by Chojun Miyagi
Editor’s Note: This article is a translation of an essay prepared by Miyagi and presented to club members at the time of his “About Karate-do” lecture and demonstration at the lecture hall on the 4th floor of Meiji Shoten on 28th November 1936. Miyagi is one of Okinawa’s most famous and influential karate pioneers and the founder of Goju-Ryu karate. The title of this essay in Japanese is “Ryukyu Kenpo Karatedo Enkaku Gaiyo.”
What is karate? It is the art we exercise mind and body for health promotion in daily life, but in case of emergency it is the art of self-defense without any weapon. In most cases we fight with our bodies – hands, feet, elbows, etc. – to defeat opponents. However, in some cases, in accordance with circumstances, we may also use weapons (such as Bo, Sai, Nunchaku, Tonfa, Weeku, Kama, etc.).
People often misunderstand karate. When they see someone breaking five wooden boards or a few pieces of roof tile by his or her fist, they think it is a main part of karate. Of course, it is not a main part of karate but a trivial part of karate. Like other fighting arts, the truth of karate or Tao of karate can be understood and mastered at the ultimate goal which is beyond teachings and impossible to describe by words.
2. How the martial arts was introduced to Ryukyu
The name “karate” is a special term in Ryukyu. Karate originated from Chinese kung fu. We have few books on the origin of Chinese kung fu, so we cannot conclude immediately, but according to a theory, the martial arts originated in central Asia and the area around Turkey when the ancient civilization was developed. And then it was introduced to China gradually.
However, we still have another theory. It says that about 5,000 years ago Chinese kung fu originated at the age of Yellow Emperor (Emperor Huang) who built the brilliant culture at the Yellow River basin. Anyway, it is not difficult to imagine that the prototype of martial arts was born by the fighting spirit for struggle which human beings possess by nature. For example, most styles of Chinese kung fu were created by mimicking fights of animals or birds. You can see it from the styles’ names such as Tiger Style, Lion Style, Monkey Style, Dog Style, Crane Style and so on. In the age a little later, Chinese kung fu split into Southern school and Northern school. Moreover, each school split into Neijia and Waijia.
The characteristic of Neijia is mainly softness, and it is a defensive fighting art. Wudang kung fu (Tai chi for example) is typical of Neijia. The characteristic of Waijia is mainly hardness, and it is an aggressive fighting art. Shaolin kung fu is typical of Waijia, which was created at Shaolin Temple in Songshang Mountain, Henan (Honan) province. And later, in the ages of Tang dynasty and Song dynasty, we can find many kung fu warriors at the height of their success.
When we consider how karate was introduced to Ryukyu (Okinawa), we have various opinions without any historical evidence. We have not yet come to a correct conclusion on this matter. There are three main opinions, namely “Thirty-six Chinese Immigrants“, “Oshima Notes” and “Importation in Keicho Period“. Simple explanations of each opinion follow.
(1) Thirty-six Chinese Immigrants: In 1392 (Ming dynasty in China), thirty-six Chinese immigrants came to Ryukyu. At that time karate was introduced to Ryukyu by Chinese immigrants.
(2) Oshima Notes: In 1762, the merchant ship of the Ryukyu Kingdom was caught in a heavy storm on the way to Satsuma (Kagoshima prefecture now), and cast ashore on the coast of Oshima, Tosa (Kochi prefecture now). Shiohira Pechin, a high rank official of the ship, was an intelligent person. He was helped by Choki Tobe, an intellectual who lived in Oshima. Tobe wrote down Shiohira’s interesting stories about the Ryukyu Kingdom. His notes were called “Oshima Notes“. The 3rd volume of “Oshima Notes” says: “Koshankun, a kung fu warrior, came from China to Ryukyu (Okinawa) bringing his disciples with him.” According to the Notes, at that time people called the martial arts “Kumiaijutsu” instead of karate. These notes are the most reliable literature on karate.
(3) Importation in Keicho Period: In 1609 (14th year of Keicho period), the Shimazu clan of Satsuma (Kagoshima prefecture now) invaded the Ryukyu Kingdom, and they prohibited possessing weapons by people of Ryukyu. Some believe that karate was created spontaneously due to the cruel oppression by Satsuma. The others insist that karate was not a domestic creation but was imported from China. I think it is reasonable to consider that karate was a fusion of martial arts from China and “Te,” a native martial arts which had already existed, so karate was developed remarkably and even today it is still improved rationally and developed. We have a few different opinions on origin of karate, but they are popular misconceptions and not worth listening to.
As mentioned above, so far we do not have any definite and convincing opinion yet. Anyway, karate has been developed, modified and improved for so many years.
3. Karate circles in the past
We also do not know the origin of the name “karate”, but it is true that the name “karate” was made recently. In the old days it was called “Te”. At that time people used to practice karate secretly, and masters taught a few advanced kata out of all the kata only to his best disciple. If he had no suitable disciple, he never taught them to anyone, and eventually such kata have completely died out. As a result, there are many kata which were not handed down.
In about middle of the Meiji period (1868-1912), prominent karate masters abolished the old way of secrecy. Karate was opened to the public, so it was soon recognized by society. It was the dawn in the development of karate. In accordance with the rapidly progressing culture, karate was also recognized as physical education, and it was adopted as one of the teaching subjects at school. Therefore, at last karate has won social approval.
4. How we teach karate at present.
According to oral history, in the old days, the teaching policy of karate put emphasis on self-defense techniques. With just a motto of “no first attack in karate,” teachers showed their students the moral aspects. However, I’ve heard that in reality they tended to neglect such moral principles. So gradually the teaching policy was improved with the change of the times.
Now we have discontinued and abolished the wrong tradition of so-called “body first, and mind second”, and we have made our way toward Tao of fighting arts or the truth of karate. Eventually we have obtained the correct motto “mind first, and body second,” which means karate and Zen are the same.
Those who are engaged in teaching karate in Okinawa prefecture and outside Okinawa prefecture at present are as follows (in random order):
In Okinawa prefecture:
Kentsu Yabu, Chomo Hanashiro, Chotoku Kyan, Anbun Tokuda, Juhatsu Kyoda, Choshin Chibana, Jinsei Kamiya, Shinpan Shiroma, Seiko Higa, Kamado Nakasone, Jin-an Shinzato, Chojun Miyagi
Outside Okinawa prefecture:
Gichin Funakoshi, Choki Motobu, Kenwa Mabuni, Masaru Sawayama, Sanyu Sakai, Moden Yabiku, Jizaburo Miki, Yasuhiro Konishi, Shinji Sato, Mizuine Mutsu, Kamesuke Higaonna, Shinjun Otsuka, Shin Taira, Koki Shiroma, Kanbun Uechi
5. About karate styles or Ryu
There are various opinions about Ryu or styles of karate in Ryukyu (Okinawa), but they are just guesses without any definite research or evidence. With regard to this matter, we feel as if we are groping in the dark.
According to popular opinion, we can categorize karate
into two styles: Shorin-Ryu and Shorei-Ryu. They (traditional view) insist that the former is fit for a stout person, while the latter for a slim person. However, such an opinion proved to be false by many studies. In the mean time, there is only one opinion we can trust. It is as follows: In 1828 (Qing or Ching dynasty in China), our ancestors inherited a kung fu style of Fujian province in China. They continued their studies and formed Goju-Ryu karate. Even today, there still exists an orthodox group which inherited genuine and authentic Goju-Ryu karate.
6. The features of karate
Some good points of karate are as follows:
(1) A large place or a spacious area is not required for practicing karate.
(2) You can practice karate by yourself. You can also do it together with other karate members by forming a group.
(3) You don’t have to spend many hours in practicing karate.
(4) You can choose Kata suitable for your physical strength and practice it regardless of age and gender.
(5) Without spending much money, you can practice karate with simple equipment (such as Makiwara) or without it.
(6) Karate is very effective as a means of health promotion. There are many karateka who are healthy and live long.
(7) As a result of training in mind and body, you can cultivate your character and acquire indomitable spirit.
7. The future of karate-do
The days when karate was taught secretly is over, and the new age has come in which we practice and study karate publicly and officially. Therefore, the future of karate-do is bright. Taking this opportunity, we should stop advertising karate as if it were a mysterious and magical fighting art on a small island called Ryukyu.
We should open karate to the public and receive criticism, opinions and studies from other prominent fighting artists. In the future, we should invent complete protectors for a safe karate tournament like other fighting arts, so that karate can become one of the Japanese fighting arts.
Nowadays karate-do has become popular all over Japan, where many people study karate-do very hard. Even outside Japan, karate-do is popular. There is a man who graduated from university in Tokyo. He is now propagating and studying karate-do in Europe. In May 1934, I was invited to propagate and teach karate-do in Hawaii, U.S.A. by Okinawans there and a newspaper company. Karate clubs have been established in Hawaii since then. As mentioned above, now karate-do has become not only a Japanese martial art but also an international martial art.
8. The teaching method of karate
As each person has his or her distinctive character, the muscle development is different depending on his or her muscle use. Therefore, at first, we do “Preparatory Exercises” to develop our muscles so that we can practice karate exercises easier, and then “Fundamental Kata”, “Supplementary Exercise”, “Kaishu Kata” and “Kumite Training.” We teach karate in this way.
Each outline is as follows:
(1) Preparatory Exercises: We exercise each muscle of our body in order to enhance its flexibility, strength and endurance, and then we practice the fundamental Kata, namely Sanchin, Tensho and Naifanchi. We do these preparatory exercises again after practice of kata to relax our muscles. And we take a breathing exercise and take a rest quietly.
(2) Fundamental Kata: Sanchin, Tensho and Naifanchi are the fundamental kata. Through practicing them, we can develop correct posture. We can inhale and exhale correctly. We can adjust increasing or decreasing our power harmoniously. We can develop a powerful physique and the strong will of a warrior.
(3) Supplementary Exercises: These exercises enable us to learn and perform Kaishu Kata well. We exercise each part of our body with a particular movement. We also practice with various equipment to enhance our outer whole strength and particular part strength.
(4) Kaishu Kata (Kata except Fundamental Kata): Nowadays we have about twenty or thirty kinds of kata, and their names vary depending on their creators. Kata has techniques of defense and offense which are connected appropriately. It has various directions of the movements and it is something like gymnastics. We should perform Kata by using power of the mind and body in accordance with its technical purpose so that we can learn the principle of untying and tying.
(5) Kumite Training: We untie Kaishu Kata which we already learned, and we study techniques of defense and offense in Kaishu Kata. Understanding its technical purpose, we practice the techniques of attack and defense with fighting spirit like a real situation.
I summarize as follows:
We develop the interaction of mind and body from the fundamental Kata, Sanchin, Tensho and Naifanchi. We develop the spirit of martial arts by acquiring fighting techniques through practicing Kaishu Kata and Kumite training correctly.