The history of Toshu Jutsu by Ben Gaunt

This article was submitted by Ben Gaunt a few years ago as part of his 1st Dan grading. Ben has trained with the club for around seven years, earned his club instructor’s badge and also trained with instructors Patrick McCarthy, Terry Wingrove, Steve Rowe, Phil Handyside and Alan Platt.

Okinawa’s first recorded contact with the Chinese was during the Sui Dynasty in 607 A.D.  However, unable to understand the Okinawan dialect (Hogen) the Chinese envoys returned without establishing substantial commerce. (McCarthy 1995, p. 46)

The Tang Dynasty directly followed the Sui Dynasty, and lasted from 618-907. Early Okinawan martial arts were strongly influenced by Chinese martial arts, which may have been introduced to Okinawa in the 6th Century.

Toshu Jutsu (Karate Jutsu) began as the Okinawan fighting system known as te.

The Okinawans developed their own unique art of self-defence; te literally means hands. (Nagamine 1976, p. 20)

Minamoto no Tametomo (1139-1170), a member of the Japanese Minamoto clan, fought in the siege of Shirakawa-den as part of the Hogen Rebellion – a Japanese civil war, fought in 1156, that was crucial in establishing a Samurai government in Japan. In the siege, Shirakawa Palace was burnt to the ground, and Tametomo was exiled to Oshima Island.

During his exile, Tametomo moved to Okinawa and married the sister of Ozato Aji, the ruler of Urazoe Castle. They had a son, Shunten, who defeated Riyu of the Tensonshi in 1186, thus ending the Tenson Dynasty. Shunten became the first king of Chuzan, and established the Shunten Dynasty.

Island folklore maintains that the Tensonshi (lit. “the grandchildren from heaven”) governed the Ryuku archipelago for twenty-five generations before Shunten. (McCarthy 1995, p. 57)

Ben Gaunt 1st Dan

Ben Gaunt 1st Dan

King Satto of Chuzan (c. 1320-1395) of the short-lived Satto Dynasty (1349-1407), which followed the Eiso Dynasty (1260-1349), which followed the aforementioned Shunten Dynasty (1186-1253), developed trade relations with the rest of Asia, and specifically the Ming Dynasty of China (1368-1644) in 1372.

From the end of the 14th Century, and throughout the 15th Century, these trade routes flourished. The Okinawan art of te further developed as a consequence of the influence of Chinese martial arts, which were systematically introduced to the capital of Okinawa (Naha) as part of a Chinese mission, which is now referred to as the “Thirty-six Families.”

Previously, Okinawa was divided into three kingdoms – Hokuzan, Chuzan, and Nanzan. In 1422, Sho Hashi (1371-1439) succeded his father as king of Chuzan, and in 1429, unified all three kingdoms to form a centralised government, founding the Ryuku Kingdom and the Sho dynasty (1407-1469) which followed the aforementioned Satto Dynasty.  During Hashi’s reign, the Ryuku Kingdom continued to absorb Chinese and Japanese influences.

Sho Shin (1465-1526) of the Second Sho Dynasty (1470-1879) developed a more organised system of governance, which saw the aji (local chieftain warriors) gradually lose influence.

In 1507…Sho Shin commanded that his aji withdraw from their fortresses and reside at his side in the castle district of Shuri, hence strengthening his control over them.  Nearly a century before the Edo keisatsu (policeman of the Tokugawa period, 1603-1868) ever established the civil restraint techniques using the rokushaku bo and the jutte (iron truncheon), the Ryuku pechin-class officials had already cultivated a self-defence method based upon the principles of Chinese gongfu. (McCarthy 1995, p. 49)

Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1526-1598), a daimyo who had previously unified Japan, attempted two invasions of Korea (in 1592-1593 and 1594-1596), with the eventual aim of conquering Ming Dynasty China. He ordered the Ryuku Kingdom to support his campaign, but the Ryukuans were unwilling – possibly because of their trade relations with China.

Ben with Patrick McCarthy 9th Dan

Ben with Patrick McCarthy 9th Dan

Without the support of the Ryukuans, Hideyoshi failed to conquer Korea (despite a major Japanese victory at So-chon), and eventually died on September 18, 1598.  Shimazu Yoshihisa (1533-1611), of the Satsuma clan, had supported Hideyoshi throughout the campaign, and consequently faced financial difficulties. In 1609, the Satsuma clan invaded the prosperous Ryuku Kingdom as a means to recoup financial losses.

The development of the art of te accelerated with the subjugation of the Ryukus in 1609 by the Satsuma clan of Japan. The Satsuma clan banned the use of all weapons and the practice of martial arts by the Ryukuans. Despite the enforcement of this ban for over three hundred years, the art of te was not lost. The forbidden art was passed down from father to son among the samurai class in Okinawa. Training went on in secret; devotees practiced in hidden and remote places, meeting between midnight and dawn for fear of informers. Having to study secretly and at great risk did not discourage those of martial and enterprising spirit; rather, it inspired them to greater efforts. (Nagamine 1976, p. 21)

Okinawan folklore speaks of a boy who, at 17, witnessed his father return home injured, the victim of a vicious attack.

Dying, his father said “Son, take a good look at me. I want you to promise me one thing. Take up the martial arts and don’t be like your father. Don’t ever let yourself be a subject of ridicule and abuse from bullies and men of that ilk.” (Kim 1974, p. 20)

The protagonist was Kanga Sakugawa (1733-1815) who, motivated by the fate of his father, moved from Shuri (formerly the capital of the Ryukyu Kingdom, and now a district of Naha) to the nearby village of Akata, to study with Peichin Takahara (1683-c. 1760) a master of Chinese martial arts who imparted to Sakugawa three principles: –

do – a road or way of life
ho – law, the performance of kata
katsu – use of the kata in the actual fighting
(Kim 1974, p. 20)

Kanga Sakugawa became commonly known as Tote Sakugawa. Etymological study of the word “tote” (toshu) reveals that it is derived from two separate words – “to” and “te”. “To” refers to the aforementioned Chinese Tang Dynasty. “Te” refers to the aforementioned Okinawan martial art, and literally translates as “hands”. Hence, the word “tote” is a fusion of Chinese and Okinawan words – in the same way that the martial art that Sakugawa practiced is a fusion of Chinese and Okinawan fighting systems. In kanji, the character for the word “Chinese” is “kara” – resulting in the more familiar word “karate”.

Without reservation, we can say that Sakugawa was the first teacher and master of the style that is commonly called true Okinawan and Japanese karate. The true karate master is a general practitioner well versed in all aspects of the art, and not a specialist in only one aspect. (Kim 1974, p. 22)

Hakuda Kempo Toshu Jutsu closely adheres to the above philosophy.

Owing to the secretive nature of karate during the 18th century, there were no formal classifications or standards to which karateka had to adhere to. A sensei would teach a class of students. Students would subconsciously adapt what they had learned to suit their physique (i.e. if a short, stocky student and a tall, thin student were to perform the same kata, there would be noticeable differences.) These students would eventually become teachers and pass their knowledge (with all the adaptations and modifications) onto a new generation. Consequently, Karate was in a constant state of flux – with many different styles evolving independently of each other.

Gradually, however, karate was divided into two main groups or types – Shorin-ryu or Shuri-te, and Shorei-ryu or Naha-te. Shorin-ryu developed around Shuri and Tomari, while Shorei-ryu came out of the vicinity of Naha. (Nagamine 1976, p. 21)

Ben with Shihan Handyside 8th Dan

Ben with Shihan Handyside 8th Dan

The development of Shuri-te is attributable to Sokon Matsamura (c. 1800-1890). Sokon’s father, Sofuku, organised for Sokon to commence training with Tote Sakugawa. By 1816 (at approximately the age of 16) Matsumura found employment in service of the Sho Dynasty as a chikudon. Eventually, Matsamura became the principle bodyguard for three consecutive Okinawan kings. Matsamura was permitted by the royal family to travel to China, specifically Fujian and Satsuma, where he studied a variety of martial arts, (including gongfu with Master Iwah.) In recognition of his services to the royal family, Sokon Matsamura was presented with the title “Bushi”, meaning warrior. Eventually, he retired from Imperial service and, utilising his wealth of experience, began to teach karate in Sakiyama village, Shuri (hence Shuri-te, or “Shuri hand”.)

Matsamura’s principle disciples included Azato Anko (1827-1906), Itosu Anko (1832-1915), “Bushi” Ishimine (1835-1889), Kiyuna Pechin (1845-1920), Sakihara Pechin (1833-1918), Matsumura Nabe (1850-1930) Tawada Pechin (1851-1907), Kuwae Ryosei (1858-1939), Yabu Kentsu (1866-1937), Funakoshi Gichin, Hanashiro Chomo (1869-1945), and Kyan Chotoku (1870-1945). (McCarthy 1995, p. 51)

The development of Naha-te is attributable to Higashionna Kanryo (1853-1916).  Whilst he was still young, Kanryo began to study with Arakaki Seisho (1840-1918). Legend speaks of Kanryo, in his youth, working for a tea merchant who made frequent trips to China.

On one of these trips, the merchant was badly beaten by Chinese bandits. Kanryo, who adored the merchant, made up his mind to study the martial arts. (Kim 1974, p. 95)

In the late 1860s, Kanryo sailed to Fujian (where Matsamura had himself travelled) and began to study a wide variety of Chinese martial arts. Kanryo developed a martial arts system that combined hard and soft techniques (no doubt influenced by methodology learned in Okinawa and China.) Kanryo’s system became known as Naha-te or “Naha hand”.

There are significant practical differences between Shuri-te and Naha-te. It is claimed by some karateka that Shuri-te is better suited to those of a small physique (and is ideal for developing speed) and Naha-te is better suited to those of a large physique (and is ideal for developing strength). However, Shoshin Nagamine (1907-1997) believes that the fundamental differences between the two systems lies in the method of movement, and the method of breathing.

The basic approach in Shuri-te stems from certain training forms linked to natural movements… Speed and proper timing is essential in the training for kicking, punching, and striking. Breathing is controlled naturally during training. No artificial breath training is necessary for a mastery of Shuri-te.

Naha-te is characterised by the steady and rooted movements… In Naha-te kata there is a rhythmic, but artificial way of breathing in accordance with each of the movements. Compared to the movements in Shuri-te, Naha-te seemingly lacks swiftness in kata practice. (Nagamine 1976, p. 22)

Kanryo’s most well known pupil was Miyagi Chojun (1888-1953). Miyagi followed in the footsteps of his teacher and travelled to Fujian where he studied a variety of Chinese fighting systems. Miyagi returned to Naha and developed a martial art system that combined hard Shaolin gongfu techniques, soft pa kua techniques, and Naha-te techniques. In 1929, Miyagi named this system Goju-ryu, meaning “hard soft”, a phrase he had taken from the Bubishi: –

Inhaling represents softness while exhaling characterises hardness. (McCarthy 1995, p. 160)

Gogen Yamaguchi (1909-1989) was a pupil of Miyagi, and is credited with bringing Goju-ryu to international prominence. In 1930, Yamaguchi co-founded Ritsumeikan Karate-do Kenkyu-kai at Ritsumeikan University (where he had met Miyagi for the first time.) Eventually, Miyagi entrusted Yamaguchi with the responsibility of raising the profile of Goju-ryu in mainland Japan. Yamaguchi’s contribution to the world of karate has been immeasurable – notable achievements include registering Goju-ryu with the official Japanese governing body, unifying Japanese karate schools into a single federation, and developing Goju-ryu into an art that is celebrated world wide.

As the influence of Naha-te is apparent in Miyagi’s and Yamaguchi’s Goju-ryu, the influence of Shuri-te on Funakoshi’s Shoto Ryu is equally noticeable.

It was nearly four decades ago that I (Funakoshi) embarked upon what I now realise was a highly ambitious program: the introduction to the Japanese public at large of that complex Okinawan art, or sport, which is called Karate-do, “the Way of Karate.” These forty years have been turbulent ones, and the path that I chose for myself turned out to be far from easy: now, looking back, I am astonished that I attained in this endeavour even the quite modest success that has come my way. (Funakoshi 1975, p. xiii)

Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957) was a frail, sickly child. He began to study martial arts in order to overcome his poor physical condition.  Both his parents and grandparents agreed that it was unlikely he would live long, and consequently he was somewhat overprotected. Shortly after his birth, he lived with his grandparents (on his mother’s side.) As he grew older, his grandfather taught him Chinese classics.  Eventually, Funakoshi attended primary school and whilst there, befriended the son of Yasutsune Azato (also known as Azato Anko), who hailed from the village of Azato, located between Shuri and Naha.

Gichin Funakoshi

Gichin Funakoshi

Master Azato not only was unsurpassed in all Okinawa in the art of karate, but also excelled in horsemanship, in Japanese fencing (kendo), and in archery, He was, more-over, a brilliant scholar. (Funakoshi 1975, p. 3)

After two years of training with Azato, Funakoshi began to notice significant improvements in his health – something he attributed to the study of karate.

I enjoyed karate, but – more than that – I felt deeply indebted to the art for my increased well-being, and it was around this time that I began to seriously consider making Karate-do a way of life. (Funakoshi 1975, p. 3

By his late teens, Funakoshi had become well versed in Chinese classics (attributable to the education he received under the tutelage of his grandfather and Azato, who was a scholar in his own right.) Consequently, Funakoshi decided to become a schoolteacher, and in 1888 at the age of 21, Funakoshi delivered his first full lesson, a profession he followed for thirty years.

During the day, Funakoshi would teach students, and at night he would travel to Azato to receive karate tuition (always under the cover of dark, because of the aforementioned ban on martial study.) Azato was a particularly strict master, who forced Funakoshi to perform the same kata many times (over a period of months) before he was satisfied. Azato was also a philosopher, who would discuss his theories on Karate- do with Funakoshi after intense training sessions.  Occasionally, Azato would be joined by a friend who also contributed to philosophical discussions, and eventually became another of Funakoshi’s teachers.

This was Yasutsune Itosu (also knows as Itosu Anko.) Itosu, Azato and, eventually, Funakoshi were all students of Sokon Matsamura. Itosu was born in Shuri in 1831 and was (like Funakoshi) a student of Chinese classics, and calligraphy.

While Master Azato was tall with broad shoulders and had sharp eyes and features reminiscent of the ancient samurai, Master Itosu was of average height, with a great round chest like a beer barrel. Despite his long moustache, he rather had the look of a well-behaved child. It was a deceptive look, for his arms and hands possessed quite extraordinary power. (Funakoshi 1975, p. 16)

Itosu (along with Funakoshi) is often credited as being the father of modern karate. He introduced the Heian katas, because he felt existing forms were too difficult for children to learn, which lead to the creation of Heian Shodan, Heian Nidan and Heian Sandan (which form an integral part of Hakuda Kempo Toshu Jutsu.)

At the turn of the century, Funakoshi was studying with a number of different karate masters – Master Kiyuna, Master Toonno of Naha, Master Niigaki, Master Matsumura, in addition to Itosu and Azato. Funakoshi studied a variety of arts, including Shorin-ryu and Shorei-ryu, essentially fusing Shuri-te and Naha-te (which became significant to Funakoshi’s career as a karate teacher in Japan.)

By the end of the first decade of the 20th century, Funakoshi had amassed a large number of students, and had become reasonably well known in Okinawa as a teacher of karate. In 1921, The Ministry of Education (of Japan) announced that there would be a demonstration of martial arts, to take place at a school in Tokyo. The general public of mainland Japan was largely unaware of the existence of karate, so when Funakoshi was asked to demonstrate his art at the event, he eagerly accepted.

The entire demonstration turned out to be a great success, but I think that this was particularly true of my introduction of the Okinawan art of karate to the people of Tokyo. (Funakoshi 1975, p. 69)

Funakoshi had planned to return to Okinawa, but was instead asked by Jigoro Kano (1860-1938) to stay in Japan to deliver a short lecture on karate to his students. Kano was the founder of Judo, and credited with the widespread introduction of white belts and black belts. Following this, Funakoshi was asked to by Hoan Kosugi to teach the Tabata Popular Club. The response to his tuition was universally positive, and it dawned on Funakoshi that he should try and expose the entire population of mainland Japan to karate.  (Kosugi later asked Funakoshi to write a karate reference book – this became Ryuku Kempo: Karate (1922), Funakoshi’s first published work.)

Funakoshi moved into the Meisei Juku, a dormitory for students (specifically designed for Okinawan students, studying in Japan.) It was intended only to be a temporary dojo, but Funakoshi was financially poor, and so became the Japanese home of karate for thirteen years – out of necessity. Eventually, the dojo was no longer able to support Funakoshi’s growing number of students, and he decided to construct a new dojo, specifically for karate. He was nearly seventy at the time.

It was around 1935 that a nationwide committee of karate supporters solicited enough funds for the first karate dojo ever erected in Japan. It was not without a trace of pride that, in the spring of 1936, I entered for the first time the new dojo (in Zoshigaya, Toshima Ward) and saw over the door a signboard bearing the dojo’s new name: Shoto-kan. (Funakoshi 1975, p. 84)

Shoto-kan karate was the name given to the martial art that Funakoshi taught (though Funakoshi never called his art by this name, instead always referring to it as karate or arguably Shoto Ryu) The etymology of the word Shoto-kan is somewhat confusing. Shoto was Funakoshi’s poetic pen name, and translates as pine waves. “Sho” is also present in the word Shorin-ryu – and the character for “Sho” can also be read as matsu, which could be a reference to Matsamura (who was one of Funakoshi’s masters.) The Japanese word “kan” means hall, and refers to the dojo itself and not the martial art. In addition to this, Funakoshi refused to believe that “kara” in karate referred to Tang Dynasty China (despite the obvious links between Chinese boxing and karate, and the historical links between the Okinawan art of te and the Tang Dynasty.) He homophonically altered the meaning of the word “karate” to mean “empty hand”. This is somewhat of a misnomer, given that any part of the body can be used to defend oneself (and many karateka also practice with weapons.) However, Funakoshi felt that the word “empty” might possess a different meaning.

The kara that means “empty” is definitely the more appropriate. For one thing, it symbolises the obvious fact that this art of self-defence makes use of no weapons, only bare feet and empty hands.  Further, students of Karate-do aim not only toward perfecting their chosen art but also toward emptying heart and mind of all earthly desire and vanity. Reading Buddhist scriptures, we come across such statements as “Shiki-soku-ze-ku” and “Ku-soku-zeshiki,” which literally mean, “matter is void” and “all is vanity.” The character ku, which appears in both admonitions, may also be pronounced kara, is in itself truth. (Funakoshi 1975, p. 35)

It is quite possible that, in addition to his deeper philosophies, Funakoshi simply thought that an art called “Chinese hand” would not appeal to the Japanese. Not only did Funakoshi deny any strong association with Chinese boxing, he emphasised the Japanese quality of karate when he suggested that the art be renamed Dai Nippon Kempo Karate-do (which translates as Great Japan Fist-Method Empty-Hands Way.”)
After the Second World War, Funakoshi was asked to meet with American publishers in the Imperial Hotel.

His remark on the subject, as it was translated to me, was to the effect that while we in Japan were turning Karate-Do from a martial art into a sport, in America it would be valued as a key to longevity. (Funakoshi 1975, p. 125)

Funakoshi began meeting with a variety of visiting and occupying Americans, and was eventually asked to teach karate at the U.S. Air Force Base in Tachikawa. On September 8th 1951, The Treaty of San Francisco was signed, that secured peace between Japan and the U.S.

“Karate made its own peaceful way to the American mainland. This was brought about when I was asked by a high-ranking American officer to make a three-month tour of mainland bases, demonstrating Karate-do to American airmen. (Funakoshi 1975, p. 126)

Funakoshi died in Tokyo, in April 1957. His legacy was styles of karate, Shoto Ryu and Shotokan (as well as Yoseikan, Wado Ryu and Shotokai) that are now practiced worldwide – the systems of martial art that are the  major influences on Hakuda Kempo Toshu Jutsu, and The Bushinkai Method.


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