History of Toshu Jutsu (Karate) part 3: 1870-1920

In Part 1, we met the pioneers of the 1700s, including Hama Higa, Takahara Peichin, Chatan Yara and Tode Sakugawa. In Part 2 we met the pioneers of the early 1800s including Bushi Matsumura, Bushi Kojo, Kosaku Matsumora, Oyadomari and Seisho Aragaki.

By the 1870s, three traditions had emerged:

Shuri Te (Matsumura)

– Naihanchi
– Pinan
– Bassai
– Kushanku
– Chinto
– Jion
– Seishan
– Gojushiho

Tomari Te (Matsumora, Oyadomari)

– Naihanchi
– Bassai
– Chinto
– Jutte
– Wansu
– Seishan

Naha Te (Kojo, Aragaki)

– Sanchin
– Seishan
– Sanseiru/Niseishi
– Shisochin/Unsu
– Sochin
– Suparimpei
– Wankan

Conventional history states that Shuri Te came into being when it was inherited from Matsumura by Itosu, and Naha Te came into being when Kanryo Higaonna went to China in the 1870s. As we have seen, this isn’t the case.

The true fathers of Naha Te were the Kojo family and Aragaki, and Itosu was far from being only a disciple of Matsumura.

Anko Itosu (born 1831) began to study the martial arts in Tomari Te with Nagahama Chikudon Peichin. After taking and passing civil services exams he became a clerk for the Ryukyu government. Itosu continued his training in the martial arts, again in Tomari Te with Matsumora Kosaku and Anan in 1873 (Sakagami). He may, in fact, have begun training with the legendary Sokon “Bushi”Matsumura when in his late thirties.

According to Choki Motobu, Matsumura did not originally think very highly of Itosu. He wrote: “Sensei Itosu was a pupil of Sensei Matsumura, but he was disliked by his teacher for he was very slow. For although Itosu sensei was diligent in his practice his teacher did not care about him so he (Itosu) left and went to sensei Nagahama.”

According Motobu, while Sensei Nagahama was quite well known and very diligent, his method or idea of teaching was entirely different from master Matsumura. Nagahama stressed just building of the body. Apparently Itosu adjusted well and trained hard for Motobu reports that Nagahama referred to Itosu as his disciple and “right hand man.” It must have been a shock when Nagahama told Itosu on his deathbed (as reported by Motobu), that he had actually only taught him (Itosu) strength building and had never once given thought to actual combat. In other words his method lacked the idea of liberty in motion and alertness in action, and therefore he wanted him to go back to master Matsumura.

Chosin Chibana recalled a similar exchange between the two men. Matsumura had once said to Itosu: “With your strong punch you can knock anything down, but you can’t so much as touch me.”

By the 1870s, Shuri Te and Tomari Te were more or less combined into one school with a repertoire of forms very much resembling modern day Shotokan.

Itosu himself set about creating new forms. He increased the number of Pinan forms to five, added Kanku Sho to go with Kanku Dai, and created Chinte to go with Chinto.

The Itosu school of Shuri/Tomari Te included around 20 kata including:

Pinan 1-5 (Heian)
Naihanchi 1-3 (Tekki)
Bassai Dai and Sho
Kanku Dai and Sho
Jutte, Jin, Jion
Wansu (Empi)
Chinto (Gankaku)

Meanwhile in Naha, a student of Seisho Aragaki named Higaonna Kanryo decided to follow in the footsteps of Aragaki, Matsumura and Kojo and go to train in Fujian.

We should note here that Higaonna was already studying in Naha with Aragaki. His repertoire was already quite vast. Therefore when he met the aquaintance of his teacher Ryuru Ko, he did not do so as a beginner.

Another man from Naha named Nakaima Norisato (later of Ryuei Ryu) made a similar training trip and he too trained with Ryuru Ko. Patrick McCarthy has identified Ryuku Ko with the Whooping Crane master Xie Zhongxiang but this is by no means definite. Now there were four distinct traditions in Naha – those of the Kojo family, those of Aragaki, those of Higaonna and those of Norisato.

Meanwhile in Shuri and Tomari, those traditions too were developing distinct schools, including Orthodox Matsumura style (Matsumura, Azato and Nabe), Itosu style, Matsumura/Matsumora style (Matsumora, Motobu, Kyan), Oyadomari style (original Tomari Te).

Itosu made a massive leap for Karate when he began teaching it in schools, in structured classes.

The lineages of Karate however are anything but linear. Patrick McCarthy has put forward the “Matsuyama Koen” theory where he speculated that Karate was practiced in the park of that name rather like Tai Chi is practiced in parks in China. He suggests that Matsuyama park was an open plan Dojo for sharing knowledge and kata and retaining links to China after the Ryukyu kingdom was abolished.

In this spirit, the repertoire of Aragaki for instance came to be a part of both the Shuri/Tomari and Naha lineages, with versions of Seishan, Niseishi and Unsu occurring in both camps.

It is perhaps at this point that the phrases “Shorin Ryu” (usually referring to the Shuri/Tomari forms) began to be used along with Shorei Ryu for the Naha Te forms. The cataloguing of various kata as Shorin or Shorei is worthy of an article in itself, and is something the masters could never agree on. From here on I will refer to the Shuri/Tomari schools of Matsumura and Itosu as Shorin Ryu to encapsulate them as one tradition.

Shorin Ryu Karateka to have trained with Itosu include: Kentsu Yabu, Chomo Hanashiro, Jiro Shiroma, Chojo Oshiro, Shigeru Nakamura, Anbun Tokuda, Moden Yabiku, Kenwa Mabuni, Gichin Funakoshi, Chosin Chibana, Moden Yabiku, and Choki Motobu – each of these men left a lasting legacy on Karate.

Over in Naha, the list is less extensive and other than Higaonna and Norisato usually only consists of one man – Chojun Miyagi.

And here we come once again to Tatemae and Honne. The Goju Ryu tatemae is that Miyagi was taught by Higaonna and he by Ryuryuko, but actually Aragaki was a main influence on Higaonna, and a man named Gokenki was a major influence on Miyagi.

Wu Xiangi or Wu Hsien Kuei, best known as Gokenki was a Chinese tea merchant and White Crane  practitioner. Gokenki worked for the Eiko Chako Tea Company and taught White Crane in Okinawa between 1912 and his death in 1940.

Gokenki was an enormous influence on many Karateka, and like the Bubishi he was a tangible link to the art of White Crane Quan Fa. Among his students were Chojun Miyagi (later founder of Goju Ryu), Kenwa Mabuni (later founder of Shito Ryu) and Hohan Soken (student of Nabe Matsumura).

A colleague of Gokenki who also taught in Okinawa was Tang Daiji.

Tang Daiji or To Daiki (1887-1937) was from Fuzhou. In 1915 he came to Naha and opened a tea shop (Showacha-ten) with his cousin To Daisho (Japanese reading of his name).

The Tang family whose name was also spelled To included various Tiger style boxers across Fujian and Guangzhou.

In a previous blog I have presented various theories on how the Bubishi (an anthology of Fujian boxing techniques) arrived in Okinawa and Tang and Gokenki are among the outside candidates for its introduction.

Toshu Jutsu, also called Karate Jutsu, also called Ryukyu Kempo, also called Tode Jutsu, also called Goshin Tode Jutsu, also called Uchinadi, was now coming together in a community of mutual support and learning.

Then Karate took a leap that would change it forever. In 1922 the Japanese Ministry of Education invited a small, quiet school teacher to Tokyo to give a karate demonstration. That teacher was a student of Itosu, Azato and Matsumura.

He was Gichin Funakoshi.


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