HISTORY OF OKINAWA KARATE

The following is a brief history of Okinawa Karate-do, but because of the absence of written history, this account should not be perceived as 100% accurate. Therefore, what follows is an account of the evolution and transmigration of martial arts according to this author's readings and the "passing on" of information from teacher to student. (Names are given the way they are given in Okinawa: family name first, first name last.)

Historians agree on the legend of a man who, from India, transversed the Himalayas into China in the 6th century A.D. (between 520 and 525 A.D.) His name is spoken in many different languages, but it will suffice to know him as Bodhidharma (Daruma in Japanese). He came to China to teach his new philosophy regarding Buddhism. In an effort to help the other monks withstand many hours of meditation, he taught them breathing techniques and several exercises to increase their stamina and build strength.

It is believed that these same exercises, which were derived from imitating animals, are the source of the Shaolin ch'uan-fa or Shaolin Temple Boxing.

Using these exercises, the monks were able to develop their spiritual and physical strength. The monks of the Shaolin (Shorin-ji in Japanese) temple were known throughout China for their courage and fortitude.

As the Chinese art of self defense transmigrated, it was subjected to various alterations due to the culture, ideology, philosophy, and topography of the new lands in which it took root. One of the earliest known alterations came during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.). It seems a dance called the "Go-ti" made its way to Japan and became the national sport of Sumo wrestling.

Understanding now how Chinese boxing came to be, let us look at yet another important development in the history of martial arts.

The Chinese and Okinawans began their relationship, officially, in 1372 when Okinawa's King Satto formed an alliance with the Ming Emperor of China. This alliance would increase the Chinese influence on Okinawa. Then in 1392, as part of a cultural exchange, 36 Chinese families immigrated to Okinawa and settled in a village outside of Naha named Kume. It is known that among the immigrants from China, there were experts in Chinese kempo that helped to build the interest in the martial arts among the Okinawans.

In 1429, an Okinawan, by the name of Sho Hashi, united what was known as the three kingdoms: Hokuzan (north), Chuzan (middle), and Nanzan (south), and made his capital in the city of Shuri. In 1477, Sho Hashi was succeeded by Sho Shi, who put a stop to all feudalism on Okinawa by making all of the Anji (feudal lords) move to the capital city of Shuri and imposed a ban on all weapons.

This was a good time for Okinawa. The Ryukyu Kingdom expanded and prospered through trade with China, Asia, Korea, and Japan until 1609, when the Satsuma Clan, led by the Shimazu Family, from Kyushu in southern Japan, invaded the island. The Satsuma Clan reinforced the weapons edict and proceeded to milk Okinawa. Okinawa began to be Japanised, meaning that Okinawan customs were foreign, unacceptable and therefor worthy of change. During this time, it was not only illegal to own a weapon, but it was also breaking the law should one be caught making a fist during a disagreement. This is also the time when Okinawan martial arts had to be practiced in secret, which resulted in very little written history and most of that which was written was destroyed during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945.

The first recorded advent of karate, or To-de as it was then known, was roughly in 1761. A Chinese man by the name of Kusanku gave a demonstration of Chinese boxing and grappling.

The introduction of To-de to Okinawa was affected by Okinawans traveling to China, specifically Fuchou in the Fukien province, to learn Chinese boxing and from Chinese who came to Okinawa. By any means, I believe it is safe to say that karate, which is Okinawan, is based on indigenous techniques and techniques acquired from Chinese boxing.

Up until 1879, karate was practiced only by the shizoku (upper class) and even after this date not many folk would take up the practice of Okinawa te. Historically, Okinawa te was developed by the shizoku and their descendants. This development took place in the villages of Naha, Tomari, and Shuri. This led the Okinawans to name their martial art according to the location in which it was being developed, hence the names Naha-Te, Tomari-Te, and Shuri-Te.

In 1904, karate became even more popular with its introduction to the Okinawan public schools. The man responsible for this was Itosu, Anko, who helped make karate part of the physical education requirements. Itosu was also responsible for teaching many soon to be famous karate men, among these were Funakoshi, Gichin and Kyan, Chotoku. By 1907, he had also developed five katas for the school systems: Pinan Shodan, Pinan Nidan, Pinan Sandan, Pinan Yondan, and Pinan Godan, which are a vital part of many different Okinawan systems.

The next development took place in 1922 at Tokyo and Osaka, Japan. Two karate men, Funakoshi, Gichin and Motobu, Choki, gave a demonstration of Okinawan karate for Japanese approval. Funakoshi impressed the emperor Horohito so much, that by 1932, karate became part of the educational system of Japan. After his demonstration, Funakoshi was asked to stay in Japan and teach Okinawan karate-do. Even though it meant many years of separation from his wife, Funakoshi agreed to stay and teach at one of the local universities. The karate-do as Funakoshi knew it would have to change in order for his Japanese students to understand it's complexity. Stances were altered and names of katas changed. His new system was titled Shoto-kan, but Funakoshi disliked the name; he thought that all karate should be the same.

At this time, the Okinawan martial art was referred to by one of its two names: To-de (Chinese hands) or karate (Empty hands). The Okinawans wanted everyone to agree on one name, so during a meeting between Miyagi, Chojun; Hanashiro, Chomo; Motobu, Choki; and Kyan, Chotoku, the decision was made and one name was finally agreed upon. In 1936, the Okinawan martial art was given the name karate-do, meaning "an empty-handed self defense art", or "weaponless art of self defense." Some would even go on to call it kute-do, ku meaning "sky", which was associated with being "empty", and "te" of course meaning hand.

Regarding the use of the name karate: In China, there was a province by the name of Kara, which was responsible for unifying the old country. It is believed that during the period of the Kara Kingdom, Chinese martial art leaked out to many satellite countries (Japan, Okinawa, Korea, etc.). There are two ways of writing in kanji, one of the three alphabets in Japan, the characters for the word karate. When written one way, it reads "Chinese hands", and when written the other way, it reads "empty hands". It is this author's belief that the kanji for the "Chinese hands" may also be interpreted as "Kara hands", or "hand of the Kara Kingdom". The Japanese have changed the kanji that read "Chinese hands" to the kanji that reads "empty hands".

After World War II the US Administration in Japan prohibited the practice of judo and kendo because they believed the two arts would foster militarism. The Japanese then turned to Karate-do, which had been flourishing since its introduction in 1922, in an attempt to help the young people vent their energies. Now karate-do began to draw even more attention.

Since the Battle of Okinawa, US troops have been stationed on the island. It was during this time (August of 1945 to present) that US servicemen began to practice Okinawan karate-do and upon returning to the states, began to set up their own dojos. Okinawans themselves even began to venture overseas to teach. Now karate is practiced on every continent.

Please understand that this is only a reasonable account of the development of Okinawan karate-do.

 

Odo, Seikichi and the Ryukyu Hon Kenpo Kobujutsu Federation

Until recently, we were fortunate to have a living link to the traditional Okinawan martial arts. His name was Odo, Seikichi and his title was Grand Master. Hanshi Odo was the head of the Ryukyu Hon Kenpo Kobujutsu Federation (RHKKF) and was considered to be one of the foremost Karate and Kobudo masters. On March 24th, 2002, a Sunday, Odo, Seikichi died at 10:43am in Okinawa, Japan. David and Tim Richardson were in Okinawa visiting their teacher when they received word of his passing. They had both trained with Hanshi Odo the Friday before his death and state that he seemed to be in very good spirits.

He was born in 1926, in the village of Agena. As part of the Physical Education program in schools, Odo, Seikichi was first introduced to Judo at age 12. He was 13 when he began the study of Okinawa-te with Sensei Masuda at the Hanza district in 1939. At 16, he changed schools and continued his hard work and dedication to the art he enjoyed with Sensei Kokuba at Kawasaki. Master Odo continued to study Okinawa-te with Sensei Kokuba for the next four years until Sensei Kokuba left Okinawa for Brazil to join his brother.

In 1946, at the age of 20, Master Odo began his study of Okinawa Kobudo under the expert tutelage of Matayoshi, Shinpo. Shinpo's father, Master Matayoshi, Shinko had traveled to China and studied the Fukien Shaolin method under Master Go Kenki as well as Chinese medicine. Master Matayoshi would teach his son, Shinpo, as well as his student Kakazu, Michio,before he died in 1945 at the age of 57. Master Odo would study with Matayoshi, Shinpo in Ishikawa for 10 years (1956) before Kakazu, Michio would join them for another 10 years (1966). In 1975, Master Odo met and began training with Toma, Seiki who would influence his kata and weapons training. Toma, Seiki, even today, had been an influence in Master Odo's training.

 

At age 24, Master Odo changed his course of study from Okinawa-te to Naha-te under Master Nakamura, Seigeru in Nago (1950). In 1953, Master Nakamura decided to change the name of his art from "Naha-te" to "Okinawa Kenpo Karate". Two years later (1955) at the age of 62, Master Nakamura was named the president of the Okinawa Kenpo Karate Renmei. Master Odo continued his training in Okinawa Kenpo as well as the Kobudo. With the Master's permission and supervision, Master Odo began to introduce kobudo to Nakamura's students. When Master Nakamura died in 1970 at the age of seventy-seven, there was no designated president of the Okinawa Kenpo Karate Renmei.

In 1972, the Okinawa Kenpo Karate Renmei appointed Master Odo as Master of Okinawa Kenpo Karate, which also led to his placement as president of the All Okinawa Kenpo Karate-do League. Soon after his appointment, Master Odo officially added Okinawa Kobudo to the Okinawa Kenpo system. Master Odo became one of the first instructors to combine a karate system with a complete weapons system. This produced a new ryu-ha (style or way), the Okinawa Kenpo Karate-Kobudo Shudokan. This use of the word "shudokan" is important to the development of this traditional fighting art because it describes Master Odo's commitment to teaching. Defined, "shudokan" means "one way, keep straight, and don't change".

With the development of this new ryu-ha, Master Odo did away with he "Old League" and he, Maehara, Seijiro, Chibana, Kenko, and others formed the "Okinawa Kenpo Karate-Kobudo Association (OKKA)". In 1983, the OKKA was restructured and named the Okinawa Kenpo Karate-Kobudo Federation (OKKKF). The OKKKF went on to become a large organization with many followers.

In 1985, the world almost lost this living link to the past. Suffering from heart disease, Master Odo underwent two open-heart operations. Lying in his hospital bed, Master Odo felt that if he died, there would be no one left to carry on the traditional teachings of Okinawan Karate as it was taught to him. He says he wants to keep the "old ways" straight.

In 1998, Master Odo, in an effort to improve his organization and to honor the wishes of Master Nakamura, Taketo (the son of Nakamura, Seigeru) from the Okinawa Kenpo Karate Honbu Dojo of Nago, Okinawa, restructured the Okinawa Kenpo Karate-Kobudo Federation and changed the name to the Ryukyu Hon Kenpo Kobujutsu Federation. After Hanshi Odo's death, his son, Susumu Odo, accepted the position of President of the Ryukyu Hon Kenpo Kobujutsu Federation. Susumu Odo and his mother, Yoshiko Odo, make all decisions regarding the intellectual property of Master Odo and his Ryukyu Hon Kenpo Kobujutsu Federation.

Odo Sensei has taught many students over his lengthy study of Okinawan Karate. Three of his students reside and pass on their teacher's knowledge in the growing city of Newnan, GA.

Tim Richardson seated with his teacher,

the late Hanshi Seikichi Odo, founder of the

Ryukyu Hon Kenpo Kobujutsu Federation,

Gushikawashi, Okinawa, Japan.

The Richardson Karate-Kobudo Dojo is a family owned and operated school. David Richardson, Tim Richardson, and Libby Richardson are all dedicated to passing on traditional Okinawan Karate as Odo Sensei taught it to them. David, Tim, and Libby Richardson have received their Teachers License issued personally by Odo Sensei. Even after Hanshi Odo's death, the Richardson Family remains loyal to the Odo Family. The Richardson family has been serving the Newnan area since 1982.

Tim, Libby & David sitting with Hanshi Odo.


REFERENCES and SUGGESTED READINGS:

History of Seikichi Odo provided by Seikichi Odo and Julian Spain.

Karate-do, My way of life. Author Funakoshi, Gichin.
An account of the master's life.

Karate-do Kyohan. Author Funakoshi, Gichin.
Discussion of basics and kata.

Karate-do Nyumon. Author Funakoshi, Gichin.
Discussion of history.

To-De Jitsu. Author Funakoshi, Gichin.
Discussion of history, technique, and kata.

The Essence of Okinawan Karate-do. Author Nagamine, Shoshin.
Discussion of history, technique, and kata.

Tales of Okinawa's Great Masters. Author Nagamine, Shoshin
Tales and History about the Masters.

Okinawa Kempo. Author Motobu, Choki.
Discussion of history and technique.

Okinawan karate: Teachers, Styles and Secret Techniques.
Author Mark Bishop.
Discussion of history and the ones who made it.

Okinawan: Island of Karate. Author George Alexander.
Discussion of history, styles, and teachers.

Classical kata of Okinawan Karate. Author Patrick McCarthy.
Discussion of history, teachers, and kata.

Bubishi. Author Patrick McCarthy.
Discussion of philosophy, strategy, medicine, history, and
techniques.

Budo. Author Uyeshiba, Morihei.
Discussion of philosophy by the founder of Aiki-do

 

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