The Source of Karate

I have heard the analogy that the spread of karate can be likened to a bouquets of flowers. When they are harvested the flowers are beautiful, but over time they wilt and fade. They lack the roots and soil to continue their growth and reproduction, so over time they die. Karate was transmitted to the world from Okinawa, but in most cases was done so without maintaining the roots. Over time this leads to a hollow version of karate that eventually withers and dies.

Most Okinawan karate teachers have spent decades with their own teachers before starting a new dojo. Even when they have their own dojo they are still connected to their teacher either formally or informally, and in most cases they will still receive guidance until their teacher passes on. All this is done in a common linguistic and cultural matrix. This is the way karate was propagated for hundreds of years before the Japanese, and later Westerners, became interested in karate. After these visitors developed an interest in karate, they stayed on Okinawa for relatively short periods of time, and learned in an environment of an unfamiliar language and culture before going back to their homes and spreading karate.

 

This is true of all the American servicemen that initially brought karate to the USA. It is also true of Yamaguchi Gogen who founded Goju kai on the mainland of Japan. As for Shotokan while Funakoshi was Okinawan, he was not a top Shorin practitioner of his day, and was chosen to represent karate at a mainland Japan demonstration because he could speak Japanese. I hear someone mentioning Mabuni, again he was never said to be the top practitioner in either Naha-te or Shuri-te. I am fairly certain that these men were very good karate-ka and tried in earnest to transmit their knowledge but like any game of Chinese Whispers the message can and often does become distorted. Purposes change and so then does technique. All of these problems require a correction and that can be returning to the source material.

Many serious budoka seek out the source of their arts. Some kendo players end up in live sword arts, some of those who practice aikido go back aikijutsu, and so on. The idea of looking to the roots of one's art can be seen as part of the path to a fuller understanding of what they do. For the karateka, that path leads to Okinawa. Those who come find it well worth their time to investigate the origins of their style.

To those interested in such an endeavour the question becomes, "What style is the progenitor of my style?" Well, for example, with Goju kai the connection to Goju ryu is clear. Shotokan is offshoot of Shorin.Taekwondo is a mix of Shotokan and local Korean arts, so it traces part of its lineage back again to Shorin. Shitoryu has its roots in both Goju and Shorin. One could do a similar search for the roots of Okinawan kobudo were they so inclined.

In my time here I have met both Japanese and Westerner karateka that have come back to train with their Okinawan source, and I have yet to meet anyone that has left the island disappointed. If you are interested in finding a teacher you could look here, here, or just use this.

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Zen Okinawa Karate Do Renmei 全沖縄空手道連盟

For those of you who don't know the Zen Okinawa Karate Do Renmei is the oldest multi-style karate organization on the island. I was at the recent general meeting and took some photos and videos.  Enjoy.

 

Here are the videos: Gaja Sensei, Ryusyokai, Meibukan, and the Pan round the room.

And here are the photos:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hokama’s Karate Dojo and Museum

We at Gateway To Okinawa are proud to add Hokama Tetsuhiro sensei to our lists of teachers. After talking to him for several hours the other day at his dojo, he has allowed us to introduce potential students to him. We can also arrange seminars and training with Hokama sensei. He is also willing to share his knowledge of history through his tours of historic sites around Okinawa. We can arrange this with Hokama sensei as well as any accommodations you may require.

Hokama sensei is also a master calligrapher and will take orders through us. So if your shinzen needs a beautiful piece of calligraphy we can help you in obtaining it from sensei.

Certainly you can contact the Hokama dojo directly, or go through one of the branch dojo if you know someone, but we are happy to help anyone who wishes to learn more about Okinawa karate and would like to contact Hokama sensei.

Here is a video of our recent visit. It gives you an idea of how much history is packed into this dojo.

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Form and function as a way to judge technique.

So I thought I would give this blogging thing a try - since I am already fond of drunken karate diatribes I thought it would be a fairly natural extension to explore. First off all my knowledge comes from my teachers, and all my mistakes are my own.

 

Why do people do karate? This is, in my opinion, the most important question that the practitioner needs to ask themselves. Being trained as an engineer I had the axiom that form always follows function drilled into me, and I see technique the same way. If you know the problem then you can see how well your solution works to solve it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I like to use the analogy of a knife. Knives have many different purposes and thus have many different forms. The Swiss army knife does many things, but doesn't do any of them particularly well; conversely a combat knife is designed for killing people and therefore has a shape that suits this purpose. Cooking knives come in a variety of shapes and sizes some for de-boning, carving, or hacking. Each shape optimized for its purpose.

 

Kata means shape or form. Given that, then one can apply this concept to their kata. Why does one stop at this particular spot in kata? Say, for example, if you are trying to gain range of motion from a position. Then the answer is much simpler: does this position optimize range of motion, if not how can one change it to improve its implementation?

 

 

 

 

 

So if you are unaware of why you do karate or any martial arts then you lack a critical evaluation criteria. My first question is always 'Why do you do karate?' if you don't know the answer to this question then you have no direction to reach your goals.

James East

 

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Uchinanchu Festival Videos

We just added a bunch of karate and kobudo videos from the Uchinanchu Festival to our YouTube channel. Some of the video is kind of raw and a little shaky in places. If you have any information on the people preforming please feel free to comment.

 

Gateway To Okinawa YouTube Channel

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