuan culture is to be spread, it will have to happen in the dojo, school, recreation center, or garage. It has to be spread from Sensei to student, and from older brother or sister to younger.

I have often been advised by Okinawan elders that in order to understand and appreciate Karate, you should study the history and culture of its homeland -- Okinawa. I agree completely. Together, as Instructors and Students of Karate, let us do our very best not only to learn the physical aspects of the art, but to also learn about the Ryukyu Kingdom and Okinawa, and the values that shaped and guided the early Karate pioneers.

Nakata Sensei and I hope that the lecture was one small step in this direction. We were supposed to end at 4:30 p.m., but with questions we went to about 4:45 p.m. The Center for Okinawan studies then served some refreshments.

I am very grateful to Nakata Sensei of sharing his insights and lessons. I have learned so much from him over the years, and continue to do so today. We also want to thank Lemus Sensei, Shinzato Sensei, Dr. Kina, Dr. Chinen, Lynette Teruya, and everyone who helped us with the lecture, and to all the attendees. I also want to thank Shimaburo Sensei and his wife Joyce, and the Center for Okinawan Studies, Dr. Kina, and Joyce for the beautiful lei.

If you like the video, I hope that you might ask your students to watch it. Again, I will announce here when it is available online.

Respectfully in the art,

Charles C. Goodin